Harold Camping of Family Radio has made international news in recent months with his failed predictions of the end of the world. Confusion, disappointment, grief, frustration, and a horde of other emotions descended upon the followers of Harold Camping in the wake of his second failed prediction of judgment day. But Mr. Camping has persisted in his folly and announced the end of the world on the 21st October 2011 when “the world will be destroyed by fire.”
Let flawed math, bad exegesis, and false predictions be as they may, there is one very glaring absence in Mr. Camping’s teaching of prophetic scripture: the present call to holiness that prophetic scripture invariably makes. Like many would-be teachers of biblical prophecy, Harold Camping has missed the point of prophecy. Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All scripture
In 1867 Bishop J. C. Ryle published a book called Coming Events and Present Duties. The book for the most part dealt with prophetic scripture and end-time events. The last chapter, however, was a sermon entitled “Heirs of God” with a footnote reading, “A large part of this sermon is undoubtedly not of a prophetical character but I feel that it may form a fitting conclusion to the whole volume.” The inclusion of this sermon speaks loudly to the use and purpose of prophecy in Bishop Ryle’s mind.
For many people the prophetic scripture terminates in the head with the idea that future events have no present demands or implications. This thought, however, is contrary to the entire ethos of Scripture prophecy. The prophetical books of the Old Testament were written to real people in real situations in order that they might live out real and vital godliness. The Old Testament scholar Walter Kaiser writes of the “inseparable connection between the prophetic word and the history and geography of that word,” he continues; “The prophets’ messages were not heterogeneous and disconnected predictions randomly announced throughout an otherwise dull drone of chastisements. Nor was prediction even the main feature of prophecy. Rather, the prophets were proclaimers of righteousness who preached both law and promise to motivate the people to repentance and a life of obedience in the will and plan of God. Their predictions were often given as incentives to their contemporaries for holy living in that day, seeing that the future belonged to their God and to His righteous reign.” (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology, Zondervan Publishing House: 1978, p. 183)
Prophetic teaching terminates in the life as far as the individual Christian is concerned. We are not to be mere hearers of the word but doers also as James teaches us (James 1:22). John in his first epistle shows us the same practical use of future events when he speaks of the hope of Christ’s return purifying us from present sin. Prophecy is not about math, it is not even about exegesis. It is about godliness. It interrogates the mind (as all scripture should) with the question, how ought I to live in view of this Scripture?