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. Cheryl

    REPENT REPENT I wonder what they meant!
    Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • Dan

      Why am I having visions of the Exorcist right now??

      March 21, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  2. And the winner is...

    What would a natural disaster be without some nut job claiming it to be the end of the world? It really must be a miracle that we have made it so long with everything since the Middle Ages has signaled the end of times, and yet? Maybe 'god' is just really indecisive or likes to screw with us... but all-knowing and benevolent...like Hitler....

    March 21, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  3. patrick

    patrick 1:23 -the priest jerks off the alter boy, alter boy is happy, priest is happy, they all live happily ever after – until the alter boy grows up, learns about lawsuits and money, then decides to sue the church... gay priest hides behind the cloak.. ahahah whatever- shut the F up and go get my ass a drink already

    March 21, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  4. Markus

    Yes, your end is definitely coming, Christians 🙂

    Do us a favor and take the Muslims down with you. You deserve each other. C'mon! It's your holy duty! Have at it! Scrub the Earth of each other!

    The only thing left undecided is whether or not there will be any people around after the religious fulfill themselves.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  5. juan

    If we take a look at reality and history, religious freedom is found in the U.S. based on Christian principles. Despite the hysteria on here; God doesn't require you to believe in Him. Your choice to believe or not. Try believing differently from the govt in the old atheistic Soviet Union, in China today, or anywhere in the Middle East other than Isreal....Ya'll should be glad you live in a Christian nation, most others are not to nice to you if you disagree with what the govt tells you to believe.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  6. Anne

    I can't believe this article, scaring people, "Reality" is right, the time will come any moment, now or in some billion years.
    BTW as I understand apocalypsis is not the 'future end" fo the world, it already happened, and it was a way of writting in old times, I read that on the little letters of my bible.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  7. patrick

    hahahaha religious people are so retarded anymore... YEA OKKKKKKKKK when your done blowing the alter boy – go think about the stupid crap you just said... the end of the world... please- go get me a drink and shut the f up already.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • sethro

      Patrick definately just said hahahaha "religious people are so retarded anymore.."........hehehehehehehe....REPENT OR PERISH! 😀

      March 21, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  8. Rose Ann Smith

    Oh please, natural catastraphies have been happening since the beginning of time.
    It just seems like more now with the technology we have to show these happenings 24/7.
    Whether it's the news, you tube, phone pics/videos ,etc.
    These events are NOT of God. They are natural occurances. Get over it Christian right.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  9. Faithful

    It's the end of the world for someone somewhere every day.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  10. Lin

    Matthew 1:23 -Jesus is called Immanuel, which means "God with us."

    "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which, being interpreted, is God with us

    March 21, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • Greg

      Then why wasn't Jesus named Immanuel?

      March 22, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • C B

      OH MY GOD! I've just realized something! EMMANUEL LEWIS IS THE MESSIAH!!!

      March 22, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  11. ben librowicz

    i guess the donation bin was a little lighter than usual this year and something needed to be said to get people to open up their wallets.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  12. Cecelia

    The passage in Matthew is simple said "Like a child birth".Let us ask the women how child birth is like.How do they feel from the first month up to the nine month.Jesus statement was clear to us as believers and unbelievers.The ball is here and we need to be ready that is the key.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • Wonder

      How does jesus know what child birth is like?

      March 21, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  13. SaraTonin

    The Sky is Falling The Sky is Falling .. I dunnoo but my Dad said it might.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  14. evolvingProphet

    But what if Rev. Graham is right??

    If he is then in the coming months and year or so its gonna be a helluva lot worse! More Earthquakes, tsunamis, coronal mass ejections, wars, famines and finally.......

    Regardless humanity has less than a century left before a number of things do us in.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • LouAZ

      And it is starting . . . a Republican/TPer majority in the House of Representatives ! Oh, the HORROR ! ! !

      March 21, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  15. evensteven

    Religious fanatics have always looked forward to "The End" so that the game will come to an end and the winner will be announced. The problem is, each faction of fanatics believe they will be "the winners."

    March 21, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  16. Dave here

    omg is that what he thought when he slept-ed with me when i was 16.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • Ethos with pathos

      If you are going to be stupid..at least get the right denomination.

      March 21, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • Wonder

      what are you now? 3 years old? "slept-ed"????

      March 21, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • Dave here

      sorry can't spell but it happened...... gross.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  17. Jesus

    Franlin Graham will burn in Hell. God told me last night in a vision.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • Ethos with pathos

      That's just being a jerk.

      March 21, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  18. LouAZ

    OK. Since you are going, can I have your Ferrari ?

    March 21, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • C B

      He has a Harley. I'm the one with the Ferrari (F430 Scuderia), and I'M F-ING STAYING!

      March 22, 2011 at 12:49 am |
  19. Reality

    What do we know?

    1. The Sun will burn out in 3-4 billion years so we have a time frame.

    2. Asteroids continue to whiz by us daily.

    3. One large hit and it is all over in a blast of permanent winter.

    4. There are enough nuclear weapons to do the same job.

    Bottom line: our apocolypse will start between now and 3-4 billion CE.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • Reality

      What do we know?

      1. The Sun will burn out in 3-4 billion years so we have a time frame.

      2. Asteroids continue to whiz by us daily.

      3. One large hit and it is all over in a blast of permanent winter.

      4. There are enough nuclear weapons to do the same job.

      Bottom line: our apocalypse will start between now and 3-4 billion CE.

      March 21, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
    • Wonder

      Sounds like a plan! More true than this rev. wacko can tell you for sure. he acts like earthquake never happened, like wars aren't around since the beginning of men. just put the world "could" and you can say anything. we all could die tomorrow too or win the lottery...

      March 21, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  20. Dan Mckeown

    I can see that Franklin and his father Billy are quite brilliant scientists, and they're vast knowledge will do much to advance our human existence. Now, let's all burn some books, vote for Sarah Palin, and praise God that we are dumb.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • Jennifer K.

      so wishing there was a like button for your comment.

      March 21, 2011 at 11:37 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.