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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. fundies

    where are you katrose77?

    March 22, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  2. Patrish

    As a borderline atheist, I find comfort in knowing that no one knows. It does keep some in line and in church with these warnings. Religion is about power. ' believe as we do and you will be save'. No proof there is a GOD; a truly powerful deity would not waste time with these little earth burbs. He just destroy the whole planet period.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  3. Pastor Evans

    All things are only possible to the one who "BELIEVES"!!! Don't waste your time debating and arguing
    (which many are taught in these secular colleges and universities, and dates back to the times of Arostotle and Socrates) with non-believers. They see what's going on in the world which the Bible and God's sent messengers have been declaring for years and they still don't believe!!! Let the unjust be unjust still!!! Shake the dust off your feet and go to those who will hear and recieve the Word of the Lord!!! Stay strong and be blessed all my brothers and sisters for you are already citizens of His Kingdom!!! Amen!!!

    March 22, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • a bunny named zöe

      pastor evans, ate you siting the part where "the meek shall inherit the earth"? the bible teaches us to not speak for ourselves. does this make your job easier? with that in mind....how much does a pastor make nowadays? i might need to change my career!

      March 22, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  4. racing mom

    I have been reading through some of these comments for the past 30 minutes – I am so shocked by the lack of respect by a lot of posts on this site. Franklin Graham simply gave a brief opinion, probably at some reporters request. If each one of you were asked by reporter what YOU thought, would you want others to respond in the same manner? So many on here have posted cruel comments for a simple man who believes in The One and Only God – creater of all mankind.
    It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'"So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Romans 14:11-12

    March 22, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  5. the lord works in mysterious ways

    I wonder if Jesus is part of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • a bunny named zöe

      he's a total teabagger.....erm, i mean, tea partier

      March 22, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  6. a bunny named zöe

    i love that this article was posted at 4:20.....lololololololololol

    because....really,.....REALLY people

    March 22, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  7. gogogopher

    in the OT, the lord, (god/jesus/spirit) used two bears to maul 42 children. It was an answer to prayer from a prophet. Jesus 1/3 of the blame for this horrid act. Jesus loves the little children.....?

    March 22, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  8. Byrd

    You know, censors, it's one thing to censor someone for profanity or vulgarity, but my previous post had absolutely none. So the only reason I'm now being censored is because one stupid censor out there doesn't like what I had to say.

    I'm now sitting here with a screwdriver in my hand, censor. Guess what I'm thinking...

    March 22, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  9. Jimbo

    You religious evangilical morons never pass up an opportunity to spread fear in order to build up your army of stupidity. Don't let a crisis go to waste, when all the numbskull's shields are down you better take advantage.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  10. the lord works in mysterious ways

    I wonder if Jesus would have preferred a Mac or a PC. I'm a PC guy, but I think Macs are cool.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Jared

      that's a good question. because jesus would need the best equipment, which would be a mac. but he's a business guy, and would want something more practical, so i'm thinking PC.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  11. stevie68a

    Tell "jesus" to do something about that bad wig. Now that would be a miracle!

    March 22, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  12. snowboarder

    if i had a nickel for every time someone invoked the "end of days" over the past 1600 years i would be a wealthy man.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  13. the lord works in mysterious ways

    I was born to rub...... I was born to lick your face......... I was born to rub you........... But you were born to rub me first.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  14. David Nicholson

    CNN should not be giving these snake oil salesmen a platform for their nonsense. It is nothing more than fear-mongering and hate-mongering designed to get more butts in the seats of their mega churches and more money in their collection plates.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • Jeff

      I agree completely. Giving a platform to this childish nonsense on a professional news site (one that we hope values reason and evidence) is really unfortunate. What I'd really like to see is a CNN investigative report that actually presents all of the evidence for the existence of god(s)... Oh wait. That's right. There is none. I'd like to see how many other reports get through the editing process based on faith. If that's what we wanted, we'd go to Fox "news".

      March 22, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  15. payback

    ....If I had just a nickel. Everytime, someone claimed, that the world, was going to end. I'd be a billionaire........If your believe the world is going to end make me your beneficiary.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:22 am |
  16. Ryan Richardson

    I feel for each and everyone of you, having a relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is not this game. I will Pray for all you Athiest, Non-Believers, and even the Lost. Because if all you don't except our Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, you will split Hell wide open. Picture a Lake of Fire with millions of Demons coming at you. Then at the End of Time Satan will be bound in Hell for 1000 Years. God is REAL, Jesus is REAL, Heaven is REAL, either you go to Heaven or you split Hell wide open. Thank you GOD for saving my Soul from Hell.
    Romans 10 4:9 That if though shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus Christ, and shalt believe in thine Heart that GOD hath raised him from the Dead, thou shalt be Saved.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • falconco

      All religions are man-made, so is your bible...folklore and legend.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • Maya

      Personally, hellfire sounds preferable to spending an eternity with a bunch of boring, irrational, self-righteous Christians. Burning sounds like a walk in the park compared to that.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • a guy

      Any other fairy tales you want to tell us today?

      March 22, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • patriot1942

      Excellent comments! I read this article and enjoyed it. Then I went to the comments section and was amazed at the number of people that are literally going to hell..........

      March 22, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Jimbo

      For some reason all the other 100s of religoins are completely wrong and you are 100% sure you are correct. Humerous.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • HAHAHAHA

      sounds like the start of a great movie!

      March 22, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Jeff

      At 49 years old, this is still, by far, the most surprising thing to me about the human condition. That we are surrounded by adult men and women – the vast majority in fact – that truly believe in what is patently a fairy tale. The blatant transparency of the whole thing makes it even more amazing.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • Steve

      Ryan Richardson
      Honestly ...do you think you're getting anywhere with your threats?

      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.
      Gnostic/Theist
      Agnostic/Theist
      Gnostic/Atheist
      Agnostic/Atheist
      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 9:46 am |
    • rob

      You need to heed Jesus' warning about JUDGE NOT lest ye be JUDGED! You are a Fear Monger and telling people they are going to split hell wide open is not for you to judge You have created God in your own image Today's Christians seem to get a overwhelming pleasure when one day they can look from Heaven above and see people mamied and torchered it's almost like a lustfufu perversion you can't wait to witness. What do you think about the Christians who disrupt furneral and tell the loved one's of the dead their precious children are burning in Hell? Do you believe in the Left Behind books? Thoes guys who wote those books filled with FEAR & DESTRCTION are taking your mony and lauging all the way to the bank

      March 22, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  17. Apotropoxy

    Can somebody ask the good Reverend Graham why this omnipotent deity didn't get the job done on his first visit?

    March 22, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Tim

      He did get the job done! He came to save his people from their sins, and that is exactly what he accomplished. By his death, he reconciled his people to God, paid their sin debt, and defeated satan. His resurection is evidence of that success. He was victorious over sin and death!

      March 22, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Jared

      Well that's great news! I sure am glad he did that, and that there's no more sin or death!

      March 22, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • grandee

      Because of unbelief. He (Jesus) came to His own (Jewish Nation) and they didn't believe. Now God is taking a people for His own from the Gentiles (non Jewish). Unbelief is the greatest sin. Belive in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. This command is given to all unbelievers, Jewish and non Jewish. God doesn't want any to perish – Will you believe ?

      March 22, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • Jeff

      @grandee No, I don't think I will. Since there is zero compelling evidence for your god(s) I'll wait for some. And if you would just look into how your book is really put together, and how the stories were made up, you might find yourself asking for some actual evidence too. But I understand that you need no evidence. You've been indoctrinated in the certainty that "faith" is the greatest virtue of them all. Ever ask yourself why that is? Faith? The acceptance of something with zero requirement for anything other than authority to back it up? You are a gullible, indoctrinated automaton. But you can change. Good luck to you.

      March 22, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  18. Frank

    I just hope there is life after death or else all this means nothing on an individual level.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • Jared

      Don't hold your breath....

      March 22, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  19. Haze736

    EVERY generation has had "evidence" that the "end times" are here. In 1906, San Francisco was his by the largest earthquake in their history, then, in 1918, a flu pandemic killed 50 – 100 million people across the globe! Let's also keep in mind that in the early 1900's, we didn't have global news within seconds of natural disasters, so there could've been other disasters around the same time that we're unaware of. In OUR lifetime, we've seen tsunamis, hurricanes, and AIDS. But nothing on the scale of the early 1900's! Chill out, we're not going to see the world end. Unless the Mayans were right. lol

    March 22, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • falconco

      Yes, and even the Mayans don't buy into the 2012 hype.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • Jeff

      Yep. Here we go again. How many times does the world have to end before we get it through our thick skulls that it's over? I'm so sick of the world ending all around me every couple of decades and everyone just ignoring it. The nerve of some people...

      March 22, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Ben

      The earthquakes and epidemic in the 1900 was much greater than what has happened now, but at that time many prophesies of the bible was not fulfilled, mainly Jews coming back to their own land in Israel, now as that has happened, we are getting closer to his coming more than ever before. This is not certainly not the end, it's the beginning of the end. It's just the beginning of the end. Repent, Repent, Repent......Friends

      March 22, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • BioHzrd

      They recently showed that everyone has mis-interpreted the Mayan calendar and the year is much later. Basically, we don't know what we are talking about.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  20. the lord works in mysterious ways

    i need new shoes.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • al

      Typical christian right wing view after a disaster, the sky is falling.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • chip

      What's Franklin Graham's annual salary? 500K?

      March 22, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • Da Professor

      The Rev. Franklin Graham spokesman for the lord ---– this month only. Buy before March 31st or miss your chance!

      March 22, 2011 at 9:36 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.