Rev. 11:13 — At that moment a violent earthquake took place, a tenth of the city fell, and 7,000 people were killed in the earthquake. The survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. (HCSB)
A violent earthquake took place
Some commentators urge us to take this passage literally, as a geological event that claims 7,000 lives and causes destruction to one-tenth of Jerusalem. Other interpreters ask us to see this earthquake symbolically. For example, we may see it as the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, where the Lord is taking His “tithe” of the great city and warning His people of further judgment to come in the last days. Or, we may see it as a reference to the political upheaval that shakes Europe after the Reformation; the one-tenth of the city means a fraction of Rome’s power has been lost, and the phrase “7,000 people” refers to seven provinces that break away from Rome. Or, we may view this as God’s righteous destruction of the impenitent (seven being the number of God and 1,000 implying a great number), or of the persecution of the saints. Or, we may understand it as a symbolic representation of alarming events that will occur on the eve of final judgment.
Earthquakes play a key role in Revelation. There is a violent earthquake at the opening of the sixth seal (Rev. 6:12). There is another one here in Rev. 11:13. And there is a “severe earthquake … like no other since man has been upon the earth” at the pouring out of the seventh bowl in Rev. 16:18. The Greek word translated “earthquake” literally means “shaking” and is used to describe a tempest at sea (Matt. 8:24) and the shaking of celestial powers in the last days (Matt. 24:29). There are times when scripture records literal earthquakes (1 Kings 19:11; Amos 1:1; Zech. 14:5; and Matt. 27:51, for example), but many times the references may be taken symbolically, and perhaps that’s the case in this passage.
Regardless of whether John sees a geological event in Jerusalem or something symbolic of political, religious or cosmic proportions, this “shaking” of the earth has a profound impact on people and elicits in them a response to the God who is over all things.
Next: The survivors gave glory to the God of heaven — Rev. 11:13-14