We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Select Bible Use this Lookup to open a specific Bible and passage. Start here to select a Bible.
Make selected Bible the default for Lookup tool.
Book: Ch.V. Select book from A-Z list, enter chapter and verse number, and click "Go."
:
OR
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result

Not the End of the World as We Know It

The Misconception:

Apocalyptic literature in the Bible details future events leading to the end of the world.

Apocalyptic … was the mother of all Christian theology.

—Ernst Käsemann, “The Beginnings of Christian Theology,” Journal for Theology and the Church 6 (1969): 40

Peter: “Or you could accept the fact that this city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.”Mayor: “What do you mean, ‘biblical’?”Ray: “What he means is Old Testament biblical, Mr. Mayor. Real wrath-of-God-type stuff. Fire and brimstone coming from the sky. Rivers and seas boiling.”Egon: “Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes. Volcanoes.”Winston: “The dead rising from the grave.”Peter: “Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria.”

—Scene from the 1984 Columbia Pictures movie Ghostbusters

In 1818, a New England farmer and self-educated Bible student named William Miller came to the conclusion that the world would end with the return of Christ some time between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. He based his conclusion on Scripture: Determining that the 2,300 days in Daniel 8:14 were actually years, he calculated from 457 BCE, the year when Ezra was commissioned to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:1). The result was 1843, and the Jewish New Year began on March 21. Miller's following grew as 1843 approached. But when March 21, 1844, had passed without event, some of his followers determined that there had been an error in calculations. They set the new date at October 22, 1844; as that day grew nearer, they became aggressive in proclaiming the prediction and succeeded in convincing a large number of others. True believers closed their businesses, sold their homes, and sat waiting to greet their Lord. For most of them, October 22, 1844, became known as the “Great Disappointment,” and they turned from following Miller's teachings. Some, however, were so convinced that they reasoned that Christ's return had indeed taken place on the heavenly plane, though not on earth.1 For a more detailed recounting of the Millerite movement see Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schachter, When Prophecy Fails (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1956), 12–23.

Miller was not the last person to make such a prediction. In 1970 Hal Lindsey's best-selling Late Great Planet Earth deduced that in answering questions about the time of his return (Matt 24), Jesus presumed the existence of the nation of Israel. Jesus had said that “this generation” would not pass before “all these things take place” (Matt 24:34). Since the modern state of Israel had been established in 1948 and a biblical generation was forty years, Lindsey thought it likely that Christ would return and the world end by 1988.2 Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), e.g., 42–54.

At the end of July 2004 a colleague of mine passed on to me a CD he had received in the mail. It contained a book manuscript by a certain Zechariah Daniels (a pseudonym?) of Chicago titled The Free Gift: Second Coming 2016.3 Zechariah Daniels, The Free Gift: Second Coming 2016 (Chicago: JMB Productions, 2004). As the title suggests, the author is predicting that the second coming of Christ will occur in 2016 with the destruction of the world to follow a thousand years later. This conclusion is based on an interpretation of a verse in Daniel (9:25) that refers to a period of seven weeks between the announcement about rebuilding Jerusalem and the coming of an anointed prince. Zechariah Daniels interprets the latter as Christ's return. He equates the rebuilding of Jerusalem with Israel's capture of that city in the 1967 war. Taking “seven weeks” as 49 years (7 days × 7), he adds that figure to 1967 to reach 2016. I predict that 2016 will come and go much the same as did 1843 and 1988.

Most recent literature about the end of the world is more subtle. It does not try to pinpoint the date of Christ's return but simply provides vivid depictions of the events leading up to it, implying that the date is imminent. Such works sell well because they cater to the same mixture of curiosity and fear as science fiction and horror.4 Witness the “Left Behind” series of books and films by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. For detailed discussions of apocalyptic movements throughout history, see Apocalypticism in Western History and Culture, ed. Bernard McGinn in Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism: vol. 2, and vol. 3, Apocalypticism in the Modern Period and the Contemporary Age, ed. Stephen J. Stein (New York: Continuum, 1998). As examples of those genres, they may be appealing. As biblical interpretation, however, they reflect gross misunderstanding of apocalyptic literature.

Notes:

1. For a more detailed recounting of the Millerite movement see Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schachter, When Prophecy Fails (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1956), 12–23.

2. Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), e.g., 42–54.

3. Zechariah Daniels, The Free Gift: Second Coming 2016 (Chicago: JMB Productions, 2004).

4. Witness the “Left Behind” series of books and films by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. For detailed discussions of apocalyptic movements throughout history, see Apocalypticism in Western History and Culture, ed. Bernard McGinn in Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism: vol. 2, and vol. 3, Apocalypticism in the Modern Period and the Contemporary Age, ed. Stephen J. Stein (New York: Continuum, 1998).

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2021. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice