The Olivet Discourse – Earthquakes and Famine


We have now dealt with the first two warning signs of the coming holocaust that would strike Jerusalem, the Judean area and especially the Temple. The first two – False Christs and Wars and Rumors of War – were seen to be easily recognizable in the first century. We saw that there was no need to jump thousands of years into the future and place those signs in our present or future generations. Remember again that the time text of “this generation” is a determinative factor into when we should look for these signs to have occurred.

We now turn our attention to the signs of earthquakes and famine. We will also consider the parallel passage in Luke in which he discusses pestilence. In should be noted here that in Luke’s passage he mentioned “cosmic disturbances,” but since that is a section unto itself in the Matthew passage we will save that topic for a future post.

Matt 24:7 there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.


So, like in every section of this discussion we will ask the question as to whether these warnings found their fulfillment within the scope of  “this generation.” Since Jesus’ timing declaration must be our guideline we must do justice to the totality of the passage and discover the truth claims of the Christ. Also like previously discussed, we will be looking at both internal and external evidence to make our claim.

Now before discussing the historical accounts of earthquakes in various regions it should be noted how the eastern mind understood earthquakes. Earthquakes were considered, in actuality, an “act of God.” This is seen in both Biblical and secular writings. They were sudden, unexpected and had no warning signs unto themselves. They were considered the work of a god and, in fact, the Old Testament describes the workings and actions of God using the figurative term of an earthquake.

Isaiah 29:6 the LORD Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire.

Psalm 77:18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world;the earth trembled and shook.

Psalm 18: 7 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.

Even in the New testament an earthquake was seen as a sign from God.

Matthew 27:54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

Matthew 28:2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

Revelation 6:12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood,

Revelation 8:5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

Hebrews 12:26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”

So it must be understand that though the warning signs Jesus is discussing should be seen as specific events in actual human history and would be used as obvious, physical warning signs of the soon coming tribulation, the experience of an earthquake was seen as an event that came directly from an action of God. And we do know of one earthquake found in the book of Acts that was directly related to the work of God

Acts 16:26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.

But what of the Judean and Roman area of the time. Can we find evidence of earthquakes in various regions as described by Jesus?

  • Josephus describes an earthquake in Judea in 68AD so great it was believed to have been sent by God, not just a natural event.
  • Tacitus records the events of 51 AD as he “witnessed many prodigies; repeated earthquakes…shortage of corn, resulting in famine…”

Now what do we do with the warning of famine?


Acts 11:28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).

Even the New Testament takes note of a famine that took place in the days of Claudius. History also records a great number of famines in the land during that time.

  • “And famine did oppress them at that time, and many people died…” Josephus
  • This year (51 AD) witnessed many prodigies; repeated earthquakes…shortage of corn, resulting in famine…” Tacitus
  • “As the famine grew worse, the frenzy of the insurgents (Jewish zealots) grew worse.” Josephus
  • “Many secretly bartered their possessions for wheat, or barley if they were poor…” Jospehus (see Rev 6:6)
  • “In a single autumn, 30,000 deaths from plague were registered…” Seutonius
  • “…mothers killed, roasted and ate their own children…” Chilton

Also note that the recording of the siege of Jerusalem by Josephus describes the great famine that came as a result of the Roman armies destruction of the crops in the Judean countryside. The parallel passage in Luke that mentions famines and earthquakes  also records the ugly step sister than always accompanies famine and that is pestilence.

Luke 21:11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences.

It is at this time it would be a good idea to remind ourselves of God’s warning of Covenantal Unfaithfulness and what would happen if the Jews broke Covenant with God. And remember, as mentioned several times previously, no great act of Covenant Unfaithfulness could be recorded than to kill the long awaited Messiah. This act could only be held up against the current generation of Jesus’ time (Matt 23).

So what warning can be found in the Old testament that relate directly to the events described thus far.

Deut. 28:15 “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you…

  • [21] The Lord will make the pestilence stick to you…
  • [22] The Lord will strike you with wasting disease … and drought
  • [33] A nation that you have not known shall eat up the fruit of your ground
  • [42] The cricket shall possess all your trees and the fruit of your ground
  • [53] And you shall eat the fruit of your womb … in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you

There was undoubtedly earthquakes, famine and pestilence throughout the Judean area leading up the siege and coming tribulation they would face. Again, these events promised in the Old testament and predicted by Christ in the New Testament find their fulfillment well within the confines of “this generation”


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