The story: A couple was driving across the United States on vacation when they spotted a long-haired, bearded hitchhiker standing at the side of the road. Although he appeared somewhat disheveled and his clothes were a bit ragged, they decided to take a chance that he was not a serial murderer and they picked him up.
After they had driven for a few miles, the hitcher, in answer to their inquiries regarding his destination, began to speak of heaven. His words touched their hearts and the relieved couple realized that they had picked up a very spiritual fellow.
The hitchhiker then shifted his comments to issue a number of warnings concerning the day of judgment that will soon be at hand for all of humankind and the entire world. The backseat became a makeshift pulpit as he advised the couple that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ was at hand.
At this point in the narrative, the story has two equally popular endings:
The stories of Jesus on the freeway seem to be a variation of the urban legend of the phantom hitchhiker combined with the gospel account of the risen Christ appearing to Cleopas and another disciple as they walked on the road to Emmaus, about seven miles northwest of Jerusalem. At first the two do not recognize Jesus—and when they do, he disappears.
The tale of the contemporary hitchhiking Jesus is still repeated, but it was in very wide circulation in 1998–99, just before the year 2000 and the period of time that many Christian fundamentalists believed would be the advent of the end times, Armageddon, the last great battle between the forces of Good and Evil. From their perspective, it seemed to be in the order of things that Jesus could return in disguise, then reveal himself to certain individuals so that they might be prepared for the opportunity of the Rapture, which they believe will deliver all true believers from the planet.