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.
Charlie, do you have any educated theories about why some past and current Christians are obsessed with the "End Times," as they currently say? I have three that seem to ring true from my personally knowing people who are (or were at one time) caught up in this nonsense:
1) They feel dissatisfied or unfulfilled and need something of significance to make the drab weariness of life more stimulating. In other words, they love the "drama" of preparing for the end.
2) On a subconscious level, many people believe there's no way the earth can exist without their being in it. One of my favorite quotes of Abraham Lincoln: "Most people believe the earth moves on its axis, and there are those who believe they are the axis."
3) My third theory is the general Chrisitian teaching that God is a vengeful judge who will ultimately "get even" with the evil forces that have taken over and caused so much suffering on the planet.
These are very broad and generalized theories about why Christians are especially concerned about Armageddon... Do you have any?
Thank you, Elizabeth
PS: Have you ever met anyone who is "preparing for the End Times" or believes that we are now living in the End Time??
First, it seems that human need for security is extremely strong, and those advocating an Apocalypse never leave themselves out of the group that is eventually saved!
Second, perhaps we feel the need for a just world even more strongly, and yet the deepest longings of our hearts go unfulfilled. John the Baptist is credited with saying of the "Coming One..the ax is lying at the foot of the trees" (Mt 3:10, Lk 3:7) but some how it remains true than no one has swung it. Matt 25 awaited, and many still await, the return on the clouds of the heavens of the Coming Judge who would separate us humans to eternal life or punishment based on whether we fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited the prisoner, welcomed the stranger, and cared for the sick (admonitions, all of which I think can be found in the OT).
The hope for a soon realization of a just world continues to abide and is eloquently stated by great souls:
In 1853, the controversial abolitionist Theodore Parker preached these words: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”
A century later a young black preacher famously took up this refrain in his sermons and speeches; perhaps most famously on the steps of the State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 when he answered the question how long African Americans must wait for full equality and justice in America, “How long?” Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked, “Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
This faith in the moral arc of the universe became a central theme in King’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech,” delivered to a quarter of a million people at the March on Washington, 50 years ago...
Given the events of our times, dare I say that the moral arc has probably been increased by at least a couple feet.
Good hot and muggy morning to you Elizabeth:
I am not very good at guessing people's motives. They are such personal things and sometimes so deep seated that even they might not understand the reasons for their actions. But that said, what you have stated as motives are certainly possible.
Without describing hidden reasons I aim at the obvious. Those "obsessed" with end-time speculation think the Bible is a prophetic collection of texts; hence it should contain secrets of the end-time. In other words their speculations are occasioned by a noncritical view of the Bible and by holding it to be The Word of God to humankind. Educated people who can be objective about religion--all religions, will scarcely be taken by such blathering--at least I hope that to be the case.
Good Morning Gene,
Thanks for engaging with your always interesting comments. I seem to recall that we have exchanged views about the "moral arc" of the universe on another occasion. The moral arc of the universe to my ear continuous to sound very similar to God compensating the wronged for the injustices of time. I say that because I do not think the universe has a conscience, and neither do I think that the universe is going somewhere--except out-from-here.
Here is a question for you in a "just world" would certain snakes still be poisonous?
I don't understand your last sentence: are you saying that we are two feet closer to doomsday. Can you unpack the sentence a bit?
I think that the universe, as we can be aware of it, has a conscience; humanity is the conscience of the universe, and we are bound to accept responsibility for justice. As a follower of Jesus, I might say that Jesus is the conscience of the universe. So far, if there is an arc to the beginning of anything resembling a just world, it has been forever hidden. This is all symbolic speech, as was my assertion that justice has probably been pushed an additional two-feet further away than forever.
So what would I consider to be justice: extend love to all, judge not lest you be judged, first look for the log in your own eye, **make friends with your accuser on the way to court (especially important), lend without return, walk the second mile, and so forth.
Should we get rid of all poisonous snakes? It seems to me that there are probably respects in which justice and safety are not the same thing.
Good Morning Gene,
Thank you--an insightful and helpful response. So it is not God or the physical universe we are talking about in the expression "the arc of the universe." You take the "Universe" in that expression to be human beings (who actually are the only "things" part of the universe with conscience) who are responsible for justice in the universe. But does it bother you that it is such a big job that human beings will NEVER be able to rectify every injustice, and from that perspective there never can be a moment of justice throughout the universe rectifying all past injustices?
But I agree that, since we are star-stuff and hence the only conscience to be found in the physical universe, the responsibility is ours.
Re: arc of justice & "betterment"
The lack of justice for humans throughout our history is disheartening. The challenges present to humans by their universe are a primary cause of these injustices. As humans understand the universe more accurately and learn to adapt to and cope with these challenges, the difficulties have become more easily withstood, and this has allowed a slow but continual arc toward justice along with human "betterment". Consider for instance the arc of justice just during our lifetimes for women, minorities, LGBTs, mentally & physically ill, and the poor. Consider the standard of living for humans worldwide and especially among the "developed world".
A challenge for introspective humans is to identify the primary contributors of the accelerating arc of justice and the betterment of humans, i.e. ethics, education, science, government, personal freedom, human ingenuity, economic systems, etc. along with the obstacles, i.e. the lack of these contributors.
Another challenge: On balance has organized religion been a contributor or an obstacle to this arc of justice and human betterment?
I wonder if the conscience of LIFE or the conscience of REALITY is different from the conscience of the UNIVERSE. Does LIFE = REALITY = UNIVERSE? Why do we have hope except to hope that all injustices will be rectified. As you indicate, that requires a conscience with greater capabilities than that of humanity. Paul apparently believed that the highest quality of God was the conscientious doing of the right thing, i.e., God is righteous. I want to believe that all things will be made right!
Good Afternoon Jim,
You always prod me into thought, but on this one we will have to agree to disagree. As I see it the physical universe deals neither in injustice or justice. If a person jumps a twenty story building and lands on the concrete below, s/he usually dies for ignoring what we call the law of gravity. The event is neither just nor unjust. It is simply what happens when people do not abide by what we know of the way the universe works.
From what I know the universe does not curve; it is however moving out-from-here in all directions (space we are told does curve, but I doubt that there is justice or injustice in that).
From my perspective only human beings their society and culture deal in injustice and justice. And I do agree that we have made strides in the betterment of society. But I doubt there will ever be a moment in time when all injustices are made right.
Religion like all other structures of society is both part of the problem and part of the solution.
In my view the expression: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice" is simply figurative. And it means something like: From our finite perspective, we may not see it today, but human morality is improving. I am not certain that I agree or disagree, but I can say there are certain hopeful signs that such might be the case.
Re: ..."agree to disagree"...
I have have never read one of your opinions with which I disagreed. This is rare in my experience. On the other hand, you have expressed multiple opinions of various aspects of my comments that reflect my inability to clearly express my opinions/observations about the universe, humans, and most recently human justice. I see no reason for you and I to "agree to disagree", as there has not yet been any disagreement on my part. Only misunderstanding.
I feel compelled to again emphasize the tremendous long term improvement in EVERY aspect (including justice) of worldwide human existence, and this improvement is accelerating. The primary contributors of this accelerating human betterment seems clear to me, and I encourage our readers to pursue the evidence of my observations & to identifying the contributors for themselves.
I agree. What I have called hopeful signs are clear improvements in the social order. It is not the physical universe that is moral and curving toward justice but humanity and human structures of society and culture. But I still insist that that we have along way to go and will never achieve a perfect record.
What say you?
Re: What say you?
I agree with you that humans will "never get there" in terms of a perfect record in justice....or anything else.
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