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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. Dr. Lynn

    Believe is what everyone already does. You just choose who and what you believe...and don't believe. Faith is not an option–everyone has it. Faith is confidence in things you don't understand...like gravity, nuclear physics and the APR. Faith is not foolish...but it should be calculated. Believe in what stands the test of time, integrity and truth.
    I have chosen to believe the words and life of Jesus. Simple.

    March 22, 2011 at 2:42 am |
    • Jesusfreakazoid

      Who knows what the words and life of Jesus were? No one alive during his time wrote down anything he said or did.

      You could write the words of Jesus today and be about as accurate as the NT written and rewritten over the past 2 milliniums.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:33 am |
  2. God Seeker

    Churches should be taxed. Agreed. What you believe is up to you. No one can force you to accept God. You have a 50/50 chance. I choose to seek truths to live by and acknowledge a creator greater then me.

    March 22, 2011 at 2:39 am |
  3. Abudu Rahman

    Better yet, why doesn't Graham just go with his followers and pray over the reactors?

    March 22, 2011 at 2:37 am |
  4. Abudu Rahman

    Can't the government send Graham over to pray over the reactors?

    March 22, 2011 at 2:36 am |
  5. Jez

    Yawn. The end has always been near.

    March 22, 2011 at 2:35 am |
  6. johnny

    Why the Maybe... why can't your insignificant god (all dumb gods) be sure of anything???? why????

    I mean common.... they can't tell you if its over or not..... they can't give you a hint, to you, the worshiper???
    I'm a sinner, i don't count, I aint supposed to know..... But you bro, you in the know!!!!
    Common!!!! Give us a precise date... stop teasin.....

    March 22, 2011 at 2:31 am |
    • Jez

      Ha!

      March 22, 2011 at 2:37 am |
  7. THEND

    THE END COMES EVERYDAY FOR SOMEBODY!!! AND YOU ARE NEXT

    March 22, 2011 at 2:22 am |
  8. Frobious

    What would the Flying Spaghetti Monster say about this??

    March 22, 2011 at 2:21 am |
    • les

      i don't abotthe monster , but i am concerned that the easter bunny is doing the tooth fairy !!!

      April 11, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  9. THEND

    THE END COMES EVERYDAY FOR SOMEBODY!!! AND YOU ARE NEXT!!!

    March 22, 2011 at 2:21 am |
  10. Da King

    I'm ready and so is my family.

    March 22, 2011 at 2:19 am |
    • Jez

      adios.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:36 am |
  11. earlerich

    The reason the bible thumpers say you must accept what the bible says on faith is because there is no way to prove that what the bible says is true. It is she said, he said etc. down through the centuries. I am not saying that it is not true. I am saying that it is hearsay which would not even be admitted as evidence in a court of law.

    March 22, 2011 at 2:18 am |
    • Veritas48

      Bible thumper now that is an objective term, must make you an evil Christophobe. You should be arrested.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:20 am |
    • Dr. Lynn

      Actually, you might be interested to know that certain areas of science (archeology, astronomy, physics) often do use the Bible as a spring board for the very fact that has stood the test of integrity. Although there are many facts that have not yet be proven (scientifically) in the Bible, there are none yet that have been dis-proven; or found inaccurate.
      Many of the characters of the Bible were never affirmed, through anything other than written history, until the last 30 years of archeologist digs in Israel. The book of Job speaks of the earth being a SPHERE and was written likely 3000 years ago.

      There are some fascinating distinctions it carries as a historical, geographical, political, physical and biographical reference-for people of all beliefs.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:56 am |
    • Jesusfreakazoid

      Dr. Lynn

      Here's a fact for ya. Did you know that there are more versions of the New Testament than there are words in the New Testament?

      Job? Don't get me going on that book. Let's see, God places a bet with the Devil that Job will stay rightous even after God kills his family. If I killed your child and then gave you one of mine, would that make up for it? Would you think how wonderful I greatful I am for giving you another child? Probably not. The God of Job is more evil than the Devil. That's not a God I would want to serve. But who am I to question God? I should keep my thoughts to myself and write a check to the church because once again God is short on cash.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:45 am |
    • Magic

      Dr. Lynn,

      "The book of Job speaks of the earth being a SPHERE..."

      The book of Job speaks of the Earth as being a CIRCLE. They had words for sphere and ball, but they did not use them in this description.

      Yes, some biblical characters and places have been verified; but not one supernatural character or event has been proven.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:54 am |
  12. smokinmike

    Religion, like masturbation, should be practiced in the privacy of one's own home.

    . . . and churches, like every other business, should be taxed.

    March 22, 2011 at 2:16 am |
  13. DKUTZ

    I marvel at how we as people with our intelligent selves can be so ignorant. We have a great problem with the fact that God is sovereign and we are so limited! Let your health slip, or a love one die, or your very own life be threaten! God has a way of getting our attention, but if we don't recognize it, then things like the signs of end times which Jesus(GOD) clearly stated in Matt. 24 will be overlooked as well! We are so caught up in culture and been so desensitized that we don't care to worship or even acknowledge The King Of Kings Lord of Lords!! God says if you want his knowledge then seek it! A lot of people don't and those who do, sometime seek it to defame Jesus! The Bible calls them anti-christ which the bible talks about as well who would be prevalent in the end times(which I see a lot of on this blog). Come hard or don't come at all! Quit talking about things of God you don't know anything about! Do your research throughly then speak!! One thing about our culture as Americans, we always have something to say with very weak evidence! GOD IS SOVEREIGN AND THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO ABOUT IT!! CAUSE ALL HE HAS TO SAY IS STOP BREATHING!! AND ITS OVER WITH!!! IF YOU DON'T AGREE AND YOU HAVE THE POWER LIKE GOD, THEN BRING MY BROTHER BACK FROM THE GRAVE!! HIT ME BACK ASAP!! (GOD IS RASING UP MILLIONS OF PEOPLE JUST LIKE ME TO PUT A STOP TO THIS IGNORANCE!!) HOPEFULLY BEFORE THOSE CLOUDS CRACK AND THE REALIST COMES BACK, YOU WILL HAVE BEEN ENLIGHTENED AND HAD A CHANGE OF HEART AND MIND!!

    March 22, 2011 at 2:12 am |
    • Mr. Sniffles

      All caps means you are screaming. It makes you look crazy.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:24 am |
    • Abudu Rahman

      Yo dude, with all of the conviction you have for what you believe why don't you go pray over the reactors?

      March 22, 2011 at 2:39 am |
  14. chad Harkins

    THIS GUY IS LOONY JUST LIKE GOOD OLD PAT ROBERTSON A LITTLE FLAKEY

    March 22, 2011 at 2:09 am |
    • Veritas48

      Compare his measured response and his continue efforts in worldwide relief with Samaritan's Purse to other extremists who have proclaimed the end of world in 2012; Y2K disaster; and have sold all their possessions and fled, or have committed suicide. Graham is standing on solid Biblical Ground and not exploiting catastrophes for his own purposes. If you are any kind of objective, rational student of history you will recognize this, instead of spewing your mindless Maher infested poison.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:16 am |
    • Veritas48

      There is little comparison to Robertson. Robertson is a self promoting capitalist who has used his media power to create an empire and spouts dubious theology for his own purposes. Graham seems to have 800% more integrity than PR.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:18 am |
  15. James

    Hoorah for the Believers, Hoorah for the kind people, the justice seeking, the warm hearted fellow Americans that respect not only Christians but Hindu, Buda, and other Non Violent today beliefs. It truely doesnt matter if you claim to not believe in anything. You still believe in something, that being there is nothing.

    Stand steadfast Good People of the world, stand togeather or ye shall fall. Judgement comes swiftly to eveyone. No one here has a say in that. Jesus was in his teachings a God send to all of us a real Rebel of his time.

    So call out your Names, Fight with fist clinched and teeth nashed. Fight your losing battle with death. Better to be a peace with yourself than to die a tormented life.

    James follower of Jesus

    March 22, 2011 at 2:09 am |
  16. Veritas48

    I used to think that Jesus was referring to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and he probably was.....but Scripture has a way of fulfilling itself in more than one instance. Jesus also talked about his literal second coming and judgment; nobody would know exactly, not even the Son, but there would be signs.
    Liberals do not believe this; they are still convinced of an evolutionary Christian morality which will transfer society into Heaven on Earth. Unfortunately, this is a lie and contradicts everything the Bible stands for: things will not improve, but get worse, there will be persecutions etc. towards the Return. Of course, there have been these things happening throughout these Last Days (the Church Age), but it is sobering to note the increase of natural catastrophes the last few years, the increased population, dwindling resources, proliferating WMDs, terrorism etc. What are the main principles?: Take heart the Church will prevail over Satan so: Do not spend your time trying to convince others of the exact time. Everyone dies and all who die without Jesus are condemned to Hell, that has happened for the last 2000 years. So Christians are to proclaim the Gospel so that souls may be saved, stand up for Biblical morality, carry out the task of helping the less fortunate. And Keep on Keeping On. Work until the end.

    March 22, 2011 at 2:09 am |
  17. Roger Federer

    2013 will be the year of a huge increase in non-believers, woohooooo!! Non-believers sounds weird actually, it's just they don't believe in crap, but possibly believe in love and follow what they can know and find out.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:57 am |
  18. John Baker

    Any person who makes a statement such as Graham's is simply an idiot! Only bible-banging ignoramuses would believe such garbage!

    March 22, 2011 at 1:55 am |
    • Veritas48

      Those who trust in themselves and not in God shall perish as fools.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:10 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      You wrote: "Only bible-banging ignoramuses would believe such garbage!"

      You'd be surprised how many "bible-banging ignoramuses" there are out there... Didn't Franklin Graham have one of his "crusades" on TV recently??

      March 22, 2011 at 2:17 am |
    • Okee-dokee

      Thanks Veritas. We appreciate it when the ignoramuses step right up and identify themselves

      March 22, 2011 at 2:21 am |
  19. NotEvenClose

    If there's anything worse than a religious charlatan fleecing the people, it's his son riding on his coattails, playing the same game. Maybe Franklin Graham will show us he's serious about his claims of impending doom and transfer all his assets to low-overhead charities doing actual work to help people, because he sure won't need them as he awaits his 'rapture' that is about to arrive. Or...maybe not. Perhaps it's all a ploy to drum up the donations. Times are tight, ya know.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:54 am |
  20. Gita-man

    This is the verse from Hinduism's holiest scriptures –

    http://www.bhagavad-gita.org/Gita/verse-02-20.html

    "The soul never takes birth and never dies at any time nor does it come into being again when the body is created. The soul is birthless, eternal, imperishable and timeless. It is never destroyed when the body is destroyed".

    It is very difficult to fathom the reasons behind acts of God. More often than not, there are beyond the scope of human intelligence and understanding. Please review the Bhagavad Gita for more clarity on issues of death.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:54 am |
    • Jan

      It's actually not difficult at all to fathom the reasons for "acts of God" such as these. We live on a cooling planet, with a thin crust of tectonic plates that slide and grind against eachother along enormous fault lines. This results in earthquakes and tsunamis that cause damage indiscriminately. It is only when you invoke "God" that nothing makes sense any more. Only the concept of God makes the evil and destruction in the world unfathomable.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:08 am |
    • Darthlawsuit

      Jan is right. Earth is doing what it was designed to do. Its not Gods fault we decided to build our cities in the most Hazardous areas on the planet. The planet moves and continues doing its own thing regardless of what happens on top of it. You could predict everyone of these events if you really wanted to and we have the tools to do it. It is just not "economical" to do it.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:23 am |
    • Dr. Lynn

      Jan, I think when we invoke the idea of God into a catastrophe, the reason it 'doesn't make sense' is because, as you say: the EARTH is doing what it was created to do. We chose to build on faults and in low lying areas and have knowingly taken huge risks to do so.
      The heart of God, on the other hand, fills our hearts with compassion to help those to whom disaster has fallen.
      These are simply 'acts of the earth'. (Perhaps we will rethink "Earth Day"! =0)

      March 22, 2011 at 3:01 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.