(Alternate title – The End Is Not Nigh)
I joined the church in the mid-1990s. Millennial fervor was high as the end of the century approached. I lived in Silicon Valley, so in addition to the church talk of the end of the world and the second coming, I also got the secular talk of Y2K and how the computer bug would spell the end of life as we know it.
I didn’t think that Jesus would return on exactly January 1, 2000, but I did think that He would return sometime in probably my young adulthood. My YW leaders and seminary teachers and institute teachers assured us that we would be the generation to see the second coming. Scriptural evidence was presented, focusing chiefly on the Book of Revelation and the discussion of the seven seals. It was assumed that we were right at the end of the sixth seal and that Jesus was right around the corner.
I was a junior in college when 9/11 happened. This dialed up the apocalyptic fervor even higher. I finished college and left on my mission. Missionaries spend a lot of time discussing esoteric gospel theories because there really isn’t much else to do for entertainment in our rare down time. The end of the world was a common topic. (The second Iraq war started right around the time I left on my mission, so that was more apocalyptic fuel.) By that time, I still thought that the second coming would be within my lifetime, but I figured middle age by then. I saw that there were some of the signs of the times that were still unfulfilled. The gospel hadn’t been preached to every nation. There hadn’t been a 2 1/2 year war in Jerusalem, and two prophets hadn’t been killed in the streets and resurrected.
The other missionaries still thought it was a matter of years, not decades. A visiting general authority came to a mission conference about halfway through my mission, and when he was talking, he asked for a show of hands of who thought it was possible that the second coming could be tomorrow. I was the only person in the room who didn’t raise my hand. His response: “How long does a 2 1/2 year war take?” and all the hands sheepishly went down. I don’t remember the rest of his talk. I only remember that one line.
Apocalyptic rhetoric in the church seemed to wane after my mission in favor of other topics like reminding singles that we forgot to get married. Where food storage used to be a monthly or quarterly topic of discussion at church, it then became more like annual if at all. I noticed a brief uptick in 2020 when Covid hit, but the end of the world rhetoric seemed to wane quickly. I thought about the second coming from time to time, and several years ago I settled on my pet theory.
I now believe that the end of the world will be at the literal end of the world. According to our best understanding of science, the earth is about 5 billion years old, and the sun has about 5 billion more years left before going nova and destroying the solar system. The church teaches that Jesus was born in the meridian of time, i.e. somewhere in the middle of the earth’s existence. When we’re talking billions of years, 2000 years is nothing. It’s roughly the middle now, and it was roughly the middle 2000 years ago when Jesus lived.
Descriptions of the destruction preceding the second coming are consistent with what would happen when a star goes nova – the sun darkening, the moon turning to blood, the stars in the heavens appearing to cast themselves from the sky, the earth reeling to and fro like a drunken man, the earth becoming like a sea of glass, and finally silence. A new heaven and a new earth.
Additionally, although I was always taught at church that we’re living near the end of the sixth seal, my read of Revelation 6 is more consistent with us still being in the fifth seal. The fifth seal is where the church is building up and is on the face of the land. The sixth seal is the cataclysmic destruction of the earth as described above.
I knew peers when I was in college who felt that planning for the future was futile because the world was going to end soon anyway. They were hesitant to live their lives because they didn’t think they would get to have them. By contrast, my view that the end of the world is still billions of years off has given me hope and an ability to plan to live for many decades more.
In the grand scheme of things, though, it matters little whether the second coming is 5 years away or 5 billion years away. In the end, we all die, and we all meet our Maker. And if we live good and holy lives and repent when we fall short, the end result will be the same either way. Either we will be caught up to meet the Lord, or we will die and be brought into His presence with the words “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Amen and amen! Well written, thou good and faithful servant. I completely agree. I joined in the 70s and had grown up with the nuclear war drills in school. Hide under your desk! Wear this aluminum wristband with your info to identify you if anything happens! We were raised with fear of apocalypse. The missionaries offered hope. oy…
Thank you so much for this post. I joined the Church in 2013 and don’t recall ever hearing such messages about the immediacy of the apocalypse. Your post helped me understand that that narrative urgency has waxed and waned over time.
I love your point about how Jesus walked the earth in spot the middle of the earth’s timeline, and we are still in the middle, in terms of the planet’s life.
Thank you for this wonderful post. You expressed my thoughts exactly. I am a 6th generation member of the church in my 60s and have heard end-of-the-world talk my entire life. I live in a small rural town in Utah that is a good mix of retired urbanites like my wife and I are and native country folk. The one common thread I’ve found here is a belief that the second coming is just around the corner. The fact that President Nelson has talked often about gathering Israel has seemed to dump fuel on the fire. A few years ago my wife and I were chided for planting young fruit trees because they would never produce fruit before the second coming.
“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
This quote has been attributed to Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., Benjamin Franklin, and more. I don’t know who the true author is, but I find it pertinent to your experience and life itself. We still need to live our lives regardless what happens. Even if we are in the last days (sometimes I think we are, sometimes I feel we still have a long way to go), there is still SO MUCH life ahead to experience. I doubt the Savior would want us sitting around and twiddling our thumbs waiting for Him to show up.
I also had a couple of those growing up. 1996, based on a chart my dad had on the wall showing the start of the world in 4004bc, the whole y2k thing until life got too messy to care.
Now I’m fine whenever it comes, as I no longer believe that your fate will be determined by whatever state you are in when you die.
I get frustrated by those who are looking forward to it, either so “those people” will be punished or as an excuse for paranoia (gotta prep so -I- am ready, screw the world) or as apathy (who cares about the environment or government, the world going down the drain means it’ll happen sooner).
“i don’t pay attention to the
it has ended for me
and began again in the morning.”
― Nayyirah Waheed, SALT
Great post. I have always been on the billion year time scale. I find the apocalyptic view mostly defeatist or a distractionist.
I took a meditation class taught by Westerners who had traveled to Southeast Asia and trained in Theravada Buddhism. In class they noted how the Buddha taught to let go of attachment, including living in the past or trying to live in the future. The Buddha taught students to live in the present.
A few years later, I recall President Monson saying something to the effect that yesterday is behind us, tomorrow is yet to come, what matters is today.
I also appreciated this post. I was also raised with the “Saturday’s Warrior” mentality and thought, as a youth, that the year 2000 would be it. Then it hit me, why would God be using the Gregorian calendar. Wouldnt the Jewish calendar make more sense? If we go by that, there are still 218 years until the year 6000. But then, why would God be bound to any calendar. Why not billions of years instead of thousands?