A few months ago, I first heard the news that the world would come to an end on May 21st, 2011. It really bummed me out because I had big plans this year for Memorial Day. But since then, I’ve heard it more and more and I bet you have too.
It seems this idea started a while back, when a small Christian group from Oakland, CA stated that May 21st, 2011 would be the end of the world. The prediction was based on their founder, Harold Camping, and his creative Biblical mathematics in which he calculated the exact date of the “Rapture” (we’ll get to this in a minute) and God’s judgment. Interestingly enough, this was his second pass at the math test—he had predicted the world would end back in 1994 as well.
Since the prediction a handful of other independent groups have gotten on board with the prediction and are now encouraging their followers and anyone who will listen to repent and turn to God before it is too late.
This man and this group are not the first to predict the world’s end and they will not be the last. There are other groups (working off a Mayan calendar) predicting the end to be in December 21st, 2012. (You may have seen a laughably poor movie called 2012 that depicted a similar storyline. Side note to John Cusack…stick with romantic comedies, brother.)
So, this is what a very few Christians are saying, but…
What did Jesus say about the end?
None of us know for sure when Jesus is coming back. While on earth Christ did, however, make two things quite clear about His return:
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” – Matthew 24:35-36
“You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” – Luke 12:40
Jesus clearly and solemnly declared that “only the Father knows” – not even the Son or the angels knew the time. For any human being to declare they have “figured it out” with certainty is anti-Scriptural and, more to the point, asserts that they are greater than the heavenly host.
Additionally, Jesus is teaching us to live every day as though it’s our last day. He’s telling us – as the Boy Scouts say – to “be prepared.” If you always think that tomorrow will come, you’re more likely to be disappointed when it doesn’t.
Our energies shouldn’t be spent on fear or apocalyptic mathematics, but on loving and serving those around us as we wait for Him to return in glory. Today is the first day of the rest of your life in Christ. Live for Him and make it count.
We should be so enraptured by the love of Christ that we are actually looking forward to His return.
So what is this “Rapture” thing, anyway?
You may have heard some of your (non-Catholic) Christian friends talk about a belief called “the Rapture.” It’s an idea that gained a lot of steam in the past couple decades thanks to a popular series of books (and a painful movie starring Kirk Cameron) entitled Left Behind. Basically, this belief holds that prior to Jesus’ Second (or “final”) Coming, He will come “secretly” (a “secret coming”) and carry “true Christians” away to spare them the trials and sufferings that will precede the final judgment. (By the way, the English word “rapture” comes from the Latin root raptura, which means “seizing” or “snatching.” This is how many people envision how the Rapture will happen.)
Basically, what’s happened is that a relatively small number of (mostly fundamentalist) Christians have misinterpreted a few New Testament passages (most notably, 1 Thess 4:17 and 2 Cor 12:4) that speak about the faithful being taken up into heaven. From this false interpretation, they have come up with the Rapture doctrine. The group we mentioned earlier believes that on May 21st, the Rapture will happen along with great earthquakes and natural disasters that will lead to the end of the world, itself, on October 21st of this year.
As Catholics, we believe that Christ will indeed return, though only once—in the Second Coming. Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestants do not believe Jesus will first come “secretly” to rapture Christians. In fact, (here’s an interesting side note) regarding Biblical translation – there is no reference to the word “rapture” anywhere in the Greek translation of Scripture. In fact, the word itself first appears only in St. Jerome’s Latin translation called the “Vulgate” and then it is only found in the two verses I listed above.
Also, the belief that the Book of Revelation is a kind of “guidebook” to the end of the world has been around for quite a while. In reality, that’s not what Revelation is really about. Simply put, the book of Revelation was written to give Christians hope in times of persecution, and to remind them that if they remain faithful to Christ they will eventually share in the rewards of heaven.
If you want to read more on the Catholic understanding of the Book of Revelation I put together a T3 Revelation Bible Study about it. Even better, check out the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1038—1050, which deal with the Church’s teachings on the end of the world. I think you will find them enlightening, as well.
Most importantly – do not be afraid!
Jesus reminds us to live each day like it’s our last, and not by taking stupid chances or by surrendering to sin, but by following God with a reckless abandon. If you’re living for Christ and are not immersed or enslaved by serious sin, you have nothing to worry about. Live like Christ is coming back today, and live in such a way that the idea of His return fills you with joy and not with fear.