Is this the moment we all have been waiting for?
This is a brief look into the end-of-the-world theology, its oral history, and a few thoughts along the way.
Another round of end-of-the-world scenarios are in vogue throughout the world. This time the date is set for September 20th, or September 23rd, 2017, depending on who you listen to.
Christians have been anticipating and hoping for the end-of-the-world for over two-thousand years. Each generation believes they are the last. A Wikipedia page is devoted to listing predictions made by a variety of Christians and sects throughout history. This list is by no means exhaustive but shows that the human psyche is fixated on this theme.
Why people get excited about this theory
Jesus warned that the end-of-the-world was near. He stated that the signs can be found in the increase of wars, even just rumors of them, famines, social unrest, lies, delusions, political instability, and earthquakes. He unequivocally stated that these were necessary precursors before He returned.
Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.1
St. Paul suggested an immediate return of Christ during our near his lifetime.2 He likely would have found Jesus’ return two-thousand years or more in the waiting highly inconceivable.
The Biblical texts allude in metaphorical language about the end-of-the-world. Readers and ardent religious followers have been challenged to unlock these metaphors into actual dates using a variety of methods. None have succeeded to unlock these literary devices into actual dates.
The advent of the internet has brought abundant information about climatic, environmental, agricultural, historical, social, political, and warring conditions throughout the world. This information has made us more aware of world instability — a heightened sense of how fragile our network of communities and the earth are.
End times doctrine is not a deal breaker
There are ardent Christians who associate acceptance of a certain end-time system as a mark of a true Christian. One may hear theological buzzwords such as pre-, post-, or a-millennial, tribulation, or rapture. However, the end-times doctrine carries no weight in the grand scheme of the christian religious life. No one who enters the pearly gates is going to get graded on their theological view of the end times.
The closest times we came to the end of the world
There are five occasions that came close to the end of the world. These conclusions are mainly based on a Western Civilization view of history that align with the biblical narratives. There are two more possibilities that only modernity could supply.
The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Vespasian and Titus.
This event was likely the closest symbolizing the end of the world. Jesus predicted the destruction and warned people to flee when this event was to unfold. The first-century historian Josephus chronicled this devastation in his book, Wars of the Jews.
No early christian writing specifically acknowledges or details the impact of this destruction. This absence has always been puzzling.
The Bubonic Plague in the 1300s.
This plague was a human tragedy of epic proportions. It is estimated that 25 to 60 percent of the European population was wiped out with this epidemic. The death toll may even be higher if one includes China and its neighboring countries. There is no real estimate of the worldwide loss except that it was massive. Agnolo di Tura survived the plague and narrated his experience in detail. Here is a quote from his Plague in Siena:
There was no one who wept for any death, for all awaited death. And so many died that all believed that it was the end of the world.3
World War I and its child, World War II.
These wars created casualties not just from war, but famine and disease. The high death toll plus the conversion of the military from hand to hand into technological warfare had almost brought the end-of-the-world clock to its final position.
The volcanic eruption of Mt. Tombora in 1816.
Rated as one of the greatest eruptions ever, this Indonesian volcanoe caused the the year without summer. The ash in the atmosphere impeded sunlight reaching the earth. It was responsible for over 100,000 deaths in Europe.4 The eruption happened while the world lacked the scientific know how nor the communication systems to educate about the origin of this year without summer. It must have scared a lot of people.
The devil doesn’t need to directly intervene in order to achieve his evil objectives with the next two. He can just sit back and watch. Mankind can do this without outside assistance.
The present nuclear age.
The nuclear arsenal around the world is enough to destroy the majority of humankind and destabilize the planet. The earth could potentially fall into a perpetual darkness called a nuclear winter for many years.
If a nuclear war began, would that bring on the end? I don’t know.
Polluting our air and oceans, deforestation, mining, fracking, oil drilling and so many more activities are highly destructive. The earth may not be able to sustain or replenish life at the current progress that it is being gutted and altered. When that point comes, if ever, I don’t know.
God by very nature is not restricted by time as we humans. He doesn’t work by a timeclock at all. The end could be tomorrow, or it could be another 2000 years. His reasons are beyond time. Neither is our intellectual capacity able to grasp such big things. We cannot play God on this issue.
The ability to kill on such a large scale would mean that there would be no humanity, and in a worst-case scenario, no habitable earth left to direct under the devil’s control. Perhaps, even the devil is restrained from encouraging these destructive capabilities.
Traditional Jewish perception of the end
Some sects of Judaism emphasize that the end of the world will occur when the last soul is born. They believe when God created the world, He created all the souls at the same time. Once that supply is finished, the end will come.
the Messiah, son of David, will not come until all the souls of the body have been finished – Yebamot 62a
The manufacturing of the end of the world
A commonly held perception among some circles of Judaism and Christianity (especially the Protestant sects of Fundamentalists, Pentecostals, and Charismatics) is the establishment of the nation of Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. These are thought to be the surest signs of the end-times.
The formation of Israel in 1948 was greatly advanced by political leaders in Britain and the United States who were personally influenced by the biblical narrative regarding Israel.
For more information on the topic of Christians and the formation on modern Israel, see the following:
The fervor associated with the re-establishment of Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple has allowed for Arabs to be second class citizens. Protestant Christians have especially turned a blind eye to the humanitarian and legal rights of Arabs in doing so.
This blind zealousness teaches a lesson that the manufacturing of end times is dangerous. The culmination of the end is God’s job, not ours. Anyone who facilitates such an agenda that allows for the building up of arms, denial of rights, disrespect, and war, has failed in the primary objective of Christians to love their neighbors.
Jesus predicted many future leaders would arise that would either claim to be Him or an ardent follower of Him. He cautioned that many would do this to achieve their own personal agendas. The term for these type of leaders is called the antichrist.
The Popes and the Romish Church are historically the most popular names of being called the antichrist. The Reformation leaders such as Martin Luther entrenched this theme in the early protestant identity.
Evangelical and fundamentalist christian tradition generally believe the antichrist is yet to come. This figure rivals in the power and glory of Christ. He will be a powerful dictator with authority that encompasses all the nations. This one world rule is when the ultimate battle between good and evil occurs.5
The rise of technology which allows people of diverse languages and backgrounds to work together has created suspicions within pockets of these communities. There is a sense that it only a matter of time now that the antichrist will rise and rule over the earth.
A tongue-in-cheek historical review of 14 people being named the antichrist is found at Rose Publishing. There is a special emphasis connecting the numbers 666 to their identities. Although this is a playful article, it does show how numerology is an important aspect of building end-of-the-world theories. Numerology in this scenario is about converting letters and words into numerical symbols and then applying a mathematical calculation. The results are intended to predict future events.
How can we prepare for the end of the world?
The Biblical texts on a number of occasions speak of the end occurring like a thief in the night.6 In other words, the event will come as a total surprise. Judging by the long wait of over 2000 years since this idiom was given, every generation has a small chance of witnessing the end of the world.
The Canadian Government recommends that everyone should have an emergency kit that is good for up to 72 hours. Whether it is a house fire, an environmental disaster, a major storm, or other dire fortunes that can possibly surprise us, we have to be ready. Perhaps the end of the world or the apocalypse should be added to the list for emergency preparedness.
- Matthew 24: 4-8
- This topic remains a debate among theologians and historians. See Ben Witherington’s Jesus Paul and the End of the World for more info.
- Plague in Siena by Agnolo di Tura (translator unknown)
- Mt. Tambora
- I Thessalonians 5:2; Matthew 24:43; Revelation 16:15