If you’ve seen the billboards around town headlined with, “We Can Know…” or “Save the Date…” with a statement, “Return of Christ May 21, 2011,” you’ve probably been a little puzzled. What is this? Is this serious? Does the Bible really say Jesus Christ coming back to judge the world on May 21, 2011? If you ask the organizer of this movement, Harold Camping, you will hear him say it is a certainty. Where does he get this information? Has he gleaned it from some supernatural experience? Has God told him personally? Does the Bible say this?
First, let’s see what Harold Camping got right. The Bible does communicate that Christ will come back to judge the world. OK, we’re done. This is the extent of what is true in this sensationalistic phenomenon. But Camping is no stranger to failed predictions. He claimed the same failed prediction for September 6, 1994, in his book titled 1994. After the failure, he simply claimed that he had done the math wrong. And what was this math that supposedly gave him this insight? He took the 2,000 pigs from Mark 5:13 that have absolutely nothing to do with years, and supposes them to represent years, then added 2,000 years to Christ’s birth, which he believes to be 7 BC and he came up with 1994. With regard to where we are now, we have the world ending and Jesus Christ coming back in 2011, 2012, 2014 as postulated by various false prophets.
With regard to the current, and soon to be failed prediction, Camping points us to 2 Peter 3 as the passage that allows us to see that 2011 is the year of Christ’s coming. Now, the passage reads, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” He takes the passage horribly out of context, then uses what he claims is a date that he knows is when the flood of Noah occurred, 4990 BC. How he comes up with that date is beyond me. No one really knows when the flood occurred, and it is far more likely that it indeed occurred well before that. Then he says that since the week is 7 days, we can somehow multiply 7 by 1000 and get 7000, then subtract 4990 and account for the non-existence of year 0 to give us 2011. If this isn’t some heavy post-modernism, I don’t know what is. All he’s doing is pouring his own meanings into passages and doing some mystical mathematics to come up with a random number that appears to fit the current year. This, however, is nothing new. End-time prophecies have all had one thing in common; they have all been wrong. The same thing happened in 1988, 2000, 2005…
Now, what does the Bible really say about when Christ will return? There is no need to set any dates, use some weird numerology to twist the Bible into giving us dates that aren’t there. If we employ the methods used by Camping and all other false prophets we can easily make the Bible say whatever we choose to. There is really no warrant for any of it and no evidence in the Bible that gives anyone a clue. There is nothing more explicit in this regard than the Gospel of Matthew,
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man”(Matthew 24:36-39).
I think Camping and all other prophecy date-setters should give this verse a cursory reading. To every single prophet that claims to have some mystical insight, please first read the Word of God.
Arthur is an author, a former agnostic, and current ambassador of Jesus of Nazareth who loves to share the best of reasons for God's ultimate reality. His love and passion are helping skeptics and Christians grow in their faith and knowledge of God through accessible materials.