Is Second Coming Near?

In Northern Israel, theres not much to see on the hill called Megiddo except for sand, palm trees and a few ruins.

But tourists can be found there on most days because the spot is specifically mentioned in the Bible, although with a slightly different name: Armageddon. CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Jesse Schulman reports.
Megiddo is famous not for what happened in the past, but for what millions of people believe will happen in the future. This is the site of the last great battle, the final clash between the forces of good and the forces of evil. For the believer, the spot is ground zero for the war at the end of the world.

The siege and fiery death of David Koresh and his followers in Waco, Texas, was the first time many Americans came face to face with the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament and probably the most controversial.

For Pastor John Hagee and the 17,000 members of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, the battle of Armageddon will announce the Second Coming of Christ.

"The Bible says that the blood will flow to the bridle of a horse for 200 miles. Thats almost inconceivable. And at that point in time, Jesus Christ will return to Earth, according to Revelation 19," says Hagee.

The Book of Revelation is a detailed account of a battle between Jesus and the devil, called the Antichrist. Many Christians view it as an allegory of good conquering evil. Yet upward of 100 million Americans believe its a predictor of things to come, and fundamentalist Christians believe it will happen soon.

Hagee believes the world is on the edge of Armageddon, a time called the rapture.

"The next thing were waiting for is the rapture of the church," says Hagee, who has an enormous mural that details the world from the creation to the end of time.

Thats when the believers in Jesus Christ will instantly vanish from the Earth and when Christ will appear in the heavens, according to the belief; the dead in Christ are raised from the dead and the living are caught up in their Lord.

The coming of the second millennium has prompted a resurgence of interest in doomsday scenarios. You can find them on the Internet, in books and in movies like Armageddon. In the Bible, according to Hollywood, Arnold Schwarzenegger does battle with the devil himself in the film End of Days.

"In a sense, its imbedded in the DNA of the culture. It's imbedded in Christianity; its imbedded in Judaism," says Richard Landes, historian and director of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University.

"The only time we notice it is when it becomes apocalyptic, that is people [believe] its goig to happen in their day, or even more powerfully in the coming year. And then when people get apocalyptic, they tend to burn bridges; they give all they have to the poor," he says.

Thats what happened when Europe approached the year 1000 and at various times since.

"They take one-way tickets to Jerusalem and have no intention of returning," Landes continues. "They dont plant crops for the following year."

History is filled with believers in millennial or end-time philosophies: Richard the Lion Hearted and the crusaders, Isaac Newton, Christopher Columbus and even the Pilgrims and Puritans who colonized America. But few actually believed it would happen in their lifetime.

"Well, the problem with studying apocalypticism and why its been basically a neglected field, and largely done by people who are doing sort of coffee-table books about weirdos, is that in the past anybodys who's announced that in their day Jesus would return,...theyve all been wrong," Landes explains.

Believers in the literal truth of the Bible say they wont be wrong this time and the reason is to be found in Israel. They cite Biblical passages that say the Second Coming of Christ will only take place after the Jewish people regain control of Jerusalem.

One thousand years ago that wasnt the case. As the year 2000 approaches, though, the state of Israel is indeed a reality.

"When the state of Israel was born, it was the high day in prophecy to say the end of time was now in process," says Hagee.

And then in 1967, in the Six Day War, Israel took control of Jerusalem.

"Its now certainly clear to fundamentalists that history changed in 1967," says David Katz, history professor at the University of Tel Aviv and author of a book on radical religious politics at the end of the second millennium.

"Before 1967, fundamentalism was anti-Jewish, almost anti-Semitic, certainly anti-Zionist. They thought that the Jews were trying to jump the gun.Gods plan did not involve the establishment of the Jewish state on the place,"Katz explains.

"From 1967, the miracle of the Six Day War convinced all fundamentalists that we in fact understood the plan better than they did themselves, and that since that time we are part of the system," Katz says.

Still Katz argues that talk of apocolyptic ends and messiahs can help produce such horrors as the deaths of Jim Jones and his followers in 1978, Heavens Gate in 1997, the Branch Davidians at Waco, and even the destruction of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

"The beliefs themselves are completely mainstream," Katz continues. "The beliefs themselves are not, you might say, dangerous, because 99.9 percent of the people believe that they need to do nothing,just wait until the Messiah comes."

"But there is always a small element - there has been throughout history - of people who think the Messiah will not come until we do somethng to prepare the way for him. Now this group of people is extremely dangerous," he says.

Earlier this year, Israel deported members of a Christian cult for allegedly planning to attack holy sites in Jerusalem to hasten the return of Christ. This month the same members were arrested in Greece.

But for the overwhelming majority of Christian fundamentalists, nothings needs to be done to hasten the Second Coming but to have faith and to keep their eyes on Jerusalem. They are convinced that the Antichrist is already alive and planning and that the Day of Judgment is near.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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