It’s my birthday today. I realised a few weeks ago that I have now lived longer than I ever expected. I am living on borrowed time. It’s a strange sensation.
I can’t tell you exactly when I thought Jesus was going to come back, because I was always reminding myself of Matthew 24:36: no man knoweth the day or the hour of Christ’s coming. So I didn’t make overly bold predictions. But my Dad was fond of saying “It says nobody knows the day or the hour. It doesn’t say nobody knows the season.” We were all sure that Jesus would come back about 2000 years after his first appearance. I’d heard estimates that Jesus’ real birth year was anything from 4 BC to 10 AD, which meant that from 1996 onwards I was in a perpetual state of anticipation. We also expected a brief period of intense global revival after Jesus’ 2000th birthday, immediately followed by the Rapture. One evangelist I knew thought Jesus was coming in 1998. As the turn of the millennium approached, things were getting fevered.
In the late ’90s, I was on BBC Video Nation talking to my mum about how the Rapture was going to happen soon. I think it’s the only one of my childhood TV appearances that I no longer have. If anyone can help me get it, please get in touch.
I was both incredibly excited and terrified by this. Although I couldn’t be sure when Jesus would return, I doubted I would ever turn 18, and I was sure I would never turn 21. The thought of turning 30 didn’t even cross my mind. All of my life planning was based around this. The ACE system allows you to work at your own speed. If you complete the PACEs early, you can graduate early. In the academic year 1998-1999 I did 101 PACEs, even though the school only expected us to do 60 per year. Part of the reason I was working so fast was that I hated the school and wanted to get out, but it was at least as important that I believed if I didn’t graduate early, Jesus would come back before I’d even had a chance to leave school. I believed God was calling me to play a vital role in the end time harvest of souls before the day of judgement. God needed me to spread the Gospel to the world. I didn’t have time to sit and stew in school.
In 1994, I’d heard God telling me in a Kenneth Copeland convention that he wanted me to form a band that would bring the world to revival. I never doubted that calling, especially after Jesse Duplantis prophesied that I would play in God’s throne room when we entered into heaven. The prospect of heaven was so exciting I could hardly contain myself. But I was also sad. I wanted to grow up. I desperately wanted to get married, and I found myself wondering if I could meet the right girl and get married at 16 (the age of consent in Britain), and maybe we’d manage a couple of years together before the Rapture.
When I was growing up, the God Channel was broadcasting Jack Van Impe Presents, a TV show in which the eponymous host used current world events to demonstrate how imminent the apocalypse must be. His wife, Rexella, would read out news headlines, and then Van Impe would reel off Scripture references at light speed. The news headlines were allegedly fulfilments of predictions made by these verses. Van Impe rarely, if ever, read out the entire verses—he just fired off references like a tommy gun. I don’t know of anyone who bothered to record the broadcast, pause it, and look up the mentioned verses, but such a task would easily triple the length of time it takes to get through an episode. Thanks to YouTube, I see that Jack Van Impe is still on the air, and the format appears to be unchanged. According to Wikipedia, he began his ministry in 1954. That’s some impressive sustained excitement for Christ’s return. Personally, if a friend told me they were going to meet me in the pub “soon”, I’m not sure I’d still be sitting in the pub excitedly telling people about it 61 years later.
I’m actually too young to remember the first major round of Rapture fever. Hal Lindsey’s multi-million selling The Late Great Planet Earth had predicted Christ’s return for 1988. Edgar Whisenant wrote the classic 88 Reasons the Rapture Will Be in 1988. When this failed to happen, Lindsey updated his prediction in Planet Earth: 2000 AD, Will Man Survive? Inexplicably, Accelerated Christian Education kept The Late Great Planet Earth on its college-level reading list until well into the present century. ACE’s founder Donald Howard, for his part, also predicted that Jesus would return in or around the year 2000 in his 1988 book World Awakening.
Knowing that the hour of Christ’s coming was upon us, evangelicals released the movie Left Behind in 2000. The premise was that the Rapture could happen any minute now. In 2014, there was a Left Behind reboot starring Nicholas Cage. The premise this time was that if Christ was coming any minute now in 2000, he must be coming really any minute now in 2014. The Rapture is perpetually happening any minute now. This is one of the things people don’t understand about evangelical schools. When you say these schools aren’t preparing children for the future, you’re wrong. It’s just that the future they’re preparing kids for is not on this planet.
Disappointment over Jesus’s non-appearance was not really a factor in my leaving Christianity, but I do find it baffling that the spectacular failures of prophecy in 1988, 2000, and 2012 seem to have left my former churchmates’ expectation of Armageddon entirely undimmed. I think the next really massive bout of apocalyptic fervour will come in the build up to 2033: Christians will decide that all the prophecies about 2000 years after Christ were correct, but that the countdown began with the Resurrection, not Christ’s birth.
Me, I’m just glad I’m alive.