Apocalypticism is the religious belief, that there will be an apocalypse, a term which originally referred to a revelation of God's will, but now usually refers to belief that the world will come to an end time very soon, even within one's own lifetime. This belief is usually accompanied by the idea that civilization, as we know it, will soon come to a tumultuous end with some sort of catastrophic global event such as war. Apocalypticism is often conjoined with esoteric knowledge that will likely be revealed in a major confrontation between good and evil forces, destined to change the course of history. Apocalypses can be viewed as good, evil, ambiguous or neutral, depending on the particular religion or belief system promoting them. They can appear as a personal or group tendency, an outlook or a perceptual frame of reference, or merely as expressions in a speaker's rhetorical style.

Jewish apocalypticism

Main article: Jewish Messiah claimants

Due to incidents arising very early on in Jewish history, predictions about the time of the coming of the Jewish messiah was highly discouraged. This was so as to prevent people from losing faith when the predictions inevitably failed.

Moses of Crete, a rabbi in the 5th century claimed to be the Jewish messiah and promised to lead the people, like the ancient Moses, through a parted sea back to Palestine. His followers left their possessions and waited for the promised day, when at his command many cast themselves into the sea, some finding death, others being rescued by sailors.[1]

Christian apocalypticism

John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the Apostles were all apocalypticists who preached to their followers that the world would end within their own lifetimes. While the apocalyptic preaching of John the Baptist and the Apostles is well known and accepted as historical, due to extensive extra-biblical contemporaneous documentation, the apocalyptic messages of Jesus as expressed in the gospels have been de-emphasized and re-interpreted from their originally intended meaning. After there is no apocalypse upon his crucifixion as he believed there would be, he asks on the Cross, "Why hast thou forsaken me?" The disciples then have to change their interpretation of Jesus' message as portrayed in Acts of the Apostles[2]

The prevailing popular exegesis is that Jesus never expected a world-ending apocalypse within his own life time, but rather a "personal apocalypse", i.e., the end of his own life. Although there is little, if any, Biblical corroboration of the 'personal apocalypse' interpretation.

The preaching of John was, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mat. 3:2Template:Bibleverse with invalid book), and Jesus also taught this same message (Mat 4:17Template:Bibleverse with invalid book; Mark 1:15). Additionally, Jesus spoke of the signs of "the close of the age" in the Olivet Discourse in Mat 24Template:Bibleverse with invalid book (and parallels), near the end of which he said, "[T]his generation will not pass away until all these things take place" (v. 34). Interpreters have understood this phrase in a variety of ways, some saying that most of what he described was in fact fulfilled in the destruction of the Temple in the Roman Siege of Jerusalem (see Preterism), and some that "generation" should be understood instead to mean "race" (see NIV marginal note on Mat 24:34Template:Bibleverse with invalid book) among other explanations.

Various Christian eschatological systems have developed, providing different frameworks for understanding the timing and nature of such predictions. Some like dispensational premillennialism tend more toward an apocalyptic vision, while others like postmillennialism and amillennialism, while teaching that the end of the world could come at any moment, tend to focus on the present life and contend that one should not attempt to predict when the end should come, though there have been exceptions such as postmillennialist Jonathan Edwards, who attempted to calculate the precise timing of the end times.

Year 1000

There are a few recorded instances of apocalypticism leading up to the year 1000. However they mostly rely on one source, Rodulfus Glaber.

Domesday Book

Main article: Domesday book

When William the Conqueror, initiated a census of his conquered land, the "Domesday Book", as it was called, was interpreted by the many of the English as being the "Book of Life" written of in Revelations. The belief was that when the book was completed, the end of the world would come.

Fifth Monarchy Men

Main article: Fifth Monarchists

The Fifth Monarchy Men were active from 1649 to 1661 during the Interregnum, following the English Civil Wars of the 17th century. They took their name from a belief in a world-ruling kingdom to be established by a returning Jesus in which prominently figures the year 1666 and its numerical relationship to a passage in the Biblical Book of Revelation indicating the end of earthly rule by carnal human beings.

Around 1649, there was great social unrest in England and many people turned to Oliver Cromwell as England's new leader. The Parliamentary victors of the First English Civil War failed to negotiate a constitutional settlement with the defeated King Charles I. Members of Parliament and the Grandees in the New Model Army, when faced with Charles's perceived duplicity, reluctantly tried and executed him.

Millerites and Seventh-Day Adventists

Main articles: Millerites and Seventh-Day Adventists

William Miller

The Millerites were the followers of the teachings of William Miller who, in 1833, first shared publicly his belief in the coming Second Advent of Jesus Christ in roughly the year 1843.

The ideological descendants of the Millerites are the Seventh-Day Adventists, who are distinguished among Christian denominations for their emphasis on the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ.

Apocalypticism in culture

Apocalypticism is a frequent theme of literature, film and television. It also directly influences political policy in countries such as Iran, where some speak of an Islamic messiah, or Mahdi who will destroy other countries seen as Islam's enemies, particularly Israel and the United States. Other forms of apocalypticism often appear in conspiracy theories, in which the enemy is alleged to be engaged in a conspiracy against the faithful.


Apocalypticism was especially evident with the approach of the millennial year 2000, in which some predicted a massive computer crash which would throw global commerce and financial systems into chaos. These predictions did not come true, although a few remarkable isolated events did occur due to the glitches in computer coding on which these predictions focused.

Mayan calendar 2012

Main article: 2012 Doomsday prediction

The 2012 doomsday prediction is a present-day cultural meme proposing that cataclysmic and apocalyptic events will occur in the year 2012. This idea has been disseminated by numerous books, Internet sites and by TV documentaries. The forecast is based primarily on what is claimed to be the end-date of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, which is presented as lasting 5,125 years and as terminating on December 21 or 23, 2012, along with interpretations of assorted legends, scriptures, numerological constructions and prophecies.

See also

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Christian premillennial apocalyptic writers

Apocalyptic fiction

Apocalyptic films

Apocalyptic songs

Apocalyptic movements

Millenarian cults

Apocalyptic computer games

Further reading (chronological)


This article includes a list of references, related reading, or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations. Please help improve this article by introducing more precise citations. (February 2008) (Learn how and when to remove this message)
  1. ^ Donna Kossy, Kooks
  2. ^ Bart D. Ehrman's Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet