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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. J.C.

    Can someone ask Harold if its going to be 6pm eastern, central, or pacific?? Also since he says May 21st does it start on the half of the world that is already May 21st for them already and May 20th for us in the US or will the whole world be affected at the same time.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Bobbb

      It is not that far away, just be ready for anytime on the 21st. It is just one day. Be ready for it for just one day. Accept the Lord for that day.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Carmen

      J.C.
      You raise some very poignant questions that did not cross my mind. Thanks.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Al

      The global earthquake will be a rolling event.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • sasquatch

      What should I wear?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • thierryjtaule

      lol

      May 17, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Indigo

      I would guess that since is from Oklahoma, they mean central time.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Jaron

      I think the important thing is to life your life the best you can now, in the present moment.
      Many people get so caught up in mysteries in the future that they are missing what is happening before them.
      Why go to a movie just to watch the ending?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • DanoMcRoo

      I'm glad my tee time is at 7:30 am.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • RK

      Did Harold Camping believe so much that he spent all of his money on spreading the word? Did he save some, most or almost all of his money for after? Did he ask for donations related to this prediction? Three questions the press should really be asking.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • UmQasim

      J.C. You are so funny, I like your response. Better make your luggage and have it ready for departure! lol
      I'm a Muslim and we believe the end of the world (Judgement Day) is unknown to us, only God knows it. Also we believe that Prophet Isa (Jesus son of Mary) will return to Earth. Have a nice day.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  2. Matt

    I'm taking bets now. $100 a head that I will be alive after this date. Same as I did in '99, 2000, 2001, and now 2011 and 2012. Get your facts straight, zealots.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  3. Reality

    What we do know:

    1. The Sun will burn out in 3-4 billion years so we have a time frame.

    2. Asteroids continue to whiz by us daily.

    3. One large hit and it is all over in a blast of permanent winter.

    4. There are enough nuclear weapons to do the same job.

    5. Most contemporary NT scholars do not believe in the Second Coming so apparently there is no concern about JC coming back on an asteroid or cloud of raptors/rapture.

    Bottom line: our apocalypse will start between now and 3-4 billion CE.
    =======================================================================================

    May 17, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Matt

      Love it.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • smj

      Reality,

      How do you know the sun will take 3-4 billion years to burn out?
      Here are a couple of facts for you:
      The sun decreases in size by about 5 feet per hour.
      Our sun is roughly 900,000 miles in diameter.
      24×5= 120 feet per day
      5280/120=44 days to burn our one mile
      365/44= 8.3 miles per year
      900,000/8.3 = 108,433.75 years for the entire sun to burn out.
      Plus if that is the case and the earth is 4 billion years old, how big would the sun have been while life was forming on the planet? The sun would have been so close it would have been impossible for life to form. Do the math in reverse and you will find the sun would have exceeded our orbit.
      Please explain.

      May 18, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  4. Annexian

    The real message is to better yourself so IF the "World Ends" and believe in science or God or both it could at any second, you are ready. But to love life and plan for a good future, even in hard times. You do that, you already are "Saved" and by more than technicality.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  5. BURMA!

    The son of God cannot return because he was never here. He was never here because he doesn't exist. He doesn't exist because God doesn't exist (other than in the mind of delusional humans). If you don't accept this logic then prove God exists.Please don't tell me I can't prove he doesn't exist – paraphrasing Ayn Rand – It is not for any of of us to prove a negative.

    "Reason is not automatic. Those who deny it cannot be conquered by it. Do not count on them. Leave them alone" – Ayn Rand

    May 17, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • smj

      Hello Burma,
      Let me ask a couple of questions.
      What banged?
      Why did male and female ever evolve in the first place?
      Why is every natural system so perfect?
      Do you really think that male/female, atomic, to the solar system, to the galaxy, to the universe, all happened by chance?
      People want to believe in something other than God. I cannot see Him. He does not talk to us at all. He lets innocent people die. Prove that He exists. Faith is all the proof that I need. That is the point really. If He would just show up and say, " Here I AM." There would be no need for faith, we would have the proof we would need. So Burma, all I have to say to you is put on your glasses and read. Or don't read, it really does not matter. All the best to you.

      May 18, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  6. Bill

    This is just dumb. I took a dump in the toilet last night and it curled into three shapes before I flushed it. The first shape was a 5, and the second two shapes were a 2 and a 1. So basically it started curly and became straight before I flushed. Does this mean the end of the world is coming on 5-21? Cool, I'm starting a religion.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • RodeoGuy

      Normally I would have said that your one of those crazy wack jobs, but not this time because the exact same thing happened to me last night. The only difference is I took it to mean sometime in May of 2021, but your right it could be May 21st of any year, Anyway, I plan on taking my family to live in the basement every May just to be safe!

      May 17, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  7. Cubist Tut

    Jesus said, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." - Matthew 24:36

    Just the fact that they gave a date... means the end times will not be on that date. The same can be said for Dec. 21, 2012.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  8. Geraard

    "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"

    There are thousands of good reasons to dismiss the Bible as nonsense... you're being purposefully ignorant of the argument.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  9. Colin

    Once again, the ONLY difference between these crazies and your mainstream Christian belief is that these guys set a date – i.e. they made their beliefs subject to proof or disproof. All of their other core beliefs are just as crazy as other Christians. Other christians believe in the second coming, they are just to cunning to set a date as they may actually have to pony up for once.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  10. Me

    God is probably offended by these fanatics. No one can speak for God.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Artist

      Me

      God is probably offended by these fanatics. No one can speak for God.

      ---
      you just spoke for god

      May 17, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Bailey630

      Ummm...if "no one can speak for God"...why do you believe the bible? It was after all written by man. It wasn't inscribed by God onto stone tables that fell from the sky like the 10 comandments. It's a lovely story book written by men, and manipulated and changed over the centuries to fit the controling judgemental power hungry minds of men.

      I hope the rapture does come on the 21st. I'd be glad to be rid of the fanatics!

      May 17, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  11. Nancy M. B.

    My friend is going to have a big 70th-birthday party on the 21st. She'll certainly be surprised when the "faithful" get "raptured up" just as the party gets going! Think I should tell her? Or would it spoil the surprise?

    May 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  12. Joe Diana

    This has been ridiculous for two millennium...what makes this any different? I wish religious people would just get out of the way and shut up about their beliefs.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • smj

      Why would you want religious people to shut up? The Bible as it is written, represents thousands of years of work. The books in the Bible were written generations apart. The Bible does not contradict itself at all, anywhere. People all go through their own process about what to believe and what not to believe. Over the years millions of people have been killed on account of one religious belief over another. None of the people really paid attention to the Bible and what it said. Nowhere does it say to kill the non believer. (crusades) Nowhere does it say to convert everyone to Gods Word against their will. These were campaigns created by men to further their own interests. It also leaves many people to form negative opinions about religion, and those who truly believe in what the Bible says. I dare you to follow its teachings and tenants. Not to join any religion, but just read and follow the Bibles teachings. Then and only then can you make a determination on what is foolish and what is not. I can tell you anything at all. I can back it up with evidence, I can quote a law, Scripture or whatever else for that matter. Until you strive for the truth yourself, you are vulnerable to misinterpretation. The Bible is that Truth. When Johovah's Witnesses come knocking they quickly turn never to return. They cannot tell me this or that about what the Bible teaches, because I read it myself. I know what God's Word says and what It does not. Just as a side note, Jesus does not like the "religious" at all. This is clearly demonstrated when Jesus enters the temple. There are many verses that discuss the "religious". I will leave you with one other thought. In the beginning, what banged?

      May 18, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  13. BadAsterisk

    Is that 6:00 PM Pacific time?

    May 17, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Bailey630

      Good point! What time zone are we talking about here? Will it be Tel Aviv time? If so, that gives any doubters about 18 hours to repent! LOL

      May 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  14. svann

    Message to Camping's followers: Dont drink the koolaid.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  15. DW

    Party like its 1999, oh wait I missed that one already. Party likes its Y2K, oh wait I missed that one also.

    Ok party like its May 21 then! LOL

    May 17, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  16. B. Paul

    Without religion we would have had few wars. Few wars indeed.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • svann

      Most wars have been secular. Korea, Vietnam, ww1, ww2, US civil war, US revolution, invasion of panama, grenada, Iraq.....

      May 17, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Lettuce Prey

      Fewer, perhaps, but we're a violent and territorial species. I'm sure we would have found other things to fight about.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  17. Me

    It is interesting how two people would run up a credit card bill, expecting to stick it to the bank, would think of themselves as good Christians. Maybe they thought God would not know what they were up to? Sounds as if they were not believers after all.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Artist

      It is going to be funny watching news stories following this "event" and all the stupid followers losing everything.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  18. Mitch Conner

    I'd just like to point out that the "cynics" who discount the idea of Jesus' return represent the majority of the world's population.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  19. Rich

    What strikes me funny about this article, is here we have two preachers, each "knowing" that they are right. This is the problem with religion. It's all talk and no substance.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Ralphie

      Not really. The writer's pretty specific about what he does not know, and what he's almost sure of.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  20. Mikaru

    Through my years of studying the prophecy of the Return, I came on a few verses that popped out at me.
    Here's a little bit of prophecy that is easy to follow:
    Verse 1:
    Psalm 90:10 (New International Version)
    10 Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
    yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

    Verse(s) 2:
    5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
    7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

    8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

    10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

    12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

    20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

    25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

    29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

    32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

    A little addition:
    Israel became recognized as a nation on: May 14, 1948

    Jesus stated that this generation (those born on that particular date) would not pass away until those things He said came to pass, correct? Well, let's do the math now:

    Number of generations, 70, added to 1948 = May 14, 2018
    OR
    Number of generations, 80 (as it stated as well), added to 1948 = May 14, 2028

    Coincidence?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Colin

      Wow, just....wow.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • JoeSchmo

      Yes, completely.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • jaywingfuller

      Mikaru, are you seriously saying that picking random verses from a book of collected near east mythologies has the remotest probability of having any impact on the physical cosmos? That our little blue dot of a planet spinning around an average galaxt is the "center' of the universe? Time to intellectually move into, at the very least, the 16th century.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Mikaru

      Just pieces of a puzzle, my friend. Also showing that anyone can derive dates from the Bible, it's just a matter of picking and choosing the right ones. My personal opinion is that Jesus will return when He wants to and it will be a surprise rather than the postings on a blog or a media circus.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Lettuce Prey

      Here's a bit of verse back at ya, and I won't be nearly as long-winded as you were. This is from an 80s alternative rock song, I don't remember who wrote it but I think the name of the band was Concrete Blond:

      "Tell all you preachers, don't worry about a second coming
      God got his ass kicked the last time he came down here slumming."

      May 17, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Mikaru

      Not long-winded, Lettuce, just know how to use copy/paste. By the way, thank you Biblegateway.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • danai306

      Most people are not reading the Bible. Those that read it often take it cassually without sitting down to analize it. Jesus gave us a sign post about the end of the world. Jesus said "When you see the Fig Tree in leaf....... know that it is very near, even at the door." The Fig Tree we know from the Bible is the nation of Israel. Israel miraculously became a nation again in 1948 after nearly 2,000 years of dispersion. Jesus said when we see this happen then we should know the end of the world is very near. Christians should have taken this warning from Jesus seriously.

      The end is definitely going to be in our generation. If May 21 passes without the rapture, the Christian world is going to breath a great sigh of relief but that will be the fulfillement of another prophecy: "When they shall say peace and safety then sudden destruction commeth upon them and they shall not escape."

      May 17, 2011 at 11:27 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.