This Saturday is Judgment Day?

Robby BradfordChristianity, end times, eschatology, evangelicalism, Jesus Christ, judgment day, rapture12 Comments

In anticipation of a message I’m delivering this Sunday on the end of the world and in response to so much of what I see and hear in some Christian circles, I thought it was significant to repost one of my most read blogs…

It’s happening again!  A Christian leader has come to imagine himself as having read and understood the Bible with such precision that he claims to know, with absolute certainty, when the end of the world is coming.  Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 6PM will mark the end of the world, the rapture and a beginning of a period of unimaginable horrors from which there will be no escape or salvation possible.

This scheme has been proposed by Harold Camping, president of Family Radio.  He first predicted the world would end in 1994, but said he hadn’t investigated it enough when it didn’t happen.  Now, there is no mistake about it, according to Camping–the jig is up.  Camping’s group has been widely covered by most major news organizations in the world in print, web, radio and TV.

I’m writing about this today because I think there are a number of clarifications to make and because this kind of predictive work with the Bible is an opportunity to clarify a few things.

  1. Jesus said that no one knows the day or the hour of his return (Matthew 24:36).  This point is clear from the teachings of Jesus instead of being obsessed with knowing when the end will come, we are to live in such a way that will be honoring to Christ when he returns.  “Occupy till I come.” (Luke 19:13) is the way Jesus expressed it when he told a parable that explores his leaving and coming again.
  2. This kind of prediction is a distraction from actually following Christ in the world.  You may know that these kinds of predictions have happened many times in the history of the Church.  The big one I remember in my lifetime was that given by Edgar Whisenant in 1988.  He even wrote a best-selling pamphlet called “88 Reasons why Christ will Return in 1988”.  How does an obsession with the date of the end of the world help us to live lives that are more filled with love for others and more focused on knowing Christ and making him known?  It doesn’t.  It creates a brief and intense cause for those who believe it, but then it must, in some way, undermine faith when it is over and doesn’t happen.  Take a moment to read 2 Peter 3:3-15 for some more insight into how the return of Christ might shape our lives.
  3. The Bible is not written in “code”.  The Bible is the most amazing book ever written.  It conveys eternal truth in perfect words and is a “living word” (Hebrews 4:12).  However, it was written by real people in actual historic contexts.  They were wanting to convey a meaning to their audience. To understand the power of the scriptures, one needs to interpret what it says and apply it to life.  There is no benefit in adding up the numbers that are contained in it or in skipping a certain number of letters to find new meanings.  That is using the Bible in a completely different way than its writers intended.  I find that applying God’s word to my life is challenging enough without looking for secret formulas!
  4. A false alarm trivializes the seriousness of the actual Judgment Day that is coming.  Unfortunately, if Saturday passes with no return of Christ, it is yet another confirmation to an unbelieving world that you and I are waiting in faith for something that will never happen.  That’s the most disappointing and revolting element of Harold Camping’s predictions.  
Thousands of predictions have come and gone by Christians about the end of the world in the last more than 2000 years.  Let’s not lose heart, but let’s approach the scriptures and our world with a bit more perspective and find ways to more thoughtfully and carefully proclaim Christ’s coming.

12 Comments on “This Saturday is Judgment Day?”

  1. It's refreshing to see someone address this.

    Per your comment about the Bible not being written in code, I'd be curious to see you explore it further. I find myself mostly in agreement with the traditional view espoused in such classics as the sixth century commentary Moralia, sive Expositio in Job:

  2. But be it known that there are some parts, which we go through in a historical exposition, some we trace out in allegory upon an investigation of the typical meaning, some we open in the lessons of moral teaching alone, allegorically conveyed, while there are some few which, with more particular care, we search out in all these ways together, exploring them in a threefold method. But sometimes, he who neglects to interpret the historical form of words according to the letter, keeps that light of truth concealed which is presented to him, and in laboriously seeking to find in them a further interior meaning, he loses that which he might easily obtain on the outside. For as the word of God, by the mysteries which it contains, exercises the understanding of the wise, so usually by what presents itself on the outside, it nurses the simple-minded. It presenteth in open day that wherewith the little ones may be fed; it keepeth in secret that whereby men of a loftier range may be held in suspense of admiration. It is, as it were, a kind of river, if I may so liken it, which is both shallow [planus] and deep, wherein both the lamb may find a footing, and the elephant float at large. Therefore as the fitness of each passage requires, the line of interpretation is studiously varied accordingly, in that the true sense of the word of God is found out with so much the greater fidelity, in proportion as it shifts its course through the different kinds of examples as each case may require.

  3. hi jason! which jason are you?

    i don't agree with the perspective you list here. i think there are serious problems with it. true, there are differing kinds of genres in the Bible, but in general, it is not a shifting allegory. it is written by an actual person about (largely) things that have happened in history or will happen. all for now! thanks for your ideas…

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Pastor Robby!!! I was considering blogging about this tonight, but after reading this I realize you've said it all and better than I would have! I've "shared" the link to your blog on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks again for bringing the WORD!

  5. I agree with your perspective, Pastor Robby. Over my lifetime, I've witnessed so many false warnings of the second coming of Jesus, followed by disillusionment of naive seekers. Now, because I'm extremely busy, and because I'm typing with only one hand, that's all I'm going to say about that. God bless ya, PR!

  6. Pastor Robby –
    Thanks as always for your quick and thoughtful reply. I suspect that we are not as far apart on this question as it first appears. I would agree with you 100% that the historical reading should be the first and last consideration in interpreting that text. I would stop short however of saying that typical, moral or anagogical readings are inherently void. For example Paul interprets the story of Sarah & Hagar typically in Gal 4:24 when he says “These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants.” Later in Rom 5:14 he refers to Adam as a τυπος, or “type” of Christ. I would also submit that many messianic prophesies have a double meaning – one immediate and local, and one messianic and global. For example Hos 11:1 is clearly speaking about the exodus from Egypt, and yet Matthew freely applies it to the Lord as a messianic text.
    What I would stress, however, is this – I am highly suspect of any typical, allegorical or anagogical reading that claims some sort of “new” knowledge. Whenever the NT interprets the old in typical ways, it reinforces what is already known through the plain meaning. Specifically the typical readings always point to Christ and the gospel. I hope this clarifies my position a little better and I’d be curious to know your thoughts on it. “As iron sharpens iron.” Thanks again for the great insights 😀

  7. I left the Evangelical and Reformed orbit 14 years ago for Orthodoxy, and I almost certainly would disagree with you about typology (which isn't the same as allegory), but I appreciate this very sane repudiation of Camping's gnostic fantasies. More specifically, I agree 100% with your boldface type captions.
    Thanks.

  8. I certainly wouldn't trust myself to arrive at any new theological ground, typologically or otherwise! 😉 But in my experience, typical readings always point to Christ and the gospel. The more I've studied Scripture, the more convinced I am that Christ is hidden behind every word of the Old Testament. To shoot out one random example, Joseph in the book of Genesis is betrayed by Judah (hebrew form of Judas) for a reward of silver.
    In any event, thanks again for the response. Stimulating as always, Pastor Robby 😀

  9. theological ground is what any declaration of the meaning of scripture leads us to. i agree, there are some cool, interesting things to be found, like what you point to, but the point of the blog post was in reference to people who took the same kind of approach to scripture and made doctrinal declarations from it that will ultimately harm the faith of people and make the gospel less credible for many.

    for that reason, i am "conservative" in my estimation of the usefulness of typology. hope that makes sense to you, jason. now, back to my day!

  10. Reader John–thanks again for entering the discussion. I did not address typology in my remarks, but allegory and numerology, which I think are not fruitful ways at computing "hidden" meanings of the Bible. We can disagree about many things (I'm sure we would, as you are Orthodox), but I am sure you are someone who is passionate about your faith in Christ. Jason–the typological examples you cite are in scripture–it's not exactly what I would call a helpful paradigm for approaching the Bible. True, we can find examples of scripture using scripture typologically; I'm just not sure we ourselves could arrive at solid theological ground using the same kind of hermeneutical tactics. For me, the historical-grammatical method is what I feel helps me arrive at what are the plainest and truest renderings of meaning and theological application in the Bible. Thanks to all who advanced our reflection here!

  11. I am not as deep as Jason and John, as I read the comics, but did anyone read Doonesbury today? I think Garry Trudeau might be reading Pastor Robby's blog. He quoted Matthew 24:36 in today's strip. I just found that very interesting, and it made the strip a lot funnier to me.

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