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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 • Faith Now

soundoff (1,412 Responses)
  1. Mr Mark

    Ask Rev Graham whether a god exists and he'll unequivocally answer "Yes!"

    Ask him which god is the true god out of all the gods man has created for himself and he'll aver, "the God of the Bible, of course!"

    But ask him if these are the end times and he says, "maybe."

    Amazin', ain't it? To have the ability to be so absolutely certain about things unseen (and that will never be seen), while at the same time being able to equivocate about things that are happening in the real world, right now.

    This is what passes for "deep thinking" from the religious mind.

    March 22, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  2. chmch

    God gave us this beautiful, why do people like this pray to have it destroyed? Why do they spit in God's face?

    March 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  3. JohnR

    Be just and fear not.

    March 22, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  4. jadda

    Right, Franklin, and how much of my money do you want to intercede for us with your God?

    March 22, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  5. Pete

    I agree with both comments being made in regards to the T.V. Evangalists. They truly believe in what they are preaching, yet they are smiling all the way to the bank as well.

    March 22, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  6. Deneen

    Just a reminder to every Christian.

    God promises in Genesis, to Noah that he will never again destroy every living thing:

    8:21 And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.
    8:22 While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. KJV

    8:21 21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though[a] every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

    8: 22 “As long as the earth endures,
    seedtime and harvest,
    cold and heat,
    summer and winter,
    day and night
    will never cease.”

    As long as the earth endures.
    day andnight will never cease.

    So just how would Jesus in Matthew use the end of humanity when the Flood came-and Noah waited in the Ark-as the time the Son of man shall return?
    God made a promise to man that he would not end the world and all living things.
    I just cannot believe that if God made a promise he would renege on it.
    It just seems out of character of the teacher Christ to change the word of God-
    He did not do that, but clarified teachings so that the common man could understand-
    his parables are an example of that. He refused to change the Word, so I doubt that what is in Matthew is should really be attributed to Christ.

    March 22, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Magic

      Deneen,

      You are getting there... doubting the authenticity of Matthew is a start. Now, on to the rest of the lack of truth in the Bible...

      March 22, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Deneen

      @Magic

      Your truth is not my truth.

      I find it repugnant that you would attempt to enforce on me your idealogy and leave me to mine.

      My comment had nothing to do with your thoughts and ideas.

      My faith and my reply was to those Christians here who allow them selves to be diverted from Christ's true teachings. Not what ANY church doctrine manipulates for the masses, be it Catholic, Protestant(myself), Lutheran, whatever.
      Paul was the biggest manipulater of the truth.

      Christ taught about enlightenment and to love our brothers and sisters,not just in Christ, but everyone and in a phrase;
      Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another John 13:34

      March 22, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  7. Mike in NJ

    And you COULD be a huckster charlatan posing as someone who actually cares about people more than making a fast buck from a number of calamities in countries and cultures you have nearly no knowledge of. You COULD be a complete fraud and a des-picable human being. I stress the word COULD.

    March 22, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  8. daisy

    Actually in the bible.. fear the Lord mean "revere the Lord". It has nothing to do with fear-mongering as most people believe. I don't believe that Franklin Graham is about money..more about leading people to Christ and eternal salvation. There are tremendous amounts of other Chirstians who purposefully seek out raising funds for their coffers. Wolves in sheep's clothing fo sur.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  9. awdam

    Strange how the ones who first throw stones are also the ones who squeal loudest when met face to face with a slow,agonizing,tortured death.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  10. fundies

    i have been told that I too am blessed. I think it's more of curse to have to find pants with a large enough crotch fo my blessed junk.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  11. fundies

    Peter, the rock. Me too.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  12. Sybaris

    You don't need religion to be a good person. Just look at all the religious subscribers who turn out to be hypocrites.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  13. fundies

    who thinks he will make his initial return to Utah? Raise your hand.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  14. Nick

    Is there anyone out there that actually read the Bible? well from the posts I've read the answer is NO! don't give your money away or think like Rev Graham tells you to. Don't google search why God dosent exsist just read the Bible for yourself and then you can make your choice.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Sybaris

      yep, read it cover to cover. It convinced me of what it is, a marginal history of the Jews, sprinkled with some universal truths about human nature and filled with myths and legends borrowed from other religions.

      March 22, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Magic

      I have read most of the Bible (can't quite claim cover-to-cover), as I was a believer for over 40 years. I agree with Sybaris - it is a book with some Middle Eastern history, some useful morality tales and a few pearls of wisdom; but mostly it is historical fiction, myth, legend, superst!tion and fantasy.

      March 22, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  15. wisdomVSknowledge

    Earthquakes have occurred since the beginning of time, they are random and differ in magnitude. They have destroyed many cities over time because we build on or near fault lines. We can not stop an earthquake. On the other hand... Religion and politics has been the basis of every war. Which is preventable. I was raised Baptist but upon acquiring an education I now see how relgion feeds and plays upon fear. If you don't think it does... then you need to go back to school, you didn't learn enough. I faced death during a major heart attack. I wasn't afraid because I knew I had lived my life the best that I could. I didn't fight in a war or get caught up in religious or political rhetoric. I am spiritual and have compassion for those that suffer during natural disasters. If politics and religion would leave people alone the world would be a better place. We have the capacity for great good if religion and politics wouldn't interfere with our good intentions. When the world ends... it ends. So, leave it at that and live your life as if it may be your last day. It very well could be. I bow to the Buddist, I shake hands with the Christians, I respect the Muslims, I understand the hardships of the Jews.... but they all need to put aside their dogma and help their fellow man.

    Bottom line: You only get one life.... don't screw it up.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  16. Nick

    Wow, all the hate seems to come from all the non-christians. I thought you folks were too smart and civil to argue with backward thinking hatemongers like us.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • fundies

      I hate splinters and I am a christian.

      March 22, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • John

      Pointing out stupidity is different from hate which is what these bozos practice

      March 22, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Deneen

      @John

      Which bozos practice what?

      If you mean Christians 'practicing' their faith, well that's what it is. We strive every day to be better-as such we can only be in practice since we haven't 'perfected' ourselves.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  17. CheshreCat

    There have been doomsday predictions too numerous even to list here since ca. 2800 BC. These predictions have been sparked by everything from planetary alignments to natural disasters (both of which have been occurring on a regular basis for millions of years). They have been made by scientists, philosophers, religious leaders – I could go on and on. The ignorance of doomsday alarmists is staggering.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  18. fundies

    Jesus called shotgun, so he gets to be my co-pilot. I plant to drive like hell (no pun intended). He's also my insurance.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • fundies

      I like my post.

      March 22, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • fundies

      My wife likes my post too.

      March 22, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  19. fundies

    jesus is just alright with me. Jesus is just alright, Oh Yeah. I don't care what........

    March 22, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  20. darrenhankins

    If Franklin Graham, wont to help many you should talk to his conservative nut job about social awareness and responsibility.
    He was one of the backer of Bush and his war machine. He and other right wing nut job support the ideal that global warming is made up by the liberal news media. At the same time, he believe we should support corporation like BP and policy coming from Koch brother conservative agenda.Franklin Graham should read of the bible and spend less time in the new and on TV.....

    March 22, 2011 at 10:13 am |
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About this blog

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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.