The year 2000, the start of a new millennium, is fast approaching. For certain religious groups that believe in an apocalyptic vision of the "End Times," this dramatic turn of the century signals tremendous upheaval in the world, a period when chaos will prevail. In particular, a small number of Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists believe that the Second Coming of Jesus will occur in 2000 and are thus looking for "signs" of the Last Days as prophesied in various books of the Old and New Testaments, including Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel and Matthew. The year 2000 is also when many people expect the Y2K computer "bug" to cause worldwide problems, including the disruption of electricity, water services, food delivery, banking systems and transportation, leading to a complete breakdown in society. In the minds of certain Christian evangelicals, the Second Coming of Jesus and the upheaval related to the Y2K bug are inextricably linked -- the Y2K bug being a sure "sign" of the "Tribulation" predicted in the Christian Bible. The connection between the start of the millennium and the Y2K bug has led some far-right evangelicals to promote both anti-government and, in some cases, anti-Semitic theories and beliefs to support their vision of the End Times.
It is important to note that the far-right Christian evangelicals who believe that the year 2000 signals the return of Jesus, and that the Federal Government and the Jews are somehow connected to the evil that will ensue at this time, are a small minority. In fact, many Christians worry that false predictions about the Second Coming of Jesus will undermine the authority of the Bible.
Christian Apocalyptic Thought
The beliefs associated with Christian apocalyptic thought are based on a particular interpretation of the Book of Revelation. According to this interpretation, there are a number of events that will occur before the bodily return of Jesus, who will establish a thousand-year kingdom on earth. These events begin with the Rapture, when all the faithful will be swept up from the earth to meet Jesus "in the air." The cataclysmic events of the Tribulation will ensue, a seven-year period of terror, calamity and persecution of "true believers," ending when Jesus returns with his church to vanquish evil at Armageddon, the final battle. The millennium of Jesus' earthly reign follows, culminating in his final judgment over the living and the dead, the end of earthly history. This scenario is known as premillennialism.
Some evangelicals argue that history's final events and the return of Jesus will follow rather than precede the millennium -- a notion known as postmillennialism. Its advocates believe that God's elect will come to rule the earth gradually during a period of 1,000 years.
Signs and Conspiracy Theories
According to many Christian fundamentalists, a key player in the apocalyptic drama predicted in Revelation is a world leader who unites all nations in a "one world government" with the purpose of betraying humankind before being exposed as the agent of Satan or the Antichrist. Jesus battles this evil force before restoring his kingdom on earth.
Many evangelicals who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible look for "proof" that the Antichrist is present on earth today and that the return of Jesus is fast approaching. Before the Y2K bug came to the public's attention, they viewed other 20th century events as signs of the Antichrist's presence and the imminent return of Jesus. The advent of Communism, the establishment of the United Nations after World War II and later the creation of the European Union, and former President George Bush's statement during the Gulf War about establishing a "New World Order" were seen as "evidence" that the Antichrist was at work forming the "one world government" predicted in Revelation. However, the most important "sign" to evangelicals was the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. The vast majority of evangelicals are strong supporters of Israel and its government, but they saw the establishment of the Jewish State as the fulfillment of a prophecy in the Bible attributed to Paul, one of the apostles of Jesus. According to this prophecy, the Jews of the Diaspora will gather in Israel where a large number will be converted, and this event will shortly precede the return of Jesus and the end of earthly history.
There are also Jews on the far right who believe that the prophecies in the Hebrew Bible will soon bring about an "end of history" scenario. Gershon Salomon, head of the Movement for the Establishment of the Temple, and his followers have reportedly asserted that they must "liberate" the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, destroy the Dome of the Rock Mosque, and build the Third Temple that was foretold by the prophets. They also believe that the creation of Israel and the Six-Day War leading to the reunification of Jerusalem herald the final Redemption. These far-right Jewish groups receive tremendous support from evangelical Christians who see their existence as evidence that the Jews are preparing to rebuild the Temple, one of the "signs" that will lead to the Second Coming.
Some evangelicals on the far right transform two particular prophetic beliefs -- the return of the Jews to their homeland and the creation of the "one world government" -- into conspiracy theories. They promulgate scenarios in which the Federal Government, the United Nations and the Jews are the key players who act out the final drama of the apocalypse in the service of the Antichrist.
One of the books that has had the greatest impact on apocalyptic, conspiracy-oriented thinking is Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth. Originally published in 1970, it has sold about 30 million copies. Lindsey told readers that the establishment of the United Nations, the creation of the State of Israel, the unrest in the Middle East, and the rise of Satanism were sure signs of the End Times. He analyzed biblical passages to prove that these events and others signaled the coming of the Antichrist. Since Lindsey's book was published, he and those who share his beliefs have continued to point to an increasing number of signs that the end of the world is
In 1970, Lindsey focused on Communism, unrest in the Middle East and other "signs" relevant at that particular time. Today, for Christian evangelicals on the far right, the main players in the End-Time drama are the Federal Government, President Clinton and his associates, and the United Nations. For those who look for signs that the government is poised to seize power and establish the "one world government," the global aspects of theY2K computer bug offer the perfect opportunity to further their conspiracy theories. In several publications and on the Internet and the radio, various evangelicals have linked the Y2K computer bug to a plot by the President and the United Nations to seize power and establish a dictatorship in the service of the Antichrist.
The Prophecy Club, a money-making entity dedicated to warning "Christians and non-Christians of the devices of the devil and judgment coming on America," sells many books that warn of the government's plans to establish a dictatorship and imprison "true believers" in concentration camps. One Prophecy Club speaker cautions that "you dare not trust Bill and Hillary Clinton. . . . Regardless of the 'book' they carry to 'religious' services, or what they do while attending, they serve the same 'god', i.e., Belial-Beelzebub himself; not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
In an essay entitled, "Y2K: It Simply Won't Go Away," circulated over the Internet, David Kralik, a pastor in Fairhope, Alabama, describes a Federal Government that seeks to define "conservative fundamental Bible-believing Christians who hold to the inerrancy of Scripture and espouse a literal fulfillment of end-times prophecy as outlined in the Word of God" as a "dangerous David Koresh-type cult." Although Pastor Kralik does not set any specific date for the return of Jesus, he apparently believes that the Federal Government may use the Y2K chaos as an excuse for assaulting Christians. He writes, "We can easily see how the forming globalist government can use [the problems related to Y2K] to further their goals. And we do see how the realization of these goals can and may possibly be the governmental platform utilized by the Anti-Christ in the last days in the fulfillment of Scripture."
Many Christians on the far right see the Federal Government's 1993 confrontation with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians in Waco, and the resulting death of Koresh and his followers, as "proof" that the Federal Government has no qualms about attacking Christians who believe in biblical prophecy. The Branch Davidians were preparing for the Last Days, which they believed were imminent, when Federal agents tried to arrest Koresh on weapons charges. Koresh and his followers were reportedly stockpiling weapons in anticipation of an end-times assault by demonic forces. Some assert that Koresh believed that the siege by Federal agents was one of the signs from Revelation that signaled the final battle between good and evil.
A number of books about the approaching millennium and its consequences have been published in the last year. Tim LaHaye, a retired minister and political activist, and Jerry Jenkins, a former sportswriter, have written a series of novels that chronicle life on the eve of the Second Coming of Jesus. The novels describe a near future in which Christians disappear to Heaven and everyone left on earth suffers through havoc and the whims of the Antichrist in the form of the Secretary General of the United Nations. The books (the latest is Assassins) have sold millions of copies. Time magazine reports that LaHaye also offered warnings about Y2K on an on-line chat event. He reportedly said, "It very well could trigger a financial meltdown leading to an international depression, which would make it possible for the Antichrist or his emissaries to establish a one-world currency or a one-world economic system, which would dominate the world commercially until it is destroyed."
"Rabbi" Loren Jacobs, the leader of a Michigan-based messianic Jewish group (Jews who have not formally converted to Christianity but believe Jesus is the Messiah), has written a report on Y2K for his congregation. In it, he asks, "Is it inconceivable that a computer apocalypse could rapidly propel us into a one-world economy and a one-world government, headed by a world dictator?"
Other Christians see not only the impending Y2K problem but also technology itself as the tool that will allow the Antichrist to seize power. The Wall Street Journal reports that Noah Hutchings, the author of Y2K = 666 and a radio preacher from Oklahoma City, suspects that "computers, with their ability to know 'all about us . . . whether we've been good or bad,' might be a tool of the Antichrist to bring down civilization." Others believe that supermarket bar codes, another tool of modern technology, are really the "mark of the beast," a mark -- 666 -- that Satan gives to his allies, so that they can avoid the punishment meted out to Christians who refuse to abandon their faith. The Prophecy Club sells a book entitled Technology and the Mark of the Beast in which author Walt Myers tells readers "how technology will be used to trap the masses into receiving The Mark of the Beast." He warns readers about "Radio Frequency Identification, computer chips of human flesh, Low-Orbital Surveillance and tracking satellites" and other technological devices.
More Doom and Gloom
There are other far-right Christian evangelicals who view the Y2K issue with alarm. Gary North, who writes, lectures and speaks on Y2K at various events, has been predicting that the Y2K computer bug will lead to widespread chaos and panic. North is also a leader in the Christian Reconstructionist movement whose followers believe in the manifestation of a society on earth that is defined and controlled by Christians. He has headed the Institute for Christian Economics which advocates a free-market economy based on "explicitly biblical laws." Reconstructionists believe that it is their duty to help bring down the present-day government so that they can establish a fundamentalist theocracy that operates on principles chiefly from the Old Testament.
Although North is predicting havoc related to the Y2K computer bug, he does not connect that havoc to the imminent return of Jesus. His Reconstructionist belief is based on postmillenialism. Reconstructionists believe that the return of Jesus to earth will happen after a millennium of peace on earth has already been established. Nonetheless, North's thinking about Y2K, his "expertise" offered in lectures at Y2K Preparedness Expos, and his numerous publications have made many people believe his theories that the Y2K "bug" will result in a global disaster.
Cults and the Millennium
Some groups who proclaim that the apocalypse will occur in the year 2000 do not relate this event to Y2K at all. Yet, these groups are of concern since authorities believe that they may carry out violent actions in hopes of hastening their particular version of the end of the world. These groups are generally led by charismatic leaders who believe that either they are the long-awaited Messiah or a designated witness to the Second Coming.
One such group that achieved notoriety is Concerned Christians, whose members settled in Israel in the fall of 1998 and were arrested and deported by Israeli authorities in January 1999. The Israelis assert that the group was intent on carrying out violent acts in the streets of Jerusalem at the end of 1999 to hasten the Second Coming of Jesus. Members of the group believe that their leader, Monte Kim Miller, will die on the streets of Jerusalem in December 1999 and be resurrected three days later.
Yisrayl (also known as Bill) Hawkins, leader of another cult, House of Yahweh, has convinced his followers that he is a "witness" who will announce the Second Coming of Christ and then be murdered by Satan. Hawkins and his followers are awaiting the return of Jesus in a compound in Abilene, Texas. The group has sometimes been thought to belong to the Identity Church movement, a racist and anti-Semitic pseudo-religion that defines Jews as children of Satan and all minorities as subhuman "mud people." The House of Yahweh believes that the end of the world will arrive soon if the Bible's laws are not universally obeyed and the Temple in Jerusalem is not rebuilt. Authorities believe that the group is stockpiling weapons and there are reports that former members of the Posse Comitatus, a group of Christian Identity activists dedicated to survivalism, vigilantism and anti-government action live at the Texas compound.
Robert Millar, the leader of Elohim City, a Christian Identity settlement located in Muldrow, Oklahoma, on the Oklahoma-Arkansas border, believes that the Tribulation is already upon us, and that a series of disasters will occur soon after the year 2000 when the wicked will be removed from the earth. His teachings are explicitly based on white supremacist beliefs, and some Elohim City leaders and members had ties to The Convenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord (CSA), a paramilitary survivalist group that operated another Identity compound near the Arkansas-Missouri border. Elohim City is reportedly heavily armed in anticipation of the End-Times battle.
Another cult, Aum Shinrikyo -- based in Japan -- has gained worldwide attention because of its apocalyptic beliefs and its 1995 sarin poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway, which killed 12 people and sickened 6,000. Even though Aum is rooted in Japanese religious culture, its leader, Shoko Asahara, has claimed to be Jesus. In an article analyzing Aum Shinrikyo, Ely Karmon, director of the Internet and Data-base Project at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism of The Interdisciplinary Center in Herzlia, Israel, said that Asahara's claim that he was Jesus "allowed him to add to Aum's Buddhist doctrines the Judeo-Christian concept of the Last Judgment and the final battle of Armageddon." Asahara and his followers believe that the apocalypse is coming soon after 2000, and that in order to survive Armageddon Aum members must possess a special resistance to chemical and bacterial weapons. The group's attack on the subway in Tokyo may have been one way of proving their invulnerability to these agents.
Aum is already considered dangerous because of its violent past and authorities fear that the group may commit more violent acts as the millennium approaches. According to Karmon, Asahara has identified the United States as the Beast in the Book of Revelation and has said that the U.S. will one day attack Japan, which he must then save.
Asahara also sees a conspiracy among various forces, particularly Jews and Freemasons, to bring about World War III and the end of the world. Aum has posted the virulently anti-Semitic tract, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion on its Web site. The Protocols, a document supposedly created by Jews (the Elders) determined to seize control of the world, was actually a forgery prepared by Russian secret police agents during the last decade of the 19th century. Karmon asserts that The Protocols enable Asahara "to explain many difficult events and phenomena and to convince his followers to unite and organize for the final, decisive battle against the Devil and his representatives in Japan." The Aum Web site has begun to post Asahara's doomsday preaching. Although Asahara is currently in jail for his connection to the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, his following remains strong.
Apocalyptic Thinking and the Jewish Community's 'Role'
The End Times scenario known formally as dispensational premillenialism (dispensationalism refers to the idea that history has been "dispensed" in divinely appointed eras) is principally based on the teaching of John Nelson Darby, a 19th century British preacher. Darby's elaborate biblical prophecy interpretations emphasize both the singularity of the Jews and the magnitude of their error in rejecting Jesus. According to these interpretations, the promises made in the Bible to the people of Israel have been transferred to all those who believe in Jesus and the Jews can only be saved by publicly accepting Jesus as the Messiah.
In many cases, those who believe in the apocalypse focus on the Jewish community as the key element in setting the stage for the events that will bring about the End Times and the Second Coming. Hal Lindsey, in The Late Great Planet Earth, states bluntly, "The Jew is the most important sign to this generation."
In focusing on the Jews as the "most important sign" of the End Times, some millennialist Christians not only believe but actually hope that the Jews will cease to exist as a unique people with their own separate religion, history and culture.
During 1999, someone associated with the Prophecy Club contacted Jewish institutions to warn the Jews that it is essential that they return to Israel because the United States Government and the United Nations are building concentration camps in America to imprison Jews and "Israel-supporting" Christians. The return of the Jews to their homeland and their subsequent acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah are seen as the key to preventing the Antichrist from ruling the world. Other groups see the Jews solely as the embodiment of evil, plotting with the Antichrist to destroy the world.
In an article posted in "The WINDS," a prophecy-oriented, far-right, anti-government on-line magazine, the author wrote, "The Jews arranged for the crucifixion of Jesus and there has never been repentance for that act. Jesus is still being crucified, yet, professed Christians bow at the feet of this anti-Christ. . . . This anti-Christ uses as its tool the organization called the United Nations which was instrumental in setting this force on the glorious holy mountain in Jerusalem in 1948."
In 1999, Jerry Falwell, a mainstream Christian evangelical leader, stated publicly that the Antichrist is Jewish. He apologized to the Jewish community after his remarks caused an outcry. Nonetheless, his belief speaks to the central role that some Christians see Jews as playing in the End-Times drama.
Many evangelical Christians believe that they must focus their efforts in helping the Jews convert as the millennium nears. One such person who attended the Y2K conference sponsored by Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network was quoted in a recent issue of Esquire magazine as saying, ". . . we will have to hide the Jews so that they can get back to Israel, so that Jesus Christ can come again in glory."
While some evangelicals view Jews as merely the catalysts that will allow the return of Jesus, there are others on the far right whose ideas on the subject contain overtones of anti-Semitism. While dispensational theologies foresee an ultimate reconciliation between "Israel" and the "Church" when Jesus establishes his millennium, they have supported unusual forms of theological anti-Judaism. Evangelical and fundamentalist writers, for instance, have regularly spoken of anti-Semitism as part of God's will -- both as a sign of the Jews' prophesied future and as "chastisement" for their past error in rejecting the divinity of Jesus. In his 1979 book, Israel's Final Holocaust, televangelist Jack Van Impe called anti-Semitism "a cancer that seems never to heal," but he also wrote: "Following the rejection of their Messiah and the dispersion after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jews entered the longest period of suffering and persecution. . . . In taking the long look at history, one sees that the Jews had been steadily marching toward Hitler's ovens ever since the fall of their beloved city in A.D. 70."
Van Impe is not the only evangelist to refer to the Holocaust. While many Christian prophecy writers have lamented the horrors of the Holocaust, some have seen the genocide as furthering God's intentions, hastening the creation of the State of Israel and thereby offering "proof that the covenant of God with His people had not been broken," according to a 1976 fundamentalist statement. Moreover, for a number of these writers, the Holocaust foreshadowed the final persecution of the Jews by the Antichrist, which, according to Hal Lindsey, would make the Nazis "look like Girl Scouts weaving a daisy chain."
Radio preacher Chuck Missler has also been quoted as saying that the Tribulation, the final seven years of history, will "make the Holocaust . . . look like a picnic."
A Time of Hope
Most Christians welcome the approaching millennium with a sense of renewal. In October 1998, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America issued a letter telling their members to disregard wild prophecies and to welcome the coming millennium with hope. Likewise, Pope John Paul II has told Catholics to celebrate the turn of the millennium and to confirm their faith by making pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Rome, if possible.
Those far-right groups that connect potential Y2K chaos to the end of the world have a particularly dark vision of the world. They constantly seek out signs to confirm that their vision is correct. Hopefully, however, most people will see the millennium as a time for reflection, not for scapegoating and conspiracy theories.