“So I guess I won’t be seeing you any more after tonight,” said Bob Norman, looking at Jerry.
“And why would you say that?” asked Jerry, though his expression and tone indicated he wasn’t surprised.
“May 21,” said Mac.
“I expect May 21 will pass as many other May 21s have passed before,” said Jerry.
“You didn’t expect to find anyone here that believes that nonsense, did you?” asked Mandy.
Ellen chuckled. “Not likely,” she said.
“So how am I supposed to tell the difference between one nut and another?” asked Bob, grinning to take away the sting. “Seriously, Jerry here believes any number of things I find irrational. He already knows that.” Jerry nodded. “In fact, you believe the rapture will happen soon, don’t you?”
“Actually,” said Jerry, “I don’t believe in the rapture. I believe in a single second coming at a time nobody can predict. We are to live as though it might happen tomorrow, but we don’t know when it will happen.”
“That’s weird,” said Bob. “I thought all Christians believed in the rapture. Do you believe Jesus might come back in your lifetime?”
“As I said, I don’t know. I’m not supposed to know.”
“What about the rest of you? Do you believe in the rapture?” asked Bob.
Ellen shook her head.
Mandy said “Not me.”
Mac said, “I don’t count.”
Mark said, “I’m not sure.”
“You’re never sure,” put in Jerry.
“I guess I’m the odd woman out, then,” said Justine.
“So doesn’t it bother you that you’re the only one who believes that Jesus is coming back to take you off to heaven?” asked Bob.
“No, and I think you’re missing something. Nobody said Jesus wasn’t coming back. We just disagree on the details and how last day events fit together. I believe in the rapture. I’m premillenial. Jerry, I’d guess, is amillenial. It doesn’t matter to me, as long as we believe Jesus is coming back.”
“So if you don’t believe in the rapture, what does it mean that Jesus is coming back?” asked Bob.
“If you’re going to call them nuts, you really should get your varieties straight,” said Mac. “And believe me, I think this end of the world stuff is nuts in almost any form. But there are Christians who believe in a second coming where everything is open and public, and everything ends at once. There are other Christians who believe that all the ‘saved’ people will be taken to heaven and others will be left behind for the tribulation time.”
“How do you keep this stuff straight?” asked Bob, but everyone could tell it was rhetorical.
“On the other hand there are Christians who believe that God’s kingdom simply wins and takes over in the end, like leaven working its way through dough.” Mandy could always be counted on to provide the unexpected answer.
“I like that one,” said Mark.
“But do you think it’s true?” asked Jerry.
“I really don’t know,” said Mark.
“It’s pretty complicated, as a result of the number of different Bible books that talk about it in inconsistent ways,” said Mandy.
“I wouldn’t call it inconsistent,” said Jerry. “You just have to understand what applied to what time. Most of the prophecies applied to the immediate time frame, and then give a quick look at the final consummation right at the end.”
“It looks pretty inconsistent to me,” said Mark.
“I still believe in the rapture. I used to think it was obvious, but after taking a class in eschatology here at the seminary, I discovered other ways to understand the texts. So I understand why people believe different things. It’s not clear, so differences of opinion are inevitable.”
“But isn’t this something you should get clear?” asked Bob.
“Why?” asked Mandy.
“Well, it seems important! It’s the end of the world, after all!”
“But what can I do about it?”
“Well, you could get ready, I suppose.”
“But that’s precisely what she’s supposed to be doing anyhow,” interrupted Jerry.
“Exactly,” said Mandy.
“In fact, if she didn’t, that would put her sincerity in question,” said Mark.
“So you have to get it right and be sincere about it?” asked Bob.
“You have to be real,” said Jerry.
“If you don’t mean it, what good is it?” asked Mandy.
“So let me get this straight,” said Mac. “I thought Christians were saved by faith. You’re telling me you have to do things?”
“I’d think ‘actual faith’ would be a good term. If you say ‘I believe’ and you’re lying, it’s not much good.” Mandy looked at Jerry.
“For once I pretty much agree, though I’d expand it a bit. The reformation saying was ‘saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.’ That suggests the faith must be real and that real faith results in real actions.”
“So if you don’t do good deeds, you won’t be saved,” said Bob.
“There will be good fruit in your life, yes,” said Jerry.
“So you earn your way into heaven by doing those good deeds.”
“No, you do good deeds because God has saved you.”
“This is another one I don’t understand. Do you all agree on this?” asked Bob.
Everyone nodded. “I think we might disagree on a few terms, but in general, we’d all agree with that,” said Justine.
“So the idea is that you’re supposed to live as though Jesus might come and put an end to it all at any moment,” said Bob.
“Precisely. Because Jesus is already here with us in any case,” said Jerry.
“So why do various groups, like Adventists, make predictions about the end times at all? It just makes you look silly,” said Bob.
“Well, Adventists are a small group. Most Christians don’t make such predictions,” said Jerry.
“Adventists only made the one prediction–well, really two–back in the mid 19th century. Now they don’t do that any more,” said Mandy.
“But they still harp on this ‘soon’ thing in terms of thinking it will happen in their lifetimes or within just a few years,” said Jerry.
“But so do many other groups of Christians,” said Mandy.
“And that’s what I don’t get,” said Bob. “I realize it’s easy to beat up on this Camping guy for giving such a precise prediction that will certainly turn out to be false. But other haven’t there been other dates?”
“Some people thought Jesus would return by 1988 because Israel was restored as a nation in 1948, and they thought it must happen in a generation after that, you know, ‘this generation will not pass till all these things are fulfilled.’ I can’t remember precisely where that’s from.” It was the most Mark had added to the discussion for several sessions.
“And that’s what seems crazy to me. Constantly going back to your holy book for a new timeline when all the timelines have failed before,” said Bob.
“Which,” said Jerry, “Is why I don’t believe we should do anything of the sort. And the passage in question is part of what Jesus said about the last days in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. You quoted Matthew 24:34. That’s also where it says nobody knows the day or the hour (verse 36), but the 1988 folks thought they avoided that by saying that they weren’t giving a day and an hour, but only a year, and that as a deadline, not a specific year.”
“Sounds like weasel-wording to me,” said Bob. “It seems like a pretty clear way to say you won’t know when.”
“I agree,” said Jerry.
“Mark it on your calendar folks,” said Ellen. “Bob and Jerry agree!”
“I think it’s interesting that there’s all this hype about May 21, and here in a group like this I don’t find anyone that believes it,” said Bob.
“I doubt you’d find anyone in any of the churches we attend. It’s a media circus. There are very few people who actually believe it.” Jerry didn’t even bother looking around the group, he was so sure of their agreement.
“Absolutely,” said Mandy.
“A couple folks in my church were disturbed enough to ask me, but as soon as I quoted a couple of the texts we’ve used here, they understood,” said Justine.
“Well,” said Mac, “I’m going to have to be the first to leave today. I, for one, think we can continue the discussion next week!”
“Yes,” said Bob. “Since you’re all going to be here after all, I’d like to know what you think about hell. Will God really fry sinners for all eternity, just for being wrong?”
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” said Jerry. But the group was breaking up.