Millennial Madness, Millennial Peace

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2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

Note: This message was preached on December 26, 1999 – five days before Y2K was scheduled to hit on January 1, 2000.

INTRODUCTION: Y2K is fast approaching, and although I’ve had plenty of conversations about it, this is my first public address on Y2K. And not a Sunday too soon! I figured I better speak while I can! Y2K stands for “Year Two Thousand” which is now only five and a half days away. And with the advent of Year Two Thousand has come a rush of what I like to call “Millennial Madness” – a whole series of rash doomsday predictions concerning the breakdown of the economy, the return of Jesus Christ, and the end of the world.

There are actually several issues involved here:

  1. First of all, in popular understanding it is the turn of a century. It is not really, but we’ll look at that in a moment. Because we tend to measure our history in centuries, the turn of a century seems a momentous occasion to many people.
  2. Secondly, not only is it the turn of a century, but it is the beginning of a new millennium – for the first time in a thousand years nonetheless! This has become an issue because the Bible speaks about “the millennium” in the context of the end of the world, and so people have wondered how that all ties in with Year Two Thousand.
  3. On top of all that, we have a computer problem, affectionately known as the Y2K bug. There is the potential for some computers to misinterpret the year 2000 as the year 1900, and there is a question as to how this may affect various computer functions. All this means that there has been an incredible amount of interest about the coming year’s date change, so much so that we have even coined a term for it – hence Y2K.

There are different attitudes towards Y2K. Some are humorous. Bill May asks, “Will the year 2000 VW Beetle be known as the Y2K Bug?” Or the jewelry billboard which said: “Live each millennium as if it were your last.” Others are more serious. Computer programmers are working hard to fix real problems. Recent terrorist plots have been uncovered.

Hollywood has jumped on the bandwagon with end of the world thrillers such as Arnold Swarzenegger’s “End of Days.” Even my garbage service is in on the act! I got a brochure from them the other day titled: “Trash Times 2000 — a complete Solid Waste and Recycling Manual for the New Millennium!” For the past year we have heard varying predictions concerning the severity of Y2K, ranging from minor inconveniences to nuclear meltdown.

So what should the Christian’s response be to Y2K? Over the past year Christians have responded in many ways. Some have ignored it altogether while others have sounded the alarm. Some have made no preparations while others have stockpiled food and supplies. Some have even purchased guns and made plans to secure their homes. How should we as Christians respond to an event such as Y2K? Should we give in to the millennial madness that seems to have gripped so many? Should we be preaching and expecting the end of the world in five and a half days?

The Thessalonians in Paul’s day were dealing with a similar issue. Apparently some people had been preaching that the Day of the Lord had already arrived, and the Thessalonians were panicking. No Y2K bug, but the Thessalonians were experiencing some of the same millennial madness that has struck so many today. “It’s the end of the world – all over again!”

Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians is just what we need to hear today. And his words make it clear that whatever a Christian’s response should be to Y2K, it should not be one of fear. Look at 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 with me.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 – 1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.

Paul says, “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we should not become easily unsettled or alarmed.” The word “coming” here refers to the second coming of Christ, that time when Christ will return as promised to deliver his people and bring judgment upon the world. Paul equates this “coming” of Christ with the Old Testament concept of “the Day of the Lord,” also God’s day of judgment and deliverance.

We just finished celebrating Christmas, what we often refer to as Christ’s first coming. Interestingly, the Bible never actually uses the phrase “the second coming of Christ.” The first time we see the phrase “the second coming” in writing is about 110 A.D. in the writings of Justin Martyr. The Bible more commonly speaks of it as Paul does here, simply as “the coming of the Lord.”

The word for “coming” here in Greek is a technical word. It was used for the visit of a king or an emperor, or even the appearance of a god. In other words this spoke of a spectacular event, not just someone coming over for dinner.

Notice Paul also describes this event as the time when we will be “gathered to him,” that is, gathered to Christ. The word translated “gathered” is related to the word “synagogue,” a word which actually means to gather together. And so when Christ returns, he will gather up his people from the four corners of the earth. We shall be gathered together “to him,” in his presence. We will be having a worship service in the sky!

Now concerning this event, Paul says, “Don’t be alarmed! Don’t be easily unsettled! Don’t give in to fear due to the predictions of others about this event!” He speaks of a “prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.” Paul says, “Don’t listen to the doomsday predictions of others! And whatever you do, don’t give in to fear!”

Isn’t that precisely what so many of us in the Christian community have done this past year in anticipation of Y2K? We have given in to fear. When Paul says, “Don’t become easily unsettled,” the verb means literally “to be shaken in your mind.” Paul is really saying, “Don’t get caught up in a sudden fervor or excitement about this. Don’t give in to shock. Don’t panic! Look at the events around you soberly and seriously. Keep your mind stayed on Jesus Christ.” That’s good advice!

He goes on to say, “Don’t be alarmed!” This verb means “to be disturbed or inwardly frightened.” It speaks of a continued state of inner agitation and turmoil. Paul says, “Don’t worry or fret about this.” The first term has to do with sudden shock or panic; this second term has to do with long term anxiety, that long slow burn that eats you up from within. As we approach Y2K, how many of you have become easily unsettled by this issue? How many of you have been alarmed or worried, anxious in your thoughts? Paul says, “Don’t give in to it. Don’t get caught up in sudden fervor. Don’t give yourself over to anxious worry.”

Paul gives the Thessalonians three reasons why they should not give in to panic or anxiety when others are predicting the end of the world. They are three good reasons for us to remember also as we approach Y2K. Paul says:

  1. The rebellion and the man of lawlessness must come first.
  2. There will always be false prophets and predictions about the end.
  3. Christ’s return will bring judgment for the world, but glory for believers.

Let’s look at each of these three reasons in turn.

I. The man of lawlessness must come first.

Paul says in verse 3, “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3)

We don’t have time today to do an in-depth study concerning this “man of lawlessness.” Suffice it to say he shows up in Scripture a number of times. He is connected with the abomination of desolation in the gospels and in the book of Daniel. He is the beast in the book of Revelation, the antichrist throughout much of Scripture.

Much speculation has occurred through the ages as to the identity of this man. Early Christians identified Emperor Nero as the anti-Christ. In the 1500’s many of the Reformers thought the papacy was the anti-Christ. Other contenders throughout history have included various emperors, popes, Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, Anwar Sadat, Henry Kissinger, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, Sun Myung Moon, Saddam Hussein, Bill and/or Hillary Clinton. And that’s just the short list! Someone not too long ago even nominated a certain singing, purple dinosaur, but we won’t go there!

In 1 John 2:18 we read this: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” John goes on to speak of “the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” This has led some to believe that the antichrist is not an individual at all, but rather the general spirit of lawlessness and anti-God sentiment which exists in the world and which is personified in various individuals throughout history.

We really don’t know. And for that matter, neither did the Thessalonians. Paul tells them that the man of lawlessness had not yet been revealed, but when Christ returned, not only would he be revealed, but he would be destroyed by the splendor of Christ’s coming.

Don’t be alarmed. Don’t be easily unsettled. Don’t give in to needless speculation about the identity of the antichrist. (“Is he alive? Is he in the world today? Are we living in the end times?”) Maybe. Maybe not. Don’t worry about it. God will take care of the antichrist. He is a man doomed to destruction, and the very act of Christ’s return will reveal him for who he is and wipe him off the map. You don’t need to be afraid.

II. There will always be false prophets and predictions about the end.

A second reason Paul says not to fear is that there will always be false prophets and predictions about the end. Paul speaks of people spreading false reports about Christ having already come. He says, “Don’t be shaken by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us.” Jesus said something similar in Matthew 24:23-25: “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect — if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.”

Jesus went on to say, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36) Four times in the book of Matthew Jesus said, “You will not know the time of my coming.” In Acts 1:7 he told his disciples, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” In Revelation 3:3 Jesus says, “You will not know at what time I will come to you.”

Multiple times the Scriptures tell us that the day of Christ will come suddenly, unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. And yet, ironically enough, throughout the history of the church people have delighted in date setting. And so we have a whole rash of predictions surrounding the date change from 1999 to 2000.

Much of this has to do with the perception that we are entering a new millennium. What people don’t realize is that when the Bible speaks about “the millennium” it has absolutely nothing to do with the year two thousand. We’ll talk about the Biblical millennium in a moment, but first let’s clear away some of the confusion about the year two thousand.

First of all, the new millennium (and the new century for that matter) doesn’t technically begin until January 1, 2001. So this isn’t the beginning of the new millennium at all. Tune in same time, next year.

Secondly, we need to remember that our current calendar, the Julian calendar, is only one of many calendars in use. There are lunar calendars based on observations of the moon, solar calendars based solely on the movement of the earth around the sun, and calendars which combine the two. Some cultures have measured time by the reigns of their kings, and different calendars have different reference points. Our year 2000 on the Christian calendar is the year 1420 on the Islamic calendar, the year 4698 in the Chinese calendar, and the year 5760 on the Hebrew calendar. One rabbi jokes that the Jews dealt with their Y2K problem 3760 years ago!

The Julian calendar which we use was developed in 46 B.C. and was not tied in with Christ’s birth until centuries later. In 525 A.D. a Roman monk named Dionysius Exiguus set the birth of Jesus as year 1 A.D., anno domini, “in the year of our Lord.” Later on, the years before this were re-labeled as B.C., “before Christ.” Unfortunately, Dionysius goofed and our whole calendar is actually off by several years. Jesus was actually born about four or five years B.C. So if you’re basing Y2K predictions on 2000 years after the birth of Christ, you already missed it. That Y2K came and went back in 1996. We need to realize that our calendar is in many ways an artificial and arbitrary system and should not be used for making predictions about Biblical events.

Others have based their doomsday predictions, however, not due to an arbitrary date but due to the computer problem we mentioned earlier, the Y2K Bug. By blending together various doomsday scenarios with some precarious date setting, they have predicted all manner of catastrophes for the New Year.

The fact of the matter is that most experts don’t expect great upheaval from Y2K. Yes, it has been a real problem and has taken real dollars and real man hours to fix, but by and large it has been a manageable problem. Even those who one year ago were predicting dire consequences have now greatly softened their approach. The power grid seems stable, banks are ready, water and transportation systems are prepared. Very few consumer electronics are vulnerable to Y2K. Thousands have been tested with few problems, and the problems encountered were not severe. So in all likelihood you will wake up on January 1, 2000 to a world very similar to the one you experienced on December 31, 1999.

But let’s pause a minute and ask the question. What if the Y2K bug really did bite hard? What if power and transportation and banking really were affected? Would buying guns and stockpiling food really be the right answer then? Pastor and author Steve Brown said over the summer that he wasn’t very worried about Y2K, and so he wasn’t making any big plans, but he said if he was wrong, would you please share some food with him and his family rather than shoot him?

I keep thinking back to what I heard Pastor John Piper say earlier in the year. He said, “Do you want to know what’s going to happen on January 1, 2000? I’ll tell you what. Nothing. Nothing is going to happen. Nothing is going to happen in the United States that is not already happening in Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda . . .” And he began to list countries in need around the world. And you have to think, have we been so self-centered in the United States wondering how Y2K might possibly affect our future, that we have ignored the very real and present needs of other real people around the world?

What about the millennium in the Bible? Doesn’t the Bible speak about the millennium? Yes, it does, but the millennium in the Bible has nothing to do with an arbitrary date chosen from an artificial calendar.

The book of Revelation speaks of a thousand year period during which Jesus Christ rules over the world in such a way that Satan’s power to deceive the nations is bound. Some people believe the thousand years are literal; others believe they are symbolic. Some people believe the Biblical millennium is present; others believe it is future. Some believe Christ will return before the millennium; others believe he will return after the millennium.

However, all agree that the Biblical millennium is a picture of victory, not defeat; peace, not madness. So even if January 1, 2000 did launch the millennium, as Christians we should not be afraid but rather rejoicing. Christ is King! God rules the nations! We are safe and secure in him.

What should we make of all the predictions concerning Christ returning in January 2000? First of all, remember that Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour. It is not for us to know the times and the seasons set by the Father. Second, realize that this date setting is nothing new. It has been going on since the beginning of the church. The Thessalonians had encountered date setters; Paul told them not to be alarmed.

Many dates have been predicted for Christ’s return, and they have all had a remarkable 100% failure rate. People believed Christ might return in the year 1260, basing it on the 1260 days of Revelation. The Taborites predicted Christ would return in 1420.

Self-proclaimed Messiahs have shown up all throughout church history – people like Shabbetai Zevi who proclaimed himself Messiah in 1665. Excitement spread throughout the Jewish communities of Europe and the Middle East as he announced that on June 18, 1666 he would depose the Turkish Sultan and redeem the Jewish people. Shabbetai caused such a stir that even many Christians in Europe began to teach that Christ would return in 1666. Shabbetai failed to deliver on his promises, however. When he arrived at the Sultan’s palace, the Sultan easily disarmed him and gave him a choice – convert to Islam or be executed. Shabbetai promptly converted, and the Sultan spared his life.

Other famous dates predicted for Christ’s return include 1843 by William Miller, the Founder of Adventism. When that didn’t work, the Millerites, as they were called, re-set the date for October 22, 1844. They were so confident that Christ would return that many failed to plant crops that spring. Merchants closed their stores and even gave their goods away. But Christ did not come in 1844.

Two offshoots from the Millerites are the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been notorious for date setting. They set the following dates for Christ’s return – 1873, 1874, 1878 and 1914 – each time revising the new date when the old date passed and failed. Later dates included 1925, 1941, 1954 and 1975.

Sadly the Evangelical Church has also dabbled in date setting. Maybe some of you remember Edgar Whisenant’s book eleven years ago titled, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. He set the date for sometime between September 11-13, 1988. The book sold over 2 million copies and became a runaway best seller. The book had such an impact that Paul and Jan Crouch of Trinity Broadcasting Network cancelled their regular “Praise the Lord” series and ran pre-recorded broadcasts the nights of September 11-13 explaining the rapture to those left behind.

The most recent famous date set was by Harold Camping, a radio preacher and president of Family Radio Inc. Camping tentatively set the date September 6, 1994 for the end of the world. After the 6th passed uneventfully, he subsequently set other dates – September 29, October 2, and finally March 31, 1995. Like we said before, all the date setters thus far have a 100% failure rate.

So what does this all mean? Just what Jesus said to begin with. No one knows the time when Christ will return. And so when you hear predictions and prophecies about these things, don’t become easily unsettled or alarmed. That day is in God’s keeping, and when the timing is right Christ will return.

III. Christ’s return will bring judgment for the world, but glory for believers.

And finally a third reason we should not panic when contemplating the end of the world is that Christ’s return will bring judgment for the world, but glory for believers. Remember, Paul said that the coming of our Lord Jesus means our being gathered to him. 2 Thessalonians 1:10 speaks of that day as “the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.”

Psalm 46:1-3 says: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” God is on his throne and instructs his people, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

When Jesus taught his disciples about his coming and the end of the world he told them not to be afraid. When Paul taught the Thessalonians he told them the same thing, “Don’t be easily unsettled. Don’t be alarmed. We are going to be with Jesus.”

CONCLUSION: So there are three good reasons from 2 Thessalonians not to panic on December 31, 1999. First, the man of lawlessness has yet to be revealed, and when he is, he shall be destroyed by Christ at his coming. Secondly, there will always be false prophets and predictions about the end of the world. Be wise! Don’t believe everything you hear. Thirdly, when Christ does return, if you are a believer, then lift up your head and rejoice! Yes, he is coming to judge the world, but he is coming to deliver his people and gather them to himself. You will know glory in his presence beyond your wildest dreams.

Make no mistake. Christ will return one day. He has promised to do so. That day will come suddenly, unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. But as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, “You, brothers are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you as a thief — Let us not be like others who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.”

What should the Christian’s attitude be in view of Christ’s return? Watching, waiting, working, but certainly not panicking. Don’t give into the millennial madness around you. Jesus offers you millennial peace instead. Will you receive it from him?

© Ray Fowler

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