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Apocalyptic Predictions – Overview, Impact, Beneficiaries and Future Outlook

Updated on October 8, 2013

A brief History of Apocalyptic Predictions

Ever since recorded human history, there have been hundreds of documented predictions of the end of the world and mankind. Most of these predictions have their origin in religion. In fact, most of the major predictions have been made by people who have specifically used the Christian Bible to come up with certain conclusions. The word “major” is used in this case simply to signify the widespread impact on society that a prediction has had. This is not to say that other world religions have not contributed their fair share of apocalyptic contributions. Quite the contrary; in fact just about every major world religion has an “end time” prediction – a time when the world will come to an end through the operation of the supreme being.

Religious Apocalyptic Predictions

The Christian Bible contains more apocalyptic quotes and references than any other religious text. The books of Daniel, Malachi, and various other books of the Bible contain references to an end time. Revelation, the final book in the Bible, is entirely devoted to describing a future period of great danger, destruction, tribulation and transition during which Jesus would return to the world in great majesty. The Christian predictions in the Bible are defined using creative allegory. It is this figurative mode of representation conveying a meaning other than the literal that has led to thousands of people attempting to interpret the end time message. The result has been numerous predictions of;

  • when this time will occur,
  • how it will occur,
  • what will trigger the occurrence,
  • whom will be the key players,
  • where in the world some of these events will happen.

Other major world religions such as Islam and Hinduism also have their fair share of end time warnings and foreboding. The Quran, being an Abrahimic religion, contains many of the apocalyptic predictions found in the Christian Bible.

In Hinduism, the Puranas refer to the apocalypse as the ending of the word during the fourth age. This fourth age is referred to as the Kali Age. During the Kali age, the world is described as a place of great sin and one where disease, plague, famine and natural calamities are commonplace.

The following are some of the main religious based apocalyptic predictions since the beginning of the first millennia AD.

Montanist Predictions

The Montanist can be said to be the first bonafide doomsday cult. Founded in 156 CE by Prophet Montanus and two of his followers (Maximilla and Priscilla), the cult believed that Jesus would return during their lifetimes. The cult gained a huge following and lasted for several centuries.

“6000 Years after Creation” Predictions in the 2nd to 5th Century CE

During the 5th century, there were a number of predictions from Christian theologians to the effect that the apocalypse would happen six thousand years after biblical creation. They included:

  • Sextus Julius Africanus, a Christian traveler and theologian believed that the apocalypse would happen six thousand years after creation. He reckoned that there were 5531 years that separated creation and the foretold resurrection of Jesus. Using this reasoning, he predicted that the apocalypse and second coming of Jesus would take place before 500 CE.
  • Another theologian by the name Hippolytus was of the belief that the apocalypse and subsequent return of Jesus would occur six thousand years after creation.
  • The third theologian who was a proponent of this prediction was Irenaeus. He heavily influenced the writings of Hippolytus and saw 500 CE as the year of the apocalypse.

1,000 CE Apocalyptic Predictions

The 1000 CE was significant for many Christian theologians due to the fact that it signified the end of a millennium since the birth of Jesus. It is worth noting that the system of counting years since the death of Christ had been adopted sometime in 500 CE emanating from a proposal by the Scythian monk Dionysius Exiguus.

Historical records indicate there was widespread hysteria and paranoia in Europe in the countdown to this date. However, there appears to be some disagreement amongst historical scholars as to which to stories of apocalyptic terror, before and during 1000 CE, are true.

When the apocalypse failed to occur in 1000 CE, a number of mystics push the date to 1033CE, the estimated thousandth year from the date of the Biblical crucifixion. The Burgundian monk, Radulfus Glaber, documents the spread of apocalyptical terror during the period 1000 – 1033 CE.

Pope Innocent III 1284 CE Prediction

The 13th century Pope, Innocent III, predicted that the apocalypse would occur in 1284 CE which was exactly 666 years after the rise of Islam. This was also the era of the Christian crusades which puts the Pope’s thoughts into perspective. The number “666” is believed to be associated with the antichrist mentioned in The Bible.

1524 CE

Some London astrologers made some computations and predicted the world would end of 1st February 1524. Over 20, 000 people abandoned their homes and a London clergyman built a fortress where he stockpiled supplies for the coming apocalypse.

Christopher Columbus

During his final years, Christopher Columbus was preoccupied with apocalyptic literature and thought. He wrote The Book of Prophecies where he claimed that world would last for 7000 years. Based in his calculations, the world was supposed to have ended on 1658 CE. He reckoned that the date of creation was 5343 BCE and made the assumption that there was no year zero.

1666 CE

The fact that this date was 1000 years from the date of the millennium plus six hundred and sixty years made it a perfect target for various “prophets of doom”. The number 666 is described as the number of the apocalyptic beast in the Christian Bible. There was widespread fear in England and many people in London feared that this would be the end of the world. It was in 1666 CE that the Great Fire of London razed the city fueling fears that this was indeed the year that the world was going to end.


The end of the 19th Century was also filled with numerous apocalyptic predictions. There are are unverified rumors of over one hundred members of a Russian cult (known as the Brothers and Sisters of the Red Death) committing mass suicide on November 13th 1900; the expected the world to end on this day.

There was also a sect known as The Catholic Apostolic Church that claimed the apocalypse in the Bible would happen when all its 12 founding members died. The last of the founding members passed away in 1901.

The year 1901 was also the year Rev. Michael Baxter had foretold the apocalypse in his book The End of This Age.

Late 1982

Well known televangelist Pat Robertson claimed that the world would end in the fall of 1982. He made the claims during a broadcast of his popular show, The 700 Club.

1997 Heaven’s Gate

Between March 24th and March 27th 1997, a number of members belonging to the Heaven’s Gate cult committed suicide in the belief that the Hale-Bopp comet would collect their souls and save them from an imminent apocalypse. They believed that a space ship was flying behind the comet.

Karnataka Doomsday Cult 1998

Mar 8, 1998 was the day a doomsday cult based in Southern India believed that the world would end. It was during this period that world experienced the El Nino climatic phenomenon. The cult believed that this change in climatic patterns was a sign of the apocalypse when the Indian lord Vishnu would appear.

1999 – 2000 End of Millennium Predictions

Just like the end of the first Common Era millennium, the end of the second millennium was naturally a target for religious apocalyptic believers. Numerous predictions had been made by various people and organizations; notable among these were:

  • Numerous Seventh Day Adventist literature in the run up to this period suggested that the world would end.
  • Two years earlier, Hal Lindsey had claimed on his TV show, International Intelligence Briefing, that Russia would attack Israel within the next two years. Many Christian evangelicals believe that the Bible predicts that Russia will invade Israel and trigger Armageddon, the final battle on earth.
  • Popular author Stefan Paulus used a combination of the Bible and the predictions of Nostradamus to set the apocalypse date as September 23rd 1999.
  • In Uganda, 780 members of a doomsday cult led by Joseph Kibweteere were mass murdered on 17th March 2000 following orders of their leader. Kibweteere had predicted that the end of the world would happen on December 31st, 1999. He later revised this to December 31st, 2000.
  • Numerous Christian mainstream and religious sect leaders claimed the world would end in 1999 or 2000

21st Century

Various religious leaders, organizations and cults have given numerous 21st century dates as the end of the world. Popular apocalypse years include 2001, 2005, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2017, 2023, 2025, 2026, 2033, 2035 and 2040.

Popular Culture and New Age Apocalyptic Predictions

These particular predictions do not draw their origin from the main religions. They fall roughly into the following categories:

  • Beliefs based on ancient civilizations, astrology and cosmology – these apocalyptic predictions are based on the perceived superior apocalyptic knowledge that an ancient civilization possessed
  • Pure urban legends – these are beliefs and predictions which begun as a misstatement of facts but due to being repeated constantly they came to be regarded as fact by the general population.

Examples of popular culture and new age apocalyptic predictions include;


It was erroneously believed that Halley ’s Comet had cyanide gas which would make the earth’s atmosphere toxic. The apocalypse was expected to occur on May 18th, 1910. Many unscrupulous traders did brisk business in Europe by selling people “comet pills” to provide people with immunity.


A meteorologist by the name Alberts Porta calculated that a concurrence of six planets in the solar system would lead to a “piercing” of the sun by a magnetic current and trigger massive solar explosions that would eventually destroy the earth.

Photon Belt Theory 1991, 1994, 1997 and other years in future

The photon belt is said to be a region in space with a mystical energy filed. The story of a photon belt was first run in an Australian magazine known a Nexus in 1991. Later a book titled “You Are Becoming a Galactic Human” by Virginia Essene and Sheldon Nidle was written in 1994. Those who believe in the photon belt theory believe that the earth will go through a period of darkness. Various dates have been mentioned beginning from 1991. However, scientists have dismissed this theory as implausible.


A pamphlet circulating in India claimed that the world was to end on May 8th, 1999. A number of natural disasters were supposed to have occurred on this date based on the pamphlet. Many Indians were in a state of fear thought the eventual societal impact was not too severe.

Y2K Bug

31st December 1999 was a day that gave many governments and systems administrators’ sleepless nights. It was not exactly known how computers would handle the transition from 31/12/99 to 01/01/00. The problem (dubbed Y2K Bug and Millennium bug) had been identified many years earlier but major action was only taken in the last decade of the 20th century. Doomsday theorists claimed that planes would crash, nuclear missiles would deploy and the financial system would grind to a halt amongst other terrible things. The date came and went with minor glitches reported around the world.

The Predictions of Nostradamus

Nostradamus was a 16th century French physician with an interest in astrology. He published a collection of prophecies worldwide which became very famous after his death. Amongst the prophecies was one quatrain that stated,

“The year 1999, seven months,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror:
To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols,
Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.” (Quatrain X.72)

This led many people to believe that something terrible was going to happen on July 1999.

2012 Mayan Calendar Apocalypse

The new age idea that the ancient Mayan long count calendar predicts an apocalypse on December 20th 2012 emanated from an interpretation that states that the third creation according to the Maya would end on December 20th 2012 followed immediately by a new world on December 21st 2012. This led to the now hugely popular Mayan 2012 prophecy. The “prophecy” inspired movies such as “2012” as well as numerous books, literature and websites. Numerous historians and researchers were on record as having stated that this was another apocalyptic fabrication and total misrepresentation of Mayan history. As well all know, the dates passed uneventfully.

The Impact of Apocalyptic Predictions on Society

Based on the summary of apocalyptic predictions in the foregoing pages, one can easily identify a number of societal effects throughout history. There are both positive and negative ramifications that one can zero in on.

Negative Impact

The main result of these predictions has been negative. Over the ages, “prophets of doom” have caused untold societal disruption. Specifically, forebodings of end times have led to unnecessary panic and terror. Every time a respected member of society claims that the world will end on a particular day, mass hysteria has gripped whole populations. The hysteria has led to irrational acts such as hiding in fortresses and bunkers, intentional starvation, disposal of wealth, travel to foreign places and even suicide. Examples can be drawn from the end of the first millennium, the 17th century, the end of the 19th century and the end of the 20th century.

Various groups and individuals have taken advantage of the apocalyptic predictions to gain or retain power and influence or purely for profit. Various religious leaders have claimed to have received visions from god and instantly gained a cult following. Other individuals have used apocalyptic prophecy to make money; good examples include the “comet pills” that were marketed in 1910. Hollywood has also not been left behind; over the years movies with an apocalyptic theme have enjoyed huge success at the box office – case in point being the 2009 thriller “2012” starring John Cusack and Danny Glover amongst others. In these dramatizations, myths are stretched and facts distorted. Unfortunately, the average Joe on the street is hardly able to distinguish myth from reality.

Positive Impact

Various predictions based on a sound scientific basis have led governments and individuals to take measures to prevent cataclysmic events and social breakdown. The following predictions are clear examples of positive impact:

Global warming – Scientists have been pointing out for years that the earth is gradually getting warmer due to green house gases. It has been hypothesized that unless government’s take action, the earth is headed for one big natural disaster in the form of flooding (due to melting of polar ice caps) and solar radiation (due to depletion of the ozone layer). The United Nations in conjunction with governments have implemented measures to reduce pollution and stem global warming.

Population Growth – various social scientists have warned that the unplanned explosion in population growth would eventually lead to a resource crisis. The argument has been that a tipping point would eventually be reached when the earth’s resources would be outstretched. In the 1960s an article in The Science Magazine argued that based on population growth figures at that time, the population would go into infinity by 2026 CE. The formula used in the article is remarkably accurate at predicting current population figures. This article was very popular, even getting mentioned in Time Magazine as well as The New York Times. One could well argue that policy makers exported this idea to developing nations hence the sustained family planning campaigns in regions such as India, China and Africa.

Artificial Intelligence – Artificial Intelligence, normally simply abbreviated as AI, is the intelligence of machines. It also refers to the branch of computer science that seeks to create intelligent machines. An intelligent machine is said to have a learning ability and one capable of taking actions based on its environment. There is massive research currently ongoing in this area and numerous technological advancements have been made. Already there are semi autonomous machines operating in factories and battlefields. However, there has always been the nagging issue of what would happen if a machine became rogue and made decisions which were inconsistent with the welfare of mankind as a whole. These questions were first posed by science fiction author and biochemist Isaac Asimov in his “positronic” robot series book I, Robot in 1950. He even went ahead to propose “The Three laws of Robotics”, an ethical guideline for robots. Even though his works were based on fiction, many inventors have taken his hypotheses seriously and endeavored not to create killer robots.

Future Impact of Apocalyptic Predictions

2012 Phenomenon

There were numerous predictions that claimed an apocalyptic event would happen in 2012. The reason for this can be traced back to the Mayan long count calendar. As mentioned earlier, the period representing a creation age in Mayan culture was bound to come to an end on December 21st or December 23rd (there is a lack of consensus on this) 2012. While many historians saw no proof of an apocalypse in this, a number of religious organizations and individuals claimed this as proof of the end of the world even going as far as relating it to Biblical scripture and other religious texts. Author John Major Jenkins is credited as the main originator of the 2012 phenomenon with his writings that claimed the Mayan’s intended the end of the long count calendar to coincide with a galactic alignment. This argument was pushed further by new age proponents to claim that since astrology has historically been used to predict future events, the Mayans must have been trying to predict that an apocalypse would occur due to the galactic alignment. The specific hypothesis was that this alignment would cause a gravitational event between our Sun and a massive black hole in the center of the Milky Way and wreck havoc on earth. Other 2012 predictions included geo-magnetic reversal caused by solar flares. However, all these apocalyptic predictions went against conventional science. Many of these theories have been shown to be untrue.

As with earlier predictions, the impact of the 2012 phenomenon was mostly negative. Hollywood made massive profits by capitalizing on this phenomenon and hundreds of sites popped up all over the Internet all seeking to cash in. NASA compared the 2012 phenomenon to the Y2K scare of the 90s and assured people through their website that there was nothing remotely scientific to back up 2012 apocalypse claims.

It is hoped that people will be more pragmatic in believing apocalyptic predictions since the 2012 dates came and went without so much as a whimper.


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