The Receding Second Coming

As a kid growing up on the Wasatch Front, I figured that the Second Coming was just around the corner. I remember being Primary age and thinking that I would not have to worry about post-mission plans — the world would be over by then anyway.

I’m not sure where I picked it up, but maybe you’ve also heard the irrefutable scientific basis for this thinking: From Adam to Christ was 4000 years, so the year 2000 AD would be the end of the sixth thousand years, and beginning of the seventh thousand years. Since a thousand years to man is one day to God, the thousand year Sabbath of the millennium would be here on January 1, 2000; or April 6, 2000, at the latest. QED.

I also recall a general sense (at least general among us primary kids) that we would all be walking to Missouri when the millennium began (hopefully in April, not January). There were half-serious, half-kidding warnings about having some broken-in hiking boots at the ready just in case. Another memory from this time is a book called _Prophecy_, by Duane Crowther (now out of print, apparently) that I kept on my bookshelf next to my Roald Dahl. As I recall, I liked it because the inside front and back cover had a detailed schematic of exactly when and where everything would happen during the millennium.

Now I haven’t been too involved in Primary recently, but it seems to me that Church culture generally is less intently focused on an imminent Second Coming than it was 20 years ago, even though it is, of course, closer now than it has ever been. Is that perception accurate? It could be that there always an undue emphasis on the spectacular among the Garanimal set, and maybe that explains it. But if there actually has been less talk about an imminent Second Coming, how do we account for it?

14 comments for “The Receding Second Coming

  1. Greg (All), I’m surprised you didn’t mention all the apostles who have some variation of the “some of you here present today will live to see the Second Coming”. And then, of course, as a child you feel really smart when you do the calculations, “if a baby was there that would live until 110, that means the Second Coming would have to be no later than 2032”.

    But then as I grew up, comments shifted and the definition of “will live to see the Second Coming” meant some sort of be-present-possibly-without-a-body rather than the original thought-to-have-been-correct-literal meaning.

    How disappointed I was…

  2. I think that the fall of the Soviet Union and its aftermath changed things a bit. With the Cold War we seemed to be slowly marching towards an apocalypse. Now history seems to have speeded up in many ways, but society has shown that we’re more elastic than we had perhaps thought. That there’s a lot more that needs to be done and that the world can get a lot more dangerous and scary and also connected (technology, trade, travel) without us necessarily being on the verge of the events that come directly before the Second Coming. Now, missionaries in Mongolia only seems like a first step rather than a serious precursor — a marker that the gospel has been spread to all four corners of the earth.

    I remember thinking right before my mission that there was no way the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could drag on more than another 5-6 years and that soon we’d see that region explode — which would of course would trigger/fulfill some of the prophetic stuff. I remember watching the Berlin Wall fall and thinking how things were accelerating and moving so quickly that we couldn’t be *that* far off. What I didn’t understand then was how such acceleration wouldn’t lead to as much instability as I had thought it would.

  3. Greg,

    I think you’ve put your finger on a phenomenon that I’ve been wondering about in my subconscious for a while. It does seem that the church is less millenialist in tone than it was when I was growing up. To tie in to prior posts, I distinctly recall a list 40-odd items long in Mormon Doctrine of signs of the times, explaining that the Second Coming was near.

  4. I think we’ve lost the millenial ferver we’ve had through most our history. I think this unfortunate in a way. I admit I regained my after 9/11 which put the fear of God into me.

    It reminds me of something Elder McConkie wrote. I was never particularly enamoured of his exegesical approaches. He did say that he thought the half hour of silence was 20 years or so of relative peace that we’d face. In a way he was rather anticipatory of what’s happened the last 15 years or so.

  5. If you all had been with me in my mission (1991 to 1993), you would been exposed to more millenarian (millennial? millenialist? millennium-ish?) expectations than you would have cared for. A secret, 15-page document was circulating among some elders in the mission that purported to “prove” that the Milennium would begin on April 6, 1993, based upon some careful, deductive reasoning and interpretation of LDS scriptural texts. The document was attributed to Hugh Nibley, to give it extra credibility of course, and it informed the reader that the Quorum of the 12 had informed Brother Nibley not to give any more firesides on the topic since “the end is so close, and panic imminent.”

    One of my companions was convinced of the truth of the document. I wish he hadn’t been transferred prior to April 6 rolling around. I often wonder what he was doing the night before.

    Aaron B

  6. Hey, We had a copy of the same thing in France, 96-98! I sent a letter to FARMS. They had a canned response from Hugh Nibley (apparently, they got lots of requests about it) saying he had NOT written it, he didn’t know if the author had put Nibley’s name on it to grant the paper “authority” or discredit him, but “like Lazarus of old, it stinketh.” Vintage Nibley:)

  7. Ben,

    I’m intrigued to know how the document was received in your mission (’96-’98), since the April 6, 1993 date had come and gone, and the falseness of the document’s conclusion was presumably self-evident.

    Aaron B

  8. I don’t remember much. NO one else knew who Nibley was, so they just figured he was some kind of Crowther-Skousen-type crackpot. I knew he wasn’t, but didn’t know much else. It just didn’t seem like his style, but the FARMS response did.

  9. Back to the original question as to if and why there is a de-emphasis on millenial thoughts in the church.

    When I was in primary, seminary, and on a mission, anything miraculous was fascinating, and the closer those miracles were to the present, the better. Current stories of miracles, the kind that get seminary kids listening, are sometimes hard to come by. The millenium provides this and if you can make it seem eminent then kids take it seriously and think about improving their lives. Perhaps those involved in seminary can comment on whether millenial classes still elicit increased interest.

    Now that I have a family, I am not quite so excited about going through the calamities that the millenium will bring. Is it a sign of my lack of faith that I contributed to a 401(k)? :)

    Also, the early church was very millenialistic, but they were suffering a great deal and looked forward to the time when their hardships would eventually end. Now perhaps as the church gets more and more established, we don’t feel the need for (or expect) dramatic divine intervention in order to keep making progress.

    Another dampening factor on the millenium is the build-up to the year 2000 and the lack of anything interesting ever really happening. Predictions may be looking silly now — if it didn’t start within a couple years of 2000, why should we think that it can’t wait until 2050 or 2100 or later?

  10. Wilford Woodruff’s journal is a fascinating read on this topic. His journal, begun in the 1830s, is animated with waiting for the end. He scours the newspapers of the day for signs of the end. Each year, year after year he wonders if this will be the year. And yet he lives past all of the nineteenth century versions of 1993–and into a world filled with elevators and other amazing signs of a world that just keeps changing and persisting.

  11. I suppose that most of Woodruff’s contemporaries thought the same way, and judging by statements throughout the 20 century (which Bob mentions above), the view of an imminent millennium persisted strongly for many years. It may be that the assertion that the milleniallist fervor is dying a poor generalization based on my experience — maybe primary kids in Salt Lake do still dream of hiking to Missouri as I did. But if its true that there is less emphasis on eschatology now, I would guess that it is based on pragmatic reasons — it is better to live our lives as though the end is far off. I see a glimpse of this in a 1998 conference address by Elder Wirthlin:

    “Perhaps in an effort to escape the challenges of our times, a few voices proclaim that the Second Coming of the Savior is imminent. Perhaps, but the Lord could not have been more plain when He said of His triumphal return to the earth, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.””
    ( )

  12. (I was too quick with the post button there.)
    To finish my thought, I suspect that many Church leaders and teachers have decided that it is more pedagogical useful to emphasize the unknowability of the timing of the end or to not focus on it at all, rather than to focus on its imminence. That is probably right, but like Clark, I can’t help but think it is a small step away from our dynamic, enthusiastic, expectant heritage.

    By the way, I did notice that the #2 bestseller from Cedar Fort (as Utah Valley press) is _Fifty Signs of the Times and the Second Coming_, so maybe we are a poor sample group.

  13. “so maybe we are a poor sample group”

    I often wonder this very same thing about half the topics we discuss.

    But for whatever reason, I feel like being a poor sample group makes this blog that much more fun.

  14. The 2nd coming is already here my dear folks. Didn’t you hear the whisperings of it?

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