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. Colin

    That's the beauty of being an evangelical. No amount of evidence, no amount of wrong predictions or false information can ever shake them from their superst-ition. As (someone) once said, "The mnd of the evangelical Christian is like an iris. the more light you shine on it, the more it will withdraw and contract."

    March 22, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  2. Steve

    After slogging my way through all these comments since I posted back on page 2 I fell it's nessesary to put up a few definitions for those who are using terms incorrectly(believers I'm pointing at you)

    Theist/Atheist : Pretty simple one here. A word describing the belief or non-belief in the existence of a god or gods. Only 2 possible choices here. God = Yes or No
    No other attributes can be attached to the terms.

    Gnostic/Agnostic: Again an easy one. A word describing knowledge. Gnostic means to know. Agnostic means to not know. Again only 2 possible choices. What I believe = I know or I don't know.
    This means that everybody falls into one of only 4 possible categories.
    Since no one can have absolute knowledge about the existence of god/s the Gnostic position is indefenceable as it places the burden of proof on them.

    None of the above terms says a single thing about religous or secular views on morality, the meaning of life, where the universe came from, where mankind came from, what happens when we die...blah,blah,blah. All this is either based in religous dogma or addressed in philosophy, science, history etc.

    The following words are those that are used by those with religous belief.
    God: creator of everything, trancendant supernatural being
    Satan: fallen angel who deceives man to turn against God
    Jesus: son of god, appeared on earth as a mortal, offered as blood sacrifice to atone for mans sin
    Sin: defiance of gods law
    Soul: trancendant aspect of mans being
    Heaven: Gods domain
    Hell: Satans domain
    Spirit: similar to soul
    Angel: non human race with some metaphysical powers
    Evil: consequence of sin, not to be confused with bad or wrong
    Bible: word of god, text by which religous belief is founded

    There are certainly others like miracle,prayer,faith but the point here is to demonstrate to believers that we don't attribute any of these words with any useful meaning. Hence using them to try to convey persuasive arguments fails because they are meaningless.
    Examples: We can't be threatened into believing in god by telling us we are destined to spend eternity in hell since we don't believe hell exists.
    We can't be angry at god because we don't believe god exists.
    We aren't concerned about where our soul will go after we die since we don't believe in a soul or an afterlife for that matter.

    End of line

    March 22, 2011 at 8:43 am |
  3. doug

    too bad there wasn't any real news to report on for this particular blog.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  4. James

    The passage from Matthew quoted in the article could easily serve as a paraphrase of the entire Christian era. Think about it.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:40 am |
  5. Jarrod

    EVERY generation has predicted the apocalypse is going to be in their time. It has been a great marketing tool for Christianity.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  6. Justin

    No no, Christians don't live in fear... That's entirely wrong. We do have the fear of God in us. Meaning, we love and respect him as you would a good father. The difference is this father has the ability to give and take life. As He says "The wages of sin is death". The wrong way to look at Christianity is thinking "believe in me or go to hell", but rather look at it for the truth in what he's told us. We were already headed to a bad place because of our lust for material and worldly posessions. He just gave us an opportunity to be redeemed and saved, by sending his son to sacrifice himself to take our burden off our own shoulders. So that we may not rot away in a meaningless life. Christianity is life of love & compassion, because these are the things our savior taught us are the most important. Also, many people have looked at the prophecies and said "all these things have happened at one time or another in history. Others say things like well many already believed Hitler, or any other, was the anichrist. So why would we believe this now" Well God tells us through the bible, that none of these things matter until Israel was reborn as a nation. This is the first step in prophecy. All other signs will follow, and are following as we speak. Our past presidents have talked of a New World Order aka Globalization. Well the reality is there will be a dictator to rule this one world government. I think it's kind of ironic that all of these dictators across the globe are falling at this time, But there can only be one. Remember... According to our leaders, this needs to happen, and will happen. This all fits EXACTLY to what our bible teaches. Now if anyone says "new world order, blah blah blah" I challenge you to do a little research on where our current president comes from, in terms of political background. Look for names like Henry Kissenger, George Sorros, & Zbigniew Brzezinski. I think if anyone educates themselves enough on what's really going on, it would really be harder to not believe in something higher. In these corrupt times of vanity, fame, power, conceit, it's pretty obvious that our country isn't what it used to be. Where have our morals gone? Where have the people gone who stand for what's right? Oh that's right... They've been pushed aside to make room for the "politically correct". God help us...

    March 22, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  7. Arnold

    Jesus is here! The second comings now, so act accordingly. Take the opportunity to live for your god now, instead of waiting for something to happen. There is plenty happening now for you to do to serve mankind and our brotherhood. Stop trusting what others say and listen to the god within you and act on you own truth and authenticity. That is is where the spirit lives.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:36 am |
    • John

      Where did i miss him? Oh Nooooooooooooooooo!

      March 22, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  8. Laroy

    I have taught sunday school in a bible believing church for 35 years. I think the moral decay of the world is a greater sign to the fact that Jesus is comming soon. I mean, how much further can this moral decline go without blowing itself apart?

    March 22, 2011 at 8:35 am |
    • Colin

      I am sorry that, 35 years later, you are still no more advanced. Still believing in invisible sky faries. what a shame you wasted a part of your life in such a futile endvour as teaching hundreds of children false stories.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • Sybaris

      There was more moral decay in the days of adam and eve than today. Think about it, 25% of the population were murderers.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  9. MeMyselfAndI

    What does EVERY previous prediction of the imminent End Times have in common? Wait for it... Wait for it...

    March 22, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  10. Kurt

    What will I do when I have to live forever? That's a long time and I get bored easily. Living forever would be like some kind of sick torture.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • John

      Indeed. Hopefully we are only thinking of an earthly forever and the heavenly variety will be better. But eternity doing what? It blows the mind.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:43 am |
  11. It's about love

    It's about love for others. End times discussions always make me nervous. They stir up strong debate and are off-point. Knowing God is about love. As with anything, if you want to really know about it you must check it out for yourself. Knowing God connects you to the world in new and refreshing ways. The whole thing isn't just a scam to take your money. If that is your fear, then don't give any money. Just check it out.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  12. Bryan

    Some of us simply take Philosophy and the quest for real knowledge as seriously or sometimes more seriously than you do your religion. Is it so hard to accept that we question what we are told and that we question a text that has been interpreted by many prophets over the centuries with no consensus yet achieved?

    In case you were not aware, this is a comment board section of a blog about religious belief, atheism provides but one counter point. If you are so frightened of contrary opinion you may wish to avoid being on the boards. You are free to stay, to leave, to comment, or to remain silent. No one is forcing you to endure this affront unless against your free will.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  13. JP

    They have said the end is near for so long and so many times that eventually they will be right. Then they will claim, "See, we told you so". But a bunch of catastrophes and wars make not for an biblical apocalypse...it's just mother nature and the nature of humans.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • tmichelle72

      JP when the end does come the last thing Christians will be thinking about is saying "I told you so". Trust me. We will be too caught up in the wonderful and unimaginable presence of God. No REAL Christian wants that moment of "I was right, I was right" about what you will get if you don't turn your live over to Jesus what we really desire is to say, "Welcome in, now taste and see the Lord is good, isn't He". I'm so sorry there were people you've ALL encountered that represented the King Jesus incorrectly. I know i at risk of doing it every day. I pray all of your hearts are healed and that you come to know the wonder that is Jesus.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  14. Robert Keyes

    We are all one or two heart beats away from our "end" so my advise is to act accordingly.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:29 am |
  15. Morgan

    I would bet that donations are waaaay up as a result of this little message. Or is that way to cynical?

    March 22, 2011 at 8:28 am |
  16. Robert Keyes

    Let me finish his sentence for him "The end may be near" – "so give me more of your useless money".

    March 22, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  17. cosmicsnoop

    There is no Satan. Try to organize your thoughts a little better. I have no idea what point you are making, wait... I don't care actually.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:25 am |
    • newsboyslegacy

      How do you know?

      March 22, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • Sybaris

      He knows because the purple unicorn in your closet told him so

      March 22, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  18. holly

    Is the whole point of this CNN "discussion" board is so people who are not Christian to can make fun of and ridicule the beliefs of us who are? Why can't people just let other people live and do their thing?

    March 22, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • CJ

      Because such inanity as Graham spews is harmful. Like religion in general. ok?

      March 22, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • John

      I agree. I am a Christian, but far from the End is Near crowd of Paulites. I do think each has a God given right to believe, free from ridicule. That does not however prevent skeptics from pointing our the preposterous beliefs of some on the edge of reality.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • Cyrus

      Oh holly..this discussion forum is for Christians to make fun of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Atheists, and they often use it generously. I guess they are just returning the favor.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • Sybaris

      Because people like you have a religious based political agenda and try to weave your belief system into the laws of this country. George Bush thought he was doing his gods work by invading Iraq. Tell that to the families of the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi's. Tell that to the wives, husbands, and children of the thousands of dead U.S. soldiers. The first amendment gives me freedom from religion. If I can convince just one of you to stop following your religion then maybe you'll tell two friends and they'll tell two friends and son and son until political and social decisions are based on reason and logic, not myths and legends.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:43 am |
    • Get Real

      ....because Idiocracy is dangerous

      March 22, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  19. Sybaris

    The more these charlatans stir the fear factor the bigger their bank accounts grow.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • tmichelle72

      Before you make comments on the bible (or any text for that matter) read it so you don't look foolish. You know the great thing about Jesus? He never forced Himself on anyone. He loved you enough to say you have free will to accept me or not. But in the end we will all know. I KNOW what I believe is true but to entertain your argument lets say what I believe is not, what harm have true God fearing christians done. We give millions to the world, we work hard ever day to be good upright people (although like ALL humans we make mistakes). If we are right we get to be with a loving Father for all of eternity if we are wrong we tried to live good lives. The only think in this world I hate is HATE. You are free to believe how you want, and I support your right to free will as did Jesus. Don't hate me for what I believe to be true, just live your life. But my hope is you live it for Christ as it is not His will that any man should parish.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:39 am |
    • jim

      I assume that Jesus would not approve of the Catholic church then, since he didn't want anyone to "parish".

      March 22, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • MIK

      I love God, I love people but at the same time, Graham is a smart guy, We all know that putting fear in people's head, is an old technique to control the masses. And no doubt that He's prolly a rich man and this is his best gig, Where are the ones that gave their life and preach to the masses without getting anything in return? Now days is very easy to create a cult/sect/religion and try to propagate the "Truth" when deep inside They are living a fake life...

      March 22, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Sybaris


      You poor delusional person.

      March 22, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  20. Alan

    Sad...all of these cynical and sarcastic comments from SO MANY who don't believe in God or Jesus Christ. Must have been the same for Noah when he was building an ark far away from water. So many laughed and criticized and told him how much of a fool he was for listening to a "voice" telling him the end of all flesh was at hand. They didn't laugh when the great flood came though and pounded on the doors of the ark wanting to be rescued...but it was too late. Humanity hasn't changed much at all in 6000 years. We are being warned by God Himself that the end is near and His desire is for all to come to repentence, but it must be a choice that each one makes on their own. Salvation is a gift, but you must accept it. If not, then you choose the consequences that come with rejecting that gift.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • Sybaris

      Hey Alan, there is no evidence for Noah's flood, none. Your Jesus man spoke of Noah and his ark. If Jesus was who he said he was he'd have known it didn't happen. Jesus = false prophet

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

      "...you choose the consequences that come with rejecting that gift."

      That's why there are so many "believers". If you don't believe you'll suffer eternal pain in Hell, so why not hedge your bet and believe...just to be safe.

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

      There is no proof of Noah and his Ark. To think that actually happened calls into question your intelligence. Faith has nothing to do with anything. There are millions of people who have the faith to believe in the craziest things even though they are totally made up and not at all relevant or factual.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:29 am |
    • John

      Says you. You are trusting a thousands year old text muddled by corruption, the church, those with an agenda, and countless errors in translation. Good luck.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • newsboyslegacy

      When I visited the Grand Canyon I was blown away. Not by a little river that cut this gaping hole over millions of years, but by evidence of a deadly flooding.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:35 am |
    • Dmoney

      I wish Noah would have left black widow spiders off the ark, im scared of them.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • Get Real

      Religion is false. It fills a void left by the absence of knowledge and wisdom. Get REAL. Live your life to the fullest and stop looking to mythological deities for answers.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • bush limbush

      so this noah fellow built a boat and took only 2 of each animal and from those animals we now have the population of animals all around the world that we have. So 1 male and 1 female of each species bred enough over time to keep producing more of these animals??? So then, every species that had offspring had male AND female offspring so that they could then continue to have male and female offspring to continue to populate the world with their species??? And at no time did this inbreeding cause any type of birth defects (which Science tells us would happen in such a case)????


      March 22, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • haq

      Hey Alan,
      You seem a very wise a knowledgeable man from your post.
      I encourage you to read about Islam and this will open further for you and will make you even brighter.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • herbiehusker

      Maybe God is just in the middle of a bet with the devil like he did with Job. I hope not. It bothers me to think that our creator might have a gambling problem. Or wait, is Job one of the books that we ignore as Christians because it has icky non-God-like behavior things in it?

      March 22, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • The One

      LOL! Do you understand the concept behind how big the ark would of had to of been, and then that one old man made it, and then how did he get all the animals........OMG! why am I trying to explain this to you. Pffff, I hope Santa brings you all the toy you wished for. That story has lesser holes than Noah's. A boat to hold all the animals.........ha ha ha that's so funny.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:53 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.