Disclaimer: Predict At Your Own Risk
Except for Noah's prediction of the Flood in Genesis 7, all other predictions of the world's end have (so far) been proven embarrassing and false - and there have been a lot of them. The Canadian National Post had an article in it last week documenting some of the more memorable failed predictions of the apocalypse: William Miller in 1843, Pat Robertson in 1982, the Jehovah's Witnesses in 1914, 1915, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, and 1994, and by two separate groups on May 4th, 2011. (For those who click on that last link, these groups were covered at the end of that article.) Harold Camping is on that list twice, both for his failed prophecy today his last armageddon prophecy from 1994.
Reaction: One Born Every Minute; Sensitivity
Corrupt old hucksters used to say that 'there is one born every minute,' meaning that there are enough foolish people in the world that you could get ahead by just manipulating folks about anything - from gaining followers for your own scientology-ish cult, to selling faulty automobiles to unscrupulous buyers. Those hucksters were right! And on Sunday, a lot of Harold Camping's followers will find out that they have been manipulated or duped. We should respond with sensitivity.
Here are some wise words from blogger Eric Landry:
'We must be very careful about how we respond. Will we join our friends at the “Rapture Parties” that are planned for pubs and living rooms around the nation? Will we laugh at those who have spent the last several months of their lives dedicated to a true but untimely belief? What will we say on Saturday night or Sunday morning?
History teaches us that previous generations caught up in eschatological fervor often fell away from Christ when their deeply held beliefs about the end of the world didn’t pan out. While Camping must answer for his false teaching at the end of the age, Reformational Christians are facing a pastoral problem come Sunday morning: how can we apply the salve of the Gospel to the wounded sheep who will be wandering aimlessly, having discovered that what they thought was true (so true they were willing to upend their lives over it) was not? If this isn’t true, they might reason, then what other deeply held beliefs and convictions and doctrines and hopes might not be true?'
The End Times aren't the only area of teaching where people get manipulated. In Pentecostal churches people get dubious prophecies given to them all the time , on everything from life direction, to money, to doctrine - for a time, a good section of Pentecostals preached against the Trinity, and many still hold that believing in Jesus will make you rich and healthy. From the health and wealth 'gospel,' to the Rob Bell book on Hell, to some newer teachings about how Christians get saved, to a dozen different moral teachings on family and sexuality, there are a lot of more subtle false teachings being thrown around. Most of us don't have the benefit of finding out that we've been lied when 2012 is finally over and done with; unless we get some discernment, we'll never find out that we've been fooled until it's too late. The lesson? Just because you didn't believe Mr. Camping about today's rapture date doesn't mean you're out of trouble just yet. We need to be aware of all kinds of false teachers, not just the cooky end-of-the-world types.
The Christian Hope of John's Apocalypse
All of that said... the world is going to end some day. Scientifically our orbit will fail, or an environmental catastrophe will hit, or if that doesn't happen a meteor will finally crash into our planet and kill us all. Failing that, the universe will expand beyond its limit and collapse in on itself. In the Christian faith, we know that the world will end - but Joshua of Nazareth (Jesus) said that 'we know not the day nor the hour,' as He is recorded as saying in Mark 13.32, so we have generally kept ourselves from making predictions. But we still hope and work out our faith in light of the fact that our Messiah, our God, will come one day to judge both the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4.1). And this is what we desire, isn't it? That our lives aren't going to be lost in the grand, never-ceasing winds of history? That everything will come to a climax, where the world's events will have meant something - that history is working its way towards some magnificent conclusion? This is 'our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Joshua the Messiah, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works' (Titus 2.13-14).
For those familiar with Revelation 21.1, the undated prediction of the end of the world from John's Apocalypse, this is the Christian hope. All unproven dates for the end of the world aside, this is our great hope. Don't give up on it just because of a few embarrassing crackpots. Don't. This is our blessed hope.