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Franklin Graham: Japan disaster could mean end is near
Franklin Graham suggested the earthquake in Japan could be a sign of the end times.
March 21st, 2011
04:20 PM ET

Franklin Graham: Japan disaster could mean end is near

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

The Rev. Franklin Graham says the earthquake and tsunami in Japan could be a sign of the end times. The key word there is could. The founder of the Samaritan's Purse charity told Newsmax on Friday:

What are the signs of [Christ’s] second coming? War and famine and earthquakes … escalating like labor pains. ... Maybe this is it, I don’t know. We should pray and be vigilant. The Bible teaches us Jesus is going to return someday. Many of us we believe that day is sooner rather than later. 

Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, is paraphrasing from the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. In Chapter 24, Jesus is leaving the temple in Jerusalem and predicts its destruction. His disciples ask when it will happen, and he answers:

You 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. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. 

There are several schools of thought in the Christian tradition on this passage. One suggests Jesus is talking about the coming destruction of the temple by the Romans; others view it as a warning sign of the end times.

Throughout the course of Christian history, many have read the words of Jesus into their own time. Graham is certainly not alone in his interpretation of the passage, nor is he outside the mainstream of most Christian traditions by hedging his assertion with "maybe" and "I don't know" instead of giving a definitive, "This is the end!"

The Rev. Tom Stegman says there are many ways to read the passage in Matthew 24. A Jesuit priest and associate professor of New Testament at Boston College, Stegman agrees with Graham that Christians ought to remain vigilant in how they live their lives so they line up with Christ's teaching.

“I don’t question anyone’s motivation. However, the history of interpretation of apocalyptic texts and Jesus' speculation about the end in Mark 13 ought to give us pause in involving ourselves too much in speculation of the end times,” Stegman told CNN.

Darrell Bock, a research professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, said the passage is one repeated in Mark and Luke as well. But, Bock said, “Matthew is the clearest when talking about the end because of the way the questions start off the discourse at the beginning of the passage.”

Bock said the text Graham quoted from is layered. Unlike other apocalyptic texts like the Book of Daniel or Revelation, which many Christians believe prophesy the end times in vivid detail, here Jesus has more than one goal.

“I think you have to be careful. Jesus is trying to do two things at once,” Bock said. Jesus is talking about the end times and using these examples “to create in people a responsibility of not knowing when the end will come.”

"[Jesus] is telling [his disciples] to persevere because they don’t know when the end will be," Bock said. “It’s never an attempt to have us calendar out when the end is going to happen.

“I actually think what Graham is doing is raising the accountability issue,” Bock added.

Eddie Gibbs, a professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, told CNN Graham could represent "a particular segment of the evangelical movement that thinks the end is near."

"My response would be to say the Matthew 24 passage in fact relates to every period of history. There have always been catastrophic earthquakes," Gibbs said.

"The many natural catastrophes that occur are really warning sings to us that life is fragile. I think modern people need that warning. When these awful things happen, it is a reminder that nature is far, far more powerful than our ability to control it."

Gibbs said he does not think the earthquake in Japan augurs the end of the world.

"I would personally regard it as a progressive fulfillment, not that this is a special fulfillment of 'end times.' These catastrophes continue to happen, and I think we need them to shake us out of our comfort zone."

“I think that on Franklin’s side, we do need that reminder today that we live in a finite world,” Gibbs said.

Regardless of Graham's beliefs, his aid organization continues to be on the front lines of disasters around the world.

Last week, Graham's charity shipped 90 tons of relief supplies to Japan. As with many other organizations, working in the hardest-hit areas has brought elevated concerns for safety. Graham told Newsmax:

I’ve told my staff, if any of you are nervous you don’t have go. ... I haven’t had one person back out. There are dangers wherever we go in the world, but as Christians we put faith in God. He’s called us to do this work. He’ll look after us and protect us. It’s not going to stop us from responding and helping. 

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Church

soundoff (1,412 Responses)
  1. Randy

    Matthew 24:36
    "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  2. theoldadam

    Not enough bverries for yuor pancakes could mean the end is near, too.

    It could also mean the end is not near.

    When will this stuff, cease (from Christian leaders)?

    March 22, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  3. the lord works in mysterious ways

    vanilla is much better than chocolate

    March 22, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  4. willow

    I am a Christian and think this article is pretty stupid. Regardless of what any of us believes, no one actually KNOWS what is going to happen, so it would be wonderful if CNN would stop writing this hogwash every time a natural disaster occurs. It really makes ALL Christians look ridiculous. There are in fact normal, every day, hardworking, good people that are also Christians and do not share the same obsession with "end times" that is in this article.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  5. the lord works in mysterious ways

    I just vomited in my mouth a little bit.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  6. Whaaaat?

    We treat the earth like we're some kind of huge flesh eating virus that threatens to eat it alive. As George Carlin so eloquently put it, One day the Earth is gonna shake us all off like a bunch of fleas!

    March 22, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  7. Waltham1892

    The End Is Near!

    Send me your money!!!!

    March 22, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  8. sstone

    Being a Christian does not mean that I live in fear. I no longer fear because I am a Christian. Adopting a "faith" to hedge one's bets against eternity is as false as it comes. I force my faith on no one, I respect others right to have their own faith as well. Bashing a person for their faith is not a lot different from bashing and discriminating against a person for their skin color. It looks to me like a whole bunch of folks posting are scared spitless for all the bashing that's going on here.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Sybaris

      No, not scared.

      That makes no sense to people who believe the environments and characters in your religious play don't exist.

      It is interesting that people like you still try to convince yourselves that comments opposing your views is a sign of fear. This indicates a myopic view of the world and an elitist need to elevate yourself and your religion.

      March 22, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  9. Squigman

    Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, if your head is empty.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  10. VonWolfman

    I really don't think anyone will ever know when the "end" is coming. Anyone that says they do are loonie.
    But with that said, i'll refer to a quote my grandmother use to say. " Those who expect to be saved at the 11th hour, often die at 10:30."

    March 22, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  11. Tembei

    Hello Sybaris
    Great point you brought there! You talk like someone who is good person. I used to use the logic you just used,
    which is that if we haven't seen evidence yet or can't see evidence of something, then it must be that it doesn't exist.
    I came to realized that is shallow and wrong thinking. I have never seen my brain, yet I know it's there and I believe it's
    there because I was taught like that. I believe that I think with my brain but really have no clue how that happens.
    There are many things in history that truly happened but which archaeological findings haven't been made yet and
    cannot be made. It's just hard to go back and reconstruct the past, but that difficulty doesn't mean that stories that happened in the past that cannot be reconstructed or confirmed now didn't happen. There are entire cities described in secular literature that haven't been archaelogically confirmed but which most probably existed...
    I think you are a smart guy and I just wanted to share what I learned with you. Whether I believe in Jesus or not, it is likely
    even to many people who don't believe that he was what he said if you look at the evidence and not go the table with preconceived ideas...

    March 22, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  12. the lord works in mysterious ways

    and other meaningless crap can be found in a book called the Bible.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  13. macj121

    Really, I don't believe that Franklin really cares what naysayers on this blog think.

    Inspired by his Christian faith, he is too busy trying to make a positive difference in this world ... trying to help the over 25 000 kids who die daily. It is out of his faith that he compassionately seeks to help ... there are many selfish people in the world and he, or his father, aren't them ... they could be, but aren't.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • Mikey

      The guy's a bazillionaire.......what would Jesus do with all that money? This nutjob and his dad are just locusts feeding on people's fears and ignorance. Whatever "help" they offer is just business......the business of amassing as much wealth as possible for themselves.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  14. brian

    There's only one explanation for natural disasters – the return of some mythical dead guy. I can't even imagine going through life wearing the Imagination Goggles required by Christians.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • the lord works in mysterious ways

      I prefer beer goggles.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  15. Ray E. Georgia

    Well,
    I am not superstious. Someday the Sun will burn out and go Supernova but that is millons of years in the future. More than once in the past people have predicted the end of the world. It will come, just not tomorrow.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  16. Cyrus

    The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. His father was an "inspirational" Christian-supremacist, and he is the same, only less charming. Either way, he is a multi-millionaire, and I am sure he has a better understanding of "God's intent" than the rest.

    I think that the end is near for all organized religions. More and more people of all faiths becoming detached from their mental slavery and finding god in their own way, without sociopaths and crooks telling them how to lead their lives and what God said. Hopefully in a generation or two, these organized religions will have a nice comfortable place in our history books.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • Martin

      Alas, I fear there will always be hucksters. And religious hucksters have had a great gig going for thousands of years.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • k5150

      I assume you have seen Frankin's tax return since you say he is a millionaire. To all of those that say there is no God because we can't prove He exist....prove to me that He doesn't exist. When I hear a Christian man say at the end of his life moments before dying, "Oh can you hear the angels?" and another Christian man say hello to his Ma and Pa moments before dying gives me even more reason to believe what I already believe, God is very real and so is His Son Jesus.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • blake

      Words from President Obama at last month's National Prayer Breakfast:

      ...it was through that experience working with pastors and lay people trying to heal the wounds of hurting neighborhoods that I came to know Jesus Christ for myself and embraced Him as my Lord and Savior.

      In the wake of failures and disappointments I've questioned what God had in store for me and been reminded that God's plans for us may not always match our own short-sighted desires.

      My Christian faith then has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years.

      And the last recurring theme, one that binds all prayers together, is that I might walk closer with God and make that walk my first and most important task.

      When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to give me the strength to do right by our country and its people. And when I go to bed at night I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to forgive me my sins, and look after my family and the American people, and make me an instrument of His will.

      Link: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/02/03/remarks-president-national-prayer-breakfast

      March 22, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • Sybaris

      k5150. You want proof that god doesn't exist but you didn't specify which god?

      March 22, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  17. Steve

    After slogging my way through all these comments since I posted back on page 2 I fell it's nessesary to put up a few definitions for those who are using terms incorrectly(believers I'm pointing at you)

    Theist/Atheist : Pretty simple one here. A word describing the belief or non-belief in the existence of a god or gods. Only 2 possible choices here. God = Yes or No
    No other attributes can be attached to the terms.

    Gnostic/Agnostic: Again an easy one. A word describing knowledge. Gnostic means to know. Agnostic means to not know. Again only 2 possible choices. What I believe = I know or I don't know.
    This means that everybody falls into one of only 4 possible categories.
    Gnostic/Theist
    Agnostic/Theist
    Gnostic/Atheist
    Agnostic/Atheist
    Since no one can have absolute knowledge about the existence of god/s the Gnostic position is indefenceable as it places the burden of proof on them.

    None of the above terms says a single thing about religous or secular views on morality, the meaning of life, where the universe came from, where mankind came from, what happens when we die...blah,blah,blah. All this is either based in religous dogma or addressed in philosophy, science, history etc.

    The following words are those that are used by those with religous belief.
    God: creator of everything, trancendant supernatural being
    Satan: fallen angel who deceives man to turn against God
    Jesus: son of god, appeared on earth as a mortal, offered as blood sacrifice to atone for mans sin
    Sin: defiance of gods law
    Soul: trancendant aspect of mans being
    Heaven: Gods domain
    Hell: Satans domain
    Spirit: similar to soul
    Angel: non human race with some metaphysical powers
    Evil: consequence of sin, not to be confused with bad or wrong
    Bible: word of god, text by which religous belief is founded

    There are certainly others like miracle,prayer,faith but the point here is to demonstrate to believers that we don't attribute any of these words with any useful meaning. Hence using them to try to convey persuasive arguments fails because they are meaningless.
    Examples: We can't be threatened into believing in god by telling us we are destined to spend eternity in hell since we don't believe hell exists.
    We can't be angry at god because we don't believe god exists.
    We aren't concerned about where our soul will go after we die since we don't believe in a soul or an afterlife for that matter.

    End of line

    March 22, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • tmichelle72

      (((sigh))) Some will be blind no matter what. It's sad.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • the lord works in mysterious ways

      a chicken makes a lousy housepet

      March 22, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • the lord works in mysterious ways

      Shouldn't it be "end of THE line" rather than "end of line"?

      March 22, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • Steve

      tmichelle72

      My vision works just fine. It's you and your bronze age worldview I feel sorry for. Get an education, preferably one that isn't grounded in supersti.tious nonsense.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Steve

      End of line was a phrase used in Tron :)

      March 22, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • Religious sects

      Steve .. I'm with ya, but it's a losing battle. For the believers it's not a discussion of facts it's a matter of faith, to dismiss evidence and choose to believe anyway. I call it "brownie points for God", they will argue against any point & the louder and more opposing their view from the non-believer the more brownie points they feel they gain .. look God look what I'm doing for YOU! cha ching..more BP's!

      March 22, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  18. Omar

    Well this thread definitely calls for some Mindy Smith:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzRsw_zsBXQ&w=640&h=390]

    March 22, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  19. james

    I was hoping Franklin wouldnt be a nut job....dont drag fairy tales into just a simple series of disasters. Nobody will ever float down from the clouds, wave a hand and then Kaboom !

    March 22, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  20. ryan

    His words are proof...adults with imaginary friends are stupid.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • the lord works in mysterious ways

      and imaginary enemies

      March 22, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Martin

      How can you be stupid, when with ONE imaginary friend you get MILLIONS of real friends you don't even know but keep sending you money? And all you have to do is use some random event to remind them to keep it coming.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:13 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.