Betting on the End of the World

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The Mayan end of the world prediction was December 21, 2012.  Various wagers were available on this prediction, and one gambling house gave odds that the world would end at 5000 to 1.  Interestingly, a footnote added at the bottom of the Ladbrokes Casino page stated, “Bets settled according to the state of the world at midnight on Friday the 21st of December. Ladbrokes decision final.”  Isn’t it nice that Ladbrokes was available to let us know the final status of the world at midnight 12/21/2012.

May 21, 2011 was predicted to be Judgment Day – The End of the World – by American Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping.  Born in 1921, he is known for applying numerology to his interpretations of Bible passages to predict dates for the End Times.  He specifically predicated that “on May 21, 2011 Jesus would return, the righteous would fly up to heaven, and that there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on Oct. 21, 2011 with the end of the world.”  He has previously erroneously predicted judgment days on May 21, 1988 and September 7, 1994.  (From Wikipedia, Harold Camping).

And indeed, Las Vegas gambling bookmakers did give odds and accept bets on the 5/21/2011 end of the world scenario.  One bookmaker at the Las Vegas Hilton remarked that, “You’d be surprised. We’ve had a ton of people, mostly paranoid schizophrenics that are putting down their whole life’s savings on the bets we’re offering.”

Their main bet was that the world would end on May 21st, paying 800 to 1.  Side bets included how the world would end, such as an earthquake paying 1200 to 1, a flood or tsunami at 1800 to 1, etc.

The bookmaker “knew” that the world would not end.  He went on, “Let’s face it. We take the action, have a big party Friday and see what happens on Saturday. If the world ends, we won’t be able to pay off the bets anyway. So, we’re taking their money and planning an event if the world doesn’t end. We’ll have a free prime rib dinner for anyone holding a ticket on the world’s end. Should be a great time.”

Did they take bets that the world would not end?  “That’s a sucker’s bet for the house. We know that the world won’t end. Why would we take a lamebrain bet like that? We don’t want that kind of action.”

Is the Las Vegas bookmaker’s attitude toward Biblical End Times representative of most people today?  Maybe to some extent, but it is likely that most Christians do not accept that the exact date of judgment day can predicted through numerology.  After all, the Bible itself states in Matthew 24:36, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  Even Jesus does not know the time of His return, so how is it possible that man could know this?

However, these are not the first wagers made on Biblical truth and prophecy.  Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist who lived from 1623 -1662, also put forth a bet, known as  Pascal’s Wager.  In this wager, he postulated that “even if the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a rational person should wager as though God exists, because living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.”  A grid illustrated this concept, showing the different combinations of belief and unbelief, and their different consequences.  Incidentally, his references to God are Biblical (as opposed to Muslim, Hindu, etc.), with Jesus Christ being Lord and Savior.

 Do You Believe in God?   If God Does Exist  And If God Does Not Exist
 If You Believe in God:  Eternity in Heaven  Moral Benefits
 If You Do Not Believe in God:  Eternity in Hell  Immoral Consequences

In this grid, the prospect of spending eternity in Heaven outweighs all of the other possibilities, thus the rationale behind the wager.  However, in reality, you cannot “bet” on belief in God and expect to “win” eternity in Heaven any more than you can bet on the date of the end of the world and expect to win an fortune.  You cannot purchase salvation, and you cannot do enough good works to buy your way into God’s eternal kingdom.  Pascal’s wager is an intellectual exercise, and a spiritual lie.

If we continue with Matthew 24:36-44, it goes on to read, and Jesus is speaking:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

The Vegas bookmaker sounds a lot like the people in the days of Noah, before the flood.  He is making bets on the end of the world, taking the action, planning a big prime rib dinner, and having a great time.  But there will be a time when Jesus does return, so we must stand vigilant and prepared.  We can avoid being swept away like those in the flood by accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and body, and basing our lives on Jesus and the teachings of the Bible.  There is much more to salvation than just making the hollow statement, “I believe in God”, as in Pascal’s wager.  It is a life-changing commitment to Jesus Christ.

We must stand vigilant and prepared not only to benefit ourselves, but also to benefit our loved ones, and anyone else in the world who has not heard the good news of Jesus Christ.  We stand has His ambassadors in the world; we spread His message.  Maybe the end of the world will not happen in our lifetimes, but everyone will die at some point, and that will be the end of their chance for salvation.  That will be their personal “end of the world”. 

Judgment Day or not, all will be judged.  While Harold Camping’s predictions are misguided, they do cause us to pause to reflect on our own mortality, our relationship with Jesus, and the mortality of our loved ones.  Are we prepared?

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