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Why Predictions of the End are Misguided

Everyone is talking about Harold Camping and the failed prediction of the beginning of Judgment day marked by the rapture on May 21, 2011.  When citing reasons that he was wrong, many are citing the words of Jesus which state:

“But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (Mark 13:32 & its counterpart in Matthew 24:36)

The irony of this sort of argumentation is that those who use it are tacitly affirming that even though his conclusions may be wrong as no one knows the day his approach is not, that is, it is ok to see the Bible as some sort of crystal ball that reveals future events.  I submit that using this verse as a refutation of Harold Camping fails for the same reason Harold Camping’s reasoning fails:  it is based on a faulty and sloppy hermeneutic. It abuses the text and teaching of Jesus and the Prophets and Apostles.

Observation 1: The verse in question is not a reference to the end of the world. Both passages reflect the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13 and Matthew 24) and Jesus is answering a very clear and direct question:  When will the temple be destroyed?  Jesus is referencing a judgment event that will occur in the lifetime (generation) of his hearers and is not referring to the “end of the world” as perceived by the latter day prognosticators like Harold Camping and Hal Lindsey.  This verse has been torn from its context and abused by so many.  I rarely hear anyone use it contextually.  So, go back and read the whole chapter and read it in light of the question asked by Jesus’ disciples at the front end of the discourse.  The destruction of the temple marked the “end of the age”, not necessarily the same as the “end of the world”.

Observation #2: The real problem is the approach of Harold Camping  to the Bible as a whole.  He sees it as a book full of codes that need to be deciphered. Once you have cracked the code you can predict the future events and characters in the future that will rise and be the main players in the end time scheme.  The real criticism of Harold Camping is not Mark 13:32 rather it is his faulty approach.  It is a mistake to treat the Bible like a crystal ball.  It is a mistake to use it like a Ouija Board.  It is a mistake to use it as a road-map of future events. Ignoring the clear meaning of the text in its context and transporting its meaning two millennia into the future is bad Bible study.  Camping is wrong not because he misunderstands a single passage or group of passages, or made a mistake in calculation or even because of Mark 13:32 – he is wrong because he mistreats the Bible, misunderstands its main message, and ignores universally agreed upon principles of interpretation.

Observation #3: The real problem is not Harold Camping.  Most people recognize him as obviously disturbed and wrong.  The real problem is the massive amount of “acceptable” teachers out there who use the same faulty methodology but know better than to be too specific about their predictions. The list of people in this camp include:  Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins, Jack Van Impe, Chuck Smith, Chuck Missler, and a whole bunch of others who are willing to “predict” the time of the end.  This trend in the church is “fringe” and not substantively different than Harold Camping.  Many of these teachers were certain and convinced that 1988 was a key year in the end time calendar.  When that date passed, they adjusted their interpretations and main characters in their dramas.

So, if you are going to jump on the criticism bandwagon with regard to Harold Camping (and you should, he is wrong about this and so many other things) then you should look very carefully at the teaching of these other men who are essentially treating the Bible in the same way and arriving at similar conclusions that are also wrong and misleading.

8 Responses

  1. Steve,
    The interpretation of “not knowing the day or the hour” may very well be refering to the destruction of the temple by the Romans around 70AD. However, taken in light of the entire chapters of Mark 13 and Matthew 24 it is easy to see why it is widely interpretated to refer to the “second coming of Man”. Verses in both chapters about gathering the elect from the four winds, the sun being darkened and the Son of Man coming in the clouds have obviously led many to interpret that the entire content of these chapters has not been fullfilled yet.

  2. Christs return will be like a theif in the night. Not the latest CBN sensational dispensational pre-millennial prophectical feature movie. In a twinkling of an eye things will change! Makes sense since God is not contrained to time. At His mark, he’ll bring everything to a close and usher in our eternity or judgment. And while were at it Let’s inlcude John Hagee in the list of finger in the air signs and wonder seekers.

  3. Hey Steve,

    The references to gathering the elect, sun being darkened and the Son of Man coming in the clouds don’t have to be relegated to the distant future from the time of Christ.

    Gathering the elect from the four winds is another way of saying that the gospel will be preached to the whole world which Paul claimed had occurred.

    The sun being darkened is referenced by Peter in Acts when he quotes Joel, and Josephus speaks of the sun being obscured by the smoke of the fires from Jerusalem’s burning.

    The reference to the coming in the clouds may be the most misunderstood passage in all of eschatology. I would refer you to its source in Daniel 7 and challenge the notion that it has to do with a literal riding on the clouds.

  4. Steve, are you referring to the errant secret rapture view where Christ returns yet a thrid time to earth riding on the clouds to establish a millennial kingdom on the earth after removing the church seven years prior?

    I would insert that Daniel 7 and the presentation of the Christ before the Ancient of Days has nothing to do with eschatology at all but a prophecy that to us (looking back) has already been fullfiled.

    I can’t help but see a similarity between Stephen’s vision to the elders of Israel that led to his stoning and Daniel 7. Stephen declared Christ was at the right hand of the Father.

    Also a temple not built by human hands is exactly what God told Nathan to tell David He was going to build for Himself. One that would endure forever in a kingdom that would last forever. The futurist view is a very hard case to make espeically from Daniel 7 and then project it to future eschatology.

  5. One thing is for sure, the perspective of the disciples continues to exist today in the fringe elements of the church.

    No wonder futurists have such overt affinity for the nation of Israel. The Jew and the misguided Gentile simply refuse to accept the Kingdom of God that is here and now.

    We tend to hang with those who share similar perspectives don’t we?

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