In the first part of this series, we had a look at some of the signs of the second coming of Jesus Christ. We saw that throughout the centuries, many of the signs have been perfectly fulfilled. We looked at the fulfillment of the destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem. We addressed the terrible natural disasters and diseases that were foretold to take place in our day. And finally, we covered the time of great tribulation. Today I would like to look into a detail added by the apostle John in the book of Revelation.
“And I beheld when he had opened the six seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.“Revelation 6:12, 13
John begins the sequence of events with a great earthquake. When we look back into the scope of time, do we see such an earthquake? We do, and it was not only extraordinarily destructive but also affected future generations to come. The great Lisbon earthquake in 1755 went into history as one of biblical proportions. Not only was it severe and felt all over the planet, but it also had a significant impact on philosophy, science, and the economy.
In the 18th century, Lisbon was one of the largest and most significant cities in Europe. Gold coming from Brazil allowed King John V to sponsor magnificent buildings and churches. Lisbon was flourishing and growing. It was also an important port and played a large part in the world economy of the day. When this city fell, it would have a significant impact on the European economy and the lives of those living in this great city.
It all happened on November 1, 1755. It was all saints day, and many were gathered at the churches in the city. None knew the destructive event that was about to take place. At 9:40 am, an earthquake with a magnitude between 8.0 and 9.0 struck. For 3 to 6 minutes, the city would be shaken, causing fissures 5 meters wide to open up in the city center. Most of the magnificent churches crumbled down upon the thousands inside. Many ran down to the open spaces by the sea to escape falling debris. Only 40 minutes later, a tsunami engulfed the harbor and rushed up the Tagus river. If all this wasn’t enough, a fire broke out in the city due to the thousands of candles lit to celebrate all saints day. This fire was so hot it became a firestorm and did more damage than even the earthquake itself. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 60,000 were killed during this event in Lisbon alone. This earthquake was also felt as far away as Finland, North Africa, Greenland, and the Caribbean. The resulting tsunami swept the shores of North Africa, Ireland, and the southern English coast.
In the 18th century, it was widely accepted that natural disasters were the judgments of God upon sinners. This, however, created a problem. Most of the destruction was upon the churches, and most of those killed were Christians. The brothels, on the other hand, were spared, and many of the prisoners were released during the destruction. Voltaire, a prominent philosopher of the day, retaliated against this line of thinking. In his poem “Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne,” Voltaire challenged the thought that a loving God would bring such destruction upon mankind. Voltaire was a deist and played an important role in the age of enlightenment. Many began to adopt this line of thinking; this largely influenced the French revolution as well as fuelled the growth of atheism.
Sebastião de Melo, the prime minister of Portugal during the time of the Lisbon earthquake, survived the devastating event. He began to ask questions on why these earthquakes happen and what would cause such destruction to unleash. This was the first earthquake in recorded history to be studied to this degree and therefore was the birth of modern seismology. The Pombaline style of architecture was also adopted and began the move to create seismic proof structures. These marked shifts have influenced the world today and added to the significance of this great earthquake.
Today, the cause of earthquakes is known. We now know much more about tectonic plate movements and how the hot magma flows below the surface affect the earth. Yet with all this knowledge, we cannot stop them from happening or even predict precisely when they will come. Because of the shift that took place in the 18th century, most now would not believe that such destruction comes from God. Today the theory of evolution has taken front stage and is widely accepted. This has led many to deny the existence of God, and even many Christians are adopting theistic evolution.
Now is when we need to look to the word of God. We must stand on the Bible and the Bible alone. In the book of Genesis, the Bible speaks of a literal seven-day creation of the earth. David tells us, “For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.” Psalms 33:9. Can not the same God that spoke the world into existence use the storehouses of power we see in nature? Why would God even want to use such a powerful force upon mankind? Was there a reason the churches received so much damage during this event?
For many centuries the Roman Catholic Church martyred millions of Christians who only wanted to follow the dictates of their conscience. This period in earth’s history is known as the dark ages. Although the 18th century was the age of enlightenment, the power of the church over consciences had not yet been completely broken. To counter the protestant reformation, the church had instituted inquisitions in many countries. One of the main stages for the Portuguese Inquisition was in Lisbon. The grand inquisitor condemned many in this great city, and many were burned at the stake for not conforming to the church’s wishes. God never forces the conscience, and it displeases Him to see men do this.
God chose the Jewish nation to be the expositors of His law. When Israel fell short of fulfilling this role, He instituted the Christian church. In the days of Israel, prophets were raised to correct His people. When all these measures failed, and the prophets were persecuted and killed, God would send judgments to awake His people and save the remnant He had remaining within. Just as Israel departed from the will of God, so did the Christian church during the dark ages. God raised up reformers just as he once had raised up the prophets. Sadly the Christian church disregarded these warnings and martyred these men of God. God had to use judgments to get the attention of His people. You know what? God deals the same with His church today.
Friends, God is trying to get our attention. He is doing all he can to save us and wake us up from our slumber. The signs we see fulfilled in history, as well as the ones we see today, are waymarks. They show us how close we are to our destination. The second coming of Jesus is nothing to be feared. If we are hidden in Christ, he will carry us through every event and give us peace through every trial. The plan of salvation is a rescue mission, and the second coming is our deliverance. As we continue through this series and see how near we are to this wondrous event, we may become excited, for soon we will meet our Lord!
As you can see, this event in earth’s history was a significant one that largely shaped the world we see today. It could not have more perfectly fulfilled the sign spoken of by the apostle John. But this was only a small part of the prophecy given in that verse. What about the signs in the sun, moon, and stars? We will address these events in the next issue. I hope this article has helped strengthen your faith in the prophecies of God as much as it has for me.
Written by Cory Lamming