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1 On the Threshold of the Third Millenni[...]
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1 On the Threshold of the Third Millennium



More than a thousand years ago, all Europe was gripped by a heart-chilling fear. Soon, too soon, it would be midnight, 31 December 999. Then, when the new millennium began—as was generally supposed—on the first day of January 1000, the world would end; for Christ and his angels would flash into the sky, to trumpet the judg­­ment day with all its dreadful events.

     Well, afterwards people were most relieved to find it had all been a mistake, and so they settled back into their me­di­­eval rut. And now another ten centuries have passed, and the world has once again gone through a year like that. Many thought that per­haps, just perhaps, in the course of anno Domini 2000, it would happen this time. But, as we know, it did not.

     What was the basis for expecting the Second Coming in 2000? It is an old idea according to which the present world will last for seven millen­nia, or seven thousand-year periods, from cre­­­ation as described in the Bible. Human history will supposedly fill up six of these. Then Christ will come and set up his kingdom on earth for the final millennium. The whole period of seven thou­sand years is thought to be typologically related to the six days of creation, plus the seventh or Sabbath day, when the Cre­ator rested from his work (Gen. 1; 2:1-3). The final millennium accordingly constitutes a thousand-year Sab­bath for the pla­net.

     In some ways, this is a beautiful conception, and we do not wish to dismiss it altogether. But it has slim support in the Scrip­tures, apart from 2 Pet. 3:8, according to which “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years.” Unfortunately it ignores the rest of that text, which goes on to say: “ . . . and a thousand years as one day,” which refers to a similar thought in Ps. 90:4. Another pro­blem is that Biblical prophecy normally equates a day not with a thousand years but with a year.

     Setting dates for the Se­cond Com­ing is most un­wise, since Jesus made it clear that nobody should do so (Matt. 24:36). In any case, thinking of the year 2000 as a possible terminus for the world’s affairs was based on an arithmetical error.

     When members of the early church began to inte­rest them­selves in the time of Jesus’ birth, a few cen­­turies had already passed, and so they miscalculated the year. He had actually been born some­what earlier than they thought, an­ything from 7 to 4 b.c. The most commonly accepted date is 4 b.c., the death year of He­rod,1 who sent soldiers to Bethlehem to have the little boy killed (Matt. 2:16).

     Our Lord is al­ready more than two thousand years old, and believers every­­where should have celebrated this mo­men­t­ous birth­­day in 1996. But there was no such party for him, which brings to mind the night when he was born, neg­­lected and unre­cog­­nized by al­most everyone, except for a few simple shep­herds and—a little later—travelers from afar.

     But why, in any case, should human history end precisely twen­­ty cen­turies after the Lord’s birth? Would His crucifixion and ascen­­sion not provide a more lo­­gical point of departure for such reckon­ing? But the Bible also does not say that these events are im­portant for calculating the date when the Lord will return, for every such attempt—no matter what its basis—will lead to disap­point­ment.




     A spectacular example of time setting from the early 1970s was Hal Lind­sey’s prediction of the world’s end, which, how­ever, failed to materi­alize at the spe­ci­fied date. In The Late Great Planet Earth, this Dispen­sa­tionalist fore­­told that Christ would come with­in a ge­ne­­ra­tion, about forty years after the found­ing of the Is­raeli state on 14 May 1948.2

     Well, this did not happen, nor did all the other interesting things he wrote, for instance about the former Soviet Union. In The 1980’s: Count­down to Ar­ma­ged­don, Lind­sey said that coun­try would con­­quer the Middle East and Iran; but later China or even the USA, to­ge­ther with their allies, would destroy the Soviet army.3            

     That, of course, is now impossible. The Soviet Union has broken  up and disappeared.

     When those two books by Lindsey came off the press, millions of peo­ple de­voured them avid­ly. The Late Great Planet Earth was an inter­national best sel­ler, with more than thirty mil­lion co­pies sold in thirty-one fo­reign languages.4 A striking movie was also based on it.

     This success has now been repeated by Tim La­Haye and Jerry B. Jen­­kins in their Left Be­­hind series, consisting of a dozen narratives or more about events surrounding the Rapture and the Tribu­lation. A dust-cover advertisement hailed them as “the fastest-selling fiction series ever.” Much was expected of blockbuster movie ver­sions, the first of which appeared on 2 February 2001.

     The un­der­lying ideas are similar to Lindsey’s, which is evi­dent from Reve­la­tion Unveiled by LaHaye, a non-fiction work. A noteworthy improvement is that it avoids the error of time setting.

     LaHaye has, however, retained the idea that Russia will seek to conquer Israel. For this, he thinks it is due to suffer de­struc­tion at the hand of God.5 He also main­tains that Antichrist’s king­dom will be fundamentally atheist, with socialism as the “basic philosophy” of its govern­ment and economic system.6

     In Lindsey’s time this was still a plausible scenario, for the Soviet Union was both a Marxist and an atheist country. But these ideas are now outdated.

     Russia has given up Communist socialism; it has also become a much more Christian country than West­ern Eu­rope. As the Ob­server in Britain re­ports, it has to a re­mark­able extent returned to its old religion. About 55 percent of the Russians now belong to the East­ern Orthodox Church. Fewer than 5 per­cent are atheists, who are treated with contempt. In­stead of Commun­ism, Ortho­doxy is taught in the secondary schools as well as in the army, and it is exert­ing an increasing influ­ence over the state. Rus­sia’s new na­tion­­al anthem even declares that it is a “holy coun­try,”7 an ex­­pres­sion hark­­ing back to the days of the czars.

     Dispensationalism, as taught in the works of Lindsey, Charles C. Ryrie, LaHaye, and many others is highly popular among Protes­tants today. Few people realize, however, that events have already discredited it or that it is a variant of Futurism, a Catholic school of prophetic interpretation. Most effec­tively for­mu­lated by Fran­cisco Ribera (1537-91), a Jesuit scholar of the Contra Refor­ma­tion, it aimed at sabotaging the Historical School to which Luther, Calvin, Knox, and virtually all the original Protes­tants be­longed—and to which we also adhere. Later chap­ters of this book will deal more fully with this issue.




     Another example of misguided time setting, in the early 1990s, resulted from Larry Wilson’s inge­nious calcu­la­­­tions, based on Jubi­lee cycles from the Old Tes­ta­ment. In his Warning! Reve­lation is About to be Ful­filled, he said the autumn of 1994 or perhaps early 1995 would dra­ma­tically un­leash the last events, cul­mi­nat­ing in the Second Coming.

     Wilson was originally a Seventh-day Adventist mi­nis­­ter who had largely given up the year-day principle central to the His­torical School of prophetic inter­pretation and adopted Futurist ideas. He fore­told the grand­­­daddy of all earth­­quakes, with a force beyond the measuring capacity of the Richter scale. This would, he said, be ac­com­panied by signs in the hea­vens, with rum­blings, peals of thun­der, and lightning ob­serv­able every­where on the planet. Soon after this, a shower of burning meteors would start unquench­able fires all over the world, caus­ing many peo­ple to perish.

     Wilson dated this calami­tous meteor shower as oc­­cur­ring in late 1994. He also predicted that it would shortly be followed by an even more horrific calamity: the earth’s collision with two aste­roids, one to impact on the sea and the other to strike a land mass.8

     Well, 1994 passed and almost twenty more years since then. None of these dire events oc­curred, and so Larry Wilson like Hal Lind­sey stands revealed as just ano­ther failed pro­phetic in­ter­preter, who did not heed the warn­ing of his Lord but mis­led some credu­lous peo­ple. It is, we repeat, unwise to give dates for the Second Com­ing—or even for the events that imme­diately precede it.

     All the same, there has been an increase in lectures, articles, and even tele­vision pro­grams about what may be lying ahead; for though Jesus warned against time-setting, the Bible does pro­­vide some clues to indi­cate that he will be return­ing soon. 

     The interest is not confined to Christianity. As Ben­jamin Creme pointed out at a New Age press conference in Los Angeles during 1982: “The Muslims await the Imam Mahdi. At the same time the Buddh­ists await the coming of another Buddha. The Hin­dus await the return of Krish­na. And the Jews, as always, await the coming of the Mes­siah.” He himself was also ex­pecting such a teacher to re­turn on what he called the Day of Declara­tion.9

     Some New Agers believed that “before the turn of the cen­tury the earth will tilt on its axis, causing major cata­strophes, killing the majority of peo­ple on Earth and de­stroy­ing civiliza­tion as we know it.” Accord­ing to this view, there would, however, have been a Great Evacua­­tion through alien space­­ships, in an event rather similar to the Second Com­ing.10 Well, the century has turned, and nothing of the kind has happened.

     A prophetic evergreen that seemingly never fails to excite a cer­tain kind of reader is the Cen­tu­ries, rhymed pro­phecies of the French-Jewish as­tro­­loger Mi­chel de No­tre­­dame (1503-66), bet­ter known under his Latin name as Nos­tra­­damus.11 He had dire pre­dic­tions for the last few years just before the year 2000. Since those things have not happened, we can now safely also toss his book onto the trash heap of failed pre­dictions.

     False and sometimes eccentric interpretations of the pro­­phe­cies about the Lord’s return can disgust a thought­ful per­son, who may be tempted to turn away from the entire topic as a waste of time, and yet we should be care­­ful. Aesop in ancient Greece used to tell the fable of a man who re­peatedly alarmed his neighbors by cry­­ing “Wolf, Wolf!” Soon they learned to ignore him, but one day the creature really jumped out of a bush and gobbled him up. As its fangs were ripping into him, he screamed and screamed, but no one came out to help him.

     The Second Coming is likely to take place when al­most every­body has ceased being worried about it, for in more than one place the New Tes­tament warns us that it will be unex­pected, sud­den, and—on a planet­ary scale—an over­whelming sur­prise, like a thief in the night.




     We suggest that now we open the Bible for our­selves. After all, about 30 percent of it consists of prophetic material.12 As we turn its pages, we come upon a strange­­­ly compelling chap­ter, Reve­­lation 13. There we read of a fear­some animal, climb­ing up out of the sea. This is the Beast, with its mysterious signs: a mark that brings damna­tion to all whose bodies and minds are stained with it, and the riddle of 666, the number which is a name.

     We know this is the Antichrist, who like a latter-day Pied Piper of Hamelin will entice the whole world into fol­low­ing it. Most of those who live on the planet will “wonder after it” and be lost for­ever. We think that for us this is not such a good idea. We would rather not go with this parti­cular crowd, but do our own thing, by not fol­lowing the Beast. But how? After all, we are not even able to identify the creature.

     It looks like a leopard and has bear-like paws and the muz­zle of a lion. It also has seven heads and ten horns with crowns on them. Oh, what a puz­zle­ment! We lite­rally can­not make out head or tail of the thing. Per­haps we do know that at different times it has been identified with the pope, Napoleon Bo­na­­­parte, Wilhelm II, Adolf Hitler, Henry Kis­singer, Mikhail Gorbachev, and even Bill Gates.

     Various authors, like Pat Robertson13 and Dave Hunt,14 have interpreted its number, 666, as part of a wicked mo­ni­­toring device and a com­­pu­­terized credit-card sys­tem, run by an inter­na­tion­al banking con­sortium. This would be owned by the new world order and controlled by the Antichrist himself. One writer, who has pre­ferred to remain anony­mous, is very ex­plicit about how he believes the international banking system will be used to es­tablish an evil empire over the entire planet: “The Anti­­christ will re­ceive a Certi­fi­cate of Fictitious ‘Number’ to le­gally do busi­ness as (DBA) 16-666, the world bank computer.”15

     But how can we be sure that this line of thinking is correct? Let us take a closer look at what the Bible says.

     In the second part of Rev. 13, we read of another beast: at first it has two horns like a lamb, but soon it begins to roar out words like a speaking dragon! It also performs mira­cles, like making fire rain down from the sky. It sup­ports the infamous Beast men­tioned ear­lier on, applying econo­mic sanctions against every­body who is not pre­pared to worship the Anti­christ.   

     All this is mysterious and most disturbing.

   Then we happen to page back to Rev. 12, where we dis­cover a big red dragon, which greatly resembles the leo­pard­-like Beast; for it also has seven heads and ten horns. At this point, we wonder whe­ther there are any more animals like it in the book of Reve­la­tion.

     We decide to read and search beyond chapter 13.

     In chapters 14 and 16 we find a fearsome threat of hell­fire for those who worship the Beast. We discover that its pu­nishment will begin right here on earth in the time of the terrible last plagues. We also find it in the company of the “false prophet,” pre­sum­ably the two-horned creature that will assist it.


     In chapter 17, we discover what seems to be yet another beast, scarlet in color. It, too, has seven heads and ten horns, an apo­ca­lyptic theme that we have now come across three times. An added element is a wo­man called Baby­lon, clothed la­vish­ly in scar­let and bedecked with jewels.


     Finally, in chap­ter 19, we read that Christ is to come and make war on every one of these creatures.

     But what is it all about? It is so puzzling, yet tan­tal­iz­ing. We dis­cuss the mysteries of Revelation with other people. Some­one says: “Oh, the Apo­ca­lypse! You are not supposed to under­stand it; it is a sealed book.” We are tempted to turn away in disgust.

     But then another person, though perhaps not really able to ex­plain these strange creatures, tells us God wants us to study the book of Reve­la­tion and that he has even pro­­mised a bless­ing for those who do so. Indeed, the writer, John, was told explicitly that the Apocalypse was not to be sealed up: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand” (Rev. 1:3). “Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand” (Rev. 22:10).

     Startling in their implications for us are the re­peated words “the time is at hand.” They are inscribed like a warn­ing at the entrance to the book and we read them again at its exit. We decide to con­ti­nue our search.

     Our Bible happens to have a margin column. In it we no­tice references to other parts of Scripture. Linked to Rev. 13:1, where we first be­gan to read about the leopard­-like Beast, we see Dan. 7:1-6. So we search for the book of Da­niel, which is in the second half of the Old Tes­ta­ment.

     Its seventh chapter depicts no fewer than four unusual ani­mals. They, too, are puzzling, but there is something a little fami­liar about them; for they also come up out of the sea, like the Beast of Rev. 13, and re­sem­ble it in several ways.

     In Dan. 7, the first of the creatures is a lion. Why, the Apo­ca­lyp­tic Beast has the muzzle of a lion. The second is a bear, and the Beast has bear-like paws. The third is a four-headed leo­pard, and the Beast is spotted like one. The fourth is night­marish and gene­rally nonde­script, but it, too, has ten horns, exact­ly like the Beast. 

     But what about the other features, especially the se­ven heads, referred to in Rev. 12, 13, and 17? This detail has puzzled many students of prophecy, who have interpreted it in different ways; yet an ob­vi­ous solu­tion is to add up the heads of the four crea­­tures in Dan. 7. Well, let us see. The lion has one head, not sur­prisingly, and so does the bear. But the leopard has four heads. This gives us six, to which we add the single head of the fourth creature. And . . . we have a total of seven heads!

     It appears, then, that the Beast of Rev. 13 is a perfect com­posite of the four animals described in Dan. 7. The two chap­ters must have similar topics.

     This is progress, and we conclude that if we only knew the iden­tity of the beasts of Dan. 7, it would help a great deal to­ward understanding the various creatures referred to in Revela­tion, especially the Beast. It could possibly also help us grasp the mean­­­­­ing of its mark and number.




     A good beginning is the statement in Dan. 7:17 that the four beasts represent four kings or kingdoms destined to rule in the world. But which ones?

     We are again on the point of giving up, when we have a hunch. Perhaps another piece in the Bible will help us understand Dan. 7, just as this chapter is itself a key to Rev. 13. But where?

     Well, why not go back to the beginning of Daniel, and keep on reading? The first chapter is fine and even inte­rest­ing, but it says nothing about beasts, or anything else that can help us in our quest. Then we come to Dan. 2. From that point onward things begin to fall into place. Properly under­stood, this chapter is a master key to Bi­ble pro­phecy. We shall therefore be looking at it carefully.

     We read of a king’s prophetic dream about a great sta­tue, which also refers to four kingdoms, just like Dan. 7. Admit­tedly, there are differences. Dan. 2 predominantly uses the symbols of va­ri­ous metals: gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Bronze and iron? But the terrible fourth creature of Dan. 7 has claws of bronze and iron teeth!

     Why, the Bible seems to explain itself, when we com­pare dif­fer­ent Scrip­­tures with one another! This will not be difficult at all, es­pe­cially if we observe the close rela­tion­ship between the two books of Daniel and Re­ve­lation. We shall therefore have a very good look at Dan. 2, 3, 7-9, and 12.

     Each of these chapters is most interesting. At every step, our understanding will grow. We shall also be noting some other fascinating passages of the Old and New Tes­taments. Finally we will be prepared for a really meaning­ful study of the dragon and other monsters in Revelation, including the dread­ful Beast, which it is death to follow.




     The books of Daniel and Revelation contain amazing ma­­terial. One of the central themes is the Beast and its per­secution of God’s people, as well as its se­duc­tions. But we shall also meet its great and marvelous op­ponent, the Lamb, who is the Lord Jesus Christ. Other parts of the Bible will greatly aid our un­der­standing of these mat­ters.

     But not only understanding. Much more than Nostra­da­mus or any other writings, the Bible will, as C. S. Lewis has put it, sur­prise us—you, too, reader—with joy.

     When we have come to comprehend this wonderful Book, we will no longer need to fear the future. God’s Word will not only enlighten our minds, but can bring com­fort to our often troubled hearts.