Summary: As this year begins, I can’t help but wonder, “Could this be the year that Jesus Christ returns?”
I want to begin the lesson this morning by wishing a “Happy New Year” to each and every one of you! I sincerely hope the year we have just started will be the best ever in your life. And my particular wish for each of you is that this will be the year in which you are more open to God’s presence, his power, and his purpose for your life than ever before.
But exactly what year is this?
Keep in mind that in ancient times, people didn’t worry too much about “what year it was”. It was enough for them to say that an event happened during the reign of a certain king or x number of years before or after a certain war, flood, or earthquake.
And so we have passages like 2 Kings 23:23 which say, “But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was held before the LORD in Jerusalem.”
But, about 1500 years ago, a monk by the name of Dionysius Exiguus developed a calendar which started measuring the years from the time of Christ. His intention was to date the year 1 from the time when — by his best calculation — Jesus was born. But, of course, today virtually all scholars agree that this sixth-century monk was off by at least four years and possibly by as many as six.
You see, based on our current calendar, Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. And since Jesus was born near the end of his reign, his birth couldn’t have been any later than that year. And since Herod ordered the slaughter of infants in Bethlehem who were “two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16), the birth of Jesus Christ may have been as early as 6 B.C.
Despite that error, our Western calendar has endured and has been adopted as the international standard of measuring years. But there are a lot of nations that privately use calendars other than this one for dating the documents of government and trade. For example, today in China the year is 4700, in Islamic nations, it’s 1424, and in Israel it’s 5764.
But here in America, it’s finally the year 2004, and despite concerns a few years ago the world is still in existence. For those of you who may have forgotten, January 1, 2000 was supposed to be the day that computers around the world went haywire and we experienced all sorts of chaos. But it would certainly appear that we escaped without any major disasters. When that day arrived, we still had electricity, we still had running water, and there were no plane crashes at midnight.
But there’s another reason that the year 2000 and the years since have been in the news. Many religious people in recent times have become obsessed with date-setting scenarios. So, as the ominous-looking year 2000 approached, we heard a lot of doomsday warnings. We were told that the 2000th year would be the time that Jesus Christ would return.
Many Christian writers and lecturers wanted you to believe that it was TEOTWAWKI -- “the end of the world as we know it.” Why does it seem that Christians tend to jump on every bandwagon being pulled by fear?
There are a couple reasons why I never got all that excited and packed my bags. For one thing, with the calendar mistake that Dionysius made, the 2000th year after the birth of Christ actually came and passed in 1994, 1995, or 1996 without the end of the world.
But there’s another reason why I never got all excited. Jesus said there would be no special sign of his coming. In unmistakable language, he said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming -- in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning -- lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:32-37).
Despite what Jesus said, we had predictions by the score for what most people were hyped up to believe was a “monumental hinge date in history”.
I saw an amazing poll result, one taken by the Los Angeles Times in May of 1999, which said that 2% of all people in this country believed that the world would come to an end on January 1, 2000 and 3% believed that Christ would return on that day. Furthermore, of those who believe the Bible is the Word of God, 6 percent expected the second coming of Christ to fall on January 1, 2000. That’s more than 15 million people in this country who fully believed that Jesus would return on that day.