2nd Thessalonians and the Camping Debacle of May 21, 2011
by Cris Putnam
If you knew that the end of the world was tomorrow, would you go to work? Probably not… What about if it was in six months or a year? How sure would you have to be to sell everything to don a placard warning the world, “The end is nigh”? What if you were wrong? Well that’s precisely what happened with many of Harold Camping’s followers.
I live in NC and I distinctly remember a news story from last year about a local couple who sold everything and bought an RV painted with “May 21, 2011 Judgment Day!” to drive cross country warning each successive town. People even sold their homes and cashed in their kids’ college funds! It’s pretty tragic. I can only imagine how they feel now. I wonder if their faith in the Gospel has been shaken. Still yet, if they had studied scripture, they should have known better.
In studying 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, I am struck at the remarkable relevance of the first century situation to the recent Harold Camping debacle. Located in the northwest corner of the Aegean Sea, Thessalonica is eponymously entitled after Alexander the Great’s half-sister. Acts 17 reports that on Paul’s initial visit, his preaching in the synagogue led to many converts albeit causing the unbelieving Jews to riot in protest. The unbelieving Jews brought charges of subversion against Paul, Silas and Timothy. Interestingly, the trumped up charges could have stemmed from eschatology. Predicative prophesying had actually been made a capital crime in the Roman Empire due the tendency for it to cause political unrest.  Dio Cassius’ Roman History records the edict by Augustus in AD 11:
5 Besides these events at that time, the seers were forbidden to prophesy to any person alone or to prophesy regarding death even if others should be present. Yet so far was Augustus from caring about such matters in his own case that he set forth to all in an edict the aspect of the stars at the time of his own birth. Lvi 25.5
In fact, Tiberius upped the ante and made it punishable by death in A.D. 16:
8 But as for all the other astrologers and magicians and such as practiced divination in any other way whatsoever, he put to death those who were foreigners and banished all the citizens that were accused of still employing the art at this time after the previous decree by which it had been forbidden to engage in any such business in the city; but to those that obeyed immunity was granted. Lvii 15.8
Good thing for Camping we aren’t under Roman law! Because Paul had instructed the Thessalonians on the predicted return of Christ, his eschatological preaching could have easily been twisted by his enemies into such a charge…
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