The Raleigh area experienced its first earthquake tremor this past Tuesday, and now Raleigh residents are listening to Hurricane Irene’s wind gusts and rain fall outside while dealing with temporary power outages and scanty cell phone coverage. These events prompt residents to ask, “Are these signs of end times?” As discussed in the first installment of this series, natural disasters are included in the list of events that will happen before Christ’s second return. There will be wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, fearful events, and great signs from Heaven (Luke 21:10-11). However, the events the earth has experienced so far pale in comparison to the events that will come at the final judgment.
Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake.
End time prophesies described in Revelation are metaphorical in nature. It could be that imagery was used during the time of the writing of Revelation to describe not only natural disasters but also future technologies that did not yet exist which would result in widespread devastation. For example, Revelation 8:10-11 describes the 3rd trumpet judgment as a blazing star that was given a specific name, Wormwood, which means “bitter”.
10 The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— 11 the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter. (Revelation 8:10-11)
Numerous scholars have suggested that the Chernobyl accident in 1986 in Ukraine alludes to this third trumpet judgment. This nuclear explosion was the combined result of a flawed Soviet reactor design and improperly trained personnel who made serious mistakes. Some suggest that the accident was a “direct consequence of Cold War isolation and the resulting lack of any safety culture” (www.world-nuclear.org).
The connections between Wormwood in Revelation 8 and the Chernobyl accident are fascinating. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company defines wormwood as:
1. Any of several aromatic plants of the genus Artemisia, especially A. absinthium, native to Europe, yielding a bitter extract used in making absinthe and in flavoring certain wines.
2. Something harsh or embittering.
Chernobyl and Chornobyl are the Russian and Ukrainian words for artemisia vulgaris which refer to the four foot black stalks native to this part of the Ukraine and are known in English as mugwort or common wormwood. The flowers of this plant are dark red or yellow and are radially symmetrical. The flower heads spread out along an axis like racemose panicles.
A scholar named Bill, whose last name is unknown due to HTML web hackers, noted that the Greek word for star, ἀστήρ, has a secondary definition which means “strewn over the sky” or “radiating”. It could be that Wormwood referenced in Revelation 8 refers to nuclear radiation with artemisia vulgaris painting a metaphorical picture of this future technology. Just as the Wormwood of Revelation 8:11 will make a third of the waters bitter and cause men to die, the Chernobyl incident polluted the water and resulted in the death of at least 30 people (www.world-nuclear.org).
If the Bible spelled out names precisely, then the prophecies would become self-fulfilling instead of miraculous evidences of the inerrancy of the scriptures. According to Bill, the word “wormwood” has been obscured in Russian English dictionaries and can only be found by translating the old Russian word, polyn’ (полын) into wormwood. The isolation of the Cold War and the hidden term for wormword helps dispell any notion of self-fulfilling prophesies.
While the Chernobyl accident did not usher in the final end times judgments, it did provide a small taste of the judgments to come. The fact that it can be so closely connected to this third trumpet prophesy does seem to support the prophetic nature of scripture on multiple levels. Chernobyl was bad, but the final judgments will be much worse.
Instead of simply asking, was the Chernobyl a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, perhaps the better question to ask is “What lessons can be learned from the Chernobyl tragedy?” Since Wormwood means “harsh, embittering”, studying the effects of the Chernobyl accident can teach much about the ramifications of harboring bitterness. These lessons will be examined in part 3 of this series.
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