Sunday Morning Greek Blog

May 14, 2011

How Near the End?

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek,Luke Gospel of,New Testament — Scott Stocking @ 12:04 pm

As I read through Luke 21 last week, I could not help but think of the recent earthquake and tsunami disaster in northern Japan. In Luke 21:11, Jesus warns that “great earthquakes” (σεισμοί μεγάλοι seismoi megaloi /sighss-MOI meh-GAH-loi/) will be one of the signs of the end. Luke 21:25–26 (my translation) says: “There will be signs (σημεῖα, plural of σημεῖον sēmeion /say-MAY-on/) in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth [there will be] anguish of the nations in perplexity of the sound and surge (σάλος salos /SAH-loss/) of the sea… for the powers/works of heaven will be shaken” (σαλεύω saleuō /sah-LOO-oh/; note the word comes from the same root as σάλος). Now obviously, the Richter Scale had not been developed in biblical times, so I don’t think Jesus was predicting modern terminology, but perhaps the term “great earthquake” was borrowed from the Bible.

The modern technical term “great earthquake” refers to an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 or greater according to the United States Geological Survey (http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/faq/?faqID=24). Looking at the recent history of great earthquakes reveals that they seem to come in a cycle of every 30–40 years. Before the Christmas 2004 earthquake in Indonesia, the previous recorded great earthquake had been 1965 in Alaska, and the one before that was a year earlier in Alaska as well. And of course, we can’t forget the “surge of the sea,” Katrina, which left an indelible impression on the city and residents of New Orleans, not to mention other major hurricanes and floods in recent years.

I have always been tempted to see the judgment of God in these events and other natural disasters. But creation—every microbe, ant, butterfly, bird, cat, dog, human, horse, elephant, mountain, and ocean, not to mention the earth, and the universe itself—is subject to decay. This decay is part of the overall judgment that came down in Genesis 3 and later in the “global” flood of Genesis 6–9. Before anyone starts questioning me about how the water of the earth could cover the Himalayas, let me just say that I’m one who holds to the antediluvian Pangaea theory, that is, the earth as God originally created it was all one land mass whose topography was nothing as it is today. During the flood event, Pangaea was divided, causing the waters of the deep to come forth (perhaps the ancients’ way of saying the ocean poured in when the land masses separated) and initiating what we know today as continental drift. Mountains are formed by the collision of land masses, and the earthquakes we experience today are evidence that the process is ongoing.

The “rim of fire” around the Pacific Ocean (the presence of numerous volcanoes from Mt. St. Helens up to Alaska and through its Aleutian Islands and down the east coast of Asia into the Indonesian archipelago) should not surprise us, then. Have you ever taken a wet beach ball and spun it around? You know the water flies off in every direction. Now magnify that to global proportions. As the earth rotates on its axis in an easterly direction, the water of the Pacific Ocean is like that water on a beach ball, except that earth’s gravitational field keeps the water from flying out into space. Imagine the entire weight of the Pacific Ocean being thrust against the east coast of Asia, Japan, and the Philippines. If continents are not rock solid, that’s going to cause some moving and shaking on both shores of the Pacific. (This is why some think part of California may eventually fall into the ocean, because it’s being pulled away from the North American Plate.) The strongest currents in the world are along the eastern coast of Asia and Australia, because the rotation of the earth forces the water to flow that way. The deepest trench in the world is located at a place where the small Philippine Plate is separating from the Pacific Plate.

But enough of my amateurish geophysics: the point I’m getting at is that God’s “final” judgment on the world and humanity began at the fall in Genesis 3. “Natural” disasters are a part of this world we’re otherwise blessed to live on, and there aren’t too many more places out there in space where we could live without substantial technological adaptations. We often ask God, “Why do you allow such calamity?” He’s already told us (in so many words): “Because you live in a fallen world.” But he also says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, TNIV). Do people die deaths we think they don’t deserve in these natural disasters? Yes, but people who don’t deserve to die pass from this life all the time by “natural causes.” Death is tragic regardless of its cause and regardless of the innocence or guilt of the deceased, but Christ followers know someone who has risen, victorious over death, who is readily waiting for us to claim the eternal life he has promised.

So what do we have to look forward to? Luke 21 is too long for me to copy into this blog post, but know that on top of all the “natural disasters” coming our way, we’ve got persecution and trouble coming our way as well if we are Christ followers. Let me just leave you with a few key verses from Luke 21 (TNIV) that give hope in a world full of trouble, because no one says it better than Jesus:

14–15: “But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.”

19: “Stand firm, and you will win life.”

27–28: “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

35–36: “For [all these natural disasters] will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Εἰρήνη! Peace!

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