On This Day: The Great Lisbon Earthquake - November 1, 1755
On this day, November 1 of 1755, two hundred sixty five years ago, one of the greatest earthquake recorded in history of humanity occurred. It is referred to as The Great Lisbon Earthquake. It was about 9:30 AM on a Saturday morning when an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.7 struck the city of Lisbon, Portugal taking the lives of an estimated 70,000 people merely within the city limits. The earthquake helped give birth to the seismology field. (1) The Lisbon earthquake created tsunami waves anywhere from 13 to 65 feet high that travelled over 6000 km to Martinique in the Caribbean Sea. Damages from this earthquake were widespread and devastating, even being reported in Algiers, Algeria more than 1000 km away. (2) Lisbon was not only hit by this devastating earthquake, but also by a tsunami producing waves over 20 feet tall and fires that lasted for almost a week. What an apocalyptic day for the city!
Richard Goddard, an Anglican pastor from England and a survivor of the Lisbon earthquake, describes the catastrophe in one of his letters in this way:
“No Words can express the Horror of my Situation at that Instant, involved in almost total Darkness, surrounded with a City falling into Ruins, and Crowds of People screaming, and calling out for Mercy, while from the violent and convulsive Motions of the Earth, we expected every Moment to be swallowed up. Such a Situation I apprehend is not easily to be imagined by those who have not felt it, nor to be described by those who have. God grant you may never have a just Idea of it, which is to be had only by Experience.” (Letter #4, BL, Add. 69847.) (3)
In the Bible, the 6th chapter of the book of Revelation, John writes about the seven seals, the seventh and last seal being covered in chapter 8. He writes that when the sixth seal was open, “there was an earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind.” (Revelation 6:12-13, NKJV, emphasis mine). These natural events are to take place before the second coming of Jesus which John points to it in the next verses where he describes the terrified wicked running to the mountains to hide from “the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:15-16, NKJV). In fulfilment of this prophecy, the following signs were witnessed before the nineteenth century:
- The Great Lisbon Earthquake in November 1, 1755
- The Dark Day and the bloody Moon in May 19, 1780
- The Falling of Stars in November 13, 1833
One verse later, in Revelation 6:14, John speaks of even greater catastrophes that will take place just before the end of this world: “Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.”
As a young boy, I was always fascinated by natural calamities such as earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and hurricanes. I know that these natural events are very deadly and frightening and that they cost the lives of many people around the world. Personally, I can’t imagine the terror and fear of all the people of Lisbon and the other cities and towns that were affected by this deadly earthquake.
The worst magnitude of an earthquake that I have experienced was around 6 lasting just a few seconds and even that made me feel like the world was ending. When I was just four months old, my country, Moldova, was hit by an earthquake of magnitude of 7 that affected more than 55,000 houses, schools, and different commercial buildings. I don't remember it since I was just a baby, but from what my parents have told me, it was a terrifying event. God spared our lives. Reading about different earthquakes such as The Great Lisbon Earthquake reminded me about God’s judgement and how all things will end: “the great day and terrible day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31, KJV).
God, in His Holy Word, left us prophecies that were fulfilled in the past or are being fulfilled right before our eyes. What are we supposed to do when we see all these signs being fulfilled? Jesus said that “… when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” and “… Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Luke 21:28-31, NKJV)
Ellen G. White quoted Scripture as she wrote in her inspired writings:
“In view of that great day the word of God, in the most solemn and impressive language, calls upon His people to arouse from their spiritual lethargy and to seek His face with repentance and humiliation: ‘Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand.’ ‘Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children: . . . let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet. Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar.’ ‘Turn ye even to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness.’ Joel 2:1, 15-17, 12, 13.” (4)
We are to prepare our hearts in humiliation and repentance before the great day of the Lord! There will be other natural catastrophes that will wipe out the lives of thousands of people and they will be multiplying as we are approaching the great day of Lord, but we do not need them to happen in order for us to wake up from our spiritual lethargy. Today, we should seek the Lord and His face (Psalm 105:4, NKJV) before another earthquake strikes our lives!
(1) Lukas Joel, Benchmarks: November 1, 1755: Earthquake destroys Lisbon.
(2) Lisbon earthquake of 1755, Encyclopædia Britannica, October 25, 2020, https://www.britannica.com/event/Lisbon-earthquake-of-1755.
(3) Mark Molesky, The Vicar and the Earthquake: Conflict, Controversy, and a Christening during the Great Lisbon Disaster of 1755, pag. 82.
(4) Ellen. G. White. The Great Controversy, 311.