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When Will The End Come?


All the Christians I hear from around here say, “But we don’t know the hour and the day!” I don’t know if he is supposed to appear to everybody at once or if they will hear about it in the news. Those who believe in the rapture would be disappointed if they heard about it in the news. When I was a Fundy, I don’t remember being clear on this even though I tried.



Actually, this comment brings to mind something that I was planning on posting on anyway (this relates to “no one knows the day or the hour” when the end will come as Jesus says in the apocalyptic discourse in the Gospels). I mentioned earlier that in the 1970s, I and my fundamentalist friends were all fairly well convinced that Jesus would be returning from heaven soon – and in particular, before the end of the 1980s. That was in no small measure because we were devotees of the views set forth by Hal Lindsey in his blockbuster hit Late Great Planet Earth. I have heard that this book was – next to the Bible – THE bestselling book of the 1970s in English. It sold something like 30 million (count them, million) copies. The book was about what would happen, very soon, at the end of time, when the prophecies of Scripture came to be fulfilled before Jesus returned from heaven. (It involved war in the Middle East, a coalition of European states from which the Anti-christ would arise, the intervention by the Soviet Union, and then the Chinese, and then nuclear Armageddon….) And how soon would it happen – yup, before 1988.

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An Agnostic Teaching the Bible
Paul’s “Gospel” and Marcion



  1. Avatar
    gonzalogandia  January 8, 2013

    I was living in Montreal, Canada. Our youth group really bought into Whisenant’s prediction. We were so convinced. I remember going to to Burger King with my brother and his best friend on the afternoon of Sept.11. We had a great afternoon of reminiscing and heartfelt regrets of everything we would not be able to do in the future. It’s funny that we were more worried about what we wouldn’t experience rather than what we WOULD experience: an eternal life worshipping God. When it didn’t happen, we did a copy/paste the next day. After that, we just gave up, as we had said everything we had to say to each other. Great memories, even if a little embarrassing. Without Google, we were prisoners to our own gullibility

    Question: I have a recollection that Whisenant made a recalculation and predicted the rapture for the next year. Is that right?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2013

      Yup, he wrote a book the following year, admitting that he forgot that there was no year 0, so his calculations were off by a year; it would come in 1989!

  2. Avatar
    B.E. Lewis  January 8, 2013

    As you already know Bart, in biblical academia, this comes down to Historical Jesus studies. I would concur that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who anticipated that God was imminently going to break into history, destroy the forces of evil, and establish his kingdom; and he [Jesus] believed that all of this would happen within his own generation. Thus, I follow in a line of thinking first posited by Schweitzer and agreed by you (I think), that places Jesus in an Jewish apocalyptic context. However, I would disagree with Schweitzer on the meaning of such apocalyptic language as the “end of the world.” Instead, I tend to see all eschatology as being tied to God’s covenantal working within the old covenant world of ancient Israel-bringing it to an end-by transitioning it from the old to the new covenant mode of existence—in the first century. Thus, I posit that Jesus saw no further than A.D. 70 and thought everything would be wrapped up in conjunction with that apocalyptic event for Israel. Thus, the Kingdom is seen as “coming in power” in A.D. 70 and the “Last Days” spoke of in the New Testament are not literally the “end of the world” (space-time continuum), but the last days of that old covenant world of Israel that was passing away. I think this view would answer many problems for Christianity and create new ones. Certainly, it would require an overhaul of orthodox Christianity since Augustine. Of course, in this brief post, I have not addressed many of my own presuppositions, but hey, its not my blog. Ha!

  3. Avatar
    Adam  January 8, 2013

    It’s amazing that the Left Behind series sold 65 MILLION copies. That’s ALOT!


  4. gmatthews
    gmatthews  January 8, 2013

    I was big into the Hal Lindsey books when I was in high school in the early 80s. I’m pretty sure Lindsey had multiple dates for when Jesus was supposed to return. His predictions kept missing and he’d push the year back. I was to graduate high school in 1986 and was really looking forward to attending college at NC State, but Lindsey’s books had me convinced that Jesus was coming before I ever set foot on campus. I spent much of 1985 fretting over it….

  5. Avatar
    wisemenwatch  January 8, 2013

    Late Great was the movie I was referring to my friends seeing. I happened to think just yesterday that I had never seen the movie myself – I had read the book after they were talking about seeing the movie.

    So I watched it on youtube yesterday. It’s STILL scarey all these years later, and quite convincing even if 1988 has long since come and gone.

    Hal Lindsey later helped launch the writing careers of Johanna Michaelson (The Beautful Side of Evil) and Chuck Missler (Koinonia House). Johanna is a sister to Hal’s third wife. Chuck is a former successful businessman and hobbiest astronomer who teaches the Gospel in the Zodiac. Even though he explains the Gospel in the Zodiac, he does give fair warning that this is something you don’t want to get too caught up in, in fact you probably shouldn’t know about it at all, but still he just has to tell you. (Just a little off- topic trivia for ya there!)

    • Avatar
      wisemenwatch  January 11, 2013

      One other funny observation. I mentioned that I had not seen the movie The Late Great Planet Earth until just last Sunday on youtube. I was at first struck by the fact that this movie was narrated by Orson Welles, and I remembered how it was Orson Welles that had caused a panic when he did War of the Worlds on radio and people believed it.

      Tonight I was thinking about how I had mentioned Future Shock in another post. I was thinking of the book by Alvin Toffler that our English teacher had us read when I was a sophomore in high school when I used the term, but wondered if I misspoke since it had been so long since I read the book.

      Reading up on it on amazon, I found that it was an accurate comparison to The Late Great Planet Earth (albeit non-religious) and the clincher: I didn’t know this, but there is a movie based on Future Shock narrated by Orson Welles!

  6. Avatar
    Christian  January 8, 2013

    Were most early Christians, up to the writing of the Gospel of John, apocalypticists (as Jesus and Paul)? If so, that would invalidate a great deal of the doctrine of Jesus. Now, of course, Christians built a doctrine *about* Jesus, in particular about the meaning his death, but the flesh and blood Jesus has been demonstrably proven wrong. That should count for something, right?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2013

      Well, it would show that Jesus and Paul were probably wrong about their calendars; but serious theologians have never found that to be a real problem, and they may have a point!

  7. Avatar
    andrew0410  January 8, 2013

    Bart, you state, ‘Contrary to a lot of skeptics, I don’t think that these demonstrably wrong predictions invalidate Christianity.’ But they do, don’t they? They certainly invalidate the fundamentalist type of Christianity you were involved with in the 1970s, and I suggest, also the forms of Christianity as expressed in most of the Catholic and Orthodox and Protestant churches from at least Nicaea onwards. Jesus might be able to survive wrong predictions of the end of the world as some sort of worthy religious leader in liberal Christian circles, but his position as the omniscient Son of God as set out in the historic creeds I refer to is surely invalidated in the eyes of those who recognise that he did predict the end of the world within his generation, and that in this, at least, he was wrong.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2013

      Yes, I think that they pose problems for fundamentalists. But that’s different from condemning Christianity. It’s kind of like saying condemnations of Tea-Partiers are condemnations of Americans….

  8. Avatar
    proveit  January 8, 2013

    I find it amazing the people who laughed at those who fell in with Mr. Camping, the recent predictor of the rapture. They experienced some sort of superiority when they said, ” …. the hour or the day.” But I think the wide spread expectations of Jesus’ imminent return raises the plausibility level for those who get caught up with the likes of Camping. I confess I am not a sociologist. I confess also that sometimes I find this all rather entertaining in a George Carlin sort of way.

  9. Avatar
    wisemenwatch  January 9, 2013

    Isn’t the proper translation “end of the age” rather than “end of the world”? We’ve been living in the Age of Christianity ever since he predicted this, so maybe it wasn’t such a failed prophecy after all.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2013

      Translation of what?

      • Avatar
        wisemenwatch  January 10, 2013

        Why does the NIV Bible say in Matthew 28:20 “I am with you always, to the very end of the age”, while the KJV says “I am with you alway even unto the end of the world”?

        I am speaking of the translation of the Greek word aeon (I think).

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  January 10, 2013

          Yes, that’s right: it’s translated in two different ways.

          • Avatar
            wisemenwatch  January 11, 2013

            Are both ways correct, then?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  January 12, 2013

            Words mean different things in different contexts; the context — not the word itself — is often the determining factor.

          • Avatar
            wisemenwatch  January 13, 2013

            I feel that the interpretation of this one word is very important in the context and culture of folk Christianity and the understanding of the last days for most evangelicals.

            Anytime a “prophecy” is involved, there is always the temptation to do things on purpose in order to fulfill it. It seems that nothing is wrong by doing this, since Jesus himself is said to have done it.

            I know you are aware of this, and I don’t want to get political here – but there seem to be some who think that it would be quite alright to blow up the world if it would force Jesus’ return and the literal Kingdom Come.

            Will it take Armageddon and Jesus NOT returning to move us from the Age of I Believe to the Age of I Know?

            It would be nice to make it KNOWN that Jesus did not predict the end of the world, so maybe folks would quit preaching it, and the powers that be could quit trying to accelerate its fulfillment.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  January 14, 2013

            I dont’ think it hinges on the word “aeon,” since Jesus was not speaking Greek.

          • Avatar
            wisemenwatch  January 15, 2013

            OK, so in context, the description given by Jesus of the signs of the “end” leads us to believe that he was speaking of the end of the world.

  10. Avatar
    wisemenwatch  January 9, 2013

    Look what I found tonight under the heading “Anno Domini” I do not think I have ever heard of this information. I hope you do not mind too big of a cut and paste.

    “There exists evidence that the modern calendar developed by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century AD commencing with the birth of Jesus Christ at AD 1 was influenced by precession of the equinoxes and astrological ages. Dionysius’ desire to replace Diocletian years (Diocletian persecuted Christians) with a calendar based on the incarnation of Christ was to prevent people from believing the imminent end of the world. At the time it was believed that the Resurrection and end of the world would occur 500 years after the birth of Jesus. The current Anno Mundi calendar theoretically commenced with the creation of the world based on information in the Old Testament. It was believed that based on the Anno Mundi calendar Jesus was born in the year 5500 (or 5500 years after the world was created) with the year 6000 of the Anno Mundi calendar marking the end of the world.[40][41] Anno Mundi 6000 (approximately AD 500) was thus equated with the resurrection of Christ and the end of the world.[42] Since this date had already passed in the time of Dionysius, he therefore searched for a new end of the world at a later date. He was heavily influenced by ancient cosmology, in particular the doctrine of the Great Year that places a strong emphasis on planetary conjunctions. This doctrine says that when all the planets were in conjunction that this cosmic event would mark the end of the world. Dionysius accurately calculated that this conjunction would occur in May AD 2000. Dionysius then applied another astronomical timing mechanism based on precession of the equinoxes. Though incorrect, some oriental astronomers at the time believed that the precessional cycle was 24,000 years which included twelve astrological ages of 2,000 years each. Dionysius believed that if the planetary alignment marked the end of an age (i.e. the Pisces age), then the birth of Jesus Christ marked the beginning of the Age of Pisces 2,000 years earlier. He therefore deducted 2,000 years from the May 2000 conjunction to produce AD 1[43] for the incarnation of Christ.[44][45][46][47]”

    40.^ Wallraff, Martin: Julius Africanus und die Christliche Weltchronik. Walter de Gruyter, 2006
    41.^ Mosshammer, Alden A.: The Easter Computus and the Origins of the Christian Era. Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 254, p. 270, p. 328
    42.^ Declercq, Georges: Anno Domini. The Origins of the Christian Era. Turnhout Belgium. 2000
    43.^ Consideration of the Origin of the Yearly Count in the Julian and Gregorian Calendars. Cosmology Through Time. Ancient and Modern Cosmologies in the
    44.^ Consideration of the Origin of the Yearly Count in the Julian and Gregorian Calendars. Cosmology Through Time. Ancient and Modern Cosmologies in the Mediterranean Area. G. Giobbi S. Colafrancesco (Editor). Mimesis, 2004
    45.^ The Cosmological Circumstances and Results of the Anno Domini Invention: Anno Mundi 6000, Great Year, Precession, End of the World Calculations. Astronomy and Civilization in the New Enlightenment:
    46.^ Astronomical Phenomena that Influenced the Compilation of Anno Domini. The Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena. Volume 441.
    47.^ The Last Day Calculation of Anno Domini. Proceedings of the SEAC conference Ljubljana 2012. To be published in Anthropological Notebooks, official journal of the Slovene Anthropological Society. 2013


  11. Avatar
    pdahl  January 9, 2013

    Bart, having recently reread your very convincing first trade book positing that Jesus was indeed an apocalypticist, I was left with the burning question: “Well, if Jesus was wrong about the apocalypse (or at least its timing), and if God is inerrant, then how can Jesus be equated to God?” How do the serious theologians you refer to deal with this apparent conundrum? One way, I suppose, is to deny that Jesus was actually an apocalypticist — like the Jesus Seminar scholars. However, having read (some of) their arguments in their book The Five Gospels, I find that they failed to anticipate many of your points to the contrary. So I’m back to my original question.

    In N.T. Wright’s written account of the origins of apocalyptic restoration of individual people, which in many respects nicely complements your own, he notes that its 2nd-century-BCE, scriptural inspiration (around the time of Daniel) was Ezekiel’s 6th-century-BCE, wind-blowing-over-the-valley-of-the-dry-bones metaphor for the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian captivity. But when he asserted that these Hebrews actually literalized Ezekiel’s original metaphor to gain their new understanding, my next question arose: “How can anyone literalize a metaphor and then argue with a straight face that the new interpretation holds any water?” Isn’t that rather like the illogic of arguing that Jesus is literally a loaf of bread, since he is quoted in John’s gospel as having said “I am the Bread of Life”?

    In sum, my own “theo-logic” tells me that apocalyptic thought was always suspect to begin with, which, however, puts me at odds with the Jesus you so convincingly described in your book. But, if Jesus = God, then I’m at odds with God too, according to the traditional orthodoxy. Either that, or the traditional orthodoxy needs to self-correct –just like the sciences routinely do every day. So, am I missing something, or are there legitimate concerns here that 21st-century Christianity really needs to confront? Thanks for any reply!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2013

      I think traditional theologians who admit that Jesus was wrong about the calendar want to emphasize that he really was human, even if in some sense he was God in the flesh; but as a human, he had limitations (he couldn’t speak Swahili; he probably made mistakes; and if he played shortstop for the Nazareth little league team he probably made a couple of throwing errors….)

  12. Avatar
    ecbrown88  January 9, 2013

    I think there is something intrinsic in human psychology about end-times disasters. Remove theological apocalypse from the majority of educated minds, and those minds seek and find an alternative — peak oil, global warming, etc. The Judeao-Christian milieu may contribute to the underlying cause identified for many such “replacement apocolypses” — mankind’s bad behavior. Evolutionary psychologists have commented on this, I beleive.

  13. Avatar
    Billypaul49  January 18, 2013

    Bart, when the end comes-can I have your library and your car?

  14. Avatar
    AndrewAD  February 18, 2013

    I was nearly a full preterist at one point not too long ago,but had a hard time with Paul in 1Cor 15 and the seemingly physical resurrection having taken place in AD 70 or shortly thereafter..If we’re currently in the “new heavens and new earth”then why are there still so many tears,even after Satan has been cast in the lake of fire.
    But what’s even been more difficult for me to accept is that Jesus was wrong in his predictions.But the more I learn about the Bible,I realize that he was following a long line of Hebrew prophets who were wrong in their predictions.
    But one nice thing about it is I feel I can actually be more at home with all of them now and don’t have to fear them so much.

  15. TWood
    TWood  November 1, 2016

    Firstly, is there any reason why Jesus would have meant Israel when he referred to the fig tree (where in the OT does the fig tree rep Israel)? I ask because Luke seems to make the identity of the tree meaningless (he says “Look at the fig tree and all the trees) for his seemingly generic parable (when any tree starts to to sprout leaves you know summer is near”).

    Secondly, is there any reason to assume 40 years is a generation according to the bible? The whole thing sounds crazy, and I used to teach this stuff to people! Scary thought…

    Lindsey claims he got the view from “scholars who spent their whole lives” studying this stuff. Is it say to say that none of his scholars were critical scholars.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2016

      No, I don’t think Jesus *was* referring to Israel in this passage. But yes, 40 years does denote a generation in the Bible. (E.g., the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years until the previous generation died off)

      • TWood
        TWood  November 1, 2016

        Interesting, thanks. And when Lindsey claims he got this view from “scholars who spent their whole lives” studying this stuff, is it right to assume that NO critical scholar ever believed this?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 2, 2016

          If you mean his view that Jesus was returning by 1988, according to Matthew’s Gospel — no, no critical scholar thought this.

          • TWood
            TWood  November 2, 2016

            Sorry… last follow up on this… but I more mean did any critical scholar believe that the modern State of Israel (in 1948) fulfilled Jesus’ first century prediction of the fig tree bearing leaves? (it’s possible someone could believe that but see the “generation” as the Jewish race or something like that, which wouldn’t have the 40 years [1988] attached to it). Because Lindsey appeals to “scholars” and then sold 30 million books… if no real critical scholars ever believed his premise (that 1948 fulfills Matt 24:32)… I think that’s important to know.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 4, 2016

            No, I don’t think so.

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