Christians have historically been fixated top top the finish of the world. The factors are more complicated than castle appear.

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Viktor Vasnetsov’s 'Four Horsemen the the Apocalypse,' 1887. 

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The human being did not come to an finish on September 6, 1994. No one on may 21, 2011, or October 21 of that very same year, though Harold Camping had said in each situation that it would. Together I sit typing in the year 2016, the civilization is still rotating top top its axis, rotate 19 miles per second around the sun.

Like so countless Christians who came prior to him, Camping was possessed through the idea that predicting the end of the world, and talked ceaselessly around it top top his radio display at family members Radio Network, of i beg your pardon he was president. Listeners contributed to what became a $100 million campaign to to convince the human being of the may 21 judgment day (known in Christian theology as the Rapture), once Jesus would certainly take every his believers come heaven. Like plenty of would-be prophets, Camping relocated the target each time he to be wrong. After ~ the October 2011 date passed, he simply let that go. Even prophets can acquire confused.

Today, if you desire to know how close we room to the world’s end, every you should do is examine the Rapture Index, a typically updated scoreboard that 45 determinants that suggest to the nearness the the Rapture. (A score of over 160 suggests it’s time to “Fasten her seat belts.” us are right now at 181.) The popularity of the Left Behind series and songs choose Larry Norman’s “I wish We’d all Been Ready” among details evangelical areas indicate an ongoing social fascination with finish Times and also a willingness to aid usher them in by proclaiming how rotten things are in the human being right now — a vital tenet in Rapture theology, as in life, is that points usually gain worse before they acquire better.

Why space Christians so obsessed v the finish of the world? greatly for the same reasons Christians are obsessed v anything: It’s in the Bible. The Old testament is full of terrifying, cryptic prophecies about the end Times: “The two kings, your minds bend on evil, chandelier sit in ~ one table and also exchange lies,” the prophet Daniel says. “But it shall no succeed, because that there stays an end at the moment appointed.” (Two kings exchanging lies sounds ominously favor the plot come Game the Thrones.) Then, in the new Testament, Jesus tells his disciples the “the sign of the son of guy will appear in heaven, and also then all the people of the earth will mourn, and also they will watch ‘the child of man coming top top the clouds the heaven’ with power and an excellent glory.” The 2nd Coming that Christ entails its own vocabulary; words choose “Postmillennialism” and “Pre-Tribulation” obtain tossed approximately in end Times crowds like confetti in ~ a parade.

Some Christian denominations are an ext likely than others to be interested in eschatology. Southern Baptists will talk with you around the end Times end coffee and also donuts after a Sunday service; Episcopalians will certainly talk around politics, sex, or money with you before they’ll wander right into end-of-the-world territory. It’s inherently creepy stuff, the idea that the civilization will end not due to the fact that the sun has scorched out or a comet has ruined the earth but due to the fact that an omnipotent being wills that is destruction. Yet it’s ~ above our cumulative minds: as of 2010, Pew reported the 41 percent the Americans think Jesus will “probably” or “definitely” return to planet by 2050.

The early church thought that Jesus would return an extremely soon, even during their lifetimes, and Christians have actually been revising that prediction ever since.

Judgmental christians are basic targets for ridicule and also disdain, and, to it is in sure, Christians have actually perpetuated several of the worst (and silliest) ideas about the end of the world. In ~ the same time, many religions have at the very least some quite outré ideas about the way the people will end. For plenty of Christians, dispersing the word around the Rapture is an act born of real concern.

“The urgency was the the Rapture might happen at any type of time,” states Melisa Blankenship, a san Francisco-based church info manager who attended Calvary Baptist Church in mountain Mateo, California, in her youth. One night, Blankenship’s church held a special business to screen the movie A thief in the Night, the an initial in a series of films about the Rapture. In the film, young Patty Jo Myers wakes up someday to find her family gone in addition to millions of other people, and has to live with the Tribulation, a time duration referred to in Daniel 7, throughout which war, famine, and also other plagues ravage the Earth and also kill most of those who remain. Blankenship remembers gift “terrified” city hall the movie as a seven year old. As an adult, though, she deserve to see what urged the pastors at she church: “In a monster way, i think it to be compassion on their end.” If you were persuaded the civilization was going to finish in a fiery war zone and also you might take your loved ones v you to heaven, wouldn’t you desire to perform the same?

Talking around the finish Times is additionally an urgent way of sharing the gospel the Jesus, “promot a solid emphasis ~ above evangelism the the lost,” follow to the Pre-Tribulation research Center. Run by thomas Ice and also Tim LaHaye (the last of Left Behindfame), the Pre-Trib Research facility acts as a clearinghouse because that Biblical prophecy scholars to share their occupational on the Rapture and their translate that the church will certainly be raptured prior to the Tribulation. “The most unloving thing you deserve to do is not the gospel,” says Ice, who likewise disputes the wisdom the predicting a particular date and time for the Rapture. “There is a lot much less date-setting now than over there has remained in the past,” that says.

Math and religion, on the challenge of it, don’t seem come mix well. Hundreds of Christian groups have tried to usage the holy bible to predict as soon as the world will end, using a (hardly clear-cut) mix of events mentioned in the apocalyptic book of Revelation. The early church believed that Jesus would certainly return very soon, even throughout their lifetimes, and also Christians have been revising the prediction ever since. Cotton Mather, a Puritan minister that was significant in the building and construction of the Salem Witch Trials, announced that the people would finish in 1697. Heavily influenced by Revelation, Mather was convinced that the presence of witchcraft in America linked with the illustration in 1682 of what us now recognize is Halley’s Comet (celestial events and also motifs are far-reaching in Revelation) spelled the finish of the world. As soon as that year came and also went without event, Mather revised his prediction: 1736, follow to the Bible, would be the year the the world’s end. Just kidding! Unhappy with 1736, the soon relocated the date up to 1716; once that year came and also went, Mather argued the world would end in 1727. If a huge earthquake go shake Boston that year, the only thing that quickly came to an end was Mather, who passed away in February 1728.

Mather is component of a centuries-long tradition of believer who have made these bold predictions. There’s an entire Wikipedia page complete of entries around people who assumed the earth was close to its last day; the reasons varied from an event where British hens laid eggs through “Christ is Coming” etched into them (sadly, a hoax) to numerology based on Revelation, Daniel, and other books of the Bible. Practical worker of william Miller, a Baptist minister who claimed the human being would finish on October 22, 1844, had actually to placed up with those that “tauntingly inquir, ‘Have you not gone up?’” This fail prophecy led Millerites to experience through The an excellent Disappointment, a confusing period of time in which few of their churches to be attacked. Having actually been played for fools through someone through sincerely hosted beliefs, countless Millerites went back to the denominations they come from or started brand-new ones altogether — the Seventh-Day Adventist Church developed as a reaction come Miller’s failure prophecy.

Thomas ice of the Pre-Trib Research facility distinguishes between the Rapture (believers being lugged up to heaven) and also the 2nd Coming of Christ (Christ coming down to Earth, which will happen seven year after the Rapture). Gift accompanied by other believers on your means to heaven can beget some distinctive fears, as Lyz Lenz composed for this magazine in January: “I worried around being raptured on the toilet and also having every the ungodly see my butt. Therefore I organized it until I assumed I would burst, gyeongju to the bathroom and also praying to Jesus he’d organize off on any magnificent return till I might just pull my trousers up.” i asked ice whether he felt any type of tension between the mundanity of day-to-day life and also the weight of continually thinking around the end of the people as us knew it. Ice pointed out 2 Peter 3, which warns that “the day of the Lord will come prefer a thief…. When you room waiting because that these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish.” The point, ice cream told me, is come wait in patience when “constantly cultivating a relationship with Christ.” at the grocery store, choose up the kids from school, going come the bathroom — wherever girlfriend are, awareness that the Rapture and its possible imminence deserve to lead a human being to a feeling of continuous vigilance.

“There to be no sense of peace, even with the civilization that to be saved,” Blankenship says. “You constantly had to be vigilant to make sure your salvation was real.”

There is another, last reason Christians may be therefore obsessed v the Rapture, and also it isn’t high-minded or Biblical: It’s the straightforward truth that none of us know with pure certainty what will take place to us when we die. We all desire to be sure that something an excellent will occur to us, or, in ~ the really least, that nothing an especially bad will befall us as soon as we’ve shuffled turn off this mortal coil. Maybe heaven is a story us tell ourselves in order come live.

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Harold Camping died in 2013 after experiencing complications from a autumn at his home. Embarrassed, he had retired native his occupational at family Radio and also apologized because that misleading his followers. Family Radio Network posted an upgrade saying Camping had actually “passed on come glory and also is now rejoicing with his lovely Savior!” The prophet had foretold the end of the world however not his very own death, and also Family Radio memorialized Camping through a verse from Revelation: “And God chandelier wipe away all tears from their eyes; and also there shall be no an ext death, no sorrow, nor crying, no shall over there be any much more pain: for the former things room passed away.”


Armageddon Awareness Day is Pacific Standard’s special report for earth Day 2016, in which we face our fears around the apocalypse while celebrate those points that make our world worthwhile.