By now everyone has heard about the horrible earthquake and resultant tsunami that has taken at least 15,000 lives in Indonesia. My guess is that the death toll will end up at 50,000+, with the bodies of at least half of the victims washed out to sea and never recovered. Apparently Indonesia does not have an earthquake/tsunami warning system in place; such a warning system, and an evacuation plan for coastal regions, could have saved tens of thousands of lives. Of course, tens of thousands more will die in Indonesia from disease spread by rotting animal and human remains and from drinking contaminated water.
That's another reason that I'm glad I live in the US, where we have the resources and the foresight to develop disaster warning systems and implement successful safety precautions. We are also probably the best-equipped nation in the world for handling the aftermath of disasters.
Undoubtedly, many who are into Biblical prophecy will wonder whether or not this is yet another sign of the impending "End Times."
I have read and re-read Matthew 23 - 25 many times recently. In my opinion, this section of the Bible - Jesus' own words regarding his second coming - probably give us the best picture of what will happen before, during, and after his return.
The early Church believed Christ's return was imminent, based on Matthew 24:34, "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." (NIV) That was an obvious misunderstanding, and so we have, to this day, the people that I call "date setters" who continually try to predict Christ's return. And why not? Hal Lindsey and Tim Lahaye are living proof of how much money can be made in this endeavor.
But in Matthew 24:36-39, Jesus states, "(36) No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (37) As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (38) For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; (39) and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man."(NIV)
In my opinion (and with respect to those who differ), even the most diligent students of the End Times will probably be as errant about predicting the Messiah's return as the ancient Pharisees were in predicting his first arrival. The Pharisees were looking for a great warrior and king (like David) who would conquer the nations of the world and restore Jerusalem as the center of a new earthly Kingdom. They were not looking for a Messiah who would be sacrificed as the atonement for the sins of mankind.
As many commenters have pointed out, this is not the most deadly natural disaster in modern times, tragic and horrible though it is; a year ago, 30,000 died in an earthquake in Iran. A hundred years ago, it would have taken weeks for news of this calamity to have reached US newspapers. Truly, the "global village" elevates the impact of disasters to a level that was not possible only a few generations ago.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't believe that this is a sign to start digging a bomb shelter or quit your job and wait atop a mountain wearing a white robe. We still have plenty of God's work left to do. In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus implores us to continue to serve right up to the moment of his return, and not to stop our work because we think that he will (or won't) return soon. Committing financial and logistical resources toward alleviating the suffering and devastation in Indonesia would be a good way for the Church to serve Him right now.