End of the world? Family Radio predicts Jesus’ return on Saturday
A loosely organized Christian movement has spread the word around the globe – including here in Northern Nevada – that Jesus Christ will return to earth on Saturday to gather the faithful into heaven.
The prediction originates with Harold Camping, an 89-year-old retired civil engineer from Oakland, Calif., who founded Family Radio Worldwide, an independent ministry that has broadcast his prediction around the world.
The Rapture – the belief that Christ will bring the faithful into paradise prior to a period of tribulation on earth that precedes the end of time – is a relatively new notion compared to Christianity itself, and most Christians don’t believe in it. And even believers rarely attempt to set a date for the event.
A billboard on Highway 50 near Eagle Valley Golf Course depicts the prediction.
Camping’s prophecy comes from numerological calculations based on his reading of the Bible, and he says global events like the 1948 founding of Israel confirm his math. But even some Christians who believe the Rapture will occur think he’s wrong.
The Rev. Tim LaHaye, co-author of the “Left Behind” series of Christian prophecy novels, said Camping “trivializes the very serious study of Bible prophecy by ignoring Jesus’ statement that everyone seems to know except him, and that is that no man knows the day nor the hour” that Jesus will return.
Camping has been derided for an earlier apocalyptic prediction in 1994, but his followers say that merely referred to the end of “the church age,” a time when human beings in Christian churches could be saved. Now, they say, only those outside what they regard as irredeemably corrupt churches can expect to ascend to heaven.
Camping is not hedging this time: “Beyond the shadow of a doubt, May 21 will be the date of the Rapture and the day of judgment,” he said in January.
The prediction has been publicized in almost every country, said Chris McCann, who works with eBible Fellowship, one of the groups spreading the message. “The only countries I don’t feel too good about are the ‘stans’ – you know, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, those countries in Central Asia,” he said.
Marie Exley, who left her home in Colorado last year to join Family Radio’s effort to publicize the message, just returned from a lengthy overseas trip that included stops in the Middle East. She said billboards have gone up in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
“I decided to spend the last few days with my immediate family and fellow believers,” Exley said. “Things started getting more risky in the Middle East when Judgment Day started making the news.”
McCann plans to spend Saturday with his family, reading the Bible and praying. His fellowship met for the last time on Monday.
“We had a final lunch and everyone said goodbye,” he said. “We don’t actually know who’s saved and who isn’t, but we won’t gather as a fellowship again.”
Many mainstream Christians aren’t happy with the attention the prediction is getting. They reject the notion that a date for the end times can be calculated, if not the doctrine of the Rapture itself.
“When we engage in this kind of wild speculation, it’s irresponsible,” said the Rev. Daniel Akin, president of the Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. “It can do damage to naive believers who can be easily caught up and it runs the risk of causing the church to receive sort of a black eye.”
Pastors around the country are planning Sunday sermons intended to illustrate the folly of trying to discern a date for the end of the world, but Akin couldn’t wait: He preached on the topic last Sunday.
“I believe Christ could come today. I believe he could choose not to come for 1,000 years,” he said. “That’s in his hands, not mine.”
No one will know for sure whether Camping’s prediction is correct until Sunday morning dawns, or fails to dawn.