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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. RH

    LOL @ben way to take things outta context,next time try reading the whole book, esp revelations. sigh ignorance is bliss.

    May 21, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  2. James H

    Why do people who pretend to be Biblical Scholars and say they know exactly when the end of the world will be always leave out most of the teachings in the Bible? They all say that the Earth will be utterly destroyed, turned into dust, but if they were truly Biblical Scholars they would know that the Bible says that when the final battle between Good and Evil is finished Jesus will set up his 1000 year kingdom on Earth. Now how can that happen in the Earth is cosmic dust and the Bible does not say a new Earth so it must be this Earth that the kingdom shall be set upon, right? Of course there are many prophesies in the Bible that have to come true such as the 7 year peace in the mid east and that Jesus himself said that no one but God knows when Judgment Day will happen, but I still feel that the promise of the 1000 year kingdom is the single biggest prophesy that they all ignore.

    May 21, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  3. RRL

    We think it ridiculous that Camping would be so bold as to predict when "Jesus will return" only to then make the equally absurd statement that "no one knows when it will be".

    Jesus will not be returning. He never left. Get used to it.

    May 21, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  4. amos33

    I disagree that May 21st prophecy harms Christianity for the very first things Jesus warned us of was:

    "And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. (KJV)

    "And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many." Matthew 24:11

    Did we not just witness Harold Camping 'Deceive' and "Falsely Prophesy"? It only proves Christianity is true.

    May 21, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • SeanNJ

      It only proves that Harold Camping is an idiot. It proves nothing about Christianity. Sorry.

      May 21, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  5. steve

    ALL OF YOU PEOPLE 'WITH GOD' ARE FREAKING NUT JOBS. GO KILL IN THE NAME OF ALLAH, CHRIST, SANTA CLAUS OR WHATEVER FAIRY IN THE SKY YOU PRAY TO

    May 21, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  6. Jackson Nearing

    The whole concept itself is a big deal, but there is nothing we can do to prevent this action. In the bible which multiple people have already stated, it say that "No man can predict the day or hour of my return." Meaning just that, nobody can predict the return of Jesus Christ. Also, it says Jesus is the only man on Earth that knows the actual return of himself, then why should Harold Camping know himself?

    May 21, 2011 at 4:21 am |
    • amos33

      You make a good point but there is a minor correction if I may:

      "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." Mark 13:32

      Not even Jesus knew when that Day was, only the Father knows.

      May 21, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  7. Joel Reyes

    I don't want to leave a comments here about this stuff, the only thing I want to say here is that some-one will have an open heart to search and think about the True Gospel of Jesus Christ, that will lead to salvation, I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, try to search, and pray about it, and contact the full-time missionary in your area. this stuff is non-sense, I respect all religious believed, I guess we are more in TRUTH, because we have a true prophet of God stand as a witness to this world in the midst of darkness. THERE IS ALWAYS A SHINING LIGHT.

    May 21, 2011 at 4:20 am |
  8. GizzyN

    Pastor Jeffress, I just saw your interview with TJ from CNN. I have to tell you that while I do not believe in the bible as anything but a book of stories, and I do not believe there is any "second coming" or rapture on the way.. I still got an enormous charge out of something you said to TJ – about how when people ask if you think the rapture will come in their your lifetime you tell them that you figure either he's coming, or you're going, and either way you'd better be ready.

    I do believe there is a higher power of some sort at work... I do not believe mankind really has any true knowledge – or can speak with any real authority – regarding the will or intent of that power. But I respect that others do believe so, and I particularly respect those who can be at peace with their own beliefs without trying to force others onto the same path. I suspect that a man with a sense of humor like yours is not the kind of man to try and force others to believe as you do.

    I just wanted you to know that you provided me with a good giggle... not a mocking one, but a lighthearted joyful one... a joyful noise if you will. 😉 Thank you for that! I hope your parishioners enjoy your sermon Sunday!

    May 21, 2011 at 3:59 am |
  9. Shrink

    Camping was right. The world did end in 1994. Those of you who believe that you are stil alive are actually in Hell.

    May 21, 2011 at 3:58 am |
    • wow

      if that were true, i guess what a place this could be for the rich, wealthy, and powerful.

      May 21, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  10. BRUCE ALMIGHTY

    HE MENTIONS NOTHING FROM THE BIBLE ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN JUDGEMENT DAY COMES....AN EARTHQUAKE, A HUGE EARTHQUAKE....THATS HIS BIBLICAL STUDY....IM SORRY BUT I HOPE HE IS RAPTURED TOMORROW....FOR ALL THE LIVES HE HAS DESTROYED...THERE WILL BE MANY FALSE PROPHETS LIKE THE BIBLE SAYS...HE IS THE WORST

    May 21, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  11. Felice

    If the end is here, I won't be able to finish college. At least I can skip paying my tuition loans.

    May 20, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  12. Nick

    Ok Facebook friends..... Who thinks the WORLD as we know it will end tomorrow? I know the world will end one day and I know many people who will be happy when it does, me included! My real question and concern is for all those people who honestly believe that a simple mathematical equation can predict God's next move. Many people see God differently. I see him as a solitary figure who remains the same forever, keeps his word forever, and will guide his children forever. To have a deep spiritual one on one relationship with God you need to first understand what He means to you, what you mean to him, and what the best plan for working with God daily is. So brace yourself for tonight, tomorrow, days to come, weeks to come, and years to come because NO ONE knows the time nor date when GOD will say "Enough is Enough." 

    May 20, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Kira

      Wow Will somebody think for just a sec. doesnt it state in the bible that man can not tell or state the day, month, year , or time of when god comes back . sorry read the bible

      May 20, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  13. Walter Rohn Bosma

    Well, be that what it may, I hope Mr. Camping is stating this subject so loud, because is has given up on faith and is about to take his own life, before this "rapture" of his. I live in San Jose, CA and I have nieghbors packing up their SUV's with camping equipment and survival stuff, because of his predictions! We have people in the north bay area asking vet's for drugs to kill their pets – HEALTHY PETS – before this rapture takes place. What is this guy of learnings, up to in all this stuff of his, based on a mathmatic formula of time calculations?
    Freedom of speech is everyones' right, but I think "filters" need to be deployed in some cases, like his.

    May 20, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
  14. Rebecca

    I'm agnostic. But, I just want to say that my heart goes out to the christians that believe in May 21st. From what I understand, many quit their jobs, and have even given away personal belongings. More than that, I'm worried about the mental anguish they may feel. In this world, we are all just human trying to make the best decisions and live the best way we are capable of. I'm not laughing at christians, honestly I feel a bit embarrased about atheists who choose to do so. I think we all need to be kinder to each other.

    May 20, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • Felice

      I agree. People budgeted everything up till May 21 where after that they are left with nothing.
      Look up "The Great Disappointment" when someone prophesied Jesus was returning but it didn't happen and violence erupted.

      May 20, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • steve

      you heart goes out to a bunch of wack jobs? my heart goes out to you for being even more stupid than they are.

      May 21, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  15. dilberth

    How will we know that it is Jesus that comes back to Earth? He certainly would not have the same name. I believe that the second coming has already happened and He was murdered without a trial of any kind by the Philistines of Washington D.C. Osama was the Risen Christ and they killed Him again.

    May 20, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • amos33

      You will know HIm when you see Him for He bears five marks in His Body that He will carry as a permanent memorial to His vicarious death on the cross: "And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends." Zechariah 13:6

      May 21, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  16. Ben

    RJ:>>"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."

    Yes, and the bible also says:

    "Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." - Matthew16:28
    "But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God." - Luke 9:27
    "Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation." - Matthew 23:36
    "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." - Matthew 24:34
    "Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done." - Mark 13:30
    "And ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." - Mark 14:62

    ... but somehow all those assurances get swept under the rug and 2000 years later, we're still waiting for the purported return.

    There will be no return. Please America, Put legends of Jesus and a second coming in the "Mythology" section, where it belongs. Humanity will not survive lest we learn to take care of each other. Nature is a cruel mistress. We are the first species with the ken to release ourselves from her relentless hold.

    May 20, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  17. geekgirl42

    If there is a hell, I hope there is an special place in it for thieves like Camping who prey upon the most desperate, sickest, least educated and poorest people who want to believe in the "miracles" they offer. They tell them they will get back many times what they give if they show their faith and send money. It's truly disgusting.

    May 20, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Joe Schmoe

      It's obvious that you have no idea about what you are talking about and neither have you ever listened to Camping's radio station. Although he may be a crackpot, he isn't one of the televangelists who try to rip people off of money. He doesn't even believe in miracles so how could talk about them or ask for money.

      Next time, don't show your ignorance.

      May 20, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  18. William Brummell

    One good thing can happen out of all this. We can all get on the ground and ask for forgiveness. This very well can change our old ways of living. Still, when we hear these things, it kinda gets scary. \I am still trying to save up money to drive me and my family to the tallest mountain for the 2012 Dooms Day. Lets just all hope we all can continue living our Lives. My only question is,
    6 pm what? there is how may time frames in this world?

    May 20, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • ROsa

      yess, exactlyy, because in asia and europe it's already may 21st, and people need to stop believingg;in china is allready noon/evening!

      May 20, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  19. Dave Mead

    I'm sorry but this pastor calls Camping "A Fanatic" when at least regarding "The Rapture" they have identical crazy ideas, nonsensical 1st century philosophy including angels, demons, human sacrifice, talking snakes, miricles, etc etc. The only difference between the two is that Camping has put a date on the return while this guy wont. Both claims appear insane in my eyes.

    May 20, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  20. Alex d

    This was Probably the most logical and well Played out input ive heard all day, listen up people the end is not even close so stop being so obscure about this situation. Here's something to look. At also, even if this was the second coming of Christ who says this is the end? This is completely preposterous! In my opinion this was designed by corporate media to put scare into the world, so rediculous and completely out of line. Stop worrying please

    May 20, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Wipe0ut

      When all believers simultaneously will pee, it would END OF DAYS for all Atheists.

      But they don't need to worry much because they don't need no Noah's Ark to save them from the flood of pee, a regular-size canoe would be big enough to accomodate them all including their puppies.

      May 21, 2011 at 4:52 am |
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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.