INSIGHT INTO BIBLE PROPHECY #1
THE BEGINNING OR THE END?
by David Vaughn Elliott
(Written late in 1998)
Extravagant parties in Times Square, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramid, the Great Wall of China, the International Dateline, you name it. Plans for the celebration of the century are up and running. Even before the 90’s, party lovers were making reservations for New Millennium’s Eve.
While we wait, the President is busy building a "bridge to the 21st century." Evangelicals are also busy -- building bridges to the great tribulation and Armageddon. While optimists are predicting a great future with a "new world order," pessimists are predicting a bleak future with catastrophe.
The mind can scarcely take it in. Not just a new year, not just a new decade, not just a new century, but a new millennium is around the corner. Multitudes live and die without ever experiencing the start of even a new century. But a new millennium?! Only once before, in the year 1000, was there anything like it.
SECULAR FORECASTS ABOUND
The approaching year 2000 seems like a natural time to assess the past and peer into the future. It is an unparalleled opportunity for those who yearn to make predictions. A new year always seems like a good time to foretell the future. A new century offers even better possibilities. But what can surpass the opportunity of foretelling what may transpire in a new millennium?!
Articles already abound in the secular press, looking backward and looking forward. As long ago as October 15, 1992, "Time Magazine" edited a special issue entitled "Millennium -- Beyond the Year 2000."
Entire books are being written. There is "Megatrends 2000," by John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene. Basically a secular book, it develops a persuasively optimistic viewpoint. Although the authors concentrate on the 90’s, they cannot resist glancing beyond the 90’s into the next millennium, as the title itself indicates. The first heading in the Introduction is entitled "Uncovering the megatrends for the new millennium." The chapter on religion is entitled "Religious Revival of the Third Millennium."
The secular optimists point to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War as ushering in a "new world order." They point to economic good times in the U.S.A., with unemployment and inflation running at record lows. They point to an ever-increasing life expectancy. They point to stunning advances in medicine and technology, with no end in sight.
Most of you reading this do not even remember when there were no computers, no television, no sound movies, no antibiotics, no nuclear bombs, and no airplanes. Yet none of those wonders existed when the 20th century began. We have come a long way, and new vistas open every day. Today’s science fiction is tomorrow’s reality. There is no want of material evidence for those who desire to paint a rosy future.
The secular pessimists, on the other hand, point to overpopulation, world hunger, global warming, water shortage and the disappearance of tropical rain forests. The environment is falling apart. They point to the high probability of nuclear disaster, whether by accident, by terrorists or by an all-out nuclear third world war. They point out that the "new world order" is not all that great. The end of the confrontation between the two great super powers has only opened Pandora’s box to a multitude of smaller confrontations. Every national, ethnic and territorial group wants self-rule.
Even the fabulous computer is in for trouble when 12-31-99 rolls over to 1-1-00. Many computers will think it is Monday, Jan. 1, 1900, rather than Saturday, Jan. 1, 2000. Result? Such computers and software will either spew out false data or just plain crash. This is not science fiction; this is science reality. The potential complications and dangers of the "millennium bug" ("Y2K") are being taken seriously at the highest levels, both governmental and private. At risk is the proper operation of such things as banking, power supply, air-traffic control, elevators, communications systems, Social Security and the IRS. The experts have the knowledge to fix the problem; but the job is enormous and time is running out. The world-wide cost of fixing Y2K is expected to run into billions of dollars.
RELIGIOUS FORECASTS ALSO ABOUND
The secular pessimists sometimes join hands with the religious pessimists in their concern over growing "social" problems: drug addiction, crime, divorce, materialism, pornography on the Internet, murder in the public schools, and the spread of AIDS. Many believe that things are getting so bad that it just cannot continue this way very long.
However, the religious pessimists move on beyond these concerns. They warn of the approach of "the great tribulation," of the rise of "anti-Christ," and of the nearness of Armageddon. They are sure that today’s world situation will go from bad to worse; indeed, the worst the world has ever seen. They are also sure that, before the worst comes, they will be "raptured" out of this world. Many are sure that Jesus will return near the turn of the century.
The "last days" frenzy is being fed by such evangelical preachers as Jack Van Impe, whose weekly television and radio program is carried into 25,000 cities in North America and 160 nations worldwide. His book is entitled "2001: on the Edge of Eternity." The front cover further says "False prophets, government deception, international upheaval, devastating natural disasters . . . we are on the threshold of cataclysmic change."
Then there is Ed Dobson, senior pastor of the 3,000-member Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has written a book that has a simple title of "The End." Now listen to the full front-cover title: "50 Remarkable Events Pointing to the End; Why Jesus Could Return by A.D. 2000."
Did you notice the authors’ use of the words "threshold" and "could"? This is typical of popular space-age "prophets." Many of them no longer set exact dates. They "cover" themselves with "perhaps" words, all the while they offer "possible" dates. They enjoy using such expressions as "could lead to," "may one day," "the world is on the brink," and "about to boil over." Then, in the midst of such expressions they slip in a date. What date is more provocative to slip in than 2000 or 2001?
Those who lived in the 990’s experienced the same type of hysteria, if not more so. Many were the predictions of doom. There grew a widespread expectation in Europe that the world would come to its end at midnight, January 1, 1000. But, we are still here.
THE ABUSE OF BIBLE PROPHECY
Could the year 2000 bring the end? Frequently, such talk is based on prophecies that have already been fulfilled. Many preachers and authors, however, just give lip service to the historical evidence -- or, ignore it altogether. They find it more thrilling to dabble in the near future.
One of the leading "evidences" offered that we are living in the final days, is the return of the Jews to their homeland. Ezekiel is one authority quoted. For example, in Ezekiel 36:24, God says, "For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land." Was this prophecy fulfilled in 1948 A.D., when the modern state of Israel was born? Examine the evidence.
The Babylonian captivity of Judah took place from 606 to 536 B.C. (B.C. time is counted backwards, much like temperature below zero.) Ezekiel wrote his book between 593 and 571 B.C. Thus, he wrote during the early days of the captivity. In 36:19, God said of Israel: "So I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed throughout the countries." Notice that this is past tense. It refers to the Babylonian captivity. So when God, a few verses later, says that He is going to bring them back to their own land, He is promising their return from the Babylonian captivity. It is history. It is prophecy already fulfilled.
Another supposed proof that we live in the last days is the abundance of wars, famines, epidemics and earthquakes. Matthew 24 is cited. What did Jesus say in this text? "And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all [these] [things] must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these [are] the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:6-8). Notice that Jesus did not say that these things were signs of the end. Of wars and rumors of wars, He said, "See that you are not troubled . . . the end is not yet."
The serious Bible student will ask, "The end of what?" Only the superficial reader will assume that "end" means the end of the world. Yes, the disciples did ask Jesus (in verse 3) about "the end of the age." Nevertheless, their first question was, "When will these thing be?" What things? Read Matthew 24:1-3. They are referring to Jesus’ shocking statement about the temple: "Not one stone shall be left here upon another." That’s the end Jesus was talking about. The end of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
Chapter 24 does contain difficulties. But the early verses are the easiest. Notice verse 6, "But the end is not yet." Verse 8, "All these [are] the beginning of sorrows." Verse 13, "He who endures to the end shall be saved." Verse 14, "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world . . . and then the end will come." The very next verse cites Daniel’s prophecy regarding the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. Verse 16 then says, "Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains." Thus, in verses 4-14, Jesus is detailing events that would take place before the fulfillment of his statement: "Not one stone shall be left here upon another." He thus confirms and enlarges upon the prophecy in Daniel 9. Any student of Jewish and Bible history knows that Daniel’s and Jesus’ words were amply fulfilled in 70 A.D. It is all history. It is all fulfilled prophecy.
We must resist the temptation to find prophetic fulfillment in every headline. We must resist the temptation to dislike and ignore history. God has already fulfilled so many prophecies in centuries gone by. The return of Israel from the Babylonian captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. are just two out of many examples. They have nothing to do with the end of the world. They have nothing to do with the year 2000.
WHAT IS THE YEAR 2000?
What is the year 2000 A.D.? It is a man-made number. If it seems important, it is only because man wants to attach importance to it. Any claim that it has a special importance to God is pure speculation.
Nobody talks about "going over the hill" on your 29th or 31st birthday. It’s your 30th; a nice round number. Nobody says life begins (or ends) at 42 or 39. It’s at 40; a nice round number. Those of us who are older have learned that there was nothing magical in that 40th birthday. Life after it continued on just as it had before. It was just another birthday, just another nice round number.
What is the year 2000 A.D.? It’s a nice round number. That’s all. In fact, January 1, 2000 is not the beginning of anything, except another new year. The first day of the 21st century will be January 1, 2001. The year 2000 has nothing to do with the 21st century or the third millennium. People just do not care. They are going to celebrate it anyway. It’s a nice round number. We like round numbers.
On the White House web site, the U.S. Naval Observatory is quoted as the authority for when the next century begins. Also in agreement is the Royal Greenwich Observatory in Cambridge, England. Check it out in "The World Almanac." The next century and next millennium start on January 1, 2001.
There was no year 0. The first year of our era was 1 A.D. You have to complete 100 years to complete a century. You have to complete 1,000 years to complete a millennium. It’s just like money. It takes the hundredth penny to complete the dollar. You have not started on your second dollar until you have 101 pennies. It takes the hundredth year to complete a century, the 1,000th year to complete a millennium. The year 2000 is the end, not the beginning.
What is the year 2000 A.D.? It is a reminder that, 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ came from outer space to visit planet earth. Most of world, in its civil calendars, accepts the date of His arrival as the turning point in history. All time before His arrival is B.C. (before Christ). All time after His arrival is A.D. (anno Domini; Latin for "in the year of our Lord").
There are people who do not at all like this recognition of Jesus. Therefore, since they feel forced to use the same numbers, they change the names of the eras. They change A.D. to C.E. (Common Era). They change B.C. to B.C.E. (before the Common Era). You will notice this, not only in secular sources, but also in writings of such religious groups as the Jews and the "Jehovah’s Witnesses." They cannot bear to give the glory to Christ. Therefore, they change "Christ" to "common"!
THE 21ST CENTURY HAS ALREADY STARTED
The year 2000 A.D. will be 2000 years since Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem of Judea. Not exactly. In the sixth century A.D., a learned Roman monk named Dionysius Exiguus ("Dennis the Little") devised a plan for a new calendar. He proposed revolving the calendar around the birth of Jesus. Before that, years were reckoned from the founding of Rome. Dionysius’ idea was a worthy one; and he had the qualifications necessary to convert his plan into reality. He was a master of math, astronomy and chronology. However, he was not perfect.
Many years later, it was discovered that Dionysius had made an error. He had calculated that Jesus was born in the year 754 A.U.C. (from the founding of Rome). In fact, Jesus was born several years before that. But by the time the error was discovered, it was too late. The new calendar was too well established to make the change. The error has stuck to this day.
In a study of Bible chronology, therefore, it becomes necessary to explain to students that Christ was born four to six years "before Christ" (B.C.). How do we know that this is so? The major determining factor is a historical fact recorded in the Gospels. King Herod (Herod the Great) killed all the babies in Bethlehem, thus attempting to assassinate baby King Jesus. Joseph, warned by God in a dream, escaped with Jesus and Mary into Egypt. They stayed there until Herod died.
Stated simply, Jesus was born before Herod died. When did Herod die? From historical evidence, scholars usually place his death in 4 B.C. (750 A.U.C.). How long before that was Jesus born? No one knows. Educated guesses range from a few months to two years. Thus, according to our present calendar, Jesus was born somewhere between 6 and 4 B.C. Scholars do not have enough information to fix the exact year, much less the month and the day.
Had Dionysius calculated things correctly, we would now be in the year 2002, 2003, or 2004. If we start counting at the birth of Jesus (as our present calendar intended to do), we are already in the 21st century! We missed the celebration a few years ago, around 1995!
If you figure one way, the 21st century already started around the year 1995. If you figure the other way, the 21st century will not start until January 1, 2001. Any way you figure it, the year 2000 is just a nice round number. It’s like when your car’s odometer turns over from 99,999.9 to 100,000. The car is no different one mile after than it was one mile before; but it seems like a momentous event. You want to see it turn over with your own eyes. So with the year 2000. We like to give it some mystical significance.
The coming event is irresistible to many persons. It is common to see depictions of "Father Time" at the end of each year, along with the arrival of the "baby new year." What, then, must be the import of the end of a century and the beginning of another? What, the end of a millennium and the beginning of another?
IS THIS THE TIME FOR RESOLUTIONS?
New Year’s resolutions are famous (infamous) for being nothing more than wishful thinking. A tradition, a custom, a whim of the moment. A recent "Readers’ Digest" article acknowledged the near universal failure to keep New Year’s resolutions. It then suggested that the value of resolutions is not in keeping them, but in making them. Come again??
Imagine the resolutions that people can invent to fit a new decade, a new century, a new millennium! Made to be broken. Forget for the moment, resolutions for a new millennium, a new century or a new decade. What about the simple matter of resolutions for each New Year? What is the problem with them? Why are they so seldom, if ever, kept?
Are not New Year’s resolutions an attempted secular solution to a spiritual problem? Man is weak. We all need renewal much more often than once a year. That’s why Christians gather at the Lord’s table every Lord’s Day: 52 times a year, to do a self-examination and to make resolutions. The new year or new century is not the time to look back and look forward. The weekly Lord’s table is the time to look back and look forward. We look back to His death. We look forward to His second coming (1 Corinthians 11:26). We look back to our failures of the week, our weaknesses and sins. We examine ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:28-32). The natural result of this is then to look forward to doing a better job in the week ahead.
It is not the beginning of a new millennium that should be special to us. Not the beginning of a new century. Not even the beginning of a new year. Each of those is too large a segment of time for the frail human being to deal with. Rather, it is the beginning of each new week that should be special to us! The first day of each week is the Lord’s Day, the day He had a new start by coming triumphantly out of the tomb. We need to start each week with the Lord. The "work-week" may start on Monday; but the real week starts on Sunday. One week at a time is much easier for us to manage than one year. Forget about a century or a millennium.
The next millennium is not important. The next century is not important. Next year is not important. Next Sunday is what is important! Where will you be? What will you be doing? It will be time for serious reflection regarding the previous week. It will be time for some "New Week’s resolutions." It will be time to move a little closer to the Creator and His blessed Son, Jesus Christ. It will be the end of an old week with its failures. It will be the beginning of a new week, with its promise of living just a little better.
(Scripture in the preceding article is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)
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