“If the Devil’s Time were above a thousand years ago, pronounced short, what may we suppose it now in our Time? Surely we are not a thousand years distant from those happy thousand years of rest and peace and (which is better) Holiness reserved for the People of God in the latter days; and if we are not a thousand years yet short of that Golden Age, there is cause to think, that we are not an hundred.”
—Cotton Mather, The Wonders of the Invisible World, 1692
In every era since the beginning of recorded history, prophets and mystics have predicted the imminent end of the world, some with dread and foreboding, others with glee. The desperate and downtrodden bereft of earthly hope have prayed for God to come and give them succor, reigning with justice and creating a paradise free from suffering and want. Others, acting from baser motives, viewed the world as hopelessly evil and sinful and longed for the apocalypse so that they, the righteous, would be exalted and their enemies would be delivered to the flames of damnation. Often, these motives could be found in combination.
But whether hopeful or vengeful, all the seers and prophets of the apocalypse have had this in common: they were all wrong. Their prophecies failed; their deadlines came and went and the world did not end; and life went on, just as it always has.
One would think that this lengthy and unbroken record of failure exhibited by past prophets of doom would give the believing masses pause, and perhaps a measure of skepticism, when it comes to the latest apocalyptic excitements. But if you thought that, you would be underestimating humanity’s near-limitless capacity for self-delusion. Those who are dedicated followers of prophecy have always been able to find some conjunction of world events which they believe heralds the end. Their scenarios have identified a bewildering variety of historical figures and events as antichrists, messiahs, final battles, false prophets, omens, portents, and signs from heaven. In Robert Price’s The Paperback Apocalypse, there is a cross-section:
The current crisis is always identified as a sign of the end, whether it was the Russo-Japanese War, the First World War, the Second World War, the Palestine War, the Suez Crisis, the June War, or the Yom Kippur War. The revival of the Roman Empire has been identified variously as Mussolini’s empire, the League of Nations, the United Nations, the European Defense Community, the Common Market and NATO. Speculation on the Antichrist has included Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, and Henry Kissinger. The northern confederation was supposedly formed by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Rapallo Treaty, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and then the Soviet Bloc. The “kings of the east” have been variously the Turks, the lost tribes of Israel, Japan, India, and China. [p.153]
In fact, the only thing that remains constant about all these end-times frenzies is how many people eagerly flock to the next one, and how many preachers recycle the same warnings without a hint of awareness that this is what they are doing. Just as Cotton Mather predicted the imminent end of the world in 1692, Christians are still doing it today, and this passage is a perfect example:
But if there are no signs for the Rapture itself, what are the legitimate grounds for believing that the Rapture could be especially near of this generation? The answer is not found in any prophetic events predicted before the Rapture but in understanding the events that will follow the Rapture. Just as history was prepared for Christ’s first coming, in a similar way history is preparing for the events leading up to His Second Coming…. If this is the case, it leads to the inevitable conclusion that the Rapture may be excitingly near.
Ironically, although this text is approvingly quoted in a 2009 essay by Thomas Ice, it was originally written in 1973 by John Walvoord, in Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis. That book was then revised and reissued in 1991 (why on earth would a prophetic book need to be revised?). And as Rapture Ready’s biography of Walvoord says, without a glimmer of self-awareness:
I am sure that, were Walvoord still alive, he would be ready to revise once again!
Indeed, Walvoord, who is now deceased, churned out books on the Rapture throughout the twentieth century. Again from Rapture Ready, here’s a partial bibliography – see if you can spot the increasing desperation of the titles:
The Return of the Lord (1955)
The Rapture Question (1957, 1979)
Israel in Prophecy (1962)
The Church in Prophecy (1964)
The Nations in Prophecy (1967)
Daniel, the Key to Prophetic Revelation (1971)
The Holy Spirit at Work Today (1973)
The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation (1976)
The Millennial Kingdom (1983)
The Prophecy Knowledge Handbook (1990 — retitled in 1999 as Every Prophecy of the Bible)
Major Bible Prophecies: 37 Crucial Prophecies That Affect You Today (1991)
The Final Drama: 14 Keys to Understanding the Prophetic Scriptures (1993, 1997)
End Times: An Explanation of World Events in Biblical Prophecy (1998)
And just when you think he’d finally given up, the cycle starts all over again with:
Prophecy in the New Millennium: A Fresh Look at Future Events (2001)
In the end, Walvoord had the same destiny as Cotton Mather and all other apocalyptic prophets: he died of natural causes, his predictions went unfulfilled, and life went on. This is as it has always been, and always will be – and life on Earth will continue its complex, winding, glorious course, untroubled by the fulminatings of apocalyptic prophets. They may preach however they will; the sun will rise the next day, regardless. And when their words have faded to silence and their bodies to dust, our planet will continue, revolving on its grand and stately path through space. Disasters will happen, and trouble will be with us again, but we will survive and life will endure.
In fact, I recommend it as an experiment. Search the internet for a near-future date when the world is predicted to end. (You’ll have no trouble finding one.) Then, on the morning of that date, step out of your front door and take a look around. You’ll find that the earth did not rise in upheaval, the seas did not turn to blood, and the sky did not turn dark as sackcloth. Instead, you’ll see golden sunrises, trees putting forth new leaves, waves crashing gently on the shore, and soft rains quenching the land. Life will go on, just as it always has and always will. Think on this, and reflect, the next time your serenity is disturbed by another in the never-ending parade of heralds of imaginary doom.