In the Biblical story of Noah, the flood opened the way for a regeneration of the world and a new humanity. Because wickedness persisted, however, another cataclysm became inevitable. Nearly all modern religions have taken up this kind of mythology, looking forward to an end of the world, a new creation, and a judgment on humanity for its deeds.
Myths of the end of the universe are incorporated with beliefs about death and the fate of humanity afterward. In many mythologies the dead may be rewarded or punished. It was inconceivable to most ancient peoples that humans would not survive in some form after death. Egyptian kings made elaborate preparations for the afterlife.
For Judaism the coming of the Messiah will announce the end of the present world and the restoration of paradise. For Christianity the end will precede the second coming of Jesus and the last judgment. After these events the whole universe will be renewed and made perfect. All evil and misfortune will be abolished. Many Christian groups that have made the doctrine central to their faith have interposed a 1,000-year period, called the millennium, between the second coming and the end of the world. During this time only the saints will dwell on Earth. Then Satan will be unleashed to stir up a period of terrible persecution. After that the end will come, followed by judgment and a new creation. Some groups put the second coming after the millennium. Most traditional Christian denominations, however, reject the notion of a millennium altogether.
In the West, in almost every generation there have arisen groups with an apocalyptic worldview and an expectation that they are witnessing the last days of human history. Not infrequently, these groups go so far as to set a specific date on which the endtime events will be initiated. Basic to such groups have been a ‘‘historicist’’ reading of the apocalyptic passages of the Bible, in which the prophetic texts are seen as referring to contemporary events. The failure of the proposed events to occur on time always creates a crisis in apocalyptic groups. Only rarely do they admit any significant error. Rather, they suggest that the date was incorrect and propose a new date, or, more often, they spiritualize the prophecy and suggest that it really occurred, but in an invisible spiritual realm. . .
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