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My Take: May 21st doomsday movement harms Christianity
Osvaldo Colon walks the streets of New York proselytizing with other believers that the world will end Saturday.
May 17th, 2011
03:27 PM ET

My Take: May 21st doomsday movement harms Christianity

Editor’s Note: Robert Jeffress is pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas and the author of 17 books, including the forthcoming "Forget Saving America!"

By Robert Jeffress, Special to CNN

In January 1961, a few days before John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as president, he invited Billy Graham to spend a day with him in Key Biscayne, Florida. After a round of golf, Kennedy and Graham were returning to their hotel when Kennedy stopped the white Lincoln convertible he was driving by the side of the road.

“Billy, do you believe that Jesus Christ is coming back to Earth one day?” Kennedy asked.

“Yes, Mr. President, I certainly do,” the evangelist responded.

“Then why do I hear so little about it?” Kennedy wondered.

Were Kennedy alive today, he probably wouldn't be asking the same question.

During Kennedy’s lifetime, few mainline Protestant churches discussed the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Fifty years later, however, televangelists, network television programs, movies and books like the "Left Behind" series — which has sold more than 60 million copies — have succeeded in placing the return of Jesus Christ in the public consciousness.

A 2004 Newsweek poll revealed that 55 percent of Americans believe in the Rapture, the snatching away of all Christians prior to the end of the world and the return of Jesus Christ.

As a pastor who preaches often about Bible prophecy, I am grateful for the general awareness people have of the promised return of Jesus Christ.

But our culture’s newfound interest in the end times has a downside. Bible prophecy inherently attracts fanatics. As a seminary professor of mine used to say to our class, “Remember, wherever there is light, there are bugs!”

One of those fanatics is Harold Camping, the founder of the Christian broadcasting ministry Family Radio in Oakland, California. Camping has predicted that the Rapture will occur at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, followed by the end of the world five months later on October 21, 2011.

Family Radio has plastered billboards across the nation with the warning “Judgment Day, May 21, The Bible Guarantees It!”

Road trip to the end of the world

Readers should note that Camping first predicted the world’s end in 1994. He says he was wrong due to a mathematical miscalculation.

Now I am going to make my own prediction which I’m (almost) willing to stake my life on: May 21 will come and go without any Rapture.

How can I be so certain of my prophecy? The Bible itself says that no one can know the date of the end of the world.

Predicting the apocalypse

In discussing His return to Earth, Jesus told His disciples, “... of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Matthew 24:36).

If God has not even revealed to his own son the date the world will end, I doubt he has revealed it to Harold Camping.

My hunch is that the date God ultimately has chosen is one that will not be plastered on billboards around the country.

What harm is there in an 89-year-old preacher making prognostications about the end of the world?

First, such predictions give non-Christians one more reason to discount the Bible.

For example, many secularists have dismissed the Bible because they assume that it teaches the world is only 6,000 years old. In reality, the Bible never makes such a claim about the Earth’s age. Instead, some well-intentioned Christians have misused the genealogies in the Bible to attempt to ascertain the date of creation.

Similarly, when next Saturday passes without a Rapture, some will say, “See, the Bible was wrong again,” when, in fact, it will have been Harold Camping who was wrong — again.

Second, predictions about the end of the world always lead some people to make foolish decisions. When a self-professed prophet named Edgar Whisenant predicted that the Rapture would occur in 1988, a couple I know responded by charging their Visa card to the limit with a trip to Disney World, believing the bank would be left with the bill once they had left the Magic Kingdom for God’s kingdom.

Obviously, things did not go as planned.

A look at the ways the world could end

Just as every teacher knows how unproductive and unfocused students are the week before school lets out, God knows how tempted we would be to neglect the responsibilities he has entrusted to us if we knew the date we would be raptured into heaven. That is why God refuses to show us his calendar and instead instructs us to focus on our assignment.

But the most harmful consequence of Camping’s false prediction is that it discourages people from making the necessary preparation for the real event when it actually occurs.

Remember the boy who cried wolf once too often? The villagers were so hardened to the boy’s false alarms that they were unprepared when the wolf finally arrived.

When May 21 passes and Camping’s prophecy is added to the ash heap of discredited prophecies, some will be tempted to join the chorus of cynics whom the Bible predicts will mockingly say, “Where is the promise of Christ’s coming?” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

Make no mistake about it. As Billy Graham affirmed to President Kennedy, Jesus is coming back some day. Over 1,800 verses in the Old Testament and 300 verses in the New Testament prophesy of the lord’s return.

Don’t allow the Harold Campings of the world keep you from making the necessary preparation for the end — whenever it may be.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • End times • Heaven • Opinion

soundoff (1,945 Responses)
  1. Jessy

    As an Gnostic, I will have to have to disagree with the whole notion of the rapture itself. Just as the bible makes no mention of when the Earth was made (along with plot holes in the book), the original Christian bible makes no mention of the "rapture". It does mention that Jesus will return. But what really puzzles me is the lack of detail on what will happen after.

    Another thing to consider is the context in which Jesus said "the end". Did Jesus mean the end of the whole world as we know it? If so, what would have been God's point in wasting so much resources and millions of years of evolution making us? If God was that wasteful, then he is not my god at all.

    What if Jesus only meant the end of an era? In that case, the world may not technically end as Earth goes through many eras. Yes, Earth will perish (in about billions of years), that is a fact. But we humans will have moved out of this Earth and onto other planets before that were to happen. This assumption is based on scientific observations I have learned over the years.

    Here is another thought. What if God wanted us to be like him? Are we not gods in the sense that we have gathered scientific knowledge that enabled us to create technologies that challenged old notion? Have we not altered the Earth's weather in some way due to our expansion and industrialization? Have we not wiped out scores of different species that would have otherwise thrived had we not grown to such an extent? Have we not the power to destroy the world many times over?

    But the most important question of all is why did God give us a brain that has the capacity to challenge his very existence?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • DLint

      Hi Jessy,

      The truth is that the Bible goes into great detail about what will happen after in fact perhaps in more detail than it does with respect to what will happen before. I appreciate your thoughtful response but frankly not enough people actually inquire as to what the Bible actually says instead of attacking Christians that believe it. Richard, its saddening that you would encourage that Christians "leave" but I suppose your response is more attributable to Christians conducting themselves in very ungodly and hypocritical ways–for that I apologize. God encourages to live our lives so that people will aspire to be as we are, not so that you would find fault in us. We obviously need to be better Christians.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Jessy

      Thanks for the reply, DLint. But my question still stands. Why did God give us a brain that enables us to challenge him? If God wanted us to be like servants to him, then he would have given us brains that had limited capacity with limited thought. But no, he gave us something he knew would drive us one day into acting like him. After all, God created us in his image.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  2. Olivier

    Written by a brother in Christ!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  3. George

    There are tens of millions of stupid people in America, and many many more around the world, so let them have their say, and then we can all laugh our asses off at them on May 22nd. Truthfully, I feel kinda bad for them because they are so dumb.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Olivier

      Behind the name calling it seems you are sympathetic person. Read the Bible so you can learn about the enlightened and not the ignorant.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  4. Scott

    "When a self-professed prophet named Edgar Whisenant predicted that the Rapture would occur in 1988, a couple I know responded by charging their Visa card to the limit with a trip to Disney World, believing the bank would be left with the bill once they had left the Magic Kingdom for God’s kingdom."

    Kind of ballsy to be so sure they were going to be included in the Rapture, while thinking they were going to essentially steal from their creditor. Thats the problem with Christians... It all doesn't apply to them. They can thieve, break vows/promises, etc... and some how they're magically forgiven, even though most of the time they're not even remorseful. The worst people I've known in my life attended church regularly.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Olivier

      Scott, unfortunately you are corect, however just because you attend church; doesn't mean your a follower of Christ.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  5. Mordac

    "It's 12:00 Midnight Sunday May 22...do you know where your savior is?"

    May 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Olivier

      Our savior is in heaven, he is your's also.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Mordac

      Please don't presume that EVERYONE believes as you do...

      May 17, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • W247

      Mordac – please don't PRESUME that everyone believes as you do.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • John Gault

      Yes Mordac, the insane do not believe as you.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  6. MikeMazzla

    I see no difference in the Lunacy of this guy saying the 2nd coming is on May 21st then the author of this article saying that it will happen but only "God" knows when. The author of this article is just as crazy as the the pastor of that church

    May 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Olivier

      You are mistaken, why don't you read the Bible and distinguish fact from fiction for yourself. Mike I challenge you to do your own research.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • MikeMazzla

      Why would I consult the bible for anything .. its a work of fiction

      May 17, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Doubtful1

      @oliver,
      I have read many portions of the bible and find it hard to understand how others can pick and choose what God really means for me to do...for example:

      1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

      2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

      3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense. Should we pass a law that states that all women must say if they are menstrating or not when they enter a room?

      4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

      5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it? (HUmmm...if the policeman does it, is he not working on the sabbath, and should be delt a death blow too?)

      6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than ho-mos-exuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

      7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

      (I have to credit an unknown author from these msg boards for these questions, his are much more humorous but still pose the same questions that I have).....

      May 17, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • John Gault

      Doubtful1, have you noticed no replies? Typical, not good at answering the real questions. The typical answers is Jesus forgives those transgressions (my interpretation of Jesus is that he was created because those Old Testament rules are tough to live by, so a "mulligan" was created. However, Jesus himself endorses the entirety of the Old Testament, adding nothing and taking away nothing.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Maria

      @Doubtful1

      Love it! Great post.

      @John Gault

      So true!

      May 18, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Catherine

      Doubtful1 Out of 73 books in the Bible you choose one book that suits you.

      There is also a New Testament in the Bible. New Testament is the fulfilment of the Old Testament which foretold the coming of the Messiah Who is Jesus Christ.

      Jeremias (Jeremiah) 31:31 Behold the days shall come, saith the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Juda:

      Leviticus 23:16 Even unto the marrow after the seventh week be expired, that is to say, fifty days, and so you shall offer a new sacrifice to the Lord.

      John 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

      Matthew 26:28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins

      There are seventy-three books in the Canon of the Catholic Bible; forty-six in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New Testament. The canon of Scripture refers to the final collection of inspired books included in the Bible.

      The Catholic Bible contains seven books that do not appear in the Protestant Old Testament. These seven writings are called the deuterocanonicals or the Second Law. Protestants usually call these writings the Apocrypha (meaning hidden), books they consider outside the canon. These seven writings include 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Sirach, Wisdom, and Baruch, along with additional passages in Daniel and Esther.

      Before the time of Christ, these writings were included in the Jewish Greek Septuagint (LXX)-the Greek translation of Jewish Scripture-but they were not included in the Hebrew Masoretic text.

      Until the Protestant Reformation the Catholic Bible was the only edition since, obviously, there was/were no denomination/s till then.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • Doubtful1

      @Catherine, Well if you actually looked you'd see I used 2 and I'm sure I could find other such oddities were I to take the time to look. But even so I would argue that why would I even bother when what I have read espouses such notions as slavery and death sentences? Stop cherry picking what you want to hear our of the bible and then saying that the bible holds all the answers.

      May 19, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Ranzabar

      Yes! Of course! Read the Bible. Doh, how could I have been so dumb. Thanks for the tip

      May 22, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  7. There Are No Gods

    I wonder if any of these people calling for the end this Saturday are going to lose their faith when they see that nothing happens. I can not count how many times during my life time I have heard that jesus is coming and that the end of the world is neigh. Let me tell you something, the end of the world will be brought by man not made up characters. There are no gods, and jesus was only an idea not a real person, ever.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Ranzabar

      If properly indoctrinated and brain washed, a Christian will remain true to the faith regardless of evidence to the contrary. That's what makes them special., or challenged, or whatever you want to call it.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  8. Lee

    The prophecies about the Lord's Second Coming have been around for thousands of years. Millions have lived and died without seeing the fullfillment. There is as good a chance of you dieing before it happens as there is of you being alive for it. Either you are going to meet the Lord, or He is coming to meet you. But there is little difference between the two. If we are living to be prepared to go to the Lord, we will be prepared it He comes to meet us first. The churches need to focus on teaching people to live life as if to be prepared to go to Him. That is why we hear so little of Him coming to us.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  9. Doc Vestibule

    “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.”
    —1 John 2:18
    Christians have been waiting on tenterhooks for the Second Coming since the Bible itself was written.
    Many have prophesied the exact time of date of His return and ALL have been wrong.
    George Rapp said it would be September 15th, 1829.
    William Miller predicted October 22, 1844. Jesus’ failure to arrive is known as “The Great Disappointment”. Many of his disillusioned followers went on the found the 7th Day Adventist Church, who are still patiently awaiting His return.
    Charles Russell, 1st President of the Watchtower Society told his fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses that Jesus would be back in 1874.
    Rudolf Steiner maintained that from 1930 onwards, Jesus would grant certain people psychic powers to enable them to witness his presence in the “etheric plane”.
    Herbert Armstrong, Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God said 1975.
    Bill Maupin managed to convince his followers to sell all of their worldly goods in preparation for Jesus’ return on June 28th, 1981.
    Benjamin Crème stated that on June 21st, 1982 Christ would make a worldwide television announcement.
    Mark Blitz, Pastor of El Shaddai Ministries says it would be September 30th, 2008
    Jerry Falwell said it’d happen between 1999 and 2009.
    Harold Camping is telling everyone that the Rapture will happen May 21, 2011 after failing in his first predicted date of 1994.

    Conversely, many believe He’s all ready come in the form of Sun Myung Moon, Emanuel Swedenborg, Baha u llah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, David Koresh, Hailie Selassie, John Thom, Arnold Potter, William Davies, George roux, Ernest Norman, Krishna Venta, Ahn Sahng-Hong, Jim Jones, Mashall Applewhite, Hulon Mitchell, Wayne Bent, Ariffin Mohammed, Mitsuo Matayoshi, Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, Inri Cristo, Thomas Provenzano, David Icke, Shoko Asahara, Hogan Fukinaga, Marina Tsvigun or Sergei Troop.

    It would appear that the much lauded Jewish carpenter has been thoroughly dead for 2000 years and will remain so.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Chris

      The fact that various persons over the years have incorrectly predicted the return of Jesus, as is the case here, in no way lessens my believe that He is risen, is the key to salvation, and shall return. 2000 years ago, well within recorded history, we know that He lived among us and performed miracles, including raising people from the dead. The testimony of those who wrote the Gospels all corroborate his works. Fundamentally, it's a matter of faith, and I put mine in Jesus. If that makes me a fool, so be it.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  10. cgmom

    Is there a rain date?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  11. sardukar

    Lets face it every thing has a beginning and an end...only the salami has 2 ends..

    May 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  12. Allen Russell

    Religious people are dangerous. All of them. No need to argue here. Just accept that they have severe issues.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  13. T3chsupport

    lol
    Even if there were a Rapture, and it happened on the 21st, I doubt anyone would really notice. Most of the Christians I know aren't very Christian. A few good ones might be taken away, but it would just be discounted as them moving away or going missing. No one would notice the Rapture.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  14. gmccyclist

    I am surprised that the pastor here did not mention that there is no mention of the rapture in the bible. The rapture was a creation of a Scottish Minister in the 1800's. It caught on because it is so much more pleasant to think of salvation without having to go through a physical death. I expect to be still be around on May 22 and December 13, 2012.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • peggy

      Amen to that God is great and we dictate our own destiny what you sow you will reap

      May 18, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  15. JANA

    Here is my one and only question ...well sort of...Ok they quote the below:In discussing His return to Earth, Jesus told His disciples, “... of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Matthew 24:36). So in the same aspect that we say this , then why not like when Noah was told to build the ARC has someone else now been given a chance to foretell the date to us...and if we don't know the time and date then why could this be it ....we wouldn't know if it was or wasn't ?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  16. Colin

    What is remarkable about the committed believer is that, no matter what, they are so reluctant to give up their sky-fairies, that they cannot see that they are wrong. They will simply re-cast the date of judgment day out three years or so. Just like the Christians who still believe i nthe kindergarten nonsense of creationism and Noah's Ark.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  17. mtech101

    If god did exist why would he inflict pain and cancer in babies who has yet to prove themselves to the world, yet to commit a sin, can't even walk or talk.

    Keep believing your stories, I go by one simple rule, just live my life! To the fullest!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Artist

      Because god is a perverted sick %^$*&...he likes to watch. Give him a priest and child and he will make some popcorn.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • nisroc

      @artist Your mental images as sick as your theory, get help or grow up.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • LoveMatters

      I'm curious as to how you know that God is the one that inflicts "pain and cancer in babies who has yet to prove themselves to the world, yet to commit a sin, can't even walk or talk.." ?

      Could you show me in the Bible where he has a room in Heaven that he pulls out his cancer concoction and pours the contents in an unborn baby so that he can inflict this misery on one's life?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • John Gault

      LoveMatters, God has no effect on giving cancer, or curing it. Basically, he has no effect at all.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  18. ravensday

    If us Christians would spend all this money and time helping those starving or pregnant or alone or hurt or dying, we would be much more effective. This stuff makes us all look stupid. Get back to what Jesus taught and Love one another and treat your brother as you would like to be treated. You will not know the day or the hour...so get to the real stuff. Denying yourself for those that need you.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Olivier

      I totally agree

      May 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • John Gault

      While you're at it sell all the church buildings and land and donate it, you can meet in your garage. At least pay taxes....

      May 17, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • peggy

      I am a Christian I don't belive in any organized Religion I beleive in helping anyone in need and that Jesus Christ died for my sins I have been blessed with lots of love in my life and thank God for thoes blessing I beleive that if you do good it will returne to you We have many poor and needy People in this counry and I pray that we will all try to help them

      May 18, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  19. clay

    Romans 14:11, people... 🙂

    May 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Doubtful1

      leviticus 25:44 people! 😉

      May 17, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  20. mac316

    I know there aint no heaven but I pray there aint no hell bs&t

    May 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Olivier

      It's encouraging you pray there is no hell, but then how can you be so sure there is no heaven? If there is no God and heaven than how can you differentiate between good and evil?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Olivier: Probably the same way you do. By being taught how not to harm others from parents and society and trying to follow those rules as best we know how. But in all honesty, why does a "god" need to have anything to do with telling the difference between doing good and doing bad?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • John Gault

      Olivier, suggest you read "The Moral Landscape" by Sam Harris. You don't need bedtime stories to understand good and evil. Murder bad, Charity good. The 10 Commandments don't say anything about not molesting children. Maybe that's why so many priests do it. If you use the Bible as amoral compass you'd be arrested fairly quickly....

      May 17, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.