There have been some powerful earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and other natural disasters recently, but they aren’t unique to our time. Because population density is much higher today than in past centuries, more people tend to be killed when natural disasters occur.
People of Jesus’ day were superstitious and believed that natural events contained clues about the future. When Jesus’ disciples asked him what the signs of the end of the age would be, Jesus gave them a careful response:
And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:4-13 nkjv).
Jesus may have realized that the disciples would expect the destruction ofJerusalemand the temple to occur in close conjunction with His return and the end of the age. To make it clear to them that they shouldn’t linkJerusalem’s fall with His second coming, He told them specifically not to trust false Christs. He also warned them not to think manmade catastrophes such as wars or natural catastrophes such as famines, epidemics, or earthquakes meant the end of the age had arrived. Such catastrophic events should not be viewed as “the birth pains of the Messiah,” as the Jews sometimes viewed them, but as “the beginning of the birth pains” (v.8 niv) of events that would take place throughout history. Christians should be prepared for these things and for the severe persecution that would rise against the church from time to time.
What Jesus prophesied came true—Israelwas judged andJerusalemdestroyed in the Jewish-Roman wars. Yet, as He said, the horrors of siege and battle along with the natural disasters of that period were in fact only the “beginning of the birth pains.” Thousands of catastrophic events of all types—wars, famines, plagues, and earthquakes—have occurred in the intervening centuries, some of them apocalyptic in scale.
Antioch,Syria, ad 525, 250,000 killed;
Aleppo,Syria, 1138, 230,000 killed;
Shaanxi Province,China, 1556, 830,000 killed.
“Great Famine” of Europe, ad 1315–17, millions died;
Indian famine of 1896–1902, millions died;
Chinese famine under Chairman Mao, 1958–61, 20-40 million died.
Antonine Plague (smallpox),Roman Empire, ad 165–180, 5 million died;
Plague of Justinian, 541–542, 25 million died;
Black Death, the Middle East andEurope, 1338–1351, 100 million died.
Thousands of wars and armed conflicts since the time of Jesus Christ have caused millions of deaths.
People who lived during these times can be excused for suspecting that they were living in the end time. However, the wisdom of Jesus’ words of caution regarding the linkage of human or natural disasters with the arrival of the end time has endured. His declaration that we cannot know the day or hour of His return (Matthew 24:36) is as applicable to us today as it was to the apostolic church.
(See Can we know if current events are the fulfillment of prophecy? How often have people misapplied prophecy? and How serious is false speculation about prophecy?)