End Time Beliefs
By: Lacey Kirwan
Part of the appeal of religion has always come from religions’ willingness to offer answers to the most fundamental human questions—why are we here, where did we come from, and what will happen to us when we die? Most faiths try to answer those questions, and then go even further, positing answers to not only the immediate fate of the individual but, ultimately, the fate of all humankind. According to some portrayals, the end will come accompanied by death and destruction, with a final place of being that will be reserved for the pious. Other religions view time as cyclical, therefore each “end” is believed to be followed by a new beginning. Here’s a generalized overview of the end time beliefs of the world’s four largest religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
In his book Maranatha; or, the Lord Cometh, 19th century Presbyterian minister and pre-millenialist James H. Brookes, diagrams the Christian end time scenario. According to Brookes’ timeline, the end would look as follows.
During the Rapture, all good Christians will be summoned to heaven. This will be followed by a seven-year period, during which all remaining people on earth will suffer, and the Antichrist will rise to power through political action. Then a battle will take place between Jesus and the Antichrist, in the period known as the Revelation, and there will be judgment of the remaining people. Christians that died during the preceding battle will be summoned to heaven. Following this great battle, the earth will enjoy a 1000-year period of peace. At the end of the millennium, Satan will return, but Jesus will kill him once and for all. The Final Judgment will see the Book of Life opened, and those whose names are not in it will be sent to a lake of fire. Finally, Hell will be destroyed in the Judgment of the Great White Throne, and all those who are meant to go to Heaven will be there. In this state of eternity, death and earth will no longer exist or matter.
While this is the official version, depicted in the Bible, religion scholar and director of the University of Minnesota’s religious studies department Jeanne Kilde says, “The idea of end times is so foreign to most Christians. Most are not interested.” According to Kilde, only about 10 percent of Christians put much thought into end time beliefs at all, and most certainly don’t expect the end to come any time soon. There have been some notable exceptions, however, one of which was the Millerites. William Miller, a Baptist preacher, predicted the second coming of Jesus and the start of the end times in 1844. His followers suffered from what is known as the Great Disappointment when Jesus failed to arrive. But this did not dissuade many of them, and today the Seventh Day Adventists are a religious sect consisting of over 16 million members who formed from Miller’s teachings. Today most of the Seventh Day Adventists still believe that the end times will happen, but they no longer try to predict when.
There are many structural similarities between the end time beliefs of Islam and Christianity. What Christians call the End Times, Muslims know as the Final Hour. Just like in Christianity, Islamic beliefs promote a series of signs relating to the Final Hour, though belief points to only Allah knowing when this will happen.
Islam also believes in Jesus and his return to fight the Dajjal (a figure comparable to the Antichrist, who will have one eye and the word Kafir—unbeliever—on his forehead) but they have another very important figure referred to as the Mahdi. There are disputes between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites as to who he is and what his purpose is exactly, but it can safely be said that his main purpose is to help Jesus restore order at the Final Hour. Belief in the Mahdi has birthed movements know as “mahdism” in which an individual claims to be the Mahdi and sometimes amasses huge numbers of followers. “It can have political, reformist, and militaristic values,” explains Dr. Iraj Bashiri, a leading scholar of Iranian studies. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has implied in the past that his government is guided and supported by the Mahdi.
The final judgment continues thus. Jesus will defeat the Dajjal, then, when Jesus dies the resurrection will begin. First, an environmental catastrophe will cause all life to perish, animals and people alike. Once all are equal in death, they will be brought before Allah to be judged. People will be separated into two groups, determined by their Book of Deeds, in which everyone’s sins and good deeds have been recorded. Those whose good deeds outweigh the bad, and who have followed certain tenets, will safely make it across a bridge to heaven, while those who have sinned in excess will have chains placed upon them and will fall down into the fires of hell when they attempt to cross the bridge. Earth will no longer be of any consequence.
During a tour of the Hindu Temple in Maple Grove, Hindu practitioner Ned Mohan, talks about his religion’s view of the end times. “We may be living in end times, but we don’t worry about it,” Mohan says. Hindus’ idea of time has a lot to do with this attitude, he explains. Hinduism refers to time on a cosmic scale that continues forever, in cycles.
The main cycle of time that encompasses everything is called the Kalachakra. Within this main cycle there are four other cycles. The first is Satya Yuga, known as the Golden Age or Age of Truth, when people are at their most virtuous and the teachings are followed closely. As the cycles continue, people become less and less virtuous, until finally, people are only filled with one quarter of virtue in the fourth cycle. Seeing the poor state of life on Earth, Shiva, the god of destruction, will come and destroy the universe.
Creator-God Brahma will then recreate everything and people will start over again in Satya Yuga. Even though we are thought to currently be in the fourth cycle—Kali Yuga—there is no great concern among most Hindus, since Kali Yuga lasts 432,000 years. One cycle of Brahma is thought to last 4,320,000 years, so no matter what age we are in, it is not likely that we will see the exact end time.
Like in Hinduism, the Buddhist conception of time is based on cycles, both large and small. In the Buddhist view of the world cycle—after the time of the historical Buddha, who is believed to have lived before 600 B.C.—teachings were slowly forgotten and the people progressed into a time of increasing degenerateness. Once the world is at its worst, Maitreya, the Buddha of the future, will arrive to renew Buddhist teachings. “I think visions of what life on earth will be like under Maitreya vary from tradition to tradition,” comments Paul Rouzer, a professor of Buddhism at the University of Minnesota. “At the most extreme, it seems to be seen as a ‘heaven-on-earth,’ with no more human suffering at all. At the very least, though, a great era of peace and calm is predicted.” Rouzer explains that he has never actually seen writers talk about what will happen after Maitreya departs, since the focus is generally on how wonderful it will be when he comes. “But theoretically, yes, the world will pass into darkness yet once again,” he says.
A person goes through many rebirths in both religions in pursuit of liberation, the ultimate state of being where they reject the concept of life completely. In Hinduism this is known as moksha; in Buddhism it is called nirvana. Once you reach this enlightenment, you will no longer be reborn, instead you will exist peacefully in another realm. Until that point, the cycles of degeneration and renewal, with their periodic “end times,” will continue.
End time beliefs have been important throughout history, and have been of special interest to the world’s religions. While differences abound, one thing seems to be constant across religion: as Rouzer succinctly puts it, “Everyone always assumes we are in the crappy period.”