If you were unfamiliar with the name Harold Camping just a few months ago, you are probably quite familiar with it today. Camping is a retired civil engineer and self-taught Bible scholar. He is most famous for his dual failed predictions of the timing of the rapture and the end of the world. He first predicted that the rapture would take place on 6 September 1994. When that failed, he blamed a “mathematical error.” In retrospect, he claims that, even as the day drew closer in 1994, he began to have doubts. The more he studied Scripture, the more certain he was that Judgement Day would in fact be delayed until 2011.
Most recently he predicted with absolute certainty that the rapture would in fact take place on 21 May 2011. This would be followed by a terrible outpouring of God’s wrath for five months, and the world would meet its final end on 21 October of the same year. The rapture would be preceded by an unprecedented earthquake as each time zone in the world struck 6:00 PM.
Camping’s second prediction was met with widespread scorn and disbelief. To be sure, he had a few faithful followers, who sold all their possessions and spent their life’s savings because they would not need it once the rapture occurred. Camping seemingly did nothing to dissuade this action, although he himself did nothing of the sort.
The day came and went largely without notice. A volcano erupted in in Iceland. Small earthquakes were recorded across the globe, as they are every day. A tornado in Reading, Kansas killed one person. There was, however, nothing like Camping predicted. As in 1994, Camping once again proved to be a false prophet.
So, what now? What should be our reaction to yet another professing Bible-believer who has incorrectly predicted the end of the world? Consider just a few thoughts.
The responsibility of Harold Camping
Harold Camping has proven once again to be a false prophet. According to Deuteronomy 18:20–22, we ought not to listen to him. In the Old Testament, false prophets were put to death. This is not the place to debate the applicability of that law to us today, but what is clear is that Harold Camping has spoken “presumptuously” and ought therefore to have no credibility whatsoever among Christians.
What this means, for a man who professes to believe the Bible, is that repentance is in order. Harold Camping should, first, get alone with God and repent of speaking on God’s behalf presumptuously. He should, second, make a public confession of his sin and seek the forgiveness of those he has misled. Third, where necessary, he should make restitution to those followers who were negatively impacted by adherence to his teaching. Fourth, I believe, he should publicly commit to not again speak presumptuously in the name of the Lord.
For his own integrity’s sake, and for the sake of the gospel, I sincerely hope so. I believe that we should pray that God will humble him to do what is necessary.
Camping claims to be “not embarrassed” by his first failed prediction. This is disturbing. Both failed predictions have invited great ridicule against the church, the Bible and God. His failed predictions have brought reproach upon the name of Christ, and that is not something about which a Christian can remain “not embarrassed.” It ought to cause him great shame and drive him to his knees in humble repentance.
The responsibility of Campingites
Teachers of God’s word bear a grave responsibility. They will give an answer to God for their teaching (James 3:1). Harold Camping will one day answer for misleading people with his end-time predictions.
But the followers of Harold Camping also have a responsibility. Acts 17 speaks of the Bereans who were “more noble than those in Thessalonica” because “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (v. 11). There is an important principle here: Those who hear God’s word have the responsibility to search the Scriptures to see if what they are being taught is true. Harold Camping’s followers had that responsibility prior to 21 May—and they have the same responsibility (perhaps even greater!) now.
But now is not really the time to come down hard on his followers. They were wrong, yes. But they are hurting now. No doubt, many followers who implicitly trusted Camping are now confused and bewildered, perhaps tempted to wonder if God’s word failed. Let’s not add to their pain.
I think what is necessary for Camping’s followers is, first of all, repentance before God. They allowed themselves to be misled by false teaching. They should acknowledge this and break all ties with Camping. It may be necessary, second, for some of Camping’s followers to make right with people they might have misled. They should, third, flock to the local church. They should find local churches that love the Lord, his word, and his people. They should join those churches for support and biblical instruction at this time.
The responsibility of the church
But every one of us needs to consider our own response to this debacle. Whether you believed Camping or (publicly or privately) ridiculed him, some sober reflection is necessary at this point.
In the first place, Camping’s failed predictions aside, Christians should boldly affirm the doctrine of the second coming of Christ. He ascended bodily to heaven and will return the same way (Acts 1:9–11). We should not obsess about this truth, but we should affirm it.
Second, we should not only affirm, but also long for, Christ’s coming. Camping’s followers had their heart in the right place. For all their unbiblical gullibility, their treasure was laid in heaven and not on earth. The thought of being with Christ ought to fill us with great joy, and cause us to hang onto this life loosely.
Third, we should be concerned to warn others of God’s judgement. Camping urged his followers to “sound the trumpet,” imagery taken from Ezekiel 33:3. They were to warn people of the coming judgement. And while his date-setting was wrong, his exhortation to warn of judgement was correct. Judgement Day is a reality, and it should drive us to persuade others of the truth of the gospel.
Finally, even as we warn others of coming judgement, let us spare a thought for those misled by Harold Camping. They do not need to be ridiculed or to be incessantly reminded of how wrong they were. They need our prayers. Let’s pray that they not be disillusioned with the gospel and the truth of God’s word. Let’s pray that they maintain their zeal for evangelism and keep their treasure in heaven. Let’s pray that they find the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray that they see their need for local church worship and ministry.
And let’s pray for Harold Camping. Let’s pray that he will humble himself under the mighty hand of God and do what is necessary to honour God at a time when much reproach has been brought upon the name of Christ.