NATURAL CATASTROPHES MUST BE VIEWED IN THE LIGHT OF FINAL JUDGMENT
History, according to the Bible, is linear: it has a beginning and an end and moves forward on a straight line. History is not a revolving circle, an endless repetition whose beginning and ultimate purpose is unknown. History began at Creation and is moving to Final Judgment. As the line of history progresses, the world will experience more frequent and more intense “eschatological contractions.” These birth pangs are painful precursors to the final contraction that will occur at the Second Coming of Christ, “The Day of the Lord”, or Final Judgment.
The final contraction is described by Peter in 2 Peter 3:3-13. Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. This created order will be destroyed in a global cataclysm similar to Noah’s Flood, except that the element of destruction will not be water, but fire. This final contraction will issue into the formation of new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. The final contraction will involve a convulsion of the entire globe. In Revelation, we learn that this present order of things will end in an earthquake of global proportions. Preliminary contractions leading up to the end will be similar in kind but less intense and will be regional rather than global. The world will increasingly convulse in eschatological contractions, “signs of the times,” indicators that history is moving toward Final Judgment.
Jesus informed us of eschatological signs in “The Olivet Discourse” recorded in Matthew 24 and 25 as well as Luke 21. One such sign is the global expansion of His Kingdom through the preaching of the gospel and the building of His church. Today virtually every people group on earth has received testimony of the gospel. Another sign is the opposition and persecution that His people encounter as the Kingdom of light invades Satan’s kingdom of darkness. The twentieth century has witnessed more persecution of Christians than all the previous centuries combined. Another sign is the increase of apostasy accompanied by the rise of false religions. Today many so-called “Christian” churches have abandoned the gospel and compromise Scriptural doctrine, practice, and morals. A fourth sign concerns our present interest: the sign evidencing the birth pangs of this created order. Wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilence – these catastrophes are signs, eschatological contractions leading up to the birth of a new world which will be revealed in conjunction with the Final Judgment of mankind.
In teaching about the end of the world, Jesus employs the metaphor of a woman in childbirth. And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs (Matthew 24:6-8). These eschatological birth pangs are referred to in Luke. And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:25-28). Certainly a 9.0 earthquake in Sumatra in 2004 qualified as a great earthquake. Scientists told us that the December 26th earthquake actually shifted the earth’s axis – for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Certainly the tsunami that surged onto nine nations around and beyond the Indian Ocean qualifies as a roaring of the sea and the waves. Since then we’ve witnessed several more earthquakes and men all over the world are in perplexity, fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world. In light of Jesus’ teachings, I submit to you that we should view the 2004 tsunami and the earthquakes since then in Pakistan, China and Haiti as birth pangs, as eschatological contractions, as preliminary divine judgments pointing us to the coming Final Judgment.
Let me immediately qualify how these catastrophes signify divine judgment. Note that Jesus says that is not yet the end, all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. As when a woman in labor has a contraction, we know that the birth will occur, but a contraction is just preparatory. As contractions, natural catastrophes point to the certain coming of Jesus and Final Judgment. Similar signs have been given throughout history. The world has seen other horrific catastrophes and will continue to do so until the end of history. According to Scripture, we should expect that catastrophes will increase in frequency and intensity as the time draws near, just like a woman giving birth.
There is another qualification that needs to be made. Those who are suffering in this present catastrophe are not worse sinners than other men. They are not being visited by a specific judgment of God because of specific sin. In Jesus’ day, violence and tragedy were headline news too. There were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:1-5). The unexpected, violent and tragic death of men was an occasion for Jesus to inform those yet living that they who died did not die because they were greater sinners than the living, but that we all face the same prospect of death and therefore, we need to prepare to die. How? Repent and believe in Jesus Christ.
As fallen sinners, we all stand under the sentence of God’s judgment and are all liable to death. Was the Hatian earthquake in January 2010 divine judgment for sin? Yes, but as an expression of the judgment under which the entire world exists as a result of the Fall. That earthquake was no more a judgment than similar devastations occurring elsewhere in this fallen world. During August and September 2004, the state of Florida was struck with three successive devastating hurricanes. Louisiana and Mississippi were hit by hurricane Katrina that struck us in August of 2005. In the summer of 2004, unprecedented heat caused extensive death in France. In recent years, thousands have died in China, Europe, Haiti and the Dominican Republic due to devastating floods. In the spring of 2007 Typhoon Nargis hit Myanmar on May 3rd and claimed 22,000 lives. The earthquake that struck central China on May 12th that same year claimed almost 10,000 lives. Eschatological contractions abound: tornadoes in America’s mid-west in 2008 and record cold in Europe during the winter of 2009. Unusual death-causing weather is a sign of coming judgment and that sign is being given to men in every country on earth. Mankind the world over stands under the sentence of death because of sin. Our world is as it was in the days of Noah when the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). So Jesus teaches us – For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be (Matthew 24:37-39).
We must not fail to understand what catastrophic events mean. Behold, the Judge is standing right at the door (James 5:9). These signs communicate a message from God: this world (you and I) will are about to be judged. We are heading toward Final Judgment.
LEARN ABOUT FINAL JUDGMENT FROM NATURAL CATASTROPHES
As Abraham was compelled to view Sodom after it was overcome in its destruction, we too must gaze upon the horror of natural disasters and learn wisdom. Let me speak, at this point, especially to you who are yet outside of Christ, who have yet to trust in Him, you who are not yet Christians.
Learn that Final Judgment will come upon men unexpectedly, like an earthquake. Suddenly, surprisingly, men will be engulfed and overwhelmed. Final Judgment, like a tsunami, will come upon men unexpectedly and will engulf them. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape (1 Thessalonians 5:3). The final destruction at the end of the age will be global, like Noah’s Flood. There will be no safe location on earth – for anyone: for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth (Luke 21:35). Understand that you will not escape the sudden eruption of God’s Day of Judgment when He comes to purge the world of sin and death. It will be a Day only hinted at by the preliminary contractions of earthquakes and tsunamis. It will be a Day of unspeakable wrath. Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it (Isaiah 13:9). All who are then still under the sentence of death will be swept away in the eternal fire of judgment. The most fearful thing conceivable is to come to the Day of Final Judgment still in your sins and then to enter an eternal death apart from Christ. And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).
Learn from natural catastrophes and flee from the coming wrath of God. John the Baptist preached as a prophet standing under the impending Day of the Lord and challenged his generation: You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Luke 3:7) He preached in anticipation of the wrath to come. The Word of God comes to you under the looming shadow of the coming Day of the Lord, the Day of Judgment. During this present time, God, through His church, is calling the world to repent and be saved by faith in Christ. He is also giving the world signs, signaling that the Day will soon be here. Natural catastrophes are signs. Do not live in denial of what these events signify! When a woman starts labor pains, it is foolish to deny what is transpiring with her body. Understand that this world has begun its eschatological labor pains. The Day of Judgment is soon upon us. What would Jesus have you to do? Unless you repent, you too will perish. In repentance from sin and by faith in Jesus Christ, you can flee from the wrath to come. By faith in Jesus Christ, you can find forgiveness for sin and not stand before God under the sentence of death, but stand before Him in the righteousness of Jesus. By faith in Jesus Christ, you can find safety in Him who alone has satisfied the wrath of God on the cross and conquered death by His resurrection. You can call upon Him today – now. He is ready to save all who seek Him in repentance and faith. God does not want you to perish in your sin. “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live.” (Ezekiel 18:32) He wants you to believe in Christ and to be saved!
LIVE LIKE YOU ARE HEADING TO FINAL JUDGMENT
You, who profess faith in Christ, listen to what your Lord tells you and live in hope. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28). You, dear Christian, have turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and (now you) wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:9,10). Your Lord is about to appear! You only, of all the people on the planet, can live with hope! Adam through his disobedience plunged this world into death. But Jesus, the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45), through His obedience has conquered death. In the Resurrection at the end of the age, Jesus will transform us and this fallen world (see Philippians 3:20,21). Jesus, by His victorious resurrection, has recovered what fallen Adam had lost. As we groan waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:23), we understand that natural catastrophes are birth pangs signaling the coming of a new heavens and new earth in which He shall wipe away every tear from (our) eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away (Revelation 21:4). We lift up our heads! The return of our Savior will certainly come! Our redemption is drawing near!
As your heart fills with this hope, you will be motivated to live in holiness. Everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:3). The evidence that we are truly joined to Jesus and that we are not destined for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9) is holiness of life. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless (2 Peter 3:11-14).
We must live oriented to the coming Day. The birth pangs have begun! Let us not get distracted by the empty vanities of this passing age, but in everything we do, let us seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). In every legitimate endeavor of life – in our families, our labors, our use of time and money – in all things, let us live as those who are serving Christ and awaiting His return. Again listen to Jesus: Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. Be on guard, that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:33-36). We cannot live carelessly, with dissipation, wasting our time and resources without focus or purpose. We cannot live in the pursuit of sensuality and drunkenness. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer (1 Peter 4:3,7). We cannot allow our hearts to become dull, cold and loveless (see Matthew 24:12,13), ensnared by the worries of life. A life full of the weeds of worry will prove to be thorny and unfruitful in the Day of final harvest (Luke 8:14). We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted from the Day that is pressing upon us. We are called to keep on the alert. How? Praying. This act of devotion to Christ epitomizes and represents all “the means of grace” to which the Christian gives himself so as to nurture and strengthen his faith and express his discipleship to Christ. We must be firmly connected to Christ and His people and give ourselves to those things that foster our spiritual health. The strength to escape will be given to those who follow Christ by faith and live wisely, building their lives in obedience to His words – as the wise man who built his house upon the rock (Matthew 7:24-27). Live with this anticipation: soon you will stand before the Son of Man. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10). Let us come to that Day to stand before Him having exercised a fruitful faith, having lived a life in which His grace was evident by our devotion, our obedience, our holiness, and our love.
Let us therefore live that life which abides: the life of faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13). Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25). Let us have hearts filled with compassion, like Jesus, for the distressed and downcast (Mt 9:36). Let us be zealous for good works (Titus 2:7,14; 3:8,14) and adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect (Titus 2:10). Let us minister, self-sacrificially, to the needs of others, to those suffering and disoriented by these horrible events. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16). For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:11-14). Let us live by faith in Christ, in hope of His coming, and extend His love and His gospel to as many people as we can.
As we live in these sober times, men all around us will be gripped with a foreboding sense of fear that something overwhelmingly terrifying is about to happen: men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world (Luke 21:26). Sadly, many will fail to recognize the “signs of the times” and will not respond to the gospel. Revelation 9:20,21 says the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts. But remember, during this time the Lord will build His church (Matthew 16:18) and will gather all His people to Himself at His return (Matthew 24:31). In the meantime, today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). Today is the day of grace. The gospel is being proclaimed and sinners are repenting and coming to Christ! This is an eschatological sign of hope! Let us minister Christ’s gospel of hope to our frightened family and friends. Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15). Share your hope. Let others know that Jesus has risen. He is the first fruit of the final resurrection harvest which has already begun. Tell them that there is a new world coming. Warn them to flee from the wrath to come. Urge them to repent and trust in Jesus – now! We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming, when no man can work (John 9:4). There is urgency to our appeal. The time is short and the Day is near. People all around us are dying and face the coming Day of Judgment and eternal death. Let us warn them. Let us plead with them. Let us beg them for Christ’s sake, to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). Let us do the work of our Master for He will soon return. We do not know when, but we know that He will. And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed (Romans 13:11). The last recorded words of Jesus in the Scripture are found in Revelation 22: 20. Yes, I am coming quickly. I believe Jesus. Do you? I believe that He is coming quickly. Do you? I see the signs of His coming. Do you? Yes, I am coming quickly. I believe Him. Amen. Come Lord Jesus (Revelation 22: 20).
 The theological term “eschatology” concerns the study of the “last things” that will occur at the end of this present age: the second coming of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the dead, Final Judgment, eternal heaven and hell.
.Alan Dunn, Pastor Grace Covenant Baptist Church Flemington, NJ