Earthquakes… Signs of the End Times? Part 1 AKA the Pat Robertson Post

Earthquakes… Signs of the End Times? Part 1 AKA the Pat Robertson Post March 26, 2010

What follows is a modified version of the introduction to one of my papers on Mark 13.  You can read the whole paper here: Signs of the Times?: A Study in Mark 13.

Read the rest of the series here.

(Please note that it was written a week after the earthquake, and that the death-toll and other facts may not be up to date 🙂 )

About a week ago, a 7.0 earthquake ravaged the small country of Haiti.  There is no confirmed death toll at this point, but some have guessed upwards of 500,000 but in the last few days the number has lowered to about 100,000 in most news reports.  This is not the first natural disaster to cause devastation in recent years.  There have been other large earthquakes, a devastating tsunami, and a hurricane with some unexpected repercussions.  With all of these natural catastrophes, statements have been made by leaders in the Christian community connecting such events with the judgment of God.  In the case of the Haitian earthquake, within days of the disaster, evangelical leader Pat Robertson made claims that this was a divine action to carry out God’s wrath on the nation.  Apparently, Robertson believes that several generations ago, Haitian leaders made a pact with the devil to find victory in military so God cursed the nation.  As should be expected, the media and other groups of Christians have proclaimed their frustrations with the remarks, but one could only suspect that there are some who may see another kind of connection with this earthquake and God’s activity.

(The above video features the statements that Robertson made.)

In evangelical culture, the tendency of many has been to look to modern day events as precursors of the so-called “end times.”  It is believed by several groups of Christians that many of the devastations of our day are ‘signs of the times.’  This is to say that natural disasters (and war) are often connected to biblical prophecy as the very things that will lead up to the so-called rapture of the church and great tribulation.  This ideology, which is popular in fundamentalism, has been greatly fueled by the “Left Behind” book series (and films), contemporary Christian music, and other apocalyptic movies.  The unique combination of connecting earthquakes with the divine and a near obsession with futurist views of eschatology (end times), it becomes easy for a person to begin to wonder if the tragedy in Haiti was itself a ‘sign of the times.’  If such a person knows about the Olivet Discourse in general, and Mark 13.8 in specific, such a question becomes easily warranted.  Jesus states that random “earthquakes” will be the beginning of “birth pains.”  This leaves us with a relevant question: Can we make such a connection based on a proper reading of Mark 13 and its parallels?

The way one chooses to read Mark 13 can have ramifications for the whole of one’s worldview.  If Mark 13 is believed to be leading to our immanent future, then it could be assumed that there is not much hope for this present world.  Such a perspective can lead to escapism theologies that take the focus off of this world, but create a longing for a disembodied experience in an eternal heaven.  Often this ideology has left the church out of commission in areas of social action, when the biblical narrative seems to have such as a central theme.  So, in the case of Haiti, the idea of meeting the immediate needs of the victims can very easily become a secondary issue in Christian discourse rather than a primary summons from the gospel.  Therefore, it will be helpful to discern whether or not events like the Haitian earthquake can be attributed to God’s judgment or causality as a ‘sign of the times,’ or perhaps the text at hand does not lend itself to this kind of conclusion.  Perhaps Mark 13 has something else in mind.

(Click on the above image to donate to World Vision’s work for justice in Haiti!)

What thoughts are raised by the intro?

Pat Robertson and other doom and gloom ‘prophets?’

How do you read Mark 13?  Future? Both/And (meaning, it was about the events leading to the destruction of Jerusalem, but has a secondary meaning about our future as well)?  Past fulfillment?

Other ideas?


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  • John

    It seems to me that if Christ himself does not know the hour of his coming, then we certainly won’t be able to figure it out simply by noticing that there have been several natural disasters.

    • If we look at the parallel account in Matthew, it specifically says that we should be looking for signs of His coming. In addition to this, in 2 Thessalonians 5:2-6, it says: for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.

      Jesus said that we should be looking for the signs to know when it is near and we can see the signs all around us. Are we prepared for the consequences of blowing this off and ignoring the signs, accepting only part of the prophecy and rejecting the part that calls for us to act?

      • John

        Why does Christ want us command this? Is it because he wants us to know the actual date or because he wants us to live with a sense of urgency for the gospel? He says completely clearly that no one except the father knows the date, so it cannot be that he wants us to figure out what the date is. I see these commands as being concerned with the sense of urgency for the gospel. We need to realize that Christ is coming like a thief in night and so we can’t put off until tomorrow the work of the Kingdom. So I agree with you in that Scripture is calling us to act. Where I don’t agree with you is that we can definitively discern that these earthquakes are it, they are going to finish and boom Christ is back next year. There is a clear pattern of poor performance in expecting Christ to come back (I believe 1666 was a plague year and exactly the same predictions were being made back then, and I’m sure there are many other examples.)

        I think coming out and claiming these are definitely the end times, we’ve figured it out detracts from the real work. The real work is the Great Commission. We are to go and make disciples of the nations NOW and not tomorrow so that we won’t be caught sleeping when the master of the house returns.

  • Anyone can read whatever they want into scripture.

  • jason

    i agree with what you’ve written so far….not sure why you felt compelled to use the olberman comments….i think it detracts from your message and can make you look just as partisan and judgmental as robertson and limbaugh…

    • the Olbermann comments gave a good perspective on the reaction from the “secular” world. I think it is important that we listen to how the culture perceives evangelical faith! Otherwise, our witness continues to go down the trash… the Limbaugh stuff just happened to be in the comments he was making as well…

    • After thinking about it some… you may have a point. this is a theological discussion and the video may make it seem a bit ‘partisan…’ i took your advise and changed it! thanks!

      • jason

        no problem…i think you could’ve used olberman’s comments if you would have prefaced them by saying something like “here is how the culture responds to reckless comments like Robertson’s”…if they were just inserted there without any explanation, i think that some might infer that you share olberman’s sentiments….the olberman clip sort of caught my attention because i was thinking about forwarding it to somebody who i was just talking with about Robertson’s comments on the earthquake in Haiti ….however, when i watched olberman’s commentary which was pretty mean spirited i decided that i probably shouldn’t, lest that person infer that both you and i agreed with olberman…also, he is a very polarizing person and when some folks see his face they automatically tune out the message

  • Many evangelists seem uneducated and indoctrinated with their own particular theological ideas, which are often controlling, superstitious and hateful.

    Charles Wesley wrote nonsense about earthquakes being God’s punishment but he was simply ignorant, the causes of natural disasters were not understood then.

    An earthquakes is caused by movement or fracture of the earth’s outer crust, caused by temperature and pressure variations from deeper within the earth. It can be caused by rupture of geological faults, volcanic activity, landslides even man-made explosions.

    What we know about earthquakes now was first suggested as theory in the 7 th century, the earth’s core and seismic waves were recognised in 1906 by Irish geologist R.D. Oldham.

    Mark 13 predicts the fall of the temple in Jerusalem and disaster in Judea; Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, which is around the time Mark is being written down. According to Acts 6 another early martyr called Stephen also speaks of the fall of Jerusalem and is stoned for blasphemy.

    One line from Mark 13 resonates ‘For many shall come in my name, saying, since I am indeed…and shall lead astray many.’ It all depends on how you translate and interpret it- as with everything.

    Pat Robertson is another relentless self-publicist who has made a long and lucrative multi-millionaire dollar career out of controversy and hatespeak; unfortunately this is big business in the US, people see him as entertainment.

  • If you read this passage in The Message, you’ll get a totally different vibe. Instead of citing earthquakes and other natural disasters as warnings of the “end times,” he says, “Watch out for doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, ‘I’m the One.’ They will deceive a lot of people. When you hear of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history, and no sign of the end…” This understanding makes a LOT more sense to me. There have obviously been wars and natural disasters as far back as history goes, and every time things seem to be especially chaotic, religious leaders take advantage of it and push this end times crap. I don’t see ANY support of end times/rapture theology anywhere in the Bible.

    • Thanks for pointing out this translation! Never read this text in the Message!

  • I think Jesus’ discourse is describing both the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and also the end time. I believe that we’re living in the end time today but that doesn’t mean that we let everything go to hell. We still have to live here and that necessitates that we keep it at least somewhat livable. That also means, though, that we shouldn’t get too worked-up about things when we see problems around us in society and nature but we understand that these things will happen. We do, however, try to find ways to mitigate the damage as a way of relating God’s response to evil, like Jesus did with the man who was blind from birth, His disciples asked Him who sinned, the man or his parents, that he was born blind and Jesus responded that it was neither the man or his parents’ fault and He healed the man to demonstrate the works of God. Jesus was saying the work of God is to heal the damage. Satan is the destroyer, but God is the restorer and our job as God’s people is to be restorers through the power that has been given us in the Gospel.

    My point here is that one can believe that these are signs of the end time, and at the same time, not blame God or the people for what happened. I think it goes back to our discussion on the Jews killing the Canaanites. We live in a world that has declared itself independent from God and bad things happen in such a world. However, Christ came here and revealed the true response of God to our suffering and, as God’s ambassadors, we are called to do our part to reveal the will of God through the pain that comes from our trying to live independent of God and His ways.

    • I like your perspective Michael on how to be the church from your theological position on this text, HOWEVER, we will probably be disagreeing on how to interpret this text. Without giving away all my cards, I will say that we differ a bit. Your view about both/and is respectable, but I admit that I don’t think Jesus or those who recorded the Olivet Discourse had such a double vision 🙂

      • Of course they didn’t! They thought that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple were the end of the world. It’s obvious from the question that Jesus was answering with this discourse.

        • “I think Jesus’ discourse is describing both the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and also the end time…. Jesus said that we should be looking for the signs to know when it is near and we can see the signs all around us. Are we prepared for the consequences of blowing this off and ignoring the signs, accepting only part of the prophecy and rejecting the part that calls for us to act?”

          Based on the above quotes and what you replied to me, I think we do disagree. I will be attempting to demonstrate that there is nothing in the Olivet Discourse about the “end time.” We do not have signs to look for, at least not those described in this text. So, I’m not sure I agree and not fully sure what you mean by “rejecting the part that calls us to act?”

  • The Olivet Discourse is two-fold in nature – there is a warning to flee when you see the destruction of Jerusalem (AD70) and the warning is the same for the future abomination of desolation.

    As far as the earthquakes that are being witnessed in rapid succession, they are the beginning of birth pangs and they would get significantly worse and closer together. Wars and rumors of wars have been on-going now for centuries as well as false prophets/teachers, but the Discourse gives the last generation a sign to distinguish what was long seen as normal to viewing these events as scriptural. The parable of the fig tree is a marker of sorts; we understand this parable to be the regathering of the Jews as a nation which took place in 1948.

    Another key marker is the EU or the revived 4th kingdom and the apostasy of the church that is ongoing and very soon would reach its climax. Many believe that the apostasy is a false religion but it really is a parallel to the true faith. An example of apostasy is the growing abundance of prosperity ministries.

    Undoubtedly we are the last generation, this generation shall witness the Antichrist rise to power, the restart of temple sacrifices and oblations, the 3rd world war, famine and pestilence on a global scale but man would put his usual twist on things to explain it away. Already the masses are being brainwashed with this country and that country is overdue for the big-one.

    As Christians we are charged with one responsibility – to teach believers about Christ and salvation that He gave us through grace.

  • Juanita

    I know this doesn’t have much to do with the Mark passage, but in relation to Haiti and natural disasters it is relevant (to myself). A few years ago I asked God why all of these natural disasters happen and hurt/kill so many people. I then read this Bible verse and, for me, it was a pretty clear answer, in particular the part regarding the earth groaning under the weight of the world’s sin. Romans 8:18 – 25
    18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children,[j] including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope[k] for it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)

  • wabd,

    I don’t say this to challenge your faith in Christ or your passion for the kingdom, but I must lovingly challenge the system of interpretation you are imposing on the text (i.e. Dispensational Premillennialism). No Christian before the 1850s ever read these passages in that way and it was only through the widespread teaching of John Darby, C.I. Scofield and D.L. Moody that such an end-times scenario arose.
    The parable of the Fig Tree says nothing about the 1948 events, nor is there a 2,000 year gap between Daniel’s 69th and 70th weeks. The “apostasy” of the church is no greater now than it’s ever been; it only appears that way when viewed through a Western American/European point of view (which is the point of view that gave rise to Dispensationalism in the first place).
    The Prosperity Gospel is heresy indeed…but I would say it’s no more heretical than the Dispensational system invented by Darby and popularized over the past 150 years.
    I know this comes across harshly and that’s not my intention. But I truly feel that the system which you have been led to embrace is at its core very unbiblical. I share this with all of my brothers and sisters in Christ who are dispensationalists or have been influenced by Darby’s teaching. For a video summary of this that I gave last year please see:

    as well as:

    Hoping to challenge with grace and fairness,

  • Garrett Zajac

    recognize that it’s really really easy to talk about violent “end signs”, Piper-esque theodicy, and dispensationalism in the abstract and separated from particularity and the jarring suffering of Haitians and Palestinians. You run into serious theodicy issues with both dispensationalism and “end times” junk. And it’s really easy to do so, given the fact that most everyone on this blog is probably within the stratum of middle-class status. As middle-classers, (and mostly white, too), we need to start reading the rich man parable AS THE RICH MAN and recognize we have no authority to speak on the suffering of humanity. This shines light on the cold-hearted Piper theodicy of suffering being “a siren” that jars us to repent. Sadly, this theodicy only can come from a white, middle-to upper class theologian who lives comfortably in Minnesota. We talk so much about the “birth pains” of the earth, but give thought to how Christ evaluates that fact. He’s not saying it sinisterly. all of us has to have the same reaction to suffering as Christ had when he is faced with it himself: weeping. This is a great non-life-denying theodicy. Christ, who knew more than anyone that Lazarus was going to be raised from the dead, was still struck with an enormous amount of grief at the suffering and death of his friend. Let’s do the same, please. and stop considering the Haitian and the Palestinian as the “Other”.

  • It strikes me that believing in ‘end times’ and God’s punishment via natural disasters and other unknowable nonsense is very convenient in that one need not do anything to help: everyone’s doomed on this earth anyway and the people who are suffering deserve it…etc.

    I wonder how much of his wealth Pat Robertson gives to others, believing as he does?

  • James-Michael Smith,

    Thanks for your response.

    Regarding the interpretation being popularized in the 1850’s, this is a common misconception; Epharaem the Syrian said, in 373 AD, “For all the saints and Elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins.” And there are other examples available.

    Darby was chosen by those opposed to Dispensational Premillennialism and stories of Margaret MacDonald started this theological view back in 1830. The claim is typically made that MacDonald received a demonic vision, passed it on to John Darby, who in turn popularized it. Disproving this assertion proves rather easy. Pre-trib scholars have discovered a host of rapture writings that predate Margaret MacDonald.

    The parable of the fig tree cannot be discerned from the Olivet Discourse on its own, it must be conflated with other biblical texts similar to other interpretation of some bible writings. Texts such as Deut 30: 3-6, Isa 11: 12, Jer 31: 7-9. All these scriptures lend to the regathering of Jewish people from the uttermost parts of the earth to a nation. The nation was recognized on May 14, 1948 hence the parable was summarized to be effected in 1948.

    The gap between the 69th and 70th week exist because of the Church Age (a new dispensation) as we can see from Eph 3: 9,10. Prior to the Pentecost the church dispensation did not exist, it was a mystery that God kept. It is a unification of both believing Jews and Gentiles under one body called the church which becomes the bride of Christ while Israel is the bride of God the Father.

    I agree with you that there has been some form of apostasy from the beginning of the church age, however the apostasy spoken of in Revelations expressly speaks of the luke-warm church, prosperity teachings is just a part of it, and it is truly at its maturity in our time. In the times past men switched from one doctrine to another; we saw men opting for the Lutheran teachings opposed to the rigid catholic teachings etc, the apostasy is unique in the sense that men would switch from catholic teachings to prosperity teachings or other forms of teachings that interest them but does not accurately represent the message of the Word. Men will be fellowshipping etc but not in search of biblical understanding rather to satisfy their need for materialism and they would go where they can get it.

    I hope this explains a bit clearer what I was trying to communicate.

  • wabd,
    Thank you for not taking offense. I must however challenge your facts, as I believe you have them mistaken. The quote from Ephraem is not genuine. That is why it’s referred to as pseudo-ephraem by Biblical scholars.
    Having read MacDonald’s vision account firsthand, I don’t believe it’s at all demonic; it’s simply a case of charismatic misinterpretation and wishful thinking. While some like Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice may present arguments that Dispensationalism predates Darby, they have yet to provide any actual evidence of this. Rather, the assertion is often simply made by Dispensationalists rather than defended with actual citations.
    The notion that the church is something “new” and “unseen” by the OT prophets is also an invention put forth by Darby. But “mystery” does not mean “unknown” in Paul’s usage in Ephesians. It means “unexpected” and is playing off of the various “mystery cults” that were prevalent around the Greco-Roman world. The church is seen in the NT as the continuation of the remnant of Israel, not a replacement of Israel, nor a “new dispensation.” Paul is crystal clear about this in Rom.9-11.
    The Dispensational system invented by Darby and spread by Scofield and others relies on taking texts out of their original contexts (like the Fig Tree parable and Daniel 9) and stringing them together in order to fit the system. Careful exegesis of each passage in its context in no way supports the major dispensational claims.
    Just as prosperity gospel teachers string together verses in order to ‘proof-text’ their system, so to do dispensational teachers.
    This is why the orthodox, apostolic, historic Church as a whole (protestant, catholic and orthodox) reject dispensationalism and prosperity theology.
    For an evangelical Biblical scholar critique of Dispensationalism’s faulty foundation, check out

    And for a full expose of the history of Dispensationalism and its dubious claims, see Dave McPherson’s “The Rapture Plot.” Dispensationalists trash it, but have yet to refute the actual evidence. Numerous scholars and evangelical teachers have endorsed the historical work McPherson presents as legitimate…despite the attacks on it by Dispensational apologists like Ice.

    If one can insert a 2,000+ year gap into Daniel’s prophecy, then prophecy becomes nothing but subjective and ever-changing (just as almost every Dispensational identification of fulfillment has proved to be over the past 150 years).

    Iron sharpening iron,

  • James-Michael Smith,

    I guess we can go back and forth with your interpretations, evidence for or against and I can do the same to counter. In the end we would be no closer to convincing either one of us.

    In the final analysis it’s a wait and see for the most part, in the interim we just have to continue in prayer and supplication to the Most High through our blessed savior Jesus for knowledge and understanding of His Word.

    In His Grace,


  • wabd,
    I appreciate your spirit and your focus on the essentials. I agree with it and have no animosity towards you by any means. I do want you to consider, however, the fact that there really is not any evidence that one can present in favor of Dispensational rapture interpretations preceding the 19th century. This should serve as a HUGE red flag to anyone who accepts the claims of modern Dispensationalism. Unlike other theological debates that have gone on for hundreds of years (if not thousands!), rapture theology has no basis in the historic Christian faith or the Biblical texts themselves. Even Scofield told his readers that they needed to adopt his “scientific” approach in order to understand Scripture “properly” (see the last sentence of the intro to his Bible).
    Seek the Lord, wabd, and be open to the very real possibility that a significant portion of the evangelical church has been misled into accepting a false system of end times beliefs which do not reflect the clear teachings of Scripture on the subject.
    Blessings in Christ,

    • James-Michael Smith,

      Nor do I have any animosity towards you JM, I just find it strange that so much effort is being concentrated towards disproving pre, mid and post trib rapture doctrines. Every opponent or supporter can and have used scriptures quite convincingly to validate their respective claims and to disprove the claims of others in same token.

      It’s like we have lost sight in our hearts the purpose of our being called to faith and how humble we should be to be amongst the elect. When one thinks about the world’s population and all the things that are going on. To be called by the Creator to be a witness to His righteousness is a humbling experience.

      Let me share with you one of my favorite scripture: (Joh 1:45) Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

      (Joh 1:46) And Nathanael said unto him, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.

      (Joh 1:47) Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!

      (Joh 1:48) Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.

      (Joh 1:49) Nathanael answered him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art King of Israel.

      (Joh 1:50) Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee underneath the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.

      (Joh 1:51) And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

      Ever since I first read this I have been intrigued by this meeting, as I grow in my faith walk every time I read it it carries a new meaning of encouragement for me. I hope it would do the same for you.

      In His Grace,


  • Matthew Yoder

    It depends….are you talking about the “end times” for the sacrificial system in Jerusalem….or are you talking about the “end times” in regards to the return of Christ and the setting to rights of all of Creation? If you are talking about the first one…then yep….if you are talking about the second….probably not even though the potential for a double fulfillment certain can/may exist.

    Primarily though – I consider these to be prophecies concerning the 70AD destruction of the Temple and the end of the sacrificial system.

    I wrote that on Facebook….and I will add this…..since the death and resurrection of Jesus we have all been living in the end times…from the early church to today. And compared to the early Church I guess we, 2000 years later, are closer than they are…in the same way that the church of the future will be closer than we are. But to base our assumptions that the coming of Christ is necessarily more “imminent” than another time based upon world events is a little odd to me. Oh well.

  • J.W.

     I think its all B.S. to scare people into believing in “God”

  • yanzy

    Haiti is cursed? is he fucking kidding me.. I studied  Caribbean history for 7 years that slave revolt that over threw the french government was a well organized plan developed by thousands of slaves who desided that they would rather die fighting for their freedom than be slaves for the rest of their lives. The MAIN reason Haiti is as poor as it is today is because France had an embargo placed on them and they also had to pay the French government millions in repartriation. So basically haiti never really got a chance to blossom and develop as a nation because of all the debts owed to france as well as the embargo… thats the REAL reason haiti is so poor. I tell you if you are not educated quacks like this man will feed you bullshit stories and surely turn you  into a fool.