He was right and he was wrong.
What he got wrong
Christians who know the Bible even a little understand this very basic fact: The end of the world as we know it will happen, but no one knows when the rapture and the return of Christ will occur.
No one. Period.
Jesus stated very clearly as quoted in the Bible in Mark 13:32-33, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Jesus does not tell his disciples to spend time speculating as to when the end will come. But He does give them some general guidelines as to what to watch for. And he tells them to “Be on guard! Be alert!”
Why be alert?
Jesus explained, “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect – If that were possible” (Mark 13:22).
Jesus also gave one final instruction to his followers: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).
What he got right
Harold Camping motivated people all over the world to get the word out. That’s what he got right.
Phil Cooke wrote in his blog:
“Over the last few months, a remarkably tiny group of people have done a brilliant job sharing their message with the world. Inaccurate, wrong, or wacky – they have told their story far better than major Christian denominations, mega-churches, and supposed ‘media’ ministries have done. I travel more than most people, and I’ve seen their billboard campaign in cities like Los Angeles, the full page ads in major newspapers like USA Today, people handing out handbills outside subway stations in New York, mobile advertising, personal word of mouth, and more. It may not be the most creative or brilliantly designed, but at least it’s unified and strategic.”I have to admire Camping’s followers for the level of their commitment and willingness to invest their time, lives, and money in promoting what they believed in.
Unfortunately, the core of Camping’s message is wrong. It isn’t centered on the biblical Gospel.
What he missed
The focus of the Gospel message – the teachings of Jesus Christ – is not about fretting over end-times issues. Jesus said very clearly, “"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1).
The focus of the Gospel is about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Jesus explained, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17)
A very simple, straightforward explanation of this Gospel and how to become a Christian can be found in Campus Crusade for Christ’s classic “Four Spiritual Laws.”
In the book of Matthew, in chapters 5-7, Jesus lays out guidelines for living the Christian life. In none of his teachings in these or other chapters does he direct believers to exert any energy on calculating the date of the rapture or to go around frightening people with apocalyptic end-of-the-world fear mongering.
Again, Jesus cautions:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:15-23).This should be sobering to people such as Harold Camping.
You don’t have to sell your house, put up billboards, and stand on a street-corner handing out end-of-the-world tracts to be a Christian.
God may call you to do something like this, but you still have a choice, and if you don’t do it, you’ll still be a Christian.
Being a Christian isn’t about what you do, but rather in Whom you put your faith, which then influences how you think and behave.
What he should be doing
If you are not a Christian, think about those you know who are; those you know are genuine in their faith in Christ.
How did they behave and talk as May 21, 2011 approached and the end-of-the-world hubbub grew louder?
Were they fearful? Did they sell off their possessions? Were they making plans to hunker down in a bunker? Did they max out their credit cards on foolish purchases? Did they hold crazy end-of-the-world bashes? Did they talk about how they were glad the end was coming so they could escape from debts and other problems of their own making?
Or, rather, were they happy, normal, and going about their days as usual?
Perhaps, they were a little more thoughtful and sober. And when the topic of Camping’s claims came up, perhaps you heard them say things such as, “Well, I don’t know when Christ will return, but I do know He will. Are you ready when he does?”
As Christians, we are looking forward to the return of Christ. Not to escape from our problems, but to meet our Savior. Yes, we’re looking forward to an end of pain and suffering, but we’re more interested in continuing our relationship with Christ and other believers. We’re looking forward to a new world.
We won’t be playing harps, either.
As Christians, you’ll hear us say things like, “Maranatha; Lord come quickly.” Or sing songs that proclaim, “He’s coming soon!” And we believe this joyfully and wholeheartedly.
And you’ll also hear us talk about how life can be hard and full of injustice and suffering. Hopefully you’ll see us extending mercy to the unmerciful, offering help to the downtrodden, seeking justice for the poor, giving what we have to give to those who are in need.
While our hearts long for the coming of Christ, our feet are firmly planted in the reality of the here and now.
Won’t you join us? If you do, you’re welcome to keep your house. But you will have to give your heart to Jesus.
BTW: Camping still claims that he’s right but it’s just not obvious yet. He claims that the end is coming, but now it will wrap up on October 21, 2011. He explains that he got it wrong because he was merely reading the Bible from a factual perspective, not viewing it as offering spiritual instruction. Seriously? And people are still hanging in his every word? Check out these articles: