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END-OF-THE-WORLD PREDICTIONS:

SECULAR PREDICTIONS vs CHRISTIAN PROPHECY

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Secular predictions:

End of the sun as we know it: Scientists are quite confident that life on earth cannot last much more than another five billion years. At about that time, the sun will become unstable. It will expand into a red giant and engulf the Earth. However, none of this will happen in our near future.

A massive asteroid could theoretically hit the earth at any time. Such collisions seem to happen at irregular intervals, many tens of millions of years apart. When they occur, many species of life forms -- plant and animal -- are wiped out on earth. When we originally published this essay in the year 2000, we wrote:

"A major hit is most unlikely to happen in the next year or two -- if it were, astronomers would probably have detected it by now. But it could happen a decade from now, a millennium in the future, or many tens of millions of years from now. It is just a matter of time!"

It turns out that this is wishful thinking. In the year 2002, astronomers detected an asteroid the size of a football field. It passed close to the earth -- about one third of the way between the earth and the moon. The shocking thing is that they only detected the asteroid after it had made its closest approach to the earth and was starting to leave the area! If it had hit the earth, it would have had the power equal to a hydrogen bomb. If it landed in a populated area, it would have obliterated an entire city. We cannot count on any significant advance warning of an asteroid hit, unless better systems are put in place.

Other doomsday scenarios: Many dozens of prophecies have been made which predict the end of the world (or at least a major catastrophe) in our near future, due to:

bullet Massive shifts in the earth's axis.
bullet Melting ice caps.
bullet World-wide floods.
bullet Weather-related natural disasters.
bullet World War III.
bullet Attacks by space aliens.
bullet etc.

However, these types of catastrophes have been predicted many times in the past with a 100% failure rate. It is unlikely that any of them will come true in our near-term future.

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Historical Christian expectations: 

In North America, most prophecies are made by Christians and based on the Bible. It is important to realize that anticipation of second coming of Jesus, and the end of the world as we know it, has been a constant expectation of Christians from the about 30 CE to the present time. Century after century, some 80 generations of Christians have been disappointed. It is quite possible that contemporary Christians will be as well.

Christians of every age since the death of Jesus have been anxiously awaiting the second coming, and looking for advance signs of his return.  Anticipation was heightened as the last year of some centuries approached - particularly 1000 CE and 1500 CE. It was particularly intense just before the start of the year 2000. The anticipation subsided considerably on 2000-JAN-1, but the second coming is still a passionately held expectation by many Christians.

According to Matthew 24:35-36, Jesus said that no one knows the exact date and time of the end of the world:

"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only."

However, many Christians have attempted to predict the year and month (but not necessarily the day and hour) of the end.

Various conflicting beliefs have been held by conservative Protestants about whether the second coming may happen as soon as today, or whether certain biblical preconditions still remain to be met:

bullet Jack Van Impe, Hal Lindsey, and many other Christian leaders who specialize in prophecy agree on one belief: that all of the conditions mentioned in the Bible which must be satisfied before the Antichrist appears on earth have been met. 1Thus, the start of the seven years of Tribulation can occur at any time. 2 Most conservative Protestants believe that the Rapture will happen at some time during the Tribulation -- often at the beginning of the seven years. 3 Jesus is expected to return to earth at the end of the Tribulation.

bullet Many church leaders believe, and have believed that the second coming of Christ could happen at any time during their lifetime:
bullet John Wesley said, "The spirit in the heart of the true believer says with earnest desire, ' Come Lord Jesus.' "
bullet D. L. Moody said, "I never preach a sermon without thinking that possibly the Lord might use that sermon to call out the last of the saints who should go to make up the full number of God's elect and to bring about the Lord's coming."
bullet Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, a well known English pastor, said, "I never begin my work in the morning without thinking that perhaps he may interrupt my work and begin His own. I am not looking for death. I am looking for him."

They were all disappointed.

bullet Other theologians say that there is at least one biblical condition that remains to be satisfied before the Antichrist can appear, and the Tribulation can begin: the Temple must first be rebuilt on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It was destroyed by the Roman occupying army in 70 CE. This building is sometimes referred to as the Tribulation Temple. 4 Two biblical passages imply this:
bullet 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4: says: "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God." (KJV) Verse 4 indicates that the Antichrist will sit "in the temple of God." This implies that the temple must be rebuilt; otherwise, he would have no place to sit.

bullet Daniel 9:27: says: "And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate." The "week" referred to here is interpreted by most conservative Protestants to be the seven-year Tribulation. At the 42nd month point into the Tribulation, the Antichrist will terminate the ritual sacrifice of animals in the Jerusalem temple. Again, the temple would have to be rebuilt before the sacrifices can be resumed. Only then could they be ended by the Antichrist.

bullet Although no temple currently exists on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, it could be argued that the Antichrist might still arrive at any time in our immediate future. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that a small, light-weight temple could be constructed somewhere in the world and transported at very little advance notice to Jerusalem by helicopter. All the preconditions listed in the Bible would then be satisfied for the sequence of events to start that will lead up to Jesus' second coming.

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References:

  1. The Antichrist has been described as "the most evil man that will ever live. He will arrive on the world scene and appear to be the world's savior, but everyone on earth will soon learn his real mission will be one of destruction. Also called the man of lawlessness (or sin), Gog, the son of destruction (or perdition)." See: http://www.raptureready.com/
  2. The Tribulation is a seven year period when the Antichrist rules the world. 
  3. The Rapture is a miraculous event when Jesus returns towards earth, and all of the saved Christians (dead and alive) will rise through the air to meet Jesus in the sky. Belief in the rapture is quite common among conservative Protestants but is rarely observed among other Christians.
  4. "The rapture index categories explained," at: http://www.novia.net/ 
  5. "The glossary of prophetic terms," at: http://www.novia.net/ 

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Copyright © 2000 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2011-JAN-18

Written by B.A. Robinson
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