The Daily Telegraph’s Damian Thompson (a religious man, incidentally) weighs in here:
…I suppose if I had to boil it down to one observation, it would be that just because people say they “believe” that such-and-such a thing will happen in the End Times that doesn’t mean they invest heavily in those colourful beliefs. It’s a sort of spiritual hobby, even entertainment. St Augustine told doomsday enthusiasts to rest their busy fingers – ie, stop using them to calculate the exact date of Christ’s return (like old Harold Camping). Even in his day, people ran a huge risk of (a) making fools of themselves and (b) boring everyone else to death.
Still, remember the following should 200 million true believers fail to shoot skywards tomorrow. In the first century, most Christians believed the world would end in their lifetimes. Why? Because Jesus gave them good reason to think so:
Matthew 16:27-28: For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Matthew 24:34: I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
That sounds like a a pretty explicit doomsday prophecy to me. No wonder St Paul had to deal with Christians who kept asking: why is everyone dying naturally when Jesus said he’d already be back by now?