In recent weeks a considerable amount of media attention has centered on the assertions of Harold Camping, an 89-year-old minister who believes that the world will experience a kind of "judgment day," beginning on May 21, 2011. Camping, who is a founder of a California-based media network called Family Radio, bases his assertions on his personal understanding of the Bible.
History shows that many, many people have developed personal interpretations of certain passages from the Bible, leading them to believe that Jesus Christ would return or other events of divine origin would take place over the past centuries. To date, none of these personal interpretations have come to pass as predicted.
We must handle prophecy carefully
The United Church of God recognizes that a considerable portion of the Bible is devoted to prophetic teachings, specifically including a recognizable sequence of events that will presage the return of Jesus Christ. Jesus will return to set up the literal world-encircling Kingdom of God, which Jesus Himself declared through many biblical passages. The United Church of God also holds true to what Jesus Himself firmly stated regarding when these events would take place. As He told His disciples: "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority" (Acts 1:7, emphasis added throughout). This reflects what Jesus had told His disciples earlier, preserved in what is known as the Olivet Prophecy. Concerning the time when God will intervene in human affairs, Jesus was very specific: "But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only" (Matthew 24:36). Christ urges His followers to always be prepared, "for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Matthew 24:44).
False prophets don't properly handle God's Word
As students and scholars of the Bible know, both the Old and New Testaments show that God Himself has a plan for all of humanity, and it is God's will that all should be given the opportunity for salvation. Neither God nor Jesus espouses "universal destruction" in biblical accounts. Instead, many biblical accounts point to an incredible future time when peace and prosperity will engulf the earth under the benevolent and loving reign of Jesus Christ as "King of kings" in the literal Kingdom of God.
The Bible does speak of a time ahead in this human age when chaos will erupt, leading up to the time when Jesus Christ will Himself return to cut short devastating global turmoil (Matthew 24:22). Unfortunately, when some people ignore the teachings of Jesus that no man or woman can know the specific hour or day of prophetic events, the magnitude and importance of these prophetic teachings can seem a bit diminished. When the events don't happen as some predict, the credibility of God's message may be temporarily affected. That is indeed unfortunate, as they will come to pass, and—as Jesus plainly stated—at a time when many will not expect. They will be caught off-guard.
The Church's responsibility
Thus the United Church of God recognizes that it is the duty of the Church to openly teach and proclaim these true prophetic messages. It is the responsibility of the Church to do so in a way that people gain real understanding—that these prophetic events will come to pass as a result of humanity's wholesale disobedience to God's way of life, as revealed in the Law of God and the teachings of the Bible. God and Jesus are very plainspoken in biblical accounts: If you obey God, keep His commandments and do them, then you are promised many good things, both in this life and in the life to come. That is why God declared first to the ancient Israelites and today to us: "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life" (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Sadly, unlike what has presently attracted much attention, May 21, 2011, is not the prophesied "Judgment Day." That day will come, but in a completely different manner and for a completely different reason. God is a God of love, and as Jesus noted, it is His good pleasure to give us the Kingdom of God (Luke 12:32), a time of peace and plenty without end.
For more information, you are invited to review these short topical summaries published by the United Church of God: "Are We Living in the Time of the End?" "God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind" and "Does the Bible Teach 'A Secret Rapture'?"