UPDATED: Once a Date Setter, Always a Date Setter

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The Rapture really happened last Saturday, May 21—spiritually.

UPDATE (May 23, 2011): “On May 21, this last weekend, this is where the spiritual aspect of it really comes through. God again brought judgment on the world. We didn’t see any difference but God brought Judgment Day to bear upon the whole world.”

So proclaimed Harold Camping, unapologetically speaking live on Family Radio and TV for the first time after his failed May 21, 2011 prophecy. I really thought, and was hoping, that he would repent. But this is even sadder than his false prophecies.

How about the October 21, 2011 end of the world prediction? Nothing has changed: “[On May 21] God brought Judgment Day to the whole world. The whole world is on Judgment Day. It will continue to October 21, 2011 and at that time the whole world will be destroyed.”

Does he feel any responsibility for all those he deceived into giving up everything? “I don’t have any responsibility. I don’t have any responsibility of anybody’s life. I’m only teaching the Bible. I’m simply saying, ‘This is what the Bible says.’ We at Family Radio never tell anyone what they do with their possessions. That’s totally between them and God.”

∞

This is a sober postscript to the Harold Camping fiasco that ended on May 21, 2011. We must all learn from his mistakes, and take our Lord’s word to heart, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt 24:36). Apparently, Mr. Camping doesn’t realize that by claiming knowledge of the exact date of the Rapture, he is the only human being who has access to the deepest secrets of God the Father.

What happens now to Mr. Camping? Many have called on him to repent of his false prophecies. He’s 89 now, and if the Lord doesn’t call him from this earth to the next life, I believe he will continue on his errant path. All false prophets who set dates for the return of Christ have a Plan B, Plan C, etc. History proves this saying, “Once a date setter, always a date setter.”

Take for example William Miller (1782-1849), leader of the Millerite movement that became the forerunner of Seventh Day Adventism. His first date for the Second Coming was between March 21, 1843-44, then adjusted to April 18, 1844. The next calculated date was on October 22, 1844, which came to be known as “The Great Disappointment.” Miller died in 1849 still firmly convinced that Christ’s return was at hand. Ellen White, who later founded the SDA, predicted the same many times, starting in 1850. She too was convinced that the Second Coming was near until she died in 1915.

The case of Jehovah’s Witnesses and its Watchtower Society are even more kooky. Influenced by Miller, they predicted the Battle of Armageddon in 1914. When this failed, the spin was that Jesus begun his rule in 1914, but he will return shortly in 1915, then 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941. More recently, their calculations pointed to 1975 as 6,000 years after Adam’s creation, but obviously, they got the creation date (4026 B.C.) and the return date both wrong.

Our times haven’t changed since then. Many dispensational premillennialists continue to predict the Secret Rapture, albeit without the exact date, by saying like Hal Lindsey back in 1980, “We are the generation that will see the end times and the return of Jesus.” All of these pop dispensationalists, such as Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, Greg Laurie, John Hagee, Robert Lightner and Pat Robertson, predict that theirs is “the terminal generation.”

Why are dispensationalists so vulnerable to datesetting? I believe that their eschatological system breeds date setting. They see God’s plan for the world as subservient to his great plan for saving national Israel. Since major events in the history of Israel—the Exodus (1447 B.C.), the destruction of the first Temple (586 B.C.), the desecration by Antiochus (167 B.C.), and the destruction of the second Temple (70 A.D.)—are easily dated, and since there are many time referents in the Bible regarding Israel, seemingly simple calculations can be made about when prophecies about Israel will happen. So 1948, the year that a piece of land was established for a new Israel, became a focal point of prophecy. Like all dispensationalists, Edgar Whisenant believed that 1948 was the beginning of the “last days,” and one generation of 40 years would see the Rapture. So he wrote 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 1988.

Miller as well was convinced that 457 B.C. was the most significant year concerning the return of Christ. This was the year that the Persian King Artaxerxes I proclaimed a decree to rebuild Jerusalem. With his literalistic interpretation of Daniel 8:14, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state,” he came up with the year 1844 by converting 2,300 days into 2,300 years from 457 B.C. However, Daniel’s prophecy was about the cleansing of the Temple 2,300 days (about 6 years) after Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated it in 167 B.C., fulfilling Daniel’s prophecy of the “abomination of desolation” (Dan 9:27).

Together with 1967 (Six-Day War), 1979 (Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty), 1991 (Gulf War), 2001 (9/11), and 2003 (U.S.-Saddam War), dispensationalists have always interpreted prophecy with the Israel crystal ball, always dreaming of the Battle of Armageddon with every disturbance in the Middle East. Bible studies on prophecy always center on this question: Since Israel is still the chosen people of God, what does this passage say about Israel? All breaking news in the Middle East—where Israel is—are considered part of God’s fulfillment of his plan for Israel, and send everyone scurrying for their New York Times and CNN. Thus, the dispensational crystal ball will always predict that the Rapture is around the corner—”We are the terminal generation”— because there are always wars and rumors of war in the Middle East.

Once a datesetter, always a datesetter. Why? If Mr. Camping does not stop datesetting, he will lose his followers. He has to explain the “error” in his calculations, and then predict another Doomsday event.

What about the rest of us? For many unbelievers, another smoking gun for scoffing, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet 3:4). For us who are in constant struggle against the dispensational hysteria, the Camping fiasco is a great opportunity to point out the fallacies of a Secret Rapture and millennial expectations.

For you who still have this millennial lens, start by studying the book of Hebrews. Read about the last days in Ligonier Ministries, Riddleblog’s Amillennialism 101, and Modern Reformation magazine. Read the last days articles in this blog and in our church’s website. Read why a millennium is not possible because there is only one general resurrection. Stop reading Joel Rosenberg’s, Tim Lahaye’s and John Hagee’s discredited eschatology 1, and buy, for starters, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times by Kim Riddlebarger, The Bible and the Future by Anthony Hoekema, Covenant Theology by Michael Horton, Triumph of the Lamb by Dennis Johnson, and 1-2 Thessalonians by G. K. Beale.

Like me, you’ll be shocked at what you’ve been missing all these years when Left Behind madness left you behind on what the Bible says about the end of the world!

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Notes:

  1. Most dispensationalists do not know that the classical dispensationalism they know is not taught anymore by many professors at the iconic dispensational school, Dallas Theological Seminary. See Craig A. Blasing and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993).

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