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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. Joe

    This nutjob should be locked for atacking Christian faith!

    March 30, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  2. m.clark

    Franklin Graham profits off the fears and ignorance of weak feeble minded people while elevating himself. Like the rest of these TV bible thumpers he is a fraud who lives a lavish life style peddeling fear.

    March 30, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  3. It's just a web site man!

    Great article. I believe it is totally true that the point of the Mathew passage is to teach us the fragility of life, the concept that we are fallen creatures in a fallen world, and that this earthly life is temporary.

    http://ginzotalk.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/husband-or-nurse/

    March 30, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  4. Steve

    ...Because we have NEVER had war, earthquakes, and famine on earth before. What a complete idiot.

    March 30, 2011 at 8:12 am |
  5. GÜNTER

    DEAR MR GRAHAM,
    MISTAKES MADE IN TRANSLATION OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES ARE COMMON, REGRETTABLY.
    MAY I RESPECTFULLY POINT OUT THAT THE ORIGINAL LANGUAGE WORD USED BY JESUS' EARLY DISCIPLES AS RECORDED IN THE GOSPEL AT MAT 24:3 ETC DOES NOT MEAN 'COMING', BUT RATHER 'PRESENCE'! HIS DISCIPLES WERE ASKING HIM FOR A SIGN. JESUS ANSWERED BY EXPLAINING A COMPOSITE SIGN HIS FOLLOWERS WOULD UNDERSTAND. THIS WOULD INDICATE HIS INVISIBLE PRESENCE DURING WHICH THIS SIGN WOULD BE FULFILLED, INCLUDING THE PREACHING OF 'THIS GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM' (MAT 24:14). AFTER THIS WORLDWIDE PREACHING CAMPAIGN NOW GOING ON BY DISCIPLES OF JESUS THE END OF THIS WICKED WORLD WOULD COME. GOD'S KINGDOM GOVERNMENT (DAN. 2:44) WILL BE TAKING OVER EARTH'S AFFAIRS (HENCE 'GOOD NEWS'). GOOD NEWS FOR ALL WHO LISTEN- ARE YOU LISTENING MR. GRAHAM? KIND REGARDS, GUNTER PS: WHAT IS THE POINT OF JESUS COMING IN THE FLESH (WHICH HE WON'T DO) AS HE OFFERED UP HIS LIFE 'ONCE FOR ALL TIME'?

    March 29, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  6. kyle

    What a QUACK

    Stop spewing this end of times garbage!!!

    March 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  7. Seer

    Why is it that the Religiots think that fear is the path to God? Who would want a religion like that?

    March 29, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  8. tim d

    this morning i couldn't find my car keys...i was thinking, maybe this is the end times? but then i found my keys...

    March 29, 2011 at 1:45 am |
  9. Norm W

    WHY IS IT THAT EVERY TIME SOMETHING UNUSUAL HAPPENS ON THIS PLANET, SOME "GOOF-BALL" SAYS THAT IT IS SURELY A SIGN THAT THE END OF TIME IS NEAR. I AM IN MY MID 60s AND I HAVE HEARD THIS STORY SO MANY TIMES, I COULD WRITE A NOVEL ON THEIR STUPID THEORIES.
    GOD, AND ONLY GOD, WILL DETERMINE WHEN THE END OF TIME IS NEAR. NOT SOME MORTAL MAN WITH A BIG MOUTH. IF HE HAS SUCH GOOD, PERSONAL CONTACT WITH THE SAVIOUR, THEN WHY DOESNT HE ASK HIM OR HAVE IT PUT IT OFF UNTIL AT LEAST 2012. AFTER ALL, THAT IS ANOTHER THEORY AS TO WHEN THE END OF TIME IS NEAR.
    PEOPLE, CALM DOWN. THE EARTH HAS BEEN HERE MILLIONS OF YEARS, WHY DO YOU THINK YOU'RE INSIGNIFICANT LITTLE SELF IS SO IMPORTANT THAT NOW "DURING YOUR LIFETIME" WILL BE THE ULTIMATE TIME WHEN MANKIND NO LONGER EXISTS. GET A GRIP.
    THE END COULD BE TOMORROW OR IT COULD BE IN 3535, OR EVEN 103,500AD. WHO KNOWS, WHO CARES? IF YOU ARE A GOOD PERSON, IT WONT REALLY MATTER. IF YOU ARE GOING TO HELL, THEN YOU SHOULD START WORRYING AND TRY TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

    March 29, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  10. romewasntburnedinanight

    Keeping the business in the family, and business is booming.

    March 28, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  11. Scott

    The earth has been seismically active for millions of years, and will be seismically active for millions more. The difference now is that the population has grown so large that events which used to occur in unpopulated areas now occur more frequently in populated ones.

    March 28, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  12. PhooBar

    Chicken Little / Henny Penny.
    Google it.
    Learn it.
    Live it.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  13. Hibbs

    Religion. Hilarious and so incorrect. Not a thing in the scientific field, my mind, or typically any objectivist or modern philosopher supports religion and its mythical creatures. Just as likely a unicorn rides a spaceship around fighting dragons as there is a throne in the sky.

    March 28, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  14. Shannon Underwood

    Maybe he thinks more people will give him money if the end is near. Too bad he is so uneduated in real knowledge the greeks who wrote the bible colaberated to create one god, eliminated the gospels that recognized women as a power and put a bunch of power hungry men in charge. This has nothing to do with reality just his ongoing attachment to money and power.
    Its easy to be generous with other people's money!

    March 28, 2011 at 12:40 am |
  15. copanut

    "For those who don't understand the term generation in a biblical sense it means the Generation of Christ and all those that are believers in Christ fit into that generation and until this generation has done its work as ambassadors for Christ to preach the Gospel to every nation"

    Well, isn't that conveeeeeeenient! No need to take The Lord at His Word when you can come up with mental fornication to allow you to make His Word mean anything You Want It To Mean.

    FYI, there is not a single serious Biblical scholar who buys into your non-definition of "generation". Only lying, self-serving preachers and their deluded sycophantic followers would buy into that nonsense. Either Jesus was wrong (and therefore all beliefs about him are false) or the author of that gospel is wrong (therefore proving the source is anything but perfect). Pick your poison. Or, redefine words so that you don't have to face comfortable facts. You chose the latter.

    March 25, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  16. copanut

    Throughout the ages, there have been thousands upon thousands of predictions of the end of the world. Perhaps millions of them, considering the many billions of people who have walked the earth thinking they had special divine knowledge. Those predictions have come from Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Muslims, Jews, and every form of pagan religions.

    But they all have one thing in common: 100% of them have been wrong. Yet, the gullible continue to gobble it up, asking for more. PT Barnum was right. There is a sucker born every minute, ready to hand over his fortune and his rationality to hucksters and con artists.

    March 25, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  17. dore

    I guess its too much to consider that it's just an accident.. a consequence of an earthquake and dumb luck of a reactor getting whacked by a tsunami at the same time?

    Oh yea.. must be something bigger. Morons like this keep predicting the end of all time..

    Nutzo.

    March 25, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  18. David

    Always funny that people that can't even read or write Hebrew are supposedly experts in Christianity and what the Bible says.

    March 25, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Bob

      Now, now. Everyone knows that you can't read the white man's Bible without the white man's Concordance. It helps them keep the hypocricies and contradictions consistent.

      March 28, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  19. Skeptisch

    He's scaring hell out of people so that old ladies will send him part of SSI checks.

    March 25, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  20. kelsey

    it could be a sign, and it could not be, but only god knows when heel end the world- there will be signs-though

    March 25, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • copanut

      I guess considering that there are "signs" every hour of every day someplace in the world, and always have been and always will be, that it's safe to say when the end of the world comes there will be signs. No argument there. However, deriving some kind of meaning from it is a fool's game.

      The world will end when one of these things happen: we blow ourselves to bits; we are hit by a massive celestial body; we are fried by a direct hit gamma ray burst from a distant supernova; we are cooked in a few billion years by our expanding sun. Why would god trifle with something as common and ineffectual as an earthquake or tsunami? If he intends to kill billions worldwide, he wouldn't use a regional event that kills only a few thousand, would he?

      March 25, 2011 at 6:42 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.