The Mayan Calendar and the End of the World
You’ve no doubt heard the hubbub: Supposedly, the ancient Mayans predicted that the world will end on December 21, 2012 at 11 p.m. A recent poll found that “nearly 10% of people believe that the year 2012 on the Mayan calendar signifies an apocalyptic collapse” (“New Mayan…,” 2012). What is one to make of such claims? How concerned ought we to be?
In reality, the only reliable source of information concerning end-time events is the Bible. It is, in fact, the only book on the planet of divine origin (cf. Butt, 2007). All other books that claim to be from the one true God do not bear up under objective scrutiny. Only the Bible possesses the attributes of inspiration. Only the Bible can provide humans with accurate insight into the future. That being the case, one would hardly expect a pagan, idolatrous civilization to serve as a legitimate source for ascertaining the truth regarding the end of the world.
So what does the Bible say on the matter? Throughout the thousands of years of human history, bona fide representatives of the one true God frequently predicted future events with complete accuracy. The Old Testament is filled with prophecy and prediction concerning a host of historical occurrences—all of which came true as predicted (cf. Thompson, 2003). In stark contrast, however, the Bible goes out of its way to avoid setting a date for the end of the world. In fact, Jesus stated unequivocally the truth on the matter: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:36, emp. added).
But why? Since the Bible contains hundreds of prophecies of future events, why would God refrain from giving signs, indicators, and predictions concerning the end of the world? For one thing, it would be unfair to do so, because it would give people living long before the end the advantage of knowing Jesus would not come in their day. It would be contrary to God’s nature since it would imply that He is partial.
Speaking in A.D. 30, Jesus stressed very firmly that, while there would be clear signs heralding the destruction of Jerusalem 40 years later in A.D. 70 by the Romans (Matthew 24:1-35), He was equally adamant that no such signs would mark the end of the world and His second coming (Matthew 24:36-25:46). In stark contrast, the return of Jesus and the end of the world will be comparable to Noah’s day:
But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be (Matthew 24:37-39, emp. added).
The return is also compared to the arrival of a thief: “[I]f the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:43-44, emp. added; cf. 2 Peter 3:10—“[T]he day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.”). Jesus further declared: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matthew 25:13). [NOTE: The quibble that suggests that Jesus merely meant that you cannot know the hour or day, but that you can know the year or the general time, sidesteps the force of these verses and evades the very point that Jesus was making, i.e., the time of the end is unpredictable and unknown to humans.]
Mayan Calendar Details
So what are the specific details surrounding the Mayan calendar? One must turn to the experts—the scholars who have spent their lives studying Mayan civilization. The fact is that they speak with one accord. The 2012 hype comes—not from the studied authorities of Mayan civilization—but, as noted by Susan Gillespie, University of Florida anthropologist, “from media and from other people making use of the Maya past to fulfill agendas that are really their own” (MacDonald, 2007). Maya archaeoastronomer and curator of the Florida Museum of Natural History, Susan Milbrath, explained: “It would be impossible [that] the Maya themselves would have known that” (MacDonald). What’s more, she says, “we have no record or knowledge that they would think the world would come to an end at that point” (emp. added).
The facts of the matter are that December 21, 2012 on the Mayan Long Count calendar is simply the day that the calendar will go to what scholars call the next “b’ak’tun” or cycle. Sandra Noble, executive director of the Mesoamerican research organization FAMSI, noted that “for the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle” (“The Long…,” n.d.). Hence, she considers the alleged December 2012 hoopla to be “a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in” (“The Long…”). The Mayan calendar simply shows the ancient Mayans’ fascination with ongoing “cycles of time”—with no indication that they even entertained the notion of the end of the world (Vance, 2012). Further, scholars have just recently discovered wall writings in Guatemala show Mayan calendars that go well beyond 2012 (Vergano, 2012; Potter, 2012).
Indeed, such sensational allegations are not new. Legion are the instances over the last 2,000 years in which individuals and groups have set “firm” dates for the end of the world. Consider a few. [NOTE: The following is taken from “Library of Date Setters…,” n.d.] Events leading up to the year A.D. 1000 were viewed by many as harbingers of the end. These included a solar eclipse in 968 that created panic in the German army of Emperor Otto I and Hailey’s Comet in 989. The decade preceding January 1, 1000 saw people giving their worldly goods to the poor, pilgrims massing in Jerusalem to meet Jesus, buildings left in disrepair, fields unplanted, and even criminals released from jails. Thirty years later, the approach of A.D. 1033 was believed by many to be the onset of the millennium, since they thought it marked 1,000 years since the crucifixion of Christ. A terrible famine struck France in 1030, together with an eclipse and a massive earthquake the same year, convincing many of an imminent end, eliciting penitential processions, including a mass pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
To Londoners in 1666, the end of the world must have seemed self-evident. In addition to the bubonic plague, which killed some 100,000 people, the Great Fire of London swept the city the same year. Since 1666 was a millennium (1,000 years) coupled with the mark of the beast (666), many were firmly convinced the end was near. In 1843, William Miller attracted much attention and many followers when he announced the return of Christ between 1843 and 1844. Though a spectacular meteor shower in 1833 was seen as a harbinger, the predicted date of March 21, 1843 passed without incident. In 1910, the return of Hailey’s Comet was again seen by some to be an indication of the end. Impetus was gained when the Earth actually passed through the comet’s gaseous tail. Charles Taze Russell, along with the establishment of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, commenced an end-times movement that has repeatedly set the time of the end, the first in 1914—with many to follow. With each failure, recalculations are made and theology is adjusted accordingly.
Circumstances surrounding the formal establishment of the modern state of Israel in May of 1948 unleashed a flood of endless predictions, speculations, and allegations that continue to this day—all claiming the end is near. These include Hal Lindsey (Late Great Planet Earth, 1970); Ron Reese (“In the Twinkling of an Eye”); Moses David (The Children of God); the True Light Church; Walter Simmons (The Day of the Lord, 1978, The Final Warning Sign); Bill Maupin (Lighthouse Gospel Tract Foundation); Edgar Whisenant (“Rapture in Rosh Hashanna”); David Koresh and the Branch Davidians; John Hinkle (Christ’s Church, Los Angeles); and Harold Camping (Are You Ready?). And of course, Y2K unleashed a whole new round of doomsday conmen who proposed everything from massive natural disasters (e.g., Jack Van Impe), to WWIII, and worldwide shutdown of computer systems.
While most of these would-be prophets have claimed affiliation with Christianity, the non-Christian community has had its own share of prognosticators—including the Harmonic Convergence predicted by New Age proponents in 1987; California psychic Sheldon Nidle, who predicted 16 million space ships would converge on Earth in 1996; the International Association of Psychics in 1997, who claimed that 92% of their 120,000 members had the same end-time vision; a Russian scientist who, relying on Nostradamus prophecies, predicted the end in 1997 in the form of a shifting of the Earth’s axis, causing massive flooding and the arrival of aliens; the Sacerdotal Knights of National Security who predicted an alien invasion November 11, 1997; psychic Edgar Cayce who alleged the end in 1998 with massive disruption to the Earth; psychic Charles Criswell King who predicted the end in 1999; and many, many others. In fact, the present hype surrounding the Mayan calendar comes largely from New Age writers misinterpreting the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar (cf. Lawrence Joseph’s Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation Into Civilization’s End; spiritual healer Andrew Smith’s The Revolution of 2012: Vol. 1, The Preparation; and Daniel Pinchbeck’s 2012; see “The Truth About…,” n.d.).
Gamaliel rightly warned his contemporaries concerning those who would lead people astray 2,000 years ago:
For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed (Acts 5:36-37).
Even regarding the signs that Jesus said would precede the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, He warned: “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it” (Matthew 24:23, emp. added). Why? Jesus said, “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:27). Similarly, when God brings about the end of time, no one will need any input from any other human to know of its occurrence; the end will be so cataclysmic that it will be evident to all (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).
While the world may well end this month—it will not be due to the Mayan calendar or any other would-be prophet knowing it. But do not take the scholars word for the truth about the Mayan calendar. Just wait until 11:00 p.m. December 21 to see for yourself. When the alleged end fails to materialize, rather than breathe a sigh of relief and go on your merry way, you would do well to turn to the Bible for the unchanging truth and solid rock of God’s Word. We are again reminded of the unerring words of the Savior of the world in His assessment of His return:
Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:42-44, emp. added).
Are you ready?
Butt, Kyle (2007), Behold! The Word of God (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
“Library of Date Setters for End of the World” (no date), http://www.bible.ca/pre-date-setters.htm.
“The Long and Short Count ‘Mayan Calendar,’” Spanish Institute of Merida, http://www.simerida.com/courses/longandshortcalendar.php.
MacDonald, G. Jeffrey (2007), “Does Maya Calendar Predict 2012 Apocalypse?” USA Today, March 27, http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2007-03-27-maya-2012_n.htm.
“New Mayan Calendar Artifacts Discovered” (2012), June 29, FoxNews.com, http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2012/06/29/new-mayan-calendar-artifacts-discovered/#ixzz22WYnFYg8.
Potter, Ned (2012), “Oldest Known Maya Calendar Found; No Signs of 2012 Doomsday,” ABC News, May 11, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/technology/2012/05/oldest-known-maya-calendar-found-no-signs-of-2012-doomsday/.
Thompson, Bert (2003), In Defense of the Bible’s Inspiration, /pdfs/e-books_pdf/idobi.pdf.
“The Truth About the ‘Mayan Calendar,’” Spanish Institute of Merida, http://www.simerida.com/courses/mayancalendar.php.
Vance, Erik (2012), “Mayan Calendar: World Will Not End In December 2012, Expert Says,” Scientific American, July 8, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/08/mayan-calendar-world-will_n_1655135.html.
Vergano, Dan (2012), “Newly Discovered Mayan Calendar Goes Way Past 2012,” USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/story/2012-05-08/maya-apocalypse-calendar-2012/54879760/1.