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The End is Not Near

On May 21, 2011, hundreds of people will wake up with the faithful and eager expectation that they will be taken up to heaven before the day is over. They have been purchasing advertising and traveling around the country to spread the word that the end is near. The prediction was made by radio broadcaster and religious leader Harold Camping. This brings up several questions, including

Should we take this prediction seriously?
What will Camping's followers do when the prediction is proved wrong?
Is this type of behavior a normal part of Christian belief or an aberration?

I'd like to approach these questions by looking at similar situations in history. This is an incomplete list. We can start with Camping himself. This isn't his first time predicting the end of the world.

Harold Camping

September, 1994

In the early 90s, he released a book called 1994? As the title suggests, he was not claiming to be absolutely certain of the date. But when his date came and went without any apparent end of the world, he maintained that his calculations were correct in pointing to it and he continued to have a strong following. He made excuses about mistaken interpretations and the followers who had been so certain that his date was correct were suddenly no longer concerned about 1994.

Wayne Bent

Michael Travesser

October 31, 2007

Wayne Bent, known to his followers as Michael Travesser, led a small religious sect in New Mexico. He claimed to be the Messiah and predicted that the world would and on October 31, 2007. A documentary film crew from the United Kingdom was on hand when the date arrived. When nothing happened, Bent changed the date to December, 2007 and there was no mass defection from his sect.

Edgar C. Whisenant

Septemember 1988

Edgar C. Whisenant wrote a book called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. He sold more than 4 million copies. When this prediction wasn't fulfilled he went on to set several more dates (1989, 1993, and 1994).

Hal Lindsey

1980s

Hal Lindsey, author of The Late, Great Planet Earth never named a specific date for the end of the world, but he did make several statements suggesting that it would happen during the 1980s. In the early 90s he release a new book called Planet Earth - 2000 A.D. It said that the world would probably and before the year 2000. Despite his failed predictions, Lindsay continued to be a popular author and host of a show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Aimee Semple McPherson (1918 photo, public domain)

Assemblies of God

1934 or 1935

The Weekly Evangel, an official publication of the church, predicted that World War I would lead to Armageddon. Despite this failed prediction, the Assemblies of God have around 60 million members today.

Charles Taze Russell and the Jehovah's Witnesses

1874

Russell was an important figure in the earliest days of the Jehovah's Witnesses. He believed that 1874 was the date for the return of Jesus. After that date he didn't abandon it but rather claimed that Jesus had returned in 1874 and established an invisible kingdom. Jehovah's Witnesses went on to predict a whole series of dates for the end of the world.

William Miller

March 21, 1844

William Miller was a Baptist preacher who calculated that the return of Jesus would occur on or before March 21, 1884. When this date proved wrong, he pushed it back a month. When that also proved wrong one of his followers set the date as October 22, 1844. Thousands of followers eagerly expected to meet Jesus on this day. Many of them had even given away all of their belongings. The failure of Jesus to appear became known as the Great Disappointment. Many members left the movement, but others stayed and formed the Seventh-day Adventist church.

Joseph Smith

Mormonism

1830s

From the beginning of the church he established, Joseph Smith told his followers that the world would be ending soon. Though he didn't give specific dates, he did claim to know where it would happen. He directed his followers to build a city called Zion in Jackson County, Missouri. Though Smith prophesied in 1830 that the "hour is nigh and day soon at hand" when Jesus would return, Smith died in 1844 without seeing Jesus return and without his church establishing a city in Jackson County.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

1540s

The founder of the Lutheran Church is said to have predicted, "The world runs and hastens so diligently to its end that it often occurs to me forcibly that the last day will break before we can completely turn the Holy Scripture into German. For it is certain from the Holy Scriptures that we have no more temporal things to expect. All is done and fulfilled." This sense of urgency was also present in other early Lutheran leaders, including Adam Nachenmoser who set the date as 1635.

Joachim of Fiore

1260

Joachim of Fiore, a mystical monk, predicted that 1260 would see the establishment of a Kingdom of the Holy Spirit. He died in 1202 and after his prediction proved false the Catholic Church condemned him as a heretic.

Thiota

847

Thiota predicted the end of the world would happen in 847. She had a large enough following to draw the attention of Catholic bishops, who had her publicly whipped.

Authors of the New Testament

50-120

Several passages in the New Testament claim that the world is about to end. Some examples:

"In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay." (Hebrews 10:34)

"You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near." (James 5:8)

"The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray." (1 Peter 4:7)

"Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour." (1 John 2:18)

"He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22:20)

Despite these failed predictions, some Christians continue to believe that the Bible is a flawless book and that the end of the world is still imminent.

Saint Paul - James Tissot

The apostle Paul

Within his own lifetime

Scholars tell us that 1 Thessalonians was the first book of the New Testament to be written. Chapters 4 and 5 show that both Paul and his audience expected Jesus to return during their lifetimes. The church in Thessalonica was concerned about the fate of members who were dying in the meantime, but Paul reassures them that these deceased believers will be included in the return of Jesus just as the living members would.

"For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

The second epistle to the Thessalonians, though probably not written by Paul, describes the second coming as something that will happen further on into the future after some conditions are met.

Jesus

Jesus

Before the generation then living passed away

Jesus, like John the Baptist before him and millions of Christians after him, seems to have been convinced that he was living in the time just before the end of the world as he knew it.

"Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." (Matthew 16:28)

"And he said to them,'Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.'" (Mark 9:1)

After detailing events leading up to end of world, Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." (Mark 13:30)

For centuries Christian theologians have tried to harmonize these passages with the fact that Jesus hasn't yet returned. Various conflicting theories have been proposed, but none has gained universal acceptance.

There's another explanation, though it may be difficult for some to accept: Jesus was wrong. If we assume for a moment that he actually existed and said these things, we can see him as yet another failed apocalyptic prophet. As we've seen, this is a common story. People who claim to know that the world is about to end are often able to attract followers. When the teacher turns out to be wrong, the followers may hang around and keep the group going, reinterpreting the teacher's words as necessary.

Conclusion

Let's return to our questions. Is this end-times mania a normal part of Christianity? Expecting the world to end has always been a significant part of the Christian religion, going all the way back to its two main founders, Jesus and Paul. Most people refrain from latching on to a specific date (often citing Matthew 24:36 where Jesus says no one knows the day or the hour). But eagerly expecting Jesus to return is a normal part of faith for millions.

What will Camping's followers do when the prediction is proved wrong? I suspect that some will be disappointed and leave the group. Some will remain convinced that the day was significant. Camping himself will probably "discover" a mistake in his calculations and set another date in the near future. But we can be fairly sure that he will maintain at least some followers, just as Christianity did even after Jesus' prediction proved false.

Should we take this prediction seriously? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Most of the assertions of religion are structured to be too vague for falsification, but Camping's prediction gives us a rare chance to put a religious idea to the test. It will fail that test, as supernatural claims always have when they wander into the realm of cold, hard facts.

12 comments

Let’s see man. You got less than a month to stock your silo.


Lee [Visitor]  04/22/11 @ 15:30

Question out of curiosity as I do come to your blog from time to time:

What kind of specific evidence would it take for you to become a theist?


J [Visitor]• 05/01/11 @ 16:08
dan [Member] • http://www.brendoman.com/05/01/11 @ 18:03

Fair question.

I tend towards presuppositional apologetics, so I can’t think of any evidence that would cause me to reconsider.


J [Visitor]• 05/02/11 @ 09:46

I wrote to them asking exactly that: Will they acknowledge that they where wrong and their faith is bogus if it doesn’t happen as predicted?

I don’t understand why, but I dot no answer until now…


Marco Costa [Visitor]  05/16/11 @ 09:19

I am gonna pray tonight that you will see a purple cat on that date - may 21.

let me know if you see it.

that might be a start of some evidence?


La Cuidad [Visitor]• 05/16/11 @ 22:22

Or if you dont - God might be using it to further your doubt.

An All Powerful God certainly has the ability to make anyone believe - purple cat or not - right?


La Cuidad [Visitor]• 05/19/11 @ 21:41

Just passed by and want to leave a quick notice.
The Bible scripture you mentioned in your post
“And he said to them,’Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’” (Mark 9:1)
doesn’t refer to the return of Jesus physically but is most probably talking about the “Holy Spirit” which came upon the disciples on what we call Pentecost or Whitsunday.
This can be proven by the context and with other text passages.

The fact that many deceivers will come and say, “look, here he is", “look, then and then he will come",
this, he predicted himself.
Within all these twisted and erroneous claims and in this wicked world,
only a real truth lover (literally) can see the difference and distinguish Right from Wrong.


noRiddle [Visitor] • http://www.revilonetz.de/english/05/21/11 @ 13:42

Oh god this is so ridiculous. I would not know where to start correcting you. But I will say this. You are all going to die, hopefully most of you will rot with old age and slowly become decrepid weak frail organs failing one after another, blind deaf pss your pants daily and then ahhhhhh - gasp your last. Gods design - nice hey? Others will sadly be whisked off sooner by cancer or bullet or HIV or piano falling on your empty heads. But you will die. oh - did i mention that new life will also occur? it does. new ppl will be born to do more evil and cut down trees and beat off to phorno and eat meat and other stuff. Hooray! So there you have it. life is cyclic. Unlike religion. when it dies, it dies. it wont come back. like Zeus, Deonysis, Tezcatlipocha and dear old Jesus. 2000 years is a long time to wait and read a book. I did that in a dentist room and after half an hour I walked right the fk out. Let that tooth kill me. draw a line ppl. you cant hope that the world actually ends then say - see ! I was right! the bible was right!!! this is why philosphers see the religious as retards. pls - try enjoy ur gdddam lives! and play nice doing so


Leee [Visitor]  05/22/11 @ 14:32

…cos you are going to die. every single one of you, so you it’s half right. when you die, the world ends. go figure! Everyone 1 of those predictors were right! cos everyone of those predictors are stone dead. lol. Thats the difference really, philosophers like me are dying to win an argument, these fools are doing it literally! lol.


Leee [Visitor]  05/22/11 @ 14:46

@Leee
Oh man, your hatred is big.
Where did anyone claim that we won’t die ?
What is wrong with you ?
Who said we don’t enjoy our lifes ?
What ever you say and how much ever you rant, you dont take a iota from truth away.
May be we you should more look on your sins, then you may be realize that not it is not “Gods design - nice hey?” in the first place.
I tell you man, honestly, if I was god I would have devastated and trampled down this planet years ago.
Fortunately he doesn’t,
our chance to face truth and start to live as children of god instead of destroying our planet, instead of hating and betraying each other all day long.

As to certain predictors, I myself said that there is many who are liars.

Peace,
noRiddle


noRiddle [Visitor] • http://www.revilonetz.de/english/05/25/11 @ 11:24

The following webpage is the internet’s BEST resource for information about Charles Taze Russell, the WatchTower Society, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. This webpage contains the internet’s BEST History Summary of the WatchTower Society and JWs, PLUS the internet’s FIRST and ONLY “FINANCIAL BIOGRAPHY OF CHARLES TAZE RUSSELL". Both histories contain new info not found elsewhere on the internet:

http://jwdivorces.bravehost.com/jwinfo.html


Jerry [Visitor]• 10/25/11 @ 12:58

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