It’s the End of the World as We Know It

Bad Predictionsmumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble …Leonard Bernstein!….  It’s the end of the world as we know it…

Back in 2000, I published a book called Bad Predictions.  (I predicted it would sell better than it did and have many copies available for just $5 each if you’d like one, follow the link.)

The book had a full chapter called It’s the End of the World which listed predictions that the world would end.  As another end of the world approaches, here is a look back.  The full chapter ran more than 10,000 words and had dates on which the world was rumored to end from 634 B.C. to the year 2000.  Here are some highlights.

John of Toledo wrote what came to be known as the “Letter of Toledo” in 1179.  The letter announced that a planetary alignment would occur in Libra on September 23, 1186.  The result would be the end of the world as anyone had previously known it.  Only a few would survive.  People believed his forecast.  In Germany they dug shelters.  In Mesopotamia and Persia they prepared their cellars in much the same way people readied bomb shelters in the 1950s.  The Byzantine emperor had the windows of his palace boarded over.  While the planets did untie under the sign of Libra, the earthquakes and storms failed to appear.  John was not daunted.  He announced that his prophecy was meant to be symbolic of the Hunnish invasion and that he had actually been right.

“The world will end by a giant flood on February 20, 1524.”-German mathematician and astrologer Johannes Stoeffler, 1499.  Stoeffler was certain that a planetary alignment in Pisces was a sure sign that the end would come.  Since Pisces is a water sign, he reasonably predicted the world would be ended by a flood.  This became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Although the world did not end, part of Germany was gripped by panic when it rained on the fateful day.  One of those who believed Stoeffler was Count von Iggleheim who ordered a three story ark built in preparation.  February 20th was the end of the world for him.  The count was trampled to death by a stampeding mob trying to board his vessel.

German prophet Johann Jacob Zimmerman convinced many followers that the second coming would occur in the fall of 1694 and that Jesus was coming to America.  In February, Zimmerman and his cult, known as Woman in the Wilderness, made plans to cross the Atlantic but Zimmerman died on the day they were set to sail.  The group decided to continue under the leadership of member Johannes Kelpius.  They arrived safely in America but did not meet Jesus there.

A giant earthquake failed to destroy London on Apr 5, 1761, much to the disappointment of William Bell who had convinced many other people that it would happen.  He based his prediction on two previous earthquakes, one on February 8 and another on March 8.  They proved, in his mind, that the world must end in another 28 days.  The believers gathered in boats on the Thames or headed for the hills.  Following the day the earth stood still, Bell was thrown into Bedlam, London’s notorious insane asylum.

“I am fully convinced that sometime between March 21st, 1843 and March 21, 1844, according to the Jewish mode of computation of time, Christ will come and bring all His Saints with Him; and then He will reward every man as his work shall be,” said William Miller, one of the most famous millennialists.  He wrote about his calculations in a book called Evidence From Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ About the Year A.D. 1843.   His views attracted as many as 100,000 followers called Millerites and later Adventists.  When March 21, 1843 rolled around the Millerites waited… and waited….A few became disenchanted, but others grew more determined than ever that Christ would arrive within the year. 

A year later, on March 21 1844, some of the most fanatic followers jumped from roofs in the belief that Christ would catch them before they landed.  He did not.  Surprisingly, the Millerites did not disband.  One of them, Samuel Snow, was certain that there had to be a simple explanation.  He reworked the dates based on Jewish chronology and found that Miller should have said the end would come on October 22, 1844.  Snow managed to convince Miller of his methodology and the faithful waited once again.  Obviously the world did not end, but Miller’s ministry did. Miller, who had been a true believer, sank into a deep depression and disappeared from public view.  Although the Millerites officially disbanded, some of the devotees continued on with a new religion that borrowed many of his teachings.

From the “I have one year to live and I’m going to spend it reading one title” file: In 1868, Anglican minister Michael Paget Baxter published a book that said the world would end within the year.  It was called: Louis Napoleon, the Infidel Antichrist Predicted in Prophecy to Confirm a Seven Years Covenant With the Jews, About the Year 1861, and Nearly to Succeed in Gaining A Universal Empire; and Then to be Deified, and Idolatrously Worshiped, and Also to Institute A 3 2 Years Sanguinary Persecution Against the Christian Church, From 1864-1865 to 1868, During Which Time Wars, Famine, Pestilences & Earthquakes, If Not Religious Persecution, Will Prevail in England and America Until the Slaughter of the Witnesses, Elias and Another Prophet; After Which Napoleon, Their Destroyer, Together with the Pope Are Foreshown to Be Cast Alive Into the Lake of Fire At the Descent of Christ At Armageddon About the Year 1868. 

Baxter was another prophet who continuously updated his dates of doom.  He had first predicted the end would come between 1861-1867.  He later revised it to 1868.  Then 1869.  He then announced it would arrive between 1871-72.  Then he published a book entitled The End of This Age About the End of This Century in which predicted the Rapture would come in 1896 and it would all be over in 1901. This, of course, did not come to pass.  While a lesser man might have felt his credibility was strained, Baxter did not give up.  His next book, Future Wonders of Prophecy, announced the Rapture was to take place on March 12, 1903 between 2pm and 3pm, and Armageddon would take place on Apr 23, 1908.

Ellen G. White, once a follower of William Miller, took the leadership of a new religion, The Seventh Day Adventists.  White explained that Miller’s teachings had not been incorrect at all.  Miller had spoken of the “cleansing of the sanctuary.”  White argued that the sanctuary had, in fact, been cleansed.  The sanctuary, however, was not earth but a spiritual realm.  White, further, refused to make the same mistake as Miller and set no deadline for life on earth.  A splinter group, the Second Adventists, was not as cautious.  They prophesied that Christ would return between 1873 and 1874.  One of the notable Second Adventists was Charles Taze Russell who would live beyond 1874 to form his own religion.

According to Paul F. Boller’s book Presidential Campaigns, during the campaign of 1860 (which Abraham Lincoln won) several men were on a train in New England discussing the upcoming election.  One of the men, a devout follower of William Miller said, “Before the election of 1860, the world will have come to an end and Jesus Christ will be president of the universe.”  After a brief silence one of the passengers replied, “Sire, I’ll bet you ten dollars New Hampshire won’t go for him.”

“We know that the end of the age is within this generation, but whether the present generation began in 1870 or in 1871 we do not know… What is to become of the present United States when the end of the world comes?  It will be carried over to England.  McKinley is to be the last President of the United States.  Before the end of his term there will be a terrible European war… What will become of Wall Street?  That I can positively answer. Wall Street three years from now will be in Jerusalem.  But the work will be over.  Its usefulness will have been accomplished.  Wall Street is not a bad institution and it will be saved if the men individually are right.  And our politicians?  Now you get down to personalities.  I could pick out twenty good politicians and twenty bad ones.  The bad ones will be cast into outer darkness and the good ones transported to Jerusalem where they can mix for a thousand years in the delights of the perfect reign of Christ.. Now when it comes to locating the day for this…All signs say that the world will come to an end March 29, 1899, but it may be September, 1901.”-Dr. Beverly O Kinnear, quoted in the Berkshire Courier, February 4, 1897.

“The deliverance of the saints must take place some time before 1914.”-Charles Taze Russell, Studies in Scripture, 1910.  The revised edition of the book, published in 1923, contained the line “The deliverance of the saints must take place some time after 1914.”  Russell, a former Second Adventist was the founder, in 1884, of the Watch Tower Tract Society, the forerunner of the modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“If Christ does not appear to meet his 144,000 faithful shortly after midnight on February 6th or 7th, it means that my calculations, based on the Bible, must be revised.”-  Margaret Rowan of Los Angeles, leader of the Church of Advanced Adventists, said in 1925.  She got her information from the angel Gabriel.  A New York house painter named Robert Reidt was convinced.  He took out ads in a number of newspapers and attracted many believers who followed him to a hilltop dressed in white robes.  At midnight, they raised their arms and changed “Gabriel!  Gabriel!  Gabriel!”  When nothing happened Reidt realized that, since Rowan lived in Los Angeles, the end of the world would probably come on Pacific time.  The group waited three hours and still no vast destruction.  Reidt blamed news photographers who came to cover the story.  Their flashbulbs, he said, kept Gabriel away.  Later Reidt consulted the Book of Revelation and came up with his own doomsday date- October 10, 1932.  When the world failed to end, Reidt retired from the prophecy business.

Relatives became worried when 44 year old Charles Laughead, a respected physician at Michigan State College, announced that the end of the world was coming December 20, 1954.  He had gotten the information from his psychic Dorothy Martin who, he said, had taught him to communicate with an extra-terrestrial civilization.  While much of Europe and the United States perished in a flood, those who believed would be whisked away in a spaceship.  Laughead did not lose his faith when December 20th came and went.  He simply explained that “God had stopped it all.” Loughead’s relatives tried to have him committed but the judge ruled that his unusual ideas did not constitute mental illness.

Anders Jensen, the Danish leader of the Disciples of Orthon told viewers of The David Frost Show that Christmas, 1967 would be the start of the Apocalypse.  The faithful built a huge underground nuclear shelter and spent their Christmas there.   When the members of the sect finally ventured out of the bunker they “expected to see ash covering the ground, a red glow in the sky, and everything destroyed.”  Instead they were met by applause from sightseers who had come to watch their emergence.  How did they feel to know the nations of the world had averted a full-scale thermonuclear war?  “It’s all a bit disappointing,” said Jensen.

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