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Last August a fearful disaster overtook thousands in North-West Turkey. At about 3 a.m. on August 14 a severe earthquake struck a wide area, shaking the ground violently for forty-five seconds, suddenly burying thousands of sleeping families in the wreckage of their apartment blocks and houses.
The scale of devastation was overwhelming, several large industrial towns being near the epicentre of the quake. Initial organisation of rescue and relief work was paralysed by the very scale of the disaster. Conditions for both victims and rescuers were made worse, first by the intense summer heat and later by the onset of torrential rains.
Search and rescue
As news of the disaster spread, search and rescue teams poured into Turkey from many European countries, the United States, Israel and elsewhere. For the first few days there were heroic rescues and amazing stories of courageous survival. Despite all this effort the death toll is expected to exceed 30,000. All our hearts go out to the many thousands of survivors who have suffered so deeply: many cruelly bereaved of their families; or maimed for life through their injuries; the orphaned children. It is estimated that 100,000 people were left homeless. The country now faces the colossal problems of caring for the injured, rebuilding ruined towns and cities and reviving the economy.
Historically Northern Turkey has been earthquake-prone because of certain geological fault lines. Sixty years ago was the last major occurrence, when about 30,000 people were killed, but there have since been at least ten other significant quakes in the region. Several of these were severe, but affected areas of relatively low population. The most recent disaster resulted in so many deaths because several densely populated urban areas were involved.
The Lord Jesus made reference to earthquakes as a regular feature of the world scene throughout the centuries until His personal return. The world would experience on-going disruption through wars and rumours of wars. Nation would continue to rise against nation. The trauma and tragedy resulting from such man-made conflict would be accompanied by destructive tragedies from natural causes: '...there shall be famines and earthquakes in divers places' (see Mat. 24:6,7). Note in verse 6 the cautionary word that 'the end is not yet'; and again in verse 8, 'But all these things are the beginning of travail'. The Lord was addressing the disciples' question, 'And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?' (Verse 3 NKJV). He set things in long-term perspective, first briefly indicating certain general characteristics of the intervening centuries; but then dealing in greater detail with the intensified tribulation which would mark the final phase, the end-time just prior to His return. So wars, famines and earthquakes would recur as the norm throughout, with all their tragic trauma. They were not in themselves particular portents of impending end-time judgements. How clearly the Lord's words have been fulfilled! Modern seismology has remarkable resources to register the strength and frequency of earth tremors world-wide. Records from earlier times are of course less complete but give ample evidence of earthquakes throughout the centuries.
Scripture records that earthquakes have at times occurred in direct association with God's own purpose and plan. As when at Sinai God declared the ten commandments to Israel, 'the whole mount quaked greatly' (Ex. 19:18). Or when the Saviour died, 'the earth did quake; and the rocks were rent' (Mat. 27:51); and on the resurrection morning 'there was a great earthquake' (Mat. 28:2). Nor was it a mere coincidence that the jail in Philippi was shaken to its foundations by a great earthquake when God chose to deliver His servants Paul and Silas (Acts 16:26).
Divine judgements of the end-time
It seems clear also that in keeping with the concentration of divine judgements which will characterize the time of the end, successive earthquakes will then be used to impress mankind with the awesome power of God Almighty. How helpless man seems when the very ground beneath his feet has no stability: trembling terra firma! The Book of Revelation records several occasions during that period when earthquakes will occur (e.g. 6:12; 8:5; 11:13,19). The last reference, at the pouring out of the seventh bowl, describes 'a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so great an earthquake, so mighty' (Rev. 16:17,18). Fearful contemplation!
How reassuring that the believer in Christ may share the Psalmist's confidence:
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore will we not fear, though the earth do change,
And though the mountains be moved in the heart of the seas...