Harold Camping has been lampooned as something of a crazy loon over the last few weeks, after spending millions of dollars on billboards, caravans, full-page newspaper ads, and other advertising media – in 84 languages and many more countries – in order to convince people that the world would end on May 21, 2011, and that this was all predicted in the Bible.
But can we write off Harold Camping as occupying the fringe regions of Christianity when some 55% of Americans believe in The Rapture, a concept which was only popularized as late as the nineteenth century by dispensationalist, John Darby?
More significantly, can we write off Harold Camping as a loon when for 2000 years Christianity has been creating tendentious reasons to explain the failure of Jesus to return to Earth? There is no explicit statement in the Bible that sets out the precise day of Christ’s predicted return, but Jesus almost certainly thought that he would be coming back in the first century AD. Therefore, Jesus was mistaken. His followers have been creating forced reasons to deny this failure, ever since.
Take the two sayings of Jesus paired together in Mark 8.38 – 9.1, where Jesus predicts that his Second Coming in glory, and the coming of the Kingdom of God in a degree of similar glory or power – while at least some of those present before him (in AD 30) were still living:
“Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
– Mark 8.38 – 9.1.
According to the Bible, Christ will return within the lives of some of those who heard his message in AD 30. How have Christian interpreters tried to deal with this central failure of Christianity? Take your pick of the confirmation-bias-driven solutions: (1) the Kingdom did come! (Although, the Son of Man – Jesus – will come later…); (2) The power of the Kingdom was realised at Pentecost (when the Holy Spirit empowered Christians) … which is separate from the coming of the Son of Man; (3) the Kingdom came at the Resurrection, and the women witnessed the glory of Jesus (although, not really coming with angels); (4) the Kingdom came at his death, when the powers of Evil were defeated (although, still really no appearance alongside angels); (5) the Transfiguration of Christ was his coming in glory (a bit of an anticlimax, coming before his death!); (6) the fall of Jerusalem fulfilled the prediction (well, it does presumably occur while some there were still alive, but does this really have anything to do with Jesus’ prediction in Mark?)… etc etc.
Mr Camping’s solution, with its nonsensical numerological calculations, is really no less bizarre than the rationalizations which are routinely offered by the more sophistic/ated Christians.