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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

    i get my teeth drilled without novacane. However, I prefer to get knocked-out for a colonoscopy.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  2. Tom

    Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they say.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • rich

      yea we do, your delusional

      March 22, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  3. fundies

    the beatles were more popular than Jesus. Jesus just gets more attention.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  4. Bor

    Tammy,
    Those, who do not have relationship with Jesus, what should they be fearful of?

    March 22, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  5. Debbie

    Jesus "is" coming back. The first time He came to this earth was to fulfill his Father's plan of redemption for all mankind on the cross of Calvary. He rose again for our justification, has ascended into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of God. Jesus is coming very soon as we witness earthquakes in every corner of the world, pestilences, wars and trouble on every hand and men becoming more wicked as the days unfold. Wake up! It is time to read God's word. JESUS IS COMING.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  6. fundies

    ever place an IOU in the collection plate?

    March 22, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  7. Yonilfa

    Why is it that when Christians start talking about the end being near someone always calls us fear mongers? People in our society today pay big money to be scared, horror movies makers are raking it in yet when we comment on the reality of our times we're fear mongers?

    Please wake up everyone. How many signs does it take for us to face reality? Something is very abnormal about the occurrences of the past several months ... put all the rationalizing aside and consult your common sense for a moment. Whether you believe in Jesus or not any rational being would have to admit that this is NOT normal...

    http://www.bibleprophecytruth.com

    March 22, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  8. the blotch pontificates

    why is this news? who cares? the bible is a METAPHOR. Not to mention that it's been edited and re-edited so many times, by one or another party in power, as to be almost nonsensical at this point. I'm not saying i'm faithless, just that to know not to hurt other people and to do the best that you can, and to love other people is the only real message anyone should take from that book.

    but you know one thing is for sure.... mr. graham is getting paid to show up and talk about it, as if he knows something more than we do...

    And to those that say "don't listen to the scientists".... they are here, we can talk to them, and they've devoted their lives and to finding out truths about the universe... the ultimate "truth"?... there isn't one. but i can at least talk to a scientist, and he won't quote scripture.... he'll just hand me the facts. i trust the facts.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  9. OhBrother!

    Republicans use fear to gather support for their causes. So it only makes sense that these religious conservatives use fear to bolster their ranks. Something's wrong with these people.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  10. Erik

    Like he has a pipeline .. what a load.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  11. Yonilfa

    Why is it that when Christians start talking about the end being near someone always calls us fear mongers? People in our society today pay big money to be scared, horror movies makers are raking it in yet when we comment on the reality of our times we're fear mongers?

    Please wake up everyone. How many signs does it take for us to face reality? Something is very abnormal about the occurrences of the past several months ... put all the rationalizing aside and consult your common sense for a moment. Whether you believe in Jesus or not any rational being would have to admit that this is NOT normal...

    March 22, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  12. notlad

    Now we have a sky pilot chiming in end of the world. I thought that was teh republican battle cry.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  13. mike

    I predict that the world may or may not end next week!!

    Now, send me money, stupid people!

    March 22, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  14. Boscobear

    So send all your donaion to Franklin before his prediction comes true!

    March 22, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  15. shawn_michael

    We are living in the last days there is no maybes about it. Read your word people its laid out like a map for you...these disasters have been happening frequently as a sign for us to wake up. stop thinking about yourself and think about others. spread the good news thats what disciples are supposed to do. because when its all over you cant have an excuse with god he will say i showed you my signs and you chose to ignore them.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  16. Brickell Princess

    It is the end of times for Christianity! I mean, who in this day and age–the year 2011–is going to follow a religion based on fears!?! How can anyone allow their minds to be enslaved by such nonsense?

    Ruth Graham was a great woman. A phenomenal human being. But the child that she produced, leaves much to be desired.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  17. Dale Hensarling

    2 Peter 3:

    3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

    8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

    10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.[a]

    11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.[b] That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

    14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

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

      @DALE, you need to understand this this fallacy first before you post argumentum ad verecundiam or in simple terms

      1.Source A says that p is true.
      2.Source A is authoritative.
      3.Therefore, p is true.

      In short, you without any reservation believe all the stories written in the "Bible" regardless if they make sense or not. For if you believe one story to be false, then the book is conside not extant (truthfull)

      March 22, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  18. kd

    this guy's a nut

    March 22, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  19. Benjamin

    Oh lord.... sorry for the pun... but if disastrous earthquakes are potential signs of end times, then the world ended hundreds of years ago with the Lisbon earthquake that convinced Voltaire to write the hilarious Candide.

    One of the great follies of all religions is that they always fail to account for the mistakes that hundreds of previous generations have made, and choose to make the same ones themselvs. Literally every generation since the first thought Jesus would return in their lifetime; that's 2,000 years of incorrectness. You're just wrong, get over it!

    March 22, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  20. Greg

    "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. "

    If you look at the history books, you'll see that these things have always happened since humans existed. If anything, we are living through a more peaceful time in history than ever before. If anything, Christianity and religion are the CAUSE of war in the first place. Name one war in history that didn't involve religion in some way.... Religion IS war. Religion causes famine and disaster's and justifies crimes against humanity in the name of god. A lot of Christians have a lot of hate in their soul's. But you justify it deep down because you think you are right and god agrees with you. Take that away and look at the direct and indirect harm and suffering you and the religion(s) that people have followed over the past several milliinea and you'll see why membership has dropped and people are finally waking up. I mean... people also believed in witches, werewolves, monsters, and fairies.back in the day, so a little man up in the sky who created the universe isn't too far of a stretch either.

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

      Idiot. Your delusional. YOu need mental help. I will bet you a years wage that your invisiable friend will NOT come and the world will not end as we know it. Mayby CNN can do a story on the wager?

      March 22, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • darrenhankins

      great post......the only idiot out their are the one running around saying the shy is falling... the sky is falling.

      March 22, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • rich

      yup, couldn't have said it better

      March 22, 2011 at 10:07 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.