Excerpted from Charisma Magazine, July 1999

Are you ready for the end of the world? If not, beware!

Countless persons of diverse spiritual viewpoints are announcing Earth's imminent destruction.

Native American John "Running Deer" Eleazer, for example, says his spirit guides told him that the final years of this century will bring increased earthquake activity, intense hurricanes and a tidal wave that will engulf New York.

Roman Catholic Jerrie Castro claims the Virgin Mary is warning that humanity will soon be destroyed unless we repent. Psychic Gordon-Michael Scallion foresees a total restructuring of our globe's surface via end-on-end natural disasters that will culminate in 2001 with a catastrophic shifting of the planet's poles.

Christian prophecy pundits not only are riding this doomsday bandwagon, but also are driving it into the new millennium.

Consider a recent prediction by Jack Van Impe: "The Bible teaches that an antichrist comes to power [see Rev. 13:1], a world dictator...This world dictator could appear anywhere from now to 2003...It means Jesus is about to return, folks!"

J.R. Church, another end-time zealot, has announced, "Around the year A.D. 2000 should also mark the introduction of the seventh millennium [that is, the seventh 1,000-year period since creation], entering the predicted messianic times [Christ's earthly reign]!"

Intensifying these alerts are dire notices concerning the Y2K computer bug . . . .A significant number of those sounding the doomsday warning bell are Christians. Author Gary North says: "[Y2K] is a very big problem, worldwide in scope and without historical precedent, unless we count the Tower of Babel . . . ."

Historically, such statements have always left Christ's followers painfully disillusioned, while providing secularists with prime examples of religious extremism and Christian gullibility. Sadly, the church has again become the subject of ridicule, thanks to countless doomsday-obsessed believers who have exchanged the true drama of Christian life for little more than a cartoon sketch starring prophecy peddlers who are promising Christ's return.

Those of us who know better than to propose timetables for Jesus' second advent will eventually be forced to repair the damage done by these doomsday prophecies . . . .

Our Timeless Obsession

Discerning God's date for the apocalypse has been a Christian obsession since the first century when Ignatius (who died about A.D. 110), bishop of Antioch, remarked, "The last times are upon us." . . . .

Equally numerous have been predictions concerning the Antichrist, a figure [some] Christians believe will appear just before Jesus' return. Martin of Tours (who lived about A.D. 316-397), bishop of Gaul, wrote: "There is no doubt that the Antichrist has already been born. Firmly established, already in his early years, he will, after reaching maturity, achieve supreme power." . . . .

As the year 1000 approached, society's fascination with the "last days" mushroomed into widespread panic. In 964, Carlulaire de Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, wrote, "As the century passes, the end of the world approaches."

Confirmation of this paranoia came in three unmistakable signs: an eclipse in 968, the end of the Carolingian Dynasty around A.D. 987 and Halley's comet in 989. By the 990s, apocalyptic sermons targeting 1000 were resounding from pulpits all across Europe.

Then, after 1000, a new date was embraced: 1033. This deadline was calculated by measuring a millennium from Jesus' crucifixion . . . . The uneventfulness of 1033 did nothing to decrease the Western world's preoccupation with Jesus' return.

Medieval and Renaissance doomsayers, like today's prophets, based their beliefs on various "signs" of the times. Omens ranged from papal coronations to famines to invading Muslims.

Astrological portents were especially powerful. When in 1179, John of Toledo said devastation would coincide with an 1186 planet alignment, Germans responded by digging shelters, and Persians built special cellars. Even the Byzantine emperor boarded up his palace's windows for safety.

The most potent sign, however, was the Black Plague of the 1300s. It killed a third of Europe's population -- 20 million to 30 million people. Survivors saw this pestilence as a perfect harbinger of the antichrist, Armageddon and the apocalypse. They were wrong.

Miller's Madness

By the 17th century, end-time obsession had traveled to America with the Puritans. In 1662, cleric Michael Wigglesworth penned a popular 224-stanza poem titled "The Day of Doom." The most famous proclamations about Jesus' return came from renowned Puritan preacher Cotton Mather.

He thought Christ would return in 1697, but later changed his prediction to 1716. After that date, Mather pointed to 1736.