In 15 days, Christ will return and Judgment Day begins, according to the message on billboards around Altoona.
The predictions were posted weeks ago and are the message of Harold Camping, president of Family Radio, based in Oakland, Calif.
Is Camping right?
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski) Billboards like this one on the 1600 block of Valley View Boulevard have been popping up in towns and cities across the nation. Followers of Harold Camping, president of Family Radio in California, say May 21 is the day of reckoning, but pastors and Bible scholars are skeptical.
Maybe, but probably not according to a professor and local ministers, who refer to Scripture where Christ says that even he does not know the hour of his return.
The Rev. Dean Hinton, pastor of North End Assembly of God in Northern Cambria, said what is known is the Rapture could occur May 21 or in the next five minutes.
"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father," Jesus says in Matthew 24:36.
The Rapture, or the call of Christians to the heavens, is a reference to 1 Thessalonians 4:17 which states that believers will be caught up in the clouds to meet Christ in the air.
Camping's prediction is that it will happen two weeks from now. He also believes May 21 marks the beginning of Judgment Day. In pamphlets Family Radio sent to the Mirror, Camping says the world will end Oct. 21 and five months of massive deaths will occur in between.
His predictions are based on his calculations that the Flood on Noah's Day occurred in 4990 B.C. and that Christ is to return 7000 years later or in 2011.
Camping said when doing the addition, one year must be subtracted because there is no year zero. He says a thousand years represents a day and refers to God telling Noah to get into the ark and there would be seven days until the floodwaters would be upon the earth.
The Rev. Gary Dull, pastor of Faith Baptist Church of Altoona, said Camping plays a numbers game with the Bible.
"If you look for a hidden meaning behind every word and rely on all kinds of symbols and numbers to find a deeper meaning, you can get the Bible to say anything you want," Dull said.
Dull said Camping predicted another Judgment Day that came and went - Sept. 6, 1994. He called Camping a false teacher.
He said he listened to Camping on his "Open Forum" radio program that airs from 8:30 to 10 p.m. weekdays on 90.7 FM the night of the prediction seven years ago. On Sept. 6, 1994, he said Camping told listeners, "we're getting close [to Christ's return] and the next day he said, "I overlooked something. I missed something."
Leading up to his prediction seven years ago, Camping wrote a book, "1994?"
For the prophecy, he is using billboards and believers distributing tracts to get his word out.
Dull said he knows of billboards in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and said a group of Camping's followers visited State College where Family Radio has a station.
Hinton said a singing group from the Lancaster area saw buses with Judgment Day signs as they traveled to Northern Cambria.
A curiosity and belief in a day of reckoning has been part of people's makeup from the days of early Christianity.
"Since 44 A.D., there have been over 200 credible people who have announced it," Dull said, who added that the predictors were reknown individuals, but really not credible because the predictions did not come true.
In his own life, Dull remembers his grandfather, a seminarian in the 1920s, retelling how he feared Christ would come before he graduated and an evangelist who preached when Dull was 12 that Christ would come in three years.
Rebecca Denova, Ph.D., a visiting lecturer in religious studies at the University of Pittsburgh, said in an email that someone seems to come up with this prediction when there is a crisis of sorts, beginning with the first generation of Christians.
"In the second and third generations, the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire was a 'sign,' Denova said.
"At the approach of the first millenium, people in medieval Europe stopped planting crops, as they thought 'the end was near.' ... In the 1840s, farmers in western New York stopped planting crops based upon the claims of William Miller. ..."
"Harold Camping's thoughts follow a more recent panic combined with some popular ideas concerning the Mayan calendar, which many scholars have now admitted were 'misinterpreted,' where people were claiming that the world would end in December 2012," she wrote.
"Camping has come up with this date based upon his unique reckoning of biblical interpretation and lunar calendar materials - this is not 'evidence' of anything," Denova said.
Hinton said even if the Rapture would occur on May 21, it would not be the beginning of Judgment Day as Camping claims.
Hinton said judgment does not occur until after the 1,000-year reign of Christ as stated in Revelation.
It follows a seven-year period known as the Tribulation. Hinton said during this time, a world leader known as the anti-Christ, will rule the globe. Hinton said the second coming of Christ will occur at the end of the seven years.
Camping claims the Tribulation began May 21, 1988, and lasts 23 years.
Dull and Hinton believe the Rapture could come anytime.
"If you study biblical prophecy, nothing needs to be fulfilled before the Rapture occurs," Dull said.
He and Hinton point to Matthew 24 where Christ talks about the end of the age.
Dull said wars, rumors of wars and famines are to take place. Hinton talked about signs in the weather and earthquakes in various places. He referred to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the uprisings by countries in the Middle East as possible signs.
As a whole, Americans are more likely to attribute natural disasters to climate change as opposed to signs of apocalyptic biblical prophecy.
A survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Public Religion Research institute was taken after the earthquake in Japan. It indicates that about 58 percent of Americans say the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of global climate change. About 44 percent say it is evidence of "end times."
However, among white evangelicals, 67 percent believe that natural disasters are evidence of "end times."
Hinton said the billboards are a good thing if it is causing people to be introspective and to seek a way to get right with God.