Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Repost | Harold Camping & the Immanent Return of Christ: Living in the End Even If We're Not

I'm sitting in my office working on tonight's Bible Study on the doctrine of the Trinity and Sunday mornings message from the first chapter of the book of Habbakkuk.  And I am asking myself why.  After all, the world is suppose to end on May 21, 2011 -- this Saturday -- according to Harold Camping and his bunch, so why am I bothering?  If I'm suppose to be raptured Saturday at 6:00 pm, then why am I working on my sermon for Sunday?  I won't be here.  Furthermore, why should I worry about Bible Study tonight?  Aren't there more important things to do?  Why study something as complicated as the Trinity just days before I escape this world which only has a few months of existence left?*

Perhaps this is why the Lord was clear that we will never know the actual date of the end of times.  In Acts 1:7 and Matthew 24:36, Jesus tells us that its not for us "to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority," for nobody "knows, not even the angels of heaven," or even Jesus Himself when He will return.  Only the Father knows and rightfully so.  The end is according to His providential plan and Sovereign will.

For those unaware or still living under a rock, a group of so-called Christians led by Family Radio founder Harold Camping are promoting the idea that the rapture will take place on May 21, 2011 and the world will end on October 21, 2011.  This is not to be confused with those convinced that the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world in December 2012 (we'll save that for next year).  Instead, this is a new prediction made at the first of this year based on a complicated equation and exegesis from camping of which he is certain.

The basics of the exegesis and equation begins with Noah's ark.  In Genesis 7:4, God tells Noah that in seven days He will cause it to rain.  Thus Noah only had seven more days to calling on people to repent and escape the coming judgment.  And the in 2 Peter 3:6-8, the author states that to God a thousand years is like a day (emphasis purposeful).  And by the end of it, according to Camping's own dating and numbers, Noah entered the ark 7,000 years ago.  Thus, the world is coming to an end.

Though this is a simplification it is the basics of Camping's argument (The full argument can be found here).  Clearly it is bogus, foolish, and horrendous exegesis (more like eisegesis).  This isn't the message of Scripture at all even if one ignores Jesus' warnings about setting dates and times of His return.  Camping is an exegetical and theological fool.

Camping isn't the first to make such predictions however.  In fact, this isn't the first time Camping has made such a prediction.  In 1994, Camping predicted the rapture would take place and the end would begin.  Obviously, that didn't happen and he defends himself by suggesting that he just got the numbers wrong.  But don't worry, this time he is certain he is correct.  Like Camping, since the first coming of Jesus, there have been many imposters claiming the end had come. The New Testament, such as in books 1 and 2 Thessalonians, show that many believers were convinced that the end had either already happened or would happen soon.

Since the first Christians, groups like the Family/Children of God, the Millerites (1843; movement became known as 7th Day Adventist), the Worldwide Church of God (1975), Jehovah Witnesses (countless predictions), and many others (not to mention books like 88 reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988: The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hash-Ana) September, 11-12-13 and The Late Great Planet Earth) have made their own predictions of when Christ would return.  All of them, obviously, been proven to be false.

But what concerns me here isn't the theological nonsense of Camping but what such a prophecy means.  After all, if Jesus is coming back Saturday, what does that mean we do today?  Though I clearly reject Camping's interpretation and wild predictions, one must wonder why Scripture is clear about the mystery of Christ's immanent return.  We know that He is coming, but when remains unknown.  And this is purposeful.

First, we are called to anticipate.  The New Testament clearly commands us to prepare ourselves for His coming thus we are to be active in evangelism, discipleship, and worship.  We are called to grow in Christ, anticipate Christ, and pray for His return.  We are to be like the shortstop who with every pitch could be hit straight to them and thus he must be ready to make a play at first.  A good shortstop anticipates.  We too are to anticipate and pray for the end.  We are to look for signs, but not be obsessed with them in a manner that leads people astray.  Perhaps a certain earthquake is a sign, but we cannot know for sure.  Instead, we must anticipate.  Come Lord Jesus quickly!

Secondly, we are to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.  Similar to the first point, we are called to always be ready.  Peter makes this clear in his second letter:

Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!  But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless -2 Peter 3:11-14

Thirdly, we are called to serve.  According to many, Martin Luther was once asked the question many of us are asking ourselves.  If you knew that the world was going to end tomorrow, what would you do today?  Luther is said to have answered, Even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would continue to plant my apple trees.  His point is that the task God has given us to fulfill today is not outside of His will.  In Luther's case, he was given the task of planting his apple trees.  And so, if Jesus was coming back the next day, he must be about planting his trees.  Luther would definitely say the same thing about writing his next book, finishing his next letter, or preparing for his next sermon. 

Luther's point, assuming it is originally from him, is profound.  As we anticipate with earnest (come Lord Jesus quickly!!) and prepare for His immanent return, we must realize that in the meantime God has given us a task to complete.  And so as I sit here in my office preparing for tonight's Bible study I am doing the will of God.  This is no time for laziness.  Likewise as I read endless commentaries, listen to countless sermons, and study the first chapter of Habakkuk for a sermon that may or may not ever be preached, I am firmly in the will of God, even if that sermon never gets preached.

Ignorance of the immanent return of Christ, then, does serve one clear purpose:  we have no reason for idleness.  As we anticipate the final kingdom and rule of our Savior, we are called to prepare for His coming serving Him through His gospel.  There is too much work to be done and the work He has given us does not include promoting false predictions through worthless billboards and overdecorated minivans.  The work we must do is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ building the Kingdom in obedience to its King.

So will Jesus return Saturday at 6:00?  I seriously doubt it.  But whether he returns before I finish this sentence or a million years from now, I have work to do and I must do it to the best of my ability and to the utmost of His highest.  He has me right where He wants me.  Will I do His will?

And I will see many of you Sunday!

*The belief is that in October the world will finally come to an end.

NPR - Believers Sound The Alarm: Judgment Day Is May 21 
Albert Mohler - The End is Near? The False Teaching of Harold Camping

For more:
Blogizomai - The Dark Reality of Secular Eschatology:   Saving the Planet With One Child At a Time 
Blogizomai - Secular Eschatology  
Theology - A New Kind of Christianity . . . Indeed:  Future Question - Part 8 
GBC - The Early Church Fathers on the Rapture:  Some Quotes 
GBC - Final Week of Jesus: Olivet Discourse Part 1 - Matthew 21 
GBC - Weekly Recommendation - The Second Coming by John MacArthur 
GBC - Billy Graham and Eschatology
GBC - March 15, 2009: A Survey of Revelation - Part 2
GBC - Weekly Recommendation - The Theology of the Book of Revelation 
GBC - March 15, 2009: A Survey of Revelation - Part 2

No comments: