The Date That Jesus Returns

May 21. Circle the date on your calendar. Twenty-two days from today.

That’s the day Jesus is coming back. Don’t believe it? Harold Camping does, and a host of other people. Camping, 89 years young, owns and operates Family Radio, a network of 150 radio stations in the U.S. Years ago, the former civil engineer crunched some numbers based on his interpretation of Scripture and predicted a date in 1994. Somehow, God didn’t exactly fit into his arithmetic, and Jesus didn’t return. So, Camping crunched his numbers again and revised his date to May 21 of this year. On his website, the upcoming May Judgment Day claims “the Bible guarantees it!”

Scads of people believe, too. Around the U.S., Camping’s disciples are driving trucks with billboards on the back calling people to repent. After May 21, they claim Jesus will call his followers home, the Antichrist will reveal himself, and judgment on the rest of the world will commence. For more information, go to

My initial response to claims of Jesus’ impending return is, if you really believe it, then max out all your credit cards so that after you’re gone, you’ll bankrupt the Antichrist. Then I’ll know you really believe it.

Do We Really Know When Jesus Will Return?

Jesus said, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36).

The first thing I’d like to know is, if Jesus doesn’t know the date of his return, how can Harold Camping??

Predictions about Jesus’ impending return press my buttons because I believed so deeply in their messages when I was a child. In the 1970s, dates and predictions about the rapture were legion. I was certain that I wouldn’t live to get my drivers’ license at age 16–add 30 years to that number, and I’m still waiting.

For two thousand years, well-meaning Christian leaders have been proclaiming that they’re living in the last generation And the last I heard, Jesus still hasn’t returned.

So why didn’t God rid us of the stress about dates by just giving us a date—even if it’s May 21, 2234?

He wants us living as if he could return at any time. If we know Jesus isn’t coming back for another 223 years, many of us would live like hell until just before the deadline.

But following Jesus is so much more than just waiting for his return. Following Jesus is so much more than receiving a “get out of hell” pass. Jesus came to give us an abundant life while we live on earth.

While I long to go to heaven and finally be released from frustration, pain, and bad coffee, I also firmly, deeply believe that God has placed us here for a reason. He wants to live through us, proclaiming the life that can only be known through Jesus.

Paul wrote in Romans 14:8: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

Paul describes a combination of contentment and longing. A contentment with living in this world, and a longing for heaven. And in that tension, Jesus lives through us.

But the good news is, if He doesn’t come back in May, he’ll surely come back in 2012—because that’s when the Mayan calendar comes to an end.

Join the conversation

  1. What happens inside you when you hears predictions about Jesus’ return? Do you even remotely believe it?
  2. Have you ever believe in a specific date about Jesus’ return? How did you cope with the disappointment?
  3. To what extent do you live with the tension between living in this world and longing for heaven?

Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.


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9 responses to “The Date That Jesus Returns

  1. Georgie-ann

    We grew up with lots of useful sayings in the good old practical “old days” that actually help to prepare one for these quandaries that present themselves in life. One of my favorites is: “All that glitters is not gold.”

    Once you realize how true that is, you get better at “taking everything with a grain of salt.”


  2. Right now I am reading South by Ernest Shackleton. In this true story Shackleton and his men were trapped on Elephant Island in the Weddell Sea after a failed attempt to cross the South Poll. Shackleton, the captain of the expedition, was able to make it to safety but 22 of his men were left on the island to wait his return and hope he will be able to rescue them as well. They were trapped by a moving ice flow and horrid conditions. Yet every day they lived as if Shackleton is going to come back and save them. Each day they would roll up their sleeping bags and stay close to the beach. They knew that if and when Shackleton returns they would have to be ready to go at a moments notice.
    I believe that is how Jesus wants us to live as well. I believe the predictions are warnings that Jesus could come back at any time. But I also think because Jesus said no man knows the date of his return if someone says a specific date, we can know that’s not the date. I’m not sure really how it works, but I am just going to try to live as if it could happen at any time.

    • Great comparison, Brendan. I once read a book about Shackleton on leadership. What a great story. Apparently, Shackleton fostered this readiness for his return in order to keep his men alive. It worked.

  3. Georgie-ann

    …or how about “Chicken Little?”,…an acorn falls on its head, and it gets everyone in an uproar with the report that “The sky is falling, let’s go tell the King!”

    Matthew 24:21-27 (on “end-times”)

    21 “For then there will be great tribulation (affliction, distress, and oppression) such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now–no, and never will be [again].

    22 “And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would endure and survive, but for the sake of the elect (God’s chosen ones) those days will be shortened.

    23 “If anyone says to you then, ‘Behold, here is the Christ (the Messiah)!’ or, ‘There He is!’–do not believe it.

    24 “For false Christs and false prophets will arise, and they will show great signs and wonders so as to deceive and lead astray, if possible, even the elect (God’s chosen ones).

    25 “See, I have warned you beforehand.

    26 “So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness (desert)–do not go out there’; if they tell you, ‘Behold, He is in the secret places or inner rooms’–do not believe it.

    27 “For just as the lightning flashes from the east and shines and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.”

    …great example, Brendan!

  4. Mike, what book was that? I would love to read it.

  5. Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer

  6. elna

    How sure are you about the Mayan calender…seeing that some ad-company illegally used it for an ad, dropping it and breaking it into a lot of little pieces….I always wondered about God’s hand in that ;))

  7. Pingback: What If Jesus Doesn’t Return? | The Neighborhood Café

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