Question: "What is apocalypticism?"

Answer: Apocalypticism is the belief that this world will end, usually in dramatic fashion as foretold in some prophecy. As a description of end-times beliefs, widely varied types of apocalypticism are found in different religious traditions. Even within a specific sect, there can be significant differences of opinion over details of the coming apocalypse and when it will occur.

Apocalypticism is a very broad term, so many religious systems fit within it. Most interpretations of Islam and Christianity would be considered apocalyptic. These faiths predict a definite end to the world, with a major upheaval followed by drastic changes to the state of the earth, if not the entire universe. Religious systems that do not believe in any definitive “end” to the world, such as Buddhism or Hinduism, are decidedly non-apocalyptic.

At the same time, there are interpretations of prophecy even within Christianity, such as preterism, which are themselves non-apocalyptic.

The Greek term apokalypsis, from which we get our English word apocalypse, literally means “unveiling.” The last book of the New Testament canon is the book of Revelation, which describes the end times. The first words of this book in Greek are Apokalypsis I─ôsou Christou, meaning “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” The historical influence of this biblical book transformed the term apocalypse from an “uncovering” into a synonym for catastrophic change or the end of the world. Today, stories or situations set after some global upheaval are called “post-apocalyptic.”

Apocalypticism has always taken on many forms, whether spiritual, natural, or technological. Most of these are short-lived. Interest in the supposed end of the Mayan Calendar in 2012 is a recent example. The Y2K scare at the turn of the century is an example of technological apocalypticism. More recent apocalyptic fads include the Blood Moon phenomenon and fears over the effects of the Large Hadron Collider. Fictional apocalypticism usually reflects the anxieties of that era. This fear was nuclear war in the 1960s and a worldwide pandemic or global warming in the 1990s. Books and movies of those decades reflect those fears.

The Bible’s approach to the end times is a unique and fairly involved topic. The Got Questions website has a large collection of articles with more specifics on prophetic topics, including the end of the world.