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A Complete Guide To The 'End Of The World': End Times, The Rapture, The Apocalypse & Armageddon Explained

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End Of The World Theories Explained: What End Times, The Rapture, The Apocalypse & Armageddon Mean

In the immortal words of REM, it's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine!

At least, that's according to the doomsday predictions being made by those believe the new coronavirus (COVID-19) may be one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse or that the pandemic was otherwise predicted in biblical verse.

Advocated of these theories say we could be experiencing onset of what the Bible and Christianity refer to as "end times" — including, but perhaps not limited to, the Apocalypse, the Rapture, and total Armageddon.

For all of our advancing technology, it seems like everywhere you look these days people are still love to keep themselves busy by predicting the end of the world.

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If it isn't a person on the street warning you with a big ol' sign that the end is nigh, then it's someone like numerologist David Meade wringing his hands (again) about Planet X Nibiru, or even climate change experts on TV warning folks about the dangers of global warming.

While there is no conclusive scientific proof that the Earth will be destroyed during our lifetime, we as a people remain consumed with curiosity about the end of the world, from when it's coming to what will happen when it gets here, so much so that it makes for subject matter covered in every practically aspect of life, including science, religion, fiction and art forms of all kinds.

There are several highly specific phrases people tend to throw around when it comes to talking about the end of the world, and to that end, I thought it might be pretty darn helpful to create this primer on those that are most commonly used.

Perhaps having a better understanding of some of those words will help you separate fact from fiction, and if nothing else, you'll be fully prepared to make a major impression on people at the next dinner party you attend. So let's do this!

Here is your guide to the end of the world, with the meanings of key terms "End Times," "the Apocalypse," "the Rapture" and "Armageddon" explained.

(Which, it should be said, is not a thing I ever thought I would write in a professional context.)

End Times

Many different religions have major sacred texts that refer to an "end time". Generally, you can find such references to "end times" in texts referred to as eschatologies.

Yeah, that word is a mouthful. It kind of sounds like a horrible disease, but it isn't. It's just an overly complicated word for a pretty easy concept.

Eschatologies are defined as the portions of various religious theologies "concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind."

While modern talk about end times tends to be associated with evangelical Christianity, the truth of the matter is that most major religious have their own eschatology featuring some variation of how the world as we know it will end.

For an evangelical Christian, end times may refer to the period of "tribulations" expected to proceed the second coming of Christ.

For an Orthodox Jew, however, the Messiah — aka "Moshiach" — will bring the "end of days," not the end of the world. According to Jewish theology, the messianic era will be a time in which "there will be world peace, no more wars nor famine, and, in general, a high standard of living ... [Jewish] prophets speak of the advent of a human leader, of a magnitude that the world has not yet experienced [whose] unique example and leadership will inspire mankind to change direction." The entire concept therefore carries with it deep sense of eternal optimism that better times await us all.

So while "end times" reflects a specifically Christian slant, religions everywhere can't seem to help but speculate about what the end of the world as we know it might look like.

The Apocalypse

Awwwww yeah, now we're getting nice and specific!

The word "apocalypse" is rooted in ancient Greek, and if you wanted to try and translate it (something I did often when studying Latin and Greek in college — NBD, NBD — and that was super relevant when trying to get a job after graduating), you'd find that it's actually a noun derived from a verb that means "to uncover" or "to reveal."

So, the Apocalypse basically means "the big reveal," and the term can also be used to describe the giving of important information.

Not what you expected, huh? Of course not, because that's not how most of us tend to think about it.

Most of us think it means ends of the world, but that's not quite right, as we've already seen, what with me giving you a mini-lesson in classics and all.

When religious prophets dish about their predictions for the end times, they are essentially presenting you with an apocalypse, ya dig?

So if this word so doesn't directly mean the end of the world, why is it usually used that way?

Because if you were reading the Bible back in the day and happened to pick it up in ancient Greek, you would find that the title of the Book of Revelation (the book of the New Testament that deals with Christian eschatology) "is taken from the first word of the book in Koine Greek: ἀποκάλυψις apokalypsis, which means 'unveiling' or 'revelation.'"

Pretty groovy to get this stuff sorted, no?

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The End of The World

I promise you that this one requires zero knowledge of strange words in dead, foreign languages. Cross my heart.

When people talk about the end of the world, they are ultimately coming from one of two perspectives — either the events leading up to the destruction of Earth from a scientific perspective, or the events leading up to the destruction of Earth from a religious perspective.

We just touched on how religious folks talk about the end of the world, so now let's talk about the other half!

"The end of the world" is the way in which scientists and other non-religious figures sometimes refer to the events that might lead to and/or cause the Earth to either be completely destroyed or rendered definitively uninhabitable.

While these folks can't get away with simply writing down the visions that come to them in dreams on any given night, they can come up with a wide variety of hypothesis and scientific theories — and they have.

The Big Rip, Big Crunch, Big Bounce, and Big Freeze are just four of the theories scientists have put forth in relation to the potential demise of planet Earth.

  • The Big Rip theory postulates that Earth will be destroyed by being torn asunder by the constantly expanding universe, whereby "dark energy must win in its battle with gravity to such a point where it can rip apart individual atoms."
  • The Big Crunch theory is what I like to call the "True Detective" of scientist theories. It basically speculates that "the universe will one day stop expanding. Then, as gravity pulls on the matter, the universe will begin to contract, falling inward until it has collapsed back into a super-hot, super-dense singularity. If the theory holds true, the universe is like a giant soufflé."
  • The Big Bounce theory is a not-so-popular theory that the world has no intention of ending at all! According to this theory, "the universe works on a cyclical basis of expansion and contraction. At the moment, it is expanding. However, when it runs out of energy (or whatever happens to stop its expansion), it will start contracting. Eventually, it will get to the point where it is so small it starts expanding again." What exactly happens when contraction begins? Nooooobody knooooows! Spooky, huh?
  • The Big Freeze theory, which is quickly gaining acceptance from many in the scientific community, refers to the hypothesis that eventually, entropy (the principle of thermodynamics by which everything in the Universe eventually moves from order to disorder), "will increase until it reaches a 'maximum value' ... This means there would be no more room for usable energy, or heat, to exist and the Universe would die from ‘heat death’. Put simply, mechanical motion within the Universe will cease [and] the Universe would, in theory, become so vast that supplies of gas would be spread so thin that no new stars can form. Under that model, time becomes an endless void in which nothing ever happens as there is little to no energy left in the Universe." And that means the end of the world for you and me, folks.

The Rapture

The Rapture — boy howdy, here we go! — refers to a specific event within the eschatology of certain branches of Christianity.

According to late American evangelist Billy Graham:

"There are many Christians who believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ will be in two phases. First, He will come for believers, both living and dead, in the 'rapture' (read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). In this view, the rapture—which is the transformation and catching up of all Christians, dead or alive, to meet Christ in the air—will be secret, for it will be unknown to the world of unbelievers at the time of its happening ... Then, second, after a period of seven years of tribulation on earth, Christ will return to the earth with His church, the saints who were raptured (Matthew 24:30, 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 1 Peter 1:13, Revelation 1:7). He will be victorious over His enemies and will reign on the earth for 1,000 years (the millennium) with His saints, the church."

Essentially, those who believe in this concept are of the opinion that when end times arrives, "good" Christians living and dead will be taken up into the skies to be with God in heaven. Of course, nothing amazing and good comes easily or to everyone, so as the pious depart for the great beyond, the rest of us (and to be clear, I'm assuming that I fall into this category, because let's be real) will be forced to live out our final days on Earth over a 7-year period known as the great tribulation, complete with lava floods and demonic torture.

Yeah, it'll be intense.

That said, studies have found that only one-third of Protestant ministers today believe in this type of "pretribulation rapture."

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And as for Catholics, their stance is rather that "when Paul spoke of being carried off to meet Christ in the clouds, it was not for the purpose of flying away to heaven but to welcome the Lord and return with him in glory" on Earth, i.e. yes, they will be caught up in Christ's arrival, but in the figurative and emotional sense rather than in the literal interpretation.

And while "rapture" can also be found as a concept within Buddhism, don't get it twisted.

"In Buddhist terminology," notes Wisdom Quarterly, "rapture (piti) refers to a meditative state. It is a blissful feeling in the body also called enthusiasm, joy, happiness, and pleasurable interest in the object of meditation. Its onset is based on virtue and persistent application of the mind in an effort to concentrate during meditation."

And that is both very, very different and not at all related to anything dealing with the end of time.


This one has become synonymous for the end of the world, so feel free to use it that way. That's the beauty of a living language, after all, ain't it? The meaning of words can shift and change and grow over time!

Interestingly, however, Armageddon was first and foremost a location mentioned in the Book of Revelation, when prophets foretold that Har Megiddo (הר מגידו)‬, i.e., Mount Megiddo, would be the site upon which armies would gather to prepare for battle prior to the End of Days.

Today, that same place is known as Tel Megiddo, a modern city in the Lower Galilee region of northern Israel.

A "tel" can be described as "a hill in which several layers of ruins, from different periods of time, lie buried."

As of today, "excavation has uncovered about 26 layers of settlements dating back to the Chalcolithic period and the first four layers have been identified."

And that, my friends, is the end of the world.

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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cat, Batman. For more of her work check out her Tumblr.

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on April 18, 2018 and was updated with the latest information.

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