As everyone is well aware this year has seen quite a bit of seismic activity globally. Some people argue that it’s a sign of the times and that we’re approaching the close of this Age. They look to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24:4-8 embracing the idea that the “birth pains” and the “beginning of sorrows” before the time of the “end of the Age and [Jesus'] return” (24:3) include “earthquakes in various places.” They anticipate a crescendo of sorts whereby devastating seismic activity will progressively increase in frequency and intensity. I am among them.
Others reject this “ridiculous apocalyptic thinking” saying that earthquakes have always been a consistent historical reality (a valid point). As a result they scoff at those who see these things as signs of Jesus’ soon return arguing that nowhere in the Bible are there prophecies of increasing seismic activity but only “earthquakes in various places;” as there have always been. They deny the crescendo effect. And they deny the legitimacy of the category of “signs of the times” (not valid points).
From a scientific standpoint, the recent earthquakes aren’t startling. The USGS says: “Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant throughout this century and, according to our records, have actually seemed to decrease in recent years.”  While this isn’t a unanimous sentiment, it surely does reflect the majority of the scientific community who openly mock the idea of the return of Jesus (let alone earthquakes as signs of the times).
From a misguided theological standpoint, earthquakes won’t be intensifying, nor are they a sign of the times. Gary DeMar writes: “Jesus simply says that “in various places there will be famines and earthquakes” (24:7). He says nothing about an increase in their number. Luke writes, “there will be great earthquakes” (Luke 21:11). Jesus was describing signs that led up to the destruction of the temple that would take place before that first-century generation passed away (Matt. 24:33-34). Like famines (Acts 11:28), “great earthquakes” are part of the biblical historical record.”  DeMar is a vigorous proponent of what is called Preterism; the idea that Matthew 24, 2 Thessalonians 2, the book of Revelation, and all of the eschatological prophecies in the Bible refer not to the end of THE Age, but to the end the JEWISH Age in AD 70 when Rome sacked Jerusalem. For these poor souls the “end has already come.” Unfortunately this nonsensical position has gained considerable support in the last few decades as theological heavyweights such as R.C. Sproul, NT Wright, Sam Storms, and others (like emergent leaders Rob Bell and Brian MacLaren) have given well thought out and articulate outlines of what they believe to be an undeniable doctrinal reality.
In light of this contention that because earthquakes have always been constant they will not increase before the return of the Lord I wanted to make mention of a few Biblical realities that warrant our attention.
THE PROMINENCE OF EARTHQUAKES IN ESCHATOLOGICAL PROPHECY
While Jesus clearly defined earthquakes as a “sign” of His “return and the end of the age” (Mt. 24:3-8), it is by no means the only reference to earthquakes in the Bible. In fact, as far as eschatological prophecy goes, it is one of the more prominent and repeatedly mentioned trends and events; especially in context to “the Day of the Lord.”
Haggai prophesied of a time when the Lord would shake heaven (sky), earth, sea, dry land and all nations. If there is any question as to whether this has already happened, Haggai tells us that when this shaking begins, thrones of kingdoms (governments) will be overthrown and the strength of the Gentiles (nations) will be “destroyed.”
I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; 7 and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of all nations … 22 I will shake heaven and earth. 22 I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms. (Hag. 2:6-7, 22)
The writer of Hebrews referred to this prophecy in Haggai 2 to speak about the great shaking before the time of the end when the saints will recieve and possess the Kingdom (as described in Dan. 7 in context to the return of Jesus at the end of the Age) saying:
He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” 27 Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain … 28 Since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken … serve God with … godly fear. (Heb. 12:26-29)
The receiving of the Kingdom in its fullest meaning is in context to the destruction of Gentile power when the Kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ at the sounding of the seventh trumpet (see Rev. 11:15-19).
Zechariah described a particular and specific earthquake that will decimate Jerusalem in proximity to “the Day of the Lord” when “the Lord comes” to “do battle” with “all nations” who “gathered to Jerusalem” (14:1-3) in the final “tribulation” (Mt. 24:15-31). The earthquake in Zion will open a way of escape for a remnant besieged and traumatized Jews who survived “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:5-7) because the topography of the holy city will be dramatically altered. After the earthquake, Jesus will come with all His saints to deliver the Jewish captives and destroy the hostile nations that gathered. Zechariah explains saying:
In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives … And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley … 5 Then you [Jewish captives] shall flee through My mountain valley … Yes, you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah … The LORD my God will come, and all the saints with You. (Zech. 14:4-5)
As much as Preterists like DeMar and others wish to empty passages like these of their eschatological significance arguing that they were somehow hyperbolically fulfilled in AD 70, this is undeniably an end-time event. The Mount of Olives has never been “split in two” whereby a “large valley” was made through which Jews in flight escaped from enemy invaders.
Among others Ezekiel described this “great earthquake” in context to the “final” invasion of the Land before the Spirit is poured out on the whole house of Israel (an overtly eschatological prophecy) saying:
For in my jealousy and in my blazing wrath I declare, On that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. (Ezekiel 38:19)
EARTHQUAKES IN THE BOOK OF ISAIAH
The book of Isaiah contains many references to end-time earthquakes. Let me make mention of but two of them: Isaiah 2 and Isaiah 24.
Isaiah chapter 2 describes an unprecedented hour of history when the inhabitants of the earth take refuge anywhere they can from the fierce judgment of God. Notice three times the statement that men will hide in rocks and caves from the terror of the Lord as “lofty” mountains and hills are “brought low.”
10 Enter into the rock and hide in the dust from before the terror of the LORD, and from the splendor of his majesty. 11 The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. 12 For the LORD of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low; 13 against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up; and against all the oaks of Bashan; 14 against all the lofty mountains, and against all the uplifted hills; 15 against every high tower, and against every fortified wall; 16 against all the ships of Tarshish, and against all the beautiful craft. 17 And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. 18 And the idols shall utterly pass away. 19 And people shall enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from before the terror of the LORD, and from the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. 20 In that day mankind will cast away their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship, to the moles and to the bats, 21 to enter the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs, from before the terror of the LORD, and from the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. (Isaiah 2:10-21)
The close of this Age will not come until the Lord “rises to terrify the earth.” This is an unpopular and troublesome message. But it is profoundly Biblical and absolutely true.
Isaiah 24 describes the impact of God’s judgments in that hour:
1 Behold, the LORD will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants….3 The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered; for the LORD has spoken this word. 4 The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish. 5 The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. 6 Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left.
After being told that God will “empty the earth and make it desolate” having “twisted its surface and scattered its inhabitants” in a crisis that “scorches men” so that “few are left,” Isaiah describes how the earth will be “broken” under the weight of the judgment:
19 The earth is utterly broken, the earth is split apart, the earth is violently shaken. 20 The earth staggers like a drunken man; it sways like a hut; its transgression lies heavy upon it, and it falls, and will not rise again. 21 On that day the LORD will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth. 22 They will be gathered together as prisoners in a pit; they will be shut up in a prison, and after many days they will be punished. 23 Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the LORD of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders.
“Split apart.” “Violently shaken.” “Staggers like a drunken man.” “Sways like a hut.” “It falls and will not rise again.” These are the dramatic descriptions of the Age-ending judgments of God that leave the earth in ruin.
EARTHQUAKES IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION
The Preterist idea that the earthquakes in Matthew 24 are a historical reality that will have no Age-ending crescendo really falls apart when we read the book of Revelation.
There is a very clear sequence of earthquakes in the book of Revelation that culminates in the fall of Babylon, the crumbling of Jerusalem,, every island and mountain fleeing away, and every city on earth falling (hardly a description of the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70!). Here are some of the quakes described:
The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. (Rev. 6:14)
Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. (Rev. 8:5)
And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city [of Jerusalem] fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. (Rev. 11:13)
The last earthquake is in 16:17-21 and is the biggest and most devastating of them all (also mentioned in Isa. 2:10, 19, 21; 13:13; 24:19-20; 29:6; Ezek. 38:19; Hag. 2:6, 21; Zech. 14:4-5; Heb. 12:26-27).
The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 There were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth. 19 Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath. 20 Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. 21 And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent. Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great. (Rev. 16:17-21)
This is an amazing event. It is the “seventh” bowl of wrath; the final judgment event in a series of 21 judgment events (7 seals, 7 trumpets, and 7 bowls). This is the final earthquake of this present Age. Each phrase in the passage deserves our contemplation:
Great city Jerusalem: There are two great cities in Revelation. History from God’s point of view is a tale of two cities—Jerusalem and Babylon. Both are called the “great city.” Jerusalem (Rev. 11:8) and Babylon (Rev. 14:8). The specific reference to Babylon later in the text makes it clear that it is distinct from the reference to Jerusalem as the great city that was mentioned first.
Divided into three parts: Jerusalem will be struck by an earthquake that will divide the city into three parts, as one-tenth of the city collapses and 7,000 die, causing many to glorify God. This has never happened in history past. It will happen in the future at the tail end of the final 42 months (Rev. 11:1-3) of this Age after Jerusalem has been trampled by the Gentiles in the invasions of the Great Tribulation (Mt. 24:15-31).
There was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. In the earthquake seven thousand men were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven. (Rev. 11:13)
Great Babylon: the greatest earthquake in history will destroy Babylon on the Euphrates River in Iraq (fifty miles south of Baghdad). (Isaiah 13-14 and Jeremiah 50-51 also describe the final judgment of Babylon that occurs in conjunction with the restoration of Israel into the bond of the covenant). This too has never had a historical fulfillment.
Was remembered before God: because the city of Babylon will still be standing after all the previous judgments, some will think that she escaped. However, at the very end of the Great Tribulation, God will suddenly and permanently destroy her before the inauguration of the Millennium. Judgment will come on Babylon in two stages. First, ten kings will destroy the harlot religious system at the beginning of the final 42 month tribulation as the Antichrist begins his tyrannical reign (Rev. 17:16). Second, at the end of the final 42 month tribulation, God will destroy it in the seventh bowl (Rev. 18:8).
Cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath: this phrase uses both of the common words for God’s wrath: thymos (anger or fierceness) and orge (wrath). This is a Day of Reckoning for the nations of the earth. Humanity will be judged. And God alone will be exalted (see Isaiah chapter 2).
Cities of the nations fell: the earthquake will impact every city on earth as great skyscrapers collapse, city centers implode, smoke plumes fill the atmosphere, and fire lights up the night sky (see Joel 2:28-31). Washington, DC, London, Sydney, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, New York, Rome, Moscow, Cairo, Auckland, Mexico City, Jakarta, and Stockholm will be laid waste. We cannot exaggerate the mind-numbing intensity of this event when “the cities of the nations fall.”
Every island and the mountains: the great earthquake will impact the entire earth, including every part of the ocean. It will cause every island to sink into the sea and many mountains to be leveled. This will serve as part of God’s reconstruction plan for the millennial earth. Nothing like this has ever happened in history. And it’s poor and dishonest exegesis to say otherwise.
The crumbling of the mountains before the end is consistent with many other passages; such as Nahum 1.
The mountains quake before Him, the hills melt, and the earth heaves at His presence, Yes, the world and all who dwell in it. 6 Who can stand before His indignation? And who can endure the fierceness of His anger? … The rocks are thrown down by Him. (Nah. 1:5-6)
Zechariah 14 not only describes the earthquake (as previously mentioned). It also describes the restoration of Jerusalem after the “utter destruction” of the final time of unequaled tribulation (which forces us to anticipate this as a future event as Jerusalem has never been “raised up” and “safely inhabited”):
The LORD shall be King over all the earth … 10 All the land shall be turned into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be raised up and inhabited in her place … 11 The people shall dwell in it; and no longer shall there be utter destruction, but Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited. (Zech. 14:9-11)
Isaiah 42 describes Jesus going forth as a mighty man of war who “lays waste the mountains and hills” in His zeal at His appearing.
The LORD shall go forth like a mighty man; He shall stir up His zeal like a man of war. He shall cry out, yes, shout aloud; He shall prevail against His enemies. 14 “I have held My peace a long time, I have been still and restrained Myself. Now I will cry like a woman in labor … 15 I will lay waste the mountains and hills…” (Isa. 42:13-15)
Despite the fact that some scientists claim that earthquakes are as consistent as they have ever been, and despite the fact that many believers argue that the earthquakes described in Scripture have already happened in history, passages like Revelation 16, Haggai 2, Nahum 1, Isaiah 24, Isaiah 42, and dozens of others make it clear that earthquakes are an important sign of the times and will only increase in frequency and intensity before the Lord returns. As many would like to allegorize these breathtaking events away and fit them neatly into history past, the Scriptures will not allow it.
We are at the beginning of the beginning of the greatest hour of shaking in human history. And the shaking won’t end until every city falls, every mountain crumbles, every island flees away, and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord. Then will we receive and possess a Kingdom “which cannot be shaken.”
Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.