The End is Near, No?
Two-thousand years and we’re still here.
To this day, you’ll hear people say that Psycho has left them afraid to take showers, or that they’re still terrified of the ocean because of Jaws. But no tale of terror has made a longer-lasting impression than the New Testament’s Book of Revelation. Two-thousand years after John of Patmos penned this weighty prophecy of cataclysm and deliverance, adherents continue to anticipate the day of reckoning, simultaneously haunted by the fear of global demolition and elated by the promise of salvation.
There’s a strong case for the idea that Revelation’s Armageddon predictions were never intended for the present day—rather, John’s writing was very much a piece for its time: a redemption song for persecuted Christians awaiting the fall of an oppressive Roman Empire. Among the factors supporting this view are the text’s statements that its prophecies “must shortly come to pass” and the fact that the Hebrew transliteration of the Roman Emperor Nero’s Greek name, Neron Kaiser, adds to 666. (This, of course, is the number of an acutely ill-mannered beast in The Book of Revelation who enslaves humanity before being cast into a lake of fire.) The Roman Catholic Church and most Biblical scholars contend that Nero, who was known for his brutal persecution and torture of Christians during or shortly before the writing of Revelation, was the very beast to whom John referred. To avoid further persecution, John is said to have put Nero’s name in code rather than stating it outright.
According to a 2002 TIME/CNN poll, 59 percent of Americans believe that The Book of Revelation’s predictions will come true in the future. Various believers have fingered the likes of Ronald Wilson Reagan and barcode inventor George Joseph Laurer—both of whose first, middle and last names contain six letters—as the beast. Another theory holds that the beast is the Internet: The Hebrew equivalent of the letter W has a numerical value of 6; thus, www = 666.
Like cockroaches crawling on after a nuclear holocaust, doomsday predictions continue to circulate in spite of the fact that one apocalyptic prophecy after another has bombed miserably. It’s no stretch to say I could fill this entire article with failed apocalyptic prophecies. (See bible.ca/pre-date-setters.htm.) Especially deserving of mention here are the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who, as of this writing, have made a total of nine incorrect end-of-the-world forecasts. No less memorable are the actions of apocalypse cults such as The Manson Family, The Branch Davidians and The Order of the Solar Temple, which stand as grim warnings of the extremes to which End Times beliefs can be taken.
Our fascination with the apocalypse (from the Greek Apokálypsis: “revelation” or “lifting of the veil”) is, of course, inextricably tied to religion. (The concept can be traced back to ancient Persia’s Zoroastrian religion. End Times themes also appear in the Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Bahá’í and, of course, Christian faiths.) But at this point, the “end of the world” meme has saturated Western civilization so thoroughly that even nonreligious people embrace Judgment Day predictions like diet crazes. The movie 2012 made $225 million during its first weekend alone, and there are more than 200 books about the 2012 prophecy on Amazon.com. The popularity of such apocalyptic literature as Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ “Left Behind” series stands as further testament to the enduring hold that eschatological ideas have on mass consciousness, as does the public’s undying interest in Nostradamus, alien invaders, etc.