Beware of the Date-Setters! (The May 21, 2011 Controversy)

by Shawn Brasseaux

Throughout the past 2,000 years, there have been numerous (failed) attempts of trying to calculate and predict the return of Jesus Christ. One of the most notable (failed) predictions was the “Great Disappointment” of 22 October 1844. Others speculated various dates during the 1980s and 1990s, especially 1988 (the 40th anniversary of Israel becoming a nation in modern times). A number of Christians believed that Jesus Christ would rapture His Body in 1993 so that His Second Coming could occur in the year 2000. When 1993 came and went, some decided the rapture must be in 2000, so that became the “new year”… that prediction, by the way, fell through when 2007 passed with no Second Coming.

I remember uneasy souls wondering if Jesus Christ would return on 6 June 2006 (06/06/06). Actually, this was a misunderstanding of the “number of the beast (antichrist),” which is not a date but a reference to some type of personal identification that will be mandated in the future seven-year Tribulation, without which no one can buy or sell (see Revelation 13:16-18). We have all heard of that sensationalized claim that the world will end 21 December 2012, have we not?

Recently, 89-year-old American evangelist Harold Camping of has proposed a new date for the rapture—21 May 2011. Five months later, on 21 October, the world is supposed to end. This heresy is being spread worldwide via the internet, billboards, radio, and television. (In fact, I saw some of their “judgment day” vehicles passing by my college several weeks ago!)

Whenever supposed “Christians” set dates like the examples we have briefly discussed, the lost world sees it as additional ammunition to ridicule Christians and discredit the Bible. The Apostle Paul, God’s apostle in this the Dispensation of Grace, makes it absolutely clear that the rapture will occur before the seven-year tribulation period, but Paul never gave us the exact date of the rapture. If Paul never gave us the exact date, what authority does Camping have to set the date? Unsurprisingly, Camping claims to use the Bible! (We will examine Camping’s calculations at the end).

Let us turn to the Scriptures and see if what Mr. Camping says is so.

* * *

In this world, there are three views regarding Jesus Christ’s coming: (1) some believe He is coming but refuse to set dates, (2) others believe He is coming and attempt to set dates, and (3) still others believe He is not coming at all. A Bible student firmly grounded in the Holy Scriptures has view #1—the Bible absolutely declares that Jesus Christ is coming back, literally, physically, visibly, but we do not know an exact date.

In his second epistle, the Apostle Peter (3:3,4) writes of the scoffers who inquire, “Where is the promise of [Christ’s] coming?” At the time of Peter writing this, it had been some 35 years since Jesus Christ had ascended into heaven. Christ promised that He would return, but the generation that saw Him in the flesh was now beginning to die. Decades after the Lord Jesus had resurrected and ascended into heaven, James, Peter, and John spoke of His Second Coming as if it were just moments away (James 5:8,9; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 3:3; 1 John 2:18). Why has Jesus Christ not yet returned to earth, even well beyond the time of the scoffers of Peter’s letter? That takes a detailed explanation.

Recall that during Christ’s earthly ministry, the seven-year Tribulation of God’s wrath and judgment seemed like it was in the near future, as if it would be in the first century A.D. Just prior to the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, John the Baptist preached, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). To Israel’s religious leaders, John spoke (verse 7): “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Notice John warns the nation Israel that her kingdom is “at hand” (near) and God’s judgment and wrath is coming (the baptism with fire, Israel’s seven-year Tribulation and the Second Coming of Christ in judgment). It was as if Israel’s tribulation period and kingdom would occur during the lifetime of John the Baptist’s audience (it would have occurred during their lifetime, but there is a reason why it has yet to occur).

When we come to the early Acts period, three years after John the Baptist spoke in Matthew chapter 3, the Lord Jesus Christ has since been rejected, crucified, buried, risen, and ascended to sit at His Father’s right hand in heaven’s glory. Notice that the message of receiving salvation from “the wrath to come” is still on the Jews’ minds. In the opening chapters of the book of Acts, God gave the nation Israel a renewed opportunity for repentance. They could trust in Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah-King, or they could face God’s impending wrath (Acts 2:22,36-38; Acts 3:18-20).

The Apostle Peter, preaching to the lost nation Israel, shouts on the day of Pentecost, “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel: And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God,… And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come:” (Acts 2:16,17,19,20).

Here, Peter tells Israel that Old Testament prophecy is being fulfilled in Acts chapter 2. God is now pouring out His Spirit on these believing Jews. According to the calendar in Joel 2:28-32, the next event is the time of wrath and judgment. The “notable day of the Lord” is approaching. In other words, Peter is saying, “Jesus Christ is coming back in flaming fire, and He will judge His enemies—He will judge you Israel for your unbelief and disobedience, so you had better get right with Him now!” Check Psalm 2:4,5, which confirm that the seven-year Tribulation should have occurred after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (verses 1-3).

In Acts chapter 7, one year after Acts chapter 2, Israel’s religious leaders hear God’s prophet Stephen warn them of the coming judgment (just as Peter did earlier). At this point, Jesus is standing at His Father’s right hand, prepared to pour wrath and judgment on the rebellious Jewish people (cf. Psalm 110:1 with Acts 7:55-56; also see Psalm 68:1,2). In anger, the Jews stoned Stephen to death. The Second Coming of Christ should have occurred here in Acts chapter 7, but it did not.

Rather than Jesus Christ returning to earth in wrath, Jesus Christ returned to earth in grace, and saved Saul of Tarsus in Acts chapter 9. God made him Paul the Apostle of the Gentiles (Romans 11:13; Romans 15:16; 2 Timothy 1:11). Also, God began a new program, the Dispensation of Grace (Ephesians 3:2). In Acts chapter 15 and Galatians chapter 2, Israel’s apostles James, Peter, and John, learn from the Apostle Paul that God is temporarily setting aside Israel and her prophetic program. Momentarily, God would institute the mystery program, a secret dispensation He never revealed in the Old Testament. Prior to revealing this information to Paul, God had kept this information secret in Himself (Romans 16:25,26; Ephesians 3:1-11; Colossians 1:26,27).

Israel’s kingdom program would be postponed for an indefinite period of time, and national Israel would temporarily lose her privileged position. In the meantime, God would form a new group of believers, the Church the Body of Christ, of the people of the world who would trust in Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour (Acts 15:14-17; Romans 11:25; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:13-22; et al.).

Returning to 2 Peter 3:3,4, which we looked at earlier, the scoffers ask, “Where is the promise of [Christ’s] coming?” Why has Jesus Christ not returned? After 2,000 years, Jesus Christ has yet to return to planet earth. Will He ever return? If so, when? Peter answers that question in verses 7-10:

“7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
8 But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”

The Apostle Peter reassures us that God’s wrath, that notable day of the Lord, is coming indeed (verse 7). Rest assured that God will do what He has promised He will do, but He will do it in accordance with His own timing (verse 9). God has interrupted Israel’s prophetic program. That Tribulation period of God’s wrath and His Second Coming has been postponed. Why? Verse 9 concludes: “but [God] is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” God wants all people to be saved everywhere. He wants no one to suffer His wrath and judgment because His Son Jesus Christ already endured His wrath and judgment for our sins by going to Calvary’s cross!

The Apostle Peter continued in 2 Peter 3:15,16: “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” God is postponing Israel’s prophetic program and judgment because He is extending this the Dispensation of Grace one more day. Peter said that the information about the Dispensation of Grace and the postponement of Israel’s program can only be found in Paul’s epistles (specifically, see Romans chapters 9-11).

God is deliberately postponing His wrath and judgment on wicked mankind and He is giving man ample time to believe the Gospel of Grace. However, God will soon pour out His wrath on unbelieving mankind. God’s grace is withholding the impending wrath, yet our world finds it amusing to mock Him by abusing His grace and mocking the promise of His return. How sad, but remember, “Behold, I come quickly,” the Lord Jesus Christ said in Revelation 22:7. Surely, Jesus Christ is coming back, and we should be looking for His coming as instructed in 2 Timothy 4:8 and Titus 2:13, but we cannot set dates.

Maranatha! (Aramaic, “Our Lord cometh!”)

One day, this the Dispensation of Grace will conclude at the rapture. Then, God will resume His dealings with the nation Israel by operating her prophetic program. If Jesus Christ were to come today to take His saints home to glory at the rapture, would you be among those taken away to heaven? The Bible says that Jesus Christ died for your sins, to pay for everything that is wrong with you, to shed His innocent blood for your forgiveness. Jesus Christ was buried for three days and three nights, and He was raised again the third day for your justification so that you could have a perfect standing before God. This is the Gospel of the Grace of God of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Trust exclusively in the Lord Jesus Christ today, and God will save you and keep you forever!

_______________
SUPPLEMENT:
CAMPING’S CATACLYSMIC (MIS)CALCULATIONS

Harold Camping contends that the Bible gives us “absolute proof” that 2011 is the end of the world.

According to Camping, the flood of Noah occurred 4990 B.C., yet Bible chronologists date the flood of Noah to about 2350 B.C. (Camping’s date is off in excess of 2500 years!) We can dismiss Camping’s claims that Jesus Christ will come on 21 May 2011 because this flawed date serves as the linchpin for his calculations! If this date is wrong, then the whole argument disintegrates!

Harold Camping asserts that God’s judgment will occur exactly 7000 years after the flood of Noah. You may ask, “Where does Camping get the number 7,000 anyway?” From the Bible, or so he claims. According to Camping, Peter’s words of “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:8) refers to God judging the world exactly 7,000 years from the time of the flood of Noah. How so? If God gave a seven-day warning before the flood of Noah came (see Genesis 7:4), then God is somehow hinting that judgment will occur exactly 7,000 years after the flood of Noah. As it turns out, that date is 21 May 2011.

Camping’s math is as follows:

4990 + 2011 – 1 = 7000
(The 1 is subtracted to adjust the calendar from BC to AD, since there is no year 0).

I remind you yet again that if Camping’s date of 4990 is in error—AND IT IS—the whole calculation collapses like a house of cards! Let us play a game of 52-card pick up, shall we? Camping places the Second Coming of Christ on 21 October 2011, exactly five months after 21 May 2011. You may ask, where does Camping get that five-month period? Oh, from Revelation 9:5. This verse, by the way, refers to Israel’s seven-year Tribulation. That five-month period of Revelation 9:5 has nothing to do with God’s present-day dealings with man and this the Dispensation of Grace (our current time period). Revelation 9:5 belongs in Israel’s prophetic program, not in our mystery program. Again, this verse has nothing to do with the time period in which we live!

According to the Bible, the rapture, the seven-year Tribulation, and the millennial reign of Jesus Christ on earth will all occur in a time span of at least 1007 years. Camping, going contrary to Scripture, alleges that all of these events will occur WITHIN A FIVE-MONTH PERIOD. That is absolutely ridiculous. Camping’s calculations are wrong for the five following reasons:

  1. his initial date of Noah’s flood is wrong,
  2. he wrongly assumes there is a connection between the seven days of Genesis 7:4 and the 1000 years spoken of in 2 Peter 3:8,
  3. he “steals” Revelation 9:5 from its context,
  4. he attempts to “squeeze” a 1007-year period of time into a 5-month period,
  5. he confuses Israel’s prophetic program with the Church the Body of Christ’s mystery program.

And so, someone needs to pick up the cards…. rest assured, others will soon come, pick them up, and build another house!

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