Religions all throughout history have had doomsday scenarios; prophecies and ideas about when, and how, the world would end. Isaac Newton, ever the polymath, even had his own prediction. Based upon his own readings of biblical events, he said that it would come to an end in 2060. My personal favourite is Ragnarok, mainly because it sounds like the ‘plot’ of a Michael Bay film. So what are the prophecies? What do they say will occur during the apocalypse? Here are three examples of religious views on the matter.
The Book of Revelations is the grand finale of the Bible; written as the viewers guide to the end of the world. Seals will be broken and trumpets will sound; Death and his pale horse will ride forth, Hell will open, and Jesus will arrive to judge us. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do; it’s the most entertaining part of the Bible.
However, according to some sects of Christianity, this all should have come to pass already; several times in fact. In the first few centuries after Jesus died, Christians were almost entirely an apocalypse cult. They believed that the Second Coming, and thus Doomsday, was imminent. This idea has never really left the religion and there are examples, throughout its two millennia history, of Christians proclaiming that the end of the world is nigh.
The Millerites, in 19th century America, believed that it would all end on October 22nd 1844. Of course it didn’t, yet even after their Great Disappointment, many believed that they’d merely got the day wrong. These people formed the Seventh Day Adventists, a group who, to this day, say that the Second Coming is just round the corner.
The most recent prediction was made by Harold Camping, informing people that the Rapture would occur on May 21st 2011. When it failed to happen, he moved it back to October 21st; which also failed to deliver any people rising out of their clothes into Heaven.
Even after 2000 years of being wrong, there will always be those Christians who think that the apocalypse is just biding its time.
Perhaps the sanest, though I use the term loosely, prediction for the end of the world is that of the Buddha. The scenario Buddha preached was one that is the closest to a scientific view of the universe as a religious prediction can get.
Instead of people rising into the sky, demons roaming the Earth, floods, or war, Buddha told of the gradual arrival of seven suns in the sky; and by gradual I mean over hundreds of thousands of years. At first, there will be severe drought on the planet, causing all life to die out. A second sun will appear in the sky, vaporising streams and ponds; followed by a third, which will cause the evaporation of the world’s rivers. The fourth and fifth suns respectively will dry up the lakes and oceans, leaving our planet completely devoid of water by the time the sixth sun appears. Now, the arrival of this sun means that both the core and crust of the planet will begin to super-heat. Great volcanic eruptions will occur across the barren surface, scorching whatever is left and filling the skies with ash. Finally, after countless years, the seventh sun will appear. The Earth will become a great ball of flame and explode. Life seems to get off fairly lightly, compared to other scenarios, escaping the aeons of solar-cooked wasteland before it even begins.
The Islamic tradition shares elements of its apocalypse with the other two Abrahamic religions, in that it is believed that there will be a great battle between the forces of good (Allah’s supporters) and evil (those who deny God) followed by a Day of Judgement. Also, if you’ve ever read the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, some of the following will sound familiar.
One of the differences, between Islam and the other two Abrahamic religions, is that the period leading up to the Islamic Apocalypse is clearly split into three periods. The first period ended with the death of Mohammed. Thus we are currently living in the second period, which contains up to a hundred minor signs. These include things as vague as: businesses will defraud customers; there will be strange noises from the sky; people will not care when their children are illegitimate; and men will wear silky and effeminate clothing and marry other men.
This period will continue for an indeterminate length of time until the third period begins, marked by twelve major signs. The first of these is that the Mahdi, guided one, will appear atop a white horse. Following him, the false messiah Masih ad-Dajjal shall appear and lead many believers astray. Jesus, as a prophet in Islam, will return to help the Mahdi fight Dajjal. A battle over our souls will be fought; trumpets will sound and everyone will die, to be resurrected after forty years. Finally, the individual judgments upon all of resurrected humanity will commence. That’s…a lot of people to judge.