And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Matthew 24:7b-8

In my last blog entry, we considered the increase in wars and earthquakes in our days.  These alone give significant credence to the possibility of us living in “the last days”.  But there was a glaring absence in the last post.  Did you notice?  Any readers that have followed this blog and my research for more than one or two entries may have noticed something lacking.  Where, they may be asking, is the original language study?  And how about first mentions?  These are good questions!  And any good question deserves a good answer.

Let’s examine the word that our Lord used when referring to earthquakes.  In almost all of my past entries, I have explored Hebrew words.  But in this case, we are referring to the New Testament, which was written in Greek.  So the word used used for “earthquakes” in our passage under study is σεισμός (seismos).  My reader has probably heard many derivatives of this word before.  From seismos we get the words seismic, seismographs and seismologists.  These words all relate to the study of earthquakes.  That makes perfect sense based on our passage: “And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.”  However; it might greatly surprise my reader that seismos does NOT mean earthquake!  Instead, it means “a commotion” or “a shaking”.  But does that matter?  Absolutely.  Because the word can mean something totally different when taken in context!  For example, let’s examine the first mention of σεισμός in the New Testament:

Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”

But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
Matthew 8:23-27, NKJV

Do you see it?  The word earthquake?  Do you see anything that resembles an earthquake in this passage?  Most of my readers will likely be quite curious at this point.  If there’s no mention of earthquake, then where is the seismos?  Let’s answer that question:

Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest (σεισμός) arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”

Matthew 8:23-25, NKJV 

Do you see it now?  In this first mention, seismos is describing not an earthquake, but a tempest – a gale or storm!  This simple fact adds great depth to the passage under study.  Jesus was not only describing geological disturbances, but He was also speaking of the weather!  So now, another question arises – have we seen a significant increase in the number and intensity of “weather disturbances” – of storms? 

It is almost inconceivable that any of my readers have missed the great outcry around the world regarding “climate change”.  It has become a major discussion in all realms of global politics, and has even made its way to the Vatican and the Catholic church as a focus of interest to the Pontiff himself.  Why is this?  While there are many theories regarding the political nature of the topic and the causes, there is almost no debate regarding the reality of climate change.  And with climate change we have seen a global increase in both the number and the severity of storms. 

Like earthquakes, there are many publicly available databases regarding significant weather and trends in weather patterns.  Unfortunately, unlike the earthquake databases, for appropriate reasons, there have been significant changes in the historical capture of storm data.  So estimates have been made regarding missed storms.  This clouds our knowledge of historical data.  That said, I have included one example of a historical graph (this one captures Atlantic storms). 

Atlantic tropical storm counts adjusted for likely missing storms. Once an estimate for likely missing storms is accounted for the increase in tropical storms in the Atlantic since the late-19th Century is not distinguishable from no change. Figure adapted from Vecchi and Knutson (2008, J. Climate)  https://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/historical-atlantic-hurricane-and-tropical-storm-records/

This graph shows that, while the recent trend (since 1980) seems to be significantly on the rise the long term perspective is not nearly as significant.  This seems strange in this day of “climate crisis,” but clearly, this is not the first era in which our climate has changed.  So it would not be accurate to say that storms are really on the increase.  However; what is definitely true is that our awareness of storms has significantly increased! As an interesting side note, the book of Daniel gives us amazing insights to the end of days as well.  And in the 12th chapter, Daniel is given the following instruction:

“But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”
Daniel 12:4, NKJV    

This is just a tiny passage with huge meaning.  If there is anything that characterizes the era in which we live, it is this – knowledge has increased exponentially, and people move “to and fro” around the world more quickly and easily than at any time in recorded history! 

Returning to the topic of this entry, while we cannot say that there have been an increase in storms, we can definitively say that there have been many storms (seismos) in various places.  But this is not the end of our discussion of seismos…

As mentioned earlier, seismos actually means a “shaking”.  Could there be such a thing as a personal shaking?  A personal seismos?  Perhaps my reader has heard the following: “I was quite shaken!”  This is, indeed a seismos.  Does this meaning have any biblical basis?  Well, to answer that, we must delve into the history of our ancient scriptures.

Our Christian Bible has had an interesting history.  It is currently tied to the Hebrew Tanakh (The Hebrew canonical scriptures which make up the Christian Old Testament), and the New Testament, which consists of the accounts of the Gospels, the Epistles, the History (Acts of the Apostles) and Prophecy (Revelation).  But most of my readers likely do not realize that it was not always this way. 

The Tanakh has been the formal Jewish Canon since at least AD 90.  It includes all 39 books of the books that make up the Christian Old Testament (albeit organized differently and in a different order).  However, it is not completely clear when the canonization (standardization of the books accepted as divinely inspired) occurred.  But why does this matter? 

Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, Daniel was living and writing his book of prophecy in the land of Babylon.  His vision based prophecies includes an amazingly accurate pre-history of the Medo-Persians, Greeks and early Roman dynasties.  His account of Greek pre-history includes the analogy of a goat running fast enough to appear to be flying out of the west.  This fearless unconquerable goat had its fulfillment in Alexander the Great. 

When Alexander made his successful campaign through the known world, he had every reason (and desire) to completely annihilate the Jewish people, thus wiping out God’s elect.  This was due to the Jewish High Priest, Jaddua, honoring his commitment as an ally to Darius the Mede (Alexander’s enemy) rather than joining forces with Alexander.  However, God had other plans.  Through an amazing miraculous intervention, Alexander befriended the Jews as a most favored ally!  This amazing story can be found in Josephus’ The Antiquities of the Jews 11.8.  Though this is an exciting piece of history, what does it have to do with the canonization of the Jewish scriptures?  Everything!  You see, when Alexander died, his affinity for the Jewish people was carried forward through one of his successors, Ptolemy I, who became ruler of Egypt.  Ptolemy then passed that affinity to his son, Ptolemy II.  Ptolemy II was quite a scholar, and as such, desired to have a copy of the Jewish Law in the library that he built – the famed Library of Alexandria. 

Ptolemy brought seventy two scribes of the Law from Jerusalem to Alexandria and commissioned them to translate the Law into Greek.  Tradition says that it took exactly 72 days for these 72 scribes to complete the work.  As such, this Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures was called the Septuagint, which means “Seventy”.  It is sometimes written in the Roman numeral mode as LXX.  So what was the ultimate value of the Septuagint? 

At that time, Greek was the language of commerce.  It was the “universal” language of its day.  And God used this transcription to reach out to the nations of the earth!  In fact, this same Septuagint was the translation of the Hebrew scriptures that was commonly used in the earthly days of our Lord Jesus!  Much of the New Testament actually quotes directly from the Septuagint when it refers to the Old Testament!  So why is this significant?

It is significant because the Septuagint actually contains some books that do not appear in the Tanakh (and thereby do not appear in most of our versions of the Bible).  It includes what are called the apocryphal books.  And some of these apocryphal books were read and quoted by our Lord Jesus and by His disciples.  Why does the current Hebrew canon not include them?  That is up for significant debate, but the truth is that we simply do not know.   Are they divinely inspired?  I will not personally comment on this.  But the Catholic church chose to include them in their version of the Bible for this reason – if the Septuagint was good for Jesus and the early church (especially the Hellenistic Jews and believers), then it’s good enough for us.  I appreciate this thought process, and as such, if they were used by my Lord, then I think it makes sense to for us to at least understand what is in these books.  So, finally, back to the question that spawned this historical interlude: “Does the personal meaning of “shaken” have any biblical basis?  Let’s answer that by looking at one mention of seismos in the Septuagint:

O thou mother, who together with seven children didst destroy the violence of the tyrant, and render void his wicked intentions, and exhibit the nobleness of faith!

For thou, as an house bravely built upon the pillar of thy children, didst bear without swaying, the shock of tortures.

4 Maccabees 17:2,3

Do you see it?  Possibly not.  Let’s examine the context of this verse.  The books of Maccabees (there are 4 in all) relate the story of how the Jewish people overcame one of the most evil rulers in their history.  We have already mentioned Ptolemy I, one of the four successors of Alexander.  Ptolemy ruled Egypt.  Another of the four successors was Seleucus, the patriarch of the Seleucid dynasty.  Seleucus ruled the lands of Babylon, Persia and Media.  Antiochus Epiphanes was the eighth ruler (gaining the throne through treachery and murder) of the Seleucid dynasty. 

Antiochus ultimately invaded and captured the land of Israel.  He hated the Jews and the Jewish Law and religion.  And as the newly occupying king, he made it his goal to eradicate the Jewish religion and force them to accept the Greek traditions including complete moral depravity.  Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Jewish Temple by sacrificing pigs on the altar of incense and sprinkling pig blood throughout the Temple.  But all of this paled in comparison to his most heinous act of erecting a statue of Zeus on the altar of sacrifice.  (Note that this was a precursor, or prototype, to Jesus’ warning regarding the “abomination which causes desolation” later in Matthew 24.)  It was ultimately these actions that caused the Jews (under Judas Maccabeus, a guerrilla warrior) to overthrow Antiochus and regain control of Jerusalem and the land of Israel.  This situation is the origin of the wonderful Jewish holiday Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.

The 4th book of Maccabees is a treatise on the superiority of reason as a virtue.  Its author uses a story from the evil exploits of Antiochus Epiphanes to make the point that divine reason conquers both passions and pain.  This story describes Antiochus’ brutal torture and murder of nine Jews in order to get them to renounce their law and eat pork (forbidden in the Jewish Law).  The first Jew tortured was an old teacher of the Law.  He gallantly and successfully withstood the torture to the point of death without giving in to the command to eat the unclean food.

Next, Antiochus went after seven brothers from the oldest to the smallest, apparently a young boy.  Each one, in turn, withstood the torture and died as a martyr, upholding the Law.  Finally, the malevolent Antiochus intended to torture the mother.  However; she apparently threw herself into the fire to maintain her integrity so that the heathen warriors could not touch her.  And so, now with the context, we once more read the passage:

O thou mother, who together with seven children didst destroy the violence of the tyrant, and render void his wicked intentions, and exhibit the nobleness of faith!

For thou, as an house bravely built upon the pillar of thy children, didst bear without swaying, the shock (shaking – σεισμόν) of tortures.

4 Maccabees 17:3

And here, again is our word – seismos.  So now we see that seismos does indeed have a personal meaning, and that meaning has its ultimate fulfillment in the martyrdom of the righteous.  Which brings us to our final thoughts regarding the passage under study. 

And there will be famines, pestilences, and σεισμός (seismos) in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Matthew 24:7b-8

We have seen that seismos can mean earthquakes.  And there has been a tremendous increase in earthquakes over the last hundred years, and especially in the recent decades.  We have seen that seismos can mean storms or gales.  And while the data does not bear out an increase in numbers in the long term, we certainly have been inundated with disastrous storms worldwide in the last few years.  And finally, seismos can mean a personal shaking that, in the Septuagint is typified by torture and martyrdom.  Do we have evidence of martyrdom of Christians on the rise?

Gaining accurate data for Christian persecution and martyrdom is very difficult, as the numbers are often hidden, and rules of counting are not standard from source to source.  That said, according to Open Doors’ World Watch February 2020 annual report, 260 million Christians were experiencing high levels of persecution in the top 50 hostile countries.  This was a 6% increase over 2019.  Roughly 9500 church buildings had been attacked, almost 3000 Christians had been martyred, and over 3,700 had been imprisoned for their faith, all during the past year.  A study released just this month by the Pew Research Center shows that, though martyrdom may be steady to down over recent years, Christians were persecuted in a record high 145 countries in 2018.  There is no doubt that religious people, especially Christian, are being shaken all over the world.

So, then, where does that leave us?  We have been discussing Jesus’ discourse regarding end-time events.  We’ve spent the past two entries talking about just the following passage:

And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes (seismos – “shaking”) in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Matthew 24:7b-8

Have we seen famines in various places?  Yes.  Have we seen pestilences?  Covid is an indication of a “yes” to this as well!  How about seismos?  Yes – in all forms: earthquakes, storms and persecution.  And to what end?  Well, Jesus answered this question – these are the beginnings of sorrows. 

If we ended here, it would be appropriate for despair to set in.  And, in fact, that is precisely what’s happening in many areas of the country and the world.  People are indeed despairing, to the point of depression and suicide.  But this is not our Lord’s plan.  And it should not be the way of the Christian.  Why?  Because of one word – hope.  Why did the Lord tell us of these last-day occurrences?  He did so not to scare us, but to have us watch, pray, and prepare for them.  But this was not meant to be the end of the story.  In fact, it’s because of the end of the story that we have the “blessed hope” that supplants despair! You see, Jesus warned us of the things to come so that we can be prepared to minister to others in these times.  Let’s examine a couple of passages that bear witness to this.  We will start with Paul’s letter to the young Titus, a man working on behalf of Paul (and the Lord) in the city of Crete:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
Titus 2:11-14

Do you see our blessed hope?  It is none other than the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ – and His redemption of us!  In fact, Jesus Himself gave us these same sentiments in the Gospel of Luke – Luke’s account of this discourse.  We find the story in Luke 21, where Jesus says this:

Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”
Luke 21:28

So, my friends, we can take great comfort in the fact that our Lord is coming, and our redemption is drawing near!  And I am constantly reminding myself of this in this current age.  But this is not the only reason that the Lord is preparing us for these things!  Let’s examine another passage, this time from the first letter of Peter:   

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 1:3-5

Here again, we see the hope of the resurrected Christ, leading to our inheritance of incorruptible and eternal life.  To be revealed when?  In the last time. But there is more…  Peter continues this passage with the following:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:6-9

You see, the Lord gave us the signs of the end times in order to prepare us – and ultimately to prove out our faith, both to His glory, and to minister to others.  He alluded to this in His parable regarding the faithful servant.  We can read this parable in Luke chapter 12:

“Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Luke 12:35-40

We need to be watching, my friends!  But why should we be watching?  What will the Master be looking for?  Jesus answers this in the passage immediately following…

And the Lord said, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.
Luke 12:42-48

You see, we must not only watch, but minister until He comes!  Will we go through difficult times (times of sorrow)?  Very likely.  If you do not, consider yourself greatly blessed!  And if you do, for Jesus’ name?   Consider yourself greatly blessed to be counted worthy to suffer for His name!  This is not an earthly wisdom, my friends.  This wisdom comes from above – from the Master of all, and the Father and Redeemer of the blessed elect.  My friends, think on these things.  Recognize the absolute sovereignty of the Lord of Lords, King of Kings and only true God.  Take comfort in that sovereignty, and open yourselves to the works that He has for you to do during these perilous times.  And in all, study the Word to find yourself ready and worthy upon His return!  Selah!

May God richly bless you in your continued study of His Word!  Until next time,



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