The proposed dates are courtesy of Harold Camping, the eccentric 89-year-old author, radio personality and president of California-based Family Radio. He says the rapture will take place Saturday.
Camping says he derives the May 21 date by starting with God's promise to Noah in Genesis 7:4 to send a flood in seven days. He claims he also calculated the exact day of the biblical flood. He then paired that information with 2 Peter 3:8, which states "with the Lord a day is like a thousand years." Thus, Camping says, the seven days in Genesis 7:4 really signifies 7,000 years, and starting from the first day of the flood, 7,000 years adds up to May 21, 2011.
And as farfetched as those calculations seem, many have bought into Camping's prediction. They do this despite Camping's already poor record for predictions. He previously claimed Judgment Day would occur in September of 1994. When that date passed without incident, he recalculated and eventually settled on the current date. He may do the same after May 21.
End-times predictions are nothing new, and Camping won't be the last to attempt them. But Camping can be sure of this: the billboard and bus tour stunts have garnered some serious media attention and stoked the age-old debate over when and how the return of Christ will take place.
Naming a specific date for Christ's return is not biblical, Southern Baptist scholars say.
"I hope that Rev. Harold Camping is right that Jesus and Judgment Day are coming on May 21 -- Maranatha -- even now, come Lord Jesus!" said Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary referencing both 1 Corinthians 16:22 and Revelation 22:20. "However, he is probably wrong, as he has been wrong before. Since Scripture tells us that no one knows the day and hour of Christ's return (Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32), Camping's prediction makes May 21 one of the least likely days for the return of Christ."
Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32 says, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
Lemke and David Allen, dean of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's school of theology, co-edited a new book, "The Return of Christ: A Premillennial Perspective" (B&H Academic), that examines, from a premillennial position, what Scripture says about the end times. The book grew out of the November 2009 Acts 1:11 Conference sponsored by Jerry Vines Ministries. It features essays from prominent Southern Baptist leaders like Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson, Southeastern Seminary President Daniel Akin, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land, evangelist Junior Hill and pastor Jerry Vines.
"Our book is a defense of premillennial pretribulationism, namely, that the rapture will occur before a seven year period of tribulation, followed by the return of Christ to the earth to reign for 1,000 years," Allen said. "Our purpose for the book is to provide Christians a scholarly yet readable presentation of this subject."
Of course, it stops well short of naming a specific date for Christ's return. Craig Blaising, Southwestern Seminary provost and a book contributor, named other self-proclaimed prophets who incorrectly predicted the second coming of Christ. One of them was William Miller, who incorrectly predicted Christ's return in 1843.
"After that failure, he said that he made a mistake and recalculated for March 21, 1844," Blaising said. "Obviously, that date failed as well."
There was also Edgar Whisenant, who predicted the rapture would occur in 1988, then again in 1989.
"Camping is simply the latest in a list of those who try to contradict the clear teaching of Scripture that the time is unknown," Blaising said.
Allen, of Southwestern Seminary, said that when faced with Jesus' words and Camping's contradictory claims, he'll trust Jesus.
"Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour of His return. I suspect Jesus knows more about this than anyone from Family Radio," Allen said. "I find it is always better to trust the Bible on these things than people who do and say things directly contradictory to the Bible."
Allen offered a peek into his personal plans for May 21. After teaching a class in New Hampshire, Allen and his wife plan to enjoy a sightseeing excursion, followed by dinner. At the same time, though, Allen said he is prepared if Jesus does return Saturday.
"If Jesus does return on May 21, great! I'm ready!" Allen said. "I try to live every day as if that would be the day that Jesus would return. For the Christian who is looking forward to the return of Christ, no prediction of the date of his return or the end of the world causes us the least bit of fear or worry. For Christians, the return of Christ is our 'blessed hope.'"
"The Return of Christ: A Premillennial Perspective" is due out June 1. Frank Michael McCormack is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Keith Collier, director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, contributed to this story.
Read other stories about the May 21 prediction:
FIRST-PERSON (Mohler): The false teaching of Harold Camping
FIRST-PERSON (Stetzer): The May 21 phenomenon & a lesson for all Christians
FIRST-PERSON (Crosby): May 21 wouldn't be the first false prediction
FIRST-PERSON (Tone): Will the rapture be on May 21?
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net