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. Fnord

    Jesus saves... everyone else takes full damage!

    March 21, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  2. Lars J

    The more telling signs are not in nature but in men. 2nd Timothy 3 says: "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power." That last sentence should be of special concern to cultural Christians – there are many who have a form of godliness, who profess to follow Him, but do not sacrifice their selfish ambitions or hurtful pleasures.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • Todd

      Tell that to the priests who molest children.

      March 21, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  3. brian

    cnn don't promote these idiots. you cant make anyone love but they sure do love to hate.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  4. Dave McGuire

    This guy is off his rocker. And I'm saying this as a Christian myself!

    March 21, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  5. julio alves

    The Nation that evangelized the world need to be evangelized, it's rare someone talk about Jesus at the works in the schools, but when Jesus comeit's it's gonna be like a robber it's the time to accept Jesus walk up America, walk up World. God bless you

    March 21, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Todd

      It's called separation of church and state. Or do you want to give power to the Christian taliban?

      March 21, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  6. Not Believing any more

    Franklin is trying to pick up where his father once did. Sensationalizing to get his name in the press and trying to capitalize on natural disasters and the human toll that associates with that such an event, all in the name of gaining a following. Franklin is no less the evangelical blowhard he grew up under. He is just trying to get the money. After all the years of giving the Grahams some value of relevance, I no longer care to continue to listen to any of what that family has to state.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  7. alex

    Wow, an agnostic. How committed. Just realize that while this is an earthquake that "happens all the time", there does seem to be a shift occurring in the world. There's a sense of lost focus, no right or wrong, the destruction of traditional family, and a growing surge of materialism and greed with associated shallow sense of life's value. While one could argue that many have sensed the impending doom of the world over the last centuries, never before was it possible. Bows and arrows, flintlock rifles, revolvers? No, now there are nuclear weapons that can actually wipe out cities. We are told we won't know when, so I can't guess. Just better hope you are right.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  8. Chuck

    If the world ends... and that is a big if! I will go out doing the things I love to do instead of follow some false profit the apocalypse.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  9. tnmtl

    This is exactly why we need to keep nut jobs like Sarah Palin out of office!

    March 21, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  10. The truth is hidden

    The good thing about God is He will not make you believe and frankly you don't have too! If I live my life following the teachings of Christ, what have I lost? To me nothing! However, what if the Bible is telling the truth?

    March 21, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
    • Patty Biller

      awesome, same here. Praise the Lord. I am excited to see Jesus' return!

      March 21, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Todd

      Then you better start killing kids who talk back to you, anyone who touches pig products, any woman who doesn't marry her rapist, any woman who isn't a virgin upon getting married, any one who works on the Sabbath, anyone who wears mixed fabrics, and anyone who wears their hair too short or too long.

      Yo, truth boy, do you ever actually read that book from cover to cover, or do you just read the passages that you like?

      March 21, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • Dan

      If humans are a natural part of the Earth, then God wanted me to throw my beer can out of the car window. God wanted me to pour thousands of gallons of toxic waste into the river. God wanted me to put lead inside of milk for others to consume. Why the hell not? It's natural. We need less regulation on pure unadulterated human behavior, raw and uncut. Let humans live the way we are supposed to.
      If God exists, then He also is allowing me to disbelieve in Him. Poof! Magic trick – He's gone, and was and always will be – a figment of your feebile imagination.

      March 21, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • ssolilrose

      and what if you find out you are ignoring the Goddess?

      March 21, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • Bryan

      @ssolilrose – BBHHH, unless of course you were NOT referring to her holy pinkness, in which case I offer apologies.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:40 am |
  11. FSM

    I live in California, there are lots of earthquakes on a daily basis. Now we're experiencing heavy rain, so we have floods and mudslides, and come summer time, guess what? yes, you guessed it right, fires! It's a cycle...why can we just look at it for what it is instead of making up these ridiculous claims? The end isn't near, Santa doesn't exist, Mary did not miraculously conceive and people don't resurrect.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  12. tnmtl

    The Book of man-made bs Revelation is happening now? When have we heard that before?? The world was supposed to blow up in the 70's, then the 80's when they got that wrong, then the 90's, and so on....

    March 21, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  13. bp

    Jesus saves (at Wells Fargo).


    March 21, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  14. Dan

    I wish people spent more time trying to fix the economy, and maybe lending others a hand up and not hand-outs, instead of perpetuating fear and anxiety amongst vulnerable and unsuspecting poor people.

    March 21, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  15. Jesus Cristo

    Why the hell this koo koo's have access to presidents? Dont forget to donate to his church....

    March 21, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • Da Devil made me do it

      My life ended for me when I got married for the fourth time in 6 years.

      March 21, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
    • faithful10

      Franklin Graham doesn't have a church. He has a charity called Samaritan's Purse which works all over the world. I know because I've witnessed the many acts of kindness and compassion provided by his charity.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:06 am |
  16. Mark C

    Hey Franklin, since it's the end times, I guess everyone can stop donating money to your church, right?

    March 21, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  17. CaptainTrips

    Seriously? This is the best the human race can do in the 21st century?

    March 21, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  18. Ape Man

    Really, I mean come on!!! Why are all natural disasters signs of the second coming?

    March 21, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • comm0nsense

      Cause God discovered the 'scare tactic' way before the Republicans did. Nothing like a disaster to get your money (or women).

      March 22, 2011 at 2:35 am |
  19. Paul Negari

    It's nature. Nog god. Not everything is religious or a miracle. The bible-belters want you to give them your money and pray. Jesus saves (at Wells Fargo).

    March 21, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  20. salina

    Rev. Billy Graham was and is famous... Franklin Graham wants to be famous too,.. so he frequently says really bizarre things, to keep the spotlight on himself

    March 21, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • Todd


      March 21, 2011 at 11:01 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.