The answer is (drum roll, please . . .) No One Knows. Of course, it is now widely known that Harold Camping, the founder of Family Radio, is predicting with certainty that the Lord Jesus will return to the earth May 21 of this year. Mr. Camping has a number of problems, including the fact that he earlier predicted the Lord was going to return in 1994. He believes that the Church Age ended in 1994, the Holy Spirit is no longer working in the world and that no one was saved between the years of 1988 and 1994. He believes that every church in existence today is apostate. However, the widespread nature of his prophecy does draw attention to the coming of Christ and provides some lessons for us. (It is interesting to note that Dr. Shelton Smith, the editor of the Sword of the Lord, wrote to Mr. Camping requesting that since he was sure Jesus would come back on
May 21, 2011, he sign over all the properties of Family Radio to the Sword. To date, Mr. Camping has not done so. J)
1. The Folly of Date-Setting
Scripture clearly says that no man knows the date nor the hour. (Matthew 24:36 - “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”) Anyone who says they know exactly the day that the Lord Jesus will return is inaccurate and unscriptural. And yet it seems there is something intrinsically attractive about being the one who has discovered the date of the return of our Lord. George Rapp said he would return
September 15, 1829. William Miller predicted March 21, 1944. Charles Tays Russell said the Lord would come back in 1874 and I well remember a preacher traveling in our circles who, while stopping short of setting an actual date, tried very hard to convince people that Christ would return October 4, 1975. I had been called to pastor the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport a few months earlier. We were showing a film on the return of Christ that night. The coincidence of the showing of our film and the date our brother had set enabled me to get on the news on a local TV station. We had over 200 people each night of the showing and a dozen people trusting Christ as Savior. This may be the only good thing I ever know of having come from a person setting a date.
2. There is a second and larger danger for those of us who know better than to set a date. It is the danger of complacency. The Bible warns us of scoffers who will say, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:4 - “And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.”) I am told that years ago, Robert Murray McCheyne, gathering with a group of preachers, looked first to one and then another and asked each of them the same question: “Think ye that our Lord will return today?” Each one in turn answered, “I think not.” Upon completing his questioning of the group, McCheyne turned to Matthew 24:44 and read, “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” Jesus is coming back. We are to be ever ready. While we must occupy until He comes (the word is the same as our word occupation and carries the idea of doing business), we are also to be ready for Him to come at any moment.
I love the old story of the traveler who came up to a beautiful garden. He watched as the gardener with loving care removed every dead leaf, pulled every weed and kept everything in perfect order. “Oh, your master must be very grateful for the good job you do in this garden,” he said. “As a matter of fact,” the gardener replied, “my master has not been to this garden for years. He is a wealthy man and has many properties. He gets here only occasionally.”
“Aye,” said the traveler. “You keep the garden as if you expect him to return tomorrow.”
“No,” replied the gardener. “I keep it as if I expected him to return today.”
We must be careful not to let the false prophets cause us to ignore Bible truth. Jesus is coming. He could come at any time. We must be ready.
3. I think we can learn from this experience the wisdom of a balanced ministry. Scripture tells us to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts - “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.”). Any one-note ministry will by definition be unbalanced. It doesn’t matter if your note is prophecy, separation, the inspiration of Scripture or even soulwinning (if I were to get stuck on any particular note, that’s the note I’d like to get stuck on!). The fact is that God has given us a Book filled with truth which we must apply to our lives. We are charged to win souls, live separate from the world, be loving husbands, raise our children right, love our enemies, care for our friends, make disciples, look after the flock, baptize converts and much, much more. Let us look for our Lord’s return, rejoice in the prophecies we see being fulfilled before our eyes; believe, preach and teach all of the Word of God and keep busy until He returns
For what it’s worth.