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. whenindoubt

    im not the most religious person by far, but how do you not look at the events that have been going on in the middle east and all around the globe for that matter and not think of the bibles revelations? im glad i go by the saying.. "its better to live a life full with faith and die and go to heaven rather than to live without faith and spend eternity in hell... only thing is just cuz i have faith doesnt mean im going to heaven, ive had my share of sins!

    March 22, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • richunix

      Have you seen Elvis yet? As you are willing to believe in anything...Especially stories in a book that was written 2000 years ago by the very same people who believed in many gods of the day. In fact each generation has declared “End of Days” and one day they will be eventdully be right (laws of averages). If memory serves me correctly the Book of Revelation was written as the results of a dream the monk John, nice. I have a dream that man will live and evolve and someday remove the shackles of Religion, war and hate…Yes to live in harmony….thanks my dream

      March 22, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • eric

      probably not a good article for CNN...keep in mind who the audience is....democrats, non-believers, and athiests

      March 22, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • HaveFaith

      We all sin. You only need to have faith that Jesus died for your sins and ask for forgiveness in his name in order to go to heaven. It is a wonderful gift, don't ignore it.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • ynmsid

      Eric, I think democrats can be christian too. And their policies are certainly more christian than republican policies.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • T

      I can look at the events going on around the world and not fear because I have an intellectual curiosity and don't believe in fairy tales.

      The world has been waring since recorded time. Natural disasters have been going on since recorded time. Ever heard of Pompeii? Every generation thinks the end of the world will occur since recorded time.

      Faith is great, if it helps you to live a better life and one without fear. But too many people of so called 'faith' want to shove their hypocritical rules for living down everyone's throats and that does not sit well with most.

      So believe your fairy tales, your end time stories, and if it helps you sleep at night.....Great! But don't be surprised that those of us who study things not found in your 2,000 year old book will disagree with you. Keep your faith. Just don't expect it of me.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • Johnny

      That's what Christianity is all about...people full of past and present sins receiving free grace and getting restored into a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8-9 from the Bible: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast."

      March 22, 2011 at 8:28 am |
    • Mabraham

      let me tell you , no where in the bible it says sinless people go to heaven, then nobody is going to heaven . you put your faith in Jesus Christ and accept Him as your Lord and savior that is all you need to do. you are righteous through Jesus Christ.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:29 am |
  2. NotAFan

    This is a load of crap. We know that finally allowing non-str8ts marriage is the ONLY thing that will usher in the end of mankind.

    March 22, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • Tabitha

      What is wrong with you people! Everybody is ent-i-tiled to a belief. I see some of you getting absurd over what some others believe, why is that? Name calling and labeling, is that really necessary? Sounds like a bunch of kids who all want to be right. Grow up!

      March 22, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  3. Randy

    The Bible also says that even the angels in Heaven do not know the day or the time that the world will end. With that, it is foolish to even speculate as to when the end will happen.

    March 22, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  4. Reality

    What do we know for certain:

    1. The Sun will burn out in 3-4 billion years so we have a time frame.

    2. Asteroids continue to whiz by us daily.

    3. One large hit and it is all over in a blast of permanent winter.

    4. There are enough nuclear weapons to do the same job.

    Bottom line: our apocalypse will start between now and 3-4 billion CE.

    March 22, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  5. Sherri

    Amen! I am praying for all of you who are Jesus bashers. He is my Lord and Father, and he is yours as well if you let him

    March 22, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  6. tweezer

    Wonder if humans will ever quit believing in mythology as though it were fact. Buncha dummies. Whatever you'll buy, someone is sure to sell. Doesn't really show much faith in nature, if you have to grovel for your lord's love. Pssshhhhtttt!

    March 22, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  7. His

    "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." 1Corinthians 1:18

    March 22, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • Enlightened

      Corinthinas–didn't they make the leather for the cars Ricardo Montalban used to pitch for Chrysler?

      March 22, 2011 at 7:49 am |
  8. David

    Hello David, I founded something interesting.

    kind regards,


    March 22, 2011 at 7:35 am |
  9. David Riker

    Franklin Graham is cruel and unprincipled, just like the god he prays to.

    March 22, 2011 at 7:31 am |
  10. LOLZ

    First off Billy Bob, the end time predictions were relevant about the Romans. You know, those party guys from two thousand years ago?

    I wish all you born again, evangelical BS artist would just crawl back under your rocks.

    March 22, 2011 at 7:30 am |
  11. Whaaaat?

    I big thing to remember about all the religious freaks here is that they loooove to project their own fears onto the "non-believers". They sit around and say we dont believe because we are scared... trying desperately to remind us how we all will SUFFER FIRE PAIN AND DEATH for not believing. But its quite an arrogant assumption to say that everyone who thinks you are full of Sh** it simply scared. Rather its way more accurate to think that the fear is in YOU and you simply dont know any better way to handle it than to believe in a fairy tale. I am perfectly happy shuffling of this earth one day. If I just turn off and never remember a thing then I am fine with that. Knowing this, I am living my life like to its fullest TODAY.

    March 22, 2011 at 7:30 am |
  12. LOLZ

    It would really be nice is folks like him would just STFU.

    March 22, 2011 at 7:28 am |
    • Jesus

      It would be appropriate to arrest and convict him of fraud and running a con game. That's all religion really is!

      March 22, 2011 at 7:39 am |
  13. tweezer

    Wonder why he dyes his hair (if that IS his hair). Does he think god goofed by turning it grey?

    March 22, 2011 at 7:28 am |
    • Jesus

      He does that to please all those over 60 widows who are sitting on a pile of cash, no hubbie, and are very fearful of the end. It's a way of separating them from the benjamins.

      March 22, 2011 at 7:38 am |
    • scissors

      I see tons of grey all along the sides and a splash in the front.

      March 22, 2011 at 7:41 am |
  14. JC


    March 22, 2011 at 7:28 am |
    • Whaaaat?

      The crazy thing to think about is that if certain theory's of Quantum Mechanics are correct then there are INFINITE dimensions and infinite universes. if this is true then all possibilities exist at once and thus this entire argument is moot because WE ARE ALL RIGHT ....messes with your mind.

      March 22, 2011 at 7:34 am |
  15. dave

    THe best proof that the end of the world as we know it are the comments on this page...naive..head in sand...mankind is good thinking..powder puff religion...yep laugh all you want at the Bible..however I would suggest you ask god to open your eyes to his word..not the words of watered down ministers ..but the word itself

    March 22, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  16. jesusislord

    God will judge this corrupt generation; not just us but all of humanity.

    March 22, 2011 at 7:26 am |
    • David Riker

      Oh, pi*ss off!

      March 22, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • The Bobinator

      What does he have to judge. Doesn't he know how it'll end up?

      March 22, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • chef dugan

      Speak for yourself. Better yet, just shut up with all your biblical garbage.

      March 22, 2011 at 7:49 am |
    • David Riker

      Jesus is dogsh/it.

      March 23, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  17. Forteaneye

    An earthquake is a natural occurrence. What makes it special is that humans have overpopulated the world and our creations can not withstand the power of nature. One day the end will come for the earth when the sun depletes it's reserve of hydrogen. Man's hope of survival is to expand beyond our tiny little planet.

    March 22, 2011 at 7:26 am |
  18. Jsheez

    Hopefully someone will finally get this right Good riddance I'm sick of you all anyway.....

    March 22, 2011 at 7:17 am |
  19. Dajackal


    March 22, 2011 at 7:15 am |
  20. big tuna

    his father was a rather non-whatever preacher ~ I guess he is going to be a k00k.

    March 22, 2011 at 7:14 am |
    • kolo

      Hey Big Tuna, his dad was not a KOOK, get out your Bible and read it sometime. He spoke only the facts.

      March 22, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • nimitta

      Yes, Kolo, the Bible is "the facts". Thank goodness we have it today so that we can use the frequently insane (no shellfish! no graven images!) views of ancient desert nomads as the guiding principles of our lives!

      March 22, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • chef dugan

      What I want to see is the end times for this annoying family. They have lived the good life off the money of others and they have contributed nothing in return. Billy and Franklin – two huge frauds!!

      March 22, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • Impious

      Hey Kolo, just drink the kool aid and get it over with.

      March 22, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • Chuck

      Not once was Billy Graham even accused by anyone of wrongdoing. All during his ministry, he was very careful to serve God with all his heart and to never do anything that would reflect badly on Christ or on Christianity. He was always available to his family and never acted in a way that dishonored the ministry.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
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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.