Harold Camping, an 89-year old Christian radio broadcaster from Oakland, California, predicted that the Rapture would occur at precisely 6:00 pm on May 21, 2011. He made a similar prediction in 1994. I know nothing about this man other than what I have read and heard about him through the media. For that reason, I will not comment on his motivations, or whether or not he was sincere in his beliefs or just a scam artist. Those questions need to be answered by Mr. Camping himself and those who know him well. The more important questions are: why was he wrong; what damages did he cause or what good did he do, and what are the effects on the Christian faith in general and how it is perceived by the world?
Harold Camping says he is a “Bible scholar” and that he is self-taught. Most Christians also have no formal training in the study of the Bible. But we know about Matthew 24:36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only”. Or 1 Thessalonians 5:2 “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night”. There are many other prophetic verses that support the most fundamental truth – that man is not privileged to know when the end times will begin to the day or hour. It is mind-boggling to think that a man of 89 years who may have spent more than a hundred thousand hours of his life reading the Bible misses the most obvious point!
Mr. Camping makes his predictions based on numerical calculations. Numbers play a very important role in the Bible, and they give us special insight, such as 2 Peter 3:8 “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”. Whenever men attempt to make predictions based on formulas that incorporate numerical truths found in the Bible they are always wrong. Interestingly, Mr. Camping calculated that the Great Tribulation began in 1988, that it would last for 23 years, and the world would be destroyed after five months. The Bible speaks of the Great Tribulation as a seven-year period, so I have no idea where he came up with 23 years or 1988 as its inception. Revelation 9 describes a judgment of torment by locusts for a five-month period, but it is only one of many judgments predicted to occur before the end of the age.
So what is the fallout from Mr.Camping’s failed prediction? To begin with, great embarrassment for all those who embraced his teachings. Many well-intentioned people spent the last few years working to spread the message and are now in a predicament. They quit jobs, sold assets, spent their money on various forms of media advertising, or just frivolity. Their lives are ruined thanks to Mr. Camping. If he has a conscience, Mr. Camping will liquidate his personal and ministry assets and set up a relief fund a la BP to help his victims rebuild their shattered lives.
From a faith perspective, there are two ways to look at this: one is that it caused many people to repent and turn to God (before May 21); the other is that it makes a mockery of Christians who believe in the eventual Rapture of the Church. The word “rapture” or the term “The Rapture” are neither to be found in the Bible. It is a concept built primarily around 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, and supported by other Bible verses. Jesus Christ will return from heaven to claim all believers, both dead and alive. Those who are alive at that time will be caught up, or raptured, and will meet Christ in the clouds. It is serious business, especially among evangelical Christians, most of who agree with the premise that we will know the approximate time, but not the exact day or hour that it will happen.
Mr. Camping’s ministry did serve to call attention to end-time prophecies, and it did provoke repentance and self-reflection on the part of many of his adherents. On the other hand, the Rapture has now become a worldwide joke among non-believers. On balance, more people will be led to reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ than to embrace it, as a result of Mr. Camping’s failed prediction. Further, it promotes the idea of an end of the world, which is not scriptural. When Jesus was talking with his disciples in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, he was speaking about the “end of the age”, not the end of the world.
I feel sympathy for those who went on a “Camping Trip” for the last few years and are now left wondering what hit them. They have to be held responsible for their own actions, but they had a lot of help from Mr. Camping. Hopefully what they will take away from this experience is that it drew them closer to God, even if the motives behind it were not good. It was Mr. Camping who deceived them, not God. It was Mr. Camping who said they would be raptured on May 21, 2011, not God. That Mr. Camping was wrong about the timing of the prophecies does not mean they will not be fulfilled on the appointed day.