The following is a simple list of people and groups who presumed or assumed that Jesus was about to return, or that the time was close. While this isn’t a complete listing (it will probably change over time, as I discover more and more), it definitely demonstrates not only that people have been consistently thinking about the end times throughout history, but that history truly repeats itself over and over again.
~150 AD – A group calling themselves the Montanists arise, whose founder, Montanus, claims to be the “Helper” mentioned in John’s gospel. They engage heavily in prophecy, claimed to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and practiced what would be called today “Charismatic gifts of the Spirit.” More importantly, they begin proclaiming that the church is in the rough stages leading to the return of Christ, which will happen soon (the founders believed it would happen after their generation). When they pray “thy kingdom come,” they in essence pray for the quick end of the world.
~180 AD – Many during this time period apply the concept of Christ’s return to their contemporary settings. The Church Fathers Irenaeus and Hippolytus, for example, believe that the return of Christ will happen after the destruction and division of the Roman Empire followed by the reign of the Antichrist.
847 AD – A so-called prophetess named Thiota prophecies that the world will end in this year. Many in the area of her ministry believe her, with some even sending her gifts and asking for prayers from her. When the predicted end does not come to pass, she is invited by the local bishops to a synod, where she is made to admit she prophesied falsely, flogged, and stripped of any ministerial power, after which she no longer prophesies.
~1000 AD – It became popular in Europe to believe that this thousand years was the literal millennium spoken of in Revelation, and that soon the Antichrist would come to bring about judgment on the world (some moved the date to 1033 AD, the supposed anniversary of the Lord’s Passion). Many took the growing famines, heresies, and wars of the time period to signify the coming of the end. Some believed that Pope Sylvester II (known for having a deep interest in scientific arts that were taboo at the time) might have been the Antichrist foretold in Revelation.
1200 AD – A well known Roman Catholic mystic named Joachim of Fiore predicts that in 1260 AD humanity will come in direct contact with God and a great era of peace will begin. Obviously, this does not come to pass. His followers change the date to 1290, and then 1335. Neither dates see an era of peace descend upon the earth.
1666 AD – An English group known as the Fifth Monarchists (1649-1660) predicts the coming Antichrist will be replaced in this year by Christ as the “fifth monarchy” (the other four being in Daniel 2).
1688 AD – Noted mathematician John Napier (1550-1617), attempting to calculate the apocalypse, predicts that the world may end at this time. He likewise argues that 1700 might be a valid date.
1843 AD – The return of Christ, which had been predicted by Seventh Day Adventists in 1840, does not occur. It soon begins to be proposed in Adventist circles that Christ will return on October 22 of that year. This likewise comes and goes without any sign of a return.
1874 AD – Charles T. Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, predicts that Christ will return in this year. When nothing unfolds, Russell assures his followers that Christ had returned, but invisibly.
1914 AD – Charles T. Russell predicts that the Battle for Armageddon would commence in this year, and that Christ’s earthly reign would begin. This doesn’t occur.
1925 AD – Jehovah’s Witnesses predict that the resurrection will occur, with the return of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the return of earth to a paradise. Membership into the Witnesses grows immensely in the years leading up to this date. The predicted resurrection, however, doesn’t occur.
1939 AD – Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God, reports on the radio that World War II will center around Jerusalem and will end with the second coming of Christ. Neither of these prophecies are realized. Armstrong even went so far as to compare Hitler and Mussolini to the Beast and False Prophet in Revelation.
1956 AD – Herbert W. Armstrong releases a publication on what the year 1975 will be like. He predicts that World War III and Christ’s return are coming soon.
1970 AD – Hal Lindsey publishes his famous book The Late Great Planet Earth, which speaks on end time events. In it, he states the possibility of the end times unfolding in 1988, based on a 40-years time period and the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. As time shows, this did not occur.
1975 AD – Jehovah’s Witnesses predict that Armageddon will occur. Membership into the Witnesses increases dramatically in the years leading up to this date. However, the predicted Armageddon once again does not occur.
1985 AD – Herbert W. Armstrong publishes a book reaffirming that Christ will return soon, and that many mysteries of the Bible regarding the end times had not been revealed until recently.
1988 AD – Inspired by Hal Lindsey, Edgar Whisenant publishes a book entitled 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988, adding, “Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong…” When the rapture does not happen, Whisenant publishes another book in 1989, claiming it will happen that year. He tries again in 1993, and yet again in 1994.
1994 AD – Harold Camping predicts two years before that Christ will return on September 6, 1994, although he leaves room for 2011 to be the year. When the rapture does not occur, he settles on his 2011 dating.
1999 AD – Mike Bickle founds the International House of Prayer in Kansas City (IHOP-KC) on supposed orders from God, believing he is going to prepare the church for the return of Christ, which he believes will happen in this generation.
2011 AD – Harold Camping declares more publicly that the rapture will happen on May 21, 2011, followed by months of judgment upon the earth. When this does not occur, he predicts that the judgment as a whole will happen on October 21 of that year. This also does not occur. Camping will go on to repent of his dating, and ask others to avoid making similar mistakes.
2012 AD – Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and incarcerated for sexual crimes against minors, tells his followers in December that the world will end before 2013, and that they should prepare for the end. Obviously, the prediction does not come to pass.