Monday, June 25, 2012

When Will the Millennium Begin?

A new millennium began 12 years ago (technically, 11 years ago, for we usually start counting things with 1 not 0), according to the Common Era calendar. But when will the Millennium begin?
The Millennium, with a capital M, usually refers to the belief that Jesus Christ will literally return to earth and establish a victorious thousand year reign on earth. That belief is based on a literal interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6, the only place such an idea is mentioned in the New Testament. Literal belief in that passage is called millennialism.
Prophecies about the when the Millennium will begin have been many. One of the best known in recent years was Harold Camping’s prophecy that the End Times would begin on May 21, 2011. As some of you will remember, I prophesied on this blog (here) that Camping’s prophecy was wrong—and I was right.
Not nearly as well known are the declarations of Ronald Weinland, who identifies himself as “a minister in the Church of God.” Earlier this year he prophesied that the world as we know it would end last month, on May 27. Now, he is saying that “Jesus Christ will return on the final day of Pentecost 2013.”
An outrageous website with the address www.NowTheEndBegins.com doesn’t give an exact date, but links the end times to the U.S. presidential election this year, the election that, according to that site, pits “the Mormon vs. the Muslim.”
There has been talk about the beginning of the Millennium for a long time now. From soon after the death and resurrection of Jesus, some (most?) Christians seem to have believed that Jesus’ return to earth was imminent. (What they actually believed may have been distorted by later interpretation, though.) After Revelation was written, belief spread that Jesus would soon establish a victorious thousand year reign on earth.
There were some theologians in the early centuries of Christianity who espoused millennialism, although it was also declared heretical by some church groups. Around the year 1000 there was a flurry of millennialist ideas, as there was again in the first half of the sixteenth century in connection with the new emphasis on the Bible by the Reformers.
The Tailor-King: The Rise and Fall of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster (1999), a book I recently read, tells about the tragic and embarrassing (especially for those of us who identify with the Anabaptist tradition) story of misguided millennialism.
Anthony Arthur (1937-2009), the author, tells how some German Anabaptists came to believe strongly that “the time was imminent for the apocalyptic final battle between God and Satan. It would occur in the years 1534-1535: the place would be in northern Germany, in the small Westphalian city of Münster” (p. 3). (Münster is about 125 miles southeast of Amsterdam.)
Although Authur’s date is slightly different, most historians give June 25, 1535, as the final battle at Münster and the capture of Jan van Leyden, a tailor who had become “King of the Anabaptists” in September of the previous year. Jan was executed in January 1536, and the misguided ordeal was over.
Millennial fever was largely the cause of the debacle in Münster. But the Christians infected with that fever then misread the signs of the times. Similarly, the Christians who now talk about us living in the End Times, on the cusp of the Millennium, based on what is happening in the Near East (in Israel and in Iran) and/or in the United States are probably mistaken also.
In fact, the whole idea of a literal Millennium is most likely an erroneous one.

15 comments:

  1. Thinking Friend Thomas Howell had trouble posting his comments here, so he sent an e-mail asking me to post this for him:

    "Leroy here referenced what is for me one of the most unfortunate and, indeed, embarrassing practices within Christianity, that of predicting a specific date (day, year, end of decade, etc.) for the return of Christ and the end of the world, despite the Biblical statement that no man knows the day or the hour. This has resulted in debacle after debacle beginning with the Apostle Paul’s mistaken belief that the return would take place within the lifetime of Christians then living.

    "This trend continues through Munster, as Leroy notes, and, in America, through a variety of predictions involving William Miller, the Shakers, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the unfortunate Harold Camping, and so on. There are many, many more.

    "The problem for me is that this nonsense undermines the credibility of the entire Christian message for anyone who thinks. If Christians are so consistently and provably wrong about this why accept anything else they say as true?

    "If anyone wants a quick survey of false prophecies, here is a URL from Time Magazine: http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2072678_2072683_2072697,00.html

    "Or you could look at Steve Carell’s movie “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.”I don’t especially recommend it: it’s R rated and about an asteroid hitting Earth, not the return of Christ, but it is just as relevant as Roland Weinland, et al.

    "I hereby go on record as prophesying the world will not end in November (Mormon vs. Muslim election), December (Mayans), or May 27, 2013. No, I claim no divine revelation or Biblical support, Just betting the odds."

    ReplyDelete
  2. I also received an e-mail notice that Thinking Friend Anton Jacobs, who is currently in Japan, had posted a comment here--but since it wasn't I am posting what he wrote:

    "Nice piece, Leroy! Quite informative. I can't imagine, though, how you ever found Ronald Weinland and the NowTheEndBegins.com. You must have been trolling the internet for millennial hope. :-)"

    ReplyDelete
  3. This was very interesting!

    I'm surprised you didn't mention the "pre" versus "post" millennial controversy. My childhood theological environment was divided between the pre-millennialist and the post-millennialist. It seemed that all preachers needed to be one or the other.

    I have a fascination with the dirty linen from the history of my religious progenitors (e.g. Munster). It helps to keep me humble.
    My first thought on hearing about the difference in dating of the final battle was that it may have something to do with the switch from the Julian to Gregorian calendar. But since it occurred prior to 1582 it shouldn't be an issue. I know that historians have problems dating occurrences between 1582 to 1752 when both calendars were being used concurrently, with usage generally being split between Catholic and Protestant countries. (The Catholics were correct on the calendar issue.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Clif, thanks for posting your comments. You are correct, of course, that there used to be arguments between premillennialists and postmillennnialists, but as there are hardly any of the latter left, and as there is a limit to how much I can cover in one post, I chose not to say anything about postmillennialism. The division today is almost entirely between premillennialism, which is the position of almost all fundamentalists, and amillennialism, which is probably the position almost all moderate/liberal Christians and the position that I agree with.

      As an Anabaptist Christian, it has been hard to write about the battle of Frankenhausen last month and then about Münster today, but now that that's done, I can refer back to these as aberrations and say that the only form of Anabaptism that survived was the nonviolent/pacifistic types, which was the nature of Anabaptism, at least in Switzerland, from the beginning.

      Delete
  4. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson send the following comments about today's posting:

    "A timely blog, Leroy. Muenster is one of the saddest stories in Christian history. It should also be one of the most instructive regarding the fallacy of millennarianism."

    ReplyDelete
  5. Here is the response to today's posting from a Thinking Friend in Hawaii:

    "ALOHA LEROY. I BELIEVE IN THE MILLENNIUM AND THAT WE ARE IN THE END TIMES."

    ReplyDelete
  6. I was fed Dispensational Fundamentalism early on in my Christian journey (early '70s) I carefully read Clarence Larkin's works on Daniel, Revelation, and his "Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth." Larkin was a draftsman and in the early 20th Century - created, seemingly, the first of the Dispensational Charts. I even drew up one of my own!

    I think what began my troubles with that way of seeing Scripture was the realization that the theologies called "Pre-...", "Post-...", and "A-millenialism" - each had central texts to support it, but which contradicted the other two. My conclusion was that we simply don't/can't know - and if we are doing God's work we need not fear those events as we, who are actually doing the work (vs. merely speculating about 'signs of the End'), will not be ashamed, regardless of when He appears.

    But, there was an event that became something of a watershed that reoriented my perception further: I read Matthew 24:34 where, after describing events that lead to "The End," Jesus says "Truly I say to you, this generation will live to see it all."

    What struck me was the emphasis on literalism upheld by Dispensationalists - until a literal reading of Scripture contradicted their beliefs. I, for the first time, clearly saw the "intellectual gymnastics" (That they loudly accused "liberals" of.) that they engaged in - to explain away the plain reading of this, and many other, Bible passages. Their dogmatic assertion that "generation" is some sort of code for "The Church Age" suddenly revealed itself as, anything but, "rightly dividing the Word of truth."

    I found it much easier to view many of the horrors leading up to whatever this end was as hyperbolic descriptions of events that reflect the strong emotions of those who experience VERY bad times.

    For example: If, at least, some of His hearers were going to live through those events - then what are we to do with "coming with the clouds" just a little before v. 34? I think that statement refers to the advance of the Roman Army on Jerusalem; dust clouds that commonly rose above moving armies in dry areas. "He" appears - in the form of judgment-carried-out-by-Rome just like in ancient Israel's destruction/captivity.

    My position restated: I think it is far more honest to accept what follows Jesus' "Truly I say to you...." as literally accurate - than to force a belief in a secret code into His words.

    Parallel to this gradual realization was the growing understanding of how the interminable speculations around End Times had shifted the joy of my salvation into a critical, combative, attitude. Only recently did I find that I was not the first to witness such a change. Mr. C. H. Spurgeon had/has much to say. This can be found at
    www.spurgeon.org/s_and_t/dbreth2.htm

    Hope that helps!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Ooops! Missed the question! When will IT begin?

    If we are doing the work He, personally, leads us to do - when is of little importance. IF we are doing His will-for-us we will not be embarrassed if He catches us by surprise.

    Oh, and another of His statements which helped lead me away from focus on The End: He said (Matt. 24:44) "I will come when you least expect me." This implies to me that if the church is inflamed with End Times expectations - that's actually NOT a good time to expect Him.

    All the best!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Rodney B. FocklerJune 25, 2012 at 8:02 PM

    I am not smarter than the writers of the scripture so I take the Word at face value
    I am a BELIEVER of the WORD of GOD :

    << 2 Peter 3 >>

    3First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
    8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
    10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.a
    11Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.b That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
    14So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
    17Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. 18But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

    << 2 Peter 3 >>
    Good enough for me ... Rod

    ReplyDelete
  9. Larry, I really liked tis view :

    Larry RiedingerJune 25, 2012 8:01 PM
    Ooops! Missed the question! When will IT begin?

    If we are doing the work He, personally, leads us to do - when is of little importance. IF we are doing His will-for-us we will not be embarrassed if He catches us by surprise.

    Oh, and another of His statements which helped lead me away from focus on The End: He said (Matt. 24:44) "I will come when you least expect me." This implies to me that if the church is inflamed with End Times expectations - that's actually NOT a good time to expect Him.

    All the best!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Rod! Do check out the website I put at the end of my first post.

      There is also a fine book "The Incredible Coverup" written by a Christian journalist in the early '70s. He tracked down the history of Dispensationalism to Glasgow Scotland in the 19th century and a John Nelson Darby who first popularized it. The "coverup" has to do with the origins of the ideas. A young girl in Glasgow - who spoke in tongues, heard voices, saw visions, and had personal face-to-face conversations with Jesus (so she claimed) - told Mr. Darby about Jesus cluing her in that The Church would be raptured out of the world before any kind of "tribulation" was experienced by His children. The actual "coverup" stems from the common rejection of anything smacking of "charismatics" by the main stream of Dispensational Fundamentalism. Dallas Theological Seminary really blew a gasket over the "coverup" book! Not surprising as the source of its doctrinal foundation - was a young FEMALE who was way over the top in exercising charismatic gifts - which are, according to Dallas Seminary - marks of the Devil!

      Googling "Darbyism" will lead you to a vast amount of literature. It's well worth looking through!

      All the best!

      Delete
  10. Thinking Friend Will Adams also asked me to post his comments, which he was not able to post directly:

    "When I encounter these useless exercises about 'end times,' I'm reminded that what makes primitive religions primitive is that they often seek to use the gods and the spirits to ends chosen by humans. Do the war dance without error, and our tribe will be victorious; do the rain dance correctly, and the gods will make it rain; do the corn dance right and the gods will make the corn crop rich. I often suspect that those to would help Israel extend control, or precipitate a war against Iran, believe that by making certain 'predictions' in Revelation come true we humans can force Jesus to return sooner than he otherwise would. This reduces Christianity to the lowest level of spiritual belief, and obscures the teachings of Christ that would most promote our well being: Love our enemies, return good for evil, blessed are the peacemakers, love the Lord thy God and your neighbor as yourself."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dr. Adams, thanks for your comments. You mention one thing that concerns me greatly: some Christians using belief in the End Times being imminent as a reason to support Israel militarily and perhaps even as a reason to start direct military action against Iran.

      Delete
    2. Well put Will!

      And well put Leroy! The indiscriminately pro Israel faction sure has a quality similar to those in Jerusalem near the end of the war with Rome. I am recalling those who set the Temple afire (according to some sources at any rate) - to force God to intervene since "surely He won't allow His Temple to suffer harm."

      Sigh....

      Delete
  11. Larry Riedinger almost scooped me. I suggest we donate the whole issue of millennialism to history by examining the world early Christians saw. It is clear from the gospels that they were informed by Josephus, most notably by how clearly so many of Jesus' sayings and actions interact with what Josephus reports. For instance, Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of the temple neatly fits with what Josephus reports. So if we start the Millennium with the war in 66 AD, then the thousand years neatly ended in 1066 AD, safely in the past. Then all that is left is to pick some piece of trivia from 1066 as the harbinger of the new heaven and new earth, and we are off into the brave new world of modernism. Unless someone wants to worry about whether this implies the modern world will end in 2066. Right now, I would say it will be doing well to last that long!

    ReplyDelete