Like a thief in the night…
There are four reasons–four very distinct reasons–why people like Mr. Camping are always wrong about predicting the end of time by scouring the Book of Revelation for secret clues. By the way, the proper biblical term for “The End of Time” is the Eschaton, not the culturally popular “apocalypse,” which means “to pull back the veil.” This error is based on confusing the Greek word “apocalypsis” used for the Book of Revelation, with the word that means the “end”: eschatos. In some editions of the Christian Bible, Revelation (please note the word is singular not the plural “revelations” as many call it) is titled “Apocalypse of John.” Unfortunately, the genre of literature in which the Book of Revelation is classified is called “apocalyptic literature” and not “eschatological literature,” a fact that adds to the confusion. Here is the list:
- The knowledge of the End of Time is exclusively reserved for the Mind of God. In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 24, which contains Jesus’ teachings on the “end of the age,” Jesus explicitly states that “No one knows the about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mt 24:36, NIV*). Point One: Christ did not know the time of the End.
- Since the First Century, Christians have yearned for the return of Christ. Even St. Paul, early in his ministry. believed that Jesus would return in his generation. This belief figures prominently in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, and his instructions to them strongly suggests they were actively debating the return of Jesus in their time. Some had even quit their jobs. And though Paul, himself, believed Jesus would return in his lifetime ( later in his life he realized that this likely would not be the case), nevertheless, he cautioned the Thessalonians not to let it cause division among themselves and also not to behave as if there were no tomorrow. Literally. To emphasize his point, he writes, “About times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (I Thess 5:1, NIV) Point Two: Paul the Apostle, nor any of the other apostles, knew the time of the End.
- Nowhere in the Book of Revelation is there a definable, historical, sequence of events tied to the narrative that points to a specific knowable day in the future. It just isn’t there. The reason is so simple it’s almost ridiculous: That day was not revealed to John. Revelation is written in the first person as a series of visions given to John. Not once does Christ nor the angel that guided him through those visions reveal the date of the End. In chapter 16:15, Christ is once again quoted: “Behold I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him…” (NIV) In fact, knowing the date is irrelevant to the whole message of Revelation. The true message of Revelation to Christians of all generations is: Endure, Overcome, and Endure Patiently. That however, has not stopped Christians in every single generation since Jesus walked on this earth from trying to “unlock” the mysteries of Revelation and predict the exact day the End of Time will begin. Mr. Camping joins a very large, and very frustrated legacy of people who have discovered that what Jesus said in Matthew, chapter 24, indeed was the truth. In 2008 I wrote an outline of Revelation for a program curriculum at my church. You can access it by clicking here: The Revelation to St. John. Point Three: The Book of Revelation is not about predicting the End of Time, it is about how Christians are to live until The Day of the Lord.
- In light of the first three points, the final reason is: You can’t outwit God. What Mr. Camping failed to understand, and in a deeper sense, discern, as one of the most important theological truths in Christianity, is that we cannot know when the Day of the Lord will be. Notice I am not using the term “Day of Judgment.” The Day of the Lord will take place in God’s timing. The date of that day is not secreted away in the text of the Bible. Jesus, himself, said he did not know the day, as did St. Paul and St John. The reason for teaching us about the Day of the Lord is to help us live according to the gospel of Christ, not to stop living trying to anticipate that which cannot be known. Point Four: You can’t outwit God. The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.