Kristin Hugo, Newsweek Magazine
January 25, 2018
A third earthquake struck near Lytle Creek, California, registering a 2.5 on the Richter scale. Trabuco Canyon, which is close to Lytle Creek, registered 4.0. Both cities are near Los Angeles.
The northernmost earthquake, closest to Eureka, registered a 5.8 on the Richter scale. However, because it hit 100 miles off the coastline, the vibrations were not as strong when they reached land. ABC7 reports that residents of Ferndale, California, in Humboldt County, felt the earthquake, but there are currently no reports of damage or injuries.
Picture: California from above. The state was rocked by earthquakes on Thursday. NASA
According to the USGS, when the earthquake hit at 8:39 a.m., the ripples of seismic activity reached from the southern coast of Oregon to nearly Ukiah, California, about 400 miles away.
Over the past seven days, California has experienced 15 earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater up and down the state, including two that hit off the coast in the Pacific Ocean.
Many of the tremors occurred near or along the San Andreas fault, where tectonic plates shift along the western edge of the state. The San Andreas fault is known to be particularly prone to earthquakes, and scientists believe that it will someday rock the state with “The Big One.“
Smaller earthquakes often precede bigger ones, but it’s hard to say whether this activity is indicative of a bigger earthquake to come, and if so, when.
Underwater seismic activity can sometimes cause tsunamis, which can cause major destruction when they reach land. The National Tsunami Warning Center tweeted that the earthquake off the coast of Northern California is not expected to cause a tsunami.
The California coast is part of the “Ring of Fire,” an area where there are an abnormal number of underwater volcanoes. Made up of the Pacific coastline of the U.S., Asia and the Pacific Islands, this area is prone to earthquakes.
Earthquakes in Biblical Literature
Earthquakes and other cataclysmic events often carry theophanic significance in Scripture, demonstrating God’s awesome power. At Mount Sinai the LORD’s presence was indicated by smoke and the shaking of the mountain (Exod. 19:18; cf. 1 Kings 19:1151 ; Ps. 68:8; Job 9:6; Hab. 3:6). When the New Testament church prayed “the place where they had gathered together was shaken” and the Spirit’s presence was manifested (Acts 4:31). Paul and Silas were freed when God’s power and presence was manifested in an earthquake (Acts 16:26). The most unusual earthquakes were associated with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. When Christ died on the cross, an earthquake shook the temple and rent the curtain of the temple from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51). No human agency rolled away the stone that sealed Christ’s tomb; it was the angel in the presence of the earthquake (Matt. 28:2).
More specifically, many seismic theophanies are manifestations of God’s anger and righteous judgment (cf. 1 Sam. 14:15; Ps. 18:7,8; Isa. 5:25; 13:13; 29:6; Joel 3:16; Amos 1:1,2; 8:7,8; Mic. 1:3-7; Nah. 1:5,6; Hag. 2:6, 21). The Day of the LORD is the most elaborate judgment motif of Scripture. That day is without fail marked by earthquakes and associated celestial disturbances (Isa. 2:19, 21; 13:13; 24:18; 29:5-6; Ezek. 38:19-22; Joel 2:10; Zech. 14:4, 5). For example, Isaiah’s description of the destruction of Babylon has cosmic overtones:
“Therefore I shall make the heavens tremble,
. . . And the earth will be shaken from its place
At the fury of the LORD of hosts
. . . In the day of His burning anger.” (Isa. 13:13).
Yet during the awesome shakedown of heaven and earth, “The LORD will have compassion on Jacob” (Isa. 14:1), and all creation will recognize God’s working (Isa. 14:3-8). When Israel is attacked by the armies of Gog, those armies are demolished at the decree of the LORD by earthquake and cosmic hailstones (Ezek. 38:17-23). Zechariah is even more explicit about the extraordinary geologic upheaval in the Holy Land associated with the Day of the LORD. A final earthquake at the LORD’s return will split the Mount of Olives, uplift Jerusalem on its site, and depress the surrounding Judean Mountains (Zech. 14:1-10).
Earthquakes are also associated with God’s self-revelation in the eschatology of the book of Hebrews (Heb. 12:25-29). The author warns his readers not to refuse to heed the God who speaks as he spoke at Sinai (“And His voice shook the earth then,” Heb. 12:26; cf. Exod. 19:18). The author then passes through history from Sinai to the promise of a great cosmic upheaval of the end time (“Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven,” Heb. 12:26; cf. Hag. 2:6). God’s ultimate purpose is to give believers “a kingdom which cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28) so that the faithful, having perceived his extraordinary power, can “offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28).
Such passages provide the eschatological backdrop for the book of Revelation, where earthquakes are symbols of God’s final judgment upon the earth. They appear as climactic judgments throughout the book, producing terror, awe and destruction among the earth’s inhabitants. Five earthquakes are described. These are at the opening of the sixth and seventh seals (6:12; 8:5), just before and after the seventh trumpet (11:13, 19), and during the seventh bowl (16:18). This last earthquake is identified as the greatest ever on earth (16:18), splitting Jerusalem into three parts and destroying the cities of the nations.
Although demonstrating the awesome power and presence of God, these passages do not necessarily indicate an increase in earthquakes in the present age, but a greater severity of the earthquakes when they do happen. For those who follow the Book of Revelation, the worst earthquakes occur during the Great Tribulation, not before it. They are not the sole precursors to the Day of the LORD, but evidence of its imminent presence.
Jesus Talks About Signs of His Return
Our primary concern is with the first part of the discourse, where Jesus warns against being deceived by false Christs or being alarmed at wars, rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes:
And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. 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.” (Matt. 24:4-8)
Eschatological Birth Pains
Jesus’ statement suggests an increase in famine and earthquake activity is the final clause, “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs (hwdíneß)” (Matt. 24:8). Because birth pains begin small and then increase in intensity and frequency, this passage could be interpreted to mean that earthquakes will start small and infrequent and gradually increase. When they reach their greatest severity and frequency, they will give birth to the new age.
The image of eschatological birth pains was not new with Jesus, but was a common one in Jewish apocalyptic and later rabbinic writings. The “Messianic woes” or “birth pains of the Messiah” referred to a period of suffering that would immediately precede the coming of the Messianic age. The primary conceptual significance of this image was that the pain would not only increase in intensity, but also the present period of suffering would be followed by the joy of new birth (i.e., salvation and restoration). Pain will give way to rejoicing for those who persevere and keep their faith to the end.
The Apostle Paul uses the birth image elsewhere to illustrate the abruptness of the arrival of the Day of the LORD. It will be unexpected “like a thief in the night” and “like labor pains” on a pregnant woman (1 Thes. 5:2,3). Paul’s two images are reminiscent, of course, of the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:8,43,44). Obviously, Paul is not saying here that we can predict our Lord’s appearance by noting precursor birth pains, but that the very occurrence of them should serve as “cosmic reminders” that God is bringing our world to a climatic end and a new beginning in which all creation will be totally restored, renewed and resurrected to a glory even greater it’s original divine design. When Heaven literally comes to earth one day (Revelation 21:1-8), it will eclipse in grandeur, beauty and eternal brilliance even the untouched pristine loveliness of the Garden of Eden, as the Scriptures teach.
Jesus’ statement, “all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs” (Matt. 24:8), has been understood to imply that pain would increase steadily in time. The birth image associated Jesus made here precedes Paul’s understanding of creation’s pain (Romans 8:18-25) is that earth’s pain will grow steadily worse and the present period of suffering will provoke an eager longing for the new birth and the consummation of the coming age. The author of Hebrews sees a similar hope, anticipating a future “sign” of increasing earthquake activity with the coming of a sudden cosmic cataclysm producing a “kingdom which cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28).
This is precisely why Jesus clearly encourages us to “not be alarmed” at these worldwide phenomenal happening now. We should, however, be reminded that we must be prepared for His return, or our death, because neither is known by anyone except God. We must live lives of “intentional purpose” where we seek to glorify God in all we do. He is the One who controls what happens, when it happens, how it happens. Living with a healthy fear and respect of the Almighty is just good wisdom, not only for our temporal lives on earth, but our eternal existence, when our lives here are over.
This is crucial for us to recognize and understand, for while these things may be terrifying, they are also signs that Jesus is coming. His people should not faint with fear but instead look up in hope and joy that His return is imminent. This earthquake activity is also proof positive of the words of the Bible as we see the prophecies unfold.
So do not fear earthquakes. Do not tremble at the thought of these things, but correctly perceive them for what they are; cosmic signs from God that our world has a rendezvous with destiny. Rather than be in fear, look up in hope knowing your salvation is more near at hand than you and I actually perceive today. The Lord has given His people many signs so that they can stop, assess and consider how to be ready for His return. Earthquakes are compelling and powerful signs that He is bringing His work to completion. Our role is to listen to and heed the warnings so that we are prepared. In the end, we will either be prepared and blessed forever or not prepared and eternally regretful on a dreadful scale beyond the worst adjectives of human language.
To be sure, the church has suffered from enough embarrassment by sincere, but sadly mistaken television prophecy teachers that try and set dates for an apocalypse. I personally cringe every time I run across a wild-eyed, frenzied preacher, teacher or writer that abuses Scripture to try and sell their books. The truth of the Bible, as it is written, is sensational and jarring enough without us needing to add anything to it. “Truth is stranger than fiction.”
Granted, when we tolerate unbelief and sin in our lives, it has a mysterious way of making us insensitive to God and giving us a scary false sense of security that is not only deceptive but extremely risky, especially in the unpredictable world we live in today where we never know what may happen next. We must always live with a “sense of alertness.” God created us for more than just pleasure, more than just paying bills and dying. He created us to live for Him as we allow Him to live in and through us.
The Apostle Paul neatly sums up what he means by “alert living” in his words to the Christians at Rome:
“This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.” (Romans 13:11-14)
My friends, thank you for taking the time to read this post. I pray it has spoken to your heart in a special way that will encourage you to seek God. Please know that I pray for all of you daily that God would impart His supernatural grace you need to not only be blessed, but to grow in your knowledge, love and obedience to Christ.
Please feel free to share this blog with your friends or family. We welcome all.
Until next time, may the Lord bless you, keep you, make His favor shine upon you and give you His peace!
David Crews, Ph.D.