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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. BuschemiHAMADA

    END IS NEAR!! OH no, ... DUDE FRANK... Chill out. How are you helping people out? By scaring them? You can tell 1 million people that the end is near, maybe only 10 people will say, okay I need to get my heart right with God. End is near anytime and any day. When Jesus returns, it will be like a thief in the night. Don't you read the Bible? It's not going to be all hell breaks lose and a huge sign and warning. If you die tomorrow because you got hit by a truck, then yes, the end was near for you. Frank Graham, with all due respect, what is important is helping the people that we see everyday, and really bringing hope and Christ to their homes not scaring people with fire and brimstone preaching.

    April 13, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  2. Frog

    The concept of God is the worst disaster to humanity
    Human tragedy defined

    April 13, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  3. Frog

    Franklin graham is an opportunistic idiot as are most evangelicals.

    April 13, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  4. A. Star

    1) Why don't people just keep their religious beliefs to themselves??

    2) The world will end sooner if we keep ignoring actual problems like global warming and instead putting forth some absurd predictions about imminent death. Let's think about our good old (and very material) Earth with its moving continental plates, water currents, typhoons and tornadoes, and consider how we are throwing it off balance. To these issues we should definitely devote more attention, not to religious dogmas and predictions of apocalypse.

    April 13, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  5. Cantard

    "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. "

    Did Jesus not also say all these things, including his own return, would occur within the life life time of his audiance? Everyone that heard Jesus speak has been dead coming up on 2000 years. Jesus was wrong. I guess that kinda makes him a false prophet now doesn't it?

    April 12, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • BuschemiHAMADA

      And, which scripture are you referring to? Did you actually read the Bible verse for verse and look at the context. It's like reading an article that say's "Obama is planning to raise taxes if passed by the congress" Then you come to me and say "oh no, Obama is raising taxes" but you left out IF.

      April 13, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  6. The_Heathen_and_Proud

    Cant these religious zealots find a hole to crawl into and pull it closed behind them? This is 2011, very few fall for fairy tales anymore. But these people insist on scaring everyone in to a Jesus theme. We all will die one day,don't be afraid of it. welcome it..If there is a hell, look around you, It is right here. The sweet relief from all this hell, is only brought about by the warm, merciful and loving embrace of Death..Be thankful that it will end.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  7. If this was..

    If this guy was Frank Smith, local preacher.. nobody would care.. the fact that this is Billy Grahams son makes it important.. its publicity and hype in order generate contributions (revenue and income for him and his church (corporation))... if it works Im not mad at him..

    PT Barnum said there is one born every minute.. He just does a great job of finding those suckers than most of us..

    April 11, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  8. standingwave

    Well maybe it wouldn't be so confusing if people hadn't been crying "wolf" for the last 2 thousand years.Seems too many would rather see the world ended than try to fix it.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  9. Greg Lenhart

    SHUT – UP, Franklin. I hope most people don't think you represent the Christian perspective. Go off with your other Republican friends and try to budgetize and legislate morality while the rest of us live in peace and teach morals to our familes. LOSER! Quit scaring people to join your stupid way of thinking.

    April 10, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  10. Steve Duke

    Jesus said the end times would happen before he (temporarily) died. Since then, predictions of the end being right around the corner have never ceased. The religious caste uses this fear to keep the faithful in line, and to scare people into believing. What an immoral sales pitch. Does almighty god want followers to worship him out of fear instead of love? I listened to Graham's father say the same old thing when I was a kid – the end was IMMINENT !! Jesus said not to waste time speculating on when the rapture would happen, but rather live your life as if it could happen now. Jesus said even HE didn't know when it would happen – only the "father" knew (you can look it up....). So why are these phony preachers and moonbats constantly out there with their useless predictions, charts and graphs? Unreal.

    April 9, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • Cantard

      There is a loon in texas buying add space on bill boards. Apparently Judgment Day is May 21. I've marked my calander in case I miss it.

      April 12, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  11. SuzanJanet

    "They" say that money is the root of all evil. I say religion is the root of all evil. More wars have been waged over religion than any other reason. Now Franklin Graham is getting on the bandwagon of really wacked-out right-wingers, saying that the end might be near. Holy cow.

    April 7, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      SuzanJanet wrote: "Now Franklin Graham is getting on the bandwagon of really wacked-out right-wingers..."

      He didn't need to get on the bandwagon... he was born on it...

      April 7, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  12. Zane

    Or it COULD be called plate techtonics...

    April 6, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  13. Ilya Landa

    "Nothing to fear but the end that we may bring about by ourselves"

    Don't remember who said that, but the point is that war and famine are our own fault, not signs of a comming supernatural end of the world. Instead of worrying about religious prophesies, we should focus upon actual problems plaguing us.

    April 6, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  14. DaVuVuZeLa

    We didn't start the fire, but the world's been burn since the world's been turning.

    April 6, 2011 at 3:24 am |
  15. Lynne

    Jesus himself said He didn't know when He would return, nor did the angels in heaven, only God. Why waste time speculating? If you're a Christian, you have nothing to worry about. If you're not, stock up on Unguentine.

    April 5, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  16. Tracy in TX

    yeah, here they go again using the notion of fear to scare the crap out of society.
    and then they wonder why the rest of society thinks they are full of bolloney...

    April 5, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
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    April 5, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  18. Me

    Here we go again.

    April 2, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  19. Matou

    we hear more stories of woes among humanity because of the media and internet. I'm sorry but if you believe the scripture then everyone just stop putting up your hand saying hey this could mean the end is near. The scripture says we won't know when it will happen until it does happen. Everybody got to have their hand in spreading panic.

    under the right conditions earthquakes can cause tsunamis and earthquakes don't just happen perfectly one at a time out of nowhere. they can trigger a cascading effect among the tectonic plates for numerous quakes. Weather is another matter that doesn;t just happen out of the blue. Come on, we aren't living in straw huts thinking the earth is the center of the universe anymore.

    April 1, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • BuschemiHAMADA

      SERIOUSLY? WHERE THE HECK IN THE BIBLE SAYS that the END is near in 2011 or 2012 or any specific DATES? YOU GUYS ARE MORONS!! If you get hit by a truck tomorrow, that's the END for you.

      April 13, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  20. Mi Ning

    More likely it means there was an earthquake, which produced a tsunami, which damaged a lot of machinery, such as the water pumps that were keeping the reactors cool. Why fall into the trap of thinking that every natural disaster is some sort of sign from God? "The End" is five billion years away, when the sun has consumed most of its hydrogen and becomes a red giant. 'The End" is not near, no matter how many earthquakes or tsunamis come and go. Time to embrace rational thought, not mindless fear.

    March 30, 2011 at 5:06 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.