A radio host named Harold Camping is making headlines in the Washington Post, Associated Press, National Public Radio, and elsewhere this month by publicly predicting that the Rapture — the sudden disappearance of born-again followers of Jesus Christ from the earth, followed by the Biblical judgments described in the Book of Revelation as the “Great Tribulation” — will occur on May 21, 2011. Sadly, he is just the latest person to foolishly ignore the teachings of Jesus Christ and mislead people regarding Bible prophecy.
The San Francisco Chronicle seems to be the first to have picked up the story. They reported: “Camping, 88, has scrutinized the Bible for almost 70 years and says he has developed a mathematical system to interpret prophecies hidden within the Good Book. One night a few years ago, Camping, a civil engineer by trade, crunched the numbers and was stunned at what he’d found: The world will end May 21, 2011….Employees at the Oakland office run printing presses that publish Camping’s pamphlets and books, and some wear T-shirts that read, ‘May 21, 2011.’ They’re happy to talk about the day they believe their souls will be retrieved by Christ. ‘I’m looking forward to it,’ said Ted Solomon, 60, who started listening to Camping in 1997. He’s worked at Family Radio since 2004, making sure international translators properly dictate Camping’s sermons.”
Camping’s declaration is deeply misguided. In Matthew chapter 24, the Lord Jesus Christ gave His disciples a list of signs to watch for that would indicate when His return for His true followers was approaching. Such signs included the rise of false messiahs, wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, other natural disasters, persecution of believers, the spread of the gospel to all people in every nation, the rebirth of the nation of Israel, and so forth. But in Matthew 24:36, Christ warned His followers not to try to speculate on exact dates of His return. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone,” Christ said.
If “no one” on earth knows the date of Christ’s return, how then does Harold Camping know? He doesn’t.
Yet this is not the first time Camping has been misled or misled others. In 1992, he published a book through Vantage Press in New York entitled, 1994? I actually have a copy because I have started a collection of books and pamphlets of false teachings about Bible prophecy. It’s a 552 page volume with this conclusion: “The results of this study teach that the month of September of the year 1994 is to be the time for the end of history.” In the following sentence he notes: “We must be cautious. There could be something that has been overlooked. In view of the many paths that I have found that focus on 1994 it seems extremely unlikely that we have overlooked something. However I modestly and humbly acknowledge that such a possibility exists.” (emphasis added)
Obviously, Camping was wrong. Neither the Rapture nor the end of the world occured in 1994. He did, in fact, overlook something — the words of our Lord Jesus Christ who said in Matthew 24:36 that “no one knows” the time of Christ’s return but the Father alone.
Camping is not the only one who has refused to accept the words of Christ and have decided that they do know, and have spread such misguided and unbiblical teaching to others. In 1987, an author named Edgar C. Whisenant, for example, wrote a book published through the World Bible Society entitled, 88 Reasons Why The Rapture Could Be In 1988. On page 3, Whisenant actually cites Christ’s warning in Matthew 24:36. Yet he then proceeds to speculate with a professed near certainty that he knows what no one else knows. His conclusion: “We are now in the 100th Congress of the United States, and 1987 is the 212th birthday of the Constitution of the United States. Water boils at 100 degrees centrigrade, and at 212 degrees fahrenheit. We will not see another national election; nor will we see the end of the 213th year of the Constitution (which is the end of 1988), before the war comes (World War III) which destroys us completely as a nation, before the election in November 1988 — and before the harvest 1988, on 4 October 1988.”
Obviously, Whisenant was wrong. Neither the Rapture nor the end of the world occured on October 4, 1988, nor at any time that year. The following year, however, he published another book explaining that the Rapture would actually happen in 1989, claiming that he had previously miscalculated. The Rapture didn’t happen then either.
Such date-setting is not only unbiblical, wrong and misleading, it also invites ridicule, scorn and discredit upon followers of Jesus Christ who study the Bible seriously and teach the Word of God — including prophecy — carefully and soberly.
Jesus Christ was very clear that He is coming back. “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go and prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:1-3)
The Apostle Paul was very clear in describing the Rapture that “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain [as born again believers in Christ] will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (I Thessalonians 4:16-17)
Teachers of Bible prophecy need to be very careful. Our responsibility is not to predict when Christ will return, but to help people be ready for the Lord’s return, whenever that occurs, and especially if it is soon. We can do this by sharing the gospel, making disciples, spreading the Word, strengthening the Church, living lives of holiness and purity, and becoming men and women of prayer and worship. We also need to do this by helping people to discern the difference between solid Bible teaching and false teaching. Let’s ask the Lord to help us to serve Him wisely and humbly. Let’s also pray for Harold Camping and others that their eyes may be opened to the truth and they make make a rapid course correction.
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