A Christian TV Evangelist Wrongly Predicted The Apocalypse Three Times Over Five Decades

If you grew up in the Bible Belt in the 2000s you might remember seeing billboards advertising the end of the world. Harold Camping, a Christian radio personality who was also a doomsday prophet, spearheaded this apocalyptic campaign. Needless to say, none of his end of days predictions ever came true. Despite being a laughingstock to most of the world, Harold Camping raked in major dough from his sensational forecasts. The first Harold Camping rapture prediction came in the early '90s with the publication of his book 1994?, but he didn’t rely solely on sales to drive his false predictions about the apocalypse. Beginning in 1958, Camping hosted a daily radio program where he discussed the Bible and reminded his listeners of the coming rapture.

Like any good doomsday prophet Harold Camping changed his prediction dates when it suited him. He claimed they were based on biblical math, but after he went zero for three with doomsday predictions, he called it quits and died quietly in his home in 2013. Alas, this is the way apocalypse predictions end, not with a bang but with a whimper.

  • He Predicted The End Of The World For The First Time In 1994

    Harold Camping's first foray into end times began in the early '90s when he came to the conclusion through questionable "biblical math" that the rapture would occur on September 4th or 6th in 1994. He published a book titled 1994? delineating his theory.

    He spent a significant amount of time in the early '90s talking about the end times on his radio show while pushing his book. When the apocalypse never came, Camping claimed that he had "misunderstood the importance of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles," but that Jesus was coming soon. Camping's most fervent followers later claimed that their leader was saying that September 4th or 6th would merely bring about the end of "the church age," a time when people in Christian churches could be saved, and not a literal end of the world.

  • He Didn't Give Up On His Doomsday Prophecy

    Okay, so the apocalypse prediction in 1994 was a straight-up dud. No one denies that. But Harold Camping was completely certain that his next prediction was right on the money. He recalculated his Biblical math, and decided that the real end of the world would occur on May 21, 2011.

    As the globe is not currently covered in an apocalyptic fire, we know that Camping's prediction was incorrect. After his second big theory fell apart, Camping stayed in his house for a couple of days before announcing to the press that he was "flabbergasted." He told ABC News, "When May 21st came and went, it was a very difficult time for me, a very difficult time."

  • The Third Apocalypse Is A Charm

    After the failure of Camping's May 21, 2011 doomsday prediction, the elderly prophet had a stroke and was in the hospital for months. When he was released in September he told his followers that while he was in the hospital he had time to double check his math and that doomsday was actually happening on October 21, 2011.

    Camping released a statement saying, "I really am beginning to think as I've restudied these matters that there's going to be no big display of any kind. The end is going to come very, very quietly." When October 21st came and went, Camping gave up on predicting the apocalypse for good. 

  • His Followers Lost Millions Of Dollars

    In the somewhat ridiculous story of Harold Camping, the people who are often glossed over are his followers who collectively lost millions of dollars donating to his end of the world campaign. While Camping supposedly never drew a salary from the Family Radio donations, the money that people gave funded the advertising for Camping's prophecy.

    Family Radio reportedly brought in $80 million in the three years before the supposed May 21st apocalypse on top of the millions that Camping and his group made prior to the 1994 prediction. People dipped into their life savings to ensure that Camping's message was disseminated. Matt Tuter, a man who worked for Camping, told Vice, "There were a lot of people who sold their houses, who gave up their life savings, and Harold thought it was funny. He would come into my office and say, 'So-and-so called me. They're broke, but I'm not giving their money back.' Harold was a very twisted man." One supporter who worked for New York's transportation agency donated over $140,000 of his savings to Camping's crusade.

  • After Failing Publicly, Camping Flipped The Script

    After all of his predictions completely failed, Camping had to find a new way for Family Radio to make money. People wouldn't donate to a preacher without a plan, so Camping changed his strategy and began preaching that anyone trying to predict the apocalypse was committing a sin. 

    He released a statement a few months after the May 21, 2011 debacle and it's ensuing October mess, stating that he was wrong and that the whole thing was "embarrassing." He said, "We were even so bold as to insist that the Bible guaranteed Christ would return on May 21st and that the true believers would be raptured. This incorrect and sinful statement allowed God to get the attention of a great many people who otherwise would not have paid attention." Well played. 

  • Camping Went Into Hiding Toward The End Of His Life
    Photo: rogthefrog / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Camping Went Into Hiding Toward The End Of His Life

    Camping was always a solitary man, preferring to spread his message over the radio rather than in person, but as his predictions routinely crashed down around him, he began to hang back from the press. In a newsletter, Camping wrote to his followers: "Events in the last year have proved that no man can be fully trusted. Even the most zealous of us can be mistaken."

    When members of the press reached out to Camping or his team they were rebuffed by his family members who also happened to be his employees. Camping's daughter, Susan Espinoza, told the Winnipeg News: "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but we at Family Radio have been directed to not talk to the media or the press."