The only real significance of the millennium is that it is now 2,000 years since Jesus was born. But so what? What is so important about a carpenter’s son from first century Palestine that we should count our calendar years from the time of his birth? What relevance does he have to our daily lives as medical students and future doctors? Or to anyone at all, for that matter?
Jesus is fact, not fiction!
Perhaps you’re not bothered with Jesus because you don’t think he even existed - but have you examined the evidence? The Gospels were written within living memory of Jesus, so if they were pure fiction they would have been discredited. It is virtually impossible to propagate a massive fraud when so many witnesses are alive. There is also no ancient document for which there is anything like the same evidence to confirm that what we now hold is the same as was originally given. Apart from the Gospels, Homer’s Iliad is the best surviving piece of ancient literature - but only 600 copies exist of which the oldest postdates the original by over 500 years. By contrast, over 20,000 ancient manuscripts containing all or part of the New Testament have been discovered so far, and the earliest date to the lifetime of the twelve disciples. In addition, no archaeological discovery has been shown to contradict a biblical reference.
Jesus is unique
Jesus has had a phenomenal impact on history and his words, actions and claims are quite unique. People from all cultural and religious backgrounds have embraced his ethical and moral teaching and his own personal goodness is unparalleled in history. We may take it for granted that we should care for the sick, the disadvantaged, the weak, the ignorant, the outsider, but such civilising ideas originated in the words and example of Jesus Christ. His power over nature, death and disease and in particular his miraculous healings could not be denied by even the most sceptical of eyewitnesses. But it was his extraordinary claims that really polarised contemporary opinion. Jesus claimed to be Creator and Judge, forgiver of sins, and the only way to God – in short, that he was God himself.
There is a great paradox here. Jesus’ gentleness and humility were pervaded by a massive sense of his own authority. He had the most extraordinary opinion of himself that is reflected in everything he said or did. From these facts Oxford Professor of Literature and well-known author CS Lewis concluded:
‘A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on the level of a man who says he’s a poached egg, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But don’t come up with any patronising nonsense about his being a great moral teacher. He hasn’t left that alternative open to us. He didn’t intend to.’
The human condition
Jesus taught that God created us to love and serve him now and to enjoy our relationship with him forever. However, contrary to God’s intentions we have rebelled against him. We have all chosen to live our lives our own way. This rebellion, or sin, has cut us off from God. We rightfully deserve nothing short of his judgement and exclusion from his presence.
But because God loves us, he has not left us to face his judgement. Rather, he has sent Jesus Christ to die in our place, and to take the punishment we deserve. The Jewish prophet Isaiah had foretold this event hundreds of years previously:
‘He was wounded and bruised for our sins; he was chastised that we might have peace; he was lashed and we were healed. We are the ones that strayed away like sheep, we who left God’s paths to follow our own, yet God laid on him the guilt and sin of every one of us.’
Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans in about 30AD. Around 54AD the apostle Paul wrote: ‘as of first importance, Christ died for our sins’. It was Jesus’ greatest act of obedience to his Father: the only person who has never sinned, taking the punishment we deserve.
Now we come to the crunch. The Bible says that when men had rejected and crucified Jesus, God raised him from the dead! However improbable such an event may seem, the evidence for his resurrection continues to withstand the most careful scrutiny. Following Jesus’ death, thousands came to believe he was alive again. The belief could have been snuffed out at source if the Romans or the Jews had displayed his corpse, but the body was not produced. More than 500 people were said to have seen him on one occasion. Individuals of different types and temperaments said they had met him and stuck to their story even though it cost them their lives. No modern understanding of hallucinations or illusions can begin to make sense of the resurrection appearances – and even if they could, they offer no explanation to account for the missing body.
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead doesn’t only mean that he conquered death. It also means that we will rise from the dead if we trust in him. When Jesus returns and this world comes to an end then those who follow him now can look forward to living, working and praising him in a world with no more pain or suffering. There is a real future ahead, beyond our wildest expectations.
So, what is the real significance of the millennium? It is that through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection God offers to forgive us, solely on the basis of Christ’s death in our place on the cross. This has nothing to do with whether we have ever behaved like ‘nice’ people! The only condition is that we turn to God, ask for forgiveness, and put our trust in Jesus, as our Lord and Saviour.
If we ignore or turn our backs on this offer of forgiveness, we are choosing to face the judgement of God unforgiven. This means not only physical death but exclusion from God’s presence forever in Hell.
However, if we accept God’s offer a new, eternal life with him begins. He will give us a new nature and will come and live in us by his Holy Spirit - changing us to be more like Jesus each day. However, even this is only a small foretaste of the amazing life ahead of us in the new world Jesus will bring into being when he returns.
We are all going to die, unless Jesus returns early in the new millennium (and this is a real possibility), yet very few of us, ever stop to think about what will happen after this. Jesus made it clear that there are only two possible futures for each one of us - with him in the wonderful new world he will bring - or excluded from his presence forever in Hell. Ultimately, each of us must personally decide about Jesus, whether to accept his claims and become his follower or to reject him. He demands our allegiance, warning that ‘he who is not for me is against me’. He leaves us no fence to sit on! We must make our response.
Acknowledgement:This article was adapted from The Greatest Person by Peter May, using material from Cure for Life by Bernard Palmer. These publications are reviewed in Millennium Book Offers, and recommended as further reading, along with the Gospel accounts in the New Testament, if you want to investigate Jesus Christ in more depth.
If you genuinely wish to know more we will send you complimentary copies of The Greatest Person, Cure for Life, and a copy of Luke’s Gospel. E-mail us on firstname.lastname@example.org.