- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 1999

JERUSALEM Waiting for the Messiah has gone from religious pastime to public event as press photographers scope out just which spot on the Mount of Olives they will place their cameras in the closing moments of Dec. 31.
The near-balmy weather and sunny skies will make for great viewing from the Mount, but some local pastors say there is no biblical proof the Second Coming is imminent.
The Rev. Neil Cohen, rector of Christ Church, an Anglican congregation in Jerusalem's Old City, has a stock response for all the journalists asking him about Christ's return.
"Don't ask me if I think Jesus will return on [Dec. 31] at midnight," he says. "Just about every Israeli newspaper has asked me and they all get the same 'no comment.' "
He and other Christian clergy report an almost obsessive media preoccupation with potential violence by Christian tourists during the coming millennial year. The overriding feeling from Christians in Israel is that their hopes and fears have been thoroughly misrepresented.
"There's been this big misperception regarding Christians selling their homes and waiting out Jesus' return on the Mount of Olives," said David Parsons, the spokesman for the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. The 19-year-old organization represents evangelical Christians to the Israeli government.
Media attention this past year has been "obsessive," he said. Sensationalist TV specials that have aired in the United States on nearly every network have fueled news editors' desires to get bigger and better scoops. A slightly alarmist New York Times magazine piece on Oct. 3, calling extremist Jews and Christians "Israel's Y2K Problem," didn't help matters, either.
"Anyone in Jerusalem who said 'Jesus is coming' would've been famous in the past year," he said.
Last week, Mr. Parsons said he was contacted by TV crews from Germany and Finland and newspaper reporters from France, Britain and the Netherlands. Of the media who contacted him, "At least half of them said, 'I only want the crazies,' " he said.
"No matter how much you try to correct that false impression, it's taken awhile to turn it around. No one wants to report there are thousands of Christians living sober lives. The emphasis has been on two or three people."
The Mount makes a dramatic staging spot. Three world religions name it as the place where the Messiah will arrive. Jews say it will be his first visit, and the Old Testament book of Zechariah then adds the startling note that the hill will then split in two under his feet. Christians say Jesus, who ascended from the Mount, will return with an avenging army.
Muslims believe that on Judgment Day, a bridge will cross from the Mount over the Kidron Valley to the Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount. Those who are evil will slip off the bridge.
All the theological conjecture has been great fun for the press corps here, which, along with Washington, Moscow, London and New York, ranks among the world's top five news bases for journalists. Many have been churning out stories about either supposedly mentally deranged Christian millennialists or the huge number of police (3,000 on the Temple Mount alone) assigned to guard the city on New Year's Eve.
Some Christians and Jews believe the Messiah cannot come unless a third Jewish temple is built on the Mount, which would displace the 120-foot-high Dome of the Rock. Jews took over total control of the city in 1967 during the Six-Day War, but left oversight of the Mount to the Muslims. Several radical Jewish groups and individuals have been arrested in recent decades for plotting to hurry along the divine timetable by bombing the Mount, which would displace the Muslims.
Just this year, Israelis have begun deporting Christian groups and individuals they suspect of plotting the same scheme, the most famous being one "Brother David," an American who had loitered about the Mount for years. He was deported this fall.
No one can predict what New Year's crowds will do.
"I feel it's the calm before the storm," admitted one Israeli government spokeswoman.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Larry Schwartz takes an opposing view.
"It's a snore," he says. "Most Israelis will have their own little parties. The hotels are full, but I'm not sure what people are expecting. It's CNN hype."
Forty-four percent of Israeli Jews attach no importance to Dec. 31, according to a poll commissioned by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Some 63 percent saw no significance in Dec. 25, the date of Christ's birth. Thus, the bulk of the watchers on the Mount of Olives are apt to be Christians, such as the Rev. Ed Young, pastor of the mammoth Second Baptist Church in Houston. Mr. Young will do a live broadcast off the Mount in the wee hours of Jan. 1.
"It's to say Y2K didn't get us," said the Rev. Gary Moore, an associate pastor at Second Baptist, which has 27,000 members. "When people walk into the worship center at 11:30 p.m. [in Houston], he'll have a message for them."
Mr. Moore, along with 220 Southern Baptists, flew in here yesterday as a support base for Mr. Young. Also along was Orlando evangelist Jay Strack, who will be broadcasting tonight, tomorrow night and New Year's Eve from various sacred spots around town. His audience will be thousands of young people listening to uplinks in coliseums in seven U.S. cities.
Also in town is mega-church pastor Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. A one-time pastoral adviser to President Clinton, he will be broadcasting his "One Light, One World" show from here.
To correct misconceptions, the Christian Embassy has posted a statement on its Web site insisting there is no prophetic significance to the years 2000 or 2001. They may have symbolic value, the site reads, but "the vast majority of Christians do not take seriously anyone who may be setting with certainty either 2000 or 2001 as the date for Christ's return."
The Bible refused to set a date for the Second Coming, the site said, and besides, the true 2,000th anniversary of Jesus' birth was probably in 1996, instead of 2000.

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