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Will Christ return Today?

 By Shelia M. Poole
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

You may want to recheck your to-do list for May 21.

That’s when, according to some predictions, Jesus will return.

Last year, WeCanKnow
.com, a Christian-based website in North Carolina, selected metro Atlanta as the site for dozens of billboards proclaiming Christ’s imminent return and the Rapture of Christian believers.

In Nashville, similar billboards were paid for by Harold Camping, a Christian author and radio broadcaster in California, who is pushing the idea that May 21 is the date. He mistakenly predicted the same series of events in 1994. He bases that date on an analysis of Scripture.

With so many people skeptical about the date for various reasons, what’s behind the choice of May 21?

 Tom Evans, media representative for Family Stations Inc., of which Camping is president and general manager, said, “All the signs that Jesus warned of in the Bible that would precede his return have taken place, and are evident in our world. For example, the re-establishment of the nation of Israel; the complete decay of the church; the dismal state of our world; and the moral breakdown of all of society.” Camping has been at this business for a long time. And while Armageddon is pop science or big-screen entertainment to many, Camping has followers from the Bay Area to China.

 Camping, 88, has scrutinized the Bible for almost 70 years and says he has developed a mathematical system to interpret prophecies hidden within the Good Book. One night a few years ago, Camping, a civil engineer by trade, crunched the numbers and was stunned at what he'd found:

Not only will the Rapture occur Saturday, but the end of the world will occur on 
Oct. 21.

Camping is not the only man to see truths in the Bible hidden in the numbers. In the late 1990s, a code-breaking phenomenon took off, led by "The Bible Code," written by former Washington Post journalist Michael Drosnin.

Drosnin developed a technique that revealed prophecies within the Bible's text. A handful of biblical scholars have supported Drosnin's theory, lending it an air of legitimacy, and just as many scholars have decried it as farce.

One of Drosnin's more well-known findings is that a meteor will strike Earth in 2012, the same year some people believe the Mayan calendar marks the end of times, and the same year the "2012" action movie surmised the Earth's crust will destabilize and kill most humans.

 Bishop Chandler Jones, however, won’t be holding his breath. Instead, the rector at St. Barnabas Anglican Church in Dunwoody will be performing a wedding May 21 “that will go on exactly as planned.”

“I think it’s very presumptuous to try to predict the time and hour of Jesus’ return because our Lord says in the Gospel that even the Son does not know the hour of his return,” he said.

 Jones said he thinks some people may buy into that theory, though, because of the recent number of natural disasters around the world, including earthquakes, tsunamis and floods, and the “anxiety of our times,” including the economy, politics and society.

The Rev. Lynn Eynon, pastor of Woodstock Christian Church, plans to talk about the prediction during his sermon Sunday. Not that he thinks it will happen, however.

 “I think the whole concept is foolishness,” said Eynon. “What they’re doing is contrary to Scripture. The Bible says that no man knows the day or hour of his coming. Those dates have come and gone over the years in church history. It’s going to happen eventually, but we’re not going to know the date. It makes Christianity look silly.”

 According to the Pew Center for the People and the Press, 41 percent of Americans believe Jesus Christ will return to Earth by 2050.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church “certainly believes Jesus is coming again, and soon,” said Ed Wright, president of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. “But our understanding of clear Bible teaching on this topic is quite different. ... The almost complete fulfillment of most lines of prophecy, together with the present condition of the world, indicates that his coming is imminent, but we do not know the exact date.”

Burchall said he grew up in a church with an “apocalyptic movement,” so “I know a little bit about what happens to people who give up their jobs and homes preparing for the day Jesus will come back and rapture them. It just never seems to happen.”

May 21 will start and end with “nothing remotely end-of-worldish,” he said. Consequently, Buckner plans to keep his plane tickets for a family reunion in Texas in June. “I wish the religious community would come out and say, ‘Please don’t pay any attention to such garbage.’ ... It’s giving us a good excuse to ridicule religion and make it look foolish.”

And should this weekend pass without a Rapture, don’t despair. There’s more apocalyptic news on the horizon.

Some believe the Mayan calendar also sets a date for the end of the world: Dec. 21, 2012.

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