SODOM & GOMORRAH: In times of uncertainty, people flock to those who claim answers or special insight. It’s only natural to crave a firm response to the world’s corruption. This author is concerned that if those responses prove to be false, people will become even more disenchanted.
A California minister by the name of Mr. Harold Camping has used the large audience of his Family Radio company to convince a lot of people that Jesus Christ will return on May 21, 2011. Once here, he will rapture the believers while the sinful and corrupt world suffers for five months until the final judgment on October 21. This is inaccurate. There will be no rapture. Christ will not return on May 21. Judgment will not take place on October 21. When Mr. Camping is proven wrong, people will react one of two ways. Either they will go back to the Word for answers, or they will say that Christianity is wrong because, as the billboard down the street says, “The Bible guarantees” that Christ is returning this month.
It is impossible for man alone to destroy a faith, even a false one. All we can hope to do is to provide a consistent argument before the fact. In other words, we can provide answers to Mr. Camping’s teaching before May 21. After May 21, there will no doubt be several explanations and justifications but it will be the critics before who hold the most credibility.
Thus far, responses to Mr. Camping have been weak. Critics simply point out that “we can’t know” per the Book of Matthew, where Christ says that no man will no the day or hour, and that the day will come as a thief in the night. Mr. Camping has answered both of these arguments, but his critics just float them out as if these two claims can be enough to convince his followers. Our endeavor must be greater. We must strive to dismantle Mr. Camping’s entire system of thought so that no stone is left standing atop another.
1. World History
If we should pick a place to begin, it should be the beginning. This is true in religion as it is in anything else.
Mr. Camping asserts that the earth is approximately 13,000 years old. He calculates this by going to the Second Book of Peter 3.8 where it reads that one day is as a thousand years with the Lord. He then adds up the days of creation in Genesis and the time that has passed since then to argue his 13,000 years.
This 13,000 year old story assumes that creation and the rebellion of Satan has all come to pass within this short amount of time. His account ignores what the Bible says about the actual age of the earth.
First, in Genesis 1.2 it reads “And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” In verse one we read that the creation took place in the beginning, and then in verse two we see that the earth was without form and void. However, the word “was” here is not “was” in the original Hebrew. The Hebrew language lacks a verb for “to be”; this is why in several other places the various verb forms for “to be” are in italics because the translators have added them for ease of reading. Here in this first part of Genesis, the word “was” is not in italics, so it must be an actual Hebrew word. It is hayah in Hebrew, which means “became.” This is especially crucial because the following phrase “without form and void” is tohu va bohu in Hebrew. Tohu is a confused wilderness, a desert. Bohu is a ruin or mess. We know for a fact that God is not the maker of confusion and that one cannot ruin something that does not exist, so we must understand that an event took place to cause the earth to become tohu va bohu.
This event is mentioned several times in the New Testament. Christ speaks very plainly about how He knew some “before the foundation of the world” and that these some would be selected to carry out his plan. This word “foundation” is interesting in Greek. It is katabole which means “deposition” or “founding.” It is directly related to the word kataballo which means “to throw down.” This is a political phrase in the Bible; it means the founding of a new order and the casting down of an old. This is a very different word than the Greek themelios which relates specifically to a substruction of a building. We see this meaning very plainly in verses like Luke 6.48 where Christ speaks of construction.
The deposition that this speaks of was discussed in Ezekiel 28. Here we read about a prediction against the King of Tyrus, who was “in Eden” and who was set as a guard over the throne of God but was cast out because of his pride. The widely interpreted, and correct, view is that this King of Tyrus in Eden was Satan himself.
Mr. Camping does not look beyond the timeframe of this age. He sees only the struggle between Satan and God within this particular period of time; he assumes that it began then and will end then. We are faced with a God who chooses His elect, who does not inform His elect, and who raptures them regardless of their spiritual orientation while believers who attempt to reach Christ are condemned because salvation is entirely in God’s court. He chooses. We must wait and see if we make the cut. As we will discuss in the next section, this leaves many things unanswered.
Mr. Camping adopts a fairly traditional line, which ironically explains his insistence that the truth is just now being revealed in full and that he has access to that truth.
The Calvinist line of thought argues that there is a small body of elect Christians is saved while the large majority of people are condemned. We cannot know who is saved and who is condemned because God is mysterious and chooses the elect based on His unknowable plan. Anyone who asserts a doctrine of free will is arrogantly entering God’s domain and attempting a do-it-yourself program of salvation.
Furthermore, the churches are all corrupt. In John Calvin’s time, this argument applied to the Catholic Church. In Mr. Camping’s time, it applies to every church. The world is corrupt. The popes are liars. The only escape from this is a God who reveals directly to the elect and only the elect. Neither Calvin nor Mr. Camping can know if they themselves are even saved; they spend their lives crying unto God and hoping He will save them.
The Calvinist interpretation fails to take several things into account. First, it ignores the full version of world history. In doing so, it focuses on the here and now only. When interpreting the Bible by looking only to this particular time, you will misunderstand crucial Biblical concepts. As such, you are faced with verses that tell you that God chooses the elect, only the elect overcome the Antichrist, the elect are chosen before they’re ever born, and so forth. It is easy for Calvin and Mr. Camping to say that only the elect are saved in light of these verses. It is easy for them to say that because they do not acknowledge what happened before we were made flesh and why what happened before might determine why some were set aside from others, and why St. Paul could write in Romans 8 that some were predestined and already justified (judged) from before.
Mr. Camping’s Calvinism is dangerous. Not only does it negate the parts of the Bible, such as John 3.16, where salvation is offered freely to anyone who desires it, but it undermines any possibility of a community of believers. The unsustainability of the Calvinist Puritans in New England was an example of this. An invisible body of elect Christians who do not choose to be saved or go to hell is not a belief most people can stomach for very long. People begin craving outward signs of salvation; they begin looking for ways to confirm their final destination. Max Weber authored an illuminating work on the subject and how every day Calvinists coped with their eternal uncertainty by looking for confirmation in economic success. The great moral purity that’s commanded by Calvin’s teaching immediately leads to a demand for a visible body of chosen Christians. This demand undermines the Christian community because any deviation from the moral purity (which every person will inevitably have) will be seen as a sign that the person is condemned. There’s a constant “clamping down” on people’s behavior, a constant ostracization of those who don’t fit in, and a constant incentive to find some kind of confirmation of salvation. This leads, paradoxically for a faith claiming to be salvation via grace, into a faith calling for salvation through works. Somehow if we plead enough with God, make enough money, abstain from enough alcohol, or work hard enough we will be saved.
The idea of weeding out the impure and the continuous moral improvement of society is the exact theological influence that fuels the secular progressive narrative we find in Marxism and liberalism. There is a constant progress, a constant striving to be saved, and due to the limitations of the dominant narratives of world history, there is an assumption that salvation will take place within this world. For all of the Christian critiques of utopian idealism, this new doctrine of Mr. Camping’s has incredible utopian implications.
Mr. Camping’s utopian idealism is nowhere more apparent than his profession of the rapture doctrine. In its various forms, the rapture doctrine argues that when Christ returns, he will lift the saved into heaven while condemning those left behind. There are a few verses quoted to support this theory.
First, there is the account given by Christ in Matthew 24. There will be two people in the field, one shall be taken and the other left; there shall be two women grinding grain and one shall be taken and the other left. There are many people who stand in front of congregations today proudly saying, “I want to be the first taken.” These people do not read verses 38 and 39 that likens these people to those in the days of Noah who were eating, drinking, and taking in marriage until the flood came and took them away. This new flood is not a flood of water but a flood of lies, otherwise both in the field and at the grindstone would be taken with it. Those who are taken are swept away by the falsehood.
Second, there are the words of St. Paul in First Thessalonians 4.17 where he writes, “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” This word “air” means breath and it can often mean spirit or wind, and is used in similar contexts as the Hebrew word ruach which we find in Genesis 1.2. This interpretation makes sense in light of the subject of the Thessalonian passage in verses 13 and 14 which is rising like Christ. Just as Christ was given eternal life in the spirit, so are we. Those that have risen first are the dead who believed on Christ while those alive at the end of days will be transformed as mentioned in I Corinthians 15.52.
I Corinthians 15.52 is also cited by many who believe that the faithful are raptured before the Antichrist appears. They say that “last” does not mean the last but rather the sixth, as in the sixth trump of the Book of Revelation. They argue that this takes place just as Antichrist appears, so that believers are raptured with Christ before the tribulation. However this too is inaccurate for the Greek “last” is eschatos which means the farthest or final trump. We see here that there is no period of darkness as predicted by Mr. Camping and other “pre-tribulation” rapture believers. There is no gap between believers being lifted out and the end of human history.
In Mark 13, Jesus gives a very straight forward account of what will happen when the Word is fulfilled. The faithful will be delivered up to councils and religious places and be made to give a testimony for Christ’s sake, and this testimony will be given in that hour by the Holy Spirit. There is no mention of any early escape for the faithful.
Further, St. Paul makes it clear that the believers will not be gathered to Christ until the son of perdition rises up above God and has himself worshipped as God in the temple. Only then will God begin to prepare the world for Judgment. It is not, as Mr. Camping has said, that the believers will be lifted first and then God will shake up the earth for Judgment five months later. The faithful must be here to testify against the son of perdition during the five month period.
Finally, God’s prophet Ezekiel is also clear on the matter. Ezekiel 13.20 has God telling the false prophets that he is against those that plot against the children to convince them to fly.
The rapture doctrine is dangerous because it leaves believers unprepared for the final struggle against Satan. It is dangerous because in its popular form, it tells people that Christ will return before Satan, which prepares them to follow the first figure who appears as God. In a word, it places them into a position to follow the son of perdition who will be worshipped as God.
This doctrine, in the interim, is also dangerous because it gives Christians an excuse to check out. They do not have to concern themselves with the world, its corruption, or what’s going on around them. They do not have to work in the field, they can sit back and wait to be lifted out.
4. May 21 – October 21
These developments are complex and numerous. From a misunderstanding of the chronological order of events to a misinterpretation of election to a utopian abandonment of responsibility and finally to a man with a radio show who predicts that all will be fulfilled just a few days from now. It is time for us to tackle this last obstacle – his prediction of a real date.
The EBibleFellowship states that we can know. Critics of course point to Matthew 24.36 where Christ states, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” Naturally Mr. Camping and his congregation have heard this argument and acknowledge it. The EBibleFellowship argues in response that Daniel 12.4 informs us that God sealed knowledge from Daniel because that knowledge was supposed to be revealed at the end.
This is true, some knowledge is withheld until the end. However, this argument is circular. Mr. Camping tells us that he knows because it’s the end and the Spirit has revealed the knowledge. He knows it’s the end because he knows the knowledge and he only knows the knowledge because it’s the end.
In Revelation 1.10 we have one of the few explicit accounts of someone living at the end of days. Here we see St. John transported to the Lord’s Day, which is that final hour where all is fulfilled. What do we see about knowledge?
First, we see that when the seven seals are unsealed for John, he was offered an open invitation to view only the first four. ”Come and see” is said only before the first four seals are read. If we assume that the Word of God is the divine Word, then we must assume there are no accidents or oversights. Why then would there be an open invitation to “Come and see” only four, while the last three were simply recorded? This implies that some knowledge is opened to the public while other knowledge is more private. Only those with eyes to see and ears to hear go to see these seals.
Further, in Revelation 10.4, St. John was witness to the voice of the seven thunders but was commanded to seal it up. So even here we see that some knowledge is made available to the believers at the end, but that they are not in a position to share it openly. This means that those privy to the seven thunders can’t write them down for others and certainly can’t go on a radio show to talk about them. The EBibleFellowship is correct to say that God will not hide his design from those to be delivered before the son of perdition, but these people may not discuss it openly lest unreliable souls fall into the trap of serving the son of perdition while knowing the full truth. Those that know the full truth are liable to be delivered up to this false one and would commit an unpardonable sin if they were to refuse the Holy Spirit at that time. It is thus for their safety that these things remain veiled for those who do not have eyes to see.
EBibleFellowship is correct to say that the connection of the scripture that says Christ will come as a thief in the night with the rapture is false because thieves come to destroy. When the false one comes and the whole world follows after him, and when the events come to pass as they are written the elect will know that Christ will return shortly and it will not be a surprise. God has indeed forewarned His people; it’s called the Bible and one must read it.
Mr. Camping has done some math to come up with May 21 as the date of Christ’s return. While numbers are used in spiritually significant ways in the Bible, we should be cautious about anyone who would use them to unveil something that, if true, would not be suitable to be unveiled to everyone. Furthermore, Mr. Camping’s mathematics are backwards. He is attempting to take the spiritual numbers and use them to come up with something concrete (a date).
In each place in the Bible where numerics are used to teach, the number belongs first to the concrete (the number of David’s stones or the measurements of the temple in the last four chapters of Ezekiel for example) and then the spiritual is found beneath the physical. The physical, while true, is used to convey a deeper truth, which is why in Proverbs 25.11 it says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” When God chooses specific words and numbers for some outward teaching, this outward portion is the silver which is a valuable teaching in itself but underneath that is the gold which is more precious. We may say that if any word is fitly spoken, it must be the Word of God.
EBibleFellowship states “God’s people know [...] that these dates are true and trustworthy only because this information comes right out of the Bible. Many people are going to trust their churches or their pastors who will assuredly say that they do not have to worry about a date. But none of these things are trustworthy. The truth is that the only trustworthy thing in the world is the Bible. This is why as we get ever closer to this date of May 21 in 2011, the big question for each person is, ‘Do you trust the Bible or do you trust something else?’”
People waiting for Christ to appear on the 21st will not be persuaded by this author’s position that the spiritual numeric should not be used to calculate an actual date, especially when no person is supposed to know the date. They will continue to believe that Mr. Camping’s calculations are biblical until he is proven wrong next weekend. After that point, Christians must ask themselves, do you trust the Bible or do you trust something else? People need to do their own research and not believe that someone’s math is Biblical without something more than a guarantee from a person.
This author’s fear is that people will still believe that the Bible guarantees that May 21 is the day for Christ’s return and His failure to appear must mean that the Bible is wrong. All that will mean is that their teacher was wrong, and there will be a lot of heartbreak on the 21st – especially and even with Mr. Camping.