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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. Jcork

    Religion exploiting a tragedy for intimidation and publicity/personal gain. HOW SELFISH!

    March 21, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • T-party

      @ jcork whats new...

      March 21, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  2. JB

    would you christians please stop quoting someone who left NO QUOTES!, my goodness take a basic class in research. YOUR Jesus LEFT NO QUOTES, Emerson left quotes, washington left quotes, hell even hitler left quotes. But there are no quotes from a peasant jewish teacher from a long time ago. Stop pretending that there is. That being said...peace and love to every one.

    March 21, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Todd

      Socrates left no quotes as well, yet we all accept he existed by the testimony of others. What he said comes down to us from others.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:15 am |
    • Mr. Sniffles

      Not quite the same thing, Todd. There are many extant texts from people who knew Socrates personally, including Plato (a friend) and Aristophanes (an enemy who mocked him), as well as others.

      As to Jesus, there are no surviving contemporary accounts of him, no Roman or local records, no mentions in reports, nothing. The first Christian text is Mark, written about 40 years after Jesus died non-Christian texts date around 109, about 80 years after Jesus died. Nothing is written by anyone who actually knew him.

      Based on accepted historical techniques, the certainty that Socrates existed is quite high, and what is known about him is probably quite accurate. Jesus' existence is significantly less certain, and due to the many years of word-of-mouth transmission of his life, is prone to much more distortion if he did exist.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:07 am |
    • chris

      what about the book of James? (Jesus' half brother)
      The gospel of John
      The books of Peter (Jesus' closest deciple...the one who walked on water with Jesus)
      The gospel of Matthew (the tax collector in the gospels)
      There were plenty of books written as testimony from those who knew Jesus personally. The gospel of Mark was written because Mark was an understudy of Peter's...hence why I think the gospel of Mark makes no mention of Peter walking on water (the only book that doesn't mention it), because Peter didn't want to equate himself with Jesus' power.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  3. JB

    would you christians please stop quoting someone who left NO QUOTES!, my goodness take a basic class in research. YOU Jesus LEFT NO QUOTES, Emerson left quotes, washington left quotes, hell even hitler left quotes. But there are no quotes from a peasant jewish teacher from a long time ago. Stop pretending that there is. That being said...peace and love to every one.

    March 21, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  4. Jose Baaautist

    I believe that the most nearest prophecy is in Matthew 24:14 " And this gospel of the kingdom will be preach in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come". That for sure will happen with the proliferation of technology, every one will come to hear the gospel, so that no one would make an alibi, when the real JUDGE will come!!!

    March 21, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  5. Josh

    No matter what natural disasters are going on, or what's going on around the world; Human beings will never know how close the end times are coming, nor ever will. Throughout history during World War's I and II, through every major natural disaster such as the tsunami's that hit countries before, through every major earthquake, people have thought the same thing; That the world is coming to an end because they see how powerful the earth can be. If anything, to see these natural disasters destroying other countries, humans should learn to be empathetic with these people and others around them and help them. People should enjoy life for the present moment, and learn to help others. The earth has been around for billions of years, and human intelligence and technology is growing and expanding just like the universe. The years to come are going to be amazing. Through the internet, people all over the world will be able to research and learn about anything they want. The end times should never be a major focus, the focus should be living now.

    March 21, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • MattMan

      Well said, Josh!

      March 22, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  6. Muneef

    Al-Anaam sura 06:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    Yet they ascribe as partners unto Him the jinn, although He did create them, and impute falsely, without knowledge, sons and daughters unto Him. Glorified be He and high exalted above (all) that they ascribe (unto Him). (100) The Originator of the heavens and the earth! How can He have a child, when there is for Him no consort, when He created all things and is Aware of all things? (101) Such is Allah, your Lord. There is no God save Him, the Creator of all things, so worship Him. And He taketh care of all things. (102) Vision comprehendeth Him not, but He comprehendeth (all) vision. He is the Subtile, the Aware. (103) Proofs have come unto you from your Lord, so whoso seeth, it is for his own good, and whoso is blind is blind to his own hurt. And I am not a keeper over you. (104) Thus do We display Our revelations that they may say (unto thee, Muhammad): "Thou hast studied," and that We may make (it) clear for people who have knowledge. (105) Follow that which is inspired in thee from thy Lord; there is no God save Him; and turn away from the idolaters. (106).

    Hud sura 11:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    And he said: Embark therein! In the name of Allah be its course and its mooring. Lo! my Lord is Forgiving, Merciful. (41) And it sailed with them amid waves like mountains, and Noah cried unto his son – and he was standing aloof – O my son! Come ride with us, and be not with the disbelievers. (42) He said: I shall betake me to some mountain that will save me from the water. (Noah) said: This day there is none that saveth from the commandment of Allah save him on whom He hath had mercy. And the wave came in between them, so he was among the drowned. (43) And it was said: O earth! Swallow thy water and, O sky! be cleared of clouds! And the water was made to subside. And the commandment was fulfilled. And it (the ship) came to rest upon (the mount) Al-Judi and it was said: A far removal for wrongdoing folk! (44).  

    March 21, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • Reality

      Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslim souls:
      There never was and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam

      Saving 2 billion lost Christian souls:
      There was and never will be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity

      Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:
      Abraham and Moses never existed.

      Added details upon request.

      March 21, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  7. Ben Dover

    Please not more of this insane, ignorant garbage from the "god squad". Why does anyone listen to these religious wingnuts?

    March 21, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Da King

      Ben,
      The want to know the truth.

      March 22, 2011 at 6:15 am |
  8. jenn

    All of you anti religious, the same thing could be said about you. Have you ever thought you all say the same thing about Catholic priests, money, no Gods. Seems an awful like someone somewhere many years ago thought of this turn of ideas and the same ppl keep mimicing the words, like their flat out genuises.

    March 21, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • ColinO

      Except we actually grow. Every year, our knowledge of science, and the workings of the universe becomes greater and greater. We are constantly learning, and always seeking new answers to constantly evolving questions. Where believers, on the other hand, are stuck in a stunted belief system that has not progressed in 2,000 years.

      March 21, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  9. chris

    I disagree...let's go to scripture, shall we?
    "For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows." Matt 24: 7-9

    The beginning of sorrows isn't the tribulation period, which comes after the rebuilding of the temple... Still no temple on the temple mount

    March 21, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  10. Don

    Dispensationalists like Graham want some massive Michael Bay-explosion style end-of-the-world to fit their hatred of humanity. It's disgusting, demented, and has no place in civilized society.

    March 21, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  11. sealchan

    One major issue with those who turn current events into indications that Biblical prophecy is coming true is that they do not hold themselves to any objective standard.

    Such preachers should hold themselves to the following standard:

    1. If there is some reason that current events match to prophecy more fully than at any other time in the past then you have cause to propose the literalist interpretation as relevant

    2. If not then you should only use current events as reminders of prophecy but without a sense that they are coming true in the near time frame.

    I say this because there are many impressionable people out there and preachers carry a burden of responsibility to not unduly alarm people. Preachers should hold themselves to a standard of knowledge that is consistent across time.

    March 21, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  12. wayne

    "Thanks! You're helping to fulfill end times prophecy right before our very eyes. Pretty cool."

    Are you seriously suggesting that there were no scoffers of this nonsense until now? Seriously?

    March 21, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Mark

      No, I'm not suggesting that.

      March 21, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  13. Evolved DNA

    Religions are all death cults.. they live for disasters...it is almost an orgasmic experience for them. They love to tell others of their impending doom, we hear it every time we post. .Why they cannot just operate as regular human beings and continue with some of the good work they do, rather than make ridiculous remarks and cause the weaker minds of society to worry unnecessarily

    March 21, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  14. Juan

    Well said Rev. Graham..........

    March 21, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  15. Reality

    Paul made the same prediction ~2000 years ago. And we are still waiting!!!

    March 21, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Mark

      Reality...

      2 Peter 3-4
      "Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this "coming" he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

      Thanks! You're helping to fulfill end times prophecy right before our very eyes. Pretty cool.

      March 21, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Colin

      The Flying Spaghetti Monster is real, he exists. He spoke to me and said, "Your belief in me will be ridiculed, and you will be called an idiot, and you will be scoffed at, thus I AM."

      Isn't that convenient? Now when people do all of the above, it only serves to deepen my belief. Your argument holds no more water than this.

      March 21, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • C B

      Mark... naturally there will be people who scoff at anything. It's called dissent, discourse, cynicism, among other terms. That's not a sign of a prophecy being fulfilled, it's a safe assumption made by a person who wrote a book in the bible who never even met Rabbi Yeshua.

      March 21, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  16. Colin

    I am not the above colin, but I agree with him. The only thing here that requires explanation is why god-heads are so obsessed with the end of the world. I guess, if one cannot handle life, it is almost something to look forward to.

    March 21, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • MattMan

      They're obsessed with the end of the world because it keeps those big fat paychecks rolling in! That, plus it keeps those women excited and showing up for more...and for those Catholic priests...keeps those young boys excited and showing up for more. Money and power over people. That's what's it's all about. It's also the ultimate excuse not to put forth the effort to think and reason.

      March 21, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • ColinO

      We are a rational people, the Colins. Henceforth, I will add an O to my name.

      March 21, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  17. HotAirAce

    We have vast scientific knowledge that can explain earthquakes, tsunamis and power plant failures, and not a shred of proof for the existence of any god(s), but we still have idiots saying this "could" be all part of god's plan and the jc myth. Absolutely amazing. One can only hope that people will wake up and realize THERE ARE NO GODS!

    March 21, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • UncleM

      Franklin Graham shows just how deluded the religious are. How long will it take the human race to dump this garbage?

      March 21, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Becca

      You will see before long that God is indeed real and every eye shall see, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. The Bible says that and the Bible is the word of God. You can be assured it will happen

      March 21, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • Don

      Knees do not bow. Tongues do not confess. People bow. People confess.

      And there is no god.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  18. Blake

    HA! It was posted at 4:20! I was boking a smole at that time. You guys are comedic looking to a multi-millionare Jesus pimp to tell you when Jesus will come out of the sky and cast judgement on us all. You are all suckers.

    March 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • derp

      "boking a smole'

      Don't bogart!

      March 22, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  19. Colin

    Sooner rather than later? The people who were around during the time of Christ's death and 'resurrection' believed the same thing, that his return would come during their lifetimes. Also, nice use of the non-committal 'could,' so when it doesn't happen, you can just say, "Ah, well, maybe next year, fingers crossed."

    March 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • T-party

      @ Colin you are correct... it was predicted in the bible to be around 60 A.D. and every decade in every century since then.

      March 21, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • Wonder

      I COULD win the lottery tomorrow, i'd better go buy a ticket!

      March 21, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      The Book of Revelation is your generation folks. YOU own it and you prove it every time you blog. The famine is you.

      Amen.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  20. Luke

    I'll listen only if he promises to go away when the world doesn't end.

    March 21, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • bailoutsos

      Won't happen. He is just taking the gullible people for a ride. Same thing Palin is doing.

      This is according to bailoutsos, verse 8:12

      March 22, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • fundies

      I am your father.

      March 22, 2011 at 10:03 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.