"Book your mountain top while there's still time," the soothsayer says. "You may find them in increasingly short supply as we draw near A.D. 2000."
Millennial madness. It swept across the world at near-epidemic levels just prior to A.D. 1000, and we will no doubt witness much of the same as we approach the turn of the second millennium. Some are predicting imminent doom, others a glorious utopia. Either way, millennial madness is on the rise and will almost certainly afflict a significant share of humanity over the next decade.
Millennial Madness: Act 1. Just before A.D. 1000, many believed the end was near. To prepare for the end, "men forgave their neighbors' debts, people confessed their infidelities and wrongdoings. The churches were besieged by crowds demanding confession and absolution. Prisoners were freed yet many remained wishing to expiate their sins before the end."
As Christmas (A.D. 999) arrived, there was an outpouring of love. Stores gave away food; merchants refused payment. On December 31 the frenzy reached new heights. Pope Sylvester II held a midnight mass in the Basilica of St. Peter's in Rome. There was a standing-room-only audience - but the people weren't standing; they were on their knees.
After the mass had been said, a deathly silence fell over the congregation. Finally, as the clock uneventfully ticked past 12, church bells began ringing. Amid weeping and laughing, husbands and wives embraced. Friends exchanged "the kiss of peace." Enemies were reconciled.
But life soon resumed its normal rhythm. "Merchants ceased giving away their goods. Prisoners were captured to be placed back in the slammer. Debts were remembered. And life went on as if nothing happened."
Millennial Madness: Act 2. Now it's our turn. There are growing signs that we are in for a similar outbreak of mass hysteria as we approach A.D. 2000.
New Agers are representative of those who look for a utopia. Ken Carey, author of several New Age handbooks, envisions A.D. 2000 as a kind of psychic watershed, beyond which lies "a realizable utopian society." David Spangler agrees, noting that the Mayan and Aztec civilizations believed that a "cycle of dark ages" would end before A.D. 2000; following this, a New Age of harmony and wholeness will emerge.
Other soothsayers have predicted doom. Shortly before his death in 1961, Carl G. Jung had a series of visions and saw worldwide catastrophe prior to A.D. 2010. In recent months, Elizabeth Clare Prophet of the Church Universal and Triumphant has been saying that an "Ascended Master" has informed her that catastrophe awaits the world. She says Russia is about to invade the U.S. and thus has directed her followers to build large bomb shelters to house the faithful.
Millennial madness has grievously afflicted some who write about the Rapture and/or second coming of Christ. Prophecy teacher Mary Stewart Relfe claimed she received revelations indicating the Second Coming will occur in 1997. Lester Sumrall said in his book, I Predict 2000 A.D.: "I predict the absolute fulness of man's operation on planet Earth by the year 2000 A.D. Then Jesus Christ shall reign from Jerusalem for 1000 years."
We have witnessed only the beginning of millennial madness for the coming decade. As one observer has commented, the approach of the year 2000 will undoubtedly bring "a synergistic climb toward panic" that will produce social effects that are both "substantial" and "potentially dangerous."
I can think of eight reasons Christians should maintain millennial sanity in the coming years. First, over the past 2,000 years, the track record of those who have predicted and/or expected "the end" has been 100 percent wrong. The history of doomsday predictions is little more than a history of dashed expectations. Though it is possible we are living in the last days, it is also possible that Christ's second coming is a long way off.
Second, those who succumb to millennial madness may end up making harmful decisions for their lives. Selling one's possessions and heading for the mountains, purchasing bomb shelters, stopping education, leaving family and friends - these are destructive actions that can ruin one's life.
Third, Christians who succumb to millennial madness (for example, by expecting the rapture to occur by a specific date) may end up damaging their faith in the Bible (especially prophecy) when their expectations fail.
Fourth, if one loses confidence in the prophetic portions of Scripture, biblical prophecy ceases to be a motivation to purity and holiness in daily life (see, e.g., Titus 2:12-14).
Fifth, Christians who succumb to millennial madness may damage the faith of new and/or immature believers when predicted events fail to materialize.
Sixth, millennial soothsayers tend to be sensationalistic, and sensationalism is unbefitting to a Christian. Christ calls His followers to live soberly and alertly as they await His coming (Mark 13:32-37).
Seventh, Christians who get caught up in millennial madness can do damage to the cause of Christ. Humanists enjoy scorning Christians who have put stock in end-time predictions (especially when specific dates have been attached to specific events). Why give "ammo" to the enemies of Christianity?
Eighth, the timing of end-time events is in God's hands, and we haven't been given the details (Acts 1:7). As far as the Second Coming is concerned, I close with the sound advice of David Lewis: "It is better to live as if Jesus were coming today and yet prepare for the future as if He were not coming for a long time. Then you are ready for time and eternity."
1 Frederick Marten, The Story of Human Life and Doomsday, summarized in Critique, June-September 1989, 65.
3 Bill Lawren, "Are You Ready for Millennial Fever?" Utne Reader, March/ April 1990, 96.
4 Emergence, Dell, 1984, 19.
5 Economic Advisor, 28 Feb. 1983.
6 LeSEA, 1987, 74.
7 James Oberg, quoted by Lawren, 97.
8 Prophecy Intelligence Digest 6, no. 3, 3.
(An article from the Viewpoint column of the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1990, page 39)
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