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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

    Jesus is in the barrio, man. He can't be bothered. Si. Muy bueno. Que Tal? Bien.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  2. vicarkatz

    If y'all, believer and non-believer alike, put as much energy into actually going out and serving, instead of sitting here and knit-picking interpretations and eachother's comments, perhaps then, you would actually be doing something worthwhile.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  3. Tbullock

    Unfortunately, this is another example of evil people trying to benefit from a disaster. It's nothing new for someone to try an scare people into the pews... then ask for their donations. Shame on CNN for taking part in it.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  4. Iceman83

    My o my. I wonder what God thinks? She cannot be happy.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  5. Fyodor

    When there are no more earthquakes and volcanoes on Earth then you should worry about the end of the world.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  6. Jerry

    First, the reverend is correct in that no one knows when the end will come. The Bible tells us to be prepared for the end will come like a thief in the night. Second, I am questioning the good reverends faith in that he stated at a conference that he is "afraid of Islam and Muslims" If he is scared of the end of times and/or he is scared of Islam/Muslims then he either has not read the Bible or has little faith. Fear does not come from God but from satan and if you read the Bible and have been following the Lord then what's to fear? So what if the world ends? Let it! I know that when it ends I will be with the Father. Spoiler Alert!!! We win!

    March 22, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  7. Tim

    Mr Franklin Graham provides no different understanding of why disasters such as earthquakes, world wars, food shortages are occurring than his father, Billy Graham. When the Twin Trade Towers were destroyed on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Billy Graham was asked why this happened. His response: "I don't know." Most people, including religious leaders, are at a loss as to why disastrous events are taking place around the earth.

    Because of their failure to dig deep into the Bible, these fail to understand that an issue arose in the Garden of Eden, the issue of God's rulership over his creation or universal sovereignty. Satan called into question God's right to rule.(Gen 3:1) Almost 2,400 years later, Satan again challenged God's way of ruling that now involved the "blameless" man Job.(Job 1:6-12) Satan's challenge brought to focus every human into the picture as to whether anyone will unreservedly follow God's rulership when subjected to a severe test.(Job 2:1-5) Thus, God has allowed eathquakes and other destructive events in order to allow Satan to prove his challenge that every human can be turned away from God if put under enough severe trials.

    In addition, had Mr Franklin Graham and his father Billy Graham done their "homework", they would have seen that the account at Matthew 24:3 does not say that Jesus disciples asked, as rendered by the King James Bible: "Tell us, when shall these things be ? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world ?", but rather: "Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things ?” These failed to grasp that Jesus disciples used the Greek word parousia here, meaning "presence" and not the Greek word erchomai, meaning "coming" and that Jesus used parousia instead of erchomai in his response at Matthew 24:27, 37 and 39 to explain the conditions before the "great tribulation."(Matt 24:21)

    Hence, during Jesus (invisible) "presence" or his now ruling as king of God's kingdom since 1914, resulting in the casting out of Satan and his demons out of heaven, "pangs of distress" have been occurring and with more frequency until "the end" comes.(Matt 24:7, 8, 14)

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

      If the Grahams really knew their Bible, it wouldn't be a question that this "might" be a sign. They're too busy "tickling the ears" of their supporters.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • Dmoney

      why go through all this nonsense, if God is all powerful, wipe out Satan, get rid of evil, disease, and the like, and away we go...I know we cannot undertand God ways or why he does things the way he does. it seems a little self serving for a wonderful God, my Grandmother was one of the most loal followers of God i have ever met in my life, she died a horrible death from mouth cancer at age 66, and had not smoked a cig since she was 16 years old, that to me if there is a God... just seems cruel.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  8. Atheist

    Graham being careful, still repeats the garbage spouted by the 'bible' (which really is just a name for book, BTW). Nay and doomsayers have been here throughout history, and they haven't become any smarter.
    No one looks at the past to see whether this hasn't been here before (as it has), and the fact that nothing ever changes except human stupidity is holding its own, nay, is actually increasing and being spread with the speed of the internet. 😉
    My brother always says, look what all the people are doing just to entertain us. Ha!

    March 22, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  9. Danimal

    Here we go again! Just how much does Mr.Graham get paid for his amazing insights? We've all had thoughts about the end of days for decades. Doomsday movies, ancient calendars, 911, alien invasions, Y2K, nostradaumas...EVERYONE'S thought about it if you've lived on planet earth. I'm tired of the fear and the preaching. If you're only living a good life so that you can reap rewards in heaven, that probably doesn't count. It's self serving.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  10. Joe

    I am A Christian and I do not appreciate this fakery. This is the way to keep your flock scared, and in check.

    Just be a good and honest person. But be warned of fake prophecies and understnad tha 99% of preachers are there for money!

    Why? Because it si the easiest money on Earth.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • a bunny named zöe

      i also believe this graham brat is a wolf in sheep's clothing c:

      March 22, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  11. derp

    Every time somebaody farts one of these Jesus nitwits claims the end is near.

    Are people really stupid enough to listen to Franklin Graham. I am really disappointed in my species.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • rich

      The Jehovah Witness religious sect, have in past 125 years since they been around, claimed on 12 different occasion the world will be destroy. Mr. Graham is no different.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • fundies

      I just farted. Smells like sulfur. The end of everyone within sniffing distance is eminent.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  12. Deliverance

    I love getting on this CNN site and listening to lost and angry anti-Christ ramblers spew their venom. So full of themsleves and thinking they are smarter than God. It is evident as the Bible has foretold us that "there will be some who will not recieve the mesaage of Christ" and that "the Bible is spiritually discerned" and it is wrtten by, through, and from the spirit of God and because of that a carnal mind cannot understand it for they lack spiritual discernment.
    It is funny how some anti-christ even try and quote the scripture (the devil can do this also) and yet they do not even know the spiritual meaning of the scripture because they think it is carnally interpreted when a true believer knows the spiritual meaning. Thats' why the Bible says "we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds" and these poor unenlightened lost souls still have their minds blinded by the decieving spirit and can't even see it. For we who have been transformed out of darkness into God's light can recall when we too were once lost as they are now. No one knows when the end of time will come only God but what we should be more concerned with is what about the end of YOUR time. What then? For the sake of discussion, as a believer according to your belief if i'm wrong i have nothing to lose but what if as an atheist you are wrong? Hmmm.. I know it is impossible to explain a spiritual answer to a carnal mind so you can now begin your carnal and worldly comments about my posting but before i go know that i am smiling because i know that it angers atheist beyond thier blinded minds ability to comprehend the greatness of God. I know you are mad right now because God is God and you'r e not... but even when we all were sinners Christ still loves you and died for you, so don't stay miserable and angry and in bondage get set free through Jesus and then the Bible will finally come alive to you. Hang in there, there is light for your darkness but you must stop this "we are smarter than God' nonsense. It really isn't impressive at all.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • rich

      so far smarter than you!

      March 22, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • paulmco

      I am not angry with god because I don't believe in god. When evidence is presented to me that god exists and has the characteristics that you describe, I will believe. I will also do many other things that would follow from a belief in god, including prayer, evangelism, etc...

      What I AM angry with is the social consequences that are frequently the result of believing in god. Many people who believe in god do so because of a personal revelation or the perception of a personal connection with him. I am concerned with this because it sets a dangerous precedent for believing other things. When people make important life decisions or try to influence the structure of society based on feelings rather than scientific evidence, they are likely to make poor choices.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • fundies

      Let's drop the war on drugs and declare war on earthquakes, tsunamis and other nouns.

      March 22, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Printer's Devil

      Let's have a war on conjunctions and dangling participles!

      March 22, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • J D

      That you are smiling at causing another's anger shows that you don't know Christ. For causing anyone, especially someone who hasn't felt Christ's love to get angry is proof you haven't met God. Just whose responsibility do you think it is to actually demonstrate Christ's love and compassion? You act like those who haven't experienced Christ's love are responsible for demonstrating Christ's love, but they are not... those who claim to have experienced it ARE! For the reason there is not more of Christ's love on this earth is because people who "claim" to be Christians do not demonstrate the love they claim to feel. Loving Christ means responding to everyone with love... including those who disagree with you. Wake up brother, put your energy into loving your neighbor... for spiritual arrogance is uglier than spiritual ignorance.

      March 22, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  13. Ardie Allen

    If there is no God...nothing matters. If there is a God...that is all which matters.

    Read the book, It is all good and God is at the end.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  14. Jimbo

    These religous morons are the downfall of the republican party. Ditch the evangelicals and social policies, stick with the fiscal conservatism and start wooping butt in the elections.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  15. fundies

    I saw a guy leaving the market the other day. He was pushing a whole cart of melons (melons are funny). The cart dumped and melons rolled across the parking lot. He was earing a gold cross around his neck. I think this was a sign of the end of the world.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • fundies

      I am going to buy the short on theonion.com that says "Jesus is my life insurance". It's cheaper than State Farm.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  16. American Citizen

    Shut up you drug-infested moron!

    Stop panicking people. You are NOT your father.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  17. mb914

    Personally I am not going to tell someone what to believe or not believe. I have not read the Bible, except for certain passages for a long time because I no longer believe that all of it is the word of God. Too much of it has been used to justify evil. I do remember reading something in the Bible that only God knows when the world will end. Unless God has been confiding in Graham, the Reverend doesn’t know either.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • chuck

      mb914 – Please do not confuse what some people have done in the past with them believing in God. No where in the bible does it say for anyone to kill in Jesus's name. No where does it say for us to hate in Jesus's name. We are suppose to love our neighbors more than we love ourselves. We are to love our enemy's more than we love ourselves. God died for each of us and he died for you. He does not ask you to kill or hate in his name. Christians are serving God for his glory and not theirs. There has never been a Christian terrorist. No true Christian has killed for Christ. Those who killed abortion doctors did not believe in the one true God.

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

      What is GOD name? Because JESUS is a tile not a name.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  18. Pastor Evans

    I notice a lot of my comments don't get posted because they are anoited of God and powerful, and CNN does not want these kinds of words that destroy yokes, set people free, and spiritually educate people to go public!!! Hear these words "Heaven and earth WILL pass away, but Jesus' words will never pass away!!!

    March 22, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • kelsey

      amen

      March 22, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  19. Jafman

    You tell me how many times the world has been predicted to end and I will tell you how many time it actually has.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Yabba

      The only thing more inane that this "prediction" is a national news service featuring it. Take your Belief Blog and...

      March 22, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  20. Chris

    One should not make declarative statements and then say "I'm not sure" or " I don't know". I am disgusted by all the blame for natural disasters or accidents heaped on God. I don't believe he is that cruel. He doesn't try to get our attention that way anymore since he sent Jesus to be our redeemer.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Diana

      God isn't cruel at all. What he does is make us think for a minute when these disasters occur. Are we being good to others, are we especially being good to this planet. I think the answer is no to both.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Dmoney

      can i blame him for children with cancer, or babies being born with birth defects, who do i blame for that? when everything goes bad its our fault for sinning, but when something goes good, everyone thanks God. i dont get it.

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

      Don't get your balls is such an uproar: god doesn't exist anyway.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Barry Black

      Graham isn't saying God created the disasters, but rather Satan. The "End of Times" refers to the final conflict between evil and good. The question is which Messiah will appear? Will it be the Christian second coming of the Christ or will it be the first coming of the Hebrew messiah or will it be the 12th Imam or Mahdi. A greater worry is what happens if they arrive at the same time??!!

      March 22, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Tim Lucas

      Dmoney. I just want to provide you with a very quick, clear answer and if you want to know more, let me know:
      God created the world, and it was perfect. He have us free will, and as a result we turned away (as illustrated by Adam and Eve eating the fruit in the garden of Eden) Because of that, we are a fallen world and have turned away from the one who created it.

      This allowed things like disease and corruption to enter the world. Therefore, when a child is born disfigured or gets cancer, or a seemingly righteous person looses their job – that's the nature of our world. When miraculous things happen – like people overcoming terminal illness or achieving greatness in the face of adversity – that's the grace of God, and reward for our faith in him

      Hope this helps!

      March 22, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • ephraim

      In answer to your comment, you only have to look in the bible at (James 1:13) it reads- When under trial,let no one say:"I am being tried by God."For with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone. The false religions and church leader on the ones who teach that God is the blame! They will pay for thier lies about God!

      March 22, 2011 at 10:11 am |
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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.