Earthquakes in the Lord’s Day
1, 2. (a) What is it like to live through a severe earthquake? (b) What does John describe when the sixth seal is opened?
HAVE you ever lived through a severe earthquake? It is not a pleasant experience. A big temblor may start with a sickening roll and a rumbling noise. The swaying may worsen by fits and starts while you dash for safety—perhaps under a desk. Or it may come as a sudden, shattering jolt, followed by the crashing of crockery, furnishings, even buildings. Damage may be catastrophic, with frequent aftershocks inflicting further damage and adding to the misery.
2 Having this in mind, consider what John describes at the opening of the sixth seal: “And I saw when he opened the sixth seal, and a great earthquake occurred.” (Revelation 6:12a) This must fall within the same time frame as the opening of the other seals. Just when in the Lord’s day does this earthquake occur, and what kind of quake is it?—Revelation 1:10.
3. (a) What occurrences did Jesus foretell in the prophecy about the sign of his presence? (b) How do the literal earthquakes relate to the great symbolic earthquake of Revelation 6:12?
3 Literal and figurative quakings of the earth are mentioned a number of times in the Bible. In his great prophecy about the sign of his presence in Kingdom power, Jesus forecast “earthquakes in one place after another.” These would be part of “a beginning of pangs of distress.” Since 1914, with earth’s population exploding into the thousands of millions, literal temblors have contributed significantly to the distresses of our times. (Matthew 24:3, 7, 8) Nevertheless, even though they fulfill prophecy, those earthquakes have been natural, physical disasters. They are preliminary to the great symbolic earthquake of Revelation 6:12. This, indeed, comes as the devastating finale to a series of advance tremors that shake Satan’s human earthly system of things to its foundations.*
Tremors in Human Society
4. (a) Since when had Jehovah’s people been anticipating that catastrophic events would begin in 1914? (b) Of what period of time would 1914 mark the end?
4 From the mid-1870’s, Jehovah’s people had been anticipating that catastrophic events would start in 1914 and would mark the end of the Gentile Times. This is the period of “seven times” (2,520 years) running from the overthrow of the Davidic kingdom in Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. to Jesus’ enthronement in heavenly Jerusalem in 1914 C.E.—Daniel 4:24, 25; Luke 21:24, King James Version.*
5. (a) What announcement did C. T. Russell make on October 2, 1914? (b) What political upheavals have taken place since 1914?
5 Thus, when C. T. Russell appeared for morning worship with the Brooklyn, New York, Bethel family on the morning of October 2, 1914, he made the dramatic announcement: “The Gentile Times have ended; their kings have had their day.” Indeed, the worldwide upheaval that began in 1914 was so far-reaching that many long-standing monarchies disappeared. The overthrow of czardom in the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 led to a long confrontation between Marxism and capitalism. Tremors of political change continue to disturb human society earth wide. Today, many governments fail to survive more than a year or two. Lack of stability in the political world is illustrated in the case of Italy, which had 47 new governments in just 42 years following World War II. But such advance tremors are only preliminary to a climactic governmental upheaval. The result? God’s Kingdom will take over sole rulership of the earth.—Isaiah 9:6, 7.
6. (a) How did H. G. Wells describe the new and momentous epoch? (b) What did a philosopher and a statesman write about the epoch since 1914?
6 Historians, philosophers, and political leaders have pointed to the year 1914 as the start of a new and momentous epoch. Seventeen years into that epoch, historian H. G. Wells commented: “Gladly would the prophet prophesy pleasant things. But his duty is to tell what he sees. He sees a world still firmly controlled by soldiers, patriots, usurers, and financial adventurers; a world surrendered to suspicion and hatred, losing what is left of private liberties very rapidly, blundering toward bitter class conflicts, and preparing for new wars.” In 1953 philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote: “Ever since 1914, everybody conscious of trends in the world has been deeply troubled by what has seemed like a fated and predetermined march toward ever greater disaster. . . . They see the human race, like the hero of a Greek tragedy, driven on by angry gods and no longer the master of fate.” In 1980 statesman Harold Macmillan, reflecting on the peaceful start of the 20th century, said: “Everything would get better and better. This was the world I was born in. . . . Suddenly, unexpectedly, one morning in 1914 the whole thing came to an end.”
7-9. (a) What upheavals have shaken human society since 1914? (b) The upheavals in human society during Jesus’ presence would eventually include what situation among mankind?
7 World War II brought another wave of upheavals. And smaller wars along with international terrorism continue to shake the earth. The fearful threat of terrorists or states using weapons of mass destruction has many people wondering.
8 Other things besides wars, though, have shaken human society to its foundations since 1914. One of the most traumatic upheavals was triggered by the U.S. stock-market crash of October 29, 1929. This brought on the Great Depression, which affected all capitalist countries. That depression bottomed out between 1932 and 1934, but we are still feeling its effects. Since 1929 an economically sick world has been patched up by makeshift schemes. Governments indulge in deficit financing. The oil crisis of 1973 and the stock market plunge of 1987 added to the shakings of the financial empire. Meantime, millions of people buy largely on credit. Countless numbers are victimized by financial gimmicks, pyramid schemes, and lotteries and other gambling subterfuges, many of which are sponsored by governments that should be protecting the people. Even Christendom’s television evangelists stretch their hands out for their multimillion-dollar share!—Compare Jeremiah 5:26-31.
9 Earlier, economic troubles had opened the way for Mussolini and Hitler to seize power. Babylon the Great lost no time in courting their favors, and the Vatican entered into concordats with Italy in 1929 and Germany in 1933. (Revelation 17:5) The dark days that followed were surely a part of the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy about his presence, which would include “anguish of nations, not knowing the way out . . . while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.” (Luke 21:7-9, 25-31)* Yes, the quakes that began to shake human society in 1914 have continued, with powerful aftershocks.
Jehovah Does Some Shaking
10. (a) Why are there so many tremors in human affairs? (b) What is Jehovah doing, in preparation for what?
10 Such tremors in human affairs are the result of man’s inability to direct his own step. (Jeremiah 10:23) Moreover, that old serpent, Satan, “who is misleading the entire inhabited earth,” is inflicting woes in his last-ditch effort to turn all mankind away from the worship of Jehovah. Modern technology has caused the earth to shrink into a single neighborhood, where nationalistic and racial hatreds are shaking human society to its foundations, and the United Nations, so-called, can find no effective cure. As never before, man is dominating man to his injury. (Revelation 12:9, 12; Ecclesiastes 8:9) Nevertheless, the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, Maker of heaven and earth, has been doing his own kind of shaking for almost 90 years, in preparation for solving earth’s problems once and for all. How so?
11. (a) What rocking is described at Haggai 2:6, 7? (b) How is Haggai’s prophecy being fulfilled?
11 At Haggai 2:6, 7 we read: “For this is what Jehovah of armies has said, ‘Yet once—it is a little while—and I am rocking the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry ground. And I will rock all the nations, and the desirable things of all the nations must come in; and I will fill this house with glory,’ Jehovah of armies has said.” Since the year 1919 in particular, Jehovah has caused his witnesses to proclaim his judgments among all elements of human society on earth. Satan’s world system has been put on notice by this global warning.* As the warning intensifies, God-fearing humans, “the desirable things,” have been stirred to separate themselves from the nations. It is not that they are shaken out by the quaking in Satan’s organization. But as they discern the situation, they make their own decision to share with the anointed John class in filling Jehovah’s house of worship with glory. How is this accomplished? By the zealous work of preaching the good news of God’s established Kingdom. (Matthew 24:14) This Kingdom, made up of Jesus and his anointed followers, will ever keep standing to Jehovah’s glory as “a kingdom that cannot be shaken.”—Hebrews 12:26-29.
12 Are you one who has started to respond to that preaching? Are you perhaps among the millions who in recent years have attended the Memorial celebration of Jesus’ death? If so, keep on progressing in your study of Bible truth. (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16, 17) Abandon completely the corrupt lifestyle of Satan’s doomed earthly society! Come right on into the Christian new world society and share fully in its activity before the final catastrophic “earthquake” smashes all of Satan’s world to pieces. But what is that great earthquake? Let us now see.
The Great Earthquake!
13. In what way is the great earthquake totally new to human experience?
13 Yes, these critical last days have been a time of earthquakes—literal and figurative. (2 Timothy 3:1) But not one of these quakings is the final great shaking that John sees at the opening of the sixth seal. The time for advance tremors is ended. There now comes a great earthquake that is totally new to human experience. It is so great an earthquake that the upheavals and convulsions it causes cannot be measured by the Richter scale or by any other human gauge. This is no mere local shock but a cataclysmic shaking that devastates the entire “earth,” that is, all depraved human society.
14. (a) What prophecy foretells a great earthquake and its consequences? (b) To what must Joel’s prophecy and Revelation 6:12, 13 refer?
14 Others of Jehovah’s prophets foretold such an earthquake and its catastrophic consequences. For example, about 820 B.C.E., Joel spoke of “the coming of the great and fear-inspiring day of Jehovah,” stating that then “the sun itself will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood.” Later, he adds these words: “Crowds, crowds are in the low plain of the decision, for the day of Jehovah is near in the low plain of the decision. Sun and moon themselves will certainly become dark, and the very stars will actually withdraw their brightness. And out of Zion Jehovah himself will roar, and out of Jerusalem he will give forth his voice. And heaven and earth certainly will rock; but Jehovah will be a refuge for his people, and a fortress for the sons of Israel.” (Joel 2:31; 3:14-16) This rocking could apply only to Jehovah’s execution of judgment during the great tribulation. (Matthew 24:21) So the parallel account at Revelation 6:12, 13 would logically have the same application.—See also Jeremiah 10:10; Zephaniah 1:14, 15.
15. What mighty shaking did the prophet Habakkuk foretell?
15 Some 200 years after Joel, the prophet Habakkuk said in prayer to his God: “O Jehovah, I have heard the report about you. I have become afraid, O Jehovah, of your activity. In the midst of the years O bring it to life! In the midst of the years may you make it known. During the agitation, to show mercy may you remember.” What would that “agitation” be? Habakkuk goes on to give a graphic description of the great tribulation, saying of Jehovah: “He stood still, that he might shake up the earth. He saw, and then caused nations to leap. . . . With denunciation you went marching through the earth. In anger you went threshing the nations. Yet, as for me, I will exult in Jehovah himself; I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:1, 2, 6, 12, 18) What a mighty shaking Jehovah will cause in all the earth when he threshes the nations!
16. (a) What is foretold by the prophet Ezekiel for the time when Satan makes his final attack upon God’s people? (b) What results from the great earthquake of Revelation 6:12?
16 Ezekiel too foretold that when Gog of Magog (the debased Satan) makes his final attack upon God’s people, Jehovah will cause “a great quaking” to occur “in the soil of Israel.” (Ezekiel 38:18, 19) Though literal earthquakes may be involved, we should remember that Revelation is presented in signs. This prophecy and the other prophecies cited are highly symbolic. Hence, the opening of the sixth seal appears to disclose the culmination of all shakings of this earthly system of things—the great earthquake in which all humans opposed to Jehovah God’s sovereignty are destroyed.
A Time of Darkness
17. How does the great earthquake affect the sun, the moon, and the stars?
17 As John goes on to show, the great earthquake is accompanied by terrifying events that involve even the heavens. He says: “And the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the entire moon became as blood, and the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as when a fig tree shaken by a high wind casts its unripe figs.” (Revelation 6:12b, 13) What a striking phenomenon! Can you imagine the frightening darkness that would result if the prophecy were fulfilled literally? No more warm, comforting sunlight by day! No more friendly, silvery moonlight by night! And the myriad stars would no longer twinkle against the velvety backdrop of the sky. Instead, there would be cold, relentless blackness.—Compare Matthew 24:29.
18. In what way did ‘the heavens become dark’ for Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E.?
18 In a spiritual sense, such a darkness was prophesied for ancient Israel. Jeremiah warned: “A desolate waste is what the whole land will become, and shall I not carry out a sheer extermination? On this account the land will mourn, and the heavens above will certainly become dark.” (Jeremiah 4:27, 28) In 607 B.C.E. when that prophecy was fulfilled, things were dark indeed for Jehovah’s people. Their capital city, Jerusalem, fell to the Babylonians. Their temple was destroyed, and their land was abandoned. For them, there was no comforting light from heaven. Rather, it was as Jeremiah mournfully said to Jehovah: “You have killed; you have shown no compassion. You have blocked approach to yourself with a cloud mass, that prayer may not pass through.” (Lamentations 3:43, 44) For Jerusalem, that celestial darkness meant death and destruction.
19. (a) How does God’s prophet Isaiah describe a darkness in the heavens with regard to ancient Babylon? (b) When and how was Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled?
19 Later, a similar darkness in the heavens signified disaster for ancient Babylon. Of this, God’s prophet was inspired to write: “Look! The day of Jehovah itself is coming, cruel both with fury and with burning anger, in order to make the land an object of astonishment, and that it may annihilate the land’s sinners out of it. For the very stars of the heavens and their constellations of Kesil will not flash forth their light; the sun will actually grow dark at its going forth, and the moon itself will not cause its light to shine. And I shall certainly bring home its own badness upon the productive land, and their own error upon the wicked themselves.” (Isaiah 13:9-11) This prophecy was fulfilled in 539 B.C.E. when Babylon fell to the Medes and the Persians. It well describes the blackness, the hopelessness, the lack of any comforting light for Babylon as she fell forever from her position as premier world power.
20. What fearful outcome awaits this system of things when the great earthquake strikes?
20 In a similar way, when the great earthquake strikes, this entire world system will be engulfed in the despair of total darkness. The bright, shining luminaries of Satan’s earthly system will send forth no ray of hope. Already today, earth’s political leaders, especially in Christendom, are notorious for their corruption, lying, and immoral lifestyle. (Isaiah 28:14-19) No longer can they be trusted. Their flickering light will go into total eclipse when Jehovah executes judgment. Their moonlike influence on earth’s affairs will be exposed as bloodied, death dealing. Their worldly superstars will be extinguished like plunging meteorites and scattered like unripe figs in a howling windstorm. Our entire globe will quake under a “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” (Matthew 24:21) What a fearful prospect!
“The Heaven” Departs
21. In his vision, what does John see regarding “the heaven” and “every mountain and every island”?
21 John’s vision continues: “And the heaven departed as a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and every island were removed from their places.” (Revelation 6:14) Clearly, these are not the literal heavens or the literal mountains and islands. But what do they symbolize?
22. In Edom what kind of “heavens” were “rolled up, just like a book scroll”?
22 Regarding “the heaven,” we are helped in our understanding by a similar prophecy that tells of Jehovah’s rage against all the nations: “And all those of the army of the heavens must rot away. And the heavens must be rolled up, just like a book scroll.” (Isaiah 34:4) Edom in particular must suffer. How? She was overrun by the Babylonians soon after the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. At that time, there were no outstanding events recorded as happening in the literal heavens. But there were catastrophic events in Edom’s “heavens.”* Her human governmental powers were abased from their elevated, heavenlike position. (Isaiah 34:5) They were “rolled up” and put aside, as it were, like an old scroll that was no longer of any use to anyone.
23. What is “the heaven” that will ‘depart as a scroll,’ and how do Peter’s words confirm this understanding?
23 Thus, “the heaven” that is to ‘depart as a scroll’ refers to the anti-God governments that rule over this earth. They will be removed with finality by the all-conquering Rider of the white horse. (Revelation 19:11-16, 19-21) This is confirmed by what the apostle Peter said when he looked forward to the events signified by the opening of the sixth seal: “The heavens and the earth that are now are stored up for fire and are being reserved to the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men.” (2 Peter 3:7) But what about the expression, “every mountain and every island were removed from their places”?
24. (a) When, in Bible prophecy, is it that mountains and islands are said to rock or be destabilized? (b) How did ‘mountains rock’ when Nineveh fell?
24 In Bible prophecy, mountains and islands are said to rock or be otherwise destabilized at times of great political upheaval. For example, when foretelling Jehovah’s judgments against Nineveh, the prophet Nahum wrote: “Mountains themselves have rocked because of him, and the very hills found themselves melting. And the earth will be upheaved because of his face.” (Nahum 1:5) There is no record of any breaking up of literal mountains when Nineveh actually fell in 632 B.C.E. But a world power that previously had seemed mountainlike in its strength suddenly collapsed.—Compare Jeremiah 4:24.
25. At the coming end of this system of things, how will “every mountain and every island” be removed from their places?
25 Therefore, “every mountain and every island” as referred to at the opening of the sixth seal would logically be political governments and dependent organizations of this world that have seemed so stable to many of mankind. They will be rocked right out of place, to the consternation and horror of those who have previously trusted in them. As the prophecy goes on to relate, there will be no question that the great day of the wrath of Jehovah and his Son—the final quaking that removes all of Satan’s organization—has come with a vengeance!
“Fall Over Us and Hide Us”
26. How will humans who oppose God’s sovereignty act in their terror, and what expression of horror will they utter?
26 John’s words continue: “And the kings of the earth and the top-ranking ones and the military commanders and the rich and the strong ones and every slave and every free person hid themselves in the caves and in the rock-masses of the mountains. And they keep saying to the mountains and to the rock-masses: ‘Fall over us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’”—Revelation 6:15-17.
27. What cries were uttered by the unfaithful Israelites of Samaria, and how were those words fulfilled?
27 When Hosea was pronouncing Jehovah’s judgment on Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, he said: “The high places of Beth-aven, the sin of Israel, will actually be annihilated. Thorns and thistles themselves will come up upon their altars. And people will in fact say to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’ and to the hills, ‘Fall over us!’” (Hosea 10:8) How were these words fulfilled? Well, when Samaria fell to the cruel Assyrians in 740 B.C.E., there was nowhere for the Israelites to run. The words of Hosea express the feeling of helplessness, abject terror, and abandonment that the conquered people felt. Neither the literal hills nor the mountainlike institutions of Samaria could protect them, even though they had seemed so permanent in the past.
28. (a) What warning did Jesus give the women of Jerusalem? (b) How was Jesus’ warning fulfilled?
28 Similarly, when Jesus was being led to his death by the Roman soldiers, he addressed the women of Jerusalem and said: “Days are coming in which people will say, ‘Happy are the barren women, and the wombs that did not give birth and the breasts that did not nurse!’ Then they will start to say to the mountains, ‘Fall over us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us over!’” (Luke 23:29, 30) The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E. is well documented, and it is evident that Jesus’ words had an import similar to that of Hosea’s. There was no hiding place then for the Jews who remained in Judaea. Wherever they tried to hide in Jerusalem, or even when they fled to the mountaintop citadel of Masada, they were unable to escape the violent expression of Jehovah’s judgment.
29. (a) When Jehovah’s day of wrath comes, what will be the plight of those committed to supporting this system of things? (b) What prophecy of Jesus will be fulfilled when Jehovah expresses His wrath?
29 Now, the opening of the sixth seal has shown that something similar will happen during the coming day of Jehovah’s wrath. At the final shaking of this earthly system of things, those committed to supporting it will desperately seek for a hiding place, but they will not find one. False religion, Babylon the Great, has already failed them miserably. Neither caves in the literal mountains nor symbolic mountainlike political and commercial organizations will provide financial security or any other kind of help. Nothing will shelter them from Jehovah’s wrath. Their terror is well described by Jesus: “Then the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”—Matthew 24:30.
30. (a) What is implied by the question: “Who is able to stand?” (b) Will any be able to stand at the time of Jehovah’s judgment?
30 Yes, those who have refused to recognize the authority of the victorious Rider of the white horse will be forced to admit their error. Humans who have willingly been part of the seed of the serpent will be faced with destruction when Satan’s world passes away. (Genesis 3:15; 1 John 2:17) The world situation at that time will be such that many will, in effect, ask: “Who is able to stand?” They will apparently assume that no one at all can stand approved before Jehovah in that day of his judgment. But they will be wrong, as the book of Revelation goes on to show.
Literal earthquakes are often preceded by seismic disturbances that cause dogs to bark or act skittishly and excite other animals and fish, though humans may be unsuspecting until the actual quake strikes.—See Awake!, July 8, 1982, page 14.
For a detailed explanation, see pages 22, 24.
For more than 35 years, from 1895 to 1931, the words of Luke 21:25, 28, 31 were quoted on the cover of the Watchtower magazine against the backdrop of a lighthouse illuminating stormy skies over raging seas.
For example, in a special campaign in 1931, Jehovah’s Witnesses personally delivered many thousands of the booklet The Kingdom, the Hope of the World to clergymen, politicians, and businessmen throughout the earth.
In a similar use of the word “heavens,” the prophecy of the “new heavens” in Isaiah 65:17, 18 had its first fulfillment in the new governmental system, involving Governor Zerubbabel and High Priest Jeshua, that was established in the Promised Land after the return of the Jews from Babylonian exile.—2 Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 5:1, 2; Isaiah 44:28.
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“It was in B.C. 606, that God’s kingdom ended, the diadem was removed, and all the earth given up to the Gentiles. 2520 years from B.C. 606, will end in A.D. 1914.”*—The Three Worlds, published in 1877, page 83.
“The Bible evidence is clear and strong that the ‘Times of the Gentiles’ is a period of 2520 years, from the year B.C. 606 to and including A.D. 1914.”—Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 2, written by C. T. Russell and published in 1889, page 79.
Charles Taze Russell and his fellow Bible students realized decades earlier that 1914 would mark the end of the Gentile Times, or the appointed times of the nations. (Luke 21:24) While they did not in those early days fully understand what this would mean, they were convinced that 1914 was going to be a pivotal date in world history, and they were right. Notice the following newspaper quotation:
“The terrific war outbreak in Europe has fulfilled an extraordinary prophecy. For a quarter of a century past, through preachers and through press, the ‘International Bible Students,’ best known as ‘Millennial Dawners,’ have been proclaiming to the world that the Day of Wrath prophesied in the Bible would dawn in 1914. ‘Look out for 1914!’ has been the cry of the hundreds of traveling evangelists.”—The World, a New York newspaper, August 30, 1914.
Providentially, those Bible Students had not realized that there is no zero year between “B.C.” and “A.D.” Later, when research made it necessary to adjust B.C. 606 to 607 B.C.E., the zero year was also eliminated, so that the prediction held good at “A.D. 1914.”—See “The Truth Shall Make You Free,” published by Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1943, page 239.
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1914—A Turning Point
The work Politikens Verdenshistorie—Historiens Magt og Mening (Politiken’s World History—The Power and Meaning of History), published in 1987 in Copenhagen, makes the following observation on page 40:
“The 19th century’s faith in progress received its fatal blow in 1914. The year before the outbreak of war, Danish historian and politician Peter Munch wrote optimistically: ‘All evidence is against the probability of a war between the great European powers. “The danger of war” will also disappear in future, as it has done time after time since 1871.’
“In contrast, we read in his later memoirs: ‘The outbreak of the war in 1914 is the great turning point of the history of humanity. From a bright epoch of progress, where pursuits could be followed in reasonable security, we entered an age of disaster, horror, and hatred, with insecurity everywhere. No one could tell, and even today no one can tell, whether the darkness that fell upon us at that time will mean the permanent destruction of the entire cultural structure that man has created for himself over millenniums.’”
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‘Every mountain removed from its place’
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They hid themselves in the caves