Can Christians Know the
Date of Christ's Return?
A Response to Harold Camping’s Prediction That
the Rapture Will Occur on May 21, 2011
I thought after his book 1994?, wherein Harold Camping prophesied that Jesus was coming back in 1994, that we had heard the last of Camping.
Well, I was wrong. He’s back and He’s got a new date.
Harold Camping of course is not the first to make predictions like this. History is littered with the failed prophecies of date setters. Just to name a few over the past 150 years:
• William Miller determined that the Second Coming would happen sometime between 1843-1844.
• Charles Taze Russell and his Jehovah’s Witness organization made numerous predictions about Armageddon and the end of the world over the past century.
• Edgar Whisenant proclaimed that Christ would come back in 1988. His book 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be In 1988 is now discontinued on Amazon for obvious reasons.
• John Hinkle said regarding June 9, 1994: “The most cataclysmic experience that the world has ever known since the resurrection is going to happen.” According to Hinkle, God said, “On Thursday, June the ninth, I will rip the evil out of this world.”
And there have been many more.
Now, there is a reason why all of the groups and individuals who have predicted specific dates about the coming of Christ have failed in their predictions and will continue to fail! No one knows the day or hour of these events. Jesus said…
“But of that day and hour nooneknows, not even the angels
Notice that. No one knows the day or hour. That would include Harold Camping and anyone else who comes on the scene days from now. Jesus reiterated what He said above when He went on to say in verse 42:
“You do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42)
and again in verse 44 when He said:
“Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming
Jesus is coming back at a time we do not expect and no one knows when that will be except God.
In spite of these clear teachings in the Bible, Harold Camping and his followers say that Jesus is coming back May 21, 2011. And their billboards, bumper stickers, tee shirts, and plastered RVs advertising this prediction even proclaim: “The Bible guarantees it!”
Guarantees it? The Bible? Yes. Camping says: “During these past several years God has been revealing a great many truths, which have been completely hidden in the Bible until this time when we are so near the end of the world.”
This explanation does not come as a surprise.
“ONCE for ALL delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
One of the “truths” Camping believes has been revealed is a mathematical formula in the Bible that points specifically to the May 21, 2011 date. Here’s how he breaks it down (online source) with a few of my brief responses to follow:
1. From the time of the crucifixion on April 11, 33 AD to May 21, 2011 is a total of 722,500 days.
Bible scholars do not agree on a date for the crucifixion.
Nothing to argue with here. The math is sound, although I question why this particular equation must be used. More on that in a minute.
3. Now, since the number 5 stands for atonement and 10 stands for perfection and 17 stands for Heaven, this formula means, “Atonement has been completed for Heaven,” and it is repeated twice for emphasis.
The number 5 stands for atonement? It does? Says who? Where in the Bible are we led to believe that? I’ve never read a single Bible commentator suggest that.
The number 17 stands for Heaven? What in the world? Is he serious? This is ridiculous!
Now, back to this equation Camping uses (5x10x17…). Even if these numbers did represent all of these things (atonement, perfection, Heaven), why do we have to arrive at 722,500 with this particular formula? Who’s to say that a different formula isn’t the formula:
There are a myriad of formulas that would allow us to arrive at this figure of 722,500, which goes to show that this number crunching approach to Bible interpretation is absurd!
Harold Camping has another calculation that he says validates his date for the Rapture. He writes:
“With the correct understanding that the seven days referred to in Genesis 7:4 can be understood as 7,000 years, we learn that when God told Noah there were seven days to escape worldwide destruction, He was also telling the world there would be exactly 7,000 years (one day is as 1,000 years) to escape the wrath of God that would come when He destroys the world on Judgment Day. Because Holy Infinite God is all-knowing, He knows the end from the beginning. He knew how sinful the world would become. Seven thousand years after 4990 B.C. (the year of the Flood) is the year 2011 A.D. (our calendar)."
So according to Camping:
Well, in response to this alleged date for the Flood, most evangelical scholars believe the Flood actually happened between 2500 – 2300 BC. Camping’s date of 4990 BC seems to be contrived to work out with his numerology.
Let’s quickly consider Camping’s conclusions regarding Genesis 7:4. There, God says:
“For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made.”
Camping turns this simple straightforward statement about the number of days before the Flood into an abstract prophecy about years before God “destroys the world on Judgment Day.”
He turns cubits (a measurement of about 18”) into years. In John 21:8, we’re told that the disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee “about 200 cubits” from the shore. Camping says this passage teaches that the 200 cubits represent about 2,000 years between the first and second comings of Christ. And because Camping thinks Jesus was born in 7 BC, all we need to do is add 2,000 years (subtracting a year for the year zero) and shazam! Out comes 1994!
But he was wrong. His 1994 prediction failed.
Those who approach the Bible this way, employing the allegorical method of interpretation, believe that Scripture has hidden, secret, mystical meanings underneath the plain and obvious meaning of the text. That is, they believe that although the Scriptures say one thing (e.g., pigs, cubits), they actually signify something else, something other than what is said. To those who interpret the Bible allegorically, the “spiritual” meaning is often considered more important than any plain straightforward literal interpretation and application.
Perhaps you’ve heard someone approach the Bible allegorically (Camping is not the only one!). It commonly sounds something like this:
Well, Camping’s teachings are permeated with these kinds of allegories. To cite another example, he tells us that in the book of Joshua, Jericho represents national Israel. The walls falling down represent Israel losing its salvation when Jesus was born (they did?). Rahab represents a remnant of believers who would flee. And the conquest of Canaan represents the remnant escaping to evangelize the world. Elsewhere he says that Jericho represents the church. The walls falling down represent the destruction of the church and Rahab represents a remnant of believers who would flee the churches to evangelize the world, represented by the conquest of Canaan.
Unfortunately, there have been many people who have handled God’s Word in this way. Here are some other examples of allegorizing that I’ve come across:
• In Genesis 29, Leah has been said to represent the Jews, Rachel represents the church, and Jacob represents Jesus who serves both.
• The Red Sea symbolizes the atoning blood of Christ.
• The five kings who attack Gibeon in Joshua chapter 10 represent the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell.
Why is allegorizing (or spiritualizing) the Scriptures dangerous?
1. Allegorized interpretations are unverifiable.
Commenting on Harold Camping and his allegorical approach to Scripture, the reformed apologist James White writes:
"No person using the allegorical method can honestly and logically affirm that his or her conclusions are actually based upon the text that is being interpreted. Because the actual meaning of the text is ignored, the allegorical meaning can have no more weight than one invests in the allegorical interpreter. Since each allegorical interpreter may “see” or “feel” something different in the text, allegorical interpretations can never be verified by others working with the same text (unlike real biblical exegesis, where the work of generations of scholars verifies and reverifies the conclusions already reached). The result of this fatal flaw in the system is that no allegorical interpretation can claim the authority of the original text. This is because the source of the interpretation is not the text itself but the mind of the interpreter who “sees” things in it. Allegorical interpretation cannot compel anyone else to belief since it is personally derived, and the people who accept it do so only because they accept the word of the interpreter, not because they invest any authority in the text itself. Allegorical interpretations have no more authority than the one announcing them."
That is well said and true. Allegorized interpretations are unverifiable.
2. Allegorical interpretations don’t have any authority.
Allegorized interpretations are based on the subjective preferences and whims of the interpreter’s imagination. This becomes obvious when you hear two or more people allegorize the same passage of Scripture and each one has an entirely different twist as to what things mean. One person says that such and such a thing represents one thing while the other person says it really represents another thing.
When an interpretation does not flow directly from the plain text of Scripture, it loses its authority. Students of the Bible who hear their pastor or teacher interpret the Bible allegorically (“this passage really represents…”) would be wise to ask:“How do you know that? Can you show us from the Bible how you’ve come to your conclusion?”
If it can’t be shown from the text of Scripture, then the words of the preacher lose their authority.
Now, before I wrap this up, I want to point out one last thing Camping is teaching.
As if his date-setting predictions were not enough, Camping goes on to say that people who attend churches that reject his calculations are not saved and will be left behind to be destroyed by God in the coming judgment. Camping writes:
"1 Thessalonians 5:3 Christ tells us, “When they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them.” Because destruction comes upon them, we can know for certain that these people are not saved…Who are these people? The language of this verse describes perfectly all of those in the world who on May 21, 2011 are still following any church. Because churches teach many things that are not true to the Bible, including a plan of salvation that is contrary to the Bible, and the Holy Spirit has abandoned all churches, those still following any church on May 21, 2011 are not saved...when Christ comes they, themselves, will be destroyed in the Day of Judgment."
Harold Camping isn’t just telling people that Jesus is coming back May 21. He’s proclaiming that people who continue going to churches are not saved and will be left behind to face God’s judgment. So, according to Camping in the quote above and elsewhere, you must leave your church in order to be saved.
This is preposterous!
Now, there are some bad churches out there that should be left. But Camping says that all the churches are bad and that people must flee from them. Well, that’s a strategy right out of the Devil’s playbook if I’ve ever heard one! I can imagine Satan cheering God’s people from the sidelines:
The Devil would love for us to abandon our gathering places and forsake assembling together with other believers (something Hebrews 10:25 tells us specifically not to do). Why? Because a weakened church would allow him to more easily accomplish his goals. The Devil hates the church. It stands in his way. It is “the household of God...the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). And he hates the truth; the truth frees people (John 8:32) to know God, to walk with Him, to serve Him, to make Him known.
One of the reasons Camping tells people (above) to leave their churches is because “the Holy Spirit has abandoned all churches.” He has? No way. The church is not a building. The church in its true Biblical sense is made up of all those who have been redeemed by God’s provision of salvation through Jesus Christ. And God has not abandoned His people. Jesus assured us that He would build His church and that the gates of Hades would not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18), that He would be with us until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20), and that He’d never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). So you can rest assured that the Holy Spirit has not “abandoned all churches.” That would require Him to abandon His people, something He will never do.
I’ll conclude with a couple of practical exhortations.
As you continue to walk with the Lord, I encourage you to be a Berean (Acts 17:11, Isaiah 8:20). False prophets will continue to come on the scene and mislead many. Jesus assured of us that (Matt. 24: 11). It is vitally important for our own walks to know the Word of God.
Why have thousands of people been misled by Harold Camping’s outlandish interpretations of the Bible? I think it is safe to say that many of them do not have a good grasp on the Bible, Bible study methods, Bible prophecy, doctrine, etc. They haven’t given careful, serious attention to studying the Bible and thus, they are not able to spot erroneous interpretations.
So I urge you, read the Word! Study it. Get a good commentary set on the Bible that will really help you understand the Bible (I recommend the two volume set The Bible Knowledge Commentary). Spend quality time during the week reading the Bible, looking up cross references, allowing your mind to soak in God’s truth. I don’t encourage you to do this just so you can avoid being deceived by false prophets. I exhort you to do this first and foremost for your own relationship with the Lord. Studying the Bible will benefit you personally in numerous ways. Giving serious attention to the Bible will also help you contend for the faith (Jude 3). You’ll be able to explain to people what the Bible really teaches about topics like the return of Jesus.
Lastly, please pray for the precious people whose hopes are sky high for Jesus’ return on May 21. Many of these people are our brothers and sisters in the faith who have been misled. Watching this video (and pt. 2) of a behind the scenes tour of Family Radio’s ministry was heartbreaking. These are dear people who have been misled. There is a good chance many of them will have a faith crisis when they wake up on May 22. They need our prayers.
 http://www.familyradio.com/graphical/literature/judgment/judgment.html. Italics mine.
 Harold Camping, 1994?, 503.
CHARLIE H. CAMPBELL (Twitter: @charlieabready)
• Scrolls & Stones: Compelling Evidence the Bible Can Be Trusted
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