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.