News Series The 'Splainer The 'Splainer

The ’Splainer: Will the world end on Saturday?

Photos courtesy of David Meade

(RNS) Short answer — no.

But David Meade, a Christian and self-published author of end-of-the-world survival guides, predicts doomsday is near — very near, as in this Saturday (Sept. 23).

Meade’s ideology, laid out in his book “Planet X — The 2017 Arrival,” is described by the author as “a compendium of information from every sphere—astronomical, scientific, the Book of Revelation and geopolitics.” There’s some astrology in there, too.

Meade is the latest in a very long line of American self-proclaimed prophets who claim they know when — sometimes to the hour — the biblically predicted “end times” will arrive. And while it’s fun to laugh at his belief that the “Planet Nibiru” will collide with the Earth this week, the failed prophesies of some of his predecessors have, at times, led to important religious movements or illuminating ways of thinking about faith. Let us ’Splain …

How common are predictions the end is at hand?

Cotton Mather. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons

Very common. Wikipedia lists over 170 different religiously motivated predictions of the end of the world. The first recorded one dates back to the year 66 and ancient Judea. Since then, doomsday predictions have jumped continents, cultures and religions, but they do seem to be a mostly Protestant pastime. The first American-born doomsday dude was Cotton Mather. This son of Puritans, teenage Harvard graduate and popular New England preacher publicly proclaimed the world would end three different times, in 1697, 1716 and 1736.

If their predictions were wrong, why remember them?

Because some of the people or groups who made these failed predictions led to other important things in American religious history. Consider the Millerites, a band of 19th-century Americans who left their fields unplanted and sold their worldly goods in anticipation of their expiration date — Oct. 22, 1844. After their “Great Disappointment,” they  eventually became the Seventh-day Adventists. (Fun fact: The Millerites inspired HBO’s “The Leftovers” and even made an appearance in a couple of episodes.)


READ: Bigger mysteries, fewer answers in ‘The Leftovers’ finale


Then there were the followers of Charles Taze Russell, a 19th-century preacher who looked for Jesus’ return and the resurrection of the dead (Christians only, please) in 1878 (and again in 1914). They became Jehovah’s Witnesses, who now ring doorbells around the world (and are persecuted for it in some places — looking at you, Russia). Even John Wesley, co-founder of Methodism, dabbled in predictions, once writing that Jesus would return between 1058 and 1836 (rather a large spread as predictions go).

Some failed predictions bring unexpected insights into religion. In 1955, most people laughed when Dorothy Martin, a Chicago housewife, said aliens from Planet Clarion informed her the world would end for all but her and her small band of followers, who would be “lifted up.” No end, no lift. But social psychologist Leon Festinger developed his “theory of cognitive dissonance” from his firsthand study of Martin, and he went on to write a 1957 book that explained how rational people come to believe irrational things that is still used to explain everything from religious beliefs to real estate bubbles.

And to flat-out ignore some predictions can be perilous. Florence Houteff, considered a prophetess by the Branch Davidians, predicted April 22, 1959, as the rollout date of the Book of Revelation’s fire and brimstone. Wrong, and her group splintered in the aftermath.

One of the splinters wound up in a compound in Waco, Texas, surrounded by federal agents demanding their surrender on firearms charges. Their leader, David Koresh, was another self-proclaimed prophet who made doomsday predictions involving the deaths of his followers. Some critics felt the federal agents failed to fully understand Koresh as a religious leader, seeing him only as a con man and criminal. By the end of a 51-day siege, after a battery of gunshots and a fast-moving fire, 86 people were killed, including Koresh and several children.

Why this prediction now? Wasn’t there another big “apocalypse now” prediction a few years ago?

Scholars say doomsday predictions cluster around certain events — the Great Plague of the Middle Ages, or the “harmonic convergence” of the planets, or the year 2000. Meade has pointed to last month’s solar eclipse as a “sign” of what he says is to come.


READ: Self-proclaimed prophet spawns apocalypse movement


The day Harold Camping said the world would end, May 11, 2011, the “Uke Holes” played in Boonville, Calif., at a wine festival. Photo by Kimberly Winston

And yes, there has been a long string of predictions in the last two decades. Who can forget Harold Camping, the Christian radio media mogul who picked two dates in 2011, hit the airwaves, put up billboards, solicited money — and nada. He joined some rather famous names — Edgar Cayce, Sun Myung Moon, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson (at least twice, but before he had access to the White House) and John Hagee among them — of failed futurists. Heck, Sir Isaac Newton himself, great astronomer and mathematician, bet that Jesus would return in the year 2000.

Even the man who explained gravity was wrong. So relax. Make some weekend plans. See you Monday.

The ’Splainer (as in “You’ve got some ’splaining to do”) is an occasional feature in which the RNS staff gives you everything you need to know about current events to hold your own at the water cooler. (An earlier version of this story identified Leon Festinger as a sociologist. He was a social psychologist.)

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

57 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses calculated that Jesus’s return and Armageddon might be in the fall of 1974. This was an unofficial position but anticipated by everyone. There was a decline in membership when that date passed. That expect it any day now. Every war, rumor of war, earthquake, volcano, etc. is proof of the “last days” as Jesus prophesied in Matthew. It’s amazing what nonsense we humans will believe.

  • In the Bible it doesn’t appear that the end comes abruptly out of the blue, more like a gradual accumulation of a series of events. Newton may have picked the start of these end of days beginning in 2000. Global warming is picking up speed, war is constant, fires and hurricanes are getting bigger each year. These things do not happen because of God but damage may be greater because God has left us to our own demise around the year 2000. Perhaps what Newton thought was the end was the beginning of the end.

  • It’s sad, I lost my job in the fall of ’74 because the christian owner closed his business and moved his family out of town into the wilderness, abandoned his house and who knows what else. I moved on and still to this day avoid religious family businesses.

  • “Some critics felt the federal agents failed to fully understand Koresh as a religious leader, seeing him only as a con man and criminal.”

    The failure being that they didn’t realise that the distinction is imaginary?

  • “God has left us to our own demise”

    God gave up in 2000CE?

    If it exists it quit billions of years before that.

  • Despite being a brilliant scientist, Newton was a product of his time: religious. He spent nearly as much time on his religious studies as he did physics. He was also an alchemist. So his statements on the “end” can be discounted. This biblical-based and of times is pure rubbish.

  • I’ve always had a somewhat perverse wish that upon realizing that a self-proclaimed prophet has made a false prediction about the ‘rapture’, a gang of hardcore fundamentalist Baptists would insist on administering the punishment God ordained in Deuteronomy 18:20.
    I think it would make an entertaining spectacle, but that’s just me.

  • One of “The Leftovers” best moves last season was to have “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” the 1960s/70s evangelical song about the Rapture, playing during the Millerites scene. These EOTW predictions have always been with us and probably always will.

  • don’t be silly the end times, began in the year 3409. with another 3 1/2 Days left after Moshe to go here in This Story of The Physical Creation again. as the end of THEIR Story, is the man year 6818.

    so the destruction of the world, cannot happen until after that in Day One again with Noach. and Noach was 600 man years old when the flood happened. so so 6818 + 600 = 7418, and the current year is approximately 5777. so 7418 years – 5777 = 1641 years from today.

    ELOHEEM, has not even taken off for The Day of Rest yet and placed THEIR Son in charge for the last day. so there is no way, this world can end prior to ELOHEEM returning from The Day of Rest.

    for crying out loud! haven’t any of you read, This Story from THEM? the last day, does not even begin until the year 5844 with Their Son. or were you all, deceived into believing THE UNCHANGING G-D is giving a different story here in IT again?

  • Thirty years ago my one sister and her husband hunkered down during a tornado and prayed to be taken up in the Rapture. Haven’t changed their minds since then but one unfortunate consequence was that their kids were left to figure out what they needed to do to get jobs as adults on their own because their parents simply assumed they would all be in heaven by then.

  • Don’t worry! According to the New Testament, you’ll get your wish someday. Nothing but good times for you and the rest of the planet!

  • He was also a Unitarian – many who claim to be Christians regard not believing in the trinity as heresy.

  • If memory serves, the bible declares that no one will know the precise day and hour of the end until it gets here, though the bible gives specific future instances of what tremendous turmoil the earth and its denizens will be in when it does occur. The key thing for a Christian believer is to be ready to be taken at any time whatever the methodology or circumstance. That includes dying peacefully in your bed at 95.

  • well until HaMosheeach arrives, all you get is political correctness from the devil.

    ha! hillary, thinks she got out of jail time on earth. and she, does not know there is about a 2 1/2 x 2 1/2 cell with her name on it in some other place.

    not all, rapture is up. and going down, does not mean to australia.

  • Scripture here in it, almost always never happens the way you normally think it does.

    even the jews, who are notorious for listing to false prophets, and rejecting the one true Prophet. never imagined they would even be enslaved, the way they were by egyptians, assyrians, babeloneans, the greeks, and the romans.

    to this day, they still blame the romans for the antisemitic dispersion.instead of their own disloyalty to G-D. every time ELOHEEM, sends them a physical wake-up call, they use the mental antisemitic card excuse.

    they just refuse to admit, they are their own worst enemy. the stubborn, stiff-necked, hardheaded, and the arrogant can’t understand what it really means. and that, all physical torture, torment, in hell and death is all under the command of G-D.

  • Jimmie, I’ll see you in the rapture capsule with the unicorns. Don’t forget to wear your nose ring -the big cast iron one that I padlocked the chain onto when we were practicing for the Uplifting. This time, though, when the swirling starts and your head gets pulled down, close your mouth so the floaters don’t get in like they did in the practice session.

  • Jimmie, I’ll see you in the rapture capsule with the unicorns. Don’t forget to wear your nose ring -the cast iron one that I padlocked the chain onto when we were practicing for the Uplifting. This time, though, when the swirling starts and your head gets pulled down, close your mouth so the floaters don’t get in like they did in the practice session.

  • The problem isn’t just that these “predictions” always fail to come true. It’s that the cranks who make them, almost never admit fault and almost never apologize for their doomsaying and fearmongering. I recall Harold Camping made a grudging apology, but can’t recall any of the rest of the failed prophets ever doing so. One would think that supposed men (or women) of God would have enough integrity to do that — so why won’t they? 

    For the record — and not that I assume he cares what I think — once his own “prophecy” fails, I dare Meade to come right out, admit it, and apologize for it. I don’t think he will … but I suppose he just might surprise me. 

  • wow! you, are even worse than the false doomsday prophets. just another false witness liar, with an insane fictional mentality.

  • If the things John the Baptist, and Christ and the New Testament warned people about who were living back then did not happen to some of those people nor were seen by any of them before they died then Christianity is a myth. There is some historical evidence they did happen, so the choice is yours. As for me I stick with what Christ said was going to happen in Matt. 23 and 24, as having happened. The dead Sea Scrolls also agree with what he said was about to happen.

  • it is, highly debatable if you have even a feather of truth in your whole life. when you, do not even truly know this physical ReAccounting of this story we are here in. not even knowing the lies you, were being taught.

  • Jimmie, I’ll see you in the rapture capsule with the UNICORNS Don’t forget to wear your NOSE RING -the cast iron one that I padlocked the chain onto when we were practicing for the Uplifting. This time, though, when the swirling starts and your head gets pulled down, close your mouth so the floaters don’t get in like they did in the practice session. ur

    Your adolescent beard is still too short for proper attachment though so eat more GARBONZO beans for FORTY SIX years more so it can be properly knotted and we can stop using that heavy chain.

  • Edward, I’ll see you in the rapture capsule with the unicorns. Don’t forget to wear your nose ring -the cast iron one that I padlocked the chain onto when we were practicing for the Uplifting. This time, though, when the swirling starts and your head gets pulled down, close your mouth so the floaters don’t get in like they did in the practice session.

  • floydlee, I’ll see you in the rapture capsule with the unicorns. Don’t forget to wear your nose ring -the cast iron one that I padlocked the chain onto you and Jimmie with when we were practicing for the Uplifting. This time, though, when the swirling starts and your head gets pulled down, close your mouth so the floaters don’t get in like they did in the practice session.

  • Jimmie, feathers do not become you because you do not have a mature BEARD yet and THE YEAR 3042 is coming swiftly because 2018 plus 1011 almost EQUALS 3042 in your special MATH. As you know, the Changeling G_D will be ANGRY with you if you don’t get your SH_T together by then and GROW your scruff properly. Follow my example; like mine does, your beard must reach the ground BEFORE the great PULLDOWN begins. At beard maturity you must soak your beard entirely in PURE HONEY with GARLIC and form it into a BEARDBUN to sustain you on the long capsular JOURNEY that awaits you. G_D says Jimmie get your SH_T together and stop being such a sticky, scruffy, adolescent mess!

  • well you really, have a total misunderstanding of the so called rapture. it, ain’t going to happen the way anyone thinks. and there, ain’t going to be anyone floating up to HEAVEN of Heavens.

    so it is doubtful, you ever had any marbles to lose. and i am not, phased or impressed by your insane personal attacks. since it shall be, more likened unto the rapture i have already experienced and still physically here in and enlightened state of mind.

    and no thanks, if being full of beans is a result of what you have become.

  • first of all you, have never seen THE FATHER. in your, indirect way of insulting THEM. THE SHE does not have a beard, but THE HE does… as so does my, hair and beard length resemble The HIS.

    and sorry the year is 5777, or about 67 years shy of The Day of Rest again. in case you forget, is for Seven Days or 6818 man years in finite length. in you challenging ELOHEEM and THEIR Male Child, Eleeyahoo (elijah to the ignorant).

    and if your name is lisa, and you are a female, you are insulting RUACH HAKODESH with having a beard, and shorter hair.

    and your, spiritual age of the terrible two’s does not match your physical age.

  • The world won’t end for over a billion years. End of days ended 12/21/2012. The 7 year Tribulation started in 2013 to 2020. The Mayans said there will be Floods, Droughts, Earthquakes, Volcanic Eruptions and War. Armageddon is in progress with ISIS. The Bible says only 1/3 or 8 time zones of the earth will be involved. Be a Doomsday Prepper. https://www.facebook.com/The-First-Trumpet-in-Revelation-com-608807605824535/ Buy 1 to 2 months of canned food and water to store in your closets. Buy a Britta water filter pitcher.

  • Yes. Jesus told us not to believe follow all those false prophets making phony predictions. He also told us not to try to time the stock market, uh, no, I think that was someone else; nevertheless, good advice in both cases. The wise person lives every day prepared to go now, but also prepared to stay for the long haul. From edward, who is sitting near the Atlantic coast watching Hurricane Maria swirling around.

  • Jimmy Cooper B., get with the program already. CHIN DOWN first. Lean forward. Don’t forget to wear your NOSE RING -the cast iron one that I padlocked the chain onto when we were practicing for the Uplifting. This time, though, when the
    swirling starts and your head gets pulled down, close your mouth so the
    floaters don’t get in like they did in the practice session.

    Your adolescent beard is still too short for proper attachment though so eat
    more GARBONZO beans for FORTY SIX years more so it can be properly
    knotted and we can stop using that heavy chain.

    Remember, CHIN DOWN this time, and mouth closed!

  • As intended, and as appropriate in response to your puffery, Edward, you deluded old windbag.

    Now get with the program, Ed. CHIN DOWN first. Lean forward. Don’t forget to wear your NOSE RING -the cast iron one that I padlocked the chain onto when we were practicing for the Uplifting. This time, though, when the swirling starts and your head gets pulled down, close your mouth so the floaters don’t get in like they did in the practice session.

    And get to work on that beard. Even Jimmy CB has you beat there. Your adolescent beard is much too short for proper attachment so eat GARBONZO beans for EIGHTY SIX years more so it can be properly knotted and we can stop using that heavy chain.

    Remember, CHIN DOWN this time, and mouth closed!

  • Jimmy CB first of all stop munching words and get to work on growing that tiny beard. The father has no dispatch over THE CHANGELING G_D. THE YEAR 3042 is coming swiftly because 2018 plus 1011 almost EQUALS
    3042 in your special MATH. As you know, the Changeling G_D will be ANGRY
    with you if you don’t get your SH_T together by then and GROW your
    scruff properly. Follow my example; like mine does, your beard must
    reach the ground BEFORE the great PULLDOWN begins. At beard maturity you
    must soak your beard entirely in PURE HONEY with GARLIC and form it
    into a BEARDBUN to sustain you on the long capsular JOURNEY that awaits
    you.

    G_D says Jimmie get your SH_T together, grow a real honeyed BEARDBUN and stop being such a sticky, scruffy, adolescent mess! You are an insult to ROACH HABERDASH.

  • I pity you for your juvenility. Your incapacity for a reasoned and adult response does you no credit. Arguments from substance draw better responses from all contributors to this forum.

  • “John Wesley, co-founder of Methodism, dabbled in predictions, once writing that Jesus would return between 1058 and 1836.” Born in 1703, it is difficult to imagine that Wesley would have predicted the world to end prior to his own existence. Is this article’s “facts” reliable at all? I would question not. I predict that it will be edited.

  • Way to miss the point as usual, Puffer the Windbag. Your own position of delusion is actually the juvenile one, and deserves my satire.

    Now, get with the program Edward: get that chin DOWN and eat those buckets of GARBONZO beans or you’ll never catch up to your PAL Jimmy CB with that scruff of a “beard”. Even your three inch toenails won’t help you reach the floor with that!

    Your objective is honeyed BEARDBUN, so GET ON IT, Puffer.

  • Jimmy, you’ve not yet formed a coherent reply! Now, stop munching words and get with the BEARDBUN program. The father has no dispatch over THE CHANGELING G_D. THE YEAR 3042 is coming swiftly because 2018 plus 1011 almost EQUALS 3042 in your special MATH. As you know, the Changeling G_D will be ANGRY with you if you don’t get your SH_T together by then and GROW your
    scruff properly.Your beard must reach the ground BEFORE the great PULLDOWN begins. At beard maturity you must soak your beard entirely in PURE HONEY with GARLIC and form it into a BEARDBUN to sustain you on the long capsular JOURNEY that awaits you.

    G_D says Jimmie get your SH_T together, grow a real honeyed BEARDBUN and stop being such a sticky, scruffy, adolescent mess!

  • you call these, insults, slander, lies, expletives, and blasphemy, as a coherent reply? indicating you, have no actual communication skills. with nothing but, an abusive mentality.

  • Jimmie, learn what a comma should be used for. Stop WASTING commas when YOU should be using them to comb your TINY beard.

    It’s time, Jimmie. You have less than 42 years to GROW that beard to the GROUND and form a BEARDBUN. G_D says Jimmie get your SH_T together, grow a real honeyed BEARDBUN and stop being such a sticky, scruffy, adolescent mess!

    BEARDBUN. No more commas for Jimmie. Get growing that BEARDBUN now Jimmie.

  • You “would suggest”, would you, Eddy BS, you pretentious old WINDBAG, since you’re so ad hominem in your puffery today…

    Now, for today’s substantial news, this is to announce the marriage of Edward “Windy” Borges-Silva to his longtime spiritual companion and excess surname lover Jimmie “Shortbeard” Boswell Cooper. In their wedding vows, they have enjoined to grow their BEARDS to BEARDBUN length so that they may share nurturing honeyed BEARDBUNS with each other to sustain themselves during their rapture capsular journeys of the imminent UPLIFTING.

    From henceforth, they become Edward Windy Cooper Borges Silva Boswell and Jimmie Shortbeard Cooper Borges Silva Boswell.

    Congratulations to the intimately loving couple of windy shortbeards. Remember Windy and Shortbeard, BEANS in, ring in, chain on, CHIN DOWN! You’ve got work to do.

  • Lady, you have a Ph. D in ad hominem attacks; I further suggest you consult an opthalmologist, who can perhaps address the issue of your own philosophical nearsightedness. This will be my last response to you as this exchange is pointless and distasteful.

  • Windy Edward Cooper BS Boswell, CONGRATULATIONS on your betrothal to your longtime lover Jimmie Shortbeard.

    Your DISTASTE is because YOU haven’t yet managed to grow and honey your scruffy BEARDlet to the length required to be co-LIFTED.

    Now GET WITH THE PROGRAM, Windy Eddie. CHIN DOWN, BEANS IN to grow that beard. Even your husband Jimmie Shortbeard has you beat there. Your adolescent beard is much too short for proper attachment so eat GARBONZO beans for EIGHTY SIX years more so it can be properly knotted and we can stop using that heavy chain.

    Your objective is honeyed BEARDBUN, so GET ON IT, Windy Eddie C BS B.

ADVERTISEMENTs