- For a more general eschatological view, see eschatology
The end times are, in one version of Christian eschatology, a time of tribulation that will precede the Second Coming of Jesus. Specifically, what is usually referred to as the 'end times' revolves around a cluster of beliefs in Christian millennialism. These beliefs typically include the ideas that the Biblical apocalypse is imminent and that various signs in current events are omens of Armageddon. These beliefs have been widely held in one form, by the Adventist movement (Millerites), by the Jehovah's Witnesses, and in another form by dispensational premillennialists.
While details vary, there is usually a fairly specific timetable set forth that climaxes in the end of the world. Israel, the European Economic Community, and sometimes the United Nations are supposed to be key players whose role was foretold in prophecies. Believers typically hope that they will be supernaturally summoned to Heaven by the Rapture before the dark prophecies of Revelations take place.
'End times' may also refer simply to the passing of a particular age or long period in the relationship between man and God. Adherents to this view sometimes cite St. Paul's second letter to Timothy, and draw analogies to the late 20th/early 21st centuries.
Post-Exilic Hebrew books of prophecy such as the Book of Daniel and Book of Ezekiel are given new interpretations in this Christian tradition, while apocalyptic forecasts appear in the Judeo-Christian Sibylline Oracles and in the whole field of apocalyptic literature, which includes the Book of Revelation ascribed to John and the Apocalypse of Peter.
Religious movements which expect that the second coming of Christ will be a cataclysmic event, generally called adventism, have arisen throughout the Christian era; but they became particularly common during and after the Protestant Reformation. Swedenborgianism, Shakers, and others developed entire religious systems around a central concern for the second coming of Christ, disclosed by new prophecy or special gifts of revelation. The Millerites are diverse religious groups which similarly rely upon a special gift of interpretation for fixing the date of Christ's return.
The chief difference between the nineteenth century Millerite and Adventist movements and contemporary prophecy belief is that William Miller and his followers fixed the time for the Second Coming by calendar calculations based on interpretations of the Biblical apocalypses; they originally set a date for the Second Coming in 1844. These sorts of computations also appear in some contemporary prophecy beliefs, but few contemporary End Times prophets use them to fix a date; their timetables will be triggered by future events such as the Rapture. Rather, contemporary End Times believers point to current events as indicating imminent world wars and moral catastrophes, and accordingly believe that God's judgment against the conflict-ridden and corrupt world is close at hand.
Dispensationalism, in contrast to the Millerite Adventist movement, got its start in the 19th century, when John Nelson Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren sect, incorporated into his system of Biblical intepretation a system of organizing Biblical time into a number of discrete dispensations, each of which marks a separate covenant with God. Darby's beliefs were widely publicised in Cyrus I. Scofield's Scofield Reference Bible, an annotated Bible that became popular in the United States of America.
Since the majority of the Biblical prophets were writing at a time when Palestine was mostly Jewish, and the Temple in Jerusalem was still functioning, they wrote as if those institutions would still be in operation during the prophecied events. Their destruction in A.D. 70 put the prophetic timetable, if there is one, on hold. Believers therefore anticipated the return of Jews to Palestine and the reconstruction of the Temple before the Second Coming could occur. Of course the Apocalypse of John and Gospel of John are held by Christian tradition to have been written at least a decade after the fall of Jerusalem, and liberal Christians hold the same to be true for the three other (synoptic) gospels. Conservatives usually place the writing of the synoptic gospels before the fall of Jerusalem, but agree that the Apocalypse and John's Gospel were written after the fall.
The foundation of Israel in 1948 gave a major boost to the dispensationalist belief system; Israel's history of wars with its Arab neighbours did even more for it. After the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973, it seemed plausible to many fundamentalist Christians in the 1970s that Mideast turmoil may well be paving the way for the Battle of Armageddon.
Leaders of the movement such as Hal Lindsey claimed furthermore that the European Economic Community was a revived Roman Empire, and would become the kingdom of the coming Antichrist or Beast. A Roman Empire, of course, also figured in the New Testament writers' vision of the future. The fact that in the early 1970s, there were seven nations in the European Economic Community was held to be significant; this aligned the Community with a seven headed dragon in Revelations. This specific prophecy has required revision, but the idea of a revived Roman Empire remains.
The Antichrist was supposed to be the dictatorial leader of a "one world government." He would promise peace to the world while leading Christians into apostasy, and impose a "one world money system" in which anyone had to have a Number of the Beast branded on them to buy or sell. Like the Roman emperors of old, he would impose horrible martyrdoms on surviving Christians. At some point after his appearance, a large number of Jews would convert to Christianity and preach the gospel after the Christians had been removed by the Rapture.
Believers in the system therefore scanned the headlines wondering if various world leaders might be the Antichrist, and wondering whether Mideast violence might be a sign of Armageddon. They feared such things as Social Security numbers and UPC barcodes, fearing that these tax identification numbers may be precursors to the dangerous Number of the Beast, whose receipt destines one's soul to damnation.
The Antichrist has as his allies the Beast and the Whore of Babylon, mysterious figures who run an apostate church or false religion. A world ravaged by plague and turmoil turns to the Antichrist to lead it, and who promises to deliver it. Eventually, the Antichrist musters an army to attack Israel. At the climax of the story, the Battle of Armageddon, Jesus returns in the Second Coming and stops the fighting.
The movement has spawned various timetables and countdowns to the apocalypse, whose general tendency can be summed up with the title of one of Lindsey's books, The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon. The former Soviet Union played a large role in Lindsey's earlier interpretations; his later books understandably tone that down considerably, while new villains like Saddam Hussein take its place. The movement has strained relationships with conservative U.S. governments and the government of Israel, as some Jews think American Christians' supposed support of Israel is merely a cover for their hope of the destruction of Judaism during the end times.
It should be obvious from the foregoing that there is nothing in the Biblical apocalypses that forces these particular interpretations. The Seventh-day Adventists have their own tradition of millennialism arising from the nineteenth century Millerite movement that is distinct from contemporary dispensationalism. The prophecies have had to be revised several times in the light of changing current events. The whole belief system is often characterised by those who do not hold it, or who have abandoned it, as a mass paranoid delusion, full of ideas of reference that supposedly reveal the secret and sinister meaning that links unrelated events.
End times speculations have occasionally been made the subject of political controversy, especially in the United States when conservative Christians seek national political office. The implications of the prophecies that turmoil in the Middle East is inescapable, that nuclear war is predestined by Scripture, and that it will supernaturally lead to a divine utopia, give rise to some misgivings among unbelievers in the prophecies. James G. Watt, Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, once remarked that "my responsibility is to follow the Scriptures which call upon us to occupy the land until Jesus returns;" this was interpreted by political foes as meaning that we did not need to take care of the environment because Jesus was returning soon, a view also evidenced when in public testimony he said, "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back." (Note: the "last tree" quote is currently under debate - although numerous recent sources state that this comment was made in "public testimony," no source can identify the specific testimony in question, and no source can identify a contemporaneous historical document establishing the quote). Ronald Reagan himself was quoted in 1980 as saying that "we may be the generation that sees Armageddon," suggesting that he was familiar with the prophecies. Similar controversies have followed United States Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The end times according to Preterism
Another view of the 'end times' known as Preterism differentiates between the concept of 'end times' and 'end of time', and promotes a different understanding of these prophecies, in that they took place in the first century, more specifically in year A.D. 70, when the Jewish Temple was destroyed, and animal sacrifices were stopped. In this view, the 'end times' concept is referring to the end of the covenant between God and Israel, rather than the end of time, or the end of planet Earth. Unlike all the other Christian theological systems, Preterism holds an exclusive and unique view on the nature and timing of the 'End Times', in that Preterists teach the 'end times' to be past.
Preterists believe that prophecies such as the Second Coming, the defiling of the Temple, the destruction of Jerusalem, the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation, the advent of The Day of the Lord, the Resurrection of the dead (though they do not believe in bodily resurrection) and the Final Judgment were fulfilled at or about the year 70 AD when the Roman general (and future Emperor) Titus sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish Temple, putting a permanent stop to the daily animal sacrifices. Preterists also believe the term 'Last Days' or 'End Times' refers not to the last days of planet Earth, or last days of mankind, but to the last days of the Old Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant which God had exclusively with Israel until year 70 AD.
According to Preterism, many 'time passages' in the New Testament indicate with apparent certainty that the Second Coming of Christ, and the 'End Times' predicted in the Bible were to take place within the lifetimes of Christ's disciples: Matt. 10:23, Matt. 16:28, Matt. 24:34, Matt. 26:64, Rom. 13:11-12, 1 Cor. 7:29-31, 1 Cor. 10:11, Phil. 4:5, James 5:8-9, 1 Pet. 4:7, 1 Jn. 2:18.
The end times according to the Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah's Witnesses have very specific doctrines on the End Times, explained in detail in the literature of the Watchtower Society. Witnesses teach that the Greek word parousia, often translated as 'coming' really means 'presence', that the presence (invisible coming) of Christ began in the year 1914, and that he now sits at God's right hand, ruling amidst his enemies.(Ps. 110:1,2; Heb.10:12,13) Jehovah's Witnesses culculate year 1914 from the Bible.
- Daniel 4:17 says that the dream that God gave to King Nebuchadnezzar deals with the Kingdom of God and God's promise to give it to " the one whom he wants " or " the lowliest one of mankind." The Bible's description of Jesus Christ shows that he was indeed "the lowliest one of mankind." (Phil. 2:7, 8; Matt. 11:28-30) Then Jehovah's Witnesses believe this dream also fulfilled to Jesus Christ.
- Rulership over mankind, as represented by the tree and its rootstock, would have "the heart of a beast." (Dan. 4:16) As Jesus showed in his prophecy pointing to the conclusion of the system of things (end of the world), Jerusalem would be "trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations (gentile times)" were fulfilled. (Matt.24:3; Luke 21:24) "Jerusalem" represented the Kingdom of God because its kings were said to sit on "the throne of the kingship of Jehovah." (1 Chron. 28:4, 5; Matt. 5:34, 35) So, the Gentile governments, represented by wild beasts, would 'trample' on the right of God's Kingdom to direct human affairs and would themselves hold sway under Satan's control. (Dan. 7:2-8, 17, 23; 8:20-22; Rev. 13:1, 2; Luke 4:5, 6)
- Revelation 11:2, 3 and 12:6, 14 clearly states that 42 months (3 1/2 years) in that prophecy are counted as 1,260 days. "Seven times" or Seven years would be twice that, or 2,520 days. Bible shows that a day is counted as a year in calculating prophetic time (Ezek. 4:6; Num. 14:34), then prophetic "seven times" means 2,520 years.
- The counting of the "seven times" begin after Zedekiah, the last king in the typical Kingdom of God, was removed from the throne in Jerusalem by the Babylonians. (Ezek. 21:25-27) Jehovah's witnesses believe that this took place 70 years before 537 B.C., the year in which the Jews returned from captivity; that is, it took place by early October of 607 B.C. (Jer. 29:10; Dan. 9:2) Counting 2,520 years from early October of 607 B.C. brings us to early October of 1914.
Jehovah's Witnesses generally do not use the expression 'end of the world', with its connotations of the destruction of humanity or the planet, but prefer to use the expression 'conclusion of a system of things', thus maintaining the distinction between the original-language words kosmos (world) and aion (age, or system of things)
Witness eschatology envisages the following series of events at the end of the system of things:
- Christ becomes King in heaven in 1914 and Satan and his angels are hurled down to the earth.(Revelation 11:15; 12:7-12) "last days" of 2 Timothy 3:1 begin.
- Fulfillment of prophecies in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21 about the 'conclusion of the system of things.'
- Possibly cry of 'peace and security' (1 Thessalonians 5:3)
- Destruction of Babylon the Great (all false religion throughout the world) by the 'wild beast' referred to in Revelation 17 and understood by the Witnesses to be the worldwide political system, possibly through the United Nations.
- Satan's attack on God's people (Ezekiel 38)
- Har-Magedon - God's war against the 'Kings of the Earth' (political rulers); destruction of the wicked.
- 1000-year reign of Jesus Christ. Survivors of Har-Magedon will work to make the earth a paradise, like the original Garden of Eden, and will gradually be restored to perfection. It is thought that the dead will be resurrected at this time and given the chance to learn righteousness. (Isaiah 26:9, 10)
- Final test; Satan let loose for a short time, destroyed along with his followers (Revelation 20:7-10)
- Christ hands the Kingdom over to his Father (1 Corinthians 15:28)
Witnesses remain neutral in political affairs and teach that believers on earth will be spectators only in the above-mentioned scenario, not participating in any type of warfare.
Varying beliefs about the end times have been the subject of a number of works of fiction.
The Left Behind series of novels, comics, and motion pictures, originally by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, are a fictional telling of these tales from the most popular, Futurist point of view, of an evangelist who wishes to convert people to belief in these prophecies. A rapture of sorts occurs in the novel Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert A. Heinlein. An end-times novel that depicts a Preterist point of view, entitled The Last Disciple (http://www.decipherTheCode.com), was written by well-known apologist Hank Hanegraaff (aka "The Bible Answer Man (http://equip.org/)") and Sigmund Brouwer; it was released in Autumn 2004, ironically by the same publisher as the futurist Left Behind series.
The motion picture The Omen (1976) and its sequels are predicated on Futurist end-times beliefs. Another such motion picture is The Seventh Sign (1988). The motion picture Rosemary's Baby features the birth of a child of Satan, who is presumably destined to mature into the Antichrist. Alex de la Iglesia's Spain horror-comedy motion picture "El Dia de la Bestia" (Day of the Beast) depicts the efforts of a Basque priest and a young follower of heavy metal music to prevent the birth of the Antichrist.
The Japanese anime Neon Genesis Evangelion highly deals with a possible enactment of the end times.
- Boyer, Paul. When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture. ISBN 0674951298
- Graham, Billy. Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. ISBN 0380699214
- Lindsey, Hal. The Late Great Planet Earth (1970 Bantam edition, seventeenth printing); current ISBN 031027771X
- Lindsey, Hal. The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon (1981), ISBN B00005VA37
- Oropeza, B. J. 99 Reasons Why Nobody Knows When Christ Will Return, ISBN 0830816364
End times oriented Bible commentaries
For further reading
- Cohn, Norman, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millennarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages. ISBN 0195004566
- Demar, Gary. Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church. ISBN 0915815354
- LaHaye, Tim and Jenkins, Jerry, Are We Living in the End Times? ISBN 0842336443
- Riddlebarger, Kim, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times. ISBN 080106435X
- Robbins, Thomas and Palmer, Susan J., Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements. ISBN 0415916496
- Sproul, R. C., The Last Days According to Jesus. ISBN 080106340X