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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. David Irwin

    What a bizarre world we live in. How about thinking in terms of logic rather than raw emotion. How much does this guy get paid for spouting this nonsense?

    March 21, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  2. Houston

    Q. is that your'e real name q? as in you don't have a clue, q? Youre' an idiot.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • Q

      If only these threads bore your remarkable capacity for fruitful debate...

      March 22, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  3. Lin

    The level of ignorance in general is too high, but the level in which everybody attacks God and stupidly make remarks that are filed against you anyway, every single word you say will be judged by God himself. So keep blasfeming so that on your judgement day YOU WILL BE THE CONDEMNED BY GOD WHILE YOUR GOD SATAN LAUGHS AT YOU NOW
    (THE 'JUDGEMENT' IS YOURS...because believers don't get judgement day, we get Judgement Seat of Christ which means REWARDS).

    March 21, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • Gary

      Medication: look into it.

      March 22, 2011 at 3:54 am |
  4. sethro

    Christians believe that the end is the "hour you thinketh not" now I must say that if he said something about the Gospel these comments would happen? surely not, im not questioning the integrity of the dudes message, im a christian, but there is tons of money for people posing as christians, and it gets people talking, these comments being my case in point.....it's too easy for false prophets to get a high position in the church....now you can hate on me and my beliefs all you want but it wont change my mind 😀

    March 21, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  5. Houston

    David irwin. Your'e an idiot.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • David Irwin

      Houston,
      No I am not an idiot. You don't even know me. Please do not use the anonymity of the web to attack others.

      March 21, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Bryan

      @DavidIrwin – Houston has used this tactic against many others on this board. I suspect he/she is a troll. This intuition is made even stronger by Houston's lack of anything substantive to say on the subject. Merely Ad hominem after Ad hominem and the same one at that. I wonder if he/she has anything constructive or at least pertinent to add to the conversation?

      March 22, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  6. David Irwin

    Man, what a bizarre world we live in. How about a for change we think in terms of logic instead of raw emotion? What a different place this would be. How much money does this guy get paid for spouting this nonsense?

    March 21, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      For a change? Not one word about religion in school, at work, in public places. Kids learn logic all day every day. For a change let people have some imagination; you can't imagine a future without it.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:15 am |
  7. Anne

    I would rather live my life as if there was a God and find out there isn't one than to live my life as if there was no God and find out there was.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Q

      But did you choose the "right" one? Perhaps "God" values skepticism over belief?

      March 21, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • ssolilrose

      and I say the same of the Goddess 🙂

      March 21, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • JP0

      Why don't you just live your life like a decent human being and forget the magic show?

      March 21, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • Gary

      @Anne: silly, silly, silly.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • Elizabeth

      Magic is decent. Bean-counting isn't. Where is art without magic? Where is literature? Where is science without inspiration, or even mathematics without mind? Sure, whatever is out there will go on without you, but if you participate, religion has its place. If it doesn't appeal to you, then don't dump all over those who find something special in their religious experiences.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • Gary

      @Elizabeth: there's a fine line between spiritual experiences and delusion and I don't "dump on" genuine spirituality. Most of what I see coming from the various religious communities is clearly in the delusion zone.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:40 am |
  8. Houston

    shinden58. you're not only an idiot, you have no knowledge of science.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Gary

      Houston, you're a genius above all other geniuses (well, that makes about as much sense as all of your other comments).

      March 22, 2011 at 12:01 am |
  9. Lin

    Without the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, no one can see Jesus nor know that He is the Son of God, ONE HAS TO BE CHOSEN BY GOD TO SHARE HIS FAMILY. So all you nay sayers and blasphemers and morons from satan, you are deluded by your master. Satan. Be weary of what you learn from him because he means your death not your life. And all the unbelief comes from him too. The Lord God Almighty didn't destroy you from the beginning because He knew there would be a few to handpick for His glory. The rest of you who hate God--better get right with God before you are so late burning forever in the lake of fire.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • JP0

      And you are so sure of all this!!

      March 22, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • Big D

      It's nice that you have this faith to guide you, but to actually believe in this day and age, with all of the scientific facts, that there is an actual satin guiding people who choose not to believe in the ancient fairy tales of the bible, is concerning. If you choose to have this faith (and more power to you) go right ahead, but don't insult the intelligence of everyone else reading these remarks by actually trying to scare us in to your beliefs. It is entertaining readin gthough.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • tbird

      What does that mean? Classic example of the christian sheep throwing out something that means nothing but sounds great. Baaaahhhh, baaaahhhh. Go read some Dr. Suess books, they have as many facts as the bible does. Baaahhhh, baaahhh

      March 22, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  10. Houston

    McJesus. Your'e an idiot.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  11. shinden58

    Let me get this straight. These people are rooting for the end of times to arrive as soon as possible and destroy the world. Sorry but I am not buying into this garbage. Anyone who takes the bible literally is a wacked puppy. There might be some good examples in the book, but you have to adapt the book to current time. Today we have science to guide us and explain things the people 2000 years ago had no concept of. If you truly believe that we all descended from one set of parents that world make incest OK. Chalk me us as a non-believer. I am not gullible like certain sheeple.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
    • sarcwoman

      You take history books literally and no one thinks you're a wacked puppy and I'm sure YOU don't think YOU'RE a wacked puppy! Why is it that people who believe in the bible are wacked! It's also a history book!

      March 21, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
  12. JOregon

    Gotta love (not) a computer censor with a dirty mind, this one was a hard one to spot.

    Yes, the end is near, the bible makes that obvious.
    The Ja-pan situation has nothing to do with it. These kinds of events happen all the time.
    We have been told that a 9.0+/- quake happens on a 500 year cycle here on the NW coast of the USA.
    Then some guy did more research and found that it actually is on a 250 year cycle.
    We're past due.
    Only difference, last time only a few natives lived here.
    The end is near, but these earthquakes have always happened.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  13. Houston

    Markus is an idiot.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  14. Houston

    albie is an idiot.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  15. McJesus

    Let 'The End' credits roll. I wonder what theme song is going to be chosen? *sigh*. Morons.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • Q

      Well, it's pretty cliche but I vote "Sympathy for the Devil"...

      March 21, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
  16. JP0

    What a bunch of nut cases.

    My favorite bumper sticker: "In case of Rapture can I have your car?"

    March 21, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  17. Markus

    You want a vision of a Christian future? Or a Muslim future?

    Imagine a face. And imagine a boot. And imagine that boot stepping on that face. Forever.

    I will not love Big Brother. I will not love God. I will not love Jesus or Mohammad. And soon no one else will, because we'll either all be rationalists or we'll all be dead.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  18. Houston

    SABrown is an idoit.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  19. Lin

    "… Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. …Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for thou has created all things, and for thy pleasure they were created." (Revelation 4:8b, 11)

    March 21, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • shinden58

      Quoting a fairy tail are we?

      March 21, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • JP0

      I thought fairies had wings but I didn't know they also had tails!

      March 21, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • vincent

      Shut the Eff up

      March 22, 2011 at 12:00 am |
  20. albie

    I am ready to leave CNN for good - I am sick and tired of seeing all of this religious nonsense every day.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • JP0

      Yeah, go for "Fair and Balanced News".

      March 21, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
    • Saint Apropos of Nothing

      That's a silly sentiment. This is specifically under 'Belief Blog' and only linked to from the homepage without any bias.

      March 21, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • MarthaC

      I wish I knew where else to go...ugh.

      I'm really getting sick of CNN, too...

      March 21, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • Mr. Sniffles

      I definitely understand your frustration with CNN, but like all media, the chase the dollars, and there are a lot of religious people in America.

      BBC is a good alternative. Very little gratuitous religious news. You won't have to hear anywhere near as much of the shrill political tone all-to-common in America at the moment. You won't get as much general news on America, though, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. When I get sick of American news media, I take a few month off and only check out BBC once every few days.

      I often go weeks or months without getting any news at all, and often I am the happiest in those periods. The absence of news has yet to be a detriment in those periods. It's surprising how much of news is actually people intentionally wanting you to be scared or angry (or both).

      March 22, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • Elizabeth

      The reason for the religious articles is that religion is an aspect of our pluralistic society that has been neglected in schools because no religion may be "established" by government here, but if we do not understand each other, or know anything about the beliefs of others, we could someday be at each other's throats (and I am including atheists against religious, as was the case of Stalin and Mao). But this is not required reading, only for those who are interested. If you are not interested, my suggestion is: don't click on the belief articles. CNN's religious content is not trying to push any one belief, only state (for your information) that these beliefs do exist. Since there are now some militant cults in America, it is a good idea to know about them.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • Texrat

      ...and yet, @albie, here you are reading and commenting...

      March 22, 2011 at 12:03 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.