I’ll never forget September 6, 1994. Not because of what happened on that day, but because of what didn’t
That was the day Jesus didn’t Rapture the church.
That was the day that Harold Camping, president of Family Radio, calculated that the Rapture of the church described in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 would take place. Though he acknowledged the possibility that he could be wrong, he defended his arguments with passion. After Camping’s failed attempt at playing the “Dating Game,” I lost track of him. I assumed he had simply drifted off into the backwaters of the evangelical fringe as false teachers usually do.
Boy, was I wrong! He and other contenders have reemerged with a vengeance, ready for round two of the Dating Game. This time
the date set for the Rapture is May 21, 2011. This time
these contenders have provided a simpler calculation for the end of the world—easy to follow, easy to explain, easy to promote. (Also quite easy to refute.) And this time
they’re playing the game with billboards in major metropolitan areas to get the word out.
So What’s Supposed to Happen on May 21?
On May 21, 2011 two events will occur. These events could not be more opposite in nature, the one more wonderful than can be imagined; the other more horrific than can be imagined.
A great earthquake will occur the Bible describes it as “such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.” This earthquake will be so powerful it will throw open all graves. The remains of the all the believers who have ever lived will be instantly transformed into glorified spiritual bodies to be forever with God.
On the other hand the bodies of all unsaved people will be thrown out upon the ground to be shamed.
The inhabitants who survive this terrible earthquake will exist in a world of horror and chaos beyond description. Each day people will die until October 21, 2011 when God will completely destroy this earth and its surviving inhabitants.
Got that? On May 21 a mega-earthquake will toss the dead from their graves and kick off five months of earthly horror until October 21, 2011, at which time the earth will be demolished. Also on May 21 the believers will be resurrected and raptured, taken to heaven to be with God forever. In other words, these are “front-page,” “special-report,” “we-interrupt-this-program,” “this is not at test” kinds of events. In other words, there will be no question at all whether the players of the Dating Game win or lose
How the Dating Game Is Played
Like the first round back in 1994, the second round of the Dating Game is doomed to failure. Let me present just a few of the straightforward arguments for the commencement of Judgment Day on May 21, 2011.
First, as odd as it may seem, the argument for May 21 begins with creation and the flood. By analyzing the chronology and genealogies in the Bible, the interpreters have precisely dated the year of creation at 11,013 B.C. The global flood in Genesis 7 is dated at 4990 B.C. This specific dating of the flood is essential to the whole May 21 dating game. In fact, we might say that the strict, detailed, and indisputable chronology of events in the Old Testament may be likened to the field, stage, or board on which the Dating Game is played. Without this precise dating, the whole calculation collapses.
Second, the players also use 2 Peter 3:8 as a key to interpreting the often hidden prophetic meaning of Scripture. Peter wrote, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years” (ESV). With this key in hand, the secrets of Scripture can now be unlocked, because when certain parts of Scripture refer to days, they can now be interpreted as thousands of years! Without this formula of “1=1000,” the whole calculation fails
Third, the date-setters use Genesis 7:4, 10–11 as their prophetic text. With a precise dating of the flood and the prophetic key of 1=1000 firmly in hand, they read these verses not as an historical account of the flood, but as a hidden prophecy of the end of the world: “For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground. . . . And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened” (Gen. 7:4, 10–11). They read this account as a prophecy of the end of all things—each of the seven days leading up to the flood being seven thousand years from the flood until the end of the world. Without interpreting this historical record as a cryptic prophecy, the whole Dating Game flops.
So, in one publication entitled, “The End of the World Is Almost Here,” the author concludes, “
Therefore, with the correct understanding that the seven days referred to in Genesis 7:4 can be understood as 7,000 years, we learn that when God told Noah there were seven days to escape worldwide destruction, He was also telling the world there would be exactly 7,000 years (one day is as 1,000 years) to escape the wrath of God that would come when He destroys the world on Judgment Day. . . . Amazingly, May 21, 2011 is the 17th day of the 2nd month of the Biblical calendar of our day” (http://www.familyradio.com/PDFS/jd_en.pdf
). The math is quite simple. Seven thousand years after 4990 B.C. (the year of the Flood) is the year A.D. 2011: 4990 + 2011 – 1 (since there is no year “0”) = 7,000.
So, should we print up some pamphlets, hit the streets, and start proclaiming the end of the world?
Cheating at the Dating Game
Each of the three pillars supporting the May 21, 2011 date for Judgment Day is simply ridiculous. First, based on the data given to us in the Bible, it is impossible to date creation and the flood . . . impossible. The reality is that the Old Testament doesn’t intend to give us the precise dating of creation and the flood. In fact, great Bible scholars throughout history who have attempted to work out these dates have always come up with different answers. Nothing like a consensus has ever developed. Rather, the scholars generally agree that Scripture doesn’t give us enough information to date the flood with any degree of certainty. So, the precise dating of the flood at 4990 B.C.—an essential dating for the May 21 calculation—is mere speculation. It is not based on an informed and balanced interpretation of the Bible.
Second, the “1=1000” key to prophecy is also impossible to maintain. In 2 Peter 3:8, Peter is not answering the question, “With what secret key can I decode Old Testament prophecies?” Rather, the question is, “Why has God delayed the judgment for so long? Why hasn’t Christ made good on His promise to return soon?” The answer? From God’s perspective of timelessness, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day! That is, earthly time is completely irrelevant to God. In fact, Peter is paraphrasing Psalm 90:4—“For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” That is, from our finite human perspective a 1000 years feels tedious; for God it is but a moment. Notice that Peter reverses the formula as well—“and a thousand years [is] as one day” (2 Pet. 3:8). Therefore, using 2 Peter 3:8 as a key for interpreting a day in the Old Testament as a thousand years is simply wrong. It is not based on an informed and balanced interpretation of the Bible.
Third, the use of Genesis 7:4, 10–11 as a prophecy looking forward to the final conflagration of all things also fails to pass scrutiny. Anybody with sensitivity to the genre and context of this passage can see that nothing in this text warrants these verses to be read as an end-times prophecy. Rather, Genesis 7:4 is simply a one-week count-down to the global flood given to Noah so he would know when to load the Ark. Then verses 10-11 is historical narrative explaining that the flood came just as God had said and giving us the exact time of year the rain began. This is historical narrative, not end-times prophecy. There’s nothing in this text that suggests the chronology of this account is to be taken typologically or prophetically in anticipation of the end of the world. Even if it were legitimate to interpret the seven days until the flood as indicating “seven thousand years” until the final Judgment Day, why, then, are the forty days of rain upon the earth not taken to represent 40,000 years of judgment upon the earth? Wouldn’t that be consistent? The fact remains that this prophetic interpretation of Genesis 7 is simply arbitrary and indefensible. It is not based on an informed and balanced interpretation of the Bible.
To summarize: 1) We cannot date the time of the flood with any degree of accuracy, and 4990 is a wild speculation. 2) The “1=1000” formula is not a key for unlocking prophetic chronology. 3) The historical narrative of Gen. 7:4, 10–11 is not a prophecy of the end times.
The Presumptuous Sin: God Knows and Tells?
Jesus, Paul, Peter, and the entire early church believed that nobody can calculate or know the hour, day, year, or even season of Christ’s return. Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matt. 24:36). To clarify that not even the disciples could have known, Jesus added, “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42). And to underscore the fact that even those who would believe in subsequent generations could not know the time of Christ’s return, Jesus said, “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. . . . What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert’” (Mark 13:33, 37).
Later the apostle Paul reiterated this teaching that nobody knows the day or the hour but that all believers of every generation must remain alert and ready for judgment to come at any moment. He wrote, “Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:1–2). Believers, however, will not be overtaken by the suddenness of this coming (5:4), not because they will know the times, epochs, year, and day, but because they will be ready for Christ’s return regardless of when it occurs! Later the apostle Peter himself echoes this same thought: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (2 Pet. 3:10, emphasizing the suddenness of the coming of Christ in judgment.
Finally, an early Christian writing called the Didache (A.D. 50–75), used for instruction of new Gentile believers in Christ, included a brief account of Christian expectations of the end times. The author of that text wrote, “Watch over your life: do not let your lamps go out, and do not be unprepared, but be ready, for you do not know the hour when our Lord is coming” (Didache 16.1). Thus, the pattern of teaching in the early orthodox church was the same as that of Jesus and the apostles: we do not know (and cannot know) the time of Christ’s return. It could happen in their lifetime as well as ours. Therefore, we must be ready for it every day and every moment of our lives.
Yet these facts of Christian faith don’t stop those high-risk gamblers playing the Dating Game. Instead, they suggest that these warnings are for unbelievers, or that God has chosen to progressively illuminate His church to discover the secret knowledge long hidden in Scripture, or they quote passages like Amos 3:7, concluding that God would never suddenly judge the world without adequate warning. They write, “However, the Holy Bible tells us that Holy God is a God of great mercy, compassion and love. That is why He has given us in advance of the destruction the exact time of the Day of Judgment. The Bible tells us in Amos 3:7: ‘Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but He revealeth his secret unto His servants the prophets’” (http://www.familyradio.com/PDFS/jd_en.pdf
). There are, of course, a few problems with this, besides the obvious problem of presumptuously ripping this Old Testament verse out of its context and then pitting it against Jesus, Peter, Paul, the early church, and the vast majority of orthodox believers from the first century to the twenty-first century.
First, God’s New Testament prophets, including Jesus, has already given sufficient warning to every generation that Day of the Lord would come suddenly, unannounced “like a thief,” urging believers to be on their guard at all times. Note that this warning is for believers, not unbelievers. He has already fulfilled the principle of Amos 3:7 by telling us to be ready at any moment. This is God’s last warning before the period of judgment begins.
Second, in the classic belief of the earliest church, the unannounced, any-moment commencement of the time of final judgment on earth, which will last seven years (see Rev. 11–13), will be filled with numerous additional warnings, calls to repentance, and opportunities for mercy and salvation. We don’t need a special date-setting revelation today prior to the beginning of that tribulation for Amos 3:7 to be fulfilled quite literally. In fact, the book of Revelation shows us that God’s final seven-year period of judgment will grow in intensity and severity in order to grant people opportunities to repent and be saved.
Finally, the promise of Amos 3:7 refers to God giving a special revelation to His prophets to warn the people of coming judgment. This is different from granting an individual or group special abilities to interpret God’s inspired Scripture in order to calculate the time of Judgment Day. Unless Family Radio and other supporters of the May 21, 2011 date are claiming authoritative divine revelation directly from God, Amos 3:7 does not apply to their flimsy and faulty calculations.
We’ve Got Some Bigger Problems
Besides the unbiblical and presumptuous nature of playing the Dating Game, there are several very serious theological and practical problems with this latest error of date-setting. In fact, when we consider the theological consequences of the inevitable failed prophecy of May 21, 2011, these problems expose implicit heretical implications.
The Christological Problem. Jesus clearly said that nobody knew the day or hour, not even He Himself in His humbled earthly state, having submitted His power to the will of the Father so that even things He could have by nature miraculously accomplished, He temporarily set aside to accomplish His earthly mission (as in Matt. 26:53). However, the date-setters say that the date of May 21, 2011 is clearly set forth in the Bible in the “prophecy” of Genesis 7:4, 10–11. All one needed to do was to calculate the date of the flood based on the clear testimony of Scripture and follow the “1=1000” principle already revealed in Psalm 90:4. This means that had Jesus simply put two and two together, He should have been able to interpret the Bible and would have known the date. This means that either Jesus didn’t know His Bible as well as Harold Camping and Family Radio or that He couldn’t do the math. That is, if the Father had already revealed this date in the Old Testament, how could Jesus have said that He didn’t know it? In fact, not even angels knew it! How is it that frail and fallible humans today can read and interpret their Bibles better than Jesus Himself? The only solution to this problem that doesn’t make Jesus look like an ignorant buffoon is to face the simple fact that only the Father knows the Day of Judgment and He has not revealed it either in the Bible or to any prophet. Harold Camping, then, is simply a false teacher two twists the Scripture to his own destruction (2 Pet. 3:16).
The Theological Problem. Jesus is not the only member of the Godhead that ends up slandered by the date-setters. God the Father, who revealed Scripture through the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20–21), will also be placed in a bad light when the prophecy of May 21, 2011 fails to come to pass. The simple fact is that Judgment Day will not begin on May 21, 2011. (Note: nobody knows the day, which will come when it is not expected; Family Radio has gone international claiming to know the day; therefore, it will not be May 21, 2011.) However, Family Radio has posted billboards claiming that God has provided clear clues in the inspired, inerrant Word of God that May 21, 2011 is the very day! In fact, they have placed a golden seal on some of their signs that says, “The Bible Guarantees It!” If this is true, then God must fulfill this guarantee. Yet, if these things do not come to pass on May 21, 2011 (and they won’t), then we have two options: 1) God changed His mind, as He did when He threatened judgment against Nineveh through Jonah, or 2) God genuinely threatened to send Judgment Day on May 21, 2011 in order to bring about repentance, knowing all along that He wouldn’t really judge the earth. However, in either case, God becomes a deceptive, untrustworthy, promise-breaking liar. If God, through His Holy Spirit, placed the “guarantee” of Judgment Day for May 21, 2011 in Genesis 7:4, 10–11, and then if He doesn’t fulfill that guarantee, then God is a liar. The only solution to this problem is that God has not, in fact, guaranteed the Judgment Day will fall on May 21, 2011, nor on any other day anybody past, present, or future, might set. Harold Camping, then, is a false teacher, guilty of ignorance and instability (2 Pet. 3:16).
The Practical Problem. Finally, by claiming that “the Bible guarantees” that Judgment Day will begin May 21, 2011, Harold Camping and Family Radio have contributed to the further undermining of the Bible’s perceived authority in our increasingly skeptical and cynical culture. How so? Well, when May 21, 2011 doesn’t pan out, weak believers, unbelievers, skeptics, critics, and scoffers will likely conclude one of two things: 1) Christianity and the Bible are utterly untrustworthy, legitimately leading to the question, “What else does it guarantee that isn’t really true?” Or 2) The Bible is hopelessly ambiguous, because if careful interpreters can read it so wrongly that they can say it “guarantees” Judgment Day on May 21, 2011, then Scripture can apparently be interpreted to say anything people want it to say. In either case, nothing good at all comes from failed date-setting. Rather, those who play the Dating Game make authentic, Bible-believing Christians look bad, as they lump us all together and regard us as misguided, brainless zealots.
Christians can learn something from yet another failed attempt at pinpointing the time of Christ’s return. We must all make a conscious decision to resist two perennial errors with regard to end-times expectations. First, we must ban, shun, and reject those who play the Dating Game. Setting a date for the return of Christ or some other end-time event(s) is completely unacceptable. It was unacceptable in the first century. It is unacceptable in the twenty-first century. We must exercise a policy of “ZERO TOLERANCE” for this unwise and borderline blasphemous practice.
Second, we must also inoculate ourselves against the much more common disease of “This-is-that-itis,” which is the common practice of interpreting the Bible’s prophecies in light of current events and presumptuously concluding (or at least hypothesizing) that our generation must be the last generation. This was unacceptable in the first century. It is unacceptable in the twenty-first. We simply cannot know the hour, day, week, month, year, decade, or generation. Christ could come in our lifetime. Or He could come in a thousand years.
God only knows.