Context: Matthew 27:45-55
The earth did quake; not only mount Calvary where Christ was crucified, but the whole land, and I assume this to also include the adjacent countries.
This earthquake signified two things.
(1.) The horrible wickedness of Christ’s crucifiers. The earth, by trembling under such a load, bore its testimony to the innocence of Jesus Christ, and against the wickedness of those that persecuted him. Never did the whole creation groan in such way.
(2.) The glorious achievements of Christ’s cross. This earthquake signified the mighty shock to the devil’s kingdom. So vigorous was the assault Christ now made upon the powers of darkness that the earth trembled.
The rocks split; the hardest and firmest part of the earth was made to feel this mighty shock. Christ had said, that if the children should cease to cry Hosanna, the stones would immediately cry out; and now, in effect, they did so, proclaiming the glory of the suffering Jesus, and themselves more sensible of the wrong done Him.
Henry: When we celebrate the memorial of Christ’s death, our hard and rocky hearts must tear open—The heart is harder than a rock in that it will not yield, that it will not melt.
The graves were opened. The same earthquake that ripped the rocks, opened the graves.
The centurion and those with him may have heard the exchanges between Pilate and Jesus; they certainly witnessed the taunts hurled upon the Lord. The earthquake convinced them that Jesus was indeed the [a] Son of God. This confession of faith came from a Gentile. The centurion said, “Truly this was [a] son of God.” God not only opened the eyes of true worshippers of God to perceive that from heaven He was magnifying the glory of Christ, but a natural understanding compelled foreigners, and even soldiers, to confess Christ’s greatness. Although they may not have understood fully the phrase they used (16:16; Mark 15:39 and notes), the soldiers made an appropriate confession while the natural heirs of the covenant (the Jews) were mocking their Messiah.
Purpose: The earthquake glorified Christ. It converted sinners by filling them with awe.
Context: Matthew 28:1-15
Who were the first witnesses of the resurrection? Among the first witnesses to the resurrection were unbelievers.
Here we have an account of the resurrection of Christ:
There was a great earthquake. When he died, the earth shook for fear; now that he arose, the earth leaped for joy. The earth testified to Christ’s victory! It was a sampling of the shake that will be given to the earth at the general resurrection, when mountains and islands shall be removed, that the earth may no longer cover the dead. The kingdom of Christ made the earth quake, and terribly shook it.
Why was it necessary to roll back the stone? To let Jesus out? The tomb was not opened to permit Christ to come out, but to allow others in so they could see that it was empty.
Purpose: To announce the resurrection of Jesus Christ
Context: Matthew 23:37-24:13
Jesus foretells of future judgments —famines, pestilences, and earthquakes.
There will be Earthquakes in various places, or from place to place, pursuing those that flee from them, as people did from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah [i]. Great misery has often been caused by earthquakes, recently and of the past; they have been the terror and death of many.
The Olivet Discourse combines the destruction of Jerusalem and the judgment of the world in such a way that it is difficult to separate the references to the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem and the Second Coming.
Purpose: They are the beginning of birth pains
Application: Believers are to “see to it” that they are not troubled by these calamities. You can expect worse things to happen.
Context: Acts 16:16-31
There was a great earthquake; how far it extended we are not told, but it was such a violent shock in this place that the very foundations of the prison were shaken. While the prisoners, Paul and Silas, were singing midnight devotions, and perhaps the guards and fellow inmates were laughing at them and mocking of them. This earthquake would strike a terror upon them all. It convinced one guard that the men were the favorites of Heaven, and were thus men of God.
Here the prison shaken. The Lord sent this earthquake to show His resentment of the indignities done to His people. The prison-doors were thrown open, and the prisoners’ shackles feel off their arms and legs.
Calvin: The Lord, in showing this visible sign, meant chiefly to provide for his servants. That they might know that their prayers were heard.
He could have loosed the shackles of Paul and Silas without an earthquake, and also have opened the gates. But that earthquake served to confirm them as God’s men. Again, it was requisite that the keeper of the prison and the rest should feel the presence of God, lest they should think that the earthquake came by chance.
Purpose: The Lord sent this earthquake to show His anger of the harm done to His people.
Context: Mark 13: 1-8
Think not that these earthquakes will bring the world to an end. There are other intermediate calamities to be fulfilled before the end of all things. These earthquakes and disasters and wars are designed to prepare you for the end, but it is not the end. Bad as things are, let them not be looked upon as if in them God has done his worst; no, he has more arrows in his quiver, and they are ordained against the persecutors. Do not troubled at the earthquakes you shall hear of, for they are but the beginnings of sorrows, and therefore, instead of being disturbed at them, you ought to prepare for worse things; for there shall also be earthquakes in divers places, which shall bury multitudes in the ruins of their own houses, and there shall be famines, by which many of the poor shall perish for want of food, and other troubles and commotions.
The world shall be full of troubles, but believers should not be troubled or shaken. Note: Christians, if it is not a fault of their own, may enjoy a holy security and serenity of mind, when all about them is in the greatest disorder.
Context: Luke 21:5-13
The disciples and we, too, must expect to hear of great commotions and tragedies and calamities in the nations. Many terrible judgments will be inflicted upon the earth.
There shall be earthquakes, great earthquakes, in various places, which shall not only frighten people, but destroy towns and houses, and bury many in the ruins of them.
Purpose: Earthquakes can become an opportunity for our testimony.
Application: When we hear of these things, we should not be terrified.
Hebrews 12:26 – A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken
Context: Hebrews 12:18-29
God’s voice shook the earth when He published His law, but now, by introducing the gospel, he shook not only the earth, but the heavens,—not only shaken the hills and mountains, or the spirits of men, or the civil state of the land of Canaan, to make room for his people. He not has only shaken the world, as he then did, but he had shaken the Jewish nation.
Calvin: The Prophet foretells a future shaking of the earth and the heaven, the Apostle borrows the idea of a shaking in order to teach us that the voice of the Gospel not only thunders through the earth, but also penetrates above the heavens.
Purpose: Our God is a consuming fire. Let us offer God our worship with reverence and awe.
Application: We should be grateful that for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
Context: Revelation 6:1-17
The tremendous events that occur in the last days occur swiftly, and they are very dreadful.
In the apocalyptic visions, earthquakes bring good, and no evil, to the people of God.
When God shakes the earth [ii] in these circumstances it is to shake the wicked out of it [iii]. Here earthquakes are spoken of as dreadful judgments, and yet but the beginning of sorrows — of travailing pain. They come without warning, and are quick and violent.
The dread and terror will terrify all sorts of men in that great and awful day. No authority, nor grandeur, nor riches, nor valor, nor strength, will be able to support them.
Observe: (1.) The degree of their terror and astonishment: it will make them desperate men, call to the mountains to fall upon them, and to the hills to cover them. They seek to be unseen and hidden from God. (2.) The cause of their terror, namely, the anger of Him that sits on the throne, and the wrath of the Lamb.
Also note, Though God be invisible, he can make the inhabitants of this world aware of His anger. [3.] Though Christ be a gentle lamb, yet He can be angry, and the wrath of the Lamb is exceedingly dreadful; for if the Redeemer, that appeases the wrath of God, Himself be our enemy, where shall we have a friend to plead for us? [4.] As men have their day of opportunity to repent, and their seasons of grace, so God has His day of righteous wrath; and, when that day comes, the most sturdy men will not be able to stand before Him.
All these terrors actually fell upon the sinners in Judea and Jerusalem in the day of their destruction, and they will all, in the utmost degree, fall upon impenitent sinners, at the general judgment of the last day.
Context: Revelation 11:1-13
The ascension of the witnesses into heaven.
Johnson [iv]: The witnesses mentioned here are called from the earth to heaven by God Himself; their enemies observing this the entire time. Their ascension is accompanied by an earthquake. Those enemies who survive the earthquake, having seen the witness’ ascension into heaven are filled with fear, and by doing so give glory to God.
This great earthquake of judgment will compel fear-filled praise even from the enemies of God.
Apocalyptic literature sometimes compresses vast historical eons into periods that pass like the twinkling of an eye. A split-second of time may be expanded in visionary description and simultaneous climatic events presented in successive order to help hearers see the different facets of Christ’s victory.
Context: Revelation 11:14-19
Johnson: The Lord descended on Mount Sinai to deliver His law to Moses in the midst of a storm-cloud, quaking of the earth, trumpet blasts full of flashing lightning and the roar of thunder. Here, again, the ark of His covenant is in full view. Lighting, thunder, and other awe-producing sights and sounds have accompanied John’s vision of God in His heavenly court.
[i] Zechariah 14:5
[ii] Isaiah 2:21
[iii] Job 38:13
[iv] Dennis Johnson is professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California. Quotes for this article are from his book, TRIUMPH OF THE LAMB.