Earthquakes and Volcanoes in Prophecy
DAVID C. PACK
Throughout history, God has used earthquakes to serve His purpose. The Bible foretells that the greatest period of earthquake activity in history lies just ahead. In fact, earthquakes and volcanoes will soon affect the security and stability of the whole world—including your life.
God’s Word is plain. Yet most “prophecy watchers” speak little about this subject beyond the warning that “earthquakes are increasing” or “will increase.” You are about to learn things no one else is telling you about earthquakes and volcanoes!
Earthquakes in Recent History
In the past 500 years, earthquakes of every size have claimed many millions of lives. The danger is now greater than ever—since the population has dramatically increased during the last two centuries, and some of the world’s most earthquake-prone regions have become the most densely populated.
Before thoroughly examining what God reveals about earthquakes—and volcanoes!—past and present—here are some facts.
The Pacific Rim has long been the most volatile region in the world. It accounts for 90 percent of all earthquakes. Several thousand small to moderate quakes occur annually around the west coasts of North and South America to the eastern Pacific Rim. Southeast Asian countries and many island nations are also experiencing heightened activity. Each year, Japan alone is shaken by over 1,500 tremors—over four every day.
Earthquakes occur when tension in the tectonic plates of Earth’s crust exceeds the strength of resistant rock at the edge of the affected plates. Some plates may move only an inch in a given year. But periods of no movement mean danger because energy is being stored and increased.
A worldwide network of seismographs detects about a million small earthquakes annually. According to records since 1900, the U.S. Geological Survey expects about 18 major earthquakes (7.0-7.9-magnitude) and one great earthquake (8.0 or higher) every year.
Some examples of recent devastating earthquakes: May 2008—a 7.9-magnitude quake struck China, killing 69,000 people. Then came the January 2010 Haitian earthquake that destroyed much of the capital city and killed about 230,000, occurring on a fault line never before detected. There was also the immense and destructive 8.8-magnitude Chilean quake in February 2010—the fifth largest since 1900. In February also came a 7.0 Japanese quake. Others regularly followed.
History is filled with the stories of very destructive earthquakes, having killed millions of people in virtually all parts of the world. The same is true of volcanoes.
Beyond death and destruction, bigger earthquakes invite famine and disease, with displaced populations forced to go without food and sanitation. And this says nothing about the incredible economic hardship caused by earthquakes, costing from millions to billions of dollars in damage overall, but also including widespread loss of employment due to destroyed businesses and transportation.
Are earthquakes and volcanic activity on the rise—and if so, why? This is a subject of debate among scientists. Some assert that earthquakes are not increasing. J. Ramon Arrowsmith, a geologist, stated, “From our human perspective with our relatively short and incomplete memories and better and better communications around the world, we hear about more earthquakes and it seems like they are more frequent…But this is probably not any indication of a global change in earthquake rate of significance” (LiveScience).
Bob Holdsworth, an expert in tectonics, said that nothing strange is happening, declaring, “I can definitely tell you the world is not coming to an end” (The Associated Press).
Other scientists say earthquakes are increasing. Stephen S. Gao, a geophysicist, stated, “Relative to the 20-year period from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, the Earth has been more active over the past 15 or so years…We still do not know the reason for this…” (LiveScience).
Which side is right? Since the experts do not agree, how can you know—and what does God say?
Natural Disasters Foretold
God will soon involve Himself in the affairs of this world in a way He has never done before. Earthquakes will play a major role in what is coming.
Immediately following His warning about false Christianity, war, famine and disease, Jesus also warned of another pivotal sign that would precede His Return. He listed a fifth condition: “There shall be…earthquakes, in divers [various] places” (Matt. 24:7). This says that earthquakes would be scattered here and there—but must also mean they would increase in both frequency and intensity as His Second Coming drew near. (Mark 13:8 and Luke 21:11 also reference them.)
Think. Since earthquakes have existed throughout history, their mere ongoing presence could not indicate the time of the end. By all honest accounts, earthquakes are coming more often, and are more severe—and this will greatly worsen. As we proceed, you will be left to believe scientists or God.
Jesus Himself clears up the question of intensity—the severity of earthquakes at the end. Soon scientists will no longer be able to doubt. Slightly different from Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts, Jesus’ statement in Luke adds a very important element about these earthquakes—how powerful they will be. Notice: “And great earthquakes shall be in [various] places, and famines, and pestilences…” (21:11). First, notice that the word translated “great” is megas in the Greek and means “big, great, high, large, loud, mighty, strong.”
Take this word for exactly what it means—and what Christ intended. Think of these as mega -earthquakes! These are quakes of tremendous magnitude that would result in terrible, widespread destruction. This differentiates the final period of earthquakes—when they come more often and are more destructive—from relatively “average” quakes coming also farther apart in all previous periods of history. It will become evident that the same would be true of volcanic activity.
But a second point is seen by comparing Luke and Mark to Matthew’s account. The latter lists earthquakes at the end of war, famine and disease. Luke and Mark list them before these things. The point is obvious. They will occur throughout the final years when false Christianity, war, famine and disease will have also grown much worse.
Volcanoes—in Nature and Prophecy
Volcanoes are related to earthquakes—both geologically and in Scripture. Their forces are shared and their effects are similar, with the devastation of both beyond comparison to anything in nature. When earthquakes are mentioned in prophecy, volcanoes are sometimes referenced.
A volcano is a crack, or vent, in the surface of the earth—its crust. Beneath the crack is a cavity. Over time, melted rock—magma—fills this area, called a magma chamber or reservoir, and causes pressure to build. The volcano, which may form over thousands of years or very suddenly, then becomes a path for magma to push its way to the surface. An eruption is the releasing of pressure.
Scientists state that over 3,000 volcanoes have erupted in just the last 50 years. Around 50 to 70 are active each year. Some are slowly spewing lava, while others are quietly building, or rebuilding, pressure. Actually, if a volcano is leaking slowly, it is considered “safe.” The danger arises when pressure builds enough to erupt violently. Depending on internal construction, eruptions vary from slow flows to massive explosions.
The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in the western U.S. was one of the largest in modern times. The first explosion had the force of 24 megatons of thermal energy and flattened 230 square miles. Six-foot-thick trees 15 miles away were mowed like grass!
Sometimes following the initial explosion, which can consist of steam, gas or magma, volcanoes spew what are called pyroclastic flows. Larger volcanoes, like St. Helens, also experience pyroclastic surges. Both consist of hot ash, rock fragments and gas that can reach temperatures of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, and travel at an astonishing 150 miles per hour! Surges carry more energy and are mostly rock fragments and super-heated gas. They move faster than flows, but both bring similar devastation. St. Helens generated a series of pyroclastic flows that completely sterilized the soil for six square miles.
Flows are generally followed by what are called lahars. These combine water, rock, sand and mud, which rush down valleys away from volcanoes. They move like rivers, and sometimes have enough force to uproot trees, rip houses from foundations and bridges from their supports. The lahar from St. Helens destroyed 27 bridges, 200 homes, 185 miles of roadway and 15 miles of railway.
Earthquakes also cause landslides. The one that followed the St. Helens eruption was the largest ever recorded. Some areas were buried in up to 600 feet of mud and debris!
The final fallout from an eruption is the ash cloud. A volcano can spew ash over 12 miles above the opening in just 10 minutes. The ash from St. Helens landed over an area of 20,000 square miles. If the volcano is near a city, the weight of the particles can collapse buildings.
The danger and colossal destruction of volcanoes become evident.
Detection is done by checking the “heaving” of the land. This shows how much pressure is building in the magma chamber. An additional method is to record the earthquakes around a volcano. As their frequency and intensity increase, the volcano is destabilized, making conditions ripe for eruption.
This explains why earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are so connected. While the most powerful earthquakes are not caused by volcanoes, all eruptions cause a series of smaller quakes.
With St. Helens, a large earthquake triggered an already sensitive volcano to erupt. This is the danger in many volcano-sensitive areas throughout the world. Volcanoes sit silently building pressure until a nearby earthquake becomes the catalyst for eruption. Everything that follows is random—entirely unpredictable.
Another common type of volcano is underwater. The floor of the ocean is littered with them. The entire Hawaiian Islands are a direct result of underwater eruptions. Tsunamis pose the greatest danger with these, and can move at speeds of up to 500 miles per hour. Both earthquakes and volcanoes can create these devastating waves. They usually result from underwater mudslides that follow the eruption. One of the most devastating tsunamis in history was in 2004 in Indonesia. Caused by an earthquake, almost 300,000 people perished.
Following the eruption of the Indonesian volcano Tambora in 1815, normally temperate areas experienced snow every month for a year, resulting in poor crop yields in places as far away as New England. Many believe Tambora was a factor in bringing about the Irish Potato Famine.
The 1883 explosion of Krakatoa, also in Indonesia, was heard over 2,000 miles away! The eruption spewed ash 50 miles high, with the dust cloud repeatedly circling the earth. The surrounding region experienced darkness for over two days. Nothing in nature compares to such an event.
In the Philippines, Mt. Pinatubo erupted in June 1991, displacing millions of people and destroying much farmland. Pinatubo’s ash cloud lowered the average world temperature by almost two degrees Fahrenheit!
An awesome volcanic eruption in Iceland occurred in March 2010. It caused tremendous floods, but also brought fears that it would trigger a second much larger volcano nearby to erupt. Catastrophic global climate changes—were this to occur—enter the picture.
Soon we will see more powerful earthquakes. They will awaken giant volcanoes. These will be the largest eruptions of all time. But earthquakes and volcanoes will not just alter the face of single mountains. They will alter the face of the whole earth!
Earthquakes in the Old Testament
It is critical to understand why God has used earthquakes and volcanoes through history. It is also important to take extra time to set up God’s repeated use of these most powerful of disasters to serve His purpose.
The Bible shows earthquakes reveal God’s presence, His deliverance, His wrath and His power. God will also use them to announce Christ’s Return—to accompany prophetic events—and to reshape the earth’s surface.
The Bible reveals that just God’s presence can cause Earth to shake. Notice: “Tremble, you earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob” (Psa. 114:7). Volcanoes can be triggered: “The mountains quake at Him, and the hills melt [lava-producing volcanoes]” (Nah. 1:5), and “He looks on the earth, and it trembles: He touches the hills, and they smoke” (Psa. 104:32).
There was thunderous trembling when God gave the Ten Commandments: “And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off” (Ex. 20:18). Now this: “And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly” (Ex. 19:18).
God’s presence generated an earthquake, and likely volcanic activity, to get Israel’s attention.
On another occasion, the faith and courage of King David’s friend Jonathan, and his armor-bearer, moved God. Here is what happened: “And there was trembling in the host, in the field, and among all the people: the garrison, and the spoilers, they also trembled, and the earth quaked: so it was a very great trembling” (I Sam. 14:15). The confused, terrified Philistines then turned on each other. The result was thousands died.
Another earthquake, in Numbers 16, involved 250 Israelite leaders under Korah who rebelled against Moses. The result? “The earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up” (vs. 32)—with their wives and children. Again, thousands died.
New Testament Earthquakes
Other earthquakes occurred just after the New Testament Church began. Here is one, with Peter and John both speaking and praying: “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto Your servants, that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching forth Your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of…Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy [Spirit], and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:29-31). The quake became part of the proof God had heard.
Another earthquake occurred involving the apostle Paul and Silas in Philippi. They had been illegally beaten and imprisoned. But God delivered them: “And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed” (Acts 16:26).
While skeptics, and even many theologians, generally dismiss such miracles in Scripture, earthquakes have also accompanied great events, such as Jesus’ crucifixion: “And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent” (Matt. 27:51). What happened next? “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God” (vs. 54).
Another great earthquake accompanied Christ’s Resurrection: “And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it” (Matt. 28:2).
Again, earthquakes can also reflect God’s wrath. Let’s read: “Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because He was wroth” (Psa. 18:7) Also, read Jeremiah 10:10, “But the Lord is the true God, He is the living God, and an everlasting King: at His wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide His indignation.”
Five Great Future Earthquakes
Many prophesied end-time earthquakes will carry this message. These primarily involve great quakes listed in the book of Revelation. They will convey God’s wrath to a world that refuses to heed His warnings and correction.
First, a probably smaller earthquake is referenced in Revelation 12, and involves the miraculous escape of God’s Church to a place of safety as the Great Tribulation begins. An army pursuing the Church is completely swallowed and destroyed (vs. 15-16). Notice similar wording to Numbers 16: “And the earth helped the woman [God’s Church], and…opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood [obviously an army—like the Egyptian army pursuing Israel until the Red Sea swallowed it] which the dragon [the devil] cast out of his mouth” (Rev. 12:16).
The book of Revelation foretells five specific powerful earthquakes preceding and surrounding Christ’s Return. Each is unique, and occurs at a particular juncture of God’s final prophetic timeline.
The Tribulation Ends
The first earthquake is in Revelation 6:12: “I beheld [John is writing] when He had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.”
This earthquake occurs after the fifth seal, as the sixth is opened. The cataclysmic fifth seal involves the military invasion and the captivity of the modern-day descendants of Israel. This involves two and a half years of unparalleled suffering—the worst in all history—to be brought upon this generation. This earthquake’s timing proclaims the end of the Great Tribulation and beginning of powerful signs that appear in the heavens.
Jesus also spoke of this in Matthew: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken” (24:29). And in Luke: “And 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 [obviously including tsunamis]; 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” (21:25-26).
Now read Isaiah’s description of this time: “In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats; to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of His majesty, when He arises to shake terribly the earth” (2:20-21).
This powerful description parallels Rev. 6:15-16. Physical possessions will be of no use to anyone not truly serving God.
The Seventh Seal Opens
The second earthquake is found in Revelation 8:5. As the seventh seal is opened, seven angels stand before God and receive seven trumpets. Another angel took a censer “and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.”
This earthquake marks the beginning of the seven trumpet plagues and begins fulfillment of the seventh seal and Day of the Lord.
Certain scriptures speak of the solemn gravity and horror of this time. Consider Joel: “Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come” (1:15).
The prophet Joel also shows the precise timing of this event: “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible Day of the Lord come” (2:31). This matches the sequence in Revelation, as the heavenly signs immediately precede the Day of the Lord—the Day of God’s wrath.
Jesus Christ’s Return Announced
The third earthquake is in Revelation 11:12-13: “They heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them [the Two Witnesses], Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them. And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city [Jerusalem] fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven”!
This earthquake occurs after the final two special prophets are resurrected—before the seventh trumpet and the First Resurrection of I Corinthians 15:51-52 and I Thessalonians 4:16. It appears to be mainly in Jerusalem, but could still be worldwide in scope. It cannot be the same one described in Zechariah 14:4, because all nations will not yet have gathered at Armageddon.
This earthquake precedes and announces the most pivotal event in human history—Jesus Christ’s Return!
Christ Is Present
The fourth earthquake is in Revelation 11:19: “And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in His temple the ark of His testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.”
This earthquake occurs immediately after Christ’s Return and the First Resurrection, and marks the fulfillment of these events: “…and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever” (vs. 15).
Jesus’ Return makes every following event within God’s Plan possible. Earthquakes before and after it underscore its momentous importance in His Plan. No other event bears such distinction. This earthquake directly results from the presence of God. Jesus Christ is now present as King—assuming rulership in glory over all nations!
The Greatest Earthquake of All Time
The final earthquake is in Revelation 16:17-18: “And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.”
This last earthquake will be the most powerful to occur since Creation. The remainder of Earth’s topography changes. Notice: “And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (vs. 20).
This earthquake appears to complete the process begun by the one in Revelation 6:14, in which “every mountain and island were moved out of their places.” This is the earthquake mentioned in Zechariah 14 that follows all nations gathering at Armageddon, and it coincides with the sixth vial of God’s wrath.
Zechariah 14 states, “And [Christ’s] feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half…toward the south” (vs. 4) and “the Lord shall be King over all the earth…” (vs. 9).
Words fail in describing the impact of such an awesome, immense river, made possible because God used an earthquake to cleave a mountain!
Foretold Long Ago
Other prophets of the Old Testament also spoke about the enormous earthquakes of Revelation, especially the final, greatest one preceding Christ’s Return.
Isaiah 13:13: “I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts, and in the day of His fierce anger.”
Isaiah 24:19-20: “The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage…”
Ezekiel 38:20: “…all the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at My presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground.”
Joel 3:16: “The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake …”
Haggai 2:6-7: “For thus says the Lord of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations [Jesus Christ] shall come…”
Earth’s Topography Changed
Beyond the immediate purpose of the five Revelation earthquakes, these will also serve to reshape Earth’s surface. The same God who formed the hills and mountains will reform them and reshape the planet. (Take time to read Amos 4:13 and Psalm 90:2.)
Notice this: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” (Isa. 40:4-5).
This speaks of truly dramatic—monumental—changes! Vast mountain ranges will disappear. A few remaining mountains and hills will be used for God’s specially appointed purpose. Other verses show this. (Of course, while the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem cleaves in two, it does obviously remain. And huge, jagged mountains will be “made low,” they will not completely disappear.)
The renewal of Earth’s surface will accommodate the vast number of human beings who will exist by the later stages of Christ’s millennial rule, but also the many billions (all those who have lived since Creation) who will come up later in the general resurrection at the end of the Millennium—the White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20:11. A much larger population is possible—and made comfortable—once more usable land becomes available for farming and living.
More land will be reclaimed from the deserts and oceans, with the oceans scheduled to be purified (Ezek. 47:8-10). All of this will bring favorable weather, replacing the harsh destructive weather patterns felt throughout history. Without droughts and floods, and the terrible extremes of temperature, precipitation and destruction from other elements in nature, farming will be more productive.
There is a purpose for every aspect of God’s Creation. We have seen that earthquakes, sometimes accompanied by volcanoes, have long served God’s Plan, and in numerous ways. While ultimately the means by which God will reshape Earth’s topography for the good of all, these natural disasters will in the short term contribute to a level of destruction the world has never seen—and a mounting death toll.