Friday, October 21, 2011

One Thing I Have in Common with Harold Camping and One Thing I Do Not

Ever since the day that Jesus left this earth his followers have been trying to figure out when He would be coming back. Harold Camping, who has predicted that that day is today,1 is only the most recent in a vast sea of men and women who have purported to have knowledge of the End. Camping certainly will not be the last.

Just to give you an idea of how early these predictions and false teachings of Christ’s return began to trouble the Church, consider that the Apostle Paul had to deal with them. In his second letter to the church at Thessalonica Paul wrote to assure this flock that the Day of God’s wrath had not yet come. Apparently there had been a false prophet milling around the church who had suggested that the persecution that the Thessalonians were then experiencing was evidence that God’s judgement was being poured out on them and that they had been left behind. Paul assures them that this was not the case and then he reminds them of what he had previously taught. “Do not be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. (1 Thes 2:2, ESV)”
From the Apostle’s day on there has likely not a decade passed without some pronouncement that Jesus was either already here or that he was soon to arrive. Most of these have passed into obscurity without any tangible consequence, save a little mud on the face of the one who offered the false prediction. But then there are the others. Predictions which stand out in history because they have ended in great tragedy. These false predictions serve as a warning to all who would offer their prognostication of the Day of the Lord.
One of these tragic stories centers on a town in northwest Germany called Münster. In the 16th century Münster was the center of much controversy because of two apocalyptic visionaries named John Matthys and John of Leiden. These radical Anabaptists not only displaced the existing government in Münster and replaced it with an Old Testament theocracy but they also claimed that their small Westphalian town was the “New Jerusalem” foreseen in the book of Revelation; the city from which Jesus would execute His Millennial Judgement upon the world.2 Matthys had assumed leadership of a fringe Anabaptist movement after its former leader Melchoir Hoffman had been imprisoned. Hoffman had speculated that Jesus' return would happen a millennium and a half after the nominal date of his execution, in 1533, and that Christ would reign from Strasbourg, Germany.3

After Hoffman’s imprisonment Matthys and Leiden began to doubt whether Hoffman’s prediction about Strasbourg was accurate. So they decided that it must be their hometown of Münster, which was already under the control of Anabaptists, and they led his followers there. Matthys knew that his new theocratic government would be unwelcome and would draw a swift reaction from the Bishop, so Matthys began to prepare Münster for certain war. He expelled all those who would not submit to his radical views, he rallied his followers, sent for help and acquired what weapons he could. Franz von Waldeck, the bishop over Münster, lay the city under siege and tried to starve Matthys and his followers into submission. They would not. On Easter Day 1534 Matthys left the safety of Münster’s walls, with 30 of his followers, believing himself to carry the spirit of Gideon. Matthys and his small team met the Bishop’s troops on the field of battle and were very quickly killed. His head was put on a spike and displayed before the city's walls with the hope that Matthys’ death would discourage his remaining followers, he could not have been more wrong. Leiden was quickly named the “King of Jerusalem” and began to lead the 9000 citizens of Münster. The siege on Münster lasted many more months but was finally successful when the Bishop’s troops were led into the city by a traitor. In the end, thousands of lives were lost, one false prophet was killed in battle and the other was left to die, hanging from the spire of the Lamberti Church in a cage for all to see.
On May 22 of this year Harold Camping was proven to be a false prophet after Jesus failed to show up on the twenty-first. And I suspect that tomorrow when we wake up his amended prophecy will be proven false as well. Back in May much was said about those who had been duped into believing Camping. His followers sold their property, cashed in their retirements, and handed it all over to Camping and Family Radio’s massive publicity campaign. But what you may have not heard was that lives were lost over Camping’s teaching. Did you know that a 14-year-old girl from Russia was so scared of the May 21 doomsday and rapture prediction that she committed suicide the same day?4 Did you know that a man in Eugene, Oregon shot his coworker after he was mocked for having believed the false prophecy of Harold Camping?5 Did you know that hundreds of men and women in North Vietnam were shot to death and decapitated because they were emboldened by Camping’s sure word of prophecy and began to proclaim the day of God’s judgement.6

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. (Matt 24:36, ESV)”

By this point in the article you may be wondering if I will ever get around to telling you what I have in common with Harold Camping. You might be able to think of many things I would not have in common with him but what do I share with this man? To my shame, like Camping, I have made a prediction about the End and the day of Jesus’ return. In fact, I started this blog to promote that date. It has been quite a few years since then and my understanding of the Scripture has radically changed. I have removed all of those articles from this website and any outside forums where I was able to access them and take them down. 

The thing that causes me some amount of fear is that my prediction was far less cryptic and much easier to understand than Harold Camping’s was. Once I posted it on the internet it went everywhere. I saw myself quoted on a number of websites and even heard my theory mentioned on a radio program. To this day I still get emails from people who have read it and want to know more; one man even wanting to quote me in the book he is writing on the subject. I will not reproduce the error of that prediction here and perpetuate it further. No doubt, some of your interests will be piqued beyond control and you will go looking for it. I am sure you will not have to search long because it is still floating around on the web. Please, if you do read it, use discernment and do not pass it around. Fortunately, I was a nobody when I wrote it (still a nobody) and did not have the backing of a 200 station radio network behind me like Camping did. Otherwise, who knows how far it could have gone. Who knows what tragedy might have befallen, or more accurately stated, might yet befall those who would listen to my prediction of the Judgement.

So what do I not share in common with Harold Camping, specifically? Repentance. I wish to publicly repent of everything I have written or said concerning the date I once presented as the day of Christ’s return. I hereby, disavow any association with this prediction and call those who might still believe it to do the same. I was wrong for pursuing it, wrong for promoting it and I want to ask your forgiveness and the Lord’s for such a reckless use of His Word. May God’s grace spare the hearts and lives of those who might read it still today.
It has been said that the man who admits he was wrong yesterday shows himself to be wiser today. I pray that is true of me. God censured Harold Camping by removing his voice.7 I pray that God would spare me this shame and rather inflict my guilt upon His Son who died for my rebellion against Him.


  2. Ozment, Steven, The Age of Reform 1250-1500, (Westford, Mass: Yale), p. 345


Lee Anne Law said...

I started reading your blog several months ago. I just want to say that I am so blessed by you admitting you made mistakes and asking forgiveness. Not many people are willing to do that privately, let alone publicly. I admire your honesty. I believe what the world needs today is more honesty, and the real truth. As believers we just need to be open and real. Thank you!

Joshua Elsom said...

Thank you for reading Lee Anne and thank you for your kind words but I must admit that I have been far more motivated by fear than integrity or outright honesty. I pray that it has been a healthy fear,

Rabbi3000 said...


You're being too hard on yourself by placing unbiblical restrictions on how and what you study. Jesus doesn't want you to be a neophyte. Remember his quote (paraphrased from Matt.16:2-3)? Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. He wants us to observe the signs and the seasons (festivals) and be spiritually prepared. Anything less than that could potentially lead one into deceptions like Harold Camping, et all.

Joshua Elsom said...

I don't disagree Rabbi3000, but I was not simply studying those things. I was reporting to know what Jesus said was not knowable. I am all for studying the end and being aware of the seasons but I crossed a line.

Joshua Elsom said...

BTW, Camping has moved the date back to December.