I have made every effort to resist poking fun at doomsayers yesterday if for no other reason than because the situation in Japan with the earthquake and tsunami is not one to take advantage of. It is a serious, sad, even heart-wrenching situation that deserves our prayers, blood and money.
Friday afternoon a woman came into my office, sat back in a chair and said, “I know you’re not going to like this, but the Japan disaster is in the bible”.
“Really?” I quipped, “Can you show me where the bible says that on March 21st, 2011, an earthquake is going to cause a Tsunami to crush the coast of Japan up to six miles inland?”
“That’s not what I mean.” She said, “What I mean is that the bible says that before the end comes, natural disasters are going to get worse, and Jesus tells us to look for these signs.”
“But according to the news reports, the earthquake in Japan is the eighth worst in history. Do you understand what that means? There have been seven earthquakes in the past that have been worse than this one. And do you know that about 3500 years ago a volcano erupted in Greece which covered the entire Mediterranean sky including large portions of Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. If that happened today, everyone would be saying that it is a ‘sign’ of the end times. But it didn’t happen today, it happened 1500 B.C. And seven hundred years ago a Black Plague swept across the known world mercilessly killing between 45 and 95 percent the human population in various places. If any time we were to suppose – on the basis of natural disasters – that Christ would return, it would be then.”
The conversation came to an awkward end.
Later on that day someone put as their facebook status update:
“’Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great EARTHQUAKES, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events, and greats signs from heaven.’ Luke 21:9-22”
With emphasis on EARTHQUAKE, the implications are clear: the bible tells us that this earthquake was going to happen and it means that Christ will be returning at any moment (say, May 21st, 2011?).
I sigh because the use of this passage in light of current events shows a complete disregard of the scriptures, which is ironic since the implicit worldview by appealing to Luke 21 claims to be a biblical one. But a cursory reading of Luke 21:9-22 shows how we can so easily pluck one verse out of its context and make it bend to the fantasies of our “end times” imaginations.
The verses quoted are 10 and 11. But read the verses immediately after this:
“But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors… When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near….”
Notice, before all this; that is, before “wars and revolutions”, before “nation will rise against nation” before “great EARTHQUAKES, famines and pestilences in various places” he says “you” will be brought before kings and dragged into synagogues. Now I highly doubt very much that the person who wrote Luke 21:10-11 on her wall was ever dragged into a synagogue. In fact, I don’t think that is happening anywhere in the world anymore. But what’s even more amazing is that this passage has nothing to do with end times. Take note: nothing. When Jesus said “you” he was talking to someone specifically within its context, namely, his disciples. The entire passage is an apocalyptic judgment upon Israel’s religious system – indeed the entire reading from Luke 19:45-21:36 is an indictment upon Israel. The text has been fulfilled historically in 70 A.D.
Christian take note: occasions like this are not the proper time to become fanciful in wild end times speculations. Now is the time to focus on helping those in need to the best of your ability – whether by prayer, blood or money –and to keep in mind that the day of the Lord will come suddenly – like a thief in the night. Does an earth shattering earthquake and billboards on every street corner announcing “Judgment Day” sound very quite to you (2 Peter 3:10; 1 Thess. 5:2; Matt. 24:36; Acts 1:6-7)?
So in light of the ever impending return of Christ, what ought we to do in the mean time? Glean theological starting-points from Left Behind science fiction novels? No, rather:
“You ought to live holy and godly lives, as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming… so then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.” – 2 Peter 3:11-15 (See also 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8)
 James Payton, Getting the Reformation Wrong, p.27; Payton is a professor of History.