Over the past week, Harold Camping has become the best known 89 year-old false prophet in the world. Depending on how you want to look it, the clamor he caused was either amusing, embarrassing, or sad (or maybe a mixture of all three). How can we think biblically about the claims Camping made?
No one knows when Jesus is returning, not even the Son – Matthew 24:36 – This verse was thrown up by a bunch of my friends on facebook as a “Hey, don’t lump me in with those guys” defense. And it’s a good defense. If Jesus didn’t know, you don’t either.
There is a temptation to assume that we are the center of Scripture’s story – Since the beginning of the Christian church, people have assumed they were the ones who would see the end, based on the “overwhelming evidence.” The more history we learn, the less we assume things revolve around us.
The Scriptures are clear and not written in code – Al Mohler pointed this out, and I’m grateful he did: Camping’s idea was that there was a numerological code in the Bible that was the secret to understanding when Jesus was coming back. This is insulting to God, suggesting that He is holding out on us. We do not need to trick him into telling us something through figuring out codes. Our faith is fundamentally public. We believe in a God who revealed himself, who died publicly on a cross, and proved who he was through public displays of resurrection.
Saying in God’s name what God didn’t say dishonors God – Throughout the Scriptures (see Deuteronomy 13 and 18 and 1 Corinthians 11, especially), God uses people to speak truth to power on his behalf, often validating their messages through predictive patterns. However, God took enormously seriously when that power was faked, to the point of executing false prophets. We aren’t Israel, and we don’t stone people as Christians, but it does reflect a truth about God: Don’t say He said something when He didn’t.
We like to slander people – “Whoever spreads slander is a fool.” (Proverbs 10:18) This one isn’t about Harold Camping as much as it is about us. He (and his followers) were easy targets in all this, for the Christian and agnostic alike. He deserves all the ridicule he received, but I do not want to be sort of person who slanders or mocks another.
We all need to be reminded to live for Jesus until he comes again – While I disagreed with Camping’s naming a date for Jesus’ return, all Christians in all places in all times have held that Jesus is returning soon, and that we must be ready. It’s repeatedly on Jesus’ lips in the gospels (see Matthew 24:42-51), in the writings of the apostles, and in the creeds. If you are a Christian, you believe that Jesus is coming soon, even if we do not know when.
How do we respond to knowing Jesus is coming back soon?
What would you do if you knew if Jesus was coming back? Most of us said on facebook and twitter two things: Pleasure and confession.The pleasures were as different as the individual (spending time with family, drinking, asking Jesus not to come back before we get married, etc), but the theme was always on oneself.
Of all the stuff I read in the last week about the rapture, my favorite article was from Ed Stetzer on living in light of Jesus’ return:
On May 19, 1780 the sky turned dark–so dark that they needed candles to see at noon. The darkness spread as far as they could see, every town in the area that they could contact experienced the same thing. It was shocking, frightening, and unexplainable to the people of that day (later, historians would explain that it was a combination of smoke from Canadian forest fires, cloud cover, and fog). But, to them, all they knew was that the sun was blotted out at noon– the end must be at hand.
The event was so significant that even today, most traditional Seventh Day Adventists still consider this day as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
The Connecticut legislature was unsure if they should meet or go home with their families and face the end. They would have to bring in candles to conduct even the most basic business. But, Abraham Davenport (later made famous by a poem) stood up and expressed it clearly. He stood up and proclaimed:
I choose, for one, to meet Him face to face, No faithless servant frightened from my task, But ready when the Lord of the harvest calls; And therefore, with all reverence, I would say, Let God do His work, we will see to ours. Bring in the candles!
Davenport was not embarrassed or ashamed that the King might suddenly return. He was waiting and ready–if this was the moment, so be it. Yet, for many Christians and churches, they have been unengaged in kingdom work, so the return of the King is bad news– so, suddenly, they want to “look busy.”
Bring on the candles, and let’s carry on Jesus’ mission until he comes again.