The Year 2000: Peril or Paradise?

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The Year 2000

Peril or Paradise?

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Two distinct views are extant on the millennial year 2000. The differing perspectives naturally prompt two crucial questions:

Is the world at a point of deep crisis as we approach 2000? And will that critical year serve as a stepping-stone to a glorious future?

It all depends.

Essentially, most views are divided among doomsday forecasters and millennial optimists. The pessimistic believe that the arrival of 2000 is merely the harbinger of a troubled 21st century that will threaten our survival even more than the previous one. On the other hand, optimists predict that century 21 will usher in a utopian epoch of technology that will finally liberate us from the age-old ills of the human race.

Would-be visionaries regularly espouse both views. But which of the two perceptions will become reality?

One idealist went so far as to say that "paradise is here now, if only we will accept it." Another titled his article: "Getting Better All the Time." A third lightheartedly advised: "Go away, ye merchants of gloom, your wares are not wanted here. Let the good times roll."

Other well-informed observers are not so sure. Realistic statistical indicators are far from encouraging. Consider, for example, worldwide employment. A Financial Times article predicted a "bleak future for the world's workers," saying that "it is estimated that by 1999 a third of the world's labour force will be either jobless or underemployed" (Oct. 2). On the wellness front, the World Health Organization predicted that cancer will double in the next 20 years (The Express, Oct. 19).

A More-realistic Assessment

Norman Cousins (1915-1990) regularly looked to the future in a positive vein. Yet even he recognized the enormity of the human predicament in looking beyond 2000. In an interview for his book An Agenda for the 21st Century, he mentioned four pressing problems that dog humanity.

• Weapons that can "pulverize the human species."

• Environmental deterioration so severe as to threaten natural balances that are necessary to sustain life.

• Worldwide hunger that takes millions of lives every year.

• Worldwide squalor and crushing poverty that sentence some people and nations to an existence of misery and suffering.

These problems, Mr. Cousins hastened to add, are not new. "But they exist, nowadays in a form so heightened that people don't want to think about them."

Although The Good News magazine publishes just that—good news—we recognize our obligation to bring serious problems to the attention of our readers. What makes this magazine different is our commitment to presenting the solid solutions the Bible offers. Does the Bible have anything to say about the problems that threaten us? Let's consider 2000 from a broader biblical and historical perspective.

What 2000 Means to Mankind

Man is always fascinated by time—even more so as every day brings us nearer the turn of the millennium. We look to that date with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension. The clock ticks. We count the days as we near the end of one century and the second millennium since the birth of Christ and look forward to the beginning of another 100 years and the onset of a new 1,000-year period.

Damian Thompson commented on people's preoccupation with the otherworldly around benchmark dates on the calendar: "The measurement of time is inextricably bound up with belief in the supernatural. We need look no further for proof of this than the currents of revival and anxiety which are flowing through the world's religious communities as the year 2000 approaches" (The End of Time, 1996, p. 3).

But what is it about 2000 that tends to steer so many people in the direction of apocalyptic musings? Why should Christians—who, if they have looked into the matter, realize that Jesus Christ was not born in A.D. 1 (but 4 B.C.)—attach such great importance to a mere date change?

Marina Benjamin put it this way: "We ache to place the present moment in its proper perspective so that we may know where we stand in relation to the entire sweep of time" (Living at the End of the World, 1998, p. 5). In other words, we would like to know what will happen and how we fit into the picture. People try to divine the shape of the future.

Numbers convey a sense of order, destination and limit. They bring our mortality into sharper focus. We will live only so long in the flesh, so we are curious about tomorrow, the day after and next year. Solomon wrote that "man is greatly troubled by ignorance of the future" (Ecclesiastes 8:6, Revised English Bible).

Numbers point to helpful patterns. They allow us to wrest order and meaning from a confusing mixture of chaotic events. God Himself imposes order upon His creation. The seven-day week is a case in point. Each day is specifically recounted in Genesis 1, and God did something different during every one of those original 24-hour periods.

Men and women, made in God's own image (Genesis 1:27), share some of His characteristics (although not His perfect character). So we look for historic patterns that explain events and impose order, especially in our chaotic age marked by a torrent of new knowledge and information.

Calendrical patterns can help. Wrote Damian Thompson of mankind's quest for meaning: "The existence of a divine plan for humanity which can be glimpsed by arranging man's experience into epochs has been taken for granted in every society which has recorded history" (The End of Time, p. 3).

The Bible shows there really is a divine plan.

The Bible and Millennial Numbers

Scripture itself lays great stress on the importance of the number 1,000. Psalm 90 (a prayer of Moses) mentions the millennial number in the context of man's mortality and the natural limits of his life on earth. "For a thousand years in Your [God's] sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night ... The days of our lives are seventy years ..." (verses 4, 10).

Many centuries after Moses, the apostle Peter uses this same theme to help explain to members of the early Church why the second coming of Christ might not occur in their lifetimes. "But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8).

Modern man is nearly always in a hurry. By contrast, God is patient and guides events and conditions when necessary to allow His plan to unfold properly, firmly hoping that in the meantime we will turn to Him in repentance (verse 9).

At the end of the apostolic era, near the close of the first century, the apostle John foretold a 1,000-year period of utopian peace and prosperity when Jesus Christ will rule the earth (Revelation 20:4-6). Revelation 20 mentions this 1,000-year span no fewer than six times.

Considering the original pattern of a six-day creation immediately followed by God's seventh-day rest, some have predicted a 6,000-year age of man that would precede a millennial rest period (Hebrews 4:1-9). If true, God's plan for man would be carried out over a 7,000-year period.

In a scholarly volume about world chronology, The Timetables of History (1991), most of the entries regarding man's civilized activity begin around 4,000 B.C.

Biblical chronology also indicates that we could be close to the end of 6,000 years from the creation of the first man, Adam. Biblical researchers have estimated from Old and New Testament chronologies (Genesis 5, Luke 3, etc.) that the general time frame from the creation of Adam to the birth of Christ was somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 years. It has been slightly more than 2,000 years since the time of Christ's birth (4 B.C.).

This is a much more complex computation than most people realize. Archbishop James Ussher (Anglican primate of Ireland) published his famous study of biblical chronology in the mid-17th century. Although specifics of his work are judged as much too precise, his estimated figure of 4,000 years for the biblical chronology from Adam to Christ is generally accepted.

Certainly this computation involved much more than sitting around on a rainy afternoon counting up the numbers in the Bible. It was a painstaking labor of biblical scholarship, even requiring comparison with certain national histories in which gaps oPcurred in the records, such as the time between the two testaments.

A Broader perspective

Man is not the only being imbued with the ability to hold multiple viewpoints. God's Word also gives us different views of the future. The big difference is that, while human observers mostly divide between the optimistic and pessimistic outlooks, the doomsday and the utopian, God sees a broader perspective in which both negative and positive scenarios will come to pass. They are a matter of timing.

In God's master plan, the good will follow the bad. The biblical writer Luke sums up both the bad and good to come. He first quotes the words of Christ in his Gospel account, then follows with the second in the book of Acts, where he records highlights from one of the apostle Peter's earliest sermons.

How did Jesus describe conditions at the end of this human epoch? "For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing mothers in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people" (Luke 21:22-23).

But the conditions Christ described are the prelude to a transformed world. Said the apostle Peter: "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 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 3:19-21).

The key phrase in Luke's Gospel account, "all things which are written may be fulfilled," refers to the many prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures that describe the horrendous events leading up to the second coming of Jesus Christ (Luke 21:7). These are the troubling signs of the times indicating the end of man's chaotic age and the beginning of God's benign rule on earth. (See "The Apocalyptic Prophetic View: A Coming TIme of Great Distress," p. 6.)

Peter's words in the book of Acts summarize the many joyful millennial prophecies found in those same Hebrew Scriptures.

The Old Testament prophets had a similar long-term perspective in which they saw a future containing extremes of both bad and good. Some of the very same books that herald that utopian period of peace, prosperity and plenty also warn us of the frightful, earth-shaking occurrences that will take place just before Christ's Second Coming.

A Time of Transition

In a sense, Christians are constantly reminded of both of these views of the future. As "ambassadors for Christ," their real citizenship is not of this world—"this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4). But Christians must live in the age of man, though always looking eagerly and expectantly towards the world to come—the time of the Prince of Peace and the absence of war. Only the Bible gives us this God's-eye view of the world tomorrow.

The year 2000 should hold no unreasonable fear for committed Christians. Whether that year or one yet in the future turns out to be the beginning of the very end time—with the unpleasant fallout of prophesied horrific events—the Captain of our salvation, Jesus Christ, tells us "when these things begin to happen, lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near" (Luke 21:28).

The troubling times prophesied to come are not a time for Christians to fear, but a time to be encouraged. "... When you see these things happening," said Jesus, "know that the kingdom of God is near" (verse 31).

But those who reject the eternal God and His laws have plenty to worry about. Recently "Britain's Churches published a millennium prayer to be said at celebrations and churches as the clock strikes midnight next year." Although that sounds well and good, the prayer "was immediately criticised for making no mention of God or Jesus" (The Times, Oct. 9).

Men forget God at their peril (Hosea 4:1-10). For those who ignore their Creator, the future truly will hold "days of vengeance." GN