It is now May 22, 2011, and still no Rapture. I am still here, and I have not heard of any suspicious disappearance of Christians (although, from what I understand, Harold Camping is nowhere to be found). Life goes on, for Christians and nonbelievers alike.
It is easy to joke about Camping’s claims that the Rapture would take place yesterday, and that the world will end on October 21. I will make every effort to avoid ridiculing the man and his followers. Nevertheless, his false teachings cannot be ignored or swept under the rug. They need to be confronted, and Christians need to learn from recent events.
Wikipedia refers to Harold Camping as “an American Christian radio broadcaster.” I would normally not be that gracious in my assessment of him. His teachings in recent years have gone beyond misguided or controversial, into all-out heresy. He is probably best described as a “radio cult leader.” In 1994, after his first prognosticated date for the Rapture did not work out, he claimed that, instead of taking the church out of the world, God had decided to take his Holy Spirit out of the church! According to Camping, the church had become so heavily infiltrated by the devil, that the Holy Spirit had left it. He began teaching his followers that true Christians must leave the established church.
This is in complete conflict with what Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, where he told Peter, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” I cannot see how a person who would make this sort of claim has any true understanding of the power of God, the mercy of Christ, or the plan of salvation.
Harold Camping has hurt a lot of people. One retiree from Staten Island, NY invested his entire life’s savings—about $140,000—in advertising to warn people of the coming apocalypse. I am sure he is not alone. To be perfectly honest, if I had believed Camping, I probably would have quit my job so I can spend my last days doing something more personally meaningful (like spending time with my wife and my son’s family). I can only imagine that countless Campingites made decisions that will have long-lasting harmful effects on them.
Camping has hurt not only his followers. He has hurt the church’s witness, in a way. Over the last couple weeks, more and more secular news outlets reported Camping’s “prophecy.” Unfortunately, news radio stations—including those that focus on brief sound bites and are therefore not well-suited for deep analysis of complex issues—may not always give all the facts. It was not always clear that Camping was wrong before (he previously said the Rapture would occur in September 1994), or that most evangelical, fundamentalist, and charismatic Christians do not agree with the man. Based on a shallow, quickly reported account of Camping’s claims, one could come away thinking that those conservative Christian nuts had come up with some crazy story.
Yet, we can learn some positive lessons from this ordeal, and I would hope more Christians try to seek a positive outcome. Saint Paul tells us that all things (I would dare say that will include heresy and irresponsible preaching by false prophets) work together for good for those who love God, and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). If we continue to pursue God’s purposes, we will be OK. More than that, we will see greater blessing not only in spite of Camping, but because of him.
A few lessons we can learn and remember are the following:
- Jesus will return when he and his Father are good and ready! Camping is not the only date setter to get it wrong. Before Harold Camping, Edgar C. Whisenant wrote a book in 1988, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. When that did not pan out, he followed up with a book proposing reasons why the Rapture would occur in 1989. I started telling people that I would write a book entitled, Ninety Reasons Why Jesus Will Return When He’s Darned Good and Ready.
Well, I never did write that book. Plenty of “prophecy experts” have issued their warnings over the years, and have been proven wrong. It is easy to grow cynical about the second coming of Christ (see Second Peter 3:3–7). Yet, Jesus never gave us a date for his return. In fact, he told us that his Father is the only being who knows the date of his return—neither Jesus nor the angels know the date (Matthew 24:36; 25:13).
- It is not our job to know when the end will come. It is our job to occupy until Jesus comes. In Acts 1:7, 8, Jesus ended his earthly teaching ministry by answering yet another question by the apostles, about the dating of end-times events. Jesus said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” We do not need to know when Jesus is coming back. We just need to proclaim the truth that He is returning, and that he offers forgiveness and everlasting life to all who call upon him.
- We do not know when our own end will occur. This should be obvious. While I was writing this post, I heard about a killer tornado in Joplin, MO. Although the article I read did not give any numbers (it referred only to “some fatalities”), I can be sure of one thing: those people who died in that storm did not expect it. I would not be surprised if they had Day-Timers filled in, like I do, specifying where they expect to go and what they plan to do tomorrow. Their plans will not be fulfilled. It does not matter to them when Jesus will return. Their judgment day is now.
The same is true for all of us. I can hope to live another 30, 40, or even 50 years. It is not inconceivable for a man my age, in reasonably good health, to expect to live a long time. Yet, there are no guarantees. Accidents, sudden illness, or other tragedies can take us out of this world when we least expect it. So, it does not really matter when Jesus will return. We will all face our day of judgment; we will all stand before him sooner or later. We do not know that date and cannot schedule it on our Blackberry. We need to just be ready always to meet the Lord.
- Therefore, let us live each day with our eyes on eternity. On my Facebook page, I list one of my favorite quotes, which I saw attributed to actor James Dean: “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.” Sadly, he did die young, and I do not know exactly where he said it. But, the truth is worth considering. We can make plans for our future. We should have long-term goals. At the same time, those long-term goals should be pursued with a mindset that focuses on eternity.
How many on their deathbeds wished they’d spent more time at the office—or watching TV? The answer is, No one. They think about their loved ones, their family, and those they have served.
So, if the world were scheduled to end this week, and we knew without a doubt that the Rapture and/or the Second Coming of Christ, what would you do? How would you spend your last days on earth? What would you do to make those last days meaningful or rewarding? What would you want Jesus to see you doing at the moment of his return?
Based on those questions, why don’t you do those things now? Make those matters high-priority goals for the weeks and years to come. Take those things that you say would matter most at the end of days, and give them priority treatment for the rest of your days.
Finally, if any Harold Camping fans read this: God has not failed. A man has made a serious mistake in his interpretation of Scripture. God is still on the throne, he is still all-knowing, and he is still in control of the universe. I urge you to find a church that preaches the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. It does not have to be a perfect church (there is no such thing, because all churches are filled with imperfect people); just one that remains faithful to the truth of God’s Word. Continue to seek a living relationship with Jesus Christ.