It was in the spring of 2011 that there were bold predictions of “the Rapture” by so-called Bible scholar, Harold Camping. These prognostications received expected media coverage that ranged from restrained tongue-in-cheek reporting to outright ridicule. As the target date and time approached it was interesting to gauge the reactions of people as it became a broader news story. One heard questions and comments from friends and colleagues that ranged from “Could it be true?” to “Who is this person?” to even “What’s the Rapture?” It was a rare person who had not actually heard the story that some man and his followers were predicting the “end of the world.”
When the doom-hour came and went Camping recalculated that October 2011 was the correct date. Of course, this time came and went as well. He quietly slinked away and has since admitted his error(s) and has promised to not predict end-time events again.
This yet another flawed prophetic non-event serves up an opportunity to highlight some confusion on this topic, even amongst Christians.
Late Great Predictions
The Pew Research Center notes that 41% of Americans believe that “Jesus will definitely or probably return for the faithful before 2050.” That’s out of 78% of American adults who claim to be Christian. We may be predominantly Christian but many are confused about End Times eschatology and loaded topics like “the Rapture.”
For many US Baby Boomers, their Christianity was influenced by popular books written about the End Times such as Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth (1970) and Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series (1995). Many Fundamentalists and Evangelicals believe the popularized view that the God of Abraham’s “Final Judgment” follows a literal and exact 1000-year golden Christian reign on earth. Lindsey’s “pre-millennial” view purports this Millennium occurs only after a climactic struggle (between Israel and Russia, claimed Lindsey) preceded by a “Rapture” or taking-up of all born-again Christ believers out of a time of trials and “Tribulation” prior to an assault on Israel led by the Antichrist (666) figure.
Seems simple and straight-forward and somewhat along the lines of what one has read, heard or even believes, right? What’s not widely known about this view is it’s dubious 19th century origins and reasons for its primarily North American belief base.
Since Christ’s own prediction of His “coming return” in Matthew 24 there have been speculation and side-bets on dates and time-tables. Lindsey’s and LaHaye’s wooden interpretation of scripture were based on flawed foundational teaching that arose out of the 1830s embraced by John Nelson Darby, an early leader of an English fundamentalist movement that became known as Dispensationalism. Darby’s view of the Rapture (a word which actually never appears in Scriptures) was then picked up by an American follower named C. I. Scofield, who taught the view in the footnotes of his popular Scofield Reference Bible, first published in 1909 and then widely distributed in America across many leading seminaries. The impact was on a whole generation of Bible leaders, pastors and teachers like Harold Camping.
Future postings will address alternative views.
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36)