On Harold Camping and God’s Judgment
By Rev. Denes House
May 11, 2011
This past weekend, my family was in Washington, DC, seeing some of the sights. It was thrilling to walk the National Mall, have our picture taken in front of the White House, and stand next to the Star Trek: The Original Series U.S.S. Enterprise shooting model in the National Air and Space Museum. I had been to DC before, so these sights were somewhat familiar. What was new to me were the many people wearing day-glo yellow tee shirts, handing out pamphlets about the end of the world.
They are followers of Harold Camping, a Christian radio talk show host who has calculated that May 21, 2011 will see the return of Jesus Christ, and the rapture of the Church. According to Camping, the end of the world will follow five months later on October 21, 2011. Camping, a former engineer, bases his calculations on dates and numbers pulled from the Bible. One of his many proofs for this calculation is that in Genesis 7:10, God tells Noah that the flood will begin in seven days. Camping then points out that 2 Peter 3:8 indicates that with God, one day is like a thousand years. Camping argues that this means that 7000 years after the flood of Noah will come the Judgment Day. Camping believes that the flood took place in 4990 B.C., so Judgment Day will be in 2011. Camping calls this “irrefutable proof.”
The Bible warns us of two errors to avoid when talking about the return of Jesus. The first error is to claim that Jesus is not returning to the world in judgment. The 2 Peter passage that Camping uses in his Noah argument speaks of this error:
“…scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’” (2 Peter 3:3–4)
These scoffers argue that everything continues as it always has been, and there will be no end of time, no final judgment. To the scoffers, Peter counters with the example of Noah, and points out that God has already intervened once to judge the world. It is foolishness to deny that God will do it again, as He has promised. God is not slow, Peter argues. Rather, He is patiently waiting and working to draw people to repentance. It is in this context that Peter says that to God, “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8) This doesn’t mean that in every prophecy, the word “day” is a symbol for 1000 years. If that were the case, then what would we do with Jesus’ prophecy that He would rise from the grave three days after He was crucified? No, Peter’s point is that time scales that seem long to humanity are brief to God, and even a brief time in human existence can fill a thousand years of God’s attention. But make no mistake, Peter says, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief.” (2 Peter 3:10) It will come, and it will come as a surprise.
Which leads directly to the second warning that the Bible gives about the timing of Jesus’ return, and that is the error of setting dates. Speaking of His return, Jesus said:
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36)
This is the error that Camping falls into, and he’s fallen into it before. In his 1992 book, 1994?, Camping predicted that September of 1994 would be the time of Jesus’ return. When 1994 came and went without the return of Jesus, Camping attributed his failed prophecy to a mathematical error. In reality, his error is trying to calculate the date in the first place.
I would be delighted if Jesus returned to the earth for His people next Saturday. I’d be even happier if it was today! But we cannot let our eagerness for Christ’s return override the clear teaching of Scripture: we will not know the date of His return ahead of time.
In some ways, the Bible says, the people of God will not be surprised by Jesus’ return. In 1 Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul illuminates Peter’s statement that the day of the Lord will come like a thief. This will be so for the scoffers, Paul indicates, not for believers. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11) This doesn’t mean that believers will know the date of Jesus’ return, but we will see the signs that will precede His return (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12, Matthew 24:29-31) and we will be ready. This is the key point of Jesus’ warning against date-setting: “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Matthew 24:42) We must be ready, precisely because we don’t know the exact timing of His return.
Harold Camping is wrong to set dates for the return of Jesus. But he is right to anticipate the coming of the Lord. When Jesus returns to the earth, He will return as the judge of all mankind. We will all stand before His judgment seat, and our lives will be examined with absolute justice. It is a judgment that no one will be able to withstand – none of us are righteous enough to pass God’s standard (Romans 3:10). Apart from a miracle, all of us are destined to be burned up in the fire of God’s judgment (2 Peter 3:7).
Thankfully, God has worked the miracle that we need to survive. Jesus’ second coming will complete the work He began at His first coming. In Jesus, God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). He lived a perfect life, and took on Himself the sins of the world, dying the punishing death that we deserve, in our place (Romans 3:23-26). In the miracle of God’s mercy, anyone who hides themselves in Jesus – dying with Him to self, and being raised up with Him in new life – will be judged on the Last Day according to Jesus’ righteousness, rather than their own (Romans 3:21-22).
Jesus may not return on May 21, 2011. But He is coming again as Judge. Camping ignores the Bible’s warning not to set dates for the Second Coming, and I believe that on May 22, he will look incredibly foolish. But anyone who ignores the Bible’s warning to be ready for Jesus’ return will look much worse on the real Judgment Day. Jesus offers to save and make new anyone who will come to Him. Be made new and righteous today by accepting His offer and committing yourself to Him. Anyone who does so will not be put to shame (Romans 10:11).
Edited by CrimsonLine, 11 May 2011 - 02:54 PM.