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Jesus and Paul as the Ancient World's Harold Campings

Thomas Whitley

Harold Camping has by now realized the error of his ways, not the least of which are the numerous incorrect predictions of the return of Jesus and the end of the world. I imagine that thousands of people - maybe more, but hopefully not - around the world are either feeling extreme disappointment, feeling like they were duped, or wondering what they did wrong to not get raptured. They have likely begun, and will continue, asking questions of those who sold them on the ridiculous idea that Jesus was coming back today. This is not the first time scores of people were told by a religious leader that Jesus was going to return in their lifetime, only to be forced to backpedal and recast his words in a new light.

Heres's what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.

Paul had previously told the church in Thessalonica that they would not taste death before the return of Jesus. Obviously, when people started dying they began to ask questions, and rightfully so.

Predicting the return of Jesus and/or the end of the world is nothing new, but how we treat those who did it incorrectly is not even-handed. We slam Harold Camping as a religious lunatic and his followers as either the same or as some of the most gullible people in the world.

Why, then, do we not treat Jesus, Paul and their followers the same way? Both blatantly predicted the return of Jesus/end of the world, both were wrong.

As long as Christians continue to buy into a Jewish apocolyptic worldview - one that can only be accepted with great cognitive dissonance - they are in the same boat as Harold Camping. Simply quoting a Bible verse to say predictions can't be right because we're not supposed to know the day or the hour doesn't put you in another boat, it just puts you in a different section of the boat.

So, here's my suggestion. Take the time and energy you've put into defending the just-not-today return of Jesus and do some actual research. Read about Second Temple Judaism, Jewish Apocolypticism and its roots in Israel's time in the Babylonian Exile and Persian society. Learn about the rich, yet very predictable, symbolism that comes out of this genre of literature and see how it's applied first-hand by reading Revelation the way it was meant to read - as a text with a symbolic message, not as a literal account of the end of days.

Once you've done that maybe you can begin focusing more on how you live your life here on earth and how you can help others and less on superstitions that are built on wildly inaccurate readings of ancient texts.