The New Millennium
Is there any hope? Three Viewpoints
What a difference a century makes! As we stand on the threshold of the 21st Century, the prevailing world attitude is radically different from what it was 100 years ago in 1899. At that time, the dominant attitude worldwide was one of great hope.
In the secular world, people looked to the 20th Century as one that would be characterized by peace, prosperity and progress. The Industrial Revolution had produced a sense of invincibility — the feeling that there was no problem Man could not conquer through modern science.
This euphoric attitude of hope also prevailed among spiritual people. All of Christendom was caught up in Postmillennialism, the belief that the Church would soon win the world to Christ, and the Millennium would begin, with the Church reigning over all the world for a thousand years. Then the Lord would come and the Church would present the glorious kingdom to Him.
This hopeful expectation dominated Christian thinking in 1899. Let me give you two examples of it. One of the American spiritual leaders of the 19th Century was Alexander Campbell. He founded the Restoration Movement which ultimately produced the Disciples of Christ, the Churches of Christ, and the Independent Christian Churches. The monthly journal that he published was entitled "The Millennial Harbinger." He named it that because he felt like he was living on the threshold of the millennium. His movement produced another journal, founded in 1884, called "The Christian Century." It is the oldest continually published Christian journal to this day. It is still published under that name even though the 20th Century did not prove to be the Christian Century.
This great hope for the 20th Century, both secular and spiritual, was based upon a belief in the inevitable progress of Mankind. That hope was quickly and brutally dashed with the onset of World War I. Then came the Great Depression, followed by World War II. By mid-century, the 20th Century had already proved to be the most devastating period of human history. More people had died in the first 50 years from war than had died in all the previous wars in human history! And to add to the suffering, totalitarianism had come into full bloom, resulting in hundreds of millions enslaved to political barbarism.
Today, as the 20th Century comes to an end, the hope of 1899 has been replaced with cynicism and despair.
During the 20th Century, modern science intensified our problems rather than solving them. We learned that giant leaps in technology are not beneficial if they are in the hands of moral pygmies.
Education also failed to alleviate human suffering. Safe sex is no substitute for moral sex. The great classics of literature are no match for the Ten Commandments. The arrogance of Man is no solution for the depravity of Man.
Spiritually, Christianity went on the defensive due to the triumph of Humanism in the West and the revival of Islam in the East. And Christianity has been weakened from within by the spread of liberalism with its renunciation of the inerrancy of the Bible and its denial of the fundamentals of the faith.
Postmillennialism, with its hopeful expectations, died almost overnight during World War I, because the horrors of that war made it no longer possible to believe in the inevitable progress of Mankind.
An Atmosphere of Despair
Today, as we stand on the threshold of a new century, the prevailing attitude worldwide is not one of hope. We can look back at a century that has been ruthless politically and has been characterized by the triumph of paganism spiritually. We now live in a post-Christian age. Humanism and Secularism have triumphed in America and Western Europe. Moral values have been cast aside and our god has become money.
The result is a world wallowing in Spiritual darkness — manifested by gross apostasy in the Church and the collapse of civilization into a morass of anarchy. Everywhere we look, we see increasing violence and immorality as people's hearts are focused upon rebellion against God.
The prevailing atmosphere is one of hopelessness. People live in fear:
- Fear of war and terrorism
- Fear of diseases like AIDS
- Fear of violence in schools, the workplace, and even places of worship
- Fear of natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes
- Fear of financial collapse
- Fear of sexual predators
- Fear of life and fear of death
And increasingly, people are asking, "Is there really any hope?" I think it is interesting that the Atlanta stock trading murderer left a note in which he said: "I have lost all hope."
Even spiritual people are asking, as never before:
"Is God ignoring evil?"
"Is He oblivious to what is taking place?"
"Why doesn't He intervene and put a stop to the growth of evil?"
"Does God care?"
"What on earth is God doing?"
Well, I rejoice to inform you that God answered all those questions 3,000 years ago in a short and powerful poem that He gave to a shepherd boy. And that poem promises great hope — the only hope the world has — as we stand on the threshold of the 21st Century.
Let's look at it — Psalm 2.
A Poem of Hope
The poem begins by affirming that all the nations of the world are in rebellion against God, and it says that the political leaders of the world are constantly plotting against God and His Anointed One, His Son, Jesus (verses 1-3). But the poem says that God has not despaired. Rather, it says in verse 4 that He "sits in the heavens and laughs"! In other words, He is sitting on His throne mocking the rebellious leaders and their nations.
Is He laughing because He does not care? Not at all. He cares very much, for He is a personal God who loves His creation.
His laughter is not prompted by a lack of concern. No, He is laughing because He has all of history under His control. He is laughing because He has the wisdom and the power to orchestrate all the evil of Mankind to the triumph of His Son, Jesus.
He is laughing because He has the nations and their leaders in derision (verse 4). That means He can take all their rebellion and work it together for good to accomplish His purposes in history — just as He took the evil of the Cross and turned it into something beautiful and glorious through the power of the Resurrection.
He is laughing because He "has appointed a day" (verse 5) — a day of judgment when all the evil of the world will be dealt with justly.
And He is laughing because He has made a promise to His Son that one day He will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords (verses 6-8).
It is comforting to me to think of God sitting on His throne laughing at the pip-squeak political leaders of this world. The image gives me hope as we face the new millennium.
Signs of Hope
My hope is further strengthened when I look around me and see signs everywhere that Jesus is returning soon. One hundred years ago there were no signs of the Lord's soon return. The Christian hope of the 1890's was a false hope for it was a hope that had been placed in the Church rather than the Lord of the Church.
The Christian hope of today is a valid hope. It is a hope that is focused upon a person rather than an institution. It is a hope that the Lord Jesus will return any moment and begin to reign.
That hope is based not upon wishful thinking but upon evidence — firm evidence that we refer to as the signs of the times. Whereas 100 years ago there were no signs, today they can be found everywhere. It's as if the whole of creation is shouting in unison, "Jesus is coming soon!"
It all began on November 2, 1917, when the British government issued the Balfour Declaration. That momentous document declared that the British would prepare Palestine to become a homeland for the Jewish people.
The leading evangelical spokesman in London at the time was F.B. Meyer. He immediately recognized the prophetic significance of the Balfour Declaration. He responded to it by sending out an invitation to evangelical leaders in England to meet with him on December 13th to discuss the document's spiritual implications. On December 11th, General Allenby liberated Jerusalem from 400 years of Turkish oppression. The road to Zion was being opened to the Jews.
When Meyer's meeting convened two days later on December 13th, there was a great sense of God moving sovereignly in history to fulfill promises He had made thousands of years ago. One of the speakers that day was Dr. G. Campbell Morgan. He proclaimed, "We all feel today that never in the history of the Church have the signs seemed so definitely to point to the fulfilling of Gentile times as they do today. Our loins should be girt about and our lamps should be burning. We should be occupying until He comes."
Those who assembled that day were the who's who of the evangelical movement in England. They decided to form an organization called The Advent Testimony Movement whose purpose would be to proclaim the Lord's soon return, urging Christians to evangelize the lost and commit themselves to holiness. The organization adopted a manifesto that contained seven points:
- The signs of the times point toward the close of the times of the Gentiles.
- The return of our Lord may be expected at any moment when He will be manifested as evidently as to His disciples on the evening of His resurrection.
- The completed Church will be translated to meet the Lord in the air, and to be forever with the Lord.
- Israel will be restored to their own land in unbelief, and be afterwards converted by the manifestation of Christ as their Messiah.
- All human schemes of world-reconstruction must be subsidiary to the Lord when all nations will be subject to His rule.
- Under the reign of Christ there will be a further effusion of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh.
- The truths embodied in this statement are of the utmost practical value in determining Christian character and action with reference to the pressing problems of the hour.
With this manifesto as a foundation, that organization went forth and began to proclaim the imminent return of the Lord in conferences held all over England, Europe, America, and the British Empire. The organization still exists today, known as The Prophetic Witness Movement International. Its efforts have spawned hundreds of other ministries around the world that are today proclaiming the same message.
But since those exhilarating days in 1917, many other equally significant and exciting events have occurred that have increased the fever pitch of expectation of the Lord's return. The nation of Israel has been re-established (May 14, 1948). The city of Jerusalem has been reoccupied by the Jews (June 7, 1967). The Arab nations have come against Israel (the wars of 1948, 1967, 1973, 1981, and 1991). And all the nations of the world are now turning against Israel over the issue of Jerusalem. Europe is reuniting and Russia is threatening the Middle East.
In short, all the pieces of the end time prophetic puzzle are in place for the first time ever, and the message is clear: Jesus is returning soon! He is at the very gates of Heaven awaiting His Father's command. We are living on borrowed time. We should be listening for sounds rather than looking for signs. And we should be facing the new millennium with expectant hope.
Wow! We are just a few months away from the turn of the century, the New Millennium, a term we have heard so many times now. The last year of this century, 1999, has been a year that will be remembered for many troubles! Not only have there been so many natural disasters, but there is a moral rot that has set in all over the world, especially in the West.
As current events have us rocking and reeling, fear is starting to grip the hearts of many, and they have started asking questions. What will happen next? Where will the next shooting be? What problems will Y2K produce? Where will the next earthquake occur? Will I or my family be involved? What will be the nature of the next scandal, and who will be involved?
A growing number of people are also asking the question: Is there any hope for this world? They wonder if conditions will improve during the new millennium. From God's perspective, the answer to this question is an emphatic, yes! But, the improved conditions that God has in mind hinge on the return of His dear Son! God has never wanted Man to hope in anything else.
As we start into the new millennium, the hope of Jesus' return is more probable than ever because Jesus, speaking of current events such as the ones we face today said, "But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because, your redemption is drawing near" (Luke 21:28).
Why is the return of Jesus such a great hope? The answer is that the Bible promises that when Jesus returns, things on earth will greatly improve. Let's examine some of these great promises.
Following Revelation 19, which describes the glorious return of Jesus, Chapter 20 declares that Satan will be bound for 1,000 years. Can you imagine a world no longer influenced by Satan, a world that is no longer influenced by his dark, evil ways? One immediate blessing the world will realize with Satan bound is there will be no more war.
Think of a world that will no longer experience the horrors of war. Men and women will no longer lose their lives to an enemy's army simply because men want to rule over other men. No longer will the world live with the threat of nuclear holocaust or biological warfare. No longer will mothers be asked to send their sons and daughters off to war only to have them returned home in a box with a sympathy letter. Speaking of that day, Isaiah the prophet wrote, "... and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war" (Isaiah 2:4). These words are written on the cornerstone of the United Nations building in New York. When Jesus returns they will finally be realized. What a day it will be!
The politics of the world also will change drastically when Jesus returns. He will make Jerusalem the world's capitol, and He will rule over the whole world. The prophet Zechariah declared, "And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one" (Zechariah 14:9). The wisdom of Jesus will no longer be rejected. Instead, it will be embraced by the world's leaders. Speaking of this time, Micah wrote, "And it will come about in the last days that the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains... And many nations will come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us about His ways and that we may walk in His paths.' For from Zion will go forth the law, even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He will judge between many peoples and render decisions for mighty, distant nations..." (Micah 4:1-3).
Man has tried many forms of government in history, but never a theocracy, which is God ruling over man. Scripture indicates that this is exactly what Jesus will establish when He returns. The days of corrupt politics and scandal will finally be over! The righteousness of God will govern supreme over man. Isaiah wrote, "And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear; but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth" (Isaiah 11:3-4). Think of it. Jesus will run a government that is fair, one that is free from scandal, bribery, unfair taxes, injustice, and inequities. Wow!
The Millennial Earth
The Bible also indicates that when Jesus returns, the curse that this earth has been under since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, will be lifted. The earth itself will begin to bloom and blossom so that even the desert will no longer be parched and dry. "The wilderness and the desert will be glad, and the desert will rejoice and blossom like the crocus..." (Isaiah 35:1).
Longevity of life will return as in the days before the flood of Noah. "No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his days; for the youth will die at the age of one hundred and the one who does not reach the age of one hundred shall be thought accursed" (Isaiah 65:20).
The animal kingdom will be redeemed. Animals will no longer be enemies to Man or to each other. "And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze; their young will lie down together; and the lion will eat straw like the ox. And the nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper's den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain..." (Isaiah 11:6-9).
The Better Millennium
Two words are used six times in Revelation 20 describing this great time in which Jesus will rule when He returns. They are: "mille annum." They are translated "thousand years," or millennium. In other words, Jesus will rule for a millennium when He returns. As Mankind prepares to enter the new millennium, wouldn't it be great if Jesus would come and establish His!
Is there any hope for the new millennium? You bet there is! But that hope exists only for those who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior and believe in the future promises that rest in Him. A great time of distress is predicted in the Bible for those who refuse to do so. The Bible indicates that those who are not right with Jesus when He returns will be judged and only those in right standing will enter into His promises. If you are not right with Him today, you are gambling on borrowed time! Ask Him into your heart today. It will be the best preparation you can make for the new millennium.
"The gravity of the damage to the Titanic is apparent, but the important point is that she did not sink. Man is the weakest and most formidable creature on earth. His brain has within it the spirit of the divine, and he overcomes natural obstacles by thought, which is incomparably the greatest force in the universe." Wall Street Journal — April 16, 1912
The shocking news that the mighty Titanic had been involved in a catastrophe was such a blow to American industrial pride that it was not until the survivors came in on the overburdened Carpathia that some dared admit that the "unsinkable" ship had indeed gone down. While it might be considered admirable to always hope for the best, in the case of the Titanic, it was a hope based upon an illusion. With all the proud talk of man's formidable power of thought, the cold, raw power of a mountain of ice proved to be more than a match for the mammoth ship.
Hope, like the rain that falls on the just and the unjust, is one of those virtues that our Creator has liberally sprinkled over all His creation. Saints and sinners, weak and strong, simple and brilliant all tend to cling to hope until forced by the sometimes ugly face of reality to admit that all hope is gone.
Much of this world's hope is a fantasy. "Don't worry, it'll all work out," counsels a friend to a young woman whose marriage is on the rocks. One year later, divorced and looking for a job, it becomes apparent that it has not worked out after all.
Mega movie mogul Stephen Spielberg has stated, "I've always been full of hope... I have a lot of hope for this country and for the entire world in fixing itself." Stephen may know a lot about making thrilling movies, but he has little understanding of real life if he truly believes that.
As the people of God, Christians are not called to be unthinking optimists. It is not our job to go around with a "There, there, things will work out" posture. Our world has some very real problems, and most of them are of such stature as to be incurable by pious platitudes. Clearly things do not always work out. Broken families, murderous rampages in our nation's schools, and ever increasing degrees of sexual immorality reveal that, in many people's lives things are not "working out" at all.
The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But...
God is in the truth business. In the Psalms we read, "Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth." He never exaggerates. He neither understates the case nor overstates it. As we face the beginning of the third millennium after the birth of Jesus, He would not have us to hide our heads in the sand, spouting a "Christian" version of "I'm OK, You're OK." A lot of things today are most decidedly not OK.
There are some very real reasons to be concerned. A pastor was taking his sons to their school flag pole to pray at "See You At The Pole Day." One of his sons, aware of some of the acts of violence against Christians recently, asked his dad, "I wonder if anyone will bring a pipe bomb or try to shoot at us today?" While they prayed peacefully that morning, by that night the unthinkable had happened again. A lone gunman had invaded a youth rally in Forth Worth, Texas as they were worshiping the Lord, and killed seven before turning the gun on himself.
Behind the physical dangers and evils we constantly face, there is a greater spiritual danger. Ours is the first generation that has seriously attempted to do away with traditional morality. I am well aware that previous generations have had their share of immoral people and even leaders. But in the past, most societies have at least upheld morality as a concept, even if not living it as a lifestyle. Today we not only have broken the rules, we have decided that the rules never really existed at all.
Homosexuality is promoted by celebrities and politicians as a "sexual orientation." No longer do we call it an abomination, or even unnatural. It is an "orientation," something you were born with, having no more to do with individual choice than having blond hair or being tall. It seems insignificant to many that the Bible thoroughly condemns this "orientation" as an abomination.
In many other ways we disdain the traditional values that have guided us in past generations. Rock bands sing songs that glorify sex, violence, and even suicide as ten year old children sing along and wash their minds in degradation. Charley Manson T-shirts are selling in stores. Flattering books are written about the life of the perverse and corrupt Marquis De Sade. College students are so thoroughly trained in the art of tolerance that they cannot even condemn the Holocaust as evil. Ethics courses teach a relativistic view of morality that dismisses such things as good and evil, right and wrong. At best, certain behaviors are now labeled as appropriate or inappropriate.
We are not so much an immoral generation as we are an amoral generation. "Immoral" implies a willingness to break the rules; "amoral" recognizes no rules whatever.
In the midst of an ever darkening culture, one can fairly ask, "Is there any real reason for hope?" Every new decade brings forth record setting levels of corruption as the bar of decency is lowered further still. It is disheartening to think that thirty years from now, people in their fifties, sixties, and seventies, may look back to these days and consider them "the good old days" of decency and traditional values. Can you imagine someone saying about the nineties: "Things were so much simpler and more innocent then!"
Never, Never, Never, Never, Never... (Give up)
The Christian has a double dilemma when it comes to holding onto hope in the midst of an ever darkening world. Not only do our eyes and ears tell us that things are getting no better, our Bibles tell us that "In the last days perilous times will come" (2 Timothy 3:1). Throughout the Scriptures, fearful and alarming warnings are given to that generation that will live to hear the voice of the archangel and the sound of the trumpet as the Lord descends to gather His church.
Shall we, as Lyndon Johnson once remarked, (referring to how presidents must take the pressure of the office) "hunker down like a mule in a hailstorm?" This is, of course, what we who look for the Lord's return are accused of doing. While human logic might suggest such a possibility, God's wisdom commands otherwise.
God has not called His children to ever give up being the salt and the light of their generation. Though the prophecies predict terrible and wicked times on earth before Jesus returns, they also predict that God's Spirit will be poured out upon all flesh in the last days (Acts 2:17, Joel 2:28). Our job is to represent our God and His Son on earth. This includes His love, His truth, His moral laws, and the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not so foolish as to suppose that we are going to convert the whole world. Snatching souls from the fire is our business, usually one at a time. It may not make for revolutionary changes overnight, and may not even keep pace with the degree of evil in the world, but it is our business, and a good business it is. A single individual turned from darkness to light is worth more in God's economy than the wealth of the entire planet put together.
Reasons for Hope
There are some very real and very reasonable reasons for Christians to live in hope these days. These reasons are not anything especially deep. They are things every Christian knows (or should know), but we need to occasionally be reminded of them.
First, we can have hope because God is still on His throne. Yes, these are uncertain days and perilous times, but it is comforting to know that God has never yielded up His job as Ruler of the Cosmos. As Isaiah reported: "It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers. Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain... He brings the princes to nothing, He makes the judges of the earth useless" (Isaiah 40: 22,23).
God may allow man a long tether with which to practice his wickedness, but the day is coming when all wrongs will be made right and wicked men will be held accountable for "the deeds done while in the body." Meanwhile even the wicked are still subject to the sovereign control of God. Behind the chaos and confusion, the people of God are comforted by the knowledge that even sparrows don't dare die without God's permission. When the dust of the tribulation has cleared, and the angels have blown their trumpets and poured out their bowls of God's wrath, not one jot or tittle of God's prophetic declarations will have failed. Our God is an awesome God.
Second, we can find great hope in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is still at work in the world. The work of evangelism goes on. Sometimes, when I consider how weak and feeble most of our efforts at soul winning are, it seems a wonder that anybody ever gets saved. Yet God's grace prevails, and the church continues to grow.
In Africa there were ten million Christians in 1900. Today there are over three hundred million Christians on that continent. Charles Spurgeon reported in 1860 that their church in London was the second largest church in Christendom, with just over 4,000 members. Today most cities in the U. S. have several churches larger than that. While many of the liberal mainline denominations are decreasing and their churches are closing, there is an explosion of growth among evangelical churches with lively worship and Biblical preaching. Despite the world's mockery and the disdain of the culturally elite, the Holy Spirit keeps right on working, and sinners continue to be drawn into the kingdom of God.
Third, we take great hope in the certainty that our Savior has not left the earth forever. He declared, "I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself..." (John 14:2-3). Jesus is coming back soon!
He left us some signs to watch for. He told about great upheavals in nature, such as earthquakes, famines, and plagues. He spoke about widespread warfare and unrest among the nations. He predicted that lawlessness would increase, and people's love would grow cold. (Remember the chilling words of the Columbine killers, who laughed as they shot their fellow students and quipped, "I always wanted to know what this would feel like"?)
Jesus has guaranteed that He would not leave our world in chaos and misery forever. Though we have made this mess, He is coming to clean it up. With a powerful word from His mouth, He will banish the Antichrist and his followers to the outer darkness forever. With His saints He will preside over the universe's greatest cleanup operation. Nature shall cease her rebellion and come into subjection of the One who stills storms and commands fig trees. Jerusalem shall be made beautiful and become the joy of the whole earth, as she is honored by the presence of the great King of kings and Lord of lords.
These are exciting days in which to live. The shadow of the coming tribulation already covers the earth, but the promise of Jesus is sure: "Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near" (Luke 21:28).