Why I Don’t Buy the May 21 Prophecy

by | May 11, 2011 | Blogs, Fire in My Bones

Here are three reasons why Harold
Camping’s end-times prediction should be ignored.

I spent the past week in
Guyana, a South American nation where the people are friendly, the food is
spicy and churches are growing at a healthy pace. But Christians there face a
serious challenge because of the sad legacy of Jim Jones, the American cult
leader who ordered his followers to drink poisoned Kool-Aid at their compound
in Jonestown in 1978. The mass suicide, which killed 909 people (including
Jones), went down in history as the world’s worst example of religion gone
wrong.

“Even today, the Jim
Jones tragedy poses a problem of credibility for us,” one pastor in the
city of Corriverton told me last week.

As sincere as Camping’s
devotees may be, sincerity is no excuse for theological error. It is wrong-headed
and irresponsible for any Christian to tell an unbeliever when Jesus is coming
back or when the world will end.”

You can imagine my dismay
when I arrived in Guyana and learned that groups of Americans were combing the
streets and passing out literature claiming that Jesus will rapture the church
on May 21. These Christians apparently are so convinced of the prediction that
they traveled to the only English-speaking country in South America to deliver
a last-minute warning.

This outbreak of rapture
fever originated with Harold Camping, 89, a California-based Bible teacher who
says he figured out the date of Jesus’ return by studying the book of Daniel
and other biblical texts. Never mind that Jesus said no one would know the
timing of His return (see Matt. 24:36). And never mind that Camping has a bad
track record—he previously set Sept. 6, 1994, as the date for the Apocalypse.
Many gullible Christians are still willing to trust Camping’s instincts.

I cringed when I heard that
Americans were telling Guyanese people they have two weeks left before Jesus
arrives to take all true Christians to heaven. Camping’s followers also believe
the world will end in October. I’ve learned in the last week that many
believers have jumped on this bandwagon; they’ve put up billboards, purchased
TV ads, painted warnings on rooftops, issued radio alerts and flooded nations
with printed warnings.

I can’t compete with this doomsday madness,
but I can offer an appeal for sanity. Here are three reasons why we should not
spread Camping’s prediction:

1. It is a false prophecy. How can I say this with
assurance? Because Jesus Himself said all end-times date setting is strictly
off-limits. He told His disciples on the day He ascended: “It is not for
you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own
authority” (Acts 1:8, NASB). If it is not for us to know, then how does
Harold Camping know? Is he God? Only the worst form of spiritual pride would
lead a person to claim such knowledge.

2. Failed date-setting has
discredited Christians many times before.
Why can’t we learn from history? William
Miller, the father of Seventh-day Adventism, was convinced that Jesus would
come back in 1844.  When his prediction
turned out to be bogus (a moment known as “the Great
Disappointment”), many disillusioned “Millerites” abandoned their faith.

Jehovah’s Witnesses taught that Jesus would begin His millennial
reign in 1914. When that didn’t happen, they pointed to the outbreak of World
War I and began teaching that this was the “beginning of the end.” A
few years later they moved the date to 1925. Nothing happened that year, but
more than a generation later they circulated the prediction that the world
would end in 1975. (They also taught that only Jehovah’s Witnesses would
survive a global holocaust.)

Recent history is littered
with more of these embarrassing predictions, including Jim Jones’ claim that
the world would end in nuclear war on July 15, 1967. Jones was a communist who
believed he was the reincarnation of Jesus, Buddha and Lenin, so Christians
didn’t take him seriously. But when a Christian layman, Edgar Whisenant, wrote 88
Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988
, millions of believers bought it.
You won’t get much money for that book at a garage sale today.

3. End-times date-setting
hinders the cause of Christ.
Just imagine what will go through the minds of
unbelievers on May 22, 2011. Christians told them Jesus would return, but He
didn’t. This will make followers of Christ look silly and unreliable.

As sincere as Camping’s devotees may be,
sincerity is no excuse for theological error. It is wrong-headed and
irresponsible for any Christian to tell an unbeliever when Jesus is coming back
or when the world will end. That is not the message we were commissioned to
preach. Dates and deadlines do not have the power to save souls—only the gospel
can do that.

When we share Christ with
others, we don’t need to provide a date for His Second Coming. Instead, we tell
them about the miracle of Calvary and remind them: “Today is the
day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). No one knows when he will die; every new
day could be his last. And every person will stand before God when this life is
over.

There is urgency in the
gospel, for sure, but it is not about a countdown to the rapture. Hundreds of
thousands of people die every day without Jesus, whether or not He returns in
their generation. This alone should motivate us to avoid foolish distractions
and false prophecies so we can get busy with the task of genuine evangelism.

J. Lee Grady is contributing
editor of Charisma. You can follow him on Twitter.com leegrady. His newest book is 10 Lies Men Believe (Charisma House).

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