HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- A Huntington church recently ran a full page newspaper ad warning that Jesus could return to Earth this week to take his followers back to heaven -- an event described in the Bible as the Rapture.
The ad apparently struck a responsive chord among Huntington residents as 165 people showed up at the Staunton Street Apostolic Church in a two-week span to be baptized.
'We're not trying to be alarmists, but if it does happen, it would be crazy not to prepare your heart,' said the Rev. Edwin Harper, pastor of the church.
The Bible does not give an exact time for the Rapture to take place. But writer Ed Whisenant, in a two-part booklet entitled 'On Borrowed Time' and '88 Reasons Why The Rapture Could Be In 1988,' predicted it would occur sometime between Sept. 11 and Sept. 13.
'This is not a cult about the end of the world. We are not marching around with placards,' Harper said Saturday of his church's warning. 'If you had this information, it would be foolish not to do anything about it -- my position is one of caution.'
Harper said he realized 13 years ago that the apocalypse following the Rapture could occur in 1988 when it became apparent to him that 'we were becoming very close to the 40th anniversary of Israel becoming a nation.'
The significance of that anniversary is based on references in the New Testament Book of Matthew to Jesus returning to Earth a generation after the fig tree puts forth new branches and begins to grow again. Harper said the fig tree is Israel, and a generation in biblical terms is 40 years.
In his booklet, Whisenant said the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, will be celebrated in 1988 from sunset Sept. 11 to sunset Sept. 13.
'It only makes sense to be prepared,' Harper said.
A Marshall University professor said there is no scientific evidence to support claims that the world will end this week.
'I'm not knocking their belief,' said E.S. Hanrahan, dean of the Marshall College of Science. 'The Bible is a marvelous book, but it is subject to interpretation.
Marshall astronomer Nicola Orsini also said it is doubtful that catastrophe will strike this week.
'There is nothing in the heavens that is ominous at this time,' he said. 'But if it's divine intervention, it's beyond me to predict it.'