I must confess that I have mixed feelings when I see a billboard declaring May 21, 2011 to be the end of the world. If you live in a big city, you’ve likely seen them. Here in Toronto, one of our main subway stations is plastered with apocalyptic announcements posted by Harold Camping and Family Radio.
On the one hand, I am agitated by the billboards. I think, “How could Christians be so gullible?” After countless predictions by so many Christian-hucksters, why do my brothers and sisters take this foolishness seriously? Don’t they see that it comes as a source of embarrassment that Christians like myself have to explain to a jeering society?
A journalism student at Ryerson University recently interviewed me about the billboards and asked what I thought about the Evangelical fervour behind them. I had to admit to feeling a little red-faced because I get lumped with those who are perceived as naive and crazy. She further asked me what accounted for this millennial madness, to which my only reply was that Christians are ignorant. We are ignorant of the Bible’s teaching about the end. Jesus said very clearly in Matthew 24:36 that no one knows when the end will come; not angels and not even the Son himself, only the Father. Rather, Jesus will return like a thief in the night, as Paul would describe it. So why do Christians presume to know something that even Jesus, in his earthly ministry, was unaware? Christians are also ignorant of their own history, both distant as well as the more recent. In 999 there was an uproar over the coming apocalypse where people gave possessions to the church, freed criminals from prisons, and forgave debts all in the hopes of being ready for Jesus’ return. You can imagine the resultant disarray when Jesus did not come back! How hard it must have been to recapture the lucky prisoners who found themselves “sprung” because of a false prediction! More recently, would-be predictors like Jack Van Impe, Ronald Weinland and Harold Camping have fixed one failed calendar date after another to the return of Jesus. In the case of Camping, he wrote the book 1994? where he noted that some time in September of that year the end would come—interestingly, he refused to fix a specific day because of Matthew 24:36; what changed??? If Christian history is pock-marked by an endless cycle of failed eschatological predictions, why do people keep on believing it?
On the other hand, I am in some, small way excited about the possibility that Jesus could return soon. This is not because the billboards have convinced me; I believe in the immanence of Christ’s return regardless of what Harold Camping says. In my view, Jesus could indeed return on May 21—if he did, it would owe nothing to Camping’s calculations—he could also return tonight, or thousands of years from now. But the prospect of his return is exciting none-the-less. Indeed, I pray that he would! I would love to see my Saviour face-to-face, to bask in the radiance of his glory and to be free from the shackles of sin!
If there is one good thing that the “end-is-nigh” billboards can effect, it is that they can be a reminder, however misplaced in intention, that Jesus is indeed returning. This could incite non-believers to ask Christians questions about this. Just like Dan Brown’s ignorant novels provided opportunities for evangelism, so to do Camping’s likewise ignorant signs. So let’s not miss this opportunity to talk about our returning king.
This post is to appear at the Sola Scriptura Ministries blog.