It was just another day at the office, in the classroom, in the home, and at the neighborhood grocery. Nothing out of the ordinary, that is, until the office began to shake, and the employees began to jump and run for the door; books fell from the library shelves in the classroom. In the home, pictures were falling off the walls, dishes were dropping, and the chandeliers were swinging erratically. In the grocery store, cans and bottles were filling the aisles as employees were desperately reaching to grab the breakable items. For those who had never before experienced an earthquake, it was an especially frightening experience. To those who live in earthquake-prone areas, every such experience is unnerving.
It is estimated that a large earthquake may release energy that is equal to the explosion caused by 200 million tons of TNT—10,000 times as great as the first atomic bomb dropped during World War II.
History is filled with records of the many devastating times when the shifting of underground rocks or plates resulted in great destruction. In 1556, a quake in China caused an estimated 830,000 deaths. In Calcutta, India, some 300,000 died in a 1737 earthquake. Again in China, in 1976, there was a loss of 240,000 lives.
It was about 2 am on December 16,1811, when the trembling began in what is now called the New Madrid Earthquake. The tremors continued until February 7, 1812 with as many as 1,874 different tremors taking place, the greatest measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale. The earthquake affected over 50,000 square miles. Many previously mapped islands on the Mississippi River simply vanished, and some observers reported seeing the river actually flowing backwards. It was at this point that the popular 15,000 acre Reelfoot Lake in west Tennessee was created.
More recently, in June of 1990, a 7.4 earthquake in Iran killed an estimated 40 to 50 thousand individuals. On the island of Haiti in 2010, estimated deaths approached 230,000. In addition, the property destruction was beyond description, leaving multitudes homeless for years. Japan and the northwest Pacific area were inundated on March 11, 2011, when an earthquake that measured 9.0 on the Richter scale caused waves estimated at 133 feet high to smash into that island nation. The local nuclear industry was damaged by as much as 34 billion dollars. By one count, 15,861 people were swept into eternity.
Old Testament earthquakes
The biblical record is filled with instances of earthquakes in both the Old and New Testaments. God in His sovereignty has chosen over the years to use earthquakes for His own purposes, but they can always be seen as a demonstration of His power. In Genesis 7:11, even though it is not identified as an earthquake, we read that “all the fountains of the great deep were broken up.” At the giving of the Law, the whole mountain “quaked greatly” (Ex. 19:18). The Lord used an earthquake to get Elijah’s attention but spoke to him in a still small voice (1 Ki. 19:11f). God warned Jerusalem, “You will be punished by the Lord of hosts with thunder and earthquakes and great noise…” (Isa. 29:6). The prophet Amos identified his own writing as taking place “two years before THE earthquake,” which, according to archaeological evidence, was about 760 bc. God’s awesome power is described: “The Lord has His way in the whirlwind and the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet…the mountains quake before Him, the hills melt, and the rocks are thrown down by Him” (Nah. 1:3, 5). What was it but an earthquake that caused the earth to open and swallow the rebels in Numbers 16?
New Testament earthquakes
We see the Lord’s power manifested the same way in the New Testament, for there we read that He used an earthquake to release Paul and Silas from the Philippian jail (Acts 16). There was, however, a dual purpose in this particular earthquake. The jailer assumed that the prisoners had escaped and realized he would be executed for allowing it. He was on the verge of committing suicide when Paul called with a loud voice saying, “Do yourself no harm, we are all here.” Trembling, the jailer fell before Paul and Silas and got right to the point, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” God used the earthquake not only to release Paul and Silas from their cells, but to bring a jailer and his family to salvation as they turned in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ. The Scriptures note, “they rejoiced, believing in God with all their heart.”
During the final days of the ministry of the Lord Jesus, there was considerable earthquake activity. On the cross, Jesus cried with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit. As He did, an earthquake split the rocks, and many who had died came forth from their graves and appeared to many in the holy city. Once more, an earthquake caused the ungodly to turn in believing faith to the Savior. The centurion and those with him at the cross were also moved. As with the Philippian jailer, God used an earthquake to get His message to those in need.
And, on resurrection morning, there was a great earthquake involved in the rolling away of the stone at the tomb (Mt. 28:2). However, the earthquake was not needed to release the body of the Lord Jesus Christ from the tomb, but simply to let the disciples inside that they might see that “He is risen.”
The Lord is not finished with using earthquakes to accomplish His purposes. The “big one” is yet to come. The three synoptic Gospels all tell us that, as Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives, He warned His disciples, “there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places,” all a part of coming judgment. John has much to say regarding earthquakes in the book of the Revelation. As a part of the sixth seal judgment, “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold there was a great earthquake and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair and the moon became as blood” (Rev. 6:12). In Revelation 8:5, he wrote, “Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar and threw it to the earth. And there were thundering, lightning and an earthquake.” Later, “…there was a great earthquake and a tenth of the city fell…seven thousand people were killed and the rest were afraid and gave glory to God” (Rev. 11:13). This culminates in chapter 16: “and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, ‘It is done.’ And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. And the great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. … And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.” For those of us in Christ today, we can praise God that we will have been long gone and with Him in glory before this earthquake rocks the world.