Is the End Near? Is Tomorrow Judgment Day? When is the Kingdom of God Coming?

Is the End near? Is Judgment Day approaching? Will it come tomorrow?

A screenshot from the Family Radio website.

Harold Camping of Family Radio answers with an enthusiastic “Yes!” In fact, he is sure that tomorrow, May 21, 2011, will be the Day of Judgment, the day when the kingdom of God begins to come in all fulness. According to Camping, we’ll know that the End has begun because the whole world will be rocked with a giant earthquake. Graves will be thrown open, with some corpses being raised in glory and others being shamed in their rottenness.

As you can imagine, Camping’s prediction has stirred up all sorts of interest in the media. It’s also engendered plenty of confusion. In fact, I was asked to be interviewed on a radio program of Family Life Radio to talk about what we can know (and not know) about the timing of Christ’s return. This radio network, in no way associated with Harold Camping and Family Radio, has been reported in several news stories to be the source of the end times prophecy. I came on the air, in part, to help listeners understand what Family Life Radio actually believes about the End, which is not what Mr. Camping believes.

As you might well imagine, I am not persuaded by Harold Camping’s predictions. If I am wrong, I will know it tomorrow . . . and so will you.

Why do I disagree with Mr. Camping? I have spent enough time on his website to know that I am not persuaded by his biblical interpretation. This is what he claims:

The date May 21, 2011 was derived solely from evidence found in the Bible. Mr. Camping saw God had placed, in Scripture, many important signs and proofs. These proofs alert believers that May 21st of 2011 is the date Christ will return for His people and begin a period of the final destruction of the world.

I’ve looked at Mr. Camping’s evidence and have found it lacking.

But I have an even stronger reason for believing that Mr. Camping’s prediction is wrong. This reason has to do with things Jesus said about the time of his return. For example:

“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Matthew 24:42-44)

Even the closest followers of Jesus did not know when he was returning. Yet they were not alone. See who else lacks this information, according to Jesus:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)

Jesus said that nobody knows the time of his return. What’s most surprising is that he included himself among those who lack this knowledge.

So, Jesus said that his second coming would happen when it was not expect and that nobody knows when he’s coming back. As a matter of fact, Jesus himself didn’t know the time of his return during his earthly life. Thus, I’m just not comfortable with anyone, no matter how well-intended or biblically-informed, who claims to know the exact time of Jesus’ return. When it comes to things like this, my rule of thumb is this: It’s better not to try and trump Jesus.

Now, in defense of Mr. Camping and others who have trod on this path, I will note that what Jesus says about the timing of his return is somewhat confusing. In fact, his comments about the coming of the kingdom of God can appear to be contradictory. I’ll get into this in more detail in my next post in my series: What Was the Message of Jesus? This will will appear on Monday, if, of course, human life as we know it still exists on Monday.

  • C. Ehrlich

    To be fair, the fact that no one knew the date at the time Jesus spoke these words is perfectly compatible with Harold Camping knowing the date today.  Moreover, it’s not as if Harold Camping’s genuine knowledge of this event would affect many people’s readiness in a negative way. 

    So I suspect there are stronger reasons for thinking that Harold Camping’s faith is unfounded, perhaps not the least of which is the the fact that Camping and his followers seem to place such a premium on maintaining faith and certitude.  It’s an element you’ll find common to many religions and sects.  It’s always a bit suspicious too.  

  • Rodney

    Even if Mr. Camping predicted the right date for the return of Christ, I think God would change the date.  Who could live with this guy for eternity?  Think of the bragging rights:  he knew more than Jesus.

  • C. Ehrlich

    By that reasoning, God should have sunk Noah’s boat. 

  • Evan

    Mark,

    I am always grateful to the apostles for saying the dumb things that I would otherwise have been asking now. :)

    As you noted, Jesus had already pointed out in Mark 13 that nobody knew when the Day of the Lord would arrive, not even Jesus. So I am greatly amused when, in Acts 1, the apostles try again:

    6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

    To put it in modern terms: “None of your business.”

    Years ago, I came across a pamphlet entitled “88 Reasons Christ Will Return in ’88.” It laid out the precise time during the Feast of Trumpets in September 1988 that Jesus would return and take all believers with Him. But the intrepid author hedged his bets. At the bottom of the cover, it read “Copyright 1987.” Sure, the world was going to end in 1988, but if you reprinted this pamphlet without the author’s permission, he had legal redress!

    I cannot leave the topic without quoting Jim Spillman, who was active in the 1980s and appeared upon occasion with Pat Robertson. He provided this jaw-dropper: “Jesus said that no man knows the day or the hour… but I know the month and the year!” Well, okay, no he didn’t as it turns out.

    Could it be May 21, 2011? Sure. I have no doubt that prior to the actual Day of the Lord, somebody will be predicting it, possibly even in a very goofy manner. It will come when it comes, though. Noah did not receive a specific day, either, and as Jesus noted, it was life as usual until the flood came. When Jesus returns, He said that it will be like a thief in the night… no one will see it coming. Like the flood.

    Evan 

  • Evan

    Jesus indicated that no one, not even His followers, would know the time when He was to return. From Matthew 24:

    36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

    He goes on to speak specifically to His followers:

    42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

    It does not seem possible that Jesus is saying that those particular followers must keep watch, but that several centuries later, the followers would be expecting Him on May 21, 2011. 

  • Anonymous

    Yes, strictly speaking, you’re right. But it would seem that if Jesus didn’t know the date and if he said he would come when not expected, it seems unlikely that we would do better than Jesus. Your point about certitude is right on. Thanks for the comment.

  • Anonymous

    Now that’s an ironic twist I hadn’t thought of!

  • Anonymous

    Even: Thanks. Yes, the Acts text is telling. The examples of Christians doing this sort of thing throughout the centuries are legion.

  • C. Ehrlich

    Which of course is a mix of hyperbole and the time-sensitive fact that no one at that time knew the date–and by perfectly wise foresight: if folks were told THEN that Jesus wouldn’t come back until May 21, 2011, what complacence there would be in the intervening centuries!  

    Anxiety really is an excellent incentive.  God is like a teacher who announces that there will be one major pop quiz given sometime during the semester.  Anxiety is such wonderful incentive.  

  • Rodney

      Huge difference:  Jesus didn’t build a boat.

  • C. Ehrlich

    Neither did the Buddha. 

  • http://www.timthurmansblog.blogspot.com Tim Thurman

     I wonder if all this hubba-ba-bub about Camping and May 21st isn’t causing us to focus on what is not important.  As Christians, are we helping to impart God’s Kingdom here on earth, right now? Are we being salt and light to the world?  Are we being the hands and feet of Christ to those around us?  Are we living an abundant life right now?  Yes, we all look forward to when Christ returns.  Maranatha, Lord, come quickly!  Yet, since we do not know the hour, let’s focus on what is important now.

  • C. Ehrlich

    Please, no more salt.  I’d prefer suffer the likes of Harold Camping than to have another person try to impose God’s kingdom on this poor little planet. Harold at least seems innocuous.  Perhaps he even teaches us to laugh at ourselves, or at least to laugh at those who take their religion too seriously. 

  • Rodney

    Ah, the cynic among us.  Always jabs, offers very little in return.

    But, what do you do with a cynic who takes himself too seriously?

  • C. Ehrlich

    Yes, we should also wary of the universal cynic, but that’s probably not me.  I’m sure you are well-intentioned Rodney, and that still speaks for something in my book.  It even speaks for Harold C. 

  • Anonymous

    Actually, the Christian understanding of Christ’s return is not meant to inspire anxiety, but rather hope and confidence. Christians have no reason to be afraid of Christ’s return, and every reason to feel encouraged.

  • Anonymous

    That’s a very New Testament point of view, Tim.

  • Anonymous

    You have a problem with feeding the hungry, visiting prisoners, clothing the naked, loving the unloved?

  • C. Ehrlich

    Alas–if only evangelicals restricted their interpretation of “salt and light” to this.  Christ’s hands and feet have an unfortunate habit of dabbling in a whole lot more.  

  • C. Ehrlich

    I suppose that’s what make the thief analogy so apropos.

  • Anonymous

    I share in your alas!

  • Anonymous

    Indeed.

  • David H-T

     Love it that even this Rapture “craziness” is getting us talking about this stuff.  Here’s my take on “the Rapture, the Wizard of Oz, and Our Eternal Home” in my blog: http://www.body-mindandspirit.com/2011/05/rapture-wizard-of-oz-and-our-eternal.html

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment.


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