The latest prediction of Harold Camping and his followers that Judgment Day and the Second Coming of Christ were supposed to happen on May 21st, 2011 has stirred up a great deal of controversy and commentary, especially in the secular media. Partly, this was due to Harold's and Family Radio's claim that this was "guaranteed" by the Bible and would certainly take place. Their previous predictions for several dates from 1994 to 1996 were slightly qualified. Harold would say things like, "This is highly probable to happen" but he didn't claim it to be absolutely certain. This time it was different. No doubts could be entertained. Those who did not believe that May 21st was the day of Christ's second coming and the "rapture" (meaning, "catching up" to heaven of believers - 1 Thessalonians4:16-17) would certainly be left behind to die during, or by the end of, a five month period of "hell on earth" before the universe was completely destroyed on October 21st.
I have been listening to some of the "Open Forum" programs on Family Radio since the failure of Harold's prediction. On this program, Harold answers questions from those who call in. I'm sure there are some people whose faith in Harold was shaken and perhaps even their faith in the Bible or in God because the predicted events did not take place as they were "guaranteed" to happen, but judging by those calling into "Open Forum" these are the exception rather than the rule. I have heard some slight rumblings or rumors that some on the Family Radio staff are disgruntled but I have heard nothing regarding the corporation Board stepping in to put a stop to Harold's use of Family Radio to promote his bizarre teachings. We shall see what happens when October 21st passes and then we come to the end of the year and none of Harold's predictions, in any tangible form, have taken place, but so far the faithful, though dazed, are still loyal to this man.
So how does he get away with it? It happens because all too many Christians really don't study their Bibles. The Jehovah's Witnesses also take advantage of this fact. Like them, Harold spoon feeds his listeners the results of his apparently massive study of the Bible and they have little or nothing by which to judge the truth of his assertions. Yes, they read his books, follow his "logic" and get very interested in using his methods to investigate the Bible but they are prevented from actually knowing what the Bible plainly says because they are looking at it through Harold's jaundiced eyes. They know that other Christians are not studying the Bible and that even many pastors are not teaching from the Bible but are basing their sermons on film clips and pop psychology. So when someone like Harold comes along and is willing to face derision and opposition for upholding the results of an apparently extensive Scriptural research, they are deeply impressed.
Harold is right. Christians aren't studying their Bibles. In fact, most don't even read it, other than a few verses now and then. But just because someone says this and then urges you to study the Bible, it does not necessarily mean that they are studying it rightly. Paul wrote to Timothy, a young minister of the gospel and said, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a work-man who does not need to be ashamed,accurately handling the word of truth." (1 Timothy 2:15) It is not enough to handle the word of truth; one must handle it accurately.
So how does one accurately handle what God has revealed in the Scriptures? Yes, we need to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit, without question. But how does the Spirit lead us? He does not dispense with reason or common sense - in fact, He is the ultimate Source of sound reason and sense. So it behooves us to pay attention to the sensible and reasonable rules of Scriptural study and interpretation. Let us illustrate this with one of Harold's claims. He claims as one of his strongest reasons for asserting that Judgment Day must have begun on May, 21st, 2011 is that it is exactly 7,000 years, to the day, from the commencement of Noah's flood. Harold cites 2 Peter 3:8 which says, "But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day." Harold then drags us over to Genesis 7:4, 10-11 where God says to Noah, "For after seven more days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights… It came about after the seven days that the water of the flood came upon the earth… in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month". So, putting these two passages together, he claims that God is telling us that the Day of Judgment will come 7,000 years after the Flood which, according to his reckoning was on May 21st, 2011.
What is wrong with this? Even granting him that the Flood happened in 4990 BC (a highly dubious opinion) and that 2 Peter 3:8 is a cryptic hint by God on how to determine the timing of the Second Coming rather than giving us a reason to be patient because we do not know when it will take place (as it most certainly was meant to do), the application he makes is entirely arbitrary and subjective. I could use the same assumptions and come to other and contradictory conclusions. For instance, I could conclude from the principle that one day equals a thousand years, that the Second Coming must take place three thousand years after Christ's resurrection since Christ was raised on the third day. Or, I could reason that it must take place four thousand years after Lazarus was raised from the dead because Lazarus was raised after four days. I could also claim that the Second Coming must take place six thousand years after Christ's first coming since the fourth commandment says, "six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God…" (Exodus 20:9-10) Since the Church's labor to make disciples of all nations began with Christ's first coming and ends with His second, followed by the eternal rest in God's kingdom, so six thousand years must separate these two events. Do you see how easy it is to come to different and contradictory opinions based on this faulty reasoning?
But above all, we must hew to this most basic principle when we interpret Scripture: the main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things. If Jesus tells us that no one knows the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36) and that "It is not for you to know the times and the seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority" (Acts 1:7), we should immediately reject any attempts to determine the time of Christ's Second Coming, period. A clear, plain assertion trumps a conclusion based on convoluted, cryptic, subjectively-derived "evidence" every time. So let's apply ourselves diligently to read, study and obey what God says to us through the Holy Scriptures, not only profiting by them ourselves but giving no opportunity for spiritual seducers to sway people because of our negligence.