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. Don

    It is equally as ridiculous if a "Rapture" would occur in another 1000 years or on the 21st.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  2. Bobby

    Silly to put a date on the return of Christ (by the way, there is more than one). All the more silly to mock... How does the clock or chair ridicule the designer. How does the infant scoff at the adult. How does humanity laugh at what is obvious... blindness. Open your eyes. BTW- the middle east, especially Israel is the most discussed, researched, fascinating country in all of history. Funny that someone wished that all Christians would go there... The good news is that we will someday. Where will you vacation after leaving this realm. What if you are wrong... No offense taken 🙂

    May 17, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  3. clark

    What do you wear to a rapture? What is rapture fashionable? Nothing to fancy right? Woudn't want to outdress the savior.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • john

      im going with flip flops and tshirt !!!

      May 17, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  4. Mike Thompson

    These people are no different than the global warming lunatics – REPENT, The end is here!

    May 17, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • The Spider Monkey's Marshmallow

      Too stupid to respond to.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  5. Don

    Christianity harms humanity...like all religions do.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • Thinker's Dam

      Religion harms humanity far less than it would be harmed by not having it. Religion provides the only excuse for peace-loving people to gather together to oppose those who would enslave others. Sure, some people will use anything, including religion, to excuse their own bad behavior, but they will find excuses anyway.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  6. david

    even bloggers , like reddit, with no religious affiliation know the Bible verse were Jesus said that "no man knows the day or the hour" in speaking of His return. since this is camping's second false prophecy , as we will see in a few days, the end of the matter will be another proof of a false prophet . he is camping in caanans happy land, or a happy place in his own mind of fantasy. in fact, the Bible says as the end draws near we will see more of this, and more people claiming to be Jesus. dont believe them.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  7. jason beadling

    If you believe the world will end on the 21st I will gladly take possessions of all your assets on the 20th.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
  8. Alex

    According to some of the real extremists out there, and I count the May 21st doomsday crowd among them, everyone I have ever cared for or loved will either be "left behind" or have already gone to hell anyway. So exactly what's the benefit to me going to "another place" and being unable to be with the ones I care for? If by some fluke I do find myself heaven-bound on May 21 in a puff of smoke while my ailing mother and father are left down here with no one to care for them as the Horsemen ride over the hill shootin' their 6-guns, I'm gonna demand a return flight so I can stand guard in front of their house with my NFR-approved lariat, ready for some ropin'. Yee-ha.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  9. Chris

    2 Jamie, Christianity doesn't profess the end of the world, but an end of all suffering. Christianity is a religion of hope! A hope for a better tomorrow, when many are suffering.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • The Spider Monkey's Marshmallow

      Hopes cannot create facts. Christianity is for weak minds.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  10. ruemorgue

    How nice! The blind making fun of the more blind! The End of the World is NOT tomorrow, but it is *coming*! I wish all these idiots would emigrate to the Mideast where the most blind live !!!

    May 17, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  11. Bobby

    A consistent mistake people make is to say the end of the world. The world will not end, however there will be an end of days. After the 1000 mili. Earth will be the made new. One may see it as a fairy tale, but a person blind from birth can't fully comprehend the color blue. Better to err on the side of truth. God made you and I to enjoy a relationship with us now and in the new world to come. The is more proof of God then science, we are just to smug to enjoy the daily miracles of creation to understand His good intention. Jesus is coming and everyone is invited... Don't reject the invitation. Ask anyone over 120 years old, they will tell you... Oh, that's right, you and I will have to wait until we are outta her to talk with them.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • john

      then what ? kiss his harry ass for eternity ? hahah u people are creepy !!!

      May 17, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  12. Ronnie Harper

    This is the most ridiculous online article I've read in quite a while. I can't even believe that someone could write half of any of that without passing out from embarrassment. The claims and predictions in this polemic are jaw-dropping in their utter disregard for history, biology, physics, and rational thought in general. It makes me cringe to think our society is filled with people so incredibly ignorant that they actually think they need to prepare for the end of the world.

    I would rather eat my own vomit or even be drawn and quartered than ever have to even glance upon (let alone read the writings of) a Texas 'pastor' again. Please, spare me CNN. The ignorance professed by this clown is stunning and the narrative that he so horribly coddled together reads like the thoughts of a frightened toddler. I would challenge not only the anecdotes in the story, which I don't think are anything but lies or half-truths at best, but also the numbers, because the resurrection and the rapture are two entirely different things – although they're both equally ridiculous notions to posit.

    Everyone in America should take a stand against 'pastors' and their bizarre messages of intolerance and fear of death. I’m ashamed for this country. It has become a slave to an ancient cult which threatens its adherents into voting against their own self-interest, promotes hate, misinformation, and fairy tales as reality, and gets to do it all tax free, on the people’s dime. Sounds like a Muslim theocracy to me – our version is just an evangelical oligarchy instead.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • The Spider Monkey's Marshmallow

      Ronnie Harper for President

      May 17, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  13. Aezel

    Of COURSE they harm Christianity. They are a loud, obvious, public declaration for all to see of what taking religion seriously produces, which is unfailingly a bunch of total lunatics.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  14. midwestmatt

    Fools, fools, fools. The lot of them.

    I will see all of these fools on the 22nd when they are sitting around making their excuses as to why Jesus has not returned.

    And then I will look forward to their next prediction so I can talk them out of their worldly goods they say they no longer need. I just hope one of them buys a killer big screen between now and then because we still don't have one.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • danai306

      It is important to check out whatever any preacher is saying. I will say I took it upon myself to fully analize the information Mr. Camping has put forward concerning the day of the end of the world. May 21 without any doubt is the end of the Great Tribulation. It fits so tightly it cannot be shifted one day in either direction so Camping is correct that it is the it is the DAY. Whether God is going to end the world as Jesus said "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened and the moon shall not give it's light...." is left to be seen.

      But there are other verses in the Bible that also directly control the time of the end, such as Deuteronomy 32:8 which states the world will end when the last of the Elect, – the true children of Israel – becomes saved. If the last of the elect is not born and saved by May 21, God could issue a stay of execution until the last of the Elect is saved. Over the last 40-50 years that contraception became available the world has lost probably 2 billion potiential inhabitants.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      Danai, Harold Camping is a false prophet. He is usurping to himself authority to speak and interpret the Word of God without the Spirit of God. The Great Tribulation has not even begun yet, and it can not , till the man of sin, the Antichrist comes on the scene. It IS NOT A WORLD SYSTEM, it's a PERSON, a false "Christ", who lives out himself in imitating the Lord Jesus Christ, desiring His position and His glory. So many of you people go around but have no understanding of the Word of God , because it is NOT BY HIS SPIRIT that you are understanding it! .....Yeah, you will find another excuse for the "prophet" whose prophecies did not come to pass! But what's the worst, when the real prophecies of the Bible will come to pass, you will not recognize them, because you're blinded by false teachings of false prophets. Blindness begets blindness, and so it is, and it will be for you, unless you come out from among them, and be sepertate, seeking God and His truth, and not looking to man for it!

      May 17, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  15. Cami

    i want to be raptured an have a sun tan in those nice planets 🙂

    May 17, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  16. Joe

    JFK was a Catholic. Just sayin. Why the report eludes to 'protestant churches' after the JFK anecdote seems bizarre when clearly the second coming of Christ is on the radar of all christian denominations. Poorly researched piece.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • Glenda

      God isnt about any religion but in believing. Maybe JFK had doubts and just asked.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  17. shannon

    The Lord Jesus Christ clearly informed believers that no one, except for God, the Holy Father in Heaven, knows the hour of Jesus Christ's return. The Holy Angels don't even know, and Jesus did even know. If they didn't know, we surely won't know. Christians are not to think of themselves, or one another any higher than they ought to think. Jesus knew that there would be false predictions, false prophets, false doctrines. Jesus knew people would fall away from the truth he told them. Jesus knew what signs we would see before his return. Earthquaks, famines, diseases, wars..etc.. Jesus knew Christians would then start being hated by all nations, for his sake. God told us that people would no longer endure sound doctrine, or righteous teaching.. God told us that, people would begin mocking the hope of believers in the return of Christ, by saying " Where is the promise of his return ? " Jesus said, the Gospel would be preached in all the world, before the end would come. Jesus said, that the man of sin would be revealed. God said he would send his strong delusion upon the world, for not believing in the truth. God told us the devil would decieve the entire world. Jesus told us that the very elect would even be decieved if God would allow it to be possible. An Angel in the book of Revelation warns the inhabitants of the earth, of the wrath of Satan. Satan will be manifest in the flesh, as the Antichrist, he will exalt himself above everything, and the world will wonder after his power, and deceptions. The Antichrist will seek to be worshiped as God, as that is what he lusted after to begin with, and exalted himself above God, and created violence in Heaven, drawing a third of the host of heaven with him, in his fall. The Antichrist will be a fierce, and a powerful ruler, he will control the entire world, that will broken up into 10 kingdoms which he will have complete control over. He will require everyone small, and great, rich, and poor, to recieve a mark (Greek translation – etchin, implant, scrath, stamp ) in their right hand, or forehead as a sign of allegiance, or be killed. The number of the Antichrist ( The Beast ) The lawlessone, or the one without a law, will be the number of a man, which is 666. God says, that whoever recieves this mark,or worships the Beast, will drink from the cup of God's fierce wrath, and will not be allowed into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Antichrist will perform great miracles, and signs, and deceive,and destroy many with his peace. He will exalt himself above all Gods, and even speak great things against the One True God in Heaven, and Jesus Christ the Lord. He will enter into a rebuilt Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and declare himself to be God, and set up an abomination, that will bring desolation. Jesus told the jews, that would behold these things in Jerusalem, that they that were in Judea should flee into the mountains. A war will be waged upon God, and Jesus Christ, that the Antichrist, and armies of the world will be gathered together at the Valley of Megiddo in Israel, called Armageddon. Jesus Christ will return on the clouds of Heaven,with the Armies of Heaven, and the Saints, clothed with the Glory of God, and shall destroy the Antichrist with the brightness of his return, and the sword that proceeds out of his mouth, which will be righteous judgement.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • JOregon

      Camping has had a radio call in program for about 50 years. He takes calls from the pubic about biblical questions.
      Unlike others that do this, he does not screen the calls. He answers with only the bible that he holds. Five days a week for an hour or maybe an hour and a half. 50 years of answering the verses you bring up.
      Camping knows Mark 13:32 well and covers it with a reasonable argument.
      At first Christians were to build churches and send the gospel into the world. They weren't to waste their time or thoughts about something they would not see.
      As we get to the end of time, and the bible tells us to look for certain signs, then God the Father will Reveal the time.
      There are many verses that says God opens our eyes to understanding. It also doesn't seem reasonable that Jesus couldn't know the end if he was fully God.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • timmeh

      " Earthquaks, famines, diseases, wars..etc" Been happening since before jebus.. earquakes happen.. Pangea anyone? Famine happen ALL the time all over, Diseases? Remember the plague? that was just one, Jebus will always be coming.. What will happen? A darned meteor will crash into the world making it a living hell, that Will happen eventually, and sadly, we will see that coming, and no where does the bible predict that? I mean the bible contradicts it's self, if it says no one can tell when the end is near, yet they can tell when its coming? No, they cant tell when its coming because then you would know when it would be near or will be happening. If you think about it, its just a ploy to put fear into people into signing up with Team Christianity.. I believe in a god, sure, why not, but religion is just a business model for profit and power.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • ihaveabridgetosellyou

      Will Jesus have to throw the ring in a pit of lava?

      May 17, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • john

      how the hell did you know jesus knew all of that ? let me guess...he talks to you ? haha ,,creep

      May 17, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • Thinker's Dam

      It seems that that battle has already been fought, during World War I, when General Allenby drove the Ottoman Empire out of the Holy Land.

      May 18, 2011 at 12:30 am |
  18. geckopelli

    Christianity is a death worshiping religion.
    That's what it's about, "afterlife" not LIFE.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • FrankinNJ

      I wonder how we could read the same Bible and come to such different conclusions. The Bible is all about life, not hating your enemy, treating others the right way, etc. It's a shame you cut out what you don't like.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  19. Colin

    I will believe that religion adds anything positive to mankind the day I read a published paper where a scientist says "I prayed for a breakthrough and god answered my prayers"

    May 17, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • Thinker's Dam

      Oh, funny you should mention that. I discovered that when I am pounding my head on some kind of technical problem, I might work on it for a long time and then remember that I haven't been using my most effective debugging too, just to sit back and pray for guidance. Always worked for me within minutes, without exception. The worst case was when I tried to fix a problem for weeks under pressure and finally remembered to sit back and pray, and realized in a few minutes that the problem was not in my part of the technology at all, and I was able to locate the person who was able to fix it very quickly.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  20. jamie

    riddle me this: why believe in a religion that tells you the world is going to end?

    May 17, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • BraveSaintStuart

      Um... the world IS going to end. It may not happen for several billion years. But it WILL end some day.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • Peace2All


      I could be wrong here, but... I'm guessing that @Jaime is making finer distinctions here that you 'may' be missing. I think you just answered the surface structure of her statement/question.



      May 17, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
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About this blog

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.