Is the recent major earthquake in Indonesia an indication that Jesus is about to return?
Many people can't stand being left with a mystery. We want to know everything. It can be as mundane as trying to figure out if next winter will be mild or harsh, or it can be very personal as "How soon will I die?" The Bible states that Jesus will return one day and that return will bring about the end of this world. "Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation." For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation--as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you" (2 Peter 3:3-15). It not enough to know that it will happen; people want to know in advance when it will happen.
Often Matthew 24:6-8 is cited as a predictor of Jesus' emanate return. An advertisement that appeared in the Omaha World-Herald back in 2002 said, "Jesus said the signs before His return would come as intensifying birth pangs, seeing increased famines, violence,and wars, a clear picture of our planet (Matthew 24:6-8). One of six people on earth suffers from hunger. Violence is epidemic. A study of wars since 500 B.C. shows a recent dramatic increase. More than 100 conflicts have erupted since 1990, about twice the number for previous decades."
Sounds dreadful -- until you start thinking about it. It would naturally follow that as the world's population increases, the number of conflicts would increase. In our past, most conflicts were regional and only known in that region. How would a man living 2,000 years ago in the middle east know or care that a conflict was happening in eastern Asia? But now we know about every local disturbance that occurs in our world. Local fights regarding such things as who should control Israel is brought world-wide by terrorists. But does this mean that the number of wars are increasing? Or, does it mean that our awareness of wars is increasing?
Similar arguments can be made about violence and poverty. Is it true that our country is more violent today than during the days of the French and Indian Wars? Is poverty really worse today than during the Middle Ages when the average life span was less than 40? As Jesus pointed out, "For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always" (Mark 14:7).
However, the most humorous aspect of the fear mongers is the use of Matthew 24:4-8. "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"" (Matthew 24:4-8). If you read the context of this passage, you will find that Jesus is discussing with his disciples when Jerusalem would be destroyed (Matthew 23:37-24:3). In the quoted passage Jesus is warning his followers not to become distracted by false prophets using news of disasters to gain followers. Wars, famines, disease, and earthquakes are common occurrences in the world. They do not signify additional future trouble.
The same ad in 2002 said, "Also prophesied to be as birth pangs (Matthew 24:7), a recent study shows a dramatic increase in earthquakes worldwide, just since the decade of Israel's rebirth. In the 1940's there were 51 about Richter 6.0; the 1950's 475; 1980's 1,085; and the 1990's 1,514."
The U.S. government's center for earthquake monitoring has this to say about the matter: "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. A partial explanation may lie in the fact that in the last twenty years, we have definitely had an increase in the number of earthquakes we have been able to locate each year. This is because of the tremendous increase in the number of seismograph stations in the world and the many improvements in global communications. In 1931, there were about 350 stations operating in the world; today, there are more than 4,000 stations and the data now comes in rapidly from these stations by telex, computer and satellite. This increase in the number of stations and the more timely receipt of data has allowed us and other seismological centers to locate many small earthquakes which were undetected in earlier years, and we are able to locate earthquakes more rapidly. The NEIC now locates about 12,000 to 14,000 earthquakes each year or approximately 35 per day. Also, because of the improvements in communications and the increased interest in natural disasters, the public now learns about more earthquakes. According to long-term records (since about 1900), we expect about 18 major earthquakes (7.0 - 7.9) and one great earthquake (8.0 or above) in any given year. However, let's take a look at what has happened in the past 32 years, form 1969 through 2001, so far. In 1970 and in 1971 we had 20 and 19 major earthquakes, respectively, bur in other years the total was in many cases well below the 18 per year which we may expect based on the long-term average."
In other words, we have more recorders in the world, so we are aware of more earthquakes, including minor ones. However, notice that major earthquake events have been appearing relatively stable and for a number of years have been below average. Yes, the 9.0 earthquake in Indonesia is unusually large (it is the fourth largest earthquake recorded so far -- there have been three bigger ones in the past), but it is not out of the bounds of what may be expected. But then again, we must remember Jesus' words that the number of earthquakes or the occurrence of an earthquake cannot be a predictor of future disasters. Earthquakes constantly happen.
Peter stated that "the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night" (I Peter 3:10). Such is stated repeatedly in the Bible. "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only" (Matthew 24:36). "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming" (Matthew 25:13). "For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night" (I Thessalonians 5:2). No one knows when their house will be next robbed and there will be no advance hints as to when Jesus will return and the world will come to an end.