Many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, are convinced that we are about to witness changes of apocalyptic proportions, beginning on January 1, 2000 or shortly thereafter. A type of ÒdoomsdayÓ mentality has taken hold of millions across the globe. So widespread is this fascination with Òend-timeÓ subjects that scholars have created a new field of research called millennial studies, resulting in hundreds of books, papers, courses and conferences. Even the entertainment industry, ever looking for financial gain, has capitalized on the current obsession with end-of-the-world scenarios by producing blockbuster movies and TV specials dealing with such topics as Armageddon, the Antichrist and the Second Coming.
While for many people the arrival of a new millennium is little more than a fascinating if somewhat scary form of entertainment, many others take it with the utmost seriousness. Brainwashed by many self-appointed prophecy experts and apocalyptic visionaries, millions of evangelical Christians have come to believe that we are living in the very last days and that the end of the world is just around the corner. They take for Gospel truth what their gurus are telling them, namely that Òwe are the final generation. Never before has humanity been faced with such definitive signs of the endÓ (EP News Service, Nov.6, 1992).
But is this true? Are we the last generation? Does the Bible predict that the world is going to end in or around the year 2000 A.D? To answer this question we need to examine the evidence adduced by those who claim the end is near. One of the key concepts that shape the thinking of these people is the Òsix-day theory.Ó According to this theory, the reason why we should expect the world to end around the year 2000 is because that chronological milestone will mark the end of the approximately six thousand years since the creation of the world.
The argument goes something like this: 1) God created the world in six literal days and rested on the seventh day; 2) each creation day represents not only a literal day, but symbolizes a 1,000-year epoch because both the Old and New Testaments declare that to God Òone day is as a thousand years;Ó 3) the creation account in Genesis is a veiled reference to how long the universe will last (i.e., six 1,000-year periods of activity to be followed by a 1,000-year era of rest (ChristÕs millennial kingdom); and 4) the creation took place in 4004 B.C. Conclusion: 6000 years of history have elapsed, which means GodÕs seventh ÒdayÓ of rest, lasting another 1000 years is about to start.
This Òsix-dayÓ theory is not new. In fairness to dispensationalists and others who advocate this view, it should be pointed out that the theory has a long and venerable tradition. We find traces of it in Jewish rabbinical writings and in early Christian literature as well. Some of the Church Fathers, for example, Irenaeus (175-195) taught that God would allow the human race to toil for 6,000 years and then establish an earthly kingdom of righteousness.
Another, more modern proponent of the six-day theory, is Bishop James Ussher (1650-54). This Irish Anglican archbishop claimed that Adam was created in the year 4004 B.C. He arrived at his date by adding up the genealogies found in the book of Genesis and counting backward through time.
One of the most ardent promoters of the 6,000-1,000 scheme is the popular TV evangelist Jack Van Impe. In a recent broadcast he stated confidently:
Before us lies the most important decade in the history of the worldÉ The Millennium will be GodÕs ÔHeaven on EarthÕ for 1,000 years, somewhere after A.D. 2000-2007. Never before has the stage been so well set for the Second ComingÉ From the time of Adam, weÕve got genealogical tables and charts to show that 4,000 years passed from AdamÕs creation to ChristÕs birth. From JesusÕ birth until the present age another 2,000 years has almost transpired, for a total of 6,000 years or six daysÉ The entire prophetic scenario is being fulfilled before our eyes. Since God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th (Gen.2:2) and because 1,000 years is as one day (Ps.90:4; 2 Pet.3:8)--therefore, the world will go on for six days, for 6,000 years, and the Jews said Messiah would come, and the Christians say our Saviour will return, and that comes out right at 2001 and onwardÉ So weÕre right on scheduleÉ WhatÕs coming? We believe the coming Messiah. The coming of the Messiah is near.
It all sounds so convincing and so Biblical, but there is one thing wrong with this theory. It will not stand up to the test of sound Biblical, historical and archaeological scholarship. First, there is overwhelming evidence that human civilizations flourished many years prior to 4004. Ruins have been unearthed in Iraq that date back to 7,000 B.C. and excavations in Turkey indicate that there was a fairly advanced culture in that area around 6700 B.C.
Second, Scripture passages such as Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 do not teach that one day equals 1,000 years in GodÕs prophetic timetable. What these verses mean is that God is not limited by our concept of time. What we regard as a long time is like a mere day in GodÕs sight. John Calvin, in his commentary on 2 Peter, says that the apostle was actually trying to prevent Christians from speculating about the timing of Òthe end.Ó What Peter was saying, according to Calvin, was that when believers discuss the return of Christ they should recognize that GodÕs timing is not theirs so that they Òwill not subject the time appointed by God to their own ridiculous wishes.Ó
Third, The genealogies recorded in Genesis are incomplete and not intended to supply us with an exact chronology of human history dating back to our first parents. They are simply a literary device used to highlight individuals seen as important links in the chain of the unfolding biblical narrative. This is also true of the genealogies listed in Matthew 1 and Luke 3.
Fourth, the Hebrew term for father in Old Testament genealogies does not always refer to fatherhood in the strict sense. It can also mean ancestor. Similarly, the word son in Hebrew means descendant in many cases. For instance, Jesus is called Son of David even though David lived centuries earlier. This means that in some of these genealogies there are time gaps of hundreds, if not thousands of years, which make them unreliable as chronological timetables. Therefore, to simply add the life spans of everyone mentioned in Genesis will not help us establish the exact or even approximate year, let alone day! when the world was created.
Sixth, different persons have suggested various dates for the end of the 6,000 years since creation. The Jesuit thinker Petavious thought it would be 2017; Luther suggested 2048 while Jewish tradition expects the world to end in 2239.
Seventh, the six-day theory, while seemingly supported by such passages as 2 Peter 3:8, is primarily based on two spurious extra-biblical books, namely the Secret Book of Enoch and the Epistle of Barnabas. The former is an ancient text of unknown Jewish origin dating back to the mid-5th century B.C. and the latter was allegedly written by Barnabas, the missionary companion of the apostle Paul. Both these books were rejected by the Church because of their questionable authorship and the unscriptural nature of their contents. This has not stopped prophecy teachers, however, from appealing to them as if they were part of the officially recognized canon of Scripture.
It is wrong as well as futile to try to figure out the date of the end of the world by adding up these genealogical records. The apostle Paul seems to be hinting at this also when he warns Timothy not to Ògive heed to fables and endless genealogies which minister questions [or cause disputes] rather than godly edifying which is in faithÓ (I Tim.1:4).
Besides, those who regard the year 2000 and the years immediately following, as the doomsday deadline, seem to be unaware that this supposedly historical milestone is really nothing more than an arbitrary number based on a specific method of time measurement. It is generally assumed that January 1, 2000 will mark the beginning of the new millennium, but actually it wonÕt start until a year later, January 1, 2001, because the calendar we use in the West begins at the year 1, instead of 0.
But more importantly, even January 1, 2001 is not really the new millennium because we measure time by the birth of Christ who was actually born somewhere between four to six years before the year A.D. 1. This means that the real third millennium began somewhere around 1996! Harold Camping was sure that it was 1994, so he wrote a book by that title in which he confidently predicted that JesusÕ return would take place in October of that year.
What many people fail to realize is that the calendar we are using today (the Gregorian) was not introduced until 1582, after Pope Gregory XIII became tired of everyone celebrating New YearÕs Day at a different time. Until that time, Christian Europe had kept track of time by the old Julian calendar (instituted by the Roman emperor Julius Caesar). That calendar was ten days out of sync with its modern counterpart. Before that, Rome had a calendar that divided the year into only ten months, March being the first and December the last month. At the end of December everyone just stopped counting for sixty days until March came around again. Thanks to the Egyptians, two extra months--dubbed January and February in 153 B.C.--were added to the ten-month cycle. The Greeks had their own calendar, as did the Babylonians, Egyptians and Anglo Saxons.
Suffice it to say that any attempt to calculate the end of the world using this method is at best inconclusive and at worst misleading. As we await the arrival of another year, therefore, let us not be unduly alarmed. There is nothing special or mysterious about January 1, 2000. There is every reason to believe that New YearÕs Day will come and go as usual. True, the Y2K bug may cause some problems as many predict. But these will no doubt be fixed sooner or later. Of course, it is possible that the Lord will come back soon. But if He does, it will not be because anyone has figured it out. As our Lord cautioned His disciples and therefore us as well, ÒOf that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time isÓ (Mark 13:32,33).