Natural Disasters and the End Times

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I've been getting some hits from people searching for the biblical statements that have been misinterpreted to be teaching that natural disasters will get worse in the end times, so I wanted to say something to bring out what the biblical perspective on these things is. I'm not going to do my usual extended support for what I'm going to say. I just want to say it. Perhaps those who disagree can challenge me in the comments, and we can continue from there. I don't have the time to say much now, so I'm going to say the few things I want to say.

First, throughout the New Testament the end times began with Jesus' incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension. We're still in them. Paul consistently refers to the church age as the end times, and it's not because he thought he'd be raptured at any minute. He spoke as if Jesus might return, judge, and restore all things within his lifetime, and he spoke at other times (even earlier times, as it happens) as if it might be a long time, and people like him would die before it takes place. There's a new element of what goes on in the church age, and that's the presence of God's people as a non-nation but what we would call a countercultural working out of the rule of God (what "kingdom of God" literally means) in the ordinary life that goes on. In these end times, those in Christ, i.e. in the community of faith who have God's Spirit dwelling in them both collectively and individually, can detect the evil in humanity and the groaning of all creation for restoration.

Second, the approaching of the end of the end times, i.e. the end of the church age, will be life as normal. Two characteristics of life as normal are given. One is eating, drinking, and making merry. Just as in Noah's time, people thought it was life as normal and made fun of this guy building a boat, non-Christians will consider Christians crazy and believing an illusion, but judgment will come when life as normal gets interrupted suddenly and without warning by the return of the ultimate judge of all humanity. People will be eating, drinking, and being merry. That's normal life. Alongside the evidence of normal life of human behavior is the normal functioning of the fallen world. It will be life as normal. People will engage in wars, and there will be rumors of wars that may not in fact happen. There will be earthquakes and other natural disasters. This is life as usual in the end times, but it's not necessarily a sign that we're even within thousands of years of the return of Christ. We might be, but a close concentration of natural disasters means life is going on as normal. The fallen world is being a fallen world. Since this is held in parallel with the eating, drinking, and being merry it's probably that it's not speaking of a specially concentrated set of natural disasters as a lead-in to the end of the end. It's just giving another example of what things are like in these last days that we're already about two thousand years into.

Third, there are connections between the judgment of God and natural disasters, but we may not know for sure how God might be working through any given event with our limited knowledge, and there's no reason to think that a particular concentration of natural disasters is anything special even if it were true that there is a greater concentration of natural disasters rather than just an overworked media network that now simply reports on these things far more than it did. We all thought there were more shark attacks for some unexplained reason a year or two ago, but it wasn't anything like that. The media had just found a new thing to fill their 24-hour coverage with, and it all of a sudden seemed drastic, when that was a pretty normal year. Given the cyclic nature of hurricanes, with low cycles and high cycles, we have no reason to conclude anything special is going on at all.

There's much more than can be said, but I wanted to say at least these things, and maybe this will lead to some good discussion in the comments if I've left anything out or need to say more to defend any particular claims.

25 Comments

Thank you for saying it! I am so tired of Christians trying to convince everything that the end times are coming. It seems that in every age since Christ, people have though the end was near. We have been in the "now but not yet" since Christ and we will not know when He is going to come back until He does.

I don't have much time to comment, at this point, I also will give a quick assertion here; and come back later.

I agree with the balance you're trying to provide--and true things could continue on for another thousand yrs or more. But I think cumlatively--it does "appear" (slipper word)things are intensifying. Jesus did use the noahic analogy of people working, marrying, etc. But he also used the "birth pangs" analogy in the context of last times (which I agree with you we have been in since Jesus' incarnation). What was Jesus' intention for using such an analogy couched in the context that it is?

I'll be back later :).

Bobby

Matt,

This doesn't mean we shouldn't live "like" He could come back at any minute though, right? At least Jesus thought this was the perspective we should be living with, cf. Mark 13:35-37.

I agree there is modern day "pesher" going on, trying to interpret every current event in Israel, and even right here in the states, through an apocalyptic lens. But, just because people over sensationalize things (i.e. "Left Behind series, or Jack Van Impe, or Hagan, etc.)--doesn't mean we shouldn't be excited by the reality that Jesus could come back at any moment. From my perspective, there is an un-healthy back-lash occurring within Christendom that thinks talk about the 2nd coming of Christ is some "strange-thing." Or people get so frustrated with trying to figure out the "millennial mazes" that we end up relativising this important reality away as some sort of theological abstraction.

The apostle Paul, Peter, James, and John all believed this reality served as a feature in promoting "Holy Living" (cf. I Cor 15, I Thess 4, II Pet 3:11, James 5, and much more).

I understand the frustration with over-sensationalizing this reality; but I am also frustrated with the "under"-sensationalizing of this hopeful event (cf. Tit. 2:13) that I've seen taken hold within the church as well.

The coming of the Lord is a centerpiece concept throughout the pgs of both the OT and NT. I think we should be careful that in the move to disassociate ourselves from the Van Impe's of the world; that we don't denigrate this central scriptural reality in the process.

I'm not saying that either of you, Jeremy or Matt are doing this--just saying we should be careful here.

I agree that there are birth pangs that signal the time of nearness (I believe persecution was the most immediate context, but I don't have it in front of me, and he may well be referring to more than just the most immediate thing anyway), but since Paul was already in the time of nearness, and those birth pangs were going on in his day, I can't see how it makes much difference to treat earthquakes as among those birth pangs. It shouldn't make us think that the final consummation is in our time than it should have for him. As your most recent comment says, we should also beware of thinking that it won't be in our days. That's equally bad. We shouldn't have a view on when it will be, one way or the other, Thinking we're not very near to it is denying how the Bible presents it. It presents it as near, and we are to take it as near in exactly the way the Bible presents it. We ought to be prepared in case the consummation is about to happen, and we ought to be prepared in case we end up with a full life, lest we be caught unprepared and end up not serving our Lord as he would have us do out of some hope that we won't be here in ten years or some other specific time.

Bobby, indeed, we should always be ready for it, but we should also be mindful of the real world around us as well. I suppose I am just racting to those that are so focused on the "end" coming that they neglect their neighbor.

I agree with you Jeremy, the nearness is relative, primarily, obviously, to God's own choosing--you're right we shouldn't construct a matrix through which we "think" we can judge the "timing" of the Lord's return.

Matt, I hear you! I suppose the classical/Ryrian pre-millennial/dispensational outlook doesn't do much for providing a framework for the "now" part of the kingdom (of course there is no "now" from his perspective, to me a very platonic vision). A pessimistic view of human history indeed (although I must admit, Mt 24 doesn't paint a very upbeat picture about the progression of human history). What I find interesting is that Ryrie, and other Classical/Revised dispensationalists, will recognize a one-to-one correspondence between the "mortal" body and the "immortal"/resurrected body (cf. I Cor 15); but they fail to see any correspondence between all of creation (i.e. culture, art, the earth itself), and the future regeneration/resurrection that Roms. 8 seems to point to. No room for a creation ethic, that many covenant/amil theologians speak of. This is one of the reasons I've opted for Progressive Disp. (seems to me to be a better attempt for integrating the strengths offered by both Cov/amil& Classic Disp.--capturing the truth of scripture, much more comprehensively).

It seems like if one had a more robust/informed view of the "end coming", in light of an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, this would serve as a prompt for serving our neighbors. But I see your point!

we sure as heck have to be a lot closer today than we were yesterday, the urgency to declare the kingdom rule should never leave us.

Well, we're a day closer than we were yesterday. I'm not sure I'd call that a lot.

The urgency of repenting and the urgency of proclaiming the good news come more from the fact that we or anyone else might die tomorrow than they do from anything to do with Christ's return. Dying happens, and we know that that can come very easily. There will only be one Christ's return, and we don't know if that will even be in our lifetime. Death will happen during our lifetime, and our own will happen at the end of our lifetime. So the urgency and immediacy needs no anticipation of the end of all things. Death is the end of all things in terms of our own repentance and our own evangelism.

Thanks for your Christian Carnival post! Good job.

Just a brief comment. I like to say it's [the return of the Lord] not a when it's a Who.

When in the past did a lot and I mean a lot of people die from weather related insidents? Can't you see, and weather is not the only thing lining up with prophecy. So its been about 2000 years in our time, God dose not have a watch. Open your eyes and look at the sings, there every wear!

Adam, just about every time in the history of the world. It's only very recently that we could even have decently reliable means of predicting the weather.

It's also only very recently that people have had as much inundation with the news as we have. The shark attacks of a couple years ago are a good example. Everyone thought the sharks were suddenly getting more vicious, when in reality the cable news networks had just decided they could add those to their news reports for more variety in what they constantly barrage us with.

Hurricanes toned down for the 80s and 90s and have started to move back to what they were in the 40s-60s (I believe it was). Earthquakes come and go. Basically any phenomenon with a normal distribution is going to have times in the distribution when it's less concentrated or more concentrated. That's basic statistics.

If you're talking about the sort of "signs" that people taking scripture out of context and inventing meanings for often talk about, I can say that Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, Jack Van Impe, and Texe Mars are nothing but a joke in terms of biblical scholarship. If you want to be able to read something so ridiculously out of context as to show that locusts must be helicopters, then it's no surprise how easy it is to see events in our times as fulfillments of prophecy, but you could have done the same thing with events in the 18th century (as people in those times did). Protestants during the Reformation thought the actions of the pope in his own day demonstrated that he was at the very end. The signs really are everywhere if just about anything can count as a sign, but my standards are a bit higher than that.

I agree that in the end of times there will be merry making, weddings and all of that but I personally think that we are living close to the end, and that the nateral disasters are "pains". The nateral disasters are signs that the end is close like looking at a tree in springtime, the leaves starting to bud you can see it happening even if you dont know when it will be. Also in the end people will not belive it is the end, they wont belive people that tell them the time is close, like the wheather. So be ready for you will not know the day or hour, and it will come when u least expect.

That's just it. The signs say its the end, as they did many times in the past. Yes, things are getting worse and the end is much closer, I would think. However, things have just began to get bad. This is just a preumpt of sorts to the end days. Even then, it will sneak up on humanity like a 'thief in the night'. Just food for thought...

I do think we are in the end times. I understand your position. I don't necessarilly believe it will happen tomorrow. But, as some of your other commentors have stated, we are certainly closer today than we were yesterday. What specifically interests me are tragedies like 9/11 and Katrina. The World Trad Center can be seen by some as a modern sign of our (USA) greed. New Orleans can also be seen by some as a city full of sexual sin. These types of tragedies interest me a whole lot more that shark attacks.
I also get concerned when Christians belittle other Christians. That too seems like something Jesus would object to. Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to condescend to each other???
Just my opinion.
Thanks

We were closer exactly 1000 years ago than we were the day before that. I agree with your statement, but I don't think it amounts to much. Being one day closer than we were yesterday is consistent with being a million years off from the actual event.

Isn't it possible that the second coming may refer to individual, honest acceptance of the true meaning of Jesus, God, etc., into our hearts, as opposed to waiting around for a figure to appear? Just a thought.

I suppose you could take such a view if you want to ignore all the passages that say that his return will be like his going away, that it will involve complete conquering of all evil, and that those who are alive and remain will meet him in the air while those who are dead already will be resurrected. It's hard to make sense of what some of that means if you overspiritualize it the way you want to.

Yeh..So it's true what Jesus said that the evil kind will seek the signs of the coming of the son of man. Just read what Jesus said and you will find the intellegency behind it. Him who will enter the Kingdom of God is covered by the Holy spirit and the guidance of the Lord is with him. Make Jesus your friend and you will see that the end times began at his presence. Imagine yourself sitting next to Jesus when He was preaching near the people who wants to kill him and when you know that he is the messiah but people don't see what you see. I am telling you, you will now understand that your days in this world are to be holy and by the time you sleep forever you will meet the the messiah or either he comes while you are still here, it don't matter.

i just read this because it 2010 and many things have happend in the past month or 2 that has lead me to some questions there was a earth quake in chille 2 days ago one in hatti some recently behind that and today i heard tha there was a tsunami in hawii

we may be judged sooner than many think

We certainly may. This may happen because the world might end today. It might happen because any individual might die today. On the other hand, we may be judged far further in the future than many think, and there's no clear reason to think these natural disasters mean the end is almost immediate, no more than the natural disasters in the first century meant it was immediate then. As I explained in the very post you're commenting on, it's faulty exegesis to think the frequency of natural disasters has anything to do with the end of the world. What the scriptures say includes all of the following:

(a) the world will go on as normal until the end, and that includes wars, rumors of wars, and natural disasters as well as eating, drinking, and normal life
(b) whenever a natural disaster occurs, it could be a mini-judgment, and it's grounds for reconsidering whether God is sending a message to us, and we should reevaluate our lives
(c) there are repeated instances of God doing things of that sort, and no instance while it's going on is enough to conclude that it's the final one
(d) most of the apocalyptic references in the Bible are metaphorical and refer to upheaval as judgment, which recurs throughout history
(e) there might be literal upheavals at Christ's return, but I suspect it will be more of a sudden and immediate realization of the end that is only being captured in those terms because of how serious the judgment will be on those who have not repented (after all, the world will both be destroyed by fire as it was once by water in the flood and be made into the New Earth in a transformative rather than destructive manner, which suggests some of this language is not likely to be literal)

There's plenty to conclude when we see natural disasters. Compassion on the victims, practical steps to help their immediate and long-term needs, and a call to repentance are all appropriate. I see no purpose and little warrant for conclusions that every natural disaster to come along must be a sign that Jesus' return is immediate. It's nearer every day, because we're always one day closer to it, whenever it is, but we should have Paul's attitude, which is to insist that it might be very soon but to plan as if it's a long way off and the next generation will have to live in the fallen world without any restoration looming immediately on the horizon.

I don't think what happened in Hawaii actually counts as a tsunami, by the way. They expected something serious and got hardly anything. The Chile and Haiti earthquakes were serious. In Chile it was because it was a serious quake. In Haiti it was because the country was nearly a disaster area already and didn't have the capacity to handle it. But these sorts of things have been happening for longer than people have been around to notice it. We just have cable news and the internet now, so we hear about it much more than we used to. I remember one year when all the news outlets were reporting all the shark attacks that were occurring at the same frequency as in any year, and everyone thought shark attacks were increasing, because that year they happened to be telling us about all of them when usually we don't hear about it. Reporting went back to normal the next year, and the panic about supposedly-increased shark attacks waned.

Jesus actually lists earthquakes as a SIGN of the end of times. Earthquakes, in and of themselves, are not anything out of the ordinary. So, they couldn't be a sign of anything. However, if the frequency, or severity of the earthquakes change, that could definitely be a sign. Why would Jesus mention earthquakes as a sign of the end times if it didn't really mean anything??

Do I think that we are in the end times? I don't know. That is the point--we don't know the time. I think we probably are, but then again, I don't know. However, I do believe that natural disasters will increase in the end times. I believe this because Jesus mentioned it as a sign of the end times. Like I stated before, the only way it could serve as a sign is if earthquakes increase in frequency or severity. I think that both apply lately. There are definitely earthquakes in various places. See below.

Matthew 24:1-7, NIV

1Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2"Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."
3As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"

4Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 5For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,[a]' and will deceive many. 6You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.


What he actually says is that wars, rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, famines, and earthquakes are but the beginning of birth pangs. You left that out by stopping with v.7. The beginning of birth pangs is a long way from the actual end times, since the end times really start, biblically speaking, with the destruction of the temple in AD 70.

There's a consistent theme throughout the NT that the church age is all the end times, even the time the apostles were writing but that it isn't fully present until certain things take place. In other words, things continue as normal except that the kingdom of God is breaking in during the normalcy. So things go on as they had before. In Matt 24, wars occur. Natural disasters occur. In I Timothy, immorality occurs. In other places, eating and drinking occur. This is how things have been all along. So the appearance of earthquakes among the signs need not be an increase of earthquakes. It may just be one among many things that have occurred all along that will continue to occur all along during the birth pangs that are the church age.

this is the hebrew speaking, let's not forget or rather let us remember a day is a thousand years, so we are in the last day of the last days, I say this because according to our faith he came back on the third so as they said back then it could happen any day now or it could go on for years buy we no longer have a thousand years left if our math is right

That totally undermines the point of a day being 1000 years. It's not some exact ratio by which to measure all numbers in the Bible (and there's no indication that the three days applies to this age between death and resurrection anyway, because the church is after its resurrection, not before). The point of the 1000 years/day thing is that God isn't limited by time and doesn't act according to how long we should think something ought to take. Sometimes it's much faster or much slower. So it's the same point Jesus makes when he says no one knows the day or hour.

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