Two years after becoming a Christian I had the privilege of meeting and befriending Bob Ayala, one of the early contemporary Christian musicians. Both of us had experienced the end of high school and now shared a very new beginning through faith in Jesus. We met at a community college.
Bob was a friend of a family who had just lost their son in Viet Nam (if my memory serves me well). The mother claimed God had revealed to her numeric values and symbols in the Bible that correlated to the date of her son’s death, and somehow had mysteriously tied into the dates of the deaths of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Bob and I would frequently go to her house for “Bible study” to learn about this fascinating and elaborate revelation from God. Names and dates of historic American figures somehow connected to her son’s birth date and death, with the address numbers of various and “significant” Bible passages. It was intriguing and exciting. It certainly got my adrenaline going, but had me worried that God was putting an end to the world very soon. There were moments when I felt like Chicken Little going around telling my friends the end was coming. To my unbelieving friends and family I probably looked like some terrified chihuahua.
Living in Southern California presented many opportunities to hear about other revelations God had supposedly given to “prophets” and to those who earned great profits from the sales of their end-times books, cassette tapes, and conferences. Those of us who had this secret knowledge were excited, yet scared witless that Jesus was coming. It took years for me to figure out Christians have no need to fear his coming. And it has still taken many more years to try to figure out how I got caught up into the fervor.
I lost track of Bob and his friend after joining the Army. While stationed in Japan my spiritual mentors were of the Dispensational persuasion. The intricate details of prophecies, the elaborate charts, intriguing schemes tickled my mind. Men like Scofield, Larkin, Walvoord and Hal Lindsey (who, in recent years successfully published The Late, Great Planet Earth) had everything pertaining to the end figured out. It was all the more convincing that, while stationed in Japan, Mao had proudly declared China had a standing army of 200 million men, which, coincidentally fit Revelation 9:16. We learned that John F. Kennedy, shot in the head, would rise again to take over the world as the antiChrist. Uh, no, it was actually Mikhail Gorbachev who would become the antichrist because of his port wine mark on his forehead. And everyone knows the Pope would be the actual beast.
Since the generation that saw Israel become a national state again in 1948, and everyone knows that a generation is exactly forty years, that meant 1988 was the year of the end of history. We were convinced of that because of the Arab-Israeli war that broke out on the sixth day of the sixth year of 1966 (hmmm, but that is one too many sixes) happened in the generation that lived since 1948. In any case, the end was going to happen any moment!
After reading too many books, attending too many end-times seminars, and worrying about whether this man’s prophecy or that man’s revelation from God was going to be fulfilled any second now, I became more than disillusioned and disgusted. The end did not happen as that distraught woman said. The end did not occur in 1970, or 1972, or 1978, or 1980. Indeed, even though there were 88 indisputable reasons why the end would happen in 1988, it just did not take place. Not one of the predictions came true, other than the prediction that these men would make mountains of money from their tracts, books, tapes and conferences.
It was in 1998 that a rather informative book came out about end times predictions. Richard Abanes’ End-Time Visions is worth reading. In it he documents how fascination with the end of the world has been with humanity since the beginning. It has not merely been a Christian phenomenon, but it has been a profound interest among the ancient Chinese, Hopi Indians, the Mayans, sects of the Jews, spiritualist Nostradamus, and, well, the list is rather long. In other words, then end keeps coming again and again and again.
Appendix C of his book posts a lengthy, though incomplete list of end times dates. Check this out:
* St. Martin of Tours 316-397), Bishop of Gaul predicted the end would come between 375-400.
* Hippolytus (died 236) predicted the end of the world would take place in 500 A.D.
* Spanish monk Beatus (died 798) was convinced he would see antichrist arrive by the year 800.
* Thiota, the prophetess, tells her large following the end would happen in 848.
* It was a largely held belief in Europe that the end would arrive in A.D. 1000. Why not? It’s a nice round number and marked the end of the thousand-year Millennium (sorry for the redundancy).
* When the end did not happen, again, most figured the calculations were off by 33 years, so the end definitely would occur in 1033.
* When the moon aligned with planets and Jupiter aligned with Mars, then the end would come in 1186.
* Then the end was certain to come in 1260, or between 1345 and 1385, and 1420; but absolutely on February 20th, 1524! Melchoir Hoffman said Jesus would return in 1533, but his follower Jan Matthys, the popular Anabaptist leader, called Christians to rise up for a violent revolution to cleanse the world for Christ’s coming in 1534.
* Christopher Columbus calculated the end would occur in 1656. He should have made it a nice biblical number like 1666 or 1777.
* Even the American Puritan Cotton Mather predicted 1697. Woops, he actually meant 1716. Nope. Didn’t happen then? Oh, well, it had to take place 1736.
* The Shakers were adamant that 1792 is the big year of fear.
* The American Baptist preacher William Miller claimed the end would take place between 1843 and 1844. October 22, 1844 is considered “The Great Disappointment.” Oddly enough, even though the followers were disappointed, they were not disappointed in Miller! From his growing following came the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah Witnesses.
* In England, the Anglican minister M. Baxter wrote a little booklet with a large title: Louis Napolean, the Infidel Antichrist Predicted in Prophecy to confirm A Seven Years Covenant With the Jews, About the Year 1861… Well, the title goes on for another ninety-four words. Too long for me to type. Much like Hal Lindsey and Harold Camping he had no doubt as to what would happen and when, and who the real antichrist and beast were. The Napoleonic Wars convinced a great many non-French, non-Roman Catholics that indeed the world was ending, thanks to Napoleon!
* Lee Spangler, grocery store owner, reveals the end by fire in 1908.
* Halley’s Comet was sure to end it all, again, in 1920.
* 1914 is the year the Jehovah’s Witnesses proclaim Armageddon would take place. They were, perhaps, a little bit closer to the truth with the coming of World War One. When the great last-days battle did not take place, they readjusted their date to 1925. They tried again and predicted Armageddon arrived some time in the 1940s. When the end did not materialize they published that the year 1975 would bring the end. After all, 1975 would mark 6000 years since the creation of the world and there would be another 1000 years of kingdom reign, which would bring the world to 7000 years (you calculate 6 as the number for mankind, and add 7 for the perfect number, and add 1000 years for each period of time, ad infinitum, ad nauseam).
* Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in the 1934 summer edition of his Plain Truth magazine that the bad times in the United States and Europe would continue until the Day of the Lord brings the end of everything in 1936. Plain Truth revises the revelation and announces the end would come – again – between 1975 and 1977. I’m sure for some it did.
* On February 4, 1962, when the moon aligned with planets, and Jupiter was near Mars, then the end would rule our planet and dust would fill the stars. The date was the spawning of the age of destruction…!
* Hal Lindsey writes more materials, does prophecy conferences, goes on radio and television to warn that the rapture of Christians will transpire December 31, 1981. Like Jack van Impe, he is still making predictions and making plenty of money off the end times hype.
* Not to be left behind, Louis Farrakahn, the leader of the Nation of Islam tells the world that the Gulf War of 1991 will usher in the final battle of Armageddon.
* Pentecostal leader Lester Sumrall disagrees. It will happen in 2000.
* The year 2000, has held a preeminent spot for at least a millennium. Nostradamus, psychics Edgar Cayce and Jeane Dixon, Satanic churches (Process Church and Foundation Church of the Millennium), computer geeks, UFO specialists, some geologists (predicting a cataclysmic shift of the earth’s poles), along with dozens of others, all claimed the end would begin in 2000.
* That brings us back to Harold Camping’s first major prediction that Jesus’ second coming would arrive September 7, 1994. I do not recall if he had a particular time for that date. Maybe it was 7:06 (which, for the enlightened is 6:00 and 66 minutes)?
These are just a few of the thousand(s) of prophecies about the end times, which have been predicted only in these past 2000 years. Every year, every decade bring upon us every kind of arrogant prophet who happens to have that secret knowledge no one else has come upon: the knowledge of the end of the world.
There is the beauty and peace of resting in the clear statements of Jesus that only God the Father knows the moment of the end. We cannot say with absolute certainty when the end will arrive, or for that matter when it will not arrive. It’s not for us to figure out or worry about. Each of us will come to our own end on earth. Being prepared to meet God after our own end is what we should be more concerned about. Having a saving faith in Jesus Christ to save us from our own destruction is what we should seek or possess; not the year, the month, the date, the hour, the minute, or the second the destruction of the world will happen.
So, in case you missed 1988, or Y2K, or end up missing Harold Camping’s May 21, 2011 cataclysmic end, you will at least have the Mayan “prediction” of December 2012, or astronomists’ killer comet, or the environmental wipeout of all living things with which to look forward. After all, there will be the end – again!