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Apocalypticism is the religious belief that there will be an apocalypse, a term which originally referred to a revelation of God's will, but now usually refers to the belief that the world will come to an end very soon, even within one's own lifetime. This belief is usually accompanied by the idea that civilization will soon come to a tumultuous end due to some sort of catastrophic global event.
Apocalypticism is often conjoined with esoteric knowledge that will likely be revealed in a major confrontation between good and evil forces, destined to change the course of history. Apocalypses can be viewed as good, evil, ambiguous or neutral, depending on the particular religion or belief system promoting them. They can appear as a personal or group tendency, an outlook or a perceptual frame of reference, or merely as expressions in a speaker's rhetorical style.
Jewish apocalypticism holds a doctrine that there are two eras of history: the present era, which is ruled over by evil, and a world to come to be ruled over by God. At the time of the coming era, there will be a messiah who will deliver the faithful into the new era. Due to incidents arising very early on in Jewish history, predictions about the time of the coming of the Jewish messiah were highly discouraged, lest people lose faith when the predictions did not come true during the lifespan of the believer.
Moses of Crete, a rabbi in the 5th century, claimed to be the messiah and promised to lead the people, like the ancient Moses, through a parted sea back to Palestine. His followers left their possessions and waited for the promised day, when, at his command, many cast themselves into the sea, some finding death, others being rescued by sailors.
Some scholars believe that Jesus' apocalyptic teachings were the central message Jesus intended to impart, more central even than his messianism.
Various Christian eschatological systems have developed, providing different frameworks for understanding the timing and nature of apocalyptic predictions. Some like dispensational premillennialism tend more toward an apocalyptic vision, while others like postmillennialism and amillennialism, while teaching that the end of the world could come at any moment, tend to focus on the present life and contend that one should not attempt to predict when the end should come, though there have been exceptions such as postmillennialist Jonathan Edwards, who estimated that the end times would occur around the year 2000.
The gospels portray Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet, described by himself and by others as the Son of Man – translated as the Son of Humanity – and hailing the restoration of Israel. Jesus himself, as the Son of God, a description also used by himself and others for him, was to rule this kingdom as lord of the Twelve Apostles, the judges of the twelve tribes.
Albert Schweitzer emphasized that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, preparing his fellow Jews for the imminent end of the world. Many historians concur that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, most notably Paula Fredriksen, Bart Ehrman, and John P. Meier. E. P. Sanders portrays Jesus as expecting to assume the "viceroy" position in God's kingdom, above the Apostles, who would judge the twelve tribes, but below God. He concludes, however, that Jesus seems to have rejected the title Messiah, and he contends that the evidence is uncertain to whether Jesus meant himself when he referred to the Son of Man coming on the clouds as a divine judge (see also Daniel's Vision of Chapter 7), and further states that biblical references to the Son of Man as a suffering figure are not genuine.
The preaching of John was, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2), and Jesus also taught this same message (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15). Additionally, Jesus spoke of the signs of "the close of the age" in the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 (and parallels), near the end of which he said, "[T]his generation will not pass away until all these things take place" (v. 34). Interpreters have understood this phrase in a variety of ways, some saying that most of what he described was in fact fulfilled in the destruction of the Temple in the Roman Siege of Jerusalem (see Preterism), and some that "generation" should be understood instead to mean "race" (see NIV marginal note on Mat 24:34) among other explanations. Other scholars such as Ehrman and Sanders accept that Jesus was simply mistaken, that he believed the end of the world to be imminent. "We make sense of these pieces of evidence if we think that Jesus himself told his followers that the Son of Man would come while they still lived. The fact that this expectation was difficult for Christians in the first century helps prove that Jesus held it himself. We also note that Christianity survived this early discovery that Jesus had made a mistake very well."
There are a few recorded instances of apocalypticism leading up to the year 1000. However they mostly rely on one source, Rodulfus Glaber.
Fifth Monarchy Men
The Fifth Monarchy Men were active from 1649 to 1661 during the Interregnum, following the English Civil Wars of the 17th century. They took their name from a belief in a world-ruling kingdom to be established by a returning Jesus in which prominently figures the year 1666 and its numerical relationship to a passage in the Biblical Book of Revelation indicating the end of earthly rule by carnal human beings.
Around 1649, there was great social unrest in England and many people turned to Oliver Cromwell as England's new leader. The Parliamentary victors of the First English Civil War failed to negotiate a constitutional settlement with the defeated King Charles I. Members of Parliament and the Grandees in the New Model Army, when faced with Charles's perceived duplicity, reluctantly tried and executed him.
Isaac Newton and the end of the world in 2060
Isaac Newton proposed that the world would not end until the year 2060, based largely on his own study and deciphering of Bible codes.
Millerites and Seventh-day Adventists
The ideological descendants of the Millerites are the Seventh-day Adventists. One notable example was the following of Margaret Rowen, a member of the Los Angeles Seventh-Day Adventists, who believed the second coming of Jesus was to strike on February 6, 1925.
Like many 19th-century American Protestant churches, the Mormon tradition teaches that adherents are living shortly before the Second Coming of Christ. The term "latter days" is used in the official names of several Mormon churches, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. LDS president Wilford Woodruff preached multiple times that many then-living adherents "would not taste death" before witnessing the return of Christ.
The Jehovah's Witnesses denomination has issued several predictions of the end of the world. It presently believes that the world entered the "latter days" in 1914 but that the actual return date of Christ is unknown.
The 2011 end times prediction made by American Christian radio host Harold Camping stated that the Rapture and Judgment Day would take place on May 21, 2011, and that the end of the world would take place five months later on October 21, 2011.
UFO religions sometimes feature an anticipated end-time in which extraterrestrial beings will bring about a radical change on Earth or lift the religious believers to a higher plane of existence. One such religious group's failed expectations of such an event served as the basis for the classic social psychology study When Prophecy Fails.
Apocalypticism was especially evident with the approach of the millennial year 2000, in which simultaneous computer crashes caused by uncorrected instances of the Y2k bug were expected to throw global commerce and financial systems into chaos. Piggy-backing on these issues, and probably driven by the "interesting date" unsupported allegations of an apocalypse were common.
Mayan calendar 2012
The 2012 doomsday prediction was a contemporary cultural meme proposing that cataclysmic and apocalyptic events would occur on December 21, 2012. This idea has been disseminated by numerous books, Internet sites and by TV documentaries with increasing frequency since the late 1990s. This date is derived from the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar which completes 12 baktuns or 1 Great cycle equaling 5,125 years on December 21 or 23, 2012. There is also a movie called 2012 made in 2009 inspired from this theory. The prediction given by the Mayans about what would happen at the end of this Great Cycle is described as a rebirth of this world and the beginning of an age of enlightenment. There are also other interpretations of assorted legends, scriptures, numerological constructions and prophecies encircling this date.
- 1975 in Prophecy! (book)
- Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius
- Apocalyptic literature
- Aum Shinrikyo
- Big crunch
- Branch Davidians
- The Brethren (Jim Roberts group), also known as "The Body of Christ".
- Buddhist eschatology
- Center for Millennial Studies
- Doomsday cult
- Heaven's Gate
- Hindu eschatology
- Kali Yuga
- Tim LaHaye
- Hal Lindsey
- Order of the Solar Temple
- Peoples Temple
- James Redfield
- Risks to civilization, humans and planet Earth
- Ultimate fate of the Universe
- Unfulfilled religious predictions
- Donna Kossy, Kooks
- Bart D. Ehrman's Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet
- Theissen, Gerd and Annette Merz. The historical Jesus: a comprehensive guide. Fortress Press. 1998. translated from German (1996 edition)
- Sanders, E. P. The historical figure of Jesus. Penguin, 1993. Chapter 15, Jesus' view of his role in God's plan.
- Mat. 3:2
- Mat 4:17; Mark 1:15
- Mat 24
- Sanders, E. P. The Historical Figure of Jesus. Penguin, 1993. Chapter 13, The Coming of the Kingdom.
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- Stewart, Kathleen and Susan Harding. 1999. "Bad Endings: American Apocalypsis." Annual Review of Anthropology, 28, pp. 285–310.
- Stone, Jon R., ed. (2000). Expecting Armageddon: Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-92331-X (paperback)
- Strozier, Charles B. (1994). Apocalypse: On the Psychology of Fundamentalism in America. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-1226-2
- Strozier, Charles B, and Michael Flynn, eds. (1997). The Year 2000: Essays on the End. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-8030-X (hard bound) ISBN 0-8147-8031-8 (paperback)
- Thompson, Damian. (1996). The End of Time: Faith and Fear in the Shadow of the Millennium. London: Sinclair-Stevenson. ISBN 1-85619-795-6
- Thompson, Damian. (1997). The End of Time: Faith and Fear in the Shadow of the Millennium. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England. ISBN 0-87451-849-0
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