The orthodox Christian theology of Hadley Robinson

Setting Dates for the LORD's Return & Misuse of Scripture

by Hadley Robinson

Setting a date for the end of the world jumped to the front of the news when Harold Camping of Family Radio incorrectly predicted that May 21, 2011 would be the time of the Lord's return.  He later changed it to October 21, 2011.  Both dates came and went with nothing observable but the expected ridicule and smear dished out by the heathen on Christians for making such predictions.

1. Since we are all still here, the predictions were wrong. What happened?  Principally, there are three areas where the date-setters, including Camping and other Dispensationalists, make important errors.
a.) Misinterpretation concerning the sealed book of Dan 12:4.

b.) Non-application of Jesus’ words in Matt. 24:42 & Acts 1:7.  (They only apply to the Church age which, according to Camping, is now over.) c.) Humpty-Dumpty theology – Camping made a tortuous journey through the Bible characterized by a this-is-that sort of interpretation. In particular, those who attend “church” are those people mentioned in 1 Thess. 5:3 – the people who are living in darkness. The “true believers” know when Jesus will come because Harold Camping told them.

2. Does this represent the thinking of most Christians? Thankfully, no.  But those who predict the time of the LORD’s return will always be around distracting people with their nonsense.  These people have been giving false hope to Christians and wasting the Church's time from the earliest periods.

3. What does the Bible say about the end times?
a.) A Time of Evil:  Generally, it will be a time of great evil and faithlessness (Dan. 12:1; Matt 24:12, 21; 2 Thess. 2:3,4; Rev. 13:1-10.) That is, the history of man is not going from primitive/bad to sophisticated/better but from bad to worse: Mankind is incapable of improving his lot overall, despite the wonderful blessings God has given him.

b.) No One Knows When:  It will come unexpectedly. Matt. 24:37-39. 1 Thess. 4:1-11 and Matt. 25 are three of many passages in Scripture which exhort God’s people in how to live – holy and quiet lives, minding our own business, taking care of ourselves, and doing good, NOT being obsessed with dates and times concerning the LORD’s return. That is how we are to be watchful and waiting. 1 Thess. 5 and 2 Thess. 3 strongly warn against idleness – believers sitting around waiting for the world to end, as Camping and his followers did.  It is no accident that immediately following the Spirit’s teaching on the Second Coming we have these warnings against idleness. c.) Jesus is LORD of the end times – and LORD of history. All history points to Him and He will judge it all. This is the particular message of Gen. 3:15; Daniel; Revelation; and many other passages in Scripture.
4. Is this type of prediction very common in the past? Yes.  2 Thess. 2 indicates that some Christians were obsessed with it during the earliest times of the Church.  Like Camping, they made wild and inaccurate predictions and declarations.

5. Why do people make these types of predictions?
a.) Rom. 1:20 declares that all men know of God’s glory and power but deny it. So we see throughout history endless violence instituted to purportedly bring in the “perfect world” of peace and prosperity – Marxism, communism, humanism, the current US government, etc. It is not just Christian people who do it.  The desire for Heaven is stamped by the Creator into the soul of every man.

b.) Christians wish an end to the evil and death they daily see in the world.  It’s not wrong to want the LORD to come. It is just wrong to set a date. Suffering and evil are part of God’s plan for His people and for their good, whether they like it or not. Rom. 8:17ff.; Jas. 5:7-11; 1 Pet. 3-4; Rev. 3:10 teach about this. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Rom. 12:12

c.) We desire the completion of our salvation: “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Tim. 4:8.
6. How should more mainstream Christians respond to this?  We cannot be sure what “mainstream” is any more but orthodox Christians should firmly rebuke those who spread such tales concerning exact dates and times .

7. Family Radio, for example, spent much time and money promoting the idea of a specific end time date. It was all over their web site. Are they any different from the Old Testament Bible prophets who made dire predictions?  Most definitely.  Camping has predicted the LORD’s coming once before and must be labeled a false prophet and teacher.  Accordingly, 2 Pet. 1:20ff. & 1 John 4:1 teach that true prophets do not contradict the prophets in Scripture as Camping has.  He is a false teacher who has failed to repent – to this day.

8. Are there prophets of today who warn us about current events? Yes, in so far as they echo the clear teaching of the prophets in Scripture – neither adding nor subtracting from what has already been said in Scripture.

9. How should we view things like this?  With caution and care – testing everything.  If the followers of Camping had listened to the Spirit and, especially, studied their Bibles, they would have been fooled less likely.  Day after day, this writer listened to orthodox Christians calling in to Camping and holding him accountable.  He, however, defended his inaccurate and false theology and, often enough, in ridiculous ways.

10. Sometimes it seems like Christians are always arguing and fighting among themselves. What are we to make of this kind of prediction which gets so much publicity?  It is sensationalism and people trying to makes names for themselves.  It is not just Mr. Camping who does this.  Teachers like Bill Bright and Rick Warren have sometimes engaged in the same kind of ear tickling and false teaching as Camping.  It is fairly common among American evangelical Protestants.

11. How does a wrong prediction like this affect the Christian community?  It causes outsiders to blaspheme the Name per Rom. 2:24 & 2 Pet 2:2.

12. Is there such a thing as a body of Christian ideas which all Christians agree on?  True Christians, yes – false Christians, no. The Nicene Creed is an example of core doctrine that defines what a Christian must believe.  When we leave the early 4th century A.D., truth (or what some men claimed to be truth) trumped relationships and the Church began a long process of becoming divided.

13. How about those who took this prediction seriously? They are foolish people who reject historic Christian orthodoxy and teaching.  They will always be around following this man or that one.

14. What do we say to others who might give us a difficult time about this prediction not coming to pass?  Ignore them and move on if they will not listen.  Avoid mockers as they are only a waste of time – do not argue with them.  If some are concerned, tell them Jesus’ words: All men will be judged at some time in the future.  But we do not know when.  Most people will hate you for saying this – count yourselves honored and worthy to suffer for His sake.  For a few, you have planted seeds that may be harvested later.  Do not underestimate the power of God and how He saves men.  He often does so in mysterious ways that make no sense to us.  Above all put on love, patience, and good will like a garment.  Wear them as you would a down coat in an Arctic blizzard.