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Millennium hysteria aside, the unfinished task remains

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Assorted prognosticators, preachers and Hollywood producers have advanced the following predictions for the new millennium:
— The “millennium bug” inside computers will cause the collapse of civilization as we know it.
— Science, technology and human reason will end war and suffering, creating a veritable paradise on earth (see similar forecasts in 1899, 1799, etc.)
— Disease, overpopulation and environmental degradation will render the planet uninhabitable.
— Aliens will take over the government. Trust no one.
— Asteroids will obliterate planet Earth.
— Christ will return at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 2000 (or maybe 2001, since purists know that’s the real arrival date of the new millennium).
You’re probably sick and tired of millennium hype. History records that the ends of centuries — and particularly of millennia — bring mass hysteria, prophets of doom or bliss, predictions of apocalypse and general silliness. The main difference this time: Modern media’s global megaphone amplifies the cacophony a thousand times over.
Humanity has always anticipated — or feared — the end of the age. How will it come? When will it come? Christians know the ultimate answer to the first question, but not the second — though we spend too much time speculating about Christ’s return and too little time paving the way for it.
Jesus cautioned his disciples not to follow false prophets or messiahs, nor trust anyone who proclaims dates and times for his return. Those who have ignored his warning over the centuries have been disappointed, exploited — or worse. The latest of countless examples: the Colorado-based “Concerned Christians” cult members just arrested and deported from Israel, allegedly for planning millennium-related violence at Jerusalem holy sites to hasten Christ’s return.
As the year 2000 finally comes upon us, many Christians who are serious about Jesus’ Great Commission command to evangelize the world may be tempted to:
1) join in the millennium hysteria;
2) declare victory for world evangelization and go home, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary; or
3) despair over our failure to meet the various “reach the world by 2000” goals we set for ourselves.
All three courses would be mistakes. God does not follow manmade agendas and timetables. He follows his agenda, period. Either we follow him, or we don’t.
God’s agenda, according to Jesus, is simple: “[T]his gospel shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14, KJV). That, someone has said, is the clearest eschatological statement in the New Testament.
The task is closer to completion than ever before, but it remains unfinished. More than 2,000 “nations” (ethnic people groups) — at 1.7 billion people, nearly a third of the human race — have yet to hear the gospel in any form. Another 4,000-plus groups totaling 1.3 billion people lack a self-sustaining church movement. An additional 1.5 billion may have “heard” the gospel — but not clearly enough to understand it.
“The question is not whether the task will be finished but how it will be accomplished and who will be used of God to see it fulfilled,” says Avery Willis, International Mission Board overseas chief. “It will be finished as God has purposed and revealed. The timing is unclear, but the end of the task is in sight.”
Whether the end comes in your lifetime or mine is irrelevant. What matters to God is whether we participate in the unfinished task that must precede it: preaching the gospel to all nations and peoples.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges