By now, everyone knows that the heretical prophecy of California radio preacher Harold Camping concerning the rapture did not come true. The world did not end on May 21 as he promised (“The Bible guarantees it”, his billboards blared). This is no surprise to anyone who has even an elementary knowledge of the inspired Scriptures, for Jesus declared No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Matthew 24:36). So it would be foolish to believe that Harold Camping had been entrusted with knowledge that Jesus said no one but the Father would possess.
I am not as magnanimous as many of my Christian friends, who have been willing to give Camping a pass when it comes to this doctrinal error. They suggest that he was “mistaken” or “misguided”. In reality, it was far worse than a simple mistake. Camping ignored the clear teachings of Scripture that it is wrong to set dates or times for the return of Christ. Just before Jesus ascended back to Heaven, He told His church, It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. (Acts 1:7) The Apostle Paul encouraged believers at Thessalonica not to buy into the lies of false prophets that the Rapture had already occurred.
So Camping’s teachings do not represent a mere mistake, but he perverts Holy Scripture and corrupts the plain meaning of the text of the Bible. False prophets suffered mightily in Old Testament times, and God is no more tolerant of such blatant efforts to mislead His people today.
Having said all that, however, I must admit that Harold Camping was right about a few things, and we would do well to remember these truths.
First of all, he was right that Jesus is coming again. We do not know the date. We cannot predict the hour. We are not given as much as the year, the decade or the century. But on the authority of God’s precious Word, I know that Jesus will return. He promised, In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:2-3).
Camping was also right that the saved will be raptured. This is how it was explained to those confused believers at Thessalonica: According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17). Those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ will be “caught up” (or “raptured”) to meet Christ in the air.
A third fact that Camping got right was that sin will be judged. In Revelation 20:11-15, we are given a glimpse of that judgment day: Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Those who have rejected Christ and have chosen to pay for their own sins will do just that, and sin will be judged once and for all.
Unless he repents, Camping will pay a high price for promoting his heresy and bringing reproach upon the Word of God. But even in the midst of all that he got wrong, he did get a few things right.