Philip P. Eapen
Evangelicals overlook Jesus’ clear teachings regarding His “Second Coming” just as Harold Camping ignored Jesus’ warning against predicting the date and time of His “appearance.”
Irresponsibility at its height! How else would one describe Harold Camping and his team’s prediction that the world would come to an “end” on May 21, 2011?
Camping believed the Bible gave him enough clues to “calculate” the Day of Judgment. Having arrived at a “definite” date, he did not leave any stone unturned while trying to warn the world of impending judgment and catastrophe. His team spent millions of dollars to spread his erroneous conviction through radio, television, hoardings, website, etc.
Most Evangelical groups brushed him aside as another embarrassment to Christianity. Many were terrified and confused. A 14-year-old girl from Russia was scared to death. She committed suicide on May 21, fearing that she was not righteous enough to be “raptured”; she was scared of facing God’s wrath on the unrighteous.
Abetting suicide is considered a crime in many countries. Camping could be booked for irresponsible teachings and instigations. He, however, denied any wrongdoing. He said, “I don’t have any responsibility. I can’t take responsibility for anybody’s life. I’m only teaching the Bible.” Thus, according to his own admission, he is an irresponsible teacher.
It wasn’t the first time Camping heralded the “end of the world.” Seventeen years ago, he had predicted the end in vain. Instead of apologizing for a second “miscalculation,” Camping set a date for the “end” a third time. This time, he chose October 21, 2011.
Many Christians who read Camping’s predictions laughed it off or pitied this mistaken elderly zealot. We don’t often realize that most Evangelicals make themselves appear as ridiculous as Camping by ignoring the plain teachings of the Scriptures. We may not be predicting the date and time of the “Second Coming” of Jesus Christ or that of the Day of Judgment. We are too clever for that. Instead, we ignore biblical words and phrases that indicate time.
Doctrinal constructs about the “Second Coming” and related events are based on guesses and assumptions. I shall cite a few examples.
Most Evangelicals believe in a pre-millennial pre-tribulation rapture. They believe the Church will be “taken up” from this world before the “man of lawlessness” will appear and set in motion events that lead to tribulation. They make such a claim in spite of clear Biblical teaching that the so-called “rapture” – described unmistakably as “the day of Lord” (2 Thess 2:2) and as “the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering to him” (2 Thess 2:1) – will not take place before the blasphemous “man of lawlessness” appears! The arrival of the so-called “antichrist” and an apostasy must precede the “rapture.”
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him [the “rapture”], we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. — 2 Thess 2:3 NIV.
The pre-millennialists refuse to acknowledge this. How can they? This passage doesn’t fit into their interpretation of Revelation! They see the events in Revelation as a series of events in time—one following the other.
On top of that, they assume that John’s ascent into heaven (in Rev 4:1-2) represents the “rapture” of the Church. According to this view, they argue that the “rapture” should happen before the catastrophes mentioned in Revelation (from Chapter 6 onwards). No one stops to ask, “Why do we confuse John’s ascent in Rev 4:1-2 with the Church’s rapture?” The mention of a victorious Church that overcomes the devil and the troubles of tribulation (in Rev 12:11) doesn’t jolt pre-tribulationists from their views. A man-made framework is more important to them than the clear teaching of the Scriptures.
And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. – Rev 12:10-11 NIV
How will the pre-tribulationists explain verses such as these? They suggest that victorious Christians in Rev 12:11 are people who repented after they were “Left Behind”; they are the ones who utilized a second chance to believe in Jesus Christ! This view was further popularised recently through the “Left Behind” series of books and movies.
A second chance for people left behind after the Rapture? The Bible offers no such relief. Yet, that doesn’t prevent these “strong” Evangelicals and Pentecostals from believing it. Take a look at what Peter says in the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:9). Peter and all his fellow apostles were convinced that the Lord would return in their lifetime. When some sceptics questioned them about the delay in the “Second Coming” of Jesus Christ, Peter explained that the delay was due to God’s mercy. God did not want anyone to perish. So, God was waiting patiently “for all to come to repentance.”
The question is, Why should God wait patiently to give everyone a chance to repent if He was planning to give everyone a “second chance”? Peter also wrote, “the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise.”
Evangelicals overlook Jesus’ express teaching regarding His “Second Coming” just as Camping ignored Jesus’ warning against predicting the date and time of His “Second Coming.” Take, for example, Jesus’ prediction of His “Second Coming” in Matthew 16:27-28.
“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
Any sensible reader will understand this passage as Jesus’ promise to return in glory during the lifetime of at least “some” of his apostles. This plain sense evades the majority of Evangelicals who are now condemning Camping’s prediction of Judgment Day. They explain away this passage in a strange way. They claim this “Second Coming” was fulfilled in the following chapter (Matt 17) on the Mount of transfiguration! If so, why are they waiting for a future “Second Coming” and “rapture?”
How can the transfiguration be the “Second Coming?” Jesus never went anywhere to “come back” a second time on the Mount of Transfiguration! Did Jesus repay every man according to His deeds on the Mount of Transfiguration? Such inconvenient questions are not encouraged among the pre-millennialists and pre-tribulationists.
Numerous such fanciful teachings are popular among evangelicals. Just because these evangelicals do not predict a day and an hour for their rapture, they need not think they are any better than Camping and his folks.
Originally published in the newspaper ‘Praise The Almighty’ in June 2011.
Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realized that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip teaches Christians in order to equip them for service. He is supported by donations from readers. Philip is married to Dr. Jessimol and they are blessed with three sons and a daughter.
Date: June 1, 2011