The world will end tomorrow. That's what a small band of religious people are expecting. Sometime between 7 and 9 p.m. They have more than 500 billboards around the country warning of the impending judgement. Many have left their jobs and homes to travel in an RV caravan to urgently share their message before a cataclysmic earthquake strikes and a sudden rapture snatches more than 200 million Christians off the planet.
This May 21 date is the calculated conclusion of 89-year old Bible teacher, Harold Camping. He figured God's time-keeping formula from 2 Peter 3:8 ["With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day."]. Then, he noticed that God told Noah that He would destroy the world in "7 more days" [Genesis 7:4]. Camping concluded that the world would be completely destroyed 7000 years [1 day = 1000 years] from the beginning of the flood, which he figured at 4990 B.C.
Camping's calculations call to mind an unforgettable quote from a seminary theology professor: "That is an interesting theory, sir. However, it has been bludgeoned to death by a gang of angry facts." There are several lessons I learn from this Bible teacher---though likely not the lessons he wanted me to learn.
First, no one can determined the times or dates which have been set only by the Father [see Acts 1:7]. Even Jesus didn't know the period determined by God. Many have tried. In fact, even Camping claimed the Rapture would take place in September 1994. Then, when he woke up the day after, he quickly decided to reboot his calculator. If he had read beyond 2 Peter 3:8 to verse 10, he would have discovered that the end will come "like a thief"--suddenly, surprisingly and unannounced. Not only is it a waste of time trying to figure the end times math, it is potentially dangerous.
Second, leaders are held responsible. In James 3, the writer sternly warns that "not many should claim to be teachers" because those who say "thus sayeth the Lord" will be held to a strict standard. Preachers and teachers carry authority. This means they have the influence to lead the way and lead astray. Camping will be held accountable for leading his band of followers and countless others to sell their possessions, quit their jobs, abandon their families and drift off mission because of his leadership.
Third, every Christian is personally responsible with the way they handle the Scriptures. Paul writes, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" [2 Timothy 2:15]. His admonition reminds me that it is possible to incorrectly handle the Word of truth. When we neglect the careful study of Scripture and allow ourselves to be led into faulty interpretation by unqualified teachers, we indict ourselves as we stand before God. The Bible is God's word to us. So handle it well.
Finally, be prepared for the Day. Since we cannot know the days or times when Jesus will call His children home, it is right to always be ready. Peter urges Christians,
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. [2 Peter 3:11-13]
If Camping's campaign has done nothing but alert God's people to the certain return of our Savior, then the headlines are worth it in the end.