The recent failure of a California radio preacher to predict the rapture reveals the danger of date-setting. This man was irresponsible with the Scriptures, particularly in relation to Christ’s teaching about no one knowing the timing of His return (Matthew 24:36).
This man was also irresponsible with his influence over others. Not only was this man shown to be a false prophet, but his teaching left a debris field of damaged lives. One follower, a retired transportation worker in NYC, spent $140,000 of his life savings “on subway posters and outdoor advertisements warning of the May 21 Judgment Day.” Another man “took last week off from work, packed his wife, young son and a relative in their SUV and crossed the country. If it was his last week on Earth, he wanted to see parts of it he’d always heard about but missed, such as the Grand Canyon. With maxed-out credit cards and a growing mountain of bills, he said, the rapture would have been a relief.”
These followers (and many more) should have been more careful. For this was not the first time that this preacher had made a wrong prediction. As the old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Nevertheless, this man had influence over many whose lives are now shattered or greatly disillusioned.
But there is also an irresponsibility here with the presentation of Christ to a lost world. The Bible does speak clearly about the return of Christ and the judgment of the unsaved. But when someone makes a false prediction of the exact timing of these biblical events, the result can be like that of the boy who cried wolf. Eventually, no one believes the warning because the past warnings proved false.
This is the most significant danger here. The unsaved world does not believe in Christ and the truth of Scripture as it is. But when these false predictions are made, the world is further hardened in unbelief and mockery. The offense of the gospel is enough – we should not lay out unnecessary offenses that push people further into unbelief.
We proclaim that Christ could return at any time and now is the time of salvation – now is the time to repent and escape the wrath of God to come. But when someone proclaims Christ will come on a specific date which then fails to come to pass, it casts even greater doubt in the minds of unbelievers regarding the truth of Christ’s return. They will become even more incredulous about the biblical warning of Christ’s return because of the repeated failures of false warnings.
The lesson learned here is to be responsible with our presentation of the biblical truth of Christ’s return. People’s eternal destinies hang in the balance. Rather than helping, date-setting actually hurts the warning to flee to Christ.
Unbelief will continue. Many in the last days will say, “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Peter 3:4 ESV). Peter’s response is that the water of God’s judgment already came once and the fire of God’s judgment is coming next (2 Pet. 3:5-7). Christ will return, but in the meantime God is merciful in calling sinners to repentance. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 ESV).