They are flooding Israel right now in unprecedented numbers. Many are pilgrims who want to make sure they see the holy places before the end of days. They are following in the footsteps of Jesus, up the Via Dolorosa, across the sea of Galilee, and over to the river Jordan.
Among the throngs is apocalyptic writer Hal Lindsey. Lindsey recently led 200 pilgrims on what could be called a doomsday tour of Israel, the place where the Christian vision of doomsday unfolds.
The Holy Land is littered with ruins where, according to archaeologists, events described in the Bible actually unfolded. Of these sites, the one that is perhaps most real to these millennial Christians is Armageddon.
The Bible prophesies that the last battle will be waged there. Lindsey says that the battle will be incredibly bloody: "In the first attack, a quarter of the population of the Earth is destroyed. Blood will stand to the horse's bridle for a space of 200 miles."
|Christine Darg set up a Web cam to record the end of the world.|
The members of Lindsey's tour group needed no convincing. "We see wars and rumors of wars," says tour member Alice Drummond. "We see the signs of the prophets that they're saying, I really do believe that we are in our last days. "
This is old-time religion. The good will be saved; sinners will burn. End-timers like Lindsey believe the apocalypse will begin with the rapture, which is the instant calling to heaven of all good Christians. People will actually disappear, Lindsey says.
End-timers also believe in the Antichrist, a lead player in apocalyptic thought. The book of Revelation -- the last book in The New Testament -- says that the Antichrist is the agent of Satan, a false messiah from Rome who will lead the forces of evil in the Apocalypse.
Lindsey has updated the concept a bit. "The Antichrist will be a person not thoght of as an evil man," says Lindsey, who says that the Antichrist is alive in Europe right now. "Apparently, he'll be a spell-binding orator. And television is just made for somebody like that. I mean, someone who could mesmerize the world."
Lindsey sees the global economy as one way that the Antichrist will take control of the world. Other signs: credit cards and the Internet. His followers mention more signs: increased frequency of earthquakes, wars and famines.
If you share this belief that the end is near, Christine Darg suggests you can see it all without ever leaving the safety of your own home. On a recent visit to Jerusalem, she set up a camera that is connected to her Web site. It will give a constant view of the gate to Jerusalem, through which the Bible says Jesus will return. She calls it the Messiahcam.
|Visit Christine Darg's Messiahcam site.|
For Lindsey and millions of others, the sense of anticipation is heightened because, for the first time since the days of the Bible, there is a Jewish state. For followers of prophecy, the creation of Israel in 1948 was the first of three events that must occur before the Apocalypse. The second took place in 1967, when the Israelis conquered the old city of Jerusalem. All that remains is the third -- and final -- step: the Jews rebuilding their holy temple on Jerusalem's Temple Mount.
But there is a mosque standing on Temple Mount today, one of the holiest mosques in Islam. What worries many: some people want to destroy the mosque to pave the way for the Messiah.
"[This mosque] is the place which needs to be watched most carefully in the next two years," says David Katz, a historian at Tel Aviv University who studies millennial terrorists.
"I think you would need almost nothing," he says. "A hand grenade would be sufficient. I think even plastic weapons would be enough. If it would provoke the police and the army into storming the site, dealing with the hostages, killing the hostages, I think this would be sufficient provocation for a conflict. "
|Check out other Webcams that will be trained on Millennium celebrations.|
But how can the cops spot a terrorist without annoying all those pilgrims who are such a blessing to the Israeli economy? Shlomo Ben Ami, Israel's minister of interior security, is in charge of this balancing act. He says that the police must be subtle, which he admits could be difficult.
To prepare, the police have formed a special unit called the God Squad which goes on field trips to churches to learn about Christian rituals and beliefs while staying out of the way of the Christian pilgrims. But Israeli authorities say the line between tourist and terrorist can be thin, and hard to decipher.
Ibrahim Daoud knows about this line as well. He runs the Mount of Olives Hotel, a place that caters to Christian tourists of modest means. There is almost always room at this inn. Daoud says most of the hotel's guests are simple, God-fearing pilgrims. But a few, he acknowledges, go further.
"We've had one Virgin Mary, but she had a brain tumor and she died several months later," Daoud says. "We've had Jesus. And we had one guy who would stay up all night wandering the corridors. We found him at the Damascus Gate, casting demons out of people."
Lindsey says that most millennial visitors and end-timers are not at all dangerous: "I think it's only a very lunatic fringe group who would try to.. blow up the Temple or try to cause a war between the Israelis and the Muslims."
But that nightmare haunts Israeli police, which knows that in this part of the world, there has never been a shortage of lunatic fringe groups.
Broadcast produced by Michael Rosenbaum; Web site produced by David Kohn;