There has been any number of candidates for "The Big Year." The years that come to mind are:
Radulfus Glaber (German for Ralph the Baldheaded) said that when the calendar rolled over from 999 to 1000 Jesus was expected to come again. Many Christians fully believed that it would happen at the exact place in the midnight mass when the Pope lifted the communion chalice and cried, "Ita missa est" (it is finished). It was a kind of Y1K prophecy that New Years Day of 1000 would be the day. Some doubt Radulfus' account of New Years 999, simply because the current Christian calendar was not redacted till 985 A.D., and the Christians of that day did not have a good enough grip on the new calendar to whip their Second Coming fever into an empire-wide madness so quickly.
The Fifth Monarchists, a Jehovah's Witness kind of cult in the seventeenth century, believed that Jesus would come at the end of the Cromwellian usurpation. They believed that just as Charles II regained his crown, Jesus would return and reclaim the church's crown Himself. Then the Savior would reign over England for a thousand years.
The Millerites believed that Jesus would come again and they dressed in white and climbed the mountain to await Him. When He didn't come, they all came down from the mountain a little red-faced and wiser but a more moderate Adventism was born.
Nineteen-eighteen was the year the Jehovah's Witnesses first picked, before they picked 1962, before they picked 1970, before they picked ... well, you get the idea.
The year 1984 was Orwell's signal year. It wasn't a finite expectation of the Second Coming, but it was an apocalyptic date where communism, the ultimate Big Brother system, would take over the world. But communism was not so formidable as he thought. Six years later, the Berlin Wall came down and Leninism was dead worldwide.
This was just last year, remember? Christian prophets were telling us to fill our bathtubs with water and buy extra food and blankets. They advised us to take all our money out of the bank (get a lot of it in spendable sawbucks, they said) so we would be ready for the collapse of the International Monetary Fund. We were supposed to buy guns and ammo to protect our hoarded larders against other Gentiles who, like the foolish virgins in the parable, would run out of gas and oil at the midnight cry.
Now it's 2001
Arthur Clarke wrote the book and Stanley Kubrick made the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Remember the life it pictured? Remember Hal, the self-willed computer who held life at bay in this surreal space odyssey? We've still not arrived at the magnificent space station pictured in the film.
In the prophecies of each of these years, Jesus was at the gates of time and history was closing. Each brought its own specific prophecies.
Past candidates for the Great Harlot of the Apocalypse include the European Common Market, the Axis Powers, the United Nations, and the Holy Roman Empire.
Past candidates for the office of the Beast were Kissinger, Greenspan, Hitler, the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor, Lenin, Mao, and the House of Windsor.
It all gets a little mind boggling when we try to force God's hand in the closure of history. Still, we must not let the erroneous date-setters of the past foil the reality of heaven.
Jesus is coming again!
It could be this year!
It could be next.
Who is the Antichrist or the Great Harlot? Probably not who we think.
Still, it is January of 2001.
It's a good time to keep your head up.
Calvin Miller is professor of preaching and pastoral ministry at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.