The Preacher Says....  
  Millenium Fever  

MATTHEW 24. 32 - 51

The title of my talk is plagiarized from one of the front page stories of The Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, December 5, 1989:

Millenium fever profits proliferate the end is near As the year 2,000 approaches, Guru Mar among others says Head for the hills

Lewis Difor, a former vice president of Chase Manhattan Bank , packed up his family and his own investment banking business last July and moved to Montana. And not just to get away from New Jersey. He wanted to escape the earthquake, the economic collapse , the nuclear war his religious sect anticipates for the 1990's. Mr. Difor bought 20 acres of sagebrush with a mountain view in Paradise Valley . He also gathered a five year supply of canned squash, carrots and broccoli, a stack of treasury bills, several tins of thousands of dollars in gold coins and a five bed apartment in a concrete reinforced underground bomb shelter. One might wonder of what use a T-bill would be in an atomic attack. Mr. Difor is serene. He is an adherent of Elizabeth Clare Profit, the leader of the Church Universal and Triumphant whose headquarters is nearby, and who believes in being prepared for the worst, because when you’re prepared for the worst you have peace of mind.

Many Americans, with similar dreads, are heeding the warnings of latter day profits such as Mrs. Profit. Yes, it’s her real name, the surname of her second husband. That the end is near–one religious sect or another has been predicting imminent doom or a glorious apocalypse since the Pharaohs ruled Egypt. But the approach of the year 2,000 and the next millennium has put the fear of God into a good many people . "After we get into the nineties we’re going to see a lot more apocalyptic prophecy", predicts J. Gordon Melton, the Director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, California. Which is not unlike what happened in Europe at the dawn of the current millennium. Just before the year 1,000 soothsayers were predicting all manner of events, from famine to flying dragons. Fortunately, or otherwise, the history of prophecy reads pretty much like a history of dashed expectations. And so the article goes on to recount the bizarre behavior of the adherents of various religious sects. And most of those persons, as I recall, wind up being discredited and disillusioned. The irony of it all is while the Wall Street Journals spoofs millennial prophecy, if people weren’t interested in the future–their economic future–there wouldn’t be many subscribers to the Wall Street Journal. It’s a natural thing to want to know how to make yourself secure, to want to know what the future holds for you. As a matter of fact we’ve got a whole new profession coming up that may have attracted your attention called Futurists. These are men who study demographics and political and social upheaval and technology and try to predict what life is gonna be a decade from now,–20 years from now. Or what it’s gonna be like in the middle of the 21st century. And busineses and governments take those secular prophecies, if you will, into account and making plans for their businesses and for their government.

The article in the Journal makes you want to shrink from the idea that there could be anything to biblical prophecy. In an unspoken way it sort of condemns the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed , both of those creeds being the bedrock of organized Christianity today which have as a principal tenet therein the fact that Jesus Christ is on the right hand of the Father from whence he shall come to Judge the quick and the dead and to establish his everlasting kingdom. Surveys indicate that in the United States most people believe in God, by which I believe they mean that God at sometime in the past purposely intervened into the universe in some real way to create, for example, this creation in whatever way you wish to believe, either by special creation or by directed evolution, the world in which we find ourselves. Given that most people do believe in God and think that He can interfere in the affairs of men, I think it might have been for the article to have been more serious though than a spoof. Indeed it would have been in the nineteenth century when matters like this had much more currency than they do today.

Here we are though, we find ourselves in this season of the year singing songs that say in anthems and magnificent Christmas music that the kingdom of this world is going to become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever. And so it gets sung, and yet it gets restraint from it. Coincidentally, I ran across another article the week before last in the Atlantic Monthly magazine, a magazine of intellectual pretension whose articles are on serious subjects of all varieties, and the lead article in the Dec Atlantic Monthly is Can we be good without God? The article is written by a Professor of political Science at the U of Mass. It is his conclusion that government cannot be good without God. He decries the fact that the separation of church and state has led to a secular society which thinks it can deliver more than it can in fact deliver. Just to give you a flavor of his article, he says that first of all, Christian ideas placed one in a radical, that is, in an adverse relationship to established institutions, the kingdom of God is a judgment on existing society and a symbol of its impermanence. Jesus was crucified because his presence and preaching were profoundly unsettling to reigning religious and professional groups. Jesus did not preach the violent overthrow of these groups, but neither did he show much concern for their stability. He goes on to say that secular conceptions, that is governments under which we find ourselves today, are apt to be characterized by optimistic oversimplifications and distortions . American reformers for example, typically assume that human beings are both reasonable and just, and that beneficent social change is therefore easy. The main thing necessary after identifying a problem is to devise and propogate a rational solution. Poverty, crime, class conflict, war and all the great social evils can gradually but surely be eliminated. Good will and intelligence, well organized and fully informed through the study of social scientists will suffice. It is difficult for secular reformers to reconcile their sense of the dignity of individuals with the recognition of the selfishness and perversity of individuals. They are thus led persistently to exaggerate human goodness, trying to match their view of human nature with their belief in human dignity. They fail to see how human beings actually behave but are to understand the difficulties and complexities of reform. So it concludes that government without God in it is doomed. Not in the way that it is entirely satisfactory to me, but nonetheless the article was heartening. Heartening because I think it’s too bad to have the idea that people who think about the end of all things are somehow religious fanatics, not to be given any credence.

Just a few weeks ago we reviewed together the 2nd chapter of Daniel along with the 7th and 8th chapters of Daniel and the 13th chapter of Revelation. And at the time that talk was made I could hardly imagine what was going to happen in the world. So much has happened in the last three or four months in world politics that it makes even truer the statement that ‘truth is stranger than fiction’. You will rcall in the 2nd chapter of Daniel that Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and he saw an image . The image had a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron, and feet and toes mixed iron and clay. And the interpretation that Daniel put on that prophecy–put on that vision that Nebuchadnezzar had–is found in the 2nd chapter of Daniel starting at the 30th verse. This is the dream, says Daniel–you know Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t find anybody to interpret the dream except Daniel–Daniel says this is the dream, Nebuchadnezzar, and I’m going to tell you its interpretation.

Thou, O king, art a king of kings; For the God of heaven has given thee a kingdom, Power and strength and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, The beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven, Has He given into thine hand, And has made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.

In other words, the Babylonian empire was the first world empire described in the image that Nebuchadnezzar saw. The second world empire and the third described in the 39th verse,

And after these shall arise another kingdom Inferior to thee, And another third kingdom of brass, Which shall bear rule over all the earth.

You will recall, from the 8th chapter of Daniel and also the 7th, and the 15 chapter of Revelation, I think we safely concluded that the kingdoms were specifically named in the 8th chapter of Daniel. That Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded first by the Medo Persian , ultimately becoming the Persian empire, and then by the Grecian empire. Then there is described in the 40th verse–this interpretation is given by Daniel–the 4th kingdom shall be strong as iron:

Forasmuch as iron breaks in pieces And subdues all things; and as iron That breaks all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. And whereas thou saw the feet and toes, Part of potter’s clay and part of iron, The kingdom shall be divided: But there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, Forasmuch as thou saw the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, And part of clay, so the kingdom shall be Partly strong and partly broken.

Skip to the 44th verse,

And in the days of these kings Shall the God of haven set up a kingdom Which shall never be destroyed; And the kingdom shall not be left to other people, But it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, And it shall stand forever. Forasmuch as thou saw that the stone Was cut out of the mountain without hands

You will recall the image was smitten on its feet by a stone cut out of the mountain without hands–

And that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, The silver, and the gold. The great God has made known to the king What shall come to pass hereafter: And the dream is certain, and The interpretation thereof sure.

We know that the Grecian empire was succeeded by the Roman empire and like the Greek empire it had two aspects. The Greek empire, upon the demise of Alexander the Great, was split four ways, but ultimately wound up with two strong kingdoms , hence the thighs of brass. The Seleucid kingdom headquartered in Syria, and the Ptolemaic kingdom headquartered in Egypt. And because–between those two kingdoms was the Holy Land–the children of Israel found themselves for a couple of hundred years as a battleground between these opposing Grecian forces. Then the power of Greece waned , but the Roman empire became to dominate such as the world has never seen . But its kingdom was also divided; you will recall that at the time of Constantine –Constantine in fact, moved his imperial seat from Rome to Constantinople. The Roman empire, until its demise as an empire, had this two aspect arrangement whereby power–ecclesiastical power and military power was divided between Rome and Constantinople.

When we talk about–the image that you see here, you will notice that it’s smitten on it’s feet by a stone. We don’t have a lot of feet or toes lying around that are smitten, but the image itself is smitten , indicating that there is some sort of reconstitution of the image when God chooses to interfere in the affairs of men. In the 42nd verse we read, for example, that the toes of the feet were part of iron and part of clay so the kingdom–singular–shall be partly strong and partly broken. Also, in the 7th chapter of Daniel and the 13th chapter of Revelation, both of which speak of this terrible kingdom at the time of the end, they speak of it as a kingdom, but the language is such that you understand that it is a kingdom and a confederation of 10 kings. The explanation given at least by me, prior to the recent events, were sort of in retrospect as I think about it a sort of one legged interpretation. The European Economic Community (EEC) , first thought of in 1957, and to become a reality in 1992, is the result of something called the Treaty of Rome where the nations of western Europe recognize that it is in their best interest to bind themselves together in a league that will promote unity in economic matters. Indeed, there is a European parliament now, there’s talk about a single European currency , and that 12 nation league–we wish 2 of them would drop out so there would be 10–would somehow come under the domination of Russia in ways not clear, to form a reconstitution, if you will, of this Roman empire: the power that was and is not and yet will be, we read in Revelation. Rome was, and isn’t, and yet it is thought of to be held together in one way or the other, political and religious alliances, a good example being the Holy Roman Empire which, with various manifestations lasted well up into the first part of this century.

But think what’s happened since then. The European Economic Comunity came into existence probably because the nations of western Europe in league with the United States formed NATO, and their military cooperation made them see that it made sense to have more than just military cooperation. And so we wound up ultimately now with this brand new European Economic Community to be implemented in 1992. NATO happened in 1946. In 1955 West Germany joined NATO. And it was at that time that the Russians who have always feared historically the Germans, that the Warsaw Pact came into existence. Let me just read you a little bit about the Warsaw Pact.

After the entry of West Germany into the NATO alliance Moscow moved swiftly in May 1955 to create its own group. The Warsaw Treaty Organization composed of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, with headquarters in Moscow. It was implemented to assure (1) That there would be a unified military command of all USSR dominated countries if they were threatened by NATO countries, and (2) to provide an incentive to negotiate an east-west Security pact by providing for the lapse of the Warsaw agreement In the event of mutual security agreement with the west becoming operational.

In other words, there’s a provision in the Warsaw pact that says, Look, if we can work out an east-west mutual security agreement, then the Warsaw Pact would cease to exist. Nobody ever thought that would happen. But look what’s happened. A few years back Gorbachev spelled out, first in a book, and then to his people, the notion of openness–less of a secret society ruled by the secret police with few human rights–and Perestroika, a re-structuring of the economy. And what’s happened? Well, that announcement that this policy which Gorbachov espouses has suddenly found more adherents in eastern Europe than they found at home. Russia is still ruled by the Communist Party. All the other Communist Parties have topped him–everywhere. There’s a state of anarchy, almost, in eastern Europe. One trembles at the prospect; there is such a power vacuum in so many of those countries that one could forsee all sorts of things happening-- Megalomaniacs rising, bloody revolutions. It’s a time of great danger. Somehow, in my view, I think it’s unlikely that there’s going to be a warlike revolution. Gorbachov himself –you can’t keep the countries from eastern Europe from wanting to cooperate with the west. It’s interesting how the newspapers play this up; the movements there are thought of as being noble . And indeed it is noble to seek freedom. But what the people of the east want is what we’ve got . Communication has made it possible for everybody to know the riches of the world and to compare themselves–as in the case of eastern Europe–compare themselves unfavorably to the abundance and riches of the west. And I suspect you won’t be able to keep the eastern European nations from cooperating with the western alliance, with the EEC. The questions is, will Russia permit it? And yet Gorbachov has said on a number of occasions, and recently at this conference with Pres Bush, that he wants cooperation with western Europe. He can for see a huge economic alliance in Europe that would make Europe the greatest economic power in the world if it included the eastern nations and Russia. So is it impossible to think now that w’re going to come up with two federations –the European Economic Community on the one hand and the Warsaw Pact nations on the other–coming together in one giant confederation , with the lynchpin of that confederation being Germany, and Russia along for the ride?

Think back on Nebuchadnezzar’s image now. We’ve got now–it’s easy to see–two legs to the image. And that two legged concept is even more distinct when one considers the religious ramifications of what has happened lately. You’ll recall I said earlier that we wound up with the Patriarch in Constantinople and the Pope in Rome, leaders of two churches that gradually drifted apart over doctrinal matters. Primarily having to do, I suspect, with the primacy of the Pope. The Patriarch of Constantinople was never as powerful as the Pope. There were several Patriarchies: Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria. But the preeminent Patriarch was the Patriarch of Constantinople. You will recall that the Ottoman Empire, the Turks, overran Constantinople in the fifteenth century, with the result that the Patriarch of Constantinople, that power grab was moved to Moscow. And the primary seat of the eastern Orthodox Church left Constantinople and went to Russia. That power was extinguished in 1917 when religion was abolished that power went to Russia, but now we see Gorbachov attempting to have the laws changed in his country to legalize religion. So now we have the possibility of Nebuchadnezzar’s image looking like two federations joined in a confederation. A confederation is a league of nations that are independent but joined together for certain purposes. Each of those two separate federations being distinguished by the two manifestations of apostate Christianity. Well, it’s exciting and each of us can be sure that each of our views can be taken through a glass darkly . The people in the Wall Street Journal were discredited because they took unwarranted positions. Yet having said that, my own feeling is that the image will be smitten by the rock cut out of the mountain with out hands quicker than we realize. I say that because it’s difficult to see how much longer the world can go on without the dominant power in the world not being the Roman empire, reconstituted, if you will, but for the oriental empires of the Chinese & Japanese, except in veiled references to the kings of the east. We could, if we had time, talk about how America and Gt. Britain fit into all this. It’s my feeling that Britain, already reluctant about its participation in the EEC, will finally not be a participant. They are jealous of giving their power to the continent of Europe.

Back to the WSJ. How are we supposed to act? Run for the hills? Matthew 24 doesn’t indicate that behavior. Jesus said to take no anxious thought for tomorrow. And yet that chapter says, the fig tree is putting forth leaves, and when you see leaves coming, you know that summer is nigh. Is the fig tree putting for leaves? After 2500 years, Jerusalem, after having been a vassal, subjugated to a foreign power is free, and has been free since 1948.