The term “earthquake” in prophetic writings does not always refer to a literal earthquake. Rather, it is considered to be symbolic of a major shake-up in the political, economic, religious, etc. realm.
Here is an example of how the Geneva Bible interprets “earthquake” in Revelation 6:
‘the great earthquake’ signifies “the change of the true doctrine which is the greatest cause of motions and troubles that come to the World.”
Here is F.N. Lee on Revelation 11:
The “great earthquake” is associated by some, with the 1300 A.D. great earthquake in Rome. Indeed, from 1309-76, Romanism’s Popes (or ‘Antipopes’) were all French and then operated not from Rome in Italy – but from Avignon in France. That was certainly ‘earth-shattering.’
Yet because it is said to occur “at the same time” as the ‘ascension’ of the two faithful ‘witnesses’ – many Theologians have identified it with the later and much greater “earthquake” of the Anti-Romish Protestant Reformation of 1517f. And truly, the Protestant Reformers indeed did shake up Romanism and its Papacy as never before.
Yet others have seen a further fulfilment of the “great earthquake” in the very different and Anti-Christian French Revolution of 1789. Indeed, France was one of the ten Horns or Kingdoms of the Neo-Roman Empire. The 1789 French Revolution not only atheized France and polluted many other lands, but it also soon led even to the imprisonment of the Pope in his own Vatican.
There is no doubt that all three of those events very much shook up both Romanism and its Papacy. For such was especially the progressive impact of the 1300 earthquake in Rome; the 1517f Protestant Reformation; and the 1789 French Revolution.
In his 1806 Dissertation on the Prophecies (II:40f) Faber wrote: “In the year 1789, the ‘earthquake’ commenced, and in it fell a tenth part…of the great Roman city…. The French Revolution alone can be intended in this prediction…. Titles of nobility in general would be abolished or slain by the earthquake of the French Revolution…. Archbishops and Bishops…the same.”
Also the Presbyterian Rev. Dr. Albert Barnes of Philadelphia commented on Revelation 11:13f and 16:2f: “No events have ever taken place in history that would better be compared with the shock of an earthquake, than those which occurred when the long-established governments of Europe and especially the domination of the Papacy so long consolidated and confirmed, were shaken by the Reformation…. We should expect to find such a series of calamities, gradually weakening and finally terminating the papal power in the World…. The French Revolution…in the overthrow of the papal power…has more plausibility than any other explanation proposed….
The metaphorical use of the word “earthquake” is common in today’s language. Here is an example from an old WND article, Worldwide Islamist revolution explodes. Note the earthquake and natural disaster-type references:
…in what some are calling only the latest wave of an Islamic “tsunami” sweeping the globe…
…a flood of violent, fatal street protests threatens the stability of this most populous Arab nation…
…these movements are the aftershocks of the Islamic Revolution…
…claiming Islamist jihadis are now on the verge of a historic moment in the history of the Islamic nation, an “earthquake” he likened to the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City…
…David Rubin, former mayor of the Israeli town of Shiloh and author of the book “The Islamic Tsunami,”…
The next time you read the Bible, then, remember that its prophetic language is not always meant to be interpreted literally.
Source: John’s Revelation Unveiled by Rev. Dr. Francis Nigel Lee