In the “letters” column of this issue of the Standard Bearer appears a letter under the heading, “1994? Maybe Wrong?” This long letter takes sharp issue with my editorial of January 1, 1993 examining Mr. Harold Camping’s recent prediction in a book entitled 1994? that Christ will come in 1994. The writer of the letter is willing to admit merely that Camping “may be wrong in his interpretation.” Hence, the heading of his letter, and the title of this editorial.
This editorial is my response to the letter, which the reader should consult as he reads the editorial.
Because others are interested in Camping’s prophecy and because issues are involved that are of importance to all our readers, I respond to the above letter editorially.
1994? is a prophecy of the exact date of Christ’s return and of the end of the world: September 15, 1994 – September 27, 1994.
This prophecy is not a Word of God in Scripture. It is not a biblical prophecy. The reason why it is not a biblical prophecy is not that Mr. Harold Camping has miscalculated the date. But the reason is that the Bible does not contain this prophecy. All data necessary to make the prophecy of an exact date of the end of the world are lacking in the Bible.
The Chief Prophet and Teacher of the church has told us that He Himself does not know the exact time of His coming. It has not been revealed. He has forbidden His disciples to predict the time of His coming.
But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is (
Mark 13:32, 33).
The phrase, “that day and that hour/ in verse 32, refers to any and every date-setting whether hour, day, week, month, year, or decade. When Christ said, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man,” He did not merely forbid predicting a certain, literal day or a certain, literal hour. He was forbidding all prediction of the precise time of the end. This is plain from the explanation that follows in verse 33: “for ye know not when the time is.” Christ did not say, “For ye know not when the day and the hour are.”
This is how the commentators mentioned in the letter interpret the phrase, “that day and that hour.” J. A. Alexander says that the reference is to the “exact time” of the end. H. Ridderbos explains that “the exact date and the precise moment (‘hour’) are a mystery” (commentary on Matthew 24:36). In his commentary on Mark 13:32, 33, J. A. C. Van Leeuwen remarks, “And as certain as the ‘that’ is, so uncertain is the ‘when”‘ (Markus, in Korte Verklaring, my translation of the Dutch).
To explain Mark 13:32, 33 as prohibiting one from speculating about the day and hour but permitting one to set the week and month is fooling with the Scriptures.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Camping has no hesitation to fix the likely day of Christ’s return:
If this is so, then His second coming on the Day of Atonement, September 15, 1994, is entirely reasonable. This will then have been precisely, to the very day, forty Jubilee periods after His birth. For all these reasons we wonder if September 15 is the date of His return. However, a day during the Feast of Tabernacles is also a distinct possibility (p. 521).
Since the exact time of the coming of Christ is not revealed, the prophecy of the date as September, 1994 is Mr. Camping’s prophecy, not the prophecy of the Word of God. It is Mr. Camping’s prophecy in disobedience to the prohibition of Christ in Mark 13:32, 33.
The prophecy of 1994? is definitely wrong. It is false prophecy. It is sin.
I responded to Mr. Camping’s prophecy by declaring, in the name of Christ, that Christ would not come in 1994. I made this strange prophecy deliberately, in order to impress upon gullible Christians that Camping’s prediction is certainly false.
It should be noticed that I did not predict when Christ would come, but prophesied when He would not come. There is a difference. Paul did the same thing in II Thessalonians 2:1 ff. Against those who were troubling the church by predicting that the “day of Christ” was at hand, Paul confidently affirmed that that day “shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (v. 3). He made perfectly plain to the Thessalonians that they were not to expect the coming of Christ the next day, the next week, the next month, the next year, or the next decade. For the great falling away and the revelation of Antichrist could not be accomplished in so short a time. In no way did this conflict with Christ’s instruction in Mark 13:32, 33 that we do not know, and must not predict, the exact time of the end of the world.
If Antichrist must yet be revealed before Christ comes, as the apostle says he must, Christ cannot come in 1994. This is God’s own Word and revelation. My bold prophecy, therefore, was not mine, but Gods. I stand by it.
I criticized Mr. Camping’s teaching concerning the last things for its identification of Antichrist as Satan. This is inexcusable error for anyone who reads the Bible, much more for one who claims the position of teacher of the Bible. II Thessalonians 2 sharply distinguishes Antichrist from Satan. Antichrist is one whose coming is “after the working of Satan” (v. 9). He is, therefore, distinct from Satan. Also, verse 3 calls him “the man of sin” (v. 3). Satan is not a “man.” In Revelation 13:1-10, the beast from the sea, which is Antichrist both as a world-power and as the personal head of this empire, receives his power from the dragon, which is the devil. Antichrist, therefore, is not the devil, but the devil’s creature.
Calvin never identified Antichrist as Satan himself. For Calvin, Antichrist is distinct from Satan. Antichrist is human. He is the human papacy. According to Calvin, the “man of sin” of II Thessalonians 2:3 ff. is Antichrist. This Antichrist is “Popery . . . the vicar of Satan,”
Now, everyone that has learned from Scripture what are the things that more especially belong to God, and will, on the other hand, observe what the Pope claims for himself – though he were but a boy of ten years of age – will have no great difficulty in recognizing Antichrist (commentary on
The importance of the identification of Antichrist as Satan for Mr. Camping’s prediction of September, 1994 as the date of the end of the world is that this enables him to establish the period, May 21, 1988 – September 6, 1994, as the final tribulation. If Antichrist is a human kingdom of evil headed by an ungodly ruler that must still appear in the future, 1994 cannot possibly be the date of the end. Mark well, the implication of this identification of Antichrist as Satan is that the church does not face persecution at the very end, as Scripture clearly warns is the case.
The prophecy of 1994? is certainly wrong.
As the letter points out, 1994? makes the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles important for its dating of the exact time of the end of the world (cf. Ex. 23:16; Ex. 34:22; Lev. 23:39-43; Deut. 16:16). The author supposes that the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles is continued in the New Testament in a literal manner so that he can figure out the exact time of that Old Testament Feast in the present age and determine that “the days of the Feast of Tabernacles for the year 1994 . . . will be the period from September 20 to September 27.” The time of this Old Testament Feast, continued literally into the age of the new covenant, will be the exact time of Christ’s return (cf. 1994, pp. 521-525).
Regardless what the Feast of Tabernacles signifies or does not signify, the grievous error of Mr. Camping is that he has an Old Testament ceremony continuing in the age of the new covenant in d literal fashion.
The truth is that the ceremonies of the old covenant have been so fulfilled in Christ as to have ceased “so that the use of them must be abolished among Christians” (Belgic Confession, Art. 25). There is no literal continuation of the Feast of Tabernacles in the New Testament. September 20-27, 1994 is not the period of “the Days of the Feast of Tabernacles.” No period of history after Christ’s death, resurrection, and gift of the Spirit is “the Days of the Feast of Tabernacles.”
To teach that this Feast, or any Old Testament Feast, continues under the new covenant in a literal manner, involving periods of time and dates, is grossest reversion to “the weak and beggarly elements” of type and shadow (Gal. 4:9 ff.) and extremest violation of the principle that “the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did” (Heb. 7:19).
This having been said, the fact is that the Feast did not typify “the harvesting of the elect at the end of time.” Mr. Camping saw “harvest” in connection with the Old Testament Feast. He found the word “harvest” in connection with Christ’s return in Matthew 13:38-42. From this, he drew the conclusion not only that the Old Testament Feast typified Christ’s harvest of the elect but also that the harvest of the elect at Christ’s return would take place during the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles perpetuated in the New Testament.
The Feast of Tabernacles typified the thankful remembrance of God’s covenant care of them during their earthly pilgrimage on the part of the covenant people. This was the meaning of the dwelling in tabernacles or booths. It also typified the saints’ joy in the covenant goodness of God in giving them the blessings of salvation, particularly the forgiveness of sins and fellowship with God. This was the meaning of the rejoicing over the completed harvest.
The reality of the Feast is the thankfulness and joy of the people of God throughout the present age over the covenant care, blessing, and fellowship of God in Jesus Christ through the Spirit. Christ fulfilled this Feast at His first coming. It is a reality for the church in a spiritual manner. We enjoy and keep the Feast by faith in Jesus Christ. Every day is a day of the Feast of Tabernacles, especially the Sabbath day. The perfection of the Feast will be the saints’ everlasting remembrance in heaven of God’s redemption of them from sin and death and of God’s care of them during their earthly pilgrimage, as well as their exuberant rejoicing in the full salvation.
This is the interpretation of the Feast by John Calvin:
Hence we gather that, though the ceremony is now abolished, yet its use still exists in spirit and in truth, in order that the incomparable power and mercy of God should be constantly kept before our eyes, when He has delivered us from darkness and from the deep abyss of death, and has translated us into the heavenly life (Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses, Vol. II, Eerdmans, p. 463).
The prophecy of 1994? is emphatically wrong.
As to the project itself, speculating on the exact date of Christ’s coming, 1994? is disobedience to the Lord. As to the assumption upon which the dating depends, the literal continuation of Old Testament days and feasts into the new covenant, the book is Judaizing. As to the method of interpreting Holy Scripture by which the project of fixing the date of Christ’s return is carried out, 1994? is allegory.
I described this method in my editorial of January 1, 1993. I also pointed out several, glaring instances in 1994? of this illicit interpretation of Scripture.
Well-trained preachers, grounded in the grammatical-historical-spiritual method of interpreting the Bible, sometimes struggle over the question whether a passage is literal or figurative. But only an allegorist could suggest that the “eleven days journey from Horeb . . . unto Kadesh-barnea” of Deuteronomy 1:2 really means
…11,000 years? Was God teaching in this verse that there were 11,000 years from creation to the coming of the Messiah? Was God saying that there were 11,000 years (eleven days) from creation (Horeb, where the law was given) to the Messiah (Kadesh-barnea, where Israel was to enter the promised land), by way of the world (Mount Seir)? (1994?, pp. 360, 361)
It is by way of such interpretation of the Word of God that Mr. Camping leads his reader a merry chase through Scripture to set the date of the coming of Christ.
Do not, I beseech you, minimize the deadly seriousness of allegorical exegesis. It is destructive of the very possibility of knowing the truth as revealed in Scripture. It is a practical attack on Scripture rivaling modernism’s outright denial of inspiration, It does grievous injury to the saints, as the publication of 1994? abundantly proves.
The prophecy of 1994? is assuredly wrong.
This raises questions about the right and ability of Mr. Harold Camping to teach the Bible to the people of God. These questions are of crucial importance to every Reformed and Presbyterian believer. What church called him to be teacher of the Word? What training has he received for this difficult work? What body of elders supervises his teaching, subject to the judgment of what classis (presbytery) and what synod (general assembly)? In the Church Order of Dordt, the Reformed churches have guarded themselves once and for all against unordained, unsupervised, and untrained teachers of the Word.
With great, good reason!
Untrained laymen and laywomen who have made themselves teachers of the church, answerable to no ecclesiastical authority, have been among the greatest threats that the church has known.
It may well be that the “pastors and teachers” whom the ascended Christ gives to the church for the perfecting of the saints lead the church into a richer understanding of the last things as the end approaches. The church should pray for it. We who are called to labor in the Word and doctrine should strive for it.
But this richer understanding will not come by allegorical interpretation.
It will never involve bringing the Old Testament ceremonies literally into the age of the new covenant.
Nor will it consist of the prediction of the exact time of our Lord’s return and of the end of the world.
The Father has not revealed the exact time.
The Son has forbidden prediction of it.
And the Spirit declines to illumine in opposition to the Father and the Son.