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End times


The end times are, in one version of Christian eschatology, a time of tribulation that will precede the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, as is related in Bible prophecy such as the Book of Daniel, Book of Ezekiel, and Book of Revelation.

Specifically, what is usually referred to as the "end times" revolves around a cluster of beliefs in Christian millennialism. These beliefs typically include the ideas that the Biblical apocalypse is immanent and that various signs in current events are omens of Armageddon. While details vary, there is usually a fairly specific timetable set forth that climaxes in the end of the world. Israel, the European Economic Community, and sometimes the United Nations are supposed to be key players whose role was foretold in prophecies. Believers typically hope that they will be supernaturally summoned to Heaven by the Rapture before the dark prophecies of Revelations take place. These beliefs have been widely held in one form, by the Adventist movement (Millerites), and in another form by dispensational premillennialists.

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Origins

Religious movements which expect that the second coming of Christ will be a cataclysmic event, generally called adventism, have arisen throughout the Christian era; but they became particularly common during and after the Protestant Reformation. Swedenborgianism, Shakers, and others developed entire religious systems around a central concern for the second coming of Christ, disclosed by new prophecy or special gifts of revelation. The Millerites are diverse religious groups which similarly rely upon a special gift of interpretation for fixing the date of Christ's return.

Dispensationalism, in contrast to the Millerite Adventist movement, got its start in the 19th century, when John Nelson Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren sect, incorporated into his system of Biblical intepretation a system of organizing Biblical time into a number of discrete dispensations[?], each of which marks a separate covenant with God. Darby's beliefs were widely publicised in Cyrus I. Scofield's Scofield Reference Bible, an annotated Bible that became popular in the United States of America.

Since the Biblical prophets were writing at a time when Palestine was mostly Jewish, and the Temple in Jerusalem was still functioning, they wrote as if those institutions would still be in operation during the prophecied events. Their destruction in A.D. 70 put the prophetic timetable, if there is one, on hold. Believers therefore anticipated the return of Jews to Palestine and the reconstruction of the Temple before the Second Coming could occur.

The prophecies

The foundation of Israel in 1947 gave a major boost to the dispensationalist belief system; Israel's history of wars with its Arab neighbours did even more for it. After the Six Days War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973, it seemed plausible to many fundamentalist Christians in the 1970s that Mideast turmoil may well be paving the way for the Battle of Armageddon.


Leaders of the movement such as Hal Lindsey claimed furthermore that the European Economic Community was a revived Roman Empire, and would become the kingdom of the coming Antichrist or Beast. A Roman Empire, of course, also figured in the New Testament writers' vision of the future.

The Antichrist was supposed to be the dictatorial leader of a "one world government." He would promise peace to the world while leading Christians into apostasy, and impose a "one world money system" in which anyone had to have a Number of the Beast branded on them to buy or sell. Like the Roman emperors of old, he would impose horrible martyrdoms on surviving Christians. At some point after his appearance, a large number of Jews would convert to Christianity and preach the gospel after the Christians had been removed by the Rapture.

Believers in the system therefore scanned the headlines wondering if various world leaders might be the Antichrist, and wondering whether Mideast violence might be a sign of Armageddon. They feared such things as Social Security numbers and UPC barcodes, fearing that these tax identification numbers may be precursors to the dangerous Number of the Beast, whose receipt dooms your soul to damnation.

The Antichrist has as his allies the Beast and the Whore of Babylon, mysterious figures who run an apostate church or false religion. A world ravaged by plague and turmoil turns to the Antichrist to lead it, and who promises to deliver it. Eventually, the Antichrist musters an army to attack Israel. At the climax of the story, the Battle of Armageddon, Jesus returns in the Second Coming and stops the fighting.

The movement has spawned various timetables and countdowns to the apocalypse, whose general tendency can be summed up with the title of one of Lindsey's books, The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon. The former Soviet Union played a large role in Lindsey's earlier interpretations; his later books understandably tone that down considerably, while new villains like Saddam Hussein take its place. The movement has strained relationships with conservative U.S. governments and the government of Israel, as some Jews think American Christians' supposed support of Israel is merely a cover for their hope of the destruction of Judaism during the end times.

It should be obvious from the foregoing that there is nothing in the Biblical apocalypses that forces these particular interpretations. No major denomination apart from the Jehovah's Witnesses accepts these beliefs as a standard of Biblical interpretation. The Seventh-day Adventists have their own tradition of millennialism arising from the nineteenth century Millerite movement that is distinct from contemporary dispensationalism. The prophecies have had to be revised several times in the light of changing current events. The whole belief system is often characterised by those who do not hold it, or who have abandoned it, as a mass paranoid delusion, full of ideas of reference that supposedly reveal the secret and sinister meaning that links unrelated events.

The end times according to the Jehovah's Witnesses

One group that has taken End Time doctrines and made them into a unified worldwide religious organization is the Jehovah's Witnesses. Their doctrines are embedded in shelves full of literature published by their Watchtower Society, and take years of study to fully comprehend, but the gist is that Christ has already made his Second Coming in the year 1914, where he now sits in heaven at the foot of Jehovah waiting to lead his armies to earth to destroy Babylon the Great, which is the entire system of false world religion (every religion but their own) as well as all human governments, all of which are secretly run by Satan.

Since God will wage this war for them, Witnesses are total pacifists, preferring to go door-to-door to gain converts, who will be saved by God as He destroys every other person on earth, and then gives it to them to start over. The survivors will build a worldwide Garden of Eden where people become perfect again like Adam and Eve before the Fall, and live forever. But those who died get another chance, as they will be slowly resurrected in batches, and given another chance to see the light or die again. However, only Witnesses can run the new post-Armageddon government. To the Witnesses, the United States of America and all other earthly governments are just as much a part of Babylon the Great as Iraq, which is why they refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance, vote, or serve in any government. The versions of End Time belief, such as that promoted by Dispensationalists Hal Lindsey, Billy Graham, or Jerry Falwell, or the very different idea of the amillennialist D. James Kennedy[?], are also considered part of Babylon the Great (false religion), the proof being that they tout the U.S.A. as special and God-protected, even as it gets into evil wars.

Fictional treatments

These beliefs about the end times have been the subject of a number of works of fiction. The motion picture The Omen and its sequels are predicated on these beliefs. The Left Behind series of novels and motion pictures, originally by Tim LaHaye[?] and Jerry B. Jenkins[?], are also a fictional retelling of these tales from the point of view of an evangelist who wishes to convert people to belief in these prophecies.

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