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By Gary F. Zeolla
"On new year's eve, 1000 AD, a crowd gathered at Rome, awaiting the end of the world. Midnight came, nothing happened and the pope, Sylvester II, blessed the crowd and sent them home" (Lane, p.70).
Meanwhile, "In the expectation of the approaching judgment, crowds of pilgrims flocked to Palestine to greet the advent of the Savior. But the first millennium passed, and Christendom awoke with a sigh of relief on the first day of the year 1001" (Schaff, p.296).
So 1000 years ago, many people "just knew" the end was near. Crowds even traveled to Rome or Jerusalem in preparation for the Second Coming.
If someone had tried to tell these pilgrims it would be at least another 1000 years before the Second Coming, they would probably have cried out something like, "1000 more years! No way! The end is near!" But, of course, the pilgrims would have been wrong.
The End of the Second Millennium
The close of the second millennium AD is now approaching and, as happened at the end of the first millennium, many people "just know" the end is near.
According to a survey by Time magazine and Cable News Network, "A majority of the 800 Americans questioned ... believe the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will occur within the next 1,000 years" (Valley News Dispatch, 9/28/92, p.1).
Some are even more specific. The pastor of a church close to this writer's home was quoted in the local newspaper as predicting, "According to biblical and historical calculations the Church Age will end about 2000 AD. We are near, so very near to cataclysmic events. It could be 10 or 12 years, maybe less" (Valley News Dispatch, 1/26/91).
This same sentiment can be seen in many other places. One book states, "The signs, drawn by the finger of the Almighty to warn and comfort us, tell us that the Lord is coming and that soon our warfare is ended" (Bultema, p.57).
Another declares, "... a number of preliminary moves, which are predicted in the Bible, will shape the political, economic, and religious climate necessary for end-time events. These preliminary moves are now falling into place in rapid succession" (Walvoord, p.24).
Others are even so bold as to predict specific dates. Outside the Democratic National Convention in 1992 a man walked around carrying a sign reading, "RAPTURE - OCT. 28, 1992. JESUS IS COMING. DO NOT GET 666 MARK." Another sign read, "JESUS IS COMING. 7 YEAR TRIBULATION. IN 1999 HUMAN HISTORY ENDS" (pictured in Expression magazine, 10/92, p.7).
A book writer says in reference to the Second Coming, "The correct date is October 4, 2005. If asked if I really believe this, the answer is a definite YES!" He then predicts the rapture will be in 1998 (Zachary, pp.43,49).
The first predicted date for the rapture has already come and gone and, as far as this writer knows, the rapture didn't occur. As for the second date ... ?
The number of these predictions could be multiplied. And as the end of the millennium approaches, many more such predictions can be expected. But attempts to predict the time of the end do not only occur at the end of a millennium. In fact, end-time predicting has had a long, disappointing and sometimes even tragic history.
A Short History of End-Time Predicting
Montanism was, "A Christian sect of the second century AD, named for Montanus of Ardabau of Phrygria. In 156 he proclaimed himself as the one through whom the dispensation of the Holy Spirit had begun. He was joined by the prophetesses Prisca and Maximilla in PROCLAIMING THE NEARNESS OF THE END" (Ferm, p.505).
In some areas of the Church the Montanists were excommunicated. But for the most part, they were considered "... fanatics but not heretics.... Their visions, speaking in tongues and intense religious excitement attracted suspicion. The claims made for their prophecies seemed to question the emerging canon of New Testament Scriptures. Maximilla's PREDICTIONS WERE NOT FULFILLED" (Dowley, p.74).
The Black Death:
In the mid-1300's, the bubonic plaque, popularly known as "The Black Death" swept across Europe. The plaque killed from one-third to one-half of the population. At the time, "... most felt it was God's anger against the wickedness of the people of that day. Wycliffe seemed to have yielded to A POPULAR APPREHENSION THAT THE FINAL JUDGMENT WAS APPROACHING" (Curtis, p.8). Note: John Wycliffe was the first person to translate the Bible into English.
Several monumental, historical events occurred in 1493. One of these was the return of Christopher Columbus from his first voyage to the New World. "To Columbus, all this was A SURE SIGN OF THE END TIMES." More specifically, "Following St. Augustine's teaching, Columbus KNEW that all history fell into seven ages - and he was in the sixth, the next to the last. Furthermore, Augustine had said the world would end 7,000 years after its creation. That was A MERE 155 YEARS AWAY" (Miller, pp.14f). Adding 155 to 1493 means Columbus believed the world would end in 1648.
The city of Munster, Germany was seized by a group of radical Anabaptists in 1543. Jesus was expected to return soon to set up His millennial kingdom and, "MUNSTER ... WAS TO BE THE SITE OF THE NEW JERUSALEM." But the bishop of the region massed troops and besieged the city. When the walls were breached, the surviving leaders were tortured and killed. This event greatly hurt the Anabaptist movement as a whole (Latourette, pp.783f; Dowley, p.402).
In the early 1800's William Miller was converted to the Christian faith and began an extensive study of the Scriptures. He describes the results of this study, "Finding all the signs of the times and the present condition of the world, to compare harmoniously with the prophetic descriptions of the last days, I WAS COMPELLED TO BELIEVE THAT THIS WORLD HAD REACHED THE LIMITS OF THE PERIOD ALLOTTED FOR ITS CONTINUANCE." Based on calculations drawn from the book of Daniel, he concluded the world would end in 1843.
Initially, few accepted his message. But as the year approached, many began to follow. After 1843, recalculations were done and the date was reset to October 22, 1844. After this date passed uneventfully, "IT WOULD BE DIFFICULT TO COMPREHEND THE DEPTH OF DISAPPOINTMENT AND HUMILIATION that the millerites endured immediately FOLLOWING THE "GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT," as it has been commonly referred to."
Out of the events surrounding this prophecy, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church was formed by one of Miller's followers, Ellen G. White. The false prophecy was evaded by putting forth a doctrine known as "The Investigative Judgment." The idea is, in 1843 Jesus, rather than moving from heaven to earth, moved from one part of heaven to another. In the new place, He is now INVESTIGATING the books in preparation for the final JUDGMENT (Tucker, pp.94-103).
Charles Taze Russell reworked Miller's calculations and began teaching Jesus had returned in 1874, but invisibly, "Our Lord, the appointed King, is now present, SINCE OCTOBER 1874, AD." And, "BY 1914 THE LORD WILL HAVE FULL CONTROL. Gentile governments will be overthrown."
Russell slowly got a following and called the fledging organization, "The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society." Members of this group are now known as "Jehovah's Witnesses."
AFTER 1914, THE DATE WAS CHANGED TO 1918, "The end of the harvest is due in the spring of 1918." After 1918, the date of Jesus' "invisible" return was changed to 1914 and THE 1874 DATE CONVENIENTLY FORGOTTEN.
After Russell's death, Joseph Rutherford took over control of the growing organization. He predicted the end would come in 1925. Rutherford proclaimed, "MILLIONS NOW LIVING WILL NEVER DIE" and published a book by this name in 1920.
When World War II broke out, the Watchtower predicted the war would lead to the battle of Armageddon. An article in "The Watchtower" magazine of 9/15/1941 said a new book published by the Watchtower would prove useful, "in the remaining MONTHS BEFORE ARMAGEDDON...."
In the 1960's, the year 1975 began to be proclaimed as the time of the end. A book published by the Watchtower in 1974 stated, "Reports are heard of brothers SELLING THEIR HOMES AND PROPERTY and planning to finish the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service (door-to-door witnessing). Certainly this is A FINE WAY TO SPEND THE SHORT TIME REMAINING before the wicked world's end."
The Witnesses are now strongly hinting the end will come by the year 2000, "He (the apostle Paul) was also laying a foundation for WORK THAT WOULD BE COMPLETED IN OUR 20TH CENTURY" (all the above information and quotes are from quotations and summaries of Watchtower literature found in Reed, pp.96-111).
In 1988 a booklet titled 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988 was published. It predicted the rapture would occur between September 11 and 13, 1988. 3.2 million copies were printed and, "Thousands took the booklet seriously, SOME EVEN QUITTING THEIR JOBS to prepare for the rapture" (Halverson, p.14).
Summary and Implications
Many more examples of end-time predictions could be discussed; but the above examples help to demonstrate some commonalties found in this practice:
1) Virtually every generation since the Ascension of Christ has considered monumental, historical events of their time to be a "sign" the end was near.
2) Throughout the centuries, intricate, mathematical calculations from prophetic passages in the Bible have been used to determine the time of the end. To date, everyone's calculations have proven to be wrong.
3) Most of the groups mentioned would be considered heretical or at least "aberrant" by the standards of historic Christianity and the Bible. When people try to predict the time of the end, it often leads them into many other doctrinal errors.
4) When the prophesy fails, surprisingly, many will still cling to leader and the group. The leader will come up with an imaginative explanation for the failure, often giving an alternate interpretation for what happened on the date.
5) Fanaticism often occurs among those who accept the prophecy. This sometimes leads to tragic results.
6) A failed prophecy leads to great disappointment among the followers.
Changes in Lifestyle
One last point of commonalty needs elaboration. People often adapt their lifestyles and behaviors in accordance with "knowing" the end is near. The above examples mentioned people selling homes and property and quitting their jobs.
Other changes in behavior that might be seen and justifying statements that might be heard are:
A. A lack of concern for one's health. "I'll be getting my resurrected body soon so why worry about this one?"
B. A lack of concern for the environment. "Jesus will clean up the mess when He returns."
C. Lack of involvement in politics or other forms of social change. "Jesus will set up a perfect society when He comes so why try to change this one?"
D. Going into debt. "Let the antichrist worry about paying my bills."
E. Not getting married. "There's not enough time left to get involved in a relationship."
F. Conversely, marrying the "wrong" person. "I'm only going to be with him (her) for a short while so why not?"
G. Not having children. "I don't want to spend the short time left changing diapers."
H. Allowing our society to be overtaken by non-Christian morals and values. "It's 'destined' to get worse and worse before the end, so why fight against it?"
I. Not striving against the growth of non-Christian religions. "The New Age Movement is 'destined' to be the soon coming one-world religion so there is nothing we can do to stop it."
All of these attitudes can lead to tragic results in a person's life and in society at large. And, sadly, this writer has heard all of the above statements.
Just as bad is the inordinate amount of time people are spending studying prophecy. What this writer finds particularly interesting (and disturbing) is the time and effort spent by many Christians trying to figure out exactly what is going to happen on earth during the "Great Tribulation." Meanwhile, these same people believe they are going to be "raptured" off of the earth before this period!
As world religions specialist Dean Halverson states, "Our task is not to dwell at length on the particulars of the end-times, but to make ourselves ready at all times, and to help others become ready for Christ's return, which will happen in His time" (Halverson, p.18).
"It is not for you to know times or seasons"
In conclusion, Jesus could return today, even as you are reading this article. But it just might be another 1000 years before the end comes.
Many may cry out, "1000 more years! No way! The end is near!" But remember, the pilgrims in Rome and Jerusalem would have shouted the same thing - and that was 1000 years ago.
This first half of this article will close by quoting two statements Jesus made in reference to the end-times:
"But OF THAT DAY AND HOUR NO ONE KNOWS, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only" (Matt 24:36; see also 24:42-44; 25:1-13).
"IT IS NOT FOR YOU TO KNOW TIMES OR SEASONS which the Father has put in His own authority" (Acts 1:7; see also 1Thes 5:1-6; 2Pet 3:10).
Is the End Near? - Part 2
See end of Part Two.
Is the End Near? Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).
Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light
The above article originally appeared in Darkness to Light
newsletter in 1993.
It was posted on this Web site in July 1996.
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