End of the world

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated


Christian revelation has nothing to say about the end of the world as a purely physical phenomenon that can

be forecast or described in scientific terms. To seek such information in the Bible is a waste of time. When references are made to the beginning of the world (Gn 1.1;2.4; Heb 1.2; 11.3) and the end (1 Thes 4.16; 2 Pt 3.10; Rv 21.1), the sacred writers are dealing with religious truths. Christianity is primarily concerned with the relationship between man and god, and the material universe is never considered for its own sake, in isolation, but is always to be understood in reference to man's ultimate supernatural destiny. Consequently one cannot give a satisfactory account of our belief concerning the end of the world without taking into consideration other truths of revelation and so fitting it into a much wider theological context.

This article deals with (1) the end of the world as the term of salvation history, (a ) the Messianic Age, present and to come, (b ) difficulties in describing the future event, (c ) problems connected with time, (d ) the importance of the future event; (2) the end of the world and the material creation, (a ) the part of matter in the redemptive plan, (b ) the transformation of matter.

End of the WorldTerm of Salvation History. God is not aloof from the world He has created. He is a Father who intervenes in man's affairs and the supreme intervention was in sending His Son to save mankind.

Messianic Age, Present and to Come. The Messianic Age inaugurated by Christ is the great event of human history, and in a sense the end of the world has already begun. We are in the last days, since the world is in the process of apprehending the Redemption achieved in Christ for which it was created (see redemption). In his first Epistle, St. John says: "It is the last hour" (1.18), and he urges his readers to associate themselves with Christ, the truth and the life, and have no part with the powers of darkness (1.6). The final battle is already joined "so now many antichrists have arisen" (2.18). This theme is developed in revelation, which was written to give encouragement to Christians suffering under the persecution of Domitian. St. John is concerned with spiritual realities, with God as punisher and rewarder. He is not setting out to give a description of the end of the world but rather of the situation with which the Christian will be faced as long as the present age lasts. What he says has a value for any moment in history. No matter how much evil may seem to prevail, God is in control. satan has been conquered even though his final overthrow has not yet taken place. This conflict is described in richly symbolic terms. The work of Redemption is still incomplete; only when the heavenly Jerusalem appears in its final glory will the individuals who make up the kingdom attain their full and complete Redemption.

The Gospels express this same truth in their teaching on the kingdom. The term kingdom is to be understood as rule or dominion, so the kingdom of god is God's supreme rule or dominion. This was challenged by man at the Fall (see original sin), and the work of Christ is to restore the kingdom. The parables in Matthew 13 indicate something of the complex nature of the kingdom. It will grow like a mustard seed; it will contain good and bad until the final judgment, as a net contains good and bad fish; it involves conflict between good and evil as good seed has to overcome the cockle; it is a leaven working to transform the whole batch; and it is likened to a wedding feast. In other words, the kingdom is not something static; it has a state here on earth and it has a future state of perfection. The perfect reign is still to come, it is not yet realized because the Church is still imperfect, it is not yet without spot and wrinkle. The kingdom in its fullness still lies in the future. So it is that one prays "Thy kingdom come," and because the kingdom is in one sense here and in another yet to come, there is a tension between "now" and "not yet."

Difficulties in Describing the Future Event. The future and final state involves the last judgment (see judgment, divine), the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead; and it implies a transformation that cannot adequately be described in human language. A similar difficulty confronted the prophets of the Old Law when they tried to convey the glories of what was then the future, Messianic Age. They often had recourse to figurative language. This is especially true of the so called apocalyptic literature, such as the books of ezekiel and daniel. These works deal with God's judgments and they make use of symbolic and stylized phraseology to a much greater extent than normal writing and speaking. As signs of God's judgment there is earthquake (Is 13.13), the sun appearing as sackcloth (Is 50.3), the moon as blood (Jl 3.4), the stars fall from heaven (Is34.4), the mountains are moved (Jer 4.24), men call upon the mountains to fall upon them (Hos 10.8). These figures found their fulfillment in the various calamities of nature and war that befell Juda and Israel whereby God showed His judgment on the wicked. Such language was used to express times of crisis, and when one finds similar expressions used in Revelation and Our Lord's discourse in Mt 24.531, one has to be careful and not interpret them too literally. When one reads in 2 Pt 3.1013 of the last days described in terms of the elements being dissolved in fire, the convention must be kept in mind. It was not intended to give an exact physical description of the changes that will be wrought in the material universe. The sacred writers are concerned with spiritual values and are anxious to create in the minds of their readers a strong impression that will drive them to practical action in their own lives. They wish to convey certain religious truths in the most effective way. At the end of time God will manifest Himself in a final judgment on mankind.

Problems Connected with Time. The new age that began with the messiah works to its fulfillment in space and time, but the Prophets saw this age as a whole, and the time distinctions were blurred and telescoped so that there is often no clear distinction made between the initial coming of the Messiah and the final consummation. The sacred writers were more concerned with καιρός, the time of opportunity and fulfillment that is in God's hands (cf. Eccl. 3.18), than with χρόνος, time as measured in the calendar. Just as one is in danger of accepting certain references to physical happenings too literally, so the Apostles did not always allow for the time distinctions that have to be made if salvation history is to be accomplished in human conditions. They looked for a glorious manifestation of the Messiah all at once, and so in Mt16.21 Christ made it clear that the triumph of the kingdom would not be established before His own death. At the beginning of Acts it is clear from the questions of the Apostles that they were still expecting the final stage of the kingdom to take place. It was only when they saw the ascension of jesus christ that they had final evidence that there would be a Second Cominga coming that would finally complete the kingdom.

Revelation is silent as to when this event will take place in chronological time. It is only concerned that it will take place at the right time, God's time. So one has to be careful not to interpret too literally the signs of the end of the world. That the gospel must be preached to the whole world (Mt 24.14) is obvious when one considers that the Second Coming of Christ is the culmination of the Messianic Age. One cannot hope to deduce a date for this in the future since even St. Paul could speak of the faith of Christians being known to all the world (Rom1.8). The Jewish tradition that Elia would come again in the days immediately preceding the last days to repeat the scene on Mt. Carmel (1 Kgs 18.36) and manifest the supremacy of Yahweh over false gods finds support in Mal3.23 and Mt 17.11. But these last days can be interpreted of the Messianic Age itself, and the words of Christ in Mt 17.1113 indicate that the prophecy is fulfilled, to some extent at least, in john the baptist. Similarly, the references to a final apostasy (2 Thes 2.3) and the coming of antichrist can be understood of the continual conflict that assails the followers of Christ.

St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa theologiae 3a, suppl.,73) maintains a healthy skepticism as to the interpretation of these signs and does not indulge in some of the fantasies of his contemporaries. Theologians agree as to the suddenness of the end, at least in the sense that it will come about through a divine intervention and not simply as the result of natural processes. Although it must be admitted that the more one knows of matter, the more he becomes aware of its inner mutability, yet one has to beware of a purely scientific "proof" that the world will end some day. Such a view does not take into account the full reality of God's concern in human affairs and can easily lead to a deistic attitude toward creation. Exactly how far God will make use of secondary causes is just as much a problem for the last day as it is for the origins of the human race. It is permissible to hold that God will not dispense entirely from secondary causes any more than He dispensed from them in the origins of life. But it would be rash to read into some of the biblical accounts, 2 Pt, for example, a reference to a vast nuclear explosion.

Importance of the Future Event. The Second Coming of Christ became one of the predominant themes in the early Church, just as in the days before Christ there had been the expectation of the Messiah. This truth was seen to be intimately bound up with the whole of revelation. The certitude that Christ was risen meant that He would certainly come again to judge the world. A belief in the kingdom of God established by Christ meant a belief in the growth of that kingdom and a final manifestation at the last day. The whole prayer life of the Christian was geared to this event in the future. In Gal 6.10 it appears as the spur to charity. There is a close link between the paschal mysteries and the parousia. What was achieved in Christ at the first Easter will be fully accomplished in men at the last day (Phil 3.20). The liturgical assembly, the breaking of Bread, not only looks to the past, the death and resurrection of christ, but also to the future coming (1 Cor 11.26). The liturgy transcends time, for Christians are united to the risen Christ now reigning with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It looks to the "eternal liturgy," the worship proffered by the blessed who are outside this world of change and time. So it is that in Revelation, St. John describes the heavenly worship in terms borrowed from the liturgy of his day. One is reminded of the connection between the Eucharist and the last day in the prayer O sacrum convivium: "the memory of His Passion is recalled, the mind is filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given to us." Some of the early Christians went so far as to expect the Second Coming to take place at night while they were watching at the vigil ceremony for the dawn Eucharist.

The end of the world caused a problem for the Thessalonians. It seemed as if death excluded men from the possibility of sharing in the Parousia. St. Paul (1 Thes 4) answers the difficulty by saying that those who have died in Christ will rise, and then all, the living and the dead, will go together to meet Christ when He returns to earth. He pictures the advent of Christ in terms of a conqueror coming home and all the citizens going to meet him at the city gates. The anxiety of the Thessalonians indicates an appreciation of the Parousia that has been lost. Christ is not only the savior of the individual, but He saves the Church. One's individual salvation is to be achieved in the Church and with others. The concern of the Thessalonians that their departed brethren should be present at the last day shows their sense of solidarity and true charity for all.

In this same Epistle one becomes aware of the feeling in those days that the Second Coming could not long be delayed. It should be remembered that the Church of NT times was so near to its origins that the figure of Christ had a great attraction at the purely human level. There were men still alive who had known and loved Him personally, and who could not bear the thought of being separated from Him for long. The beginning of the first Epistle of St. John captures this mood. No wonder that their prayer was "Come, Lord Jesus." They earnestly desired the Second Coming and were perhaps inclined to read their own fallible hopes into the teaching of Christ. But the Second Coming was delayed, Jerusalem was destroyed, and still the Lord had not come. In 2 Pt the assurance that the end will come is given, although one cannot say when. The apparent delay is due not to indecision on God's part, but to the fact that His judgment has to be worked out in time. Time is the measure of human events not of divine ones, and God shows Himself to men in time, as long-suffering and merciful (2 Pt 3.810).

As the Church grew and progressed there came a shift of emphasis in relation to the Second Coming. This event was now seen as the term of a long process. There was a realization that the Church had to work in the world, it had to grow according to human laws as well as divine. The significance of the parables of the mustard seed and harvest time was now realized. With the settlement of Constantine there came a growing concern for the transformation and conversion of the world in which the Church found itself. The need was felt to care for material as well as spiritual realities. There was the command to work until the Lord returns. In this way the implications of the incarnation were brought out, the idea of God working through human history now, just as He had done in the past. The history of the Church takes on a new significance. Salvation history is ended in so far as there can be no further revelation to supplant that of Christ, but it is still being enacted in so far as the world has yet to be completely sanctified in Christ.

In times of great natural disaster and political upheaval there has been a return to the idea that the end of the world is at hand. This was so in the days of Gregory the Great (d. 604) [see Hom. 1.1.5; 1.4.2, PL 76:1080;1090] and also as the year 1000 approached (reflected in the Cluny liturgy of the dead). But for the most part, the exhortations to watch and the references to the suddenness of the end are now applied to the death of the individual. This different outlook is understandable and good in so far as it brings out the truth that death is the encounter of the individual with the risen Christ, and at death one's eternal lot is determined, judgment is passed on one's life. But there has been a tendency in certain circles since the Renaissance to neglect altogether the consideration of the end of the world and to concentrate exclusively on the fate of the individual Christian. Retreats, missions, spiritual writers often put before the faithful the individual end of each man. Death, judgment, heaven, and hell are seen almost exclusively in reference to the individual (see heaven, theology of; hell, theology of). Perhaps the rather unsatisfactory attempts of fundamentalists to explain the end of the world in terms of physical science contributed to this shift of emphasis (see fundamentalism). But in recent years there has been a growing appreciation that the sources of revelation are not at all concerned with a description of the physical end of the world. There is a greater awareness of the effects of Christ's saving mission working themselves out in the human situation. The whole of humanity has been incorporated into Christ and has Christ as its goal. This has resulted in the conviction that the teaching of Scripture on the Parousia has certain important social implications and that some sort of synthesis between the theology of the end of the individual and the theology of the end of the world has to be attempted.

End of the World and the Material Creation. One cannot understand the Christian message without a clear grasp of the meaning of the material world and its place in the Redemption. All this has a bearing on the way in which one understands the end of the physical world.

The Part of Matter in the Redemptive Plan. The Redemption was effected through the Incarnation. The fact that God became man and lived a human life, died, and is now in glory with His human body means that there is a theology of matter and terrestrial realities (see temporal values, theology of). While holding fast to the primacy of the spirit and being careful to avoid anything that savors of the false messianism of a purely earthly kingdom or the condemned view of the millennium [H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, (Freiburg 1963) 3839], nevertheless one must assert that matter has its part to play in the future kingdom. The sacred writers are primarily concerned with spiritual values, but in so far as man has a body he is also part of the material world, and so revelation must have something to say, at least indirectly, about this side of creation. One is assured that man will live on, and man is not a disembodied spirit but body and soul, a totality. The doctrine of the resurrection of the body implies the survival of the material creation in some form or other and it is reasonable to suppose that all matter will have some part in the new world, not only the matter immediately associated with the human body. For the Christian, belief in the end of the world is not belief in the total annihilation of matter and the survival of purely spiritual realities. Today theologians tend to explain the end in terms of a gradual transformation rather than a discontinuity between this world and the one to come (see G. Thils). The end is a transformation of the world to which one belongs, at least a return to the original harmony of the creation before man sinned. God does not destroy what He has made but He brings it to completion, and the disorders created by man's sin and its consequences will finally be righted in the total victory of Christ. Such a view of the world implies a theology of human history (see history, theology of). God does not save man by withdrawing him from the world, but man is saved in and through history. The story of mankind is the story of a progress toward a final consummation of all things in Christ, the God-man. It is a progress that is only achieved with the help of divine intervention and not by man's unaided efforts. If man had not sinned there would be no such thing as human history as one knows it, and when on the last day all is accomplished, then human history will cease and so eternity will begin.P. teilhard de chardin has some valuable insights into this interpretation of the history of the human race when he speaks of all tending toward the omega point. So it is that a process of continual renewal, an unending series of "ends of the world" such as described by many pagan religions, does not fit in with the biblical idea of time as leading to a definite point in the future that will be the consummation of all [M. Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, tr. R. Sheed (New York 1958) 388409]. From time to time similar theories have been put forward, but they have never found a permanent place in orthodox Christian thought, and on occasion they have been condemned, as for example the Origenist error of a final pardon for the damned [Denz 411]; (see apocatastasis).

The account of creation in genesis is another indication that the material world was meant to serve man. Man was made lord of creation by God. His dominion is indicated by the naming of the animals in Gn 2.1820. He brings order into creation. By the Fall, he lost the gift of integrity and the fact that he is now mortal and subject to disease means that there has been some indirect influence of his sin on nature. Nature has a greater ascendancy over man than it had before the fall of adam. Only man fell; creation below man, animate and inanimate, did not sin. But because of his subjection to concupiscence, the world and the flesh are instruments of the devil and occasions of sin. It is not so much a question of the rebellion of nature, nature becoming wild, as of man being no longer able to control nature. With the coming of Christ and His conquest of sin at the Resurrection there began the gradual restoration of the lost ascendancy of man over the rest of creation. Through the Incarnation and then through the Resurrection of Christ, matter has been raised and brought into conjunction with the spiritual. The miracles of Christ indicate the transformation foretold in Is65.17; 66.22. Water is turned into wine, Jesus feeds thousands with a few loaves, He walks on the waters, after His Resurrection He manifests even greater powers over nature. This process is continued by the Church, a human and divine society, and by the sacramental system whereby spiritual benefits are conferred by and through matter. At the last day complete integrity will be restored to man when his body rises, and it is hard to see how this cannot but have an effect on the rest of the material universe.

Transformation of Matter. The Resurrection of Christ is the prototype of men's resurrection. It is the promise that the just will one day be fully redeemed in body as well as soul. It is not by putting off the body that man achieves himself but by putting on the risen body. The risen body of Christ is an indication of the future state of man at the end of the world. But one must remember that the Apostles who saw it and testified to it were not themselves risen, and so they could grasp this reality only in an imperfect way. The NT accounts of the Resurrection show one that they did not recognize Him at first; faith was required in addition to mere bodily sight (Mt28.17). It was the same Christ as they had known before His crucifixion, but He now belonged to a new mode of existence, not indifferent to the material world and its needs, but not constrained by them. To describe such a body baffles the human mind. St. Paul in 1 Cor 15.44 calls it a "spiritual body," that is, a true body but one that fully expresses the spirit.

As Christ is risen and as Mary too is in heaven with her body, the abode of the blessed even now, before the general resurrection, must connote some idea of place (see assumption of mary). But physical space as one experiences it on earth is cramped and limited. For the blessed it is not so limited. Remember, that as Christ and Mary have their bodies, matter even now is already transformed or under the dominion of spirit in some respect. Moreover, the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist means that transformed matter (Christ's risen body) impinges on the world of man in the sacramental presence.

Despite all this, it would be foolish to try to determine where heaven is located in terms of the universe as one knows it. Since one must hold to the bodily existence of all men after the general resurrection, it is reasonable to suppose that the world will remain in some changed form as the connatural surroundings of risen man, as it is today the connatural surroundings of mortal man.

Quite apart from the teaching on the resurrection of the body there are indications in Scripture that point to a final state of the material universe. In 2 Pt 3 there is reference to a change and transformation of the world rather than annihilation. The end is likened to the new creation after the Flood and the material universe is seen to partake in the final judgment of God on mankind. The Hebrew mentality delighted in associating all of nature with man in his Fall and Redemption and is quite opposed to any Manichaean view of matter as intrinsically evil. Moreover, the traditional teaching that there is real fire in hell, at least in the sense that some material element is used as an instrument of God's justice, could be an indication that matter has some place in the final state of mankind.

Rom 8.1923 speaks of creation itself groaning and travailing and awaiting deliverance. Many commentators see here some reference to a future renewal of the material creation. Although St. Augustine is one of the few to interpret "creation" of mankind alone, nevertheless he does admit (De civitate Dei, 22.14, 16) that the material world will assume a new and important role when man's body in a mirabilis mutatio will pass out of time into eternity. St. Thomas infers the renewal of the world from the fact that the object of the world is to serve mankind, and when man is transfigured in the resurrection there will be need for the world to be transfigured too (Summa theologiae 3a, Suppl., 91.1). With all this in mind one need not hesitate to think of the end of the world in terms of a "new heaven and new earth" as found in Rv 21.1.

See Also: eschatology, articles on.

Bibliography: e. mangenot, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, (Paris 190350) 5.2:250452. Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, Tables générales, (1951) 152730. a. pautrel and d. mollat, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot, et. al. 4:132194. a. feuillet, ibid. 6:13311419; Catholicisme 4:130410. g. lanczkowski et al., Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche (Freiburg 195765) 3:108398. e. pax and k. rahner, ibid. 8:120124. Works of general introduction. r. w. gleason, The World to Come (New York 1958). j. j. quinn, Eschatology (Foundations of Catholic Theology; Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1965). m. schmaus, Von den letzten Dingen (Regensburg 1948); Katholische Dogmatik, 5 v. in 8 (5th ed. Munich 195359) v.4.2. On salvation history and the end of the world. o. cullmann, Christ and Time, tr. f. v. filson (rev. ed. Philadelphia 1964). j. marsh in A Theological Word Book of the Bible, ed. a. richardson (New York 1950) 258267. j. mouroux, The Mystery of Time (New York 1964). j. daniÉlou, The Lord of History, tr. n. abercrombie (Chicago 1958); Histoire des doctrines chrétiennes avant Nicée (Paris 1958) v.1, ch. 11. b. rigaux, "La Seconde venue de Jésus," La Venue du Messie: Messianisme et eschatologie (Récherches Bibliques 6; Bruges 1962) 173216. r. schnackenburg, God's Rule and Kingdom, tr. j. murray (New York 1963). On the material creation. g. thils, Théologie des réalités terrestres, 2 v. (Louvain 194649). k. rahner, Theological Investigations, v.2, tr. k. h. kruger (Baltimore 1964) 203216; On the Theology of Death, tr. c. h. henkey (Quaestiones disputatae 2; New York 1961). p. teilhard de chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, tr. b. wall (New York 1959). t. e. clarke, "St. Augustine and Cosmic Redemption," Theological Studies 19 (1958) 133164.

[m. e. williams]

views updated

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.

views updated

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.
views updated

End of the World Woof! 1976 (PG)

A coffee machine explodes, sending a man through a window and into a neon sign, where he is electrocuted. A priest witnesses this and retreats to a convent where he meets his alien double and heads for more trouble with outer space invaders. Interesting premise. 88m/C VHS, DVD . Christopher Lee, Sue Lyon, Lew Ayres, MacDonald Carey, Dean Jagger, Kirk Scott; D: John Hayes; M: Andrew Belling.