In spite of all the hype and hoopla generated by Harold Camping, Jesus was a no-show for the rapture on May 21. The news media have finished laughing and are now turning their attention to other stories. Soon the billboards will come down, and the entire event will be forgotten by most.
But before the story slips from our collective memories, I want to focus on two concerns--and two lessons--we need to learn from this event.
Concern #1: I'm concerned for Camping's followers who believed his prediction...and quit their jobs, maxed out their credit cards, spent their savings, and ultimately put stress on their families. Right now they are struggling with feelings of anger and embarrassment. They bought into the message of a man who seemed so persuasive, so sure of his facts. And now they don't know what to do...or what to believe. If you know some of his followers, please reach out to them. They need your encouragement...and your biblical wisdom.
Concern #2: I'm concerned for believers who were mildly concerned about Camping's prediction. They didn't abandon all to follow him, but they were at least curious. Perhaps they even watched the clock on May 21 to see if Jesus just might indeed return at the predicted hour. But when He didn't, they shrugged their shoulders and quietly congratulated themselves over not getting too excited about the prediction. And any thoughts they might have had about preparing for the rapture all too quickly vanished. Like a vaccination, they have been inoculated against getting too excited about Christ's return. And this can lead to spiritual lethargy and complacency.
So what lessons ought we learn from this non-event?
Lesson #1--Know the Bible: It should have been obvious to all serious Christians that Harold Camping was wrong. His entire system was based on arbitrary numbers and dates that were not grounded in the biblical text. His entire prediction was based on his belief that 5 is the number of atonement, 10 is the number of completion, and 17 is the number of heaven. But if someone took the time to look at his "proof texts" for these spurious numbers, he or she discovered they were based on an fanciful interpretations of passages that didn't actually teach what he claimed. He then arbitrarily multiplied these three numbers...and then squared that total to arrive at the number of days from the crucifixion to his date for the rapture. But what biblical basis did he have for multiplying these numbers, or squaring the result? None whatsoever!
My point here is that the methods used by Harold Camping to reach his conclusion are not the means God uses to communicate truth. The Bible is not a giant cryptogram with hidden messages that required a secret cipher to decode. God created humans with language skills, and God communicated to His creation using those same language skills. To understand the Bible, read it as you would any literary text--in its normal historical, cultural, literary context. Harold Camping kept looking for deeper, hidden messages. And in doing so he missed the clear teaching that God provided in His Word.
So what did Jesus say about His return? Here's what God's Word clearly declares:
Matthew 24:36--"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone."
Matthew 24:42--"Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming."
Matthew 24:44--"For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will."
Revelation 16:15--"Behold, I am coming like a thief." (When is the last time you correctly predicted the day a thief was going to break into your house?)
Here is what the Apostle Paul taught in regard to Jesus' return and end-time events:
1 Thessalonians 5:2--"For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night." (Again, the allusion to the day coming like a thief.)
Peter said the same thing in regard to Jesus' return and end-time events:
2 Peter 3:10--"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief."
How could we be sure Harold Camping was wrong? His prediction didn't match the clear teaching of Jesus, Paul, and Peter!
Lesson #2--Jesus is coming: This brings me to my final lesson...and it's one we dare not forget. Jesus didn't come back on May 21, but He is coming back! We don't know the exact day, so we are always to be ready. Jesus was absolutely clear on the reality that He is coming back, and He expects us to live as though His return could happen at any time.
"Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will" (Matthew 24:42-44).
The Book of Revelation begins and ends with the same admonition from Jesus:
"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" (Revelation 1:3).
"And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book....Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done....He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming quickly.'" (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20).
Harold Camping's specific date was wrong because it flowed from his creative imagination, not from the clear teaching of the Bible. But he was right in believing Jesus is coming back. And while Jesus didn't return on May 21, He could perhaps return tomorrow.
Are you ready?