It is time for my weekly Readers’ Mailbag. I can’t answer these questions by devoting long threads to them – even though they each deserve a thread; but I can give quick responses, and hope that will be enough for now. If you have a question you would like me to address in the future, please attach it as a comment to this post.
QUESTION: It is not surprising that Jesus was an apocalyptic end-of-times messiah figure, because we have such people at least once each generation (often leading their people to disappointment if not disaster). Any thoughts on why this is such a persistent theme, even though every previous apocalypticist has been wrong?
RESPONSE: Yes, a lot of my students think that the end of the world will happen sometime in their own lifetimes, that we are living at the end of time, that things taking place in our world are happening in fulfillment of Scripture, that these are the last days proclaimed by the prophets. And why wouldn’t they think that? That’s what they read in Christian books and hear from Christian preachers.
I have to point out to them that every generation has thought so – this was the view right after 9/11, and the view in the mid-90s, and in the early 80s, and …. When I was in college in the mid-70s, we all were convinced (thanks to Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth) that Jesus would return no later than 1988. People thought the end was imminent in the early 20th century; in the 19th century; in the 12th century; in the 2nd century; in the 1st century. And you’re right, everyone who has ever thought so has proved to be incontrovertibly wrong.
But why do people constantly think this? I don’t have a definitive answer but I do have an educated guess. I don’t know about other religious traditions, but …
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