Earthquakes in the New Testament

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Earthquakes in the Bible!
Old Testament Earthquakes
Earthquakes in Bible Prophecy!
What earthquakes are mentioned in the New Testament? How did one adversely affect Herod the Great's kingdom? How are they linked to both Jesus' death and to his resurrection? How was an earthquake miraculously used to free the Apostle Paul from prison?

Herod's Quake

Herod the Great, in 37 B.C., began to rule as Rome's sole King of Judea after he conquered the city of Jerusalem. A few years later, in 31 B.C., a powerful earthquake rocked his kingdom. Although not recorded in the New Testament, the Jewish Historian Josephus does mention this earthquake when he wrote the following.

". . . and then it was also that there was an earthquake in Judea, such a one as had not happened at any other time, and which earthquake brought a great destruction upon the cattle in that country. About ten thousand men also perished by the fall of houses . . ." (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 15, Chapter 5, Section 2).

The quake, with its epicenter in the Jordan Valley (a part of the Dead Sea Transform Fault), is believed to have been a magnitude 7 or higher (Earthquakes in the Levant).

Dead Sea Transform Fault
Dead Sea Transform Faults
(red dashed lines)

Miraculous Mass Resurrection

Jesus, after experiencing six agonizing hours of being crucified, declares the work God gave him to do was finished (John 19:28, 30). He then dies after loudly proclaiming that he was committing his spirit into the hands of his Father (verse 46). Three more momentous events, one of which was a great earthquake, then take place!

Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split. The tombs were also opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And they came out of the tombs after His resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many (Matthew 27:51 - 53, HCSB).

The temple's veil separated its Holy Place from its holiest location called the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was where the Ark of the Covenant existed before it was taken to Babylon. The torn veil symbolized that direct access to God the Father was now available through Christ's perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 4:14 - 16, 9:11 - 12). The earthquake and subsequent resurrection of some Jerusalem saints symbolized Jesus' victory over sin and the penalty of death it brings.

One popular theory states it was immediately after the earthquake broke open the tombs that many Jerusalem saints were brought back to life. They then, as the theory proposes, went into the city after Jesus' resurrection.

Another theory, however, holds that while the earthquake caused righteous tombs to crack open, those in them were not resurrected and went into the city until AFTER Jesus' resurrection. This chronology would allow Christ to be "the firstfruits of the dead" (Acts 26:23, 1Corinthians 15:23, Colossians 1:18) and therefore seems more likely.

Tomb Opening

An earthquake also played a critical role in letting the world know that Jesus had indeed been resurrected back to life!

Now after the Sabbath (the weekly Sabbath that ended sunset Saturday), as the first day of the week began to dawn (sunrise on Sunday), Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.

And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it (Matthew 28:1 - 2, NKJV).

The earthquake and subsequent rolling back of the tomb's stone door took place just prior to the arrival of Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary." Why, many have wondered, was the stone rolled back? It decidedly was NOT to let Jesus out! His resurrection had already taken place the previous day (Saturday), at sunset, precisely three days and nights after he was buried. It was rolled back to let the women, as well as Peter, John and the world, peer inside to see for themselves that Christ was raised from the dead!

"The commotion, or earthquake, accompanied the rolling back of the stone. It was not for him (Jesus) to whom (John 20:19 - 20) the stone was no hindrance, but for the women and disciples that it was rolled away." (Johnson's Notes on the New Testament).

Miraculous Prison Break

Paul and Silas, on Apostle Paul's second missionary journey, are arrested in Philippi for casting a demon out of a woman (Acts 16). They are then beaten and placed in stocks within the bowels of the city's prison. Near midnight, as they sing songs praising God, a miraculous earthquake occurs that so violently shakes the prison that all its doors are suddenly opened!

But about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing praises to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so great that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors opened, and the bonds of all were loosed (Acts 16:25 - 26, HBFV).

The prison guard, after the earthquake, sought to take his own life. Paul stopped him, however, from committing suicide. The thankful and repentant guard, after caring for Paul and Silas' wounds at his house, was baptized and became a Christian (Acts 16:25 - 33).

New Testament Destruction

How are earthquakes related to three churches linked to the Apostle Paul? The apostle, while writing to the church at Colosse, also mentions nearby fellowships located in Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Now I want you to understand what great concern I have for you, and for those in Laodicea . . . For I bear witness to him (Epaphras) that he has much zeal for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for those in Hierapolis . . . After you have read the epistle, see that it also is read in the church of the Laodiceans . . . (Colossians 2:1, 4:13, 16, HBFV).

Paul wrote the book of Colossians from 61 to 63 A.D. Only a few short years later, around 65 to 66 A.D., Colosse, Laodicea and Hierapolis suffered from the same earthquake that destroyed them all!

"Laodicea, a large and opulent city of Asia Minor . . . was situated on the river Lycus . . . and in the vicinity of Colosse and Hierapolis. About 65 or 66 A.D. this city, together with Hierapolis and Colosse, was destroyed by an earthquake . . ." (A Dictionary of the Holy Bible).

"In the latter part of the reign of Nero, and not long after this epistle (Colossians) was written, Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis were at the same time overwhelmed by an earthquake (Pliny, Hist. Nat. Lib. v. c. 41). (Barnes' Notes on the New Testament).

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