Pulpit Today Sermons
The Biblical Purpose of Earthquakes
by Robert D Pace
Earthquakes take a prominent place in the Bible. They can be formidable, as they swallow landscape, destroy infrastructure, and take human lives. Yet the Bible isn’t reluctant to speak of them. That’s why I want to present the Biblical purpose of earthquakes, and especially as it regards huge earthquakes.
There are parts of Creation that at first glance appear to be misjudgments of God. The wobble in the earth; straying meteors in the heavens; hurricanes, tsunamis, and tornados. Initially, all of these matters seem to impugn the wisdom and goodness of God, and each disaster deserves a Biblical explanation. In times of calamity two Scriptures especially help us understand God’s strange work:
The first is found in Revelation 4:11. John writes: “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.” [NLT]
And then Paul writes these words in Colossians 1:16, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” [NIV]
The God who is infinitely wise could have laid the earth’s foundation in such a way that it would never tremble. But he chose to fashion the earth’s tectonic plates precisely as they are. “They exist because … [he] created what … [he] pleased” (Eph. 4:11). And the Lord created them for himself (Col. 1:16).
(Transition) My closing point is especially important, because I want to summarize the Bible’s purpose for earthquakes. But for now, I’ll start by making four observations about Earthquakes.
Four Observations About Earthquakes
1. The Bible discloses seven major earthquakes. They begin in Genesis and end in the book of Revelation with five mega-quakes occurring during the Apocalypse. In total, Scripture mentions seventeen.
2. Second, earthquakes occur to satisfy God’s justice.
One of the recurring themes of that formidable book of Revelation regards God’s justice during the Apocalypse. John repeatedly writes of how God’s judgments are “just and right”—all of them! At one point, as God issues his wrath upon the world, the 24 Elders that surround God’s throne in Heaven interrupt John’s writing to ascribe worship and praise toward God for his judgments in the earth. Let’s read Revelation 11:16—18.
And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. 18 The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small—and for destroying those who destroy the earth.
Theologians have noted that earthquakes are the surest sign of God’s judgment. And there is a reason for this. It is because earthquakes occur without warning and offer no time for preparation. While other natural disasters can occur with advance notice, in an instant an earthquake arrives, rattles the earth, and then disappears (perhaps with a few aftershocks).
3. Third, notice that God identifies with earthquakes. As reckoning as earthquakes can be, there is no Scripture that suggests Satan ignites them. Isaiah 29:6 is a fearsome Scripture showing how God visits the earth in earthquakes.
From the NIV Isaiah says, “The LORD Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire.”
The Literal Standard puts it this way: “You are inspected by YHWH of Hosts, With thunder, and with an earthquake, And great noise, windstorm, and whirlwind, And flame of devouring fire” [LSV]
In no uncertain terms the Lord has identified himself with the earthquake. But why? Why did God create the earth susceptible to earthquakes? Earthquakes and other natural disasters seem to malign his integrity. Even Amos 3:6 dares to announce, “When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?” There is a way Christians can answer this and part of that answer is disclosed in my fourth statement about Earthquakes.
4. Fourth, earthquakes redound to God’s eternal purposes.
We must always remember that it is impossible for God to act or react contrary to his nature! In all things, whether catastrophic or marvelous, God never acts capriciously or without forethought. In fact, the Bible shows that God has judiciously planned his works toward mankind ages ago—perhaps thousands of years ago—when the foundations of the world were laid.
Notice what Isaiah 25:1 says: “O LORD, you are my God! I will exalt you in praise, I will extol your fame. For you have done extraordinary things, and executed plans made long ago exactly as you decreed.” [NET]
In Proverbs 8:23 Solomon said this about God’s wisdom: “From eternity I was established, from the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.” [NASB]
Despite how our human thinking appraises circumstances, God cannot author anything apart from his perfect wisdom and forethought. Our God possesses infinite knowledge; infinite wisdom; and infinite purposes. This is why his purposes are often inscrutable and murky to humans. But that doesn’t mean we cannot trust him. Beyond the disasters that befall this sinful world, there is a good and all-wise God that we can trust in accordance with Ephesians 1:11, which says God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”
In all things regarding this life, God works for two purposes: He works for (1) his glory and (2) man’s good. And he’s even working in behalf of sinners! Again, it’s the prophet that says this in Isaiah 26:9—10.
“When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness. 10 But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.”
God loves sinners so much that he afflicts the earth with trembling so that their souls will look to him for salvation. The Bible overflows with testimony of God’s love, goodness, mercy, salvation, justice, and wisdom. And he always includes these verities of his character when he arises to shake the earth. The gift of God’s Son Jesus Christ is proof enough that he overflows with grace, mercy, compassion, and love.
(Transition) Now let’s look at several earthquakes from the Bible. In so doing, I will identify an earthquake and then apply God’s purpose for giving it.
Biblical Occasions of Earthquakes
Some of Scripture’s most notable occasions are marked with earthquakes. The first I want to mention is:
1. Moses and the Earthquake at Mount Sinai. As the Israelites watched Moses ascend Sinai, there were struck with the awesome fear of God. Moses was on a journey to retrieve the Ten Commandments. As he climbed upward, darkness enveloped the mountain, the land roiled with violence, and bolts of lightning pierced the air. All that looked on were consumed with the awesome fear of God. Let’s read Exodus. 19:16–19.
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.
After forty days on the Mountain with God, you can see how some Israelites could have misinterpreted Moses’ whereabouts. Surely he had died amidst the awesome display of God’s power. Moreover, they built the golden calf and worshipped it. But they had totally misapplied God’s dealings with them.
(Meaning of the Earthquake) This earthquake was showing the Israelites the importance of God’s Word. He was giving them indisputable testimony that he was one with his Word and that the Israelites should always be careful to obey it.
2. The second earthquake I’ll mention is the one that accompanied Christ’s death on the Cross. Let’s look at Matthew 27:51–54.
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. (51) At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split (52) and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. (53) They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (54) When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God! [NIV]
Did you notice the convergence of occurrences at the very “moment” Jesus died on the Cross? God tore apart that sacred curtain of the Temple that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. There would never again be the need for a High Priest to offer sacrifices for man’s sin. As the earthquake reverberated, it split the rocks asunder, tombs broke open, and “many holy people who had died were raised to life”! Can you imagine the commotion this stirred among the people of Jerusalem? Grandfathers, that had been “laid to rest” weeks earlier, were walking through the villages of their offspring. And they were testifying to what lay on the other side of the grave.
(Meaning of the Earthquake) So what is the meaning of this earthquake? Its interpretation was exclaimed by the centurion who watched him die. This earthquake affirmed “Jesus Christ is the Son of God!”
3. Next, notice that Christ’s resurrection also occurred with an earthquake. With two earthquakes converging at this point in our Savior’s life—one at his death, the other at his resurrection—God placed a double exclamation on his plan of salvation for humanity. Let’s read Matthew 28:1–4.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (2) There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. (3) His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. (4) The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. [NIV]
This earthquake was not a slight, rolling tremor. Matthew notes that the angelic appearance that accompanied this earthquake terrified the Roman guards of the tomb. These guards were not “girly men”! They weren’t susceptible to events that frightened the common man. This had to be a mammoth earthquake!
(Meaning of the Earthquake) Once again, this earthquake occurring at Christs’s resurrection, disclosed that “Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.” It affirmed that he is the Messiah that the Old Testament prophets had predicted.
If you are not a Christian; you’ve never repented of your sins; I invite you to accept Jesus as your Savior today. He’s ready to forgive you and welcome you into his family.
4. Now let’s consider the Coming Earthquake that will accompany the Battle of Gog and Magog. This earthquake informs the world of four facts. But before pointing out those facts, let’s read how this occurs. Turn to Ezekiel 38:18–20 and let’s read:
This is what will happen in that day: When Gog attacks the land of Israel, my hot anger will be aroused, declares the Sovereign Lord. 19 In my zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. 20 The fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the beasts of the field, every creature that moves along the ground, and all the people on the face of the earth will tremble at my presence. The mountains will be overturned, the cliffs will crumble and every wall will fall to the ground.” [Skip to verse] (23) “And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord.
Ezekiel, chapters 38—39, disclose the Battle of Gog and Magog. It involves an alliance between Russia and Iran, along with a coalition of Arab nations, that gather on the mountains of Israel. They have come to “seize the spoils” of Israel and eradicate it from the earth. One writer estimated that Israel will be out-numbered 70 to 1. But at the last moment, before this coalition descends upon the Israelis, God will strike the land with a massive earthquake. The mountains will sink under the feet of the invaders. And with a convergence of natural disasters Israel’s enemies will be almost instantly defeated! God will have won the day as the world looks on via television.
(Meaning of the Earthquake) Here’s the meaning of the Gog and Magog earthquake: It discloses God’s defense of his covenant people Israel. It discloses that Jehovah alone is the only true God! It shows that the land of Israel belongs to Jehovah. And it attests that the Jewish people are the rightful heirs to the land.
5. The Earthquake of the Two Witnesses. Revelation 11:7–13:
Now when they [the Two Witnesses] have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. 8 Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified. 9 For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. 10 The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth. 11 But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on. 13 At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
This particular earthquake occurs moments after the two witnesses are raptured into Heaven. And it particularly strikes the ground they stood upon! The timing of this earthquake is just prior to the blast of the seventh trumpet.
The meaning of this earthquake is foreboding! These two witnesses will be the most empowered human servants of God to ever live [See Zechariah 4]. The news outlets will converge upon them regularly as they work miracles, rebuke nations, preach, and minister. They will call sinners to repentance and place judgment upon those that oppose their testimony. They will subdue the entire world by calling forth drought, pestilence, and famine. You can imagine the hatred that they stir from the wicked. Once their ministry concludes the Antichrist will martyr them (Rev. 11:7). Their bodies will remain in Jerusalem’s public square for three-and-a-half-days as the nations gloat over them. People “will celebrate by sending each other gifts” (Revelation 11:10).
This is when God attests to their testimony with two indisputable acts: He first raises them from the dead and they ascend into Heaven in full view of the world. And then secondly, comes the earthquake. Revelation 11:13 says this: “At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.”
(Meaning of the Earthquake) With the Two Witnesses raptured out of the earth, this earthquake carries special meaning. God is saying to sinners, “You have rejected my chosen servants. Proceed on your own. The days of mercy and grace are closing!
(Further Insight) Knowing that every word of the Bible is divinely inspired, did you notice that Revelation 11:13 associates two numbers with this earthquake? Great truths are disclosed by knowing the Biblical definition of numerals. Here John notes that a tenth of the city collapses and 7000 people die from this earthquake. While seven represents perfection, the number ten denotes “testimony; law; and order.” Could God be saying through this earthquake: This now concludes my dealings with mankind in an orderly, lawful manner. In a 7000-fold manner I am making this “perfectly” known to mankind. The world will now descend into disorder, chaos, and utter confusion.
6. The sixth and final earthquake I want to mention actually regards a set of mega-quakes that will appear at the Eschaton. The word eschaton refers to the “end of the age.” You’re likely familiar with the word eschatology, which refers to “the study of the end of the age.” So what part do these earthquakes take at the Eschaton?
In Luke 21, Jesus and his disciples discoursed on this subject. They asked Jesus what would mark the arrival of the Eschaton and his return to Earth. This is when Jesus coined the phrase, “The beginning of birth pains.” Let’s read Luke 21:8–11.
He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” 10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
The parallel passage with Luke 21 is Matthew 24. And Matthew adds one statement that Jesus uttered when he spoke of these Endtime calamities. He said, “All these are the beginning of birth pains” (24:8).
What I’m about to say is crucial to interpreting the foregoing passage: The key to identifying the Eschaton’s arrival regards agglomerating all of Christ’s prophetic indicators into one short slice of time that he characterized as “birth pains.” This is the only way you can validate the presence of the Eschaton!
It does great injustice to Christ’s answer to take one or two of his prophetic indicators to assert that the “end of the age” has arrived. Jesus said “All these are the beginning of birth pains.” That means it takes the convergence of deception, rumors of wars, international upheaval, famines, plagues, earthquakes, fearful events and great signs from heaven” to say the end of the age has emerged (Luke 21:11).
I want to highlight one more prophetic sign that Jesus mentioned as part of these “birth pains.” Jesus did not predict that the Eschaton would arrive with earthquakes. He said it would arrive with “great earthquakes.” The Greek word for great is mega. Thus, when all these signs—combined with a surge of mega-quakes rattling the globe—they will declare to the world that the Eschaton has arrived. And think about this: The convergence of all these dreadful omens will make it remarkably easy for Christians to identify the end of the age.
I have a question. When Jesus characterized the Eschaton he chose the metaphor of a pregnant woman heaving and contracting with labor pains. But have you ever wondered what this pregnancy contained? What will these labor pains produce? I assure you this pregnancy bears no ordinary child. Once these birth pains contract for the last time, it will birth the Apocalypse! That is the most foreboding message of these contractions. It’s God’s final notification that the Apocalypse is next.
(Meaning of these Mega-quakes) That’s the main meaning of these “birth pains”mega-quakes. They disclose the culmination of all Bible prophecy.
As I conclude I want to ask again, Why does God identify with earthquakes? Well, when you consider God’s relationship with other facets of nature you’ll discover he has taken charge of all the elements.
Job 37:9—13 discloses this when it says: “The tempest comes out from its chamber, the cold from the driving winds. 10 The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen. 11 He loads the clouds with moisture; he scatters his lightning through them. 12 At his direction they swirl around over the face of the whole earth to do whatever he commands them. 13 He brings the clouds to punish people, or to water his earth and show his love.”
Why does God identify with the earthquake? Let’s reverse the question: What if God should not identify with them? Would not Satan loose earthquakes without restraint! The concept of civilization would be impossible. No skyscraper could endure its towering height. No roadway could pave the path for vehicle or flight.
Remember: God identified with man by becoming human flesh. He became sin on our behalf and died on the Cross that we might live. So yes, God is in the earthquake. He’s in it . . . to control it! In sovereignty he looses its menacing fury; and in his sovereignty he expels its wrath.