"Jesus is Coming Today!"

“JESUS IS COMING TODAY!” If you’re reading this on May 21, 2011, then that is precisely what the followers of Harold Camping are declaring today—Christ is returning to this earth at 6 p.m. (presumably Pacific Time, since Camping lives in Oakland, California). With his return approximately two per cent of this world’s population will be immediately raptured to heaven, leaving the rest of earth’s inhabitants to be destroyed. In an elaborate theological schematic (which I have purused on-line), Camping predicts the return of Christ on May 21, 2011, and five months later the Judgment Day destruction of earth and the universe on October 21, 2011. Harold Camping, a former civil engineer, is the 89 year old founder of Family Radio—a Christian broadcast network that now includes 66 stations globally. He is not a stranger to apocalyptic predictions, having announced that Christ would return on September 6, 1994. His post-September 6 explanation, as he recently told London’s Independent newspaper, is that “at that time there was a lot of the Bible I had not really researched very carefully. But now we’ve had the chance to do just an enormous amount of additional study and God has given us outstanding proofs that it really is going to happen” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-preacher-warns . . . ). Camping has developed an intricate but convoluted system of mathematical calculations that assigns numeric values to biblical themes (redemption, heaven, wrath, judgment, et al), and then multiplies them in order to arrive at time frames. For example, this is from his online paper: “Let us return now to the 722,500.07 days from April 1, 33 A.D. (the day Christ was crucified and died) until May 21, 2011 (the day when God’s salvation plan has been altogether completed and all of the true believers are brought, or raptured into Heaven). The number 722,500 is made up of two sets of identical significant numbers. Each number is intimately related to God’s salvation plan: 5 x 10 x 17 x 5 x 10 x 17 = 722,500. The atonement or redemption demonstrated by Christ’s suffering and death on April 1, 33 A.D. (the number 5) is 100% completed on May 21, 2011 (the number 10) when all the true believers are raptured into Heaven (the number 17)” (http://www.familyradio.com/graphical/literature/tracts/frames/index.html). Based on those “calculations” sincere followers of Camping have erected 2000 billboards and crisscrossed every state of this nation with brightly painted camper vans proclaiming the end of the world today, May 21. But why blog at all about a small apocalyptic movement the secular press has patronizingly dismissed? Here’s why: because while I unequivocally reject Harold Camping’s misguided at best calculations for the end of the world, I must confess to a quiet admiration for the chutzpah of his followers who have risked public ridicule in order to share with the world their deeply held conviction that Jesus is soon to return. I, too, call myself an “adventist” (one who believes in Christ’s soon coming)—what is more, I am a Seventh-day Adventist—but how many of my friends and neighbors have heard me recently testifying to my belief that Jesus is coming soon? Call for a show of hands in worship, and mine quickly shoots up. But ask for a public testimony outside of my congregational comfort zone, and I am strangely silent. Are you the same? What’s wrong with us? Listen to the humbled but still bold Big Fisherman, Peter: “The end of all things is near” (I Peter 4:7). No equivocation there—and he was writing nearly two millennia before our day. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (3:15). Clearly “hope” is not dependent upon a calculable date for Jesus’ return (who himself declared such calculations futile—Matthew 24:36). Hope rests instead upon the bedrock promise of Christ himself: “Look, I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:12) And it is that divine and biblical certainty that must compel us who still call ourselves “Adventists.” May 21 will come and go. But taking a page from the play book of Harold Camping’s followers, shall we not—as followers of the soon-coming Christ—determine that what will not come and go is our fervent hope and hope-filled witness for our Savior?