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End of the World

End of the World

One of the most common concepts in prophetic literature, especially in the apocalyptical literature of Judaism and Christianity. The term can denote either the end of the physical world (cosmos ) or the end of the social order (aeon ). The theological term eschatology refers to teachings about the "last things," (from the Greek eschaton ). Eschatology includes a consideration not only of the destiny of the world but of the individual (death, judgment, heaven, hell).

The most dramatic form of eschatology is apocalypticism. The apocalyptic vision views the world as essentially on a downward path. It will soon reach such a negative state that divine powers will intervene and bring the present order to an end. Only the faithful will be saved from destruction. There are a number of biblical passages representative of the apocalyptic viewpoint. In the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) passages in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Zechariah, and especially Daniel speak in apocalyptic terminology. In the Christian New Testament, passages in Mark and Thessalonians have strong apocalyptic overtones, while the Apocalypse or book of Revelation is an entire apocalyptic tract, demonstrably the most influential apocalyptic text in Western culture. Apocalyptic reflections also dominate some of the apocryphal literature, books written by ancient Hebrews but not included in the Bible. Such writings embody inspirational visions of the coming or second advent of a messiah, the state of faith, and interpretations of the future.

The most well-known apocalyptic book is that "channeled" by St. John of Patmos, the book of Revelation, which describes in some detail a vision of the endtime. It circulated widely among Christians at a time when they were under severe persecution for their faith. Like many older apocalyptic works, it is written in highly metaphorical language and describes a climatic cosmic war between the forces of good and evil. The forces of good are represented by the church and God's angels and the forces of evil by the Antichrist, the beast whose name can be determined by numerology, "666," and their respective human supporters. The powerful images of this book constantly reappear in Western prophetic and apocalyptic literature over the centuries. One persistent theme in apocalyptic literature, for example, is the figure of the Antichrist, the mighty ruler opposed to God, as cited in the Epistles of John. This image harks back to the historical figure of Antiochus IV, a persecutor of the Jews.

The apocalyptical concept of the end of the world and the Antichrist figure have analogies in pre-Christian religions, such as Iranian mythology of the final conflict between Ahura Mazda and Ahriman. However, it is within the Jewish and Christian traditions that apocalyptic enthusiasm has been most notable.

In the West, in almost every generation there have arisen groups with an apocalyptic worldview and an expectation that they are witnessing the last days of human history. Not infrequently, these groups go so far as to set a specific date on which the endtime events will be initiated. Basic to such groups have been a "historicist" reading of the apocalyptic passages of the Bible, in which the prophetic texts are seen as referring to contemporary events. The failure of the proposed events to occur on time always creates a crisis in apocalyptic groups. Only rarely do they admit any significant error. Rather, they suggest that the date was incorrect and propose a new date, or, more often, they spiritualize the prophecy and suggest that it really occurred, but in an invisible spiritual realm.

In recent centuries, a number of apocalyptic date-setting groups arose from the teachings of British visionaries Joanna Southcott and, more notably, William Miller. Miller led an Adventist movement in the United States in the 1830s, a forerunner of both the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh-Day Adventists. Miller proclaimed the Day of Judgment as March 21, 1843, but the date passed without apocalypse, and a revised calculation by one of the Adventist leaders proposed a new date of October 22, 1844. Many Adventists made special preparations for the coming of Christ, and most gathered for all-night prayer meetings on the eve of the expected event, but did not, as was widely reported by their theological enemies, don ascension robes and gather on hilltops. All were disappointed. Many, including Miller, admitted their mistake. Some posed new dates, and out of their subsequent failures have come a host of small Adventist groups (including the Advent Christian Church and the Jehovah's Witnesses).

Others found a means of reinterpreting Miller's teachings in a spiritualizing direction. Among them, Ellen G. White suggested that the date did not refer to a terrestrial event, but to a cleansing of a heavenly sanctuary. That event, which began in 1844, presages the more visible return of Christ in the indefinite but imminent future. White's teachings became the interpretation accepted by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In Britain in 1881 there was a panic in country districts during which people left their houses and spent the night in prayer, convinced that the world was coming to its end. This was occasioned by a fake prophecy ascribed to the legendary prophetess Mother Shipton: "The world to an end shall come, in eighteen hundred and eighty one." In fact, these and similar lines were invented by an eccentric bookseller named Charles Hindley, who had published them for a prank. He had already confessed to the hoax years earlier, but by then the prophecies had passed into folklore, and ordinary country people did not have access to the learned journals in which the hoax was discussed.

The end of the world concept figures in Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, but Eastern and Western eschatology differ radically in their concepts of time. In esoteric Hinduism, time is regarded as a limitation of human consciousness and as illusory as the material world itself, designated as maya. On a popular level, Hindu mythology proposes vast cycles of time (yugas ) in the ages of the world, during which there are great periods of creation, righteousness, decline, and eventual dissolution, part of an infinite cycle of creation and destruction of the cosmos. In the period of decline, there is the messianic concept of the rebirth of the divine Shree Krishna, who will redeem the world.

However, all these cycles are only a dreamlike moment of time in divine consciousness, of which the individual souls are myriad fragments; and in self-realization, or moksha, the individual consciousness goes beyond the duality of subject and object and is subsumed in a timeless and blissful divine consciousness, independent of time, space, and causality, which fall away as illusory.

It is of some interest that astrology has been the basis of apocalyptic speculations. For example, at the end of the seventeenth century, a group of German Rosicrucians settled in Pennsylvania and established an astrological observatory to search for the signs of Jesus' return. The group, known as the Woman in the Wilderness, died out, disappointed, in the early eighteenth century. More recently, with the alignment of most of the planets in the solar system in 1982, many astrologers predicted significant changes. Their predictions were bolstered by the predictions of two geophysicists, John R. Gribbin and Stephen H. Plageman, who termed their discovery of the effects of such events "the Jupiter effect," which became the title of a popular book they wrote. Gribbin and Plageman dealt honestly with the flaws in their predictions in a sequel, The Jupiter Effect Reconsidered.

(See also Malachy Prophecies )


Balleline, G. R. Past Finding Out: The Tragic Story of Joanna Southcott and Her Successors. New York: Macmillan, 1957.

Chamberlin, E. R. Antichrist and the Millennium. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1975.

Clark, Doug. Earthquake1982: When the Planets Align (Syzygy). Garden Grove, Calif.: Lyfe Production Publications, 1976.

Gribbin, John R. Beyond the Jupiter Effect. London: MacDonald, 1983.

. The Jupiter Effect. New York: Walker, 1974. Revised as The Jupiter Effect Reconsidered. New York: Vintage, 1982.

Griffin, William, ed. Endtime: The Doomsday Catalog. New York: Macmillan, 1979.

Lowery, T. L. The End of the World. Cleveland, Tenn.: Lowery Publications, 1969.

Nichol, Francis D. The Midnight Cry. Washington, D.C.: Re-view & Herald Publishing Association, 1944.

Robinson, Douglas. American Apocalypses: The Image of the End of the World in American Literature. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985.

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"End of the World." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

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End of the World

138. End of the World

the belief that Christ will return to earth in visible form and establish a kingdom to last 1000 years, after which the world will come to an end. Also called millenarianism . chiliast , n. chiliastic , adj.
Theology. any set of doctrines concerning flnal matters, as death, the judgment, afterlife, etc. eschatological , adj. eschatologist , n.
the preachings of the American William Miller (1782-1849), founder of the Adventist church, who believed that the end of the world and the return of Christ would occur in 1843. Millerite , n.

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"End of the World." -Ologies and -Isms. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"End of the World." -Ologies and -Isms. . (December 15, 2017).

"End of the World." -Ologies and -Isms. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from