When Will the World End?





When will the world end? This question is a theme common to many major world religions, including Christianity. While many within the contemporary Christian community interpret the more startling apocalyptic prophecies in the Bible as metaphors and analogies teaching important spiritual truths, others with a fundamentalist perspective tend to interpret them more literally... sometimes with questionable outcomes.

So... when will the world end?

The most recent and dramatic example was when American radio prophet Harold Camping (b. 1921) spent millions of dollars telling the nations to prepare for the end of days. He predicted that on May 21, 2011...

* Jesus Christ would return to Earth

* The Rapture of the Church would occur

* Five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth would begin, with millions of people dying each day.

* This period of tribulation would culminate on October 21, 2011 with the end of the world.

Below: Family Radio sign in Denver predicting the end of the world on May 21, 2011

On Sunday May 22, 2011 the following headline appeared in the Guardian newspaper in London...

World doesn't end: California prophet had no Plan B

US correspondent for the Guardian, Paul Harris, reported that "to the shock and distress of a handful of ultra-devout Christian believers, the sun went down yesterday on an America and a world that had signally failed to end."

Harris observed that "instead of a series of earthquakes hitting successive countries at 6pm local time and heralding the Rapture – in which millions of the Faithful would ascend to heaven before the Second Coming of Christ – planet Earth simply carried on and, mostly, kept calm. Middle East peace remained unresolved, political turmoil hit a few countries and bypassed many others. But by and large the world's toiling billions, as usual, just got on with their lives.

While others may have make money out of believing in Doomsday, to his credit Camping is not one of them. Appearing to be entirely genuine in his beliefs, Camping and his followers spent more than $100m on a global billboard and poster campaign, which was supported by his Family Radio network.

This is not the first time Camping has asked when will the world end. He had previously predicted judgment days on May 21, 1988, and September 7, 1994.

Left: Harold Camping speaks during a taping of his show "Open Forum" in Oakland, CA, May 23, 2011

On May 22, 2011, Camping emerged from his home saying that he was "flabbergasted" that the Rapture did not occur, that he was "looking for answers." On May 23, he told reporters he had reinterpreted his prophecy and now claimed, May 21 was a "spiritual" judgment day. The physical Rapture would occur on October 21, 2011, along with the destruction of the world. However, Camping said his ministry would not return money donated by followers to publicize the failed May 21 prediction.

Regrettably, but not surprisingly, atheists and other non-believers used the opportunity to mock religion in general.

Even New York's mayor Michael Bloomberg used a press conference to assure citizens that post-Rapture his administration would not pursue parking tickets or late library books. More seriously, Paul Harris noted that many of Camping's followers may need counseling.

When Will the World End: December 21, 2012?

Predictions of the end of the world are by no means confined to fundamentalist Christian prophets and radio preachers.

A range of eschatological beliefs from various traditions have claimed that cataclysmic or transformative events will occur on December 21, 2012...

* The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar regards this as the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle.

* Various astronomical alignments and numerological formulae related to this date have been suggested.

* New Age interpretations of this transition suggest the 2012 date marks the start of a new era in which Earth and its inhabitants will undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation.

* Apocalyptic interpretations point to 2012 as the end of the world, caused by a cosmic catastrophe such as the arrival of the next solar maximum, or Earth's collision with a black hole or a passing planet called "Nibiru".

If this sounds like a script for an episode of the X-files TV show or the plot for a Hollywood blockbuster... well it is!

Director Roland Emmerich's 2009 release "2012" is a sci-fi disaster blockbuster with an all-star cast including John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, and Danny Glover. The movie refers to Mayanism, the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar and the other aspects of the 2012 phenomenon in its prediction of eschatological events unfolding in the year 2012. Popular with movie-goers, the film grossed $769 million worldwide.

However, scholars from various disciplines have dismissed the idea of such cataclysmic events occurring in 2012.

* According to mainstream Mayanist scholars predictions of apocalyptic doom are nowhere to be found in any of the extant classic Maya texts.

* The proposition that the Long Count calendar "ends" in 2012 misrepresents Maya history.

* Astronomers and other scientists reject the apocalyptic forecasts of the 2012 phenomenon as pseudoscience.



When Will the World End: Two Related Questions

What is the end of the world?

What are the signs of the end of the age?



When Will the World End: A Synoptic Perspective

The Synoptic gospels offer a dualistic answer to the question, when will the world end? The future coming of Christ associated with the close of the age is on the one hand regarded as imminent, while on the other hand its time is unknown.

Jesus says, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). This text poses the problem of an implied limitation of the knowledge of Jesus about his own coming. It also establishes the impossibility of precise prediction.

Other sayings of Christ exhort the disciples to watchfulness:

"But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." (Luke 12:39-40)

"Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back-whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.

If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'watch!'" (Mark 13:35-37)

The delay motif is also seen in the parables of the virgins (Matt. 25:5) and the talents (Matt. 25:19). Even in the face of delay, however, there is an emphasis on the need to be ready. When will the world end for the synoptic writers? Jesus will surely come, and soon, but not immediately, furthermore, no one knows precisely when.

John Carroll

John T. Carroll, Harriet Robertson Fitts Memorial Professor of New Testament at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, argues that Christ’s eschatological discourse “holds the imminence of the parousia and its delayed arrival in tensive balance.”

When will the world end according to the synoptic gospels? The parousia (a Greek word meaning "appearing") of Jesus will occur soon; however, it cannot be predicted. Carroll is right to conclude: “The only posture that squares with such a belief is unwavering alertness and readiness.”

When Will the World End: A Pauline Perspective

Paul comforts the Thessalonian believers who were concerned about their loved ones who had already died: “We tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thess. 4:15).

Donald Guthrie

The influential British New Testament scholar Donald Guthrie (1915–1992) insists that the most natural understanding of this passage is that Paul expected an imminent parousia.

So, when will the world end according to Paul? In this text the apostle implies a distinct possibility that he might be present. In the following chapter he stresses imminence very clearly (1 Thess. 5:1-11). Guthrie argues that if the time of Christ's future coming is unknown; Paul has no alternative but to expect it as imminent.

Paul’s reference to “impending distress” (1 Cor. 7: 26) envisages a time of severe persecution. Although it is not specifically related to the eschaton (end time), it is something which Paul clearly believed could come in the lifetime of the Christians to whom he was writing. His warning that “the appointed time has grown very short” (1 Cor. 7:29), indicates that some event of great importance is regarded as imminent.

The approaching day of the Lord will come as thief, which emphasizes the element of surprise. (1 Thess. 5:4). In this passage the apostle echoes Jesus’ own words (Matt. 24:43).

When will the world end? This is an unanswerable question. In fact the asking of this question places emphasis in entirely the wrong place. I agree with Australian New Testament scholar, Dr. Leon Morris (1914-2006) who emphasizes that for Paul “it is the fact of the parousia that is important, not its precise time.”



For clear and concise study of the end times using a biblical theology approach with a discussion of selected basic themes including the hope of Israel, the second coming of Christ, the afterlife, judgment, hell and heaven, order my eBook At the End of time.

You may purchase the .pdf eBook for $15.00 through our secure PayPal service. You will be asked to supply an email delivery address to which we can email your .pdf eBook.

Email address for eDelivery

NOTE: We can normally email .pdf eBooks within 24 hours of receiving the order. However, when we are traveling, especially overseas, we are not always able to check our website and emails every day. Please be patient if delivery is delayed for this reason as we do not have a home office staff. THANK YOU!



Return from When Will the World End? to our Eschatology Home Page.

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.




Would you like to host a Biblical Eschatology: Sound and Sensible seminar at your church, Bible school, or Bible study group?

For over three decades I have lectured on Eschatology and related themes in universities, colleges and churches throughout the world.

The basic class requires 10 hours of class time. This is ideal for a weekend seminar.

Dr. Ian Bond



I am able to conduct a Biblical Eschatology: Sound and Sensible seminar at your church, school, or study group throughout the United States and Canada. I am also available to facilitate seminars in other countries on a more limited basis.

Please contact me.





For clear and concise study of the end times using a biblical theology approach with a discussion of selected basic themes including the hope of Israel, the second coming of Christ, the afterlife, judgment, hell and heaven, order my eBook At the End of time.

You may purchase the .pdf eBook for $15.00 through our secure PayPal service. You will be asked to supply an email delivery address to which we can email your .pdf eBook.

Email address for eDelivery

NOTE: We can normally email .pdf eBooks within 24 hours of receiving the order. However, when we are traveling, especially overseas, we are not always able to check our website and emails every day. Please be patient if delivery is delayed for this reason as we do not have a home office staff. THANK YOU!



Take advantage of the many great resources to enrich your personal and group Bible study.

Check out opportunities to further your education in religious studies, philosophy, history and practical ministry.





Visit our Free-Online-Bible-Study.org aStore powered by Amazon.com. to view books and other study resources reviewed or referenced on this web page.

Then explore our entire aStore. We have built a Category Page as a resource companion for each article on our Free-Online-Bible-Study.org website.

Check out the section of our aStore on Eschatology



There are a myriad of books, lectures and materials on eschatology. These range from the good to the bad, the ugly... and the very ugly!

I have listed the books and study resources reviewed or referred to in our articles on eschatology.

I have avoided those resources that are little more than superficial, sensationalistic speculation. Rather, I have recommended materials based on sound scholarship and common sense by qualified academics and Bible teachers. Recommended resources cover the full spectrum of mainstream interpretive approaches.

The books and resources listed do not represent the views of Free-Online-Bible-Study.Org or Teach the Nations, Inc.