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. True beiliver

    My pastor says it says in the bible that this is definately the end of times. It's in the chapter of revelations where the bible revels what will happen in the future. 2012 is a pivotal year ladies and gentlemen and I suggest you heed what the good book says and that is turmoil will break out and the end is near in year 2012. The earthquakes and wars are proof of that.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:30 am |
    • The truth is hidden

      Jesus, said no man knows the day or the hour of His return not even the son of man. Matt 25:13. As Bro. Gramm said the Bible tells us to watch and pray.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:35 am |
  2. Justin McNally

    People have been saying the world is going to end for millenia...I got a secret for you...It's not going to end, atleast not until the sun expands and burns up the inner planets, and guess how long that's going to be. About several billion more years so guess what, Jesus isn't coming people. Time to put away your bed time stories.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:29 am |
  3. paganguy

    Remember the story of the Spanish galleon that struck rocks in the Caribbean and was sinking? The priests on board were giving absolution to the sailors for gold pieces. While most of the sailors could swim to a nearby island, the priests all drowned; the gold poeces in their pockets pulled them under. Bon voyage.
    Mr. Graham and his ilk aren’t any different. Leaches on the people.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:29 am |
  4. James R. Ruston

    The problem is not whether earthquakes and other disasters are related to the end times, the problem is that he accepts the concept of the end times as an accurate description of reality. It may be, or course, but it seems to me like a lot of nonsense.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:29 am |
  5. Hiya

    This "belief blog" is a farce. Seems it's more a "hack on Christianity" blog as I don't see much else than Christianity highlighted, and typically in a campy, mocking overtone.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:28 am |
  6. Roger Federer

    Religions... Oh oh oh oh oh........

    March 22, 2011 at 1:28 am |
  7. trggstrflove

    Maybe it's just the end of Franklin Graham.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:28 am |
  8. Linda

    In my humble opinion, natural castrophes are just that–natural castrophes. If one wants to, one can "see" something else in everything that happens. I have a friend who sees demons and one who sees angels. Both friends are a little left of normal and very religious in their chosen groups. The friend who sees demons also wants to raise money to help the Jewish population in Russia move to Israel. My friend who sees angels thinks she can absorb other people's pain so they don't have to deal with it. Both regularly try to "save" me.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:25 am |
  9. Ajax

    ain't he dead yet?

    March 22, 2011 at 1:24 am |
  10. Orin

    I just have to say that I think CNN misrepresented Graham on this story. The interview was actually about his relief work and really focused on that. The reporter then asks a question, saying that many religious leaders are speculating that the magnitude of the recent disasters could mean the end of the world. Graham is responding to that question! He is simply being diplomatic in his response by acknowledging where others have gotten their view from, stating that they MAY be right, and then stating his opinion that he doesn't know and that he thinks that is not the most important question.

    The way CNN has it is out of context and not at all in the spirit and tone that he said it. Again, poor reporting by CNN. I

    March 22, 2011 at 1:24 am |
    • juan

      Well Said Orin! CNN is more interested in controversy than accuracy.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:29 am |
  11. old salt

    Hay every one God revelrd to me years ago what makes sence of the end times . first he said the moon stars etc.will have a problem then the seas will not contain the selves= end of the earth. but as for early belevers there end time has alrady come. the first comming is when I asked Jesus into my life, the secend coming is when he comes for my sprit. but wait revlations has more to say about the end times Humm I would rather focus on what Jesus said on that subject so basicly repent asap for you know not the time and the hour your sprit my be removed from this earth or to hell in the earth repent repent For No man comes to the father but theough Jesus anan

    March 22, 2011 at 1:23 am |
  12. paul

    I am so sick of this religious nonsense.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:22 am |
    • rebrep

      Then quit reading Belief blog.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:27 am |
    • Matt

      rebrep – That's a good point.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:41 am |
  13. I'm Outside

    "How do you choose between believing in Jesus, Bigfoot, leprechauns, witchcraft, Islam, alien abductions, the Tooth Fairy, gold at the end of the rainbow or the myriad other assertions that people have made over the course of human history? Try using your brain to evaluate some evidence. Yes, it requires more work than blind faith, but the results are less like rolling the dice and hoping you have placed your faith in a true proposition.

    However, if you are still inclined to place faith in an un-provable assertion, I am God, send me money." Wayne Adkins

    March 22, 2011 at 1:21 am |
    • The truth is hidden

      Outside, if your car was to break down in a very bad area of town with lots of crime and you had to walk down a dark street and you could see several large men carrying stuff under their arms and you had no weapon or phone to call the police. What would you rather find out that they had weapons or Bibles?

      March 22, 2011 at 1:52 am |
    • civiloutside

      Do they look like they'll try to sell me what they're carrying? If so, I'd far rather it were the weapons.

      But really, it's a stupidly false choice you're peddling here. You could subst-itute almost anything for the word "Bible" in that scenario – kittens, science fiction novels, algebra textbooks, cotton balls, twinkles, etc. – and people would still pick them over the weapons.

      March 24, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  14. Alokdhara

    Certainly he will come.. It is not because Bible predicted the things rightly, but it is because we, the believers will materialize the omen of those so called holy books written thousands of year ago.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:20 am |
  15. Lawrence in PHX

    People have thought for centuries that the world was "about" to end. We should only be so lucky for it to be all wrapped up and ended for all of us at once with nothing and no one left over. How selfish is it for us to think we're the ones living in the last hours of earth when so many of our forefathers lived before us and none witnessed the end of times.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:18 am |
  16. mick

    So sick of religious nut jobs. Go post your garbage on a religious site and stop infecting normal people with your seed of crap. Universe has been around 13 billion + years, as far as we know right now. Fantasizing about the end of the world, I swear most of these tools just wish it would happen so they could say they witnessed it, because the rest of their lives are a complete waste of the oxygen used to support them.

    There is no god, there is only dirt. One day you will die and become it.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:17 am |
    • stubbycat

      are you sure you're not already "dead" and are it?

      March 22, 2011 at 1:23 am |
    • Free Thinker Seeking Reason

      @ mick
      Couldn't have worded it any better myself. Well said!

      March 22, 2011 at 1:29 am |
    • The truth is hidden

      I may be wrong but I thought this was a page on belief? Not opinion.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:31 am |
    • rebrep

      Belief blog IS religious. Don't click on articles about religion. You should be all right.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:31 am |
  17. Shawn

    Amazing just how stupid people are. If nobody told these fools that Santa Claus wasn't real, I bet they would still leave out cookies and glasses of milk.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:17 am |
    • The truth is hidden

      Now Santa is not real! If a fat guy comes down my chimney on a winters night he better hope the police, Gabrial, Michael or Jesus gets to my living room before I do because I might have to do some serious repentance! Ha ha ha. Just a joke for all of you athiest!

      March 22, 2011 at 1:46 am |
  18. stubbycat

    The end of the world isn't something anyone should worry about as such. What Franklin Graham and others of his ilk should think and pray about are the spiritual ways to promote love, healing and spiritual growth in the world and to nullify the evil entrenched in human thought including, possibly, their own. The universal law declares that consciousness is determinative. Jesus declared it while preachercraft and priestcraft avoid the topic altogether. Earth's destiny lays squarely on the collective consciousness of the beings who inhabit it.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:15 am |
    • The truth is hidden

      That is a silly analagy? In other words you are saying that a chair is responisble for its own exsistance or a child responsible for its own birth? Wow that is a long one isn't it?

      March 22, 2011 at 1:29 am |
    • Fred


      March 22, 2011 at 1:30 am |
  19. Atheist

    Jesus is a completely fictional mythological character. This is akin to announcing that Darth Vader is going to come back to life.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:15 am |
    • rebrep

      Secular historians of the period verify the existence of Jesus. Even though you don't believe in God, it is a fact that Jesus the man lived.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:22 am |
    • Free Thinker Seeking Reason

      Ding, ding, ding!!! Correct, sir!!! You win the prize!!!

      Problem is, most Americans refuse to believe it. The bible is allegory, including its most famous but not even remotely original folk hero of the day. Its stories may tell moral lessons, and some immoral ones, too, but that hardly makes it historically accurate.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:26 am |
    • CallMrAl

      There is evidence of a man we now call Jesus. His name wasn't Christ and the stories that emerged in the ensuing centuries of a savior born of a virgin, martyred for the people, and raised again reflect a very ancient mythology used for various people / gods in civilizations that pre-date Christianity by thousands of years. The mythology has little to do with the actual person.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:28 am |
  20. RichardSRussell

    People much smarter than me once took seriously the question of "If the Earth is flat, where are its 4 corners?". Just because somebody took the question seriously didn't mean that it had a useful answer.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:14 am |
    • Hilo, HI

      LOL....great point!....how come these guys always miss the part about 'It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.".....?

      March 22, 2011 at 1:27 am |
    • Mr. Sniffles

      What?!?!?! You think the discovering correct geometry of the Earth was not useful? Navigation is not useful? All long-distance navigation systems must be based on the curvature of the earth or they don't work. We never would have had celestial navigation or GPS, inertial would not be accurate.

      Just because you are unaware of the impacts of scientific knowledge does not mean that knowledge was useless.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:29 am |
    • Christopher Jack

      Know this. God is righteous and holy and will judge man for his sin. Jesus shed his blood to cover you sin and my sin. His salvation is a free gift. It cannot be earned or bought. All you have to do is believe, and you will be saved from the wrath to come. AND.... It will come. Come Lord Jesus

      March 22, 2011 at 1:35 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.