When Jesus was asked what would signal His return and the end of the age, He said to look for a number of signs. One of those signs was the appearance of earthquakes (Matthew 24:7). But what does that mean? After all, earthquakes have been a part of human life since Adam and Eve. They aren’t rare. The Bible says they appeared in the days of Amos (Amos 1:1) and King Saul (1 Samuel 14:15). They appeared in the days of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:26). And non-biblical history tells us earthquakes shook ancient China, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, and other nations. In 1906, a devastating earthquake hit San Francisco. It toppled almost every building in the city and killed over 3,000 people. In short, earthquakes have been a part of life since the beginning of human civilization.
So if we’ve always had earthquakes, how can they possibly be a sign of the Second Coming? That’s a great question. Fortunately, Jesus gave us the answer. Earthquakes in general are NOT a sign of His return. But according to Jesus, earthquakes occurring in a certain pattern are…
Signs Like Labor Pains
Jesus cited a number of signs to look for. Among them are the appearance of earthquakes, famines, wars, and false messiahs. Jesus knew these signs had always been present. So He wasn’t saying their appearance alone will signal His return. Instead, He said to look for them in a distinct pattern. He said they would arrive like “birth pains.” But what does this mean? What could these general signs possibly have in common with birth pains?
Only this – birth pains, or labor contractions, are sharp pains. They increase in both frequency and intensity right before birth. In other words, the signs Jesus mentioned will appear with greater frequency and intensity right before His return.
Looking for the Pattern
This means earthquakes (or even what seems to be a numerical increase in the number of earthquakes) are NOT a sign of the Second Coming. Instead, Jesus said to look for an increase in the frequency of large earthquakes. Such an increase will fit the pattern Jesus described – a pattern of more frequent intense events rising toward a climax.
So how do we measure an increase in the frequency and intensity of earthquakes? We don’t have accurate data going back to the beginning of time. We don’t even have accurate data going back to the time of Jesus. After all, advanced instruments for detecting and measuring earthquakes are relatively new. The Richter Scale didn’t even exist until 1935, and most seismographs at the time failed to detect any earthquakes under a magnitude of about 3.0. But today?
Today’s devices routinely measure earthquakes with negative magnitudes. Because of this, looking only at the frequency of earthquakes is meaningless. Obviously, with better instruments, we can detect smaller earthquakes. But that doesn’t mean more earthquakes are occurring. It just means for the first time we’re able to measure them.
But let’s take a different point of view. What if we look only at modern data from the last one hundred years? And what if we look only at earthquakes registering a magnitude of 8.0 or greater? This will give us a much more accurate picture. Why? Because most instrumentation from that time period could detect an earthquake of such enormity. This eliminates all the small quakes detected in more recent times. And even though the sample size is still small (only about 120 years), it should give us enough data to spot a recent trend. If these are the times Jesus told us to look for, we should expect to see an increase in the frequency (number) and intensity (magnitude) of earthquakes.
Is this what we see today? Yes. It is.
The Increasing Frequency of High Intensity Earthquakes
According to the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS) composite catalog, recent years have seen a marked increase in the number of earthquakes with a magnitude of 8.0 or greater:
1900’s – 3 earthquakes
1910’s – 0 earthquakes
1920’s – 1 earthquake
1930’s – 1 earthquake
1940’s – 1 earthquake
1950’s – 1 earthquake
1960’s – 3 earthquakes
1970’s – 2 earthquakes
1980’s – 3 earthquakes
1990’s – 7 earthquakes
2000’s – 13 earthquakes
2010’s – 8 earthquakes so far
The 20th Century witnessed 22 earthquakes with a magnitude of 8.0 or greater, but already the 21st Century has seen 21 such earthquakes. If that pace continues, we’ll see 116 earthquakes of 8.0 magnitude or greater by the end of this century!
In 2014, I cited this same data in my book Signs of the Second Coming. While writing the book, my original draft showed six earthquakes for this decade. I had to revise the book before publication because of another 8.0 earthquake in April 2014. After the book was published, another earthquake struck in September 2015. And during that same time, we’ve had three other earthquakes later revised to 7.9.
Is it possible this is just a coincidence? Sure. We’ve only had the tools to measure earthquakes for a small portion of human history. It’s possible we’re looking at a small sample size and drawing an incorrect conclusion. Perhaps these earthquake patterns have appeared before. Some might argue we’ve only recently had the instrumentation to measure all 8.0 magnitude earthquakes – that such technology didn’t exist in the early 20th Century. I find that hard to believe. But even if that’s true, we’ve nevertheless seen a notable increase since that time.
Jesus Is Coming
Absent any other signs, the rise in earthquakes would be nothing more than a footnote of history. But earthquakes aren’t the only signs. They aren’t the only events increasing in frequency and intensity. The other signs Jesus said to look for are also increasing in frequency and intensity – the appearance of famines, wars, and false messiahs. And even those aren’t the only signs.
Travel and knowledge have increased significantly (Daniel 12:4)… Israel is a nation again (Jeremiah 23:7-8)… The Jewish people control Jerusalem (Luke 21:24-28)… The Gog of Magog alliance is forming (Ezekiel 38-39)… The Gospel is being preached to the ends of the earth (Matthew 24:14)… Sin is everywhere, and the love of many has grown cold (Matthew 24:12)… These are all signs Jesus and the prophets said to look for. And our generation is the first ever to witness these signs. Still think this is mere coincidence? I don’t either.