In anticipation of a message I'm delivering this Sunday on the end of the world and in response to so much of what I see and hear in some Christian circles, I thought it was significant to repost one of my most read blogs...
It's happening again! A Christian leader has come to imagine himself as having read and understood the Bible with such precision that he claims to know, with absolute certainty, when the end of the world is coming. Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 6PM will mark the end of the world, the rapture and a beginning of a period of unimaginable horrors from which there will be no escape or salvation possible.
This scheme has been proposed by Harold Camping, president of Family Radio. He first predicted the world would end in 1994, but said he hadn't investigated it enough when it didn't happen. Now, there is no mistake about it, according to Camping--the jig is up. Camping's group has been widely covered by most major news organizations in the world in print, web, radio and TV.
I'm writing about this today because I think there are a number of clarifications to make and because this kind of predictive work with the Bible is an opportunity to clarify a few things.
- Jesus said that no one knows the day or the hour of his return (Matthew 24:36). This point is clear from the teachings of Jesus instead of being obsessed with knowing when the end will come, we are to live in such a way that will be honoring to Christ when he returns. "Occupy till I come." (Luke 19:13) is the way Jesus expressed it when he told a parable that explores his leaving and coming again.
- This kind of prediction is a distraction from actually following Christ in the world. You may know that these kinds of predictions have happened many times in the history of the Church. The big one I remember in my lifetime was that given by Edgar Whisenant in 1988. He even wrote a best-selling pamphlet called "88 Reasons why Christ will Return in 1988". How does an obsession with the date of the end of the world help us to live lives that are more filled with love for others and more focused on knowing Christ and making him known? It doesn't. It creates a brief and intense cause for those who believe it, but then it must, in some way, undermine faith when it is over and doesn't happen. Take a moment to read 2 Peter 3:3-15 for some more insight into how the return of Christ might shape our lives.
- The Bible is not written in "code". The Bible is the most amazing book ever written. It conveys eternal truth in perfect words and is a "living word" (Hebrews 4:12). However, it was written by real people in actual historic contexts. They were wanting to convey a meaning to their audience. To understand the power of the scriptures, one needs to interpret what it says and apply it to life. There is no benefit in adding up the numbers that are contained in it or in skipping a certain number of letters to find new meanings. That is using the Bible in a completely different way than its writers intended. I find that applying God's word to my life is challenging enough without looking for secret formulas!
- A false alarm trivializes the seriousness of the actual Judgment Day that is coming. Unfortunately, if Saturday passes with no return of Christ, it is yet another confirmation to an unbelieving world that you and I are waiting in faith for something that will never happen. That's the most disappointing and revolting element of Harold Camping's predictions.
Thousands of predictions have come and gone by Christians about the end of the world in the last more than 2000 years. Let's not lose heart, but let's approach the scriptures and our world with a bit more perspective and find ways to more thoughtfully and carefully proclaim Christ's coming.
Labels: Christianity, end times, eschatology, evangelicalism, Jesus Christ, judgment day, rapture