Natural Catastrophes and the End

March 13, 2016 / No. 3819

Dear Radio Friends,
Today we come to another sign of the coming of Jesus Christ; this one, natural catastrophes. In Luke 21:11, Jesus says this: “And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.” In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, in the second part of verse 7, Jesus says something similar: “and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.” These are signs of the coming of Jesus Christ.
The signs of Jesus’ coming do not tell us the day or the hour, or precisely how close the coming of Jesus is. Instead, they tell us that He is coming. The disciples had asked Jesus for the “sign of His coming and the end of the world.” But Jesus does not give them just one sign but a whole host of them. The reason is that they do not need to know the day or the hour of His coming. But, instead, they need to be reminded by these signs that He is coming, to always be ready and always be watching. These signs serve the great sign of the preaching of the gospel. So, while Jesus delays His coming, not only must we be spiritually alert to the fact that He is coming, so that we are kept from the deception of Satan and the antichristian spirit and the materialism of our age, but we must also be busy in the great work of the preaching of the gospel. This gospel must be preached in all the world, and then shall the end come. This is what we must be busy with until Jesus returns again.
So, we have to be warned as we think about the signs. False teachers will come, Jesus says, in the last days and say, “I am Christ.” They shall deceive many. They shall say, “Lo, here, lo, there.” The time draws nigh and they will predict the day and the hour of the return of Jesus Christ. Man is curious. He wants to know. So, we must not be swept away by false teachers.
Instead, so long as there is war among the nations, which we talked about last time, and so long as there are famines and earthquakes and pestilences and signs in the heavens, the end is not yet. The end is coming. It is getting closer, but it is not yet.
Today we are going to talk about natural catastrophes and their relation to the end of the world.
A natural catastrophe is a disaster in the realm of the physical creation that produces widespread human suffering. In the text in Luke 21:11, Jesus refers to these natural catastrophes in four different spheres of the creation, four different realms of nature.
First, He mentions great earthquakes in divers places. That means all over the place. An earthquake is a geological catastrophe or disaster. So, included under earthquakes, we can think of volcanoes, tsunamis, avalanches, landslides, flooding, and so on. These are catastrophic. They usually come unannounced, and they bring death and destruction in large measure. We can name these places: Nepal, Chile, Haiti, Sumatra, Japan, China, California; and we immediately think of great natural disasters as a result of these geological catastrophes. Powerful changes came to the landscapes. Mountains have been lowered, islands have been moved by these earthquakes.
Then Jesus mentions famines. We can think here of all weather-related, meteorological disasters. So we think of heat and drought and food shortage and starvation and fire. Or we think of cold and winter blizzards and death and destruction. Or we can think of wind and tornadoes and tropical storms and hurricanes and, again, great floods. The most deadly disaster on record is weather-related. In 1931 floods in China killed up to 4 million people. These disasters not only bring death, but they also bring diseases, and they have a massive effect on the food supply.
The food supply in our world is very tenuous. Think, for example, of these two things. You have a frost in one state in the USA in the springtime when the buds are on the trees in the orchards and it wipes out an entire apple crop. For the rest of that summer, or that year, throughout the country and, indeed, throughout the world, the price of apples is almost doubled. Or this: there is a 2% increase in the production of milk and suddenly there is too much milk on the market and prices of milk drop and farmers have to throw away their milk. They cannot sell it. Then you think of the problem of global hunger and that 20% of the world’s population, for example, is undernourished and that more than 3 million children every year under age 5 die of malnutrition. Then you see the effects of these disasters that are weather-related.
Then Jesus mentions, in the text, pestilence. A pestilence is a fast-spreading, usually contagious, disease. This can happen through food or water or something like that, and you can think of diseases like polio or typhoid or the black death or malaria or the flu or tuberculosis or, in more recent years, AIDS, which in the last three decades has killed as many as 25 million people. Perhaps sometimes we think that because of medicine we do not have to worry about this. We have immunities, we take injections, and so on, so who has to worry about this today. But we do live in great fear of this. There can be incurable diseases like Ebola that spread rapidly across the world.
Then Jesus also mentions signs from heaven and wonders. Now we think of meteor showers or the movement of the planets and stars. Even though the reports of meteor showers, for example, hitting the earth are very few and far between and that there are only about 20 deaths per hundred years that are accounted for because of these kinds of disasters, this is one of the greatest fears of man. It is not unlikely some meteor showers that have come on the earth, if they had hit a populated area could have killed thousands of people at once. Of course, the world of science is terribly afraid of this kind of disaster coming on the earth.
These are the natural catastrophes that Jesus speaks of as signs of His coming.
There are two important things for us to remember about these. The first is that they are sent of God. God is sovereign over them. Jesus mentions these different areas in the created world to show us that the whole universe is under the sovereign control of God—from the minute microbe that brings a disease to the movement of the planets and the galaxies. All these things that take place in the area of creation are, properly speaking, acts of God. That means that when we speak of things in the natural world or natural catastrophes, we do not mean that nature is a law to itself. We should not speak of “Mother Nature.” Instead, God is in the heavens, and God is in absolute control. Think, for example, of Isaiah 45:7, where God says: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” He claims full responsibility for natural disasters. We may not understand why God sends these things. We may not understand why they come to one city or one nation and not another. We may not understand why the righteous suffer and the wicked do not. But we must see that God’s hand is in all these things. Just as God sends rain on the just and the unjust, so He sends these storms and these catastrophes in all the world. Indeed, as the book of Revelation, chapter 6, points out, it is Jesus who sends these things. He is the One who sends out the pale horse that brings death among man through catastrophes.
As God’s people, in the end, that is our comfort. It is by God’s providence that He controls all things so that nothing can happen—not rain or sunshine, fruitful or barren years—apart from His will and purpose.
The other thing to remember about these signs is that, even though they have been always taking place in creation and will always be a part of the history of man, there is, and there will be, an increase of them more and more towards the end of the world. We do not say this only by, or primarily by, observation and science, but by listening to what the Scriptures say about these signs. The Bible shows this in two ways. First, it speaks of the signs of the coming of Jesus Christ as birth pangs (Matt. 24:8). Jesus says that these are part of the beginning of sorrows. With time, they will increase in frequency and in intensity, till finally they bring Jesus into the world.
Then, also, we see in the Scriptures a comparison between these natural disasters as they take place throughout the history of the world and then these natural disasters as they will come at the very end. So in Luke 21:11, Jesus speaks of these great earthquakes in divers places and famines and pestilence and fearful signs and so on, as something that is ongoing throughout history. But then, when we get to verses 25 and 26, He speaks of signs again in the created realm in connection with His final coming. He says, “there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” What this tells us is that all these signs, as they increase in frequency and intensity throughout history, will result finally, in one day, in one great massive, cataclysmic upheaval in which, the Bible says in II Peter 3, all these things shall melt with a fervent heat.
Now, it is important for us to see the relation between these natural catastrophes that take place in history and the end of the world. There is an important passage in the book of Romans, chapter 8, that helps us to understand this relation. In Romans 8:19-23, we read about the creation groaning and travailing in pain, waiting for not only itself to be delivered from the bondage of corruption, but waiting also for the liberty of the children of God. You see here a relation between what takes place in the creation, which is called here groaning and travailing, and the end, the final end when Jesus will come again and bring redemption to His people and also to the creation.
To understand that relation properly, we have to see the history of these natural disasters. By history, I mean not scientific observation, but biblical history, redemption history. We have to look at these in light of the creation and then man’s fall into sin, and then redemption that will come in the end.
First, we look at these catastrophes in light of creation. Then we see that God created a world in the beginning without sin, which was perfect. He appointed Adam as head of that world. Whatever Adam would do would affect the environment in which God placed him. God called Adam to obedience and God called him to multiply and replenish and subdue the earth. He warned him that his sin would bring death not only to himself, but the whole creation. The world of disasters, natural catastrophes that we know today, is not the world that God made in the beginning. Natural disasters are not natural at all. In the first world there was a perfect unity between God and the creation. All the components of this creation served in perfect harmony with God their Creator to bring glory to Him. There was no death. There was no violent imbalance in the creation. Everything that God had made was very good. That is where we begin—in understanding the history of natural disasters.
But then we must also see these catastrophes in light of the fall into sin. The fall was the result of the disobedience of man. In sin, man violated his covenant life with God—the harmony that existed not only between him and God, but also between God and the entire created universe, which was under the headship of Adam. So Adam subjected the creation to death and the curse, and the beautiful world that God had created was cursed by God Himself.
You see, that explains natural catastrophes. They are, we might say, repercussions of man’s fall into sin. God, in a very small way, spoke of this when He said to Adam that the ground would bring forth thorns and briars, that the earth would be against Adam. In these natural catastrophes, you see this in a bigger scale—the ripple effect of man’s fall into sin. All of that, as we pointed out already, worked toward the final, violent judgment that will come on man and his world. Hebrews 12:26 and 27 says that God has shaken the earth once and that He will shake it yet once more. That refers not just to the destruction of this physical world, but the world as it stands in relation to God. All that stands opposed to God, all that is disconnected from God in rebellion as a result of sin, will be shaken free. There will be a violent judgment, an eternal fire, and a burning up of everything that is against God. Then the only thing that will be left standing will be God and His Word and His people who are bound by His Word in faith to Him. So you must see these catastrophes in light of man’s fall into sin.
And then you must also see them in light of redemption. These catastrophes that take place in this universe and in this creation tell us that man and the universe need redemption. They need deliverance from the curse of sin. This is what we see in the gospel. Even though God’s curse fell on man and creation, God did not and God does not abandon all of this to death and destruction. Just as the curse on Adam affected the creation, so the blessing and salvation and promise that came to Adam in Jesus Christ would come on the whole creation. That is part of what is meant in John 3, where it says that God so loved the world, the cosmos. Jesus, by His death, removed the curse that had come on this creation, not only from man but also from the creation. So, again, Romans 8: the creation itself groans and travails waiting to be delivered. It awaits the redemption of the sons of God but also its own deliverance from the curse. So, just as the curse of sin has effects on us and we grow old, so this world under the curse of death is growing older and older. The groans of creation are the groans of old age under the curse.
That is the way to understand this earth, too. Evolution says that we live on an old earth that is millions and billions of years old. The Bible teaches us instead that we are living on a young earth that is under the curse and has become old. You see, if you believe in evolution, it is no wonder that you are fearful. You look at this world and you look at what is going on in this world and you think that there is going to come some great natural catastrophe that will destroy man’s possibility of existence. But then you look at it in light of its history—creation, the fall, and redemption—and you see that we are not supposed to live in this world forever and that this world is not supposed to last forever—for millions or billions of years. Instead, it is readying itself not only for destruction, but also for redemption and for re-creation in the new heavens and the new earth.
So we must see these catastrophes in relation to that end, to the coming of Jesus Christ. Then remember, when we speak of the end, we speak not just of the termination of time but of God’s goal and purpose. That goal and purpose is the coming of Jesus Christ and the re-creation of the heavens and the earth.
What is the relation, then, of these catastrophes to that end and that goal?
First, they prevent the day of the coming of Jesus Christ. Just as wars and rumors of wars and political tensions and language barriers are used by God to prevent the world from coming together as one, to rise up in its forces against the church and against the people of God; just as God distracts the powers of the world by those things, so by these natural disasters He prevents the rise of the kingdom of Antichrist. That means that these natural disasters serve God’s people. They serve the church and they serve the gospel and they serve the preaching of the gospel as that goes on throughout history. So these signs should remind us that God is King over all. That, when the nations rage and the kingdoms are moved, when the mountains are cast into the depths of the sea and the seas roar, God is on the throne, and we should be still and know that He is God.
But not only do these natural disasters prevent the end, they also prepare for the end and the day when Jesus will come again. The world in which we live cannot last forever. In a sense, scientists are right to be fearful about the long-term viability of the planet on which we live. But you see, there is a rising storm, and the natural disasters are all a part of this rising storm that will culminate in the return of Jesus Christ in judgment. That is the point of the increase of the signs directly connected to the coming of Jesus Christ at the end. Christ is coming, and this world will melt with a fervent heat. Then Christ will make all things new.
Now, as with the other signs, as believers we must respond not with fear but with trust. We have this knowledge, this knowledge comes from God, and we believe the Word of God that gives us this knowledge and these wonderful promises. It teaches us not to set our heart on the things of this earth but, by faith, to lift our eyes heavenward. This is where we are going. Then you think of the words of Jesus in Luke 21:28, where He says that when we see all these things taking place, we should look up and lift up our heads, for our redemption draws nigh.
So we are reminded of the words of Peter: Seeing all these things shall be melted with a fervent heat, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all godliness? In the catastrophes, Christ says, “I’m coming.” He says to His people: “Fear not, I am on the throne.” And He says to them, “Your redemption is coming closer and closer, so don’t be afraid.” These are the birth-pangs, the groaning and travailing of the creation. It is the waiting of the creation to bring forth Jesus Christ Himself and the new heavens and the new earth. So, in confidence, we say as we hear these things and see these things, “Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.”
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy control over the heavens and the earth and the way in which Thou dost work throughout history to bring Jesus again. We pray that we may have ready hearts for His return and that we may be those who are kept from, not only the anxieties and the troubles of this earthly life, but also the possessions and the treasures that we might be inclined to set our heart on. Keep us, Lord, heaven-minded and looking for the day when Jesus will come. We pray it, for His sake, Amen.