24/11/2011 22:55

For Harold Camping, May 21st, 2011 was to be “Doomsday,” the end of the world. The radio evangelist spent millions of dollars advertising his unswerving conviction that May 21st would begin with a massive earthquake in New Zealand, followed by Jesus’ return.

Tweets went ballistic with speculation. Some people held “Rapture parties.” The media hysteria had many people wondering, “Could he be right? Could this be the end of the world?” Few believed it would be—except for his ardent followers.

Camping’s message of imminent doom was swallowed hook, line and sinker by many of his followers. Sadly, some went on buying binges, assuming they would never have to pay back their debts. “Tony Moise, a 47-year-old insurance underwriter from Silver Spring, Md., quit his job to prepare. ‘It will be hell on Earth,’ he said, taking a break from handing out material. ‘You won't want to be around on May 22. There will be no electricity, no power, no water."’1

Sixty-year-old Robert Fitzpatrick spent his entire life’s savings of $140,000 on 1,000 subway-car placards and ads at bus stops warning: “Global Earthquake: The Greatest Ever! Judgment Day May 21, 2011.” As he stood in Times Square in New York surrounded by onlookers, Fitzpatrick handed out leaflets waiting for Judgment Day to begin before 6 p.m. Eastern Time.2

But “Judgment Day” was a dud. On May 21st at 6 p.m., as he and others looked up, nothing happened. Fitzpatrick was left dumbfounded, broke, and muttering, “I do not understand why nothing has happened.”

This was Camping’s second failed attempt at picking the date of Jesus’ return. He was convinced in 1994 that Jesus would return then. The radio evangelist would have been wise to have listened to the words of Jesus himself, who clearly stated regarding the timing of his return, “No man knows the day or the hour.”3

After being proven wrong, Camping began singing a different tune. The correct date, he told his followers, would be October 21, 2011, not May 21.  Without apology, the 89-year-old evangelist clarified, “Am I flip-flopping by changing the date of the Rapture from May 21 to October 21, 2011?  No, I am simply updating the prediction as we learn more.”4

However, Camping was wrong for the third time. October 21st proved to be as big a dud as May 21st.

Camping is merely one of many who thought they had insider information for the date of Jesus’ return. William Miller predicted the world would end no later than March 21, 1844. Thousands of his followers, labeled Millerites, sold or gave away their possessions. After his prediction failed, Miller attempted two more predictions. When the third one failed on October 22, 1844, many Millerites drifted away. Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witness movement, erroneously predicted that Jesus would return in 1914.

What motivates people like these to predict Jesus’ return when he clearly stated that “no one knows the day or hour”? As a retired engineer, perhaps Camping felt he could decipher the Bible like a computer code, while ignoring Jesus’ words. Whatever the reason, it has stirred up a hornet’s nest of questions about Jesus’ return. Many wonder if Jesus actually promised to return.