With so much doom and gloom all around us lately, I feel like none of us would be the least bit surprised if frogs started raining from the sky and the news started talking about alien invasions. With the recent end of the presidential election—finally!—we seem to be torn between being sure of impending doom and being positive that the worst is behind us. To cheer myself up a little, I started digging around for past and future world’s-end scenarios. What I found was whole lot of failed Armageddon and second coming predictions. Yes, there are many. Yes, they are quite hilarious, but maybe more importantly, they’re a good reminder that this, too—whatever we think of the newest president and state of our nation—shall pass.
1. The First Second Coming: 30 CE
The Bible’s New Testament has many predictions by Jeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a Jesus Christ) claiming that God’s kingdom would arrive very soon after Jesus’s crucifixion, or that it was already in the process of arriving. For example, the book of Matthew states, “There shall be some standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” This is followed by: “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” Being the first century, life expectancy was around thirty years, so this means JC was expected to reunite with his old friends within a few decades. Good news for the sinners, bad news for his followers: looks like they got stood up.
2. First Round-Numbered-Year Panic: 500
We were trying to do the math on the world’s expiration well over a thousand years ago. For the first big numerical transition, a theologian named Hippolytus predicted that the anti-Christ would make its appearance this year, which would be followed by the second coming of Christ—and subsequent end of the world. What did he base this on? He calculated that the world would last about 6,000 years and, since Adam, the first man according to the Bible, was born 5,500 years before Christ (you knew that, right?), this had to be the big day.
3. Y1K Hysteria: 1000
The approaching end of the first millennium caused mass hysteria (hmmm, sounds familiar) across the medieval Christian world. Folks believed that Christ’s return would happen on this monumental day—that Jesus would be the guest of honor at all their New Year’s Eve bashes. According to historians, during the year 999, there was a huge burst of religious fervor as believers prepared to be taken up to heaven. They began selling belongings, donating possessions to the church (though I have to wonder, what use would the church have for them if the world was about to implode?), releasing people from prison, and neglecting earthly duties like planting crops. When the predictions turned out to be a bust, the church didn’t give back the gifts, which caused some criticism of the church to follow. This was quickly silenced with the execution of the heretics, which settled down the critiques right quickly.
4. You Can’t Blame Her for Trying: 1814
Hey, at least there was one woman who got in on all these predictions. Joanna Southcott, an English mystic, preached that she had supernatural powers, declaring herself the woman spoken of in the King James version of Revelations: “There appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” She told followers that she would give birth to the second coming of Christ, marking the world’s end on October 19, 1814. She wasn’t as lucky as the Virgin Mary, failing to give birth to anyone on that date. Followers held on for a while, though—even though she died two months later, they kept her body hoping she’d return from the dead. (Hey, maybe her biblical events were mixed up—if not a virgin birth, perhaps a resurrection.) Once she started to decay, however, they handed her over to authorities.
5. Picking a Specific Year Is Never a Good Idea: 1890
Joseph Smith—a.k.a the founder of the Mormon Church—reported hearing a voice while praying. He wrote, “I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following: ‘If thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man.’” He would have hit eighty-five in 1890. Not only was there no second coming that year, but he’d also been dead for nearly twenty-five years at that point. Some claim there was ambiguity in his prophecy that accounts for this slight road bump in the prediction—it could mean that Jesus would return in 1890 (which he did not), or maybe it meant that 1890 would pass without the return of Jesus. If seeing the face of the son of man means not seeing his face, then, yes, this prophecy has come true. Maybe I should start making prophesies like this.
On April 25, 1982, Londoners drinking their morning cup of coffee opened up their newspapers to come face to face with a rather disturbing headline: “The Christ Is Now Here!” It topped an article describing that Christ had already returned to Earth in 1977 and had been living among a group of Pakistani immigrants in South London. Fortunately, for all of us sinners not quite prepared for Judgment Day, it turned out just to be a series of full-page ads that were placed by a local religious group. Whew.
7. Tenth Time’s a Charm? 1984
Jehovah’s Witnesses have been in on the second coming predictions, too, which they say derive from the Book of Daniel. The most recent one hypothesized that life as we know it would come to an end in 1984. However, they said the same thing about 1874, 1878, 1881, 1910, 1914, 1918, 1925, and 1975. Not to be found wrong again, the Jesus of Burien (nee William E. Peterson) went with it anyway, stating that Armageddon did come on this day and that Christ returned and is already well into his reign. Talk about anticlimactic.
8. Said Pope Leo IX: 2014
In 1514 this beacon of the Catholic Church wrote, “I will not see the end of the world, nor will you my brethren, for its time is long in the future”—wait for it—“500 years hence.” Another specific prediction?! This one leaves us at the year 2014 (add 500 to 1514). For some reason, followers have made guesses as to where this prophesy might come to fruition, including Niagara Falls, where the base will turn into a lake of fire. Look out New York.
Throughout history, a select few have tried to divine when the end is coming. But it seems we’ve moved beyond just a select few worrying about the end; a Pew Research Center poll found that most regular Americans have a dire outlook on our future. More than a third believe that the U.S. will be involved in a nuclear war during the next fifty years; 56 percent think overpopulation will be a major problem and cause a strain on food and resources; and about the same number think there will be an epidemic worse than AIDS in that period. Almost two-thirds think there will probably be a major terrorist attack on this country involving biological or chemical weapons. Still, 70 percent say they’re hopeful about life this century thanks to their faith in science, technology, medicine, and higher education. How could they be so optimistic amid such dire predictions? Maybe they’ve already read these predictions and remember how they ended ... or didn’t.