The very earliest Christians in the first century AD had a number of false alarms about when the End would come; they believed it would come during their lifetime. Paul had compared the end of the world with a mother's birth pang, and the image implied the world was already pregnant with its own destruction, but no one knew when it would happen.
When the converts of Paul in Thessalonica were persecuted by the Romans, it was believed to be a sign the end was near. However, doubt rose when already in the 90s Christians were saying "We have heard these things [of the End of the World] even in the days of our fathers, and look, we have grown old and none of them has happened to us". In the 130s Justin Martyr declared God was delaying the end of the world because he wished to see Christianity spread throughout the world. In the 250s Cyprian wrote that Christian sins of that time were a prelude and proof that the end was near.
However, by the 3rd century most believed the End to be beyond their own lifetime; Jesus, it was believed, had denounced attempts to divine the future, to know the "times and seasons", and such attempts to predict the future were discouraged; yet the End was given a date with the help of Jewish traditions in the Six Ages of the World. Using this system, the End was fixed at 202, but when the date passed, all hopes were placed in 500 AD. As this date passed, the End faded over the horizon and became increasingly remote.
Many Christians currently believe that the End is near, some sects placing it within their lifetime or shortly thereafter. Their convictions can sometimes be placed on the prolific tellings of tragedies all around the world each day on the news, combined with indirect interpretations of aspects of and scriptures in the Bible.
End times beliefs in Christianity vary widely. Christian premillennialists, who believe the End Times are in the future, usually articulate a fairly specific timetable that climaxes in the end of the world. For some, Israel, the European Economic Community, or the United Nations are seen as key players whose role was foretold in prophecies. Among dispensational premillennialists, there are those that hope that they will be supernaturally summoned to Heaven by the Rapture before the tribulations prophesied in the Bible's book of Revelation take place.
Religious movements which expect that the second coming of Christ, or of Haile Selassie, will be a cataclysmic event, generally called adventism, have arisen throughout the Christian era; but they became particularly common during and after the Protestant Reformation. Shakers, Emanuel Swedenborg (who considered the second coming to be symbolic, and to have occurred in 1757), and others developed entire religious systems around a central concern for the second coming of Christ, disclosed by new prophecy or special gifts of revelation. The Millerites are diverse religious groups which similarly rely upon a special gift of interpretation for fixing the date of Christ's return.
The chief difference between the nineteenth century Millerite and Adventist movements and contemporary prophecy belief is that William Miller and his followers fixed the time for the Second Coming by calendar calculations based on interpretations of the Biblical apocalypses; they originally set a date for the Second Coming in 1844. These sorts of computations also appear in some contemporary prophecy beliefs, but few contemporary End Times prophets use them to fix a date; their timetables will be triggered by future events such as the Rapture. Rather, contemporary End Times believers point to current events as indicating imminent world wars and moral catastrophes, and accordingly believe that God's judgment against the conflict-ridden and corrupt world is close at hand.
Dispensationalism, in contrast to the Millerite Adventist movement, got its start in the 19th century, when John Nelson Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren religious denomination, incorporated into his system of Biblical interpretation a system of organizing Biblical time into a number of discrete dispensations, each of which marks a separate covenant with God. Darby's beliefs were widely publicised in Cyrus I. Scofield's Scofield Reference Bible, an annotated Bible that became popular in the United States of America.
Since the majority of the Biblical prophets were writing at a time when Palestine was mostly Jewish, and the Temple in Jerusalem was still functioning, they wrote as if those institutions would still be in operation during the prophesied events. Their destruction in A.D. 70 put the prophetic timetable, if there is one, on hold. Believers therefore anticipated the return of Jews to Palestine and the reconstruction of the Temple before the Second Coming could occur. Of course the Apocalypse of John and Gospel of John are held by Christian tradition to have been written at least a decade after the fall of Jerusalem, and liberal Christians hold the same to be true for the three other (synoptic) gospels. Conservatives usually place the writing of the synoptic gospels before the fall of Jerusalem, but agree that the Apocalypse and John's Gospel were written after the fall.