Good morning. Today’s message is the 4th in our current series called “Signs of the End Times”. In this study, we are listing and discussing some of the warnings that Jesus identified as markers of the last days. Thus far we have talked about historical patterns and precedent, spiritual delusion, and worldwide conflict. This morning’s sermon is titled, “Natural Disasters”.
In Genesis 3 we read about the fall of mankind. Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating the forbidden fruit. As a result of their sin, they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. They and their posterity would now age and suffer physical death. They would be estranged from God apart from a saving faith in Him. At that time all of creation was placed under a curse - not just mankind, but also the earth itself. It too would painstakingly endure the torment and corruption brought about by man’s sin.
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” - Romans 1:20-22
Paul described the fallen condition of the earth in his letter to the Romans. Notice that he used the imagery of childbirth to depict the groanings of creation. This parallels the teachings of Christ, who spoke of “birth pangs” that would precede the end days. Natural disasters are yet another of these laborious signs, which persist regularly over time but will become more pronounced as Jesus’ second coming draws near.
The perfection of God’s creation has been marred and tainted by sin. The earth itself suffers from violent thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, floods, tsunamis, mudslides, volcanic eruptions, and so on. These and other types of natural disasters cause countless deaths and display the ravished condition of our planet. In this morning’s message, we will limit our discussion of natural disasters to 3 specific calamities named by Jesus which He related to the end times.
Basic geology explains that the upper layer of the earth’s surface (called the crust) actually rests on numerous tectonic plates. These plates fit together like large puzzle pieces. Lines are formed between adjoining plates, called fault lines. When either 1 or more of these plates move or shift, due to pressures in the lower mantle or core of the earth, earthquakes occur. The type and severity of earthquake is dependent upon the movement of the plates below. In each case, the surface of the earth shakes - sometimes quite violently - which can produce significant structural damage, injury, and even death.
While there are several different types of natural disasters, the Bible seems to place a special emphasis on earthquakes. It is likely that earthquakes and seismic shifts took place during the creation when God separated the land from the sea. Earthquakes certainly contributed to Noah’s flood, as the fountains of the deep were suddenly released all at once (Genesis 7:11). Others took place at Mt. Sinai (Moses), in the wilderness (Korah’s Rebellion), at Mt. Horeb (Elijah), during both the crucifixion and resurrection (Jesus), and at Philippi (Paul). These are just a few of the many earthquakes mentioned in Scripture.
Most scientists agree that there has been no significant increase in the frequency of degree of seismic activity in modern times. That said, the ability to detect and measure it has improved dramatically. Thus, the number of recorded earthquakes is substantially higher today. In addition, larger populations of people - especially living along fault lines and in quake prone regions - have resulted in higher casualties than in previous generations. These facts are consistent with Jesus’ comparison of earthquakes to labor pains.
The word plague can actually refer to any type of “disastrous evil or affliction”. There are numerous examples of plaques in the Bible. Perhaps the most well-known of these were the 10 Plagues of Egypt that served as a catalyst for the exodus. During this time hoards of frogs, locusts, and other insects covered the land leading to all sorts of problems. While these are certainly valid and vivid examples, usually when the word plague is used it refers to an infectious disease of some sort.
Again, there are several instances documented in scripture of of epidemic diseases and pestilence. Following King David’s sin related to the taking of a census, the LORD sent a terrible plague upon Israel which killed over 70,000 men in just 3 days (2 Samuel 24:15). Numerous passages suggest that contagious diseases likely contributed to the deaths of many Hebrews during the wilderness wanderings. Plague also broke out among the Israelites due to their sexual immorality with women of Moab, resulting in the death of 24,000 people (Numbers 25:9). These are just 3 of many Biblical examples.
According to recent studies, the number of human infectious disease outbreaks has increased dramatically over the past 50 years. Travel, urbanization, and poverty are all factors in the spreading of such diseases. Fortunately modern vaccines, medicines, and treatments have limited the number of deaths related to these epidemics. Early detection and effective quarantine strategies have helped in many cases to prevent them from getting out of control. Nevertheless, plagues continue to persist around the world and are an ever present danger to humanity - just as Jesus warned.
A famine is “an extreme scarcity of food”, usually caused by natural phenomena such as drought or the destruction of crops. The lack of food results in hunger and even starvation among those affected. Prices spike due to the shortage, and violence often breaks between those vying over limited resources. Malnutrition weakens the immune system, making people more susceptible to sickness and disease. This only serves to increase the devastation and severity of famine.
There are multiple occurrences of famine found in the Bible. In the days of Joseph, an extensive 7-year famine broke out in Egypt and the surrounding nations - including Canaan. It was famine that forced Naomi and her family to leave Israel, eventually setting the backdrop for the story of Ruth. There was a 3-year famine during the later years of David’s reign. Drought and famine also ravished Samaria and Israel during the life of Elijah the prophet. These are but a few examples of famine found in Scripture.
Despite modern agricultural advances and techniques, famine still persists in certain places around the globe. According to reports, greater numbers of people have been impacted by hunger in recent years. While there is fierce debate surrounding the issue of climate change, there is no doubt that drought and extreme heat in various locations continue to have a detrimental impact on the environment. This is particularly true in Africa and South America. Such famine, while not necessarily new, is a further sign of the end times.
Just this week, while I was preparing this sermon, I both read and heard reports of earthquakes, plaques, and famines that are ongoing right now. A few days ago, an earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale struck off the coast of Jamaica producing shock waves that were felt as far as Miami. The nightly news continues to address the rapid spread of the Coronavirus which originated in China. The recent outbreak has already resulted in numerous deaths and the numbers continue to rise. It has now been declared a global health emergency. Meanwhile, there are current reports of locust swarms the size of cities devastating produce and vegetation across eastern Africa leaving famine and hunger in their wake. While none of these events definitely declare the Lord’s return, they are indicative of natural disasters that will occur in the last days.
The book of Revelation speaks of earthquakes, plagues, and famines which will take place during God’s judgment of man upon the earth. Millions will be killed as a result of these natural catastrophes. If the earth itself buckles under the heavy weight of sin, what hope does the individual sinner have apart from Jesus Christ? Heed the warning signs and repent today, before it is too late…