What's In A Date?

Christmas, 1999

 

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1998: Christmas Remembered
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1999
Work It Out!
What's In A Date?

2000
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One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

2 Peter 3:8

Christmas seems overshadowed this year by the anticipation of what will occur a week later, as the calendar turns from the year 1999 to the year 2000.

Isn't it an interesting time to be alive? How do you plan to celebrate the holiday? Many hotels, cruise ships, concerts and parties have been completely booked for months or years. From the Eiffel Tower to the Concorde, from the Pyramids to Machu Picchu, the super-rich will ring in the new millennium in style.

At the other end of the spectrum are the survivalists. They have been building up supplies of water, nonperishable food, blankets and ammunition. Some have picked out their refuge far away from the city, and there they plan to sit out what they believe to be the social disaster as computers fail worldwide and order breaks down. Never mind that most of our business and government institutions have long been ready for the date change; these people are prepared for doomsday.

A separate group, not sharing the exact same philosophy as the survivalists, but with some points of similarity, are those who see religious significance in the year 2000. This seems to be a specific date on which they can hang their expectations for the Rapture.

This word, "rapture," comes from the same root as the word raptor and means "to take away suddenly." Christ, in the accounts recorded in the Gospels, does not mention such an occurrence; but the apostle Paul makes it a central part of his teaching on the Last Days.

Behold, I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

1 Corinthians 15: 51-52

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 4: 15-17

A very elaborate theology has grown around these teachings and those of the apostle John in the book of Revelation. Authors such as Hal Lindsey have expanded on these passages and developed modern explanations for these ancient mysteries. In the last few years many books and movies have dealt with the "end of the world" scenarios, and the series of fictionalized stories describing the Rapture, and the tribulation which follows, have become best sellers.

These authors have not specified the date on which they believe these events will take place, but some of their readers and followers have become convinced that the turn of the clock to the year 2000 will be the beginning of the end.

I'd like to examine this "millennial fever" a bit further. Please know that it is not my intention to disparage any theology. I know that many people hold the Rapture and related teachings as one of their most cherished beliefs. There was a time when I did myself. I could quote you Dr. Scofield's seven dispensations and tell you how each of the seven churches in Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, related to one of those dispensations. My copy of "The Late Great Planet Earth" came apart at the seams from constant use. In fact, I did experience a personal spiritual re-awakening in the 1970s as a result of studying "There's A New World Coming," and for that I will always be grateful to Hal Lindsey.

But as we grow older, and events occur in our lives which are unexplainable by easy answers, we learn that some things we were certain of can no longer be taken at face value. The further on I go, the less I know...

Here is what I believe. I am a Christian. Nothing that has happened in my life has shaken my belief in the goodness and love of God, and in the reality that God's love is perfectly personified in Jesus of Nazareth. I want that kind of love - the love of Jesus Christ - in my life, and so I have made a commitment to becoming as like Christ as possible. I know my human limitations, and so I trust God to create this Christ-likeness in me. This is the experience which some call "salvation" or a "personal relationship," and I have no problem with those terms, but I see it in terms of a conscious daily commitment to live in this loving way through the help and guidance of God.

That's it! That is the essence of my belief. God is love. Jesus manifested God's love perfectly. Jesus's life of love becomes my life of love as I depend daily upon God to direct my thoughts and actions.

Sometimes this seems too easy. I know some of you will consider it overly simplistic. But it is so liberating, so in touch with the Truth just to give all the rest to God and let him worry about who's right and who's not. I try not to judge anyone else, just as I don't expect any other human to judge me. God is our judge, and your relationship with God is strictly between you and God.

Do I believe God is in control of human history? Absolutely. But how he chooses to exercise that control is not for me to know. He may bring history to a close prior to this New Year's, or he may not do so for another thousand years. I don't know, and I don't need to know.

As a result, I don't think it is productive to dwell on dates and times and try to predict the future. What good can come of it? Shouldn't we be living our lives in love every day, regardless of when and how God chooses to bring a close to human history? How would your life be different if you knew for a fact the world would end at midnight on December 31?

One of my former ministers in the Baptist church made a statement I've always remembered. He said, "When Christ returns, he is not going to give bonus points to the people who guessed the date right."

Here are some things Jesus did have to say regarding his return:

Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Matthew 24:36

It is not for you to know the times or the seasons,
which the Father hath put in his own power.

Acts 1:7

In addition, there are some rather compelling secular reasons why we should not worry about the approaching turn of the calendar.

For one thing, there are twenty-four different time zones on our planet. The new year begins at the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean and spreads to the west. In which of these time zones will the end occur? A partial rapture, hour by hour, is stretching the limits of even the strongest millennial believer.

An even more compelling reason is this: the modern calendar did not come into existence until 525 A.D. In that year a Scythian monk in Rome, Dionysius Exiguus, was preparing new tables for determining the date of Easter, and he decided to abandon the calendar in use at the time, which used as a starting year the first year of the reign of Emperor Diocletian (our year 284). Dionysius decided to calculate the year of the birth of Jesus, based on the following data:

Luke 3:1 - Jesus was baptized in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius;
Luke 3:23 - Jesus was about 30 years old at his baptism.

Using this and other data available to him, he calculated the probable year of Jesus's birth as occurring in the 753rd year since the founding of the Roman empire, which he redesignated the year 1.

Subsequent scholarship, however, has proven Dionysius's dates incorrect. For example, we know that King Herod the Great was still alive when Jesus was born. Historians are rather certain that Herod died in the year we now designate as 4 B.C., from the writings of the historian Flavius Josephus as well as known astronomical data. So the year of Jesus's birth was most likely 4 or 5 B.C. according to our Dionysian calendar.

Therefore the two-thousandth anniversary of Christ's birth has come and gone a few years ago, with no fanfare and certainly no cataclysmic events.

Somehow I believe He wants it that way.

How are you spending your New Year's Eve? I hope to be with good friends, enjoying a quiet evening with little fanfare of our own, as we anticipate another year of life and love.

I wish as much for you this Christmas season. May you focus on the love which came down from heaven to us, showing us the way, the truth, the life.

Happy holidays, dear friends.


becky@drbecky.com