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 Gods 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 constantEncausse,
Gérard Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
ly 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 Jehovahs 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 Jehovahs Witnesses).
Others found a means of reinterpreting Millers 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. Whites 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
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,
Gribbin, John R. Beyond the Jupiter Effect. London MacDonald,
. 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
Nichol, Francis D. The Midnight Cry. Washington, D.C. Review
& 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.
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