Was Jesus a Failed Prophet?


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I was searching for something online when I came across the website of “Black Nonbelievers, Inc.” and the article “Jesus’ Failed Prophecy About His Return” (JFPAHR). There’s not much that’s new in the article. Nonbelievers have tried to refute the Bible by arguing that Jesus was wrong about the timing of His return. This article is no different.

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The thing of it is, most Christians don’t have a sound apologetic to refute the claims of those who contend that Jesus was wrong about the timing of His return.
Christians are admonished with the following: “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense [ἀπολογία/apologia] to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15). What is biblical apologetics?

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The word is derived from the Greek word apologia. In ancient times when a person was put on trial, he gave his apologia or “reasoned defense” for his case. Although very similar to the word “apologize,” we are not saying that we are sorry for what we believe

Christians are commanded to give a reasoned defense of the truth for what they believe.1

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The author of JFPAHR links his claim that Jesus was wrong about His prediction that He would come before that first-century generation passed away with the validity of the Christian faith. The New Testament states unequivocally that the end of the age was near (Matt. 24:3; Cor 10:11), Jesus’ coming was “near” (James 5:7-9), and Jesus would return before the last disciple died (John 21:18-25).

JFPAHR critiques some bad arguments used by Christian prophecy writers to get around clear statements of Jesus and the NT writers about the timing of certain prophetic events. In fact, the article is a very good refutation of dispensationalism, premillennialism, and some forms of amillennialism. Unfortunately, the author of the article is not aware that Jesus was not predicting the end of the physical world (kosmos) but the end of the age (aiōn: Matt. 24:3), that is, the Old Covenant Age that was in the process of passing away (Heb. 8:13) and would finally end with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. There is no mention of this view in the article even though this interpretation has a long history and can be found in many commentaries, books, and articles.

While I’ve touched on every point made in the article in numerous books and articles of my own, my response to it in these three short articles and videos might prove helpful to people who have heard these types of arguments and have had difficulty answering them.

When Douglas Wilson debated the late anti-theist Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011), the topic of eschatology came up. Hitchens was making some of the same arguments the Black Nonbelievers are making and Wilson set him straight in quick order: Jesus was not “predicting the end of the space-time continuum…. He was predicting the end of the Judaic eon, the temple sacrifices and Jerusalem….”2

The author of “JFPAHR” is correct that “Jesus did predict he would return within the lifetime of the people he preached to and that the New Testament writers fully expected to live to see him return.”

Here’s a point that many skeptics miss. Why would copies of the New Testament continue to be reproduced with Gospel accounts that proved Jesus was a false prophet? The author of “JFPAHR” offers his/her thesis based on a faulty presupposition:

His first-century followers had to find a way to make sense of the predicament of having devoted their lives to a prophecy that seemed to have failed. Over the past two millennia since the prophecy was supposedly uttered by Jesus, believers have come up with a variety of explanations for why he had not come back. If can be easily seen that all the explanations are rationalizations that don’t really work when compared to the Christian scripture. Yet they persist among the faithful to this day.

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If this is true, why didn’t copies that were made of the original New Testament Gospel accounts, book of Acts, and the epistles change the timing in the passages that addressed His supposed failed return to something more general and not use “this generation” and time words like “near,” “shortly, and “quickly”? They didn’t do this because the New Testament writers were not describing the end of the space-time cosmos but the “end of the age.”

“JFPAHR” tries to deal with “the common apologetic attempts to rationalize away the problem of the failed oracle.” What the author fails to acknowledge is that the Bible is literature and needs to be interpreted in terms of its own standards. In fact, the word “literal” means “according to the literature.” What type of literature is being used? Modern-day prophecy writers give ammunition to sites like Black Nonbelievers, Inc. because they manipulate the plain meaning of the text in order to support their speculative failed end-time prophetic views. The author of “JFPAHR” gets it right with this statement:

This rationalization is nothing more than interpreting the Bible by a doctrine you want to be true. If you’re going to believe in the Jesus of the Bible, shouldn’t you base your doctrines on what the Bible actually says? It is self-deceit to look at Jesus’ “prophecy” detailing his return in the lifetime of his disciples and rationalize why it didn’t happen. Only a mind interested in maintaining the illusion of faith could twist and mangle the plain words of the Bible the way Christians have in an attempt to make the incredible credible. An honest mind looking at the facts would have no choice but to admit that Jesus’ prophecy of the end of days has failed to come true.

Of course, an “honest mind” would have done some additional research and found that Bible-believing Christians have used the same arguments against dispensational premillennialists and other similar end-time views. Maybe the author’s atheism got in the way of doing sound scholarship on the topic. Maybe the author grew up in a church tradition that used the prophetic rationalization he/she critiques and it’s what led the author away from the Christian faith. A similar thing happened to Bart Ehrman. His trek down the road of skepticism began with what he describes as “one of the most popular books on campus” that was being read while he was a student at Moody Bible Institute in the 1970s, Hal “Lindsay’s [sic] apocalyptic blueprint for our future, The Late Great Planet Earth.” Ehrman writes that he “was particularly struck by the ‘when’” of Lindsey’s prophetic outline of Matthew 24. Ehrman writes that “this message proved completely compelling to us. It may seem odd now—given the circumstances that 1988 has come and gone, with no Armageddon—but, on the other hand, there are millions of Christians who still believe that the Bible can be read literally as completely inspired in its predictions of what is soon to happen to bring history as we know it to a close.”

The same is true of Vincent Bugliosi, the lead prosecutor in the Charles Manson trial and co-author of Helter Skelter, who considered unfulfilled prophecy as an indictment of Jesus’ credibility in his book Divinity of Doubt: The God Question (2011). Bugliosi comments on the Bible’s statement, “‘Behold, I am coming soon’ (Revelation 22:12).”3 In an extended endnote, he writes the following: “How soon did Jesus mean? Very soon. Indeed, in Matthew 16:27–28 he said, concerning his return to ‘judge all people’ (Judgment Day), ‘I assure you that some of you who are standing here right now will not die before you see me, the Son of Man, coming in My kingdom.’ (See also Mark 9:1; Mark 13:30 [‘this generation’], and Luke 9:27.) James 5:8 proclaims, ‘The coming of the Lord is at hand.’ This poses what would seem to be an insurmountable problem for bible Fundamentalists (creationists)…. But how can they get around Jesus saying he was going to return during the lives of many of those living during his time?”4

Like the author of “Jesus’ Failed Prophecy About His Return,” Bugliosi did not do his homework. He asked a question to which he did not know the answer.

When I contacted Mandisa L. Thomas, founder and President of “Black Nonbelievers, Inc.,” to find out who wrote the article, she responded with the following comment:

Don’t bother wasting your time writing a response, especially if you plan on using the Bible as a resource. There hasn’t been one rapture prediction that has come to fruition, and there never will be. You may keep on believing in that nonsense if you want but spare us your justification.

This shows me that she did not do her homework. She accepted what the author wrote without investigation. If she had Googled my name, she would have learned that I do not believe in the “rapture.” The only source that can and should be used as a resource to critique a critique of the Bible is the Bible.

See Part 2 and Part 3.

  1. Sye Ten Bruggencate, How to Answer the Fool: A Presuppositional Defense of the Faith (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2013), 9. []
  2. From the film Collision (2009). The exchange is also found in Collision: The Official Study Guide (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2010), 84-94. []
  3. Vincent Bugliosi, Divinity of Doubt: The God Question (New York: Vanguard Press, 2010), 129. []
  4. Bugliosi, Divinity of Doubt, 302, note 9. []
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