The Year 2000 Doomsday or the Age of Aquarius

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The Year 2000 Doomsday or the Age of Aquarius

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Perhaps, in times of uncertainty, we long for some degree of assurance that there will be a future. We want certainties.

If we are realistic about the human condition and just a dash pessimistic, we can easily drift toward the cataclysmic secular prophets.

If we are more optimistic and perhaps a little unrealistic about human nature, we will probably overestimate the positive possibilities of the years just ahead. From the human perspective it's hard to achieve a really objective fix on the future.

Whether you believe the 20th century ends immediately after the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1999, or one year later, the much anticipated third millennium since Christ is upon us. The contending visions of the optimist and the pessimist are all around us.

There are those who foresee a world in which our major problems will finally be solved; there are others who predict more crises, more turmoil, more upset.

What does the beginning of the next millennium portend?

For some inclined to religion, it is a significant road sign on the way to the fulfillment of a major biblical prophecy. A recent letter from an evangelical group invited me to participate in a fast for the successful completion of the preaching of the gospel by the year 2000. Obviously for some the end of the 20th century has become an important benchmark. But, whether it's a religious interest or a secular fascination, the year 2000 carries its own attraction.

Author Hillel Schwartz has studied the effect of the end of centuries on the human psyche. He says that a kind of hysteria sets in as centuries approach their end. At the close of the past several centuries, public discourse has included alternate scenarios for the century ahead. Either the world would end in a series of catastrophes or undergo a positive transformation. It's Doomsday or the age of Aquarius, the End of the Ages or the New Age.

Earlier apocalyptics

The Roman author Lucretius wrote during the first century B.C. that "the mighty and complex system of the world, upheld through many years, shall crash in ruins. Yet I do not forget how novel and strange it strikes the mind that destruction awaits the heavens and the earth...My words will perhaps win credit by plain facts, and within some short time you will see violent earthquakes arise and all things convulsed with shocks...The whole world can collapse, borne down with a frightful-sounding crash" (De Rerum Natura, MCMLXXV, p. 387).

The year A.D. 1000 may also have incited similar fears and some strange human behavior. A kind of millennial madness seemed to strike Europe, if the 15th-century German Monk Tritheim is to be believed. He wrote:

"In the thousandth year after the birth of Christ, violent earthquakes shook all of Europe and throughout the continent destroyed solid and magnificent buildings. The same year a horrible comet appeared in the sky. Seeing it, many who believed that this was announcing the last day, were frozen with fear" (Yuri Rubinsky and Ian Wiseman, A History of the End of the World, p. 66).

This preoccupation with heavenly signs may have had its effect on the Holy Roman Emperor of the time. Otto III is reputed to have said, "The last year of the thousand years is here, and now I go out in the desert to await, with fasting, prayer, and penance, the day of the Lord, and the coming of my Redeemer" (Hillel Schwartz, Century's End, p. 13).

While such accounts of spectacular signs and end-time fears in the year 1000 are disputed by scholars, the idea is strong in the human imagination that cataclysmic events in the heavens will announce the end of the world and the great judgment of God.

Close of the 19th century

As the last century was coming to an end, Parisians were enjoying la belle époque, the beautiful era: All was well with the world in the eyes of a sophisticated city. The Paris Exhibition of 1900 was ablaze with electricity. The age of dirty coal was disappearing, and a new, clean power was here. It seemed the world was on the verge of a civilized rebirth.

Lurking in the shadows, of course, was the coming horror of World War I. Its antecedents were present as the century turned over and some recognized the possibilities of catastrophic war. While some were enjoying X-ray parties (photographing their hands in an effort to energize themselves for the new century, X-ray technology being a recent discovery), others heard the words of Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II: "The first day of the new century sees our army-in other words, our people-in arms, gathered around their standards, kneeling before the Lord of Hosts."

In a diary entry from 1898, Claude Bowers wrote of the pessimistic- optimistic view of the near future. Of his friend's concern with impending war, he wrote: "This he thought was probably what people looked forward to as the end of the world. It would be the end of conditions existing at the time, but the dawn of a far more splendid era."

The end of the world

Some portrayals of the end of the world trace their origins, of course, to the Bible. The Bible, a book open to much misinterpretation, indeed may be the most misunderstood and misinterpreted book ever written. Those end-time images of comets and earthquakes, wars and famines, judgment and retribution, come from the prophetic passages of the Bible, both Old and New Testament.

Sad to say, many can't bring themselves to take the Bible seriously because others have so misused it, those 19th- and 20th-century prophets who have said the world would end on a specific date only to be proven wrong over and over.

But, as you'll discover in The Good News, the Bible does not say a lot of the things people claim that it says. It actually makes it clear that we are not to know the precise time of Jesus Christ's return, and that we should not misinterpret wars, earthquakes, famines and signs in the heavens as the end of the world-steps along the way, perhaps, but not necessarily signs of the end.

The prognosticators who have come and gone with their failed prophecies have made a common mistake. They have misinterpreted as signs those events and activities that occur in the general course of human life, or they have devised elaborate time sequences to project a date for the end of this age. Many are the disappointed who have accepted too precise an interpretation of the Bible's prophetic passages.

But Jesus Christ did say, "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30 Matthew 24:30And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
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In this and other places the Bible is replete with references to Christ's second coming. The early disciples clearly believed and taught that their Master would return to set up a kingdom. Was this just wishful thinking, as one group of theologians suggests?

For that to be true, we are asked to believe that passages written after Jesus Christ's life on earth were inserted deliberately to mislead. Moreover such references would have to have been inserted consistently over many years, as many as 30 or 40.

The biblical emphasis

Consider this:

  • According to The Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy, 535 verses in the Bible refer to Jesus Christ's second coming.
  • The four Gospel writers all comment on the second coming, even though they wrote in different places over a span of decades.
  • The Gospel historian Luke says in the Acts of the Apostles that Peter attested to Christ's second coming with these words: "And that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:20-21 Acts 3:20-21 [20] And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached to you: [21] Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.
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    ). Here Peter, as one of the eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry, said that all the holy prophets (of the Old Testament) spoke of Jesus' return to restore all things on earth.
  • The apostle to the gentiles, Paul of Tarsus, author of at least 13 letters, or 25 percent, of the New Testament, mentions Jesus' return at least eighteen times during the 14 years of his writings.
  • The book of Revelation (or the Apocalypse) shows a prophetic sequence without any dates that includes Christ's return.
  • The book of Revelation, with its images of the return of Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, is the final book of the New Testament, setting the capstone on the New Testament canon.

What we face here is a paradox. Countless religious devotees have written and spoken about Bible prophecies, including Christ's return, yet have consistently failed to get the message straight. In their attempts to be zealous scholars and students of the Word, many have inspired others to doubt the Bible's faithfulness.

Faith in the Word of God as God's Word has been undermined. Not only do so many misinterpret the Bible's prophecies; they cause others to stumble as a result. But, as the apostle Paul said, "let God be true but every man a liar" (Romans 3:4 Romans 3:4God forbid: yes, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That you might be justified in your sayings, and might overcome when you are judged.
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). God's Word will always stand, though a thousand misinterpret.

What, then, can we know about Bible prophecy in general and about the year 2000-the last year before the new millennium-in particular? The answer to the first question is rich in information for our natural curiosity. Those images of earthquakes, famines, pestilence, judgment and retribution are from Christ Himself.

Matthew's Gospel contains a prophetic passage reiterated in Mark 13 and Luke 21. Known as "the little Apocalypse," the predictions in Matthew 24 spring from questions posed by Jesus' disciples. Matthew records that, in response to Jesus' statement that one day Herod's magnificent temple would be destroyed, "the disciples came to him privately saying, 'Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?'" (Matthew 24:3 Matthew 24:3And as he sat on the mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world?
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The answers to their two questions frame the rest of Matthew 24 and 25. It is instructive that Jesus does not directly answer the "when" of the questions in any definitive way. He does not set a date; in fact, as we saw earlier, He states that only the Father knows (Matthew 24:36 Matthew 24:36But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
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He disabuses His hearers of any thought that the kind of signs that people historically look for to indicate the end are valid. Acknowledging that wars, rumors of wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes will occur, He nevertheless makes it clear that "the end is not yet" and that "these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:6 Matthew 24:6And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that you be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
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, Matthew 24:8 Matthew 24:8All these are the beginning of sorrows.
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A real clue

One clue that the end is near will be the international preaching of "this gospel of the kingdom" as a witness (Matthew 24:14 Matthew 24:14And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come.
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). Clearly that will not be a sign like an earthquake or a war, or a famine or a pandemic.

Jesus also speaks of events in the Middle East as precursors to His return. In so doing He refers to the prophet Daniel's writings in the Old Testament: "'Therefore when you see the "abomination of desolation," spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place' (whoever reads, let him understand), 'then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains'" (Matthew 24:15-16 Matthew 24:15-16 [15] When you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoever reads, let him understand:) [16] Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
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Some claim that this was fulfilled in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Yet Jesus calls that idea into question by saying, "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days we shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened."

These statements describe terror such as the world has never seen. Because of the intense danger to all humanity, the "tribulation" will be halted for the sake of "the elect," the people of God. Only then will the heavenly signs of the sun, moon and stars in disruption occur.

The return of Jesus Christ will take place accompanied by the sign of the son of man, a visible appearance of the returning Jesus Christ in the heavens. This will follow a time of unparalleled suffering brought on by man's own hand and Satan's wrath, as we discover in the book of Revelation: "Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory" (Revelation 16:8-9 Revelation 16:8-9 [8] And the fourth angel poured out his vial on the sun; and power was given to him to scorch men with fire. [9] And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which has power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.
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Soon after, there is a time of great happiness during which at last the human misery can end: "And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, 'Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready'" (Revelation 19:6-7 Revelation 19:6-7 [6] And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunder, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigns. [7] Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready.
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Where does the year 2000 fit into all of this? What do the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third signify?

From a strictly biblical perspective the beginning of the next thousand years signifies nothing and the turn of the century means nothing more nor less than the progression in a humanly devised system of counting years. Remember that the year 2000 is the year 5761 for the Jews, 1421 for the Muslims and 4698 for the Chinese. In our limited awareness we often assume that dates that may be important to us should be important to everyone else on the planet.

God doesn't follow man's calendars

As we've seen, no one knows the day nor the hour of the end of this phase of human civilization, and it's unlikely that God the Father is operating according to any of these human calendars.

The prophecies of the Word of God will come to pass on time, when He determines. In the meantime, we have more than enough to busy ourselves with. The apostle Peter wrote two letters toward the end of his life. In them he distills his Christian experience. Thinking about the future day of judgment he writes: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness...?" (2 Peter 3:10-11 2 Peter 3:10-11 [10] But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. [11] Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in all holy conversation and godliness,
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The idea that we live in the shadow of Judgment Day ought to make us ask ourselves about the spiritual condition of our lives. There is a way that leads to holy conduct and godliness in this life.

Peter pleads with his readers to find that way. It comes down to accepting responsibility before our Creator for what we are and what we've done and learning how to be forgiven of sin and that sin will be obliterated.

That's the relief that God's elect find as they begin their new life now. They can be assured of God's protection in the progression of events up to Jesus Christ's return. In the meantime, they live their lives not in fear but in enthusiasm for a new way that will be eternally satisfying in the ongoing work of God.