God created the dispensations and guides humanity differently during each period. C.I Scofield outlines the dispensations including Innocence, Conscience, Human Government, Promise, Law, Church, and Kingdom ("End Times" 4). Dispensationalism is based on a literal and unequivocal interpretation of the Bible ("End Times" 4). Efird, for instance, describes dispenstionalism a historically accurate and nearly scientific method of discerning Biblical prophecy based on a close reading of the sacred text. Efird claims that dispensationalism prevents the "disappointment and embarrassment" that has plagued believers in the apocalypse (7). Dispensationalism is a relatively new type of Christian eschatology and has the unique hallmarks of American Protestantism. The Catholic Church does not embrace a strict interpretation of millennialism. On the contrary, Catholics prefer a more symbolic interpretation of the Book of Revelations ("End Times" 4).
Regardless of the denomination of Christianity, the end times is central to the religion's teachings, its cosmology, its theology, and its worldview. What all the Christian points-of-view share in common is that the Rapture, the Antichrist, and the Millennium are part of the End of Days. The Rapture refers to the resilience of believers during the end times, the "rising up" to heaven while the non-believers are left behind. Christians disagree strongly over what the Rapture actually entails, and when it will take place. For some, the Rapture is a physical "rising up" to heaven, an event reserved for believers in Christ. For others, the Rapture is only symbolic.
The Antichrist is also a central concept in Christian eschatology. Jesus needs a nemesis, and that nemesis is Satan incarnate as an archetypal enemy. The most literal interpretations of the Book of Revelations focus almost exclusively on the battle between Jesus Christ and the Antichrist, to the point where worldly events do not matter. "When the world begins to wind down, we will not be looking for something to happen; we will be looking for someone to come," (Rogers 3). The final battle between Christ and the Antichrist is sometimes called Great Tribulation, especially by dispensationalists ("End Times" 5).
Worldly events do matter to most believers in the end times. Various historical events have triggered interest in the end times, the most recent of which was the September 11 terrorist attacks. According to Gibbs, Book 9 of the Left Behind series was the best-selling novel in 2001 (2). As Hanegraaff notes, September 11 is only one of many signs that have signaled the beginning of the end times. The creation of the state of Israel is often viewed as the most compelling evidence that the apocalypse is underway (Hanegraaff).
The end times have been a major means of making sense of significant global events. Therefore, the end times may be one of the greatest signifiers of religion itself. If religion attempts to make sense of human existence, adding meaning to it, then the end times can answer the question of where we're all going. In popular culture, the end times are more than just a Christian philosophy but a worldview. In some cases, the end times enable complacency about social and political realities because of the belief that the end of the world is coming. If the end of the world is nigh, then why bother working hard to change anything? End times beliefs have some of the strongest influences on how people behave (Gibbs).
Fortunately, not all beliefs about the end times have the same effect on human society. The belief that the world is coming to and end can fuel an even stronger predisposition to altruism. or, the belief in end times does not necessarily entail a belief in fate. A prophecy can be viewed more as a warning than a reality, although this belief is not a part of official eschatology.
Besides the Christian bible, few other religious texts have influenced current American thought on the end times as the Mayan calendar. The Mayan calendar supposedly predicts the end of the world in 2012. The interest in the Mayan prophesy is so strong as to make mainstream media. Books that are directly about the Mayan calendar have been selling in droves, according to MacDonald. The New Age beliefs differ sharply from their Christian counterparts. According to those who ascribe to the Mayan eschatology, the end times are a time of quickening, a time during which human consciousness evolves beyond its present state and toward something more intelligent and wise. Regardless, the Mayan calendar signified a relatively advanced knowledge of astronomical phenomenon. "On the winter solstice in 2012, the sun will be aligned with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in about 26,000 years," (MacDonald). Other indigenous American eschatologies are less dooomsdayish than the Christian millenialist one, such as the Cherokee belief that the world will simply be re-created from scratch.
The end times spells massive catastrophe but also rebirth. No other end time philosophy has as much impact on American society and possibly global events as the Christian one. The evangelical or fundamentalist Christian eschatology has attracted an increasing number of adherents, even casual ones who are seduced by works of fiction like the Left Behind series. The popularity of Hollywood movies that depict the events of the apocalypse also shows how important end times is to Americans, even those who may not be religious in their daily lives. A belief in the apocalypse can be dangerous when it prevents peace or positive action in the world. The popularity of end times beliefs reveals an important facet of American culture.
Efird, J.M. Left Behind? What the Bible Really Says about the End Times. Macon: Smyth & Helwys 2005.
"End Times." BBC.com. Retrieved 5 Oct 2009 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/beliefs/endtimes_1.shtml
Endtime Ministries. Web site retrieved 5 Oct 2009 from http://www.endtime.com/
"Eschatology." Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 5 Oct 2009 from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/192308/eschatology
Gibbs, Nancy. "Apocalypse Now." TIME. 23 Jun 2002. Retrieved 5 Oct 2009 from http://www.time.com/time/covers/1101020701/story.html
Gorenberg, Gershom. The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount. New York: Oxford, 2000.
Hanegraaff, Hank. The Apocalypse Code: Find Out What the Bible Really Says About the End Times. Nashville: Nelson, 2007.
MacDonald, Jeffrey. Does Maya calendar predict 2012 Apocalypse?" USA Today. 27 Mar 2007. Retrieved 5 Oct 2009 from http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2007-03-27-maya-2012_n.htm
McKay, Mary Jayne. "Zion's Christian Soldiers." 60 Minutes. 8 Jun 2003. Retrieved 5 Oct 2009 from http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/10/03/60minutes/main524268.shtml
Rogers, Adrian. Unveiling the End Times in Our Time: The Triumph of the Lamb in Revelation. Nashville: B&H, 2004.