A recent survey showed that in the wake of the global pandemic, the belief that we are currently at the end of days is rising. This contrasts sharply with Jewish tradition which has a far more optimistic perspective on what the final days of the world will look like.
47% of Christians believed we are at the end of time. For Christians, the end of days marks the imminent return of Jesus. This is further divided along sectarian lines. 76% of Black Christians believe we are currently in the end of times and 63% of evangelical Protestants believe this to be true.
49% of Christians say we are not living in the end times, including 70% of Catholics and 65% of mainline Protestants.
29% of non-Christian religions believed we are at the end of times along with 23% of those with no religious affiliation.
This is also divided along political lines with 45% of Republicans saying we are currently at the end of times as compared to 33% of Democrats. Geography also had an influence with 48% of adults in Southern states saying that we are at the end of times as compared to 37% in the Midwest, 34% in the Northeast, and 31% in the West.
When asked if Jesus “will return to Earth someday,” more than half of all U.S. adults (55%), including three-quarters of Christians, say this will happen. Protestants in the evangelical (92%) and historically Black (86%) traditions are more likely than other Christians to say there will eventually be a second coming of Jesus. Roughly four-in-ten Americans either do not believe Jesus will return to Earth (25%) or say they do not believe in Jesus (16%).
10% of Americans believe this will happen in their lifetime, 27% responded that they are not sure if Jesus will return in their lifetime, and 19% say the return of Jesus will definitely or probably not occur during their lifetime.
29% of respondents from non-Christian religions believed we are currently in the end of days. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and other smaller non-Christian religious groups were included in the survey and were represented in the “other religions” category, but there were not enough respondents in these groups to analyze separately. 23% of the respondents who self-identified as having no religious affiliation believed this to be true.
The survey cited an article in The Journal of Religion and Health which noted a rise in both secular and religious “apocalypticism” attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For religious believers, the apocalypse signifies the rapture of the faithful into heaven while those on earth will undergo the tribulations,” the article explained. “For secular believers, the apocalypse signifies sociopolitical change.”
The article noted that many Christians believe the pandemic was prophesied in the New Testament Book of Revelations, written in 95 CE. For secular people, some crises (like pandemics or multinational conflicts) or Millenium mile markers raise concerns that the world is moving towards a catastrophic end. The article noted that in the wake of the 9-11 attacks in 2001, even though only 36% of all Americans believed in the divine source of the Bible, 59% said they believed that events predicted in the Book of Revelations would come to pass.
Rabbi Eyal Riess of the Tzfat Kabbalah Centre noted that the basic understanding of the end of days in connection with the “apocalypse” is counter to Jewish eschatology.
“According to Jewish tradition, the end of days comes after the arrival of the Messiah,” Rabbi Riess explained. “This can come in one of two ways. Each day of Creation corresponds to a Millenium and the Messianic era corresponds to Shabbat. So the Messiah must come before the year 6,000. This is known as b’ito, in its time. Alternatively, just as a Jew can opt to bring Shabbat in early, before sundown, the Messiah can arrive early if the Jews perform the commandments and merit it. This is known as achishena.”
“All of the terrifying end of days scenarios described by the Prophets are possibilities that may or may not materialize,” Rabbi Riess said. “It is very much in our ability to influence how this appears.”
The rabbi also noted the non-apocalyptic aspect of the post-Messiah era as described by Jewish tradition.
“We do not have a tradition of doomsday or Armageddon,” Rabbi Riess said. “In Jewish tradition, the concept of what happens after the Messiah, at the end of days is entirely positive with no negative connotations. The world will not end because of global warming or a terrorist attack. God loves His creation and no one may destroy what God loves.”
“We think it will be a return to Eden but it will be so much better than that because there will be no descent, no leaving of the garden,” Rabbi Riess said.