Oxford University has a rather curious name for the beginning of its January term. This is referred to as “Hilary Term”. It is named after the 4th Century End Time Prophet and Bishop of Poitiers, St Hilary. Hilary predicted that the end of the World would occur in the year 365ad. This rested on the idea that the short-lived Roman Emperor, Jovian, was the anti-christ for restoring Paganism as the Imperial religion. Hilary believed Christ would soon return, that those times were predicted in the Bible, and that the end was on its way. Hilary is the first that I have been able to find, whom directly claims the Biblical rapture was imminent.
A lot of writing and philosophising has been exhausted by Catholics and Protestants alike, in their attempts to work through Biblical references to the end times, and what the words could possibly mean for humanity. End time prophecies based on selective interpretations of Biblical language have plagued humanity since the collating of the Gospels. Any slight Earth tremble, is interpreted as the beginning of the end. Any election of a President the American Right Wing dislike, is sure to herald the rapture. Whenever a Nation legalises same-sex marriage, the Christian Groups insist that Jesus is on his way back in a fit of outrage.
The ‘End Times’ have inspired many self-proclaimed End Time Prophets to attempt to insist that the end is here. It is a theme that follows through from the beginning of Christianity, right through to today. The prophesies of Hilary, to Pat Robertson, in 1990 claiming the end of the World would take place on April 29th, 2007. For those wondering….. it didn’t end.
The Vatican is not immune to End Time prophets in their highest rank. Riots sparked when Pope Sylvester II claimed that the new millennium, in 1000ad would herald the end of the World. Pope Innocent III predicted that the World would end in 1284, 666 years after what he considered to be the beginning of the rise of Islam. And today, we still have people claiming End Times. The worry today, is those claiming to be “prophets” based on ancient hearsay are often exposed for the frauds that they quite obviously are, attempting to build a worryingly dangerous cult around themselves, but only when it is too late. Jim Jones is a good example of this. We must be ever vigilant, with the onset of social media and the ability of these people to reach a large audience, including very young, vulnerable and impressionable people, the dangers of those attempting to create cults around themselves, built on threats of eternal punishment, instilling fear in order to win people over to their cult. Some, i’m sure, believe what they are saying. Most, I would argue, are manipulators, and very dangerous con artists.
For a sneak peak at today’s manipulative end time ‘prophets’, preying on the vulnerable:
Where then do End Time Prophesies originate? What does Jesus actually say? I have spent the past week trying to plot out exactly what he supposedly said, and to read, and re-read the exact language, within the context of the people he was addressing, the situation at the time, and the comments of Biblical commentators later on in the Book who mention End Times.
It seems to me that the description of when the End Times is likely to occur in the Bible, is perhaps the least ambiguous and most agreed upon between Gospel writers, of all Jesus’s speeches or actions. The Gospels are notoriously inconsistent, and quite often disagree with each other without any explanation, driven largely by the fact that they were penned decades after the supposed death of Jesus. The quite obvious question we must pose, when searching the Gospels for answers on the End Times, is “When?” We must read the Gospels with that question at the front of our minds. And so it turns out, the disciples asked the exact same question, and got a direct answer.
According to Matthew 24, Jesus begins to describe the end of days:
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you.
5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,
11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—
16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house.
18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak.
19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!
20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.
21 For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equalled again.
22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.
23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.
24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
25 See, I have told you ahead of time.
26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
29 “Immediately after the distress of those days “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.
31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.
33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.
34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
– Throughout this piece, Jesus is directly referring to his disciples. This is not a prophecy set to take place thousands of years in the future. He refers to those living in end times, as “you”. He is clearly suggesting that his disciples, the very people who asked him the question “When?” will still be alive when the end of days arrives. Jesus clarifies this further, with the most important line of this entire section, with “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened“. All these things. This includes the loud trumpet call whilst the ‘Son of Man’ appears in the clouds. Jesus is not talking to us, 2000 years in the future, he is talking to the people there and then, about an event he expects to take place within their life times.
This isn’t unique to Matthew. Luke 21:32 recounts the story, and states:
“Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”
-It is clear. Jesus expected End Times to occur within the life time of his disciples. We can point to ‘wars’ now as mentioned would appear, by Jesus. Or famine. Or Earthquakes. It is all irrelevant, because Jesus sets a time frame of within the lifetime of those whom he is addressing at that time.
There is very little agreement on whom penned the Book of Hebrews. Paul is often cited as the author, others claim Clement of Rome. Great early Christian scholars like Origen accept that no one knows for sure. It is a wonderfully written book nonetheless, and is further essential to our investigation into when End Times was expected, within a Biblical framework. Mention of the End Times is given prominence right at the beginning of Hebrews.
Hebrews 1:1-2 states:
“1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,
2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. ”
– It is quite unambiguous. Early Christians understood End Times as being exactly as Jesus had intended. Christianity was not meant to be a religion that spread throughout the ages, filled with Popes and Cathedrals. Jesus was supposed to be the very final messenger in the very final days of the life of the people of Earth. It seems, as End Times didn’t arrive as planned, and yet more people were exposed to Christianity, structure began to become important to the faith. Jesus does not mention any form of necessary Church structure. He is primarily concerned with ‘saving’ people then and there, because he is convinced End Times are around the corner. To Jesus, there would be no reason to begin such an organised religion. To Paul however, as End Times didn’t seem to be imminent, we suddenly see structure and uniformity becoming important; organisation became the key element to the early Church, whilst still presenting the idea that End Times are on their way (this had to be kept up, otherwise it undermines Jesus’ teaching entirely) and so it is from that perspective, that I interpret 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18:
“16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
– This seems to be a bit of a pep talk. Essentially, ‘don’t worry, I know you’re waiting for the end to come, and it will come very soon (“we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds”), just keep the faith’. It makes reference again, to that specific generation. They were clearly expecting Jesus to return to that generation.
St Peter, the chief of the Apostles, according to the Catholic Church, was another of the generation of Jesus, who understood Jesus’s words, as they were meant to be taken, not as we take them today, concerning End Times. In the First Epistle of Peter (1 Peter 1:, largely believed to be written by St Peter (though, there are several reasons to believe this isn’t true), it is stated:
“He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”
Peter Continues. 1 Peter 4:7:
“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.”
– Throughout Peter, Thessalonians, and the Gospels, the subject of End Times is of key importance to the early faith. And that End Time is considered imminent. There is a theme of desperation running through the texts. There is absolutely no way that Jesus according to the Gospels ever considered the idea that the End Times would not happen within that particular period. Thessalonians echoes Jesus’ thoughts. Peter starts to echo the thoughts of Jesus, telling his followers that Jesus is about to appear. But time is now passing, and there is no Jesus. It has been decades. There is no sign of a return. So Peter changes the story a little… and by a little, I mean, completely. 2 Peter 3:9 :
3 knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts,
4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”
5 For this they wilfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water,
6 by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.
7 But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judegment and perdition of ungodly men.
8 But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
– Here, Peter changes the entire story, that End Times are coming. Every End Time position since, can be traced back to this. Peter here, tells his followers that End Times aren’t imminent after all. It is clear that between 1 Peter and 2 Peter, followers had been wondering why End Times hadn’t arrived, enough to make Peter address the problem directly. And he does that, by moving the goal posts. He suddenly introduces the idea that a day in human time, is a thousand years to God, and so Peter suggests that what Jesus actually meant was not that the end was coming to the generation that he told the end was definitely coming to…definitely….. he actually meant it could occur at any time, according to God’s misshapen time schedule. But then the question arises, why would Jesus not just say that in the first place? He was speaking to mortals, trying to save mortals. Mortals who had no concept of God’s 1000 year = 1 day scale of time. He needed to be far more specific with such an important aspect of his message.
‘End Times’ is not a valid Theological position to hold in the 21st Century. In fact, at any time outside of the immediate generation of Jesus, ‘End Times’ could not be considered a valid position to hold. To hold this position, is to ignore everything Jesus actually said on the matter, and everything Hebrews, and Thessalonians say on the matter, and instead to cling to the desperation of Peter to salvage what was left of a key concept to a faith – a concept that was quite obviously being questioned, even at the time – that relied so heavily on End Days. This has further implications for Christianity as a whole, given that it would appear the early writers considered the end of everything to be imminent, Jesus to be key to that, and their writings reflect the necessity for that generation to be fully prepared for it.
It is therefore, not a surprise that of the 23 predictions from modern prominent Christians, that the World would end between January 2000 and today, alone….. none of them have actually come true.