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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. plnsfrd

    "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening. You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times." Mt.16:2

    March 22, 2011 at 4:28 am |
  2. SalSal Gamboni drank the bong water

    I used to have a saying about my faith and it was that I believe in Rock but that was all and then I had something happen to me. I believe Sam Philips came and took me by the hand and led me to see the truth and the truth is Elvis is coming back for us. To all you people who put down the guitar: Try picking it up and playing it sometime, it talks to you. It says many will turn away from Elvis and that's what you're doing. I will rock for you all but you're the only one who can save your soul. Please believe in Sam Philips and all the other Sun Artists, like Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Johnny Cash, and believe that Elvis died for your sins. Just look at it like this wouldn't you rather believe in something and be wrong then not believe and be forced to listen to Christine Aguilera or Brittany Spears for the rest of eternity?

    March 22, 2011 at 4:27 am |
  3. The truth is hidden

    I'm wondering? Why are all of you "athiest" reading this artical at 3 AM in the morning? It seems that you have a curiosity about God but you have been disappointed in Him because of someone you met in church or around the church or even someone that proclaimed they were "Christian" and acted like the devil! Maybe you should take a little advice and stop looking at people because they will let you down 100% of the time just like God will be their for you 100% of the time if you just believe.

    March 22, 2011 at 4:26 am |
  4. Heaven On Earth

    Why don't we create our idea of heaven now? Where all living things love and care for each other. Everyone are angels. Why wait till we die to see heaven that may not meet our expectation? Or worst,,, found that all the while, we were praying to the wrong God? Future is a mystery. Now is what we are experiencing. "Oooh baby do you know what that's worth, Oh, heaven is a place on earth...."

    March 22, 2011 at 4:23 am |
  5. Lee Bartholomew

    All I know is when the middle east is totally in peace, that's when the end is near. It's not and not even close. That and you have the anti christ to deal with.. Which probably will be someone everyone will like. (can't be Obama) they did the same thing for Bush. Mostly got it's the Pope when I was growing up.... THen it was someone from the UN. Course the end could be in May when those morons are going around leaving their houses wide open but I doubt it'll be that soon. I'd say 100-200 years. Maybe. But anyone saying when the end is near is a fool. It's no big deal. We just go to the next life. (maybe watching Constantine in blu ray and having a party. (especially if Sarah Palin wins next year 😛 or worse. ) Or just go for the George Carlin explanation. What's hell? Like burning a hundred trees and jumping right in the middle of them... or it could be a bit of Painkiller... Water got water? no no water here. Or it could be What Dreams May Come, of Pirates of the Caribbean.. etc

    March 22, 2011 at 4:15 am |
  6. Eduardo

    HO'PONOPONO

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ac5SGwRPv0o&w=640&h=360]

    March 22, 2011 at 4:15 am |
  7. Eduardo

    I am sorry ,Please forgive me, Thank you and I love you.

    Ho'oponopono

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ac5SGwRPv0o&w=640&h=360]

    March 22, 2011 at 4:13 am |
  8. Tim Jordan

    I'll know it's really the "end of the world" when Christians like Franklin Graham stop scaring little children and the weak-minded, stop building zillion dollar mega churches, stop bashing gays, stop talking about the poor and start feeding them.

    March 22, 2011 at 4:10 am |
  9. al

    What an ignoramus. Doesn't he have some gay people to go hate, or sheep to fleece.

    March 22, 2011 at 3:55 am |
  10. Daniel

    May 21, 2011 JUDGMENT DAY

    The Bible GUARANTEES it!!!

    websites to look at...

    http://www.familyradio.com

    http://www.ebiblefellowship.com

    http://www.bmius.org

    http://www.The-Latter-Rain.com

    To God Be The Glory...

    March 22, 2011 at 3:52 am |
    • DarrellS

      Where did this May 21, 2011 End Of Days come from? I read The Bible from cover to cover–TWICE–and I don't remember ever reading the date of Judgment Day. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, The Bible says that NO ONE will know when Jesus will come again. He'll come like a thief in the night. Soooooo...read your Bible, please. And get a grip on reality. The world is not going to end on May 21, 2011, and you don't get to pick a second date. Just stop talking about it quietly, and there will be no need to feel embarrassed when your predictions of doom do not come true.

      March 22, 2011 at 3:58 am |
    • alberto

      ja ja ja ja ja, wrong again, you and your stupid bible, wake up.

      March 22, 2011 at 4:18 am |
  11. plnsfrd

    Don’t be dismayed or discouraged by those who scoff at and mock the living God of the universe in whose presence they would be instantly incinerated. Those who belong to God hear the words of God. “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”

    So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

    But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. 1 Cor. 1:18

    March 22, 2011 at 3:49 am |
  12. DarrellS

    Stop for a moment and think. The largest religion in the world has a population that believes Jesus is coming again, and that we must have Armageddon. Now, if 2.5 Billion human beings believe in Armageddon, just what the hell do you think is going to happen? They want to see their savior, so they will make Armageddon happen, won't they? It's a self-fulfilling prophesy. Which, by the way, has been prophesied since the last few pages of the Bible and still Jesus has not come again. 2,000 years of people wanting to believe the world is going to end in a horribly destructive way, and yet the world has not ended, no matter what atrocities have been waged by these people against society, against other religions, and against the planet. Please, STOP!!! You're wrong, your religion has been wrong for thousands of years, and you're screwing the planet up for the rest of us who do not believe as you.

    March 22, 2011 at 3:40 am |
  13. Alberto

    Yes, the end is near – it's true, but only for those who believe in it. Might as well pack it in.

    March 22, 2011 at 3:35 am |
  14. Whaaaat?

    The greatest gift I can give my kid is to teach him to think for himself and never be sucked into that black hole of lies you call religion.

    March 22, 2011 at 3:31 am |
  15. The truth is hidden

    I wish I could agree with you Mr. Sniffles, but I can prove otherwise! I once was a hard drinker and drug user and still a college drop out. I was doing nothing to benifit anyone let alone myself. I had a dead end job making somthing around $8-10per. hr. working over night for Coca Cola. Until at 2:30am on a November night in 1994 I chose NOT to believe! On that night I came to a crossroads of choice and I choose then to believe. Nothing was going traumatically wrong in my life I just felt empty. I heard this man on TV (a longer story than I care to say here about this program) he seem to be speaking directly to me on a personal level. From that day at 29 years old I have gone from being a 19k a yr. employee to a family man with a 6figure plus income. I own 2 business and I give more than many people make to help others along with my church giving. I am not a preacher nor do I consider myself a really smart guy but I do know this when I began to understand the biblical principles and apply them in my life I began to get raises and ideas that changed everything about me and my life. I live in a home that is over 3700sqft that I designed and built it myself. I know people with degrees that don't have what I have. I have traveled more and done more things than I ever could have imagined. I find it difficult to explain except for the principles that I learned in the Bible. That aside I have also found hope when things have seem hopeless, joy when there was no reason for joy and reason to continue when reason went out of the window. I issue this challenge to any here who don't believe or just go to church. Read the Bible and find a good church that teaches the love of Christ and apply what you learn to your life as a personal goal and believe. I know you will see some powerful things happen that will only make you better, stronger and happier. I have nothing to gain or loss but you I hope you see a much bigger return on you efforts and I'm not just talking about the stuff but all of it. Don't be like so many Christian hypocrites looking for God to be an ATM because He is bigger than that. He loves you. (Jer. 19:11) God's thoughts and plans toward you are good and to prosper you....

    March 22, 2011 at 3:29 am |
    • Whaaaat?

      Sounds like following that crap has really made you wealthy. Congratulations. If being rich means I have to believe in that crap then i am Deliroiusly happy being poor. I bet I live a much more exciting and rewarding life than most people anyway. And when I exceed all expectations and succeed in life, I thank MOM ...NOT GOD....because without HER I would be nothing.

      March 22, 2011 at 3:36 am |
    • Whaaaat?

      Why does every epiphany in life have to be a religious experience? I have been just as down in my life and at a point where things were reeeeeeallly bad yet when i was laying there at the bottom of my life I knew that the only person that was going to get me out of that hole was MEEEE!!! So I got up and kicked myself in the a** & I started climbing, little by little, handful by painful hanful I clawed my way back out of it. It took an entire year but when i was done my life was truly changed for the better. And GOD had nothing to do with it. Only the everlasting and unlimited power of my very own spirit!!

      March 22, 2011 at 3:50 am |
    • The truth is hidden

      Whaaat! you missed the point? If the stuff left now I would be ok with it and still be happy with God. Why because this stuff is not mine. I believe he gave me the things I have so that I can help others. I employ many people I pay well I provide a great witness to what I believe by working hard and making my product well while charging a fair price. I want to see others do better than I no matter what they do be they teachers or ditch digger. I want to see every one who wants to live live! I have no problem helping my worker that decide to go it on their own and help them get started. Why, I love the idea that one of my guys are able to make a difference in our community. I have two now that have started their own businesses and I am prouder than a new papa. I often take them out to eat and give them advice. I even find it difficult not to even help my direct comp. when they ask because God has and will provide for me and my family. I have no regrets but you seem to be bitter and have no hope! You have a gift that God has given you find it and use it!

      March 22, 2011 at 4:02 am |
    • Whaaaat?

      Truth" you seem like a genuinely good person as are a lot of religious folk. However, I am just as good of a person as you are and I am capable of just as much empathy and generosity as you are. The only difference is that I dont believe this quality is something Exterior to my soul granted to me by some otherworldly being that is beyoned me. Nobody and nothing has control over the fate of my soul but ME...and this is why I take full responsibility fo my life and may actions here today. I am not in the least bit bitter, as this is a useless emotion to harbor. You take a lot of pride in displaying the good side of your religion by touting your generous acts. I applaude your efforts to help others to move ahead, but there are waaaaaay too many people in this world who pervert religion and turn it into something evil by preying on the weak and stealing money or molesting children. And yet the powers that be allow these monsters to stay in power...because they really dont care about anybody but themselves. And when you get down to it that is all religion boils down to. Selfish ignorance.

      March 22, 2011 at 7:08 am |
  16. Dr.Tong

    ACCEPT JESUS OR GOD WILL CRUSH YOUR HEAD LIKE A MEATBALL

    March 22, 2011 at 3:24 am |
    • The truth is hidden

      Tong, now that is funny! Just a thought. What can we do for a god if he exist that is Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient. If he is god he can in the time it takes to snap your finger, he can distroy and recreat the earth a hundred times and we not even know it! Which raises a question in my mind. What can I do to satisfy him? NOTHING!!!! So he has to set the tone. So in the Bible the tone is set by just asking you to do one thing and that is to confess with your mouth and believe and he has done the rest. The other choice will not cause you to die or have him "smash you like a bug" , however if he is real there must be a different end from those that chose to believe? That is just fair, right! Just like you who have children when your child makes bad choices there must be a punishment. I hope or you will have an out of control child one day on you hands or dead because he will not follow instructions.

      March 22, 2011 at 3:44 am |
  17. Skylark

    The end IS near; about 300 billion years near (give or take 100 to 500 billion years). Humankind will be long gone by then, by the way... In the meantime, though, people like Franklin Graham provide seemingly endless amusement. Charlie Sheen ain't got NOTHIN' on y'all!

    March 22, 2011 at 3:19 am |
  18. heather

    I love how every one has an oppinion. I feel that many of you are wrong, but it is your oppinion to have, God gave free will to all so we could make are own choices. Wer will all bow down to god one way or another. My question is why do so many people hate what they truly do not understand? It is sad to me. People are flawed and that means all christians are flawed the only perfect being is Jesus. why so much anger and spite. there is no need for all this. Franklin Gram is quoting scripture not saying that its happining now. Do you people even read the bible? Have you ever stepped foot into a church? Do you give of yourself in your daily life? Do you want to be the best person you can be? Who are any of us to knock each others veiws?The bible says Do not judge less thee be judged please try to have a more positive outlook on things.

    March 22, 2011 at 3:15 am |
    • Whaaaat?

      Just like a religious freak to ask why all the hate when religious zealots kill so freely around the world. The reasons you see nothing but people around you telling you you're an idiot is because you refuse to use reason and adopt a realistic view of the world.
      The human species is meant to explore its true potential through intellectuall debate and study. This is fundamentally impossible if we, as a species cling to a system of belief that is 2,000 years old. The only way we get there is to challenge ALL of our conclusions and subject them to peer review so that we can move forward as a species in a focused and organized effort.

      March 22, 2011 at 3:28 am |
  19. Jeremy Grant

    I used to have a saying about my faith and it was that i believe in god but that was all and then I had something happen to me I believe GOD came and took me by the hand and led me to see the truth and the truth is Jesus is coming back for us. To all you people who down the bible. Try picking it up and reading it sometime it talks about you to. It says many will turn away from God and thats what your doing. I will pray for you all but your the only one who can save your soul. Please believe in God and that Jesus died for your sins. Just look at it like this wouldn't you rather believe in something and be wrong then not believe and be doomed?

    March 22, 2011 at 2:43 am |
    • Chris

      thats dishonest to any non believer. and if I did decide to take your rendition of pascal's wager, which religion should i choose? hmmmm so many to choose from.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:56 am |
    • Shallow Thinking

      If God already came to pull your hand towards right path then which God are you waiting for the second coming if your God is just another jenny from the block!

      March 22, 2011 at 3:01 am |
    • kyle

      Jeremy, I spent the better part of 30 years reading and studying the Bible and the original languages in which it was written. Remember, the apostle Paul firmly believed that Christ's return was just around the corner and that people who were living in that generation would live to see it happen. That was 2000 years ago and here we are still waiting and saying the same thing.
      As far as Jesus’ predictions: statistically, the frequency and severity of earthquakes has not changed significantly during the last few thousand years, and as far as wars go, I think one could safely say that humans are slowly becoming less violent as a species; it's only that there are so many more of us and space and resources are becoming limited, which is also the reason for famine and widespread disease. (And let's not forget the reason for so much of this violence and war is religion.) I think any observant person living at that time could guess that war and famine would increase as the human population continued to grow and spread out, causing cultures to collide and compete.
      It should also be noted that those who take the Bible literally are making a couple of assumptions in that Jesus actually said these things instead of Matthew just attributing it to him, or embellishing a story. Or if he really did say it, it may not have even been his original idea but something he heard someone else say. I mean, there's no real proof that the Jesus portrayed in the bible really existed. He may have just been some poor, wandering, misguided fellow who somehow developed a cult following. It wouldn't be the first time and certainly won't be the last.

      March 22, 2011 at 3:38 am |
    • jimtanker

      Reading your book is what solidified my atheism. It is such a jumbled up mess of stories that it could never be true. It is a joke.

      March 22, 2011 at 4:16 am |
    • Anteantbib

      Religion is the reason so many people despise God.It's not the sole reason,but a principal one.
      Get back to the Bible and out of the congregations.Jesus is calling.Run to Him when he stretches out His hand.Leave religion and church behind.But never in a moment think that your good works can save you.Salvation is 100% the work of God.All we have to do is cry out to Him.No prayer of salvation can save anyone.But a broken,contrite heart,God will not despise.

      March 22, 2011 at 4:57 am |
  20. QED

    War of 1812
    Famine of 1812, Spain
    1812 – 8.0 earthquake in New Madrid, Missouri

    I guess that year was just a warm up. HAHAHA!

    Earthquakes have happened in geologic time since the beginning of earth. Famines have happened as long as humankind has been farming, because the weather is a fickle thing. And war has been a part of humankind as long as there's been civilization and greed. Today is just a snapshot in a long line of all these things.

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

      Your right, these things have been around all along but, the key to interpret what Jesus was saying is the reference to birth pains. As a parent you know the baby is close when those contractions and labour pains are more frequent and stronger. So in light of that watch for a increase and a more stronger occurance of these so called natural disasters and we shall see if the scripture is myth or the prophetic word of God! dare to believe my friend

      March 22, 2011 at 3:03 am |
    • jameson

      correction, I've looked it up...

      "If I tell the truth, it will exceed your powers of belief. So let it suffice to say this much, at least, that in the Temple and porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up their knees and bridle reins. Indeed, it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers, since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies. The city was filled with corpses and blood."

      The Frankish Triumph ~ Raymond d'Aguilers

      Those men did those things to obtain salvation from the same god this man worships. And a rupturing fault line in the most geologically active region on the planet is supposed to be seen as the dark days? Really quite an ugly thing, people taking tragedy and trying to use it to twist people into fear for their own gain, so they can end up with their own article on cnn.

      March 22, 2011 at 4:21 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.