Apocalyptic through the centuries

One of the first church leaders to preach the apocalypse was Montanus during the second century. He was from Pepuza in present Turkey, and had two prophetesses, Maximilla and Prisca. They expected the second coming of Christ momentarily. They went into ecstatic trances, claiming these came from the Holy Spirit.

Apocalyptic leaders appeared periodically through the centuries, and especially as the year 1000 AD approached.

New waves of religious fervor gripped America in the 19th century.

William Miller was a farmer whose apocalyptic message was so powerful it endures today in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. He linked the Book of Daniel and The Revelation or Apocalypse of John to calculate the exact date on which Christ would appear and the world would end. He developed a scheme in which he computed a date in 1843 when Christ would return, spread the word with pamphlets, and when the date passed, recomputed to a new date, October 22, 1844. People left their fields, sold everything, then gathered, but the end did not come—a great disappointment.

Despite the great disappointment when nothing happened, many American Christians held to their literal expectations and began to turn to a new system of apocalyptic interpretation by John Nelson Darby. Darby came up with the idea of the "rapture" — that is not in the New Testament, but is a way of describing what he taught will happen the first time that Jesus returns, when he snatches away the elect from the earth to escape a coming thousand years of great tribulation. This idea of the "rapture" transformed end-time predictions and remains popular among Revelation literalists to this day. John Nelson Darby developed a system built on two ideas, pre-millennial and dispensations, that still are used and followed. He did not foretell a date but rather was a Bible interpreter, using work of some earlier interpreters, primarily based on Daniel and Revelation.

An American moved to Israel just before 2000 to study Scriptures. He felt he had found the essential keys to understand when the apocalyptic end comes, including the work of William Miller. He returned to the U.S. and changed his name to David Koresh. And we know the rest, ending in his Waco settlement’s fiery inferno.

Apocalyptic also at work in the secular, as in Hitler’s "thousand year Reich" in which in his earlier years he used Christian and apocalyptic images and thoughts.

Here is a web site for much more information on the apocalyptic (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/apocalypse/).

A very different view is taught by several theologians, based on Jesus in Luke 11:20: "If it by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you," or the Scholars translation ends, "…God's imperial rule has arrived." They teach the end of the age happened with Jesus' ministry, and continues in the work of the Body of Christ when our deeds show God's will.

Copyright © 2004 John F. Yeaman