Solid promises in the infallible Scriptures point definitely to the second coming of Christ.

Yet human efforts to predict the time of the Return definitely have been anything but solid throughout history. Already in his First Epistle to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul had to face the problem. Believers who were dead sure that Christ’s return was just around the corner needed to be told that “the day of the Lord” would come unexpectedly, “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2).

During the Middle Ages there were countless individuals who, through study of Scripture and current events, felt certain they could accurately predict the arrival of the End. One of these was Gerardo of Borgo San Donnino, a follower of the Benedictine abbot Joachim of Fiore (ca. 1135–1202). Joachim taught that all history could be divided into three 40-generation periods, an Age of the Father (the Old Testament), an Age of the Son (the New Testament era), and a forthcoming Age of the Spirit (to be marked by the full realization of the gospel). Consequently, Gerardo was so confident in this scheme and in his own ability to discern the signs of his times that he offered the year 1260 as the date when the “radical turn” to the Age of the Spirit would occur.

During the Reformation era a combination of intense spiritual struggle and momentous political events led many to speculate on the end of the world. A study of Daniel 12, for example, convinced the radical Reformer Melchior Hofmann that his own day was “the time of the end.” Hofmann believed that the armies of the Muslim Turks, which menaced Europe for several decades at the start of the sixteenth century, were the biblical Gog and Magog. ...

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