Larry Hurtado recently reflected on the false rapture prediction of Harold Camping. He is troubled by three things: (1) that some believers can justify such predictions given the fact that the biblical text indicates Jesus himself does not know the time of his coming; (2) that the media gave so much attention to the issue; and (3) that the real significance of Christian eschatology lacks the same sort of publicity:
But perhaps the most troubling thing is that such phenomena trivialize, distort, and indeed miss entirely the serious religious and theological concerns that are involved in traditional Christian expressions of hope in God’s judgement and mercy.
These are the sorts of questions that traditional Christian eschatological hopes and ideas address, hopes for personal resurrection, hope for final judgement, hope for redemption of the creation. You may find any such hope futile, perhaps even pathetic, but surely the longings involved are understandable and by no means stupid.
I guess I’m not surprised that such persons like Camping receive publicity. The ridiculous, outrageous, graphic, and extreme ideas, people, footage, etc., attract viewers/readers. While the media at its best should attempt to accurately and wholly cover the significant issues of our existence–including religion–what is the incentive for doing so? I think an incentive exists (e.g., to publicize the truth), but this incentive is too often drowned out by the pursuit of ratings.
I share Hurtado’s feelings…
However, in response to these three items:
(1) Mark 13:32-33 says “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”
This sounds like it is impossible to know when the rapture will take place, after all, Jesus doesn’t even know when it’s going to happen, right? I think wrong.
What “day” is “that day”? This is very often used in popular circles to speak against predicting the return… But this is clearly not the context of the passage…
Mark 13:1-4 sets the stage for Jesus’ Olivet Discourse:
” And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’
And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?'”
Jesus’ disciples were impressed with the temple, so Jesus let them in on the secret, it was going to be destroyed, their natural response was “when?” This is the question Jesus is answering, “the day” is the day when the Temple would be destroyed.
This is the day that is not associated with a physical return (i.e. NOT “here” “there” cf. Matt 13:21). This chapter is full of the second person plural, it is directed to the twelve, THEY will see these things. This is not a chapter predicting something for US.
Mark 13:30 makes it clear, “that day” would happen within the lifetime of the present generation. So this is a prediction of the (AD70) temple destruction. Now, it is spoken of exclusively in OT language, using “Day of the Lord” terminology, so I do believe it applies to the final return of Jesus at the end of the world, but only in a line of all of the Day’s of the Lord from the OT. The final Day of judgment will be similar to all the rest, including AD70.
(2) I will take all the attention on any issue that touches on Jesus. This is an opportunity for us to be the light. It’s obvious that Camping is a nut, and compared to him, even some of the more radical Dispensationalists seem more normal. I believe that there is no such thing as bad publicity, we have the truth of the gospel, it’s a good opportunity to have chance to start conversations about the truth. I think the answer to false information is the truth, not suppression/censorship etc.
(3) It does highlight the shallowness of even many Christian’s “hope.” It’s clear that the “Blessed Hope” (cf. Tit 2:13) is the return of Jesus at the end of the age at the time of the resurrection of the dead. For so long, evangelicalism has fallen into the false escapist Brethren theology of the “rapture.” N.T. Wright has a thought provoking (and short) article on the issue called “Farewell to the Rapture” http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_BR_Farewell_Rapture.htm I don’t agree with all of his interpretation, but on the whole, I’m closer to Wright than Camping.
The Christian hope is the return of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment (rather, our escape from it).
My hope is that as more Christians begin to talk about “End-Times” light will shine forth on God’s word, and Believers will put down their Scofield/Ryrie/LaHaye Study Bible (or at least ignore the notes) and just read what the Bible itself actually says.
It’s certainly not an easy topic, but let’s dispense with the Dispen-sensationalism…
I might note that some dispensationalists recognize that the rapture is not found in the Olivet discourse and rightly recognize that “ones taken” (e.g., Matt 24:40-41) are taken in judgment, not in rapture. I might also say that I don’t think the rapture is the heart of dispensationalism (rather I would say a distinction between Israel and the church, for example, is much more foundational). Granted, the rapture usually figures prominently in dispensational theology.
About “the day,” I’m not sure how you would understand Matt 24:32-37 where Jesus’ statement about not knowing is followed immediately with “the coming of the Son of Man.” A full-blown preterist position can accommodate this, but I wasn’t sure that your viewpoint was quite preterist. Even in the Markan account it seems to me that Jesus’ statement is quite close to other statements about his coming.
I agree that opportunities for discussions among Christians and nonChristians are good, though I’m not so optimistic that “all publicity is good publicity.” I think a false message of what “Christians” believe or what “Christianity” is all about is often broadcast over the waves, through the web, or on the printed page. I think this is bad publicity.