Family Radio evangelist Harold Camping is claiming to have calculated the exact date of the Rapture and, because the Rapture marks the beginning of a very specific timeline, the exact date of the end of the world.
Camping and his followers have spent the past several months (or more) traveling the country, posting billboards and otherwise proclaiming that the big day is May 21, 2011.
While it may seem like this is the end of the world, in fact, Camping doesn’t claim the end of the world will come until five months later – on Oct. 21.
By definition, the Rapture, according to Jim Pocock, senior pastor of Wayland’s Trinitarian Congregational Church, is different than the end of the world and is a phenomenon subscribed to by dispensational pre-millenialists.
“What that [dispensational pre-millennialism] teaches is that the Rapture is the removal of believers from the world leaving all the rest of the dirty sinners down here – all the believers will just be up with God somewhere,” Pocock explained. “That is followed by a seven-year tribulation period in which Satan rules and horrors abound.”
Following the tribulation period, Pocock explained, it is believed that Jesus will return and the Battle of Armageddon will occur. Christ will conquer and set up a 1,000-year (millennial) kingdom on earth.
Much of the End Times debate – the study of the End Times is called eschatology, by the way – is based on the biblical books of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation, Pocock said. These books feature examples of apocalyptic literature, a characteristic of which is symbolism that would have been clearly understood by first century Christians, Pocock explained. Much of the history of that symbolism, however, is largely lost to modern readers.
Camping isn’t strictly a dispensational pre-millenialist since he claims that the end of the world will occur only five months after the Rapture. Still, Pocock isn’t putting stock in any of Camping’s claims.
“Well, I guess I quote Jesus who says, ‘No one knows the day or the hour,’” Pocock said, pointing to Matthew 24:36 in the Bible.
That passage reads, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (NIV).”
“There have been people like Harold Camping for years and years and years that, despite what Jesus said, try to predict it,” Pocock said, mentioning specifically the Millerite movement in Vermont that put the end of days in the mid-1800s.
In fact, Pocock isn’t kidding when he says people have been trying to predict the end of the world for “years and years and years.” Patch took a look at some famous end-of-the-world speculations (including the Millerites) from the mid-1800s on.
- Between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844 – Millerite movement founder William Miller predicted the end of the world as falling somewhere within this time span, but when that didn’t pan out, Samuel Snow, a Millerite preacher named …
- Oct. 22, 1844 – as the next option. Both preachers’ predictions were based on scriptural typology and an attempt to decode numbers and dates mentioned in the apocalyptic literature of the Bible. The failed predictions led to a historical period that is now known as the “Great Disappointment.”
- Between 1835 and 1891 – In a sermon given on Feb. 14, 1835, and recorded in “The History of the Church,” Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church stated that sometime in the next 56 years, the Lord would return. Whether he was making an official prophecy, is a matter of some debate.
- 1914 – Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, began publishing a magazine, it came to be known as The Watchtower, in 1879. He predicted in that publication that the battle of Armageddon would take place in 1914. When World War I began in 1914, Russell believed his prophecy on the verge of coming true.
- Oct. 30, 1938 – This was an unintentional end-of-the-world situation. Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air gave a radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ story “The War of the Worlds.” People … freaked … out. (Listen to the broadcast here).
- Between Sept. 13 and Sept. 15, 1988 – NASA engineer and Bible student Edgar C. Whisenant went so far as to write a book about his prediction. “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988” captured quite a few followers, even leading the Trinity Broadcast Network to interrupt programming to offer instructions on preparing for the Rapture. When the dates passed uneventfully, Whisenant made other end-of-days predictions including dates in ’89, ’93 and ’94.
- 1994 – Camping – that’s right, 2011 is his second choice for the Rapture – published a book in 1992 titled, “1994?” Granted, there’s a question mark in that title, so he wasn’t saying with certainty it would be that year.
- Jan. 1, 2000, midnight – Who could forget the Y2K hysteria? Perhaps not an “official” end-of-the-world declaration, but the scarcity of Spam and bottled water on grocery store shelves indicated plenty of people were preparing for something dramatic.
- May 21, 2011 – Camping is certain about this date for the Rapture. So are his followers who have the announcement plastered on their cars and T-shirts and have helped fund 2,200 billboards around the U.S. warning of the judgment day.
- Dec. 21, 2012 – Thanks to the Mayans – with some additional help from Hollywood – we have the end of 2012 to look forward to as the moment the world will end.
Of course, that 2012 date becomes a moot point if the second time is the charm for Camping.