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A Brief History of the Apocalypse


Unlike those daring prophets that set a date or time window for the End, many doomsayers hedge their bets by not gambling on a particular date, but instead merely insist that the end is coming SOON! This of course renders their prophecies untestable, but at the same time scary enough to bamboozle the gullible into believing them. SOON! has a nebulous quality about it: it could mean tomorrow, next year, or even a million yeas from now, long after the prophet and his followers are no longer around to lose face.

Such prophets are too numerous to list in their entirety, so I will just include some of the more notable, off-beat and interesting ones here.

Person or Group Commentary
Aetherius Society The UFO cult known as the Aetherius Society believes that a Great Avatar or Cosmic Master will arrive by spaceship SOON! to usher in a New Age. The message was supposedly channelled to cult founder Sir George King on November 23, 1958, by an alien called Lord of Karma.
Mary Bateman Mary Bateman (aka the Yorkshire Witch) was a famed English fortune teller and con artist of the early 19th century. One of her most unusual scams involved a magic hen which laid magic eggs bearing end-time prophecies. She charged her victims -- I mean "clients" -- a penny (equivalent to several bucks nowadays) to see her magic chicken. One prophecy caused a lot of commotion: on the egg was written a message that Jesus was coming SOON! Unfortunately for Mary, the scam was exposed when she was caught shoving an egg up the chicken's you-know-what. In 1808, Mary was hanged for poisioning some of her clients. Even after her death she was still involved in scamming, in a manner of speaking: pieces of her skin were sold as charms to fend off evil.
Jim Jones Jim Jones, founder of the People's Temple, started out his ministry giving hope to the disaffected and downtrodden of American society. He was a recipient of many humantiarian awards, and was even given a position in the San Francisco city government. Unfortunately, he grew more and more paranoid as the years went by, and was haunted by a vision of nuclear war that he had had in his youth. Soon he was affected by delusions of godhood. Many people left his cult disillusioned, and his list of critics and enemies grew. Increasingly paranoid and delusional, Jones led his remaining die-hard followers to Guyana, where he was convinced he and his flock would survive the global nuclear holocaust he was certain would happen SOON! Even in Jonestown, the colony he built, some followers became fearful of Jones's increasing madness. When a number of them tried to flee the country, five people, including a visiting US congressman, were gunned down by Jones's thugs. Jones, knowing that the US government would come after them for the murders, ordered his followers to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid on November 18, 1978. Over 900, including Jones, died and only a handful survived to tell the hair-raising tale. This is so far the worst tragedy related to the late 20th century's bout with millennial madness.
Old Believers A group that splintered off from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century, the Old Believers of Russia held apocalyptic beliefs that bore a frightening parallel to the People's Temple and the Order of the Solar Temple cults of recent history. They believed that by committing mass suicide, they could postpone the Apocalypse, which was coming SOON! Thousands of Old Believers burned themselves to death over the years. (Kyle p.69)
Ronald Reagan Ronald Reagan, in a 1980 interview with Jim Bakker, said, "We may be the generation that sees Armageddon." Before that, in 1971, Reagan commented to James Mills regarding events in Libya, "For the first time ever, everything is in place for the Battle of Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ." Obviously, Reagan thought that the end would come SOON! And to think that a man with apocalyptic delusions like this had his finger on the nuclear button for 8 years. (Grosso p.8)
Girolamo Savonarola 15th century Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola, sensing moral decay in society, began preaching that the end was near and it was time for the people of Florence to repent. "The sword of the Lord will descend on the Earth swiftly and SOON!", he prophesied. Savonarola saw the invading armies of Charles VIII, King of France (who was living in his own apocalyptic fantasyland), as a prophetic Flood and convinced the Florentine people that if they surrendered to the French, they would become God's elect. (Gotta love that logic!) Not long after the French occupied Florence, Savonarola declared that Florence, not Rome, was favored in the eyes of God. This didn't go over too well with the Catholic establishment. By 1495, the French occupation had crumbled and popular support for Savonarola was waning. Savonarola was captured and publicly executed in 1498. (Thompson p.79-80, Weber p.59)
Seneca The Roman philosopher Seneca believed that the end would arrive SOON! He wrote, "All we see and admire today will burn in the universal fire that ushers in a new, just, happy world." In 79 AD, 14 years after Seneca's death, Mount Vesuvius erupted, destroying Pompeii and its environs -- an event that was seen by many Romans as a sign that the fires of the End were near. (Weber p.38)
James Watt James Watt, Secretary of the Interior under the Reagan administration, felt that there was no need to protect the environment because the end was coming SOON! In 1981, he told a Congressional committee, "I don't know how many future generations we can count on until the Lord returns." It is indeed frightening that such a man could be appointed to a cabinet post. (Weber p.202)
Isaac Watts Isaac Watts (1674-1748), prolific hymn writer and author, is famous as the composer of the Christmas carol Joy to the World. Not many are aware, however, that the lyrics are actually about the Second Coming, not the birth of Christ. Watts, who wrote numerous theological books, including the premillennialist work The End of Time, was certain that the end would come SOON! (McIver #261)

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