Modern day "prophets" are continuously warning us that Armageddon1 or the Apocalypse2 or the Day of the Lord is near. They claim to know "the signs of the times," and describe certain historical events as harbingers of the end—precursors to the day of the Lord. They base their dire predictions on what they regard as ancient biblical prophecies that have predicted certain events in our day, which they think will trigger an end-time scenario. They hope to persuade us through fear, and entangle us in their webs of misinformation.
"Prophets" have been predicting the end of the world from Judeo-Christian texts at least since the Isaiah Apocalypse (24-27), and there is no lack of such people in the public media today. When their prophecies fail, as they inevitably must, they recalibrate the time of the end, and then these also fail. Eventually these self-styled "prophets" pass from public view—only to be replaced by other such "prophets."
In the New Testament the "book ends" of end-time speculations are provided by the earliest writer (Paul) and the latest writer (the author of Second Peter). The end-time in Second Peter (middle second century) is generic—a simple prediction that the world will end at some unspecified future time, and includes an encouragement to live holy and godly lives, but with few specifics as to what that lifestyle includes (2 Pet 3:1-14).
Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2 Pet 3:8).
The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up (2 Pet 3:10).
Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these [events], be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace (2 Pet 3:14).
Paul, on the other hand, imagines that the end of the world is actually happening in his own day in the middle first century (1 Cor 7:26, 29; 1 Cor 10:11). In the face of this present crisis he attempts a bit of social engineering in the daily lives of his readers. For example, here is his rule in all the churches: in view of the fact that the end of the world is now happening, people should remain in the social circumstances in which they find themselves (1 Cor 7:17, 20). Hence, if one is a slave, "never mind" (1 Cor 7:21).3 If circumcised, don't try to remove the marks of circumcision; if not circumcised, don't seek circumcision (7:18). If unmarried, or a widow, one should stay single (7:8). If married, a wife should not separate from her husband, and if she does she should remain single; and for the husband—no divorces (7:11-13). If one is living with a "virgin"4 either marry her or not, it makes no difference (7:36-38), but he preferred that people remain single as he was (1 Cor 7:8).
There have been many attempts to predict the precise time of the end, and such attempts have always been able to attract a gullible audience for their nonsense. What usually happens is that the predictions fail, and then the "prophet" recalibrates the time of the end, which also fails in its turn. This, for example, was what happened in the case of the early nineteenth-century end-time "prophet," William Miller, leader of the Millerites, who predicted the return of Christ in 1843 or 1844.5
If one gets hooked in the nets of these admittedly charismatic figures, prepare to be disappointed—as all have been through the years. People simply cannot predict the future and that statement includes even the authors of the biblical texts. Believing the predictions of modern day "prophets" will not make them come true—as the uniform experience of history proves.6 The fact that none of these prophetic figures through history have been correct is the one certain datum of such speculations about the end.
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
1Armageddon; see Revelation 16:12-16. The word appears only once in the Bible.
2Apocalypse is a disclosure or revelation. As used of the end, it is the uncovering of the secrets of the end of the world.
3Paul, however, violates his rule, and concedes that if slaves have the opportunity to secure freedom, they should seize it.
4"Virgin" (Parthenos; παρθένος) in this passage (1 Cor 7:36-40) is usually translated "betrothed." James Moffat, however, translates it "a maid who is a spiritual bride."
6See John R. Hall, Apocalypse. From Antiquity to the Empire of Modernity (2009), 147-56.