Jesus is returning next month, according to one controversial group, and atheists are ready for it. They're throwing a "rapture party."
While Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping tries to warn the world that the rapture – where Christians will rise and join Jesus – will happen on May 21, the group American Atheists is calling it "nonsense" and advertising a party for "heathens and skeptics."
"The Rapture: You KNOW it's Nonsense. 2000 Years of 'Any Day Now,'" says the atheist group's billboard in Oakland, Calif. "Learn the Truth at our Rapture Party, May 21-22."
The billboard is designed to mock "two millennia of false predictions that the world was about to end." Parties to celebrate "another rapture that wasn't" are scheduled for Houston, Fort Lauderdale and Oakland, where Camping's radio ministry is based.
The ad was erected in response to billboards that went up in recent months that say Jesus "is coming again" in May. Spearheaded by Camping's Family Radio, the ads direct the public to wecanknow.com where they are told that May 21 is the day that the rapture of believers will take place and October 21 is the day God will destroy the world.
"This is nothing new," said American Atheists President Dave Silverman in a statement. "Self-declared Christian prophets have a long track record predicting the end of the world. What distinguishes this latest round of warnings, though, is the sheer scale, and the cultural backdrop of 'gloom and doom' over everything from the economy to the environment."
Interestingly, atheists aren't the only ones rejecting the prediction. Christians have argued that predicting the date for the end of the world is unbiblical.
No one can know the day or the hour, they say, citing Scripture.
"The end of times is something that we all expect and hope for and look forward to but most Christians aren't in the business of trying to predict that date. They are working toward that date," Dr. Thomas B. Slater, professor of New Testament at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology, told The Christian Post in an earlier interview.
Still, many evangelical Christians don't deny that the last days are near.
A recent Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service poll, conducted after Japan was struck by its largest earthquake in recent history, found that 67 percent of evangelicals believe natural disasters are evidence of the end times. Pastors are also getting up in their pulpits, preaching that the end of the world really is near.
Pastor Greg Laurie from Southern California admitted that the "end of the world" message has been preached many times before but recent events such as the massive earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand and the unrest in the Middle East make it evident that the return of Jesus Christ is closer.
But again, Christians – except for Camping – are not sure when that day will be.
In the meantime, while atheists party and "plan a secular future with like-minded people," Christians are being urged to get right with God and bring people to Christ.