Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

The Confusion of Calendars: The Meaning of the Millennial Change to Other Peoples

Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

The Confusion of Calendars: The Meaning of the Millennial Change to Other Peoples

Article excerpt

The arrival of the year 2000 is an event being greeted with great anticipation. The outpouring of books, essays, sermons, speeches, dramas, motion pictures, and television programs in the last years of the twentieth century has reached staggering proportions. No other topic in our times has quite seized the imagination of people in the same manner as this one has. We look to the new millennium with hope, but also with deep and profound apprehension. As one writer has keenly observed:

   For decades the phrase "by the end of the century" denoted something far
   distant. But it is distant no longer. Millennial predictions are
   proliferating with increasing speed as prognosticators try to get in under
   the wire. The Internet, that electronic jungle drum, vibrates to the beat
   of prophecy. (1)

In light of this fervor, it is interesting to note a comment made in the Atlantic Monthly in 1891: "What the last decade is to a century, the last century is to a millennium." (2) This suggests that the final decade of a century tends to define one's perception of that century and that we look forward to higher levels of achievement and greatness in the next one. The same would hold true with the last century of a millennium; it serves to define that time period as whole. The second millennium of the Christian era is no exception to that rule. The twentieth century capped a thousand years of material progress, the spread of Christianity throughout the entire world, and the development of a global society. But at the same time, during this century humankind developed the tools of its own destruction in the form of nuclear weapons, the pillage of the environment, and unchecked population growth.

Christians, Prophecy, and the New Millennium

For Christians, the transition to the new millennium takes on a special dimension because many of them have linked this to speculation about the "end times" and the return of Christ. In the twentieth century, an extraordinary amount of attention has been given to eschatological and apocalyptic speculation, and the quantity of literature and the intensity of preaching on these topics have increased dramatically during the final three decades. Christians of all stripes are deeply interested in the future and what it holds.

In fact, the number of Americans enthralled with biblical prophecies of the last days is growing by leaps and bounds. This goes beyond groups traditionally known for such concerns such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh--day Adventists, and millennialist Fundamentalists, and includes members of evangelical churches, "mainline" Protestant denominations, and Roman Catholics. This interest in the end times has found its way into American popular culture, as exemplified by such things as the bumper sticker that reads: "Warning: If the Rapture Occurs, This Car Will Be Driverless"; the Jack Chick tracts and comic books about the gathering darkness on the horizon that believers often leave on restaurant tables and in rest rooms; popular movies like The Omen, The Seventh Sign, Contact, and Armageddon; best-selling books like Michael Drosinin's The Bible Code, Stephen King's The Stand, and Clive Barker's The Great and Secret Show; TV shows like Fox's popular Millennium; and the plethora of Internet sites promoting prophetic and apocalyptic themes. Recent Gallup Polls reveal that 62 percent of Americans have no doubts that Jesus will return again, and 52 percent "are absolutely convinced" that they will be called before God at the judgment day to answer for their sins. (3) A poll in 1994 found that 16 percent think the world will end within the next 100 years, (4) while in 1991 some 15 percent were convinced that the Gulf War was the fulfillment of the prophecy of the final great Battle of Armageddon that would occur before the Judgment Day. (5)

There are basically two forms or approaches to prophecy found among those who are currently forecasting the end times. …

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