As this is posted, it is now Sunday morning in New Zealand. Harold Camping has been predicting that world should have started ending at 6 PM Saturday. This is the latest in a series of failed predictions of the end of the world. Andrew Brown, writing in the Guardian has a quick history of what happened when, and how the whole idea began to take its modern form.
“By close study of the Book of Daniel, the Spanish Jesuit Francisco Ribera further invented the doctrine of the Rapture. This breaks the last judgment into two parts – first the real Christians are swept up into heaven, then the bad stuff happens to the rest of us.
Since this was a Jesuit doctrine, it was completely unacceptable to Protestants until the 19th century, when it was republished by another Jesuit, writing pseudonymously as a rabbi. From Jewish sources, it made perfect sense to Edward Irving, a fashionable Scottish preacher in London in the 1820s. By the 1830s his congregation was speaking tongues and prophesying and claiming miraculous healings, like an early version of Holy Trinity Brompton.
From there the doctrine crossed the Atlantic. William Miller, a Baptist minister in upstate New York, decided that when the Book of Daniel said ‘Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed’, it obviously meant 2,300 years; and by ‘the sanctuary being cleansed’ it obviously meant the return of Jesus: all he had to do was to establish the date from which Daniel was counting, and all would be ready.
What followed was a series of letdowns through the years 1843 and 1844, culminating 22 October 1844, when Jesus once more failed to reappear. This date is known as the Great Disappointment.”