In light of the recent conversation on the Apocalypse, May 25th was a fitting day. If you think that Harold Camping is the first to predict the end of the world, let me introduce you to Melchoir Hoffman. Hoffman was an Anabaptist lay pastor in the 1500’s who thought the end of the world was near. He was convinced that 1533 would be the inauguration of a new era, with the city of Strasbourg being the site of the New Jerusalem. He was wrong. City officials arrested and put him in prison, but not before he influenced a baker name Jan Matthys. On January 5, 1534 Matthys entered the city of Munster, declaring that it would be the site of the New Jerusalem (apparently since the whole Strasbourg thing didn’t work out). He kicked out the Catholic Bishop of Munster and initiated adult baptism, not something the Catholic church looked favorably upon. They held the city under siege for over a year, introducing all kids of weird practices, including polygamy, and speaking about the end of the world and God’s immanent and immediate judgment. Again, the world did not end as he predicted, and on May 25, 1535, the army of the city’s Roman Catholic bishop broke in, capturing and killing the radical Anabaptists who had taken control.
Some people seem to have an infatuation with declaring when exactly the world is going to end. Hoffman, Matthys, Noah Hutching (1988), and Harold Camping (1994, 2011 – May, now October…..and maybe another after October), and hundreds of others fall into this camp. Maybe it is a control issue. Maybe it stems from a Gnostic type desire to have some secret knowledge no one else has access to. Maybe it is from a genuine desire to see the Lord return, although terribly misguided as to the details. The real danger for me, however, is that after so many radicals make these false predictions, people actually begin to think there is no end. Each of these men was wrong. Harold Camping was wrong, and he will be found to be wrong again in October. However, the fact remains that Jesus will return one day and everyone will have to meet with him. As Christians, our responsibility is to follow Jesus’ command to his disciples in Mark 13:32, “No one knows about the day or the hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on your guard! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” Since no man knows when exactly the Lord will return, our focus should never be on days or hours. Our focus is always the gospel and being faithful to the Lord. If we learn anything, it is not that we should never preach about the end. There is a time and place for that. But, when we preach about the end, we never say more than what the Bible allows us to say, always offering the hope found in Christ.