How is it possible that most evangelical critics of Harold Camping are more dangerous than the failed prognosticator? For the simple reason that it’s no longer May 21, 2011, and Harold Camping will be relegated to the dust bin of prophetic history, but prophecy prognosticators will continue to abound by claiming that Jesus is still coming “soon” even if we don’t know the “day and hour.” In nearly every article I’ve read by evangelicals denouncing Camping, they still claim that all the signs are in place for Jesus’ “soon” return. Here are some examples:
Even though Tim LaHaye denounced Camping’s prediction as “not only wrong but dangerous . . . not only bizarre but 100% wrong!,” he still claims “that the recent earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan are signs of the apocalypse just as he laid out in” in his fiction end-time Left Behind novels. ((Ariel R. Ray, “‘Left Behind’ Author: May 21 Rapture is ‘Flat Out Wrong,’” ChristianPost.com (May 19, 2011).))
“Also joining the debate, Cal Thomas took on Camping in his recent column, saying the prophesized events of Matthew 24 haven’t been completely fulfilled yet.” ((Lee Warren, “Christian Leaders Respond to Camping’s May 21 Rapture Prediction,” ChristianPost.com (May 17, 2011).))
Jim Dixon, senior pastor of Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, made these comments in an interview with ChristianPost.com: “I’m not actually saying we are in the end times. I’m saying I believe it is likely that we are in the end times. I think it is important for every generation to study eschatology, to study the events that are prophesized. I think Christ wants his people to be aware of the time and season of his coming. I think he wants us to be excited to live in the hope of his promises. So you know, I’m not saying we are the last generation. I think I would be surprised if Christ doesn’t come back soon. By that I mean perhaps in my lifetime, perhaps in my children’s lifetime, and certainly in my grandchildren’s lifetime. But of course we don’t know the day or the hour. And I’m not trying to set the day or the hour, but I’m just saying there are many signs that we are in the season of his return.” ((Michelle A. Vu, “Interview: Pastor Jim Dixon on End Times Prophecy Controversy,” ChristianPost.com (April 10, 2011).))
“The world isn’t quite yet at the seven-year Tribulation Period that the Bible prophesizes, [Greg] Laurie said, but he believes its close. ‘That means the return of Jesus Christ is even closer yet,’ he said. There may be some disagreements over the order of the prophetic events, he noted. But there is no division on ‘this one truth: that Jesus Christ is coming back again soon.’ ‘I’m not one of those date setters,’ the famed evangelist said. ‘Some looney tune will come along and say he’s cracked the code. No man knows the day or the hour.’ But what people can know are the ‘signs of the times,’ a phrase Jesus coined, according to Laurie. What are these signs? ‘We see them on the headlines of newspapers,’ he said. Earthquakes are just one of many signs. . . . While disasters are one obvious sign, Laurie believes one of the most significant signs indicating the Lord’s return in this generation is the 1948 return of the Jewish people to their homeland.” (Audrey Barrick, “Calif. Pastor: End of the World Is Near, Really,” ChristianPost.com (March 14, 2011).
There are many more examples I could cite. They all have one thing in common: While Camping was wrong to set an exact date, it’s OK to claim that certain signs are demonstrable evidence that Jesus is coming “soon.” In almost every case, they appeal to Jesus’ prophecy in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21) and words like “soon” and “near.” The only person who came close to dealing with the issue was R.C. Sproul. ((Audrey Barrick, “Theologian Clarifies Rapture, Last Days Beliefs,” ChristianPost.com (May 22, 2011).)) His book The Last Days According to Jesus is a helpful antidote to the madness. Of course, I’ve covered the same ground in my books Last Days Madness, Is Jesus Coming Soon?, and 10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered.
Most evangelical news sites and radio programs do not want to hear an alternative view that calls into question the incessant harping on last days’ hysteria. Too many radio stations and publishing houses make their money off end-time broadcasts and books. As it is, these guys will continue to get people worked over the claim that the end is near and Jesus’ is coming soon and sell more books. Camping will be denounced as a charlatan and a kook, but little will change in the way prophecy is taught and publishing companies promote it.
Let’s be clear. An appeal to Matthew 24, with its talk about earthquakes, famines, false christs, great tribulation, and the worldwide proclamation of the gospel has nothing to do with our time. Jesus did not prophesy about a far in the future “last days.” He was very specific in identifying His audience as the “generation” (Matt. 24:34) that would see and experience “these things” (24:33).
The New Testament is filled with exhortations that a near eschatological event was on the horizon for those living at that time. Here are some examples:
- “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12)
- “But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none” (1 Corinthians 7:29).
- “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).
- “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5). ((This passage may be saying that “the Lord is near” in terms of His relationship to Christians. If this is its meaning, then it shows that the word “near” or “at hand” means proximity. And if it means proximity here, then it means proximity or closeness in other contexts. See Rev. 1:3; 22:10))
- “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:2).
- “[Jesus] would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26).
- “[Let us not forsake] our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).
- “For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay” (Hebrews 10:37).
- “Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! (James 5:3).
- “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door” (James 5:7–9). ((“Near” is defined as “standing right at the door” not in the next state.))
- “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (I Peter 4:7).
- “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18).
- “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John” (Rev. 1:1).
- “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” (Rev. 1:3).
- “I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” (Rev. 3:11).
- “And [the angel] said to [John], ‘These words are faithful and true’; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place” (Rev. 22:6).
- “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Rev. 22:7).
- “And [the angel] said to [John], ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.’” (Rev. 22:10).
- “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.” (Rev. 22:12).
- “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20).
It is impossible to turn the above time indicators into an “any-moment rapture” or prolonged periods of prophetic history.
The Camping fiasco would have been a great time to wipe the slate clean of all prophetic speculation, from Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth (1970) that predicted Jesus would “rapture” the church before 1988 to Mark Hitchcock’s The Late Great United States (2009), while not setting a particular date, still argues that all the signs are in place for the nearness of the “rapture.”
Not only was the Camping story hammered in Christian media outlets but the secular media had a field day with it. Too bad popular representatives of the church missed another opportunity to set them straight. But they couldn’t. The majority of evangelicals are bound to an unstudied futurism that they parrot because this is what they’ve always been taught and they would lose their jobs if they taught anything different.
If you are looking for a vaccine to inoculate you against the next wave of prophetic speculation, why not attend American Vision’s National Prophecy Conference June 1–4, 2011 at the beautiful Ridgecrest Conference Center in Asheville, North Carolina. Bring a friend. Bring your pastor.