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End of the world (religion)

From Academic Kids

This article is about the religious concept. For other meanings, see End of the World (disambiguation)

Many religious faiths teach that the end of the world, or Apocalypse, will occur at some unknown point in the future. While such an event is often symbolised by the destruction of human civilization or the elimination of all life on Earth, liberal religious scholars often view the 'end of the world' as a metaphor for the personal death.

Some religions have doctrines claiming that 'chosen' or 'worthy' members of the one true faith (of the same religious doctrine) will be "spared" from the coming destruction, and be ushered into paradise, as a reward for their struggles on earth. In such religions, the unworthy (the unfaithful, or those of other religions) are usually said to face an eternity in hell, fruitless spiritual wandering, or annihilation. Heaven and hell, according to moderate views are not literal terms, but metaphors for states of being in spirituality; in both life and afterlife.

The history and study of religious writings on this topic is eschatology, and can be traced back to the earliest days of civilization. Famous myths describing the end of the world include the Norse story of Ragnarok and the Book of Revelation; the latter is a Christian description of a final battle between good and evil and a predicted Armageddon.

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Jewish

It is worth noting that the Talmud, in the tractate Avodah Zarah, page 9A, states that this world as we know it will only exist for six thousand years:

  • "...The Tanna Debey Eliyahu taught: The world is to exist six thousand years; the first two thousand are to be "void" [of Torah], the next two thousand are the period of the Torah [from Abraham until the completion of the Mishna - the first part of the Talmud], and the following [last] two thousand are the period of the Messiah [i.e., the Messianic Age could commence during this time]; through our [the Jews'] sins a number of these [times for the Messiah's coming] have already passed [and the Messiah has not come yet]."

The end of the world is called the acharit hayamim (end of days), when tumultuous events will take place in the world overturning the old world order and creating a new order where God is recognized by every single individual as the God who rules over everyone and everything in the Universe. One of the sages of the Talmud says that "Let the end of days come, but may I not live to see them", because they will be filled with so much conflict and suffering.

The Jewish calendar (luach) functions completely on the assumption that time begins at the Creation of the world by God in Genesis. Many people (notably Conservative and Reform Jews and some Christians) think that the years of the Torah, or Jewish Bible, are symbolic. According to the ancient Jewish teachings continued by today's Orthodox Jews, the years are literal and consistent throughout all time, with 24 hours per day and 365 days per year. Appropriate calibrations are, of course, done with leap years, to account for the difference between the lunar calendar and the solar calendar, since the Jewish calendar is based on both. Thus the year 2000 equals 5760 years since creation on the present Jewish calendar. According to this calculation, the end of days will occur in the year 2240.

According to Jewish tradition, the end of the world will see:

  1. the ingathering of the scattered Jewish exiles to geographic Israel,
  2. the defeat of all of Israel's enemies,
  3. the building of the third Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the resumption of the sacrificial offerings and Temple service,
  4. the Revival of the Dead (techiat hameitim), or the Resurrection,
  5. and, at some point, the Jewish Messiah who will become the anointed King of Israel. He will divide the Jews in Israel into their original tribal portions in the land. During this time Gog, king of Magog, will attack Israel. Who Gog and the nation Magog are is not known yet. Magog will fight a great battle, in which many will die on both sides, but God will intervene and save the Jews. This is the battle referred to as Armageddon. God, having vanquished this final enemy once and for all, will accordingly banish all evil from human existence. After the year 6000 (in the Jewish calendar), the seventh millennium will be an era of holiness, tranquility, spiritual life, and worldwide peace, called the Olam Haba ("Future World"), where all people will know God directly.

One group of Jews from the Chabad Lubavitch, one strand of Hasidic Judaism, believes that the Messiah has quite possibly arrived and begun his mission, and that it is their deceased Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, actually the Messiah in waiting. The defeat of Iraq by the United States Army during the Gulf War in 1990 - 1991, and the fact that Israel was not seriously harmed, was taken as a sign that the Messiah was at hand. This view was rejected by all other groups who still await the traditional "End of Days" as described in the writings of the Prophets of the Tanakh, the classic Jewish Bible .


Christian

The very earliest Christians in the first century AD had a number of false alarms about when the End would come; they believed it would come during their lifetime. Paul had compared the end of the world with a mother's birth pang, and the image implied the world was already pregnant with its own destruction, but no one knew when it would happen. When the converts of Paul in Thessalonica were persecuted by the Romans, it was believed to be a sign the end was near. However, doubt rose when already in the 90s Christians were saying "We have heard these things [of the End of the World] even in the days of our fathers, and look, we have grown old and none of them has happened to us". In the 130s Justin Martyr declared God was delaying the end of the world because he wished to see Christianity spread throughout the world. In the 250s Cyprian wrote that Christian sins of that time were a prelude and proof that the end was near.

However, by the 3rd century most believed the End to be beyond their own lifetime; Jesus, it was believed, had denounced attempts to divine the future, to know the "times and seasons", and such attempts to predict the future were discouraged; yet the End was given a date with the help of Jewish traditions in the Six Ages of the World. Using this system, the End was fixed at 202, but when the date passed, all hopes were placed in 500 AD. As this date passed, the End faded over the horizon and became increasingly remote.

Many Christians currently believe that the End is near, some sects placing it within their lifetime or shortly thereafter. Their convictions can sometimes be placed on the prolific tellings of tragedies all around the world each day on the news, combined with indirect interpretations of aspects of and scriptures in the Bible.

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