Sunday, June 15, 2008

Jesus' False Prophecies

Perhaps my biggest objection is the false prophecies of Jesus. It's not necessarily the hardest to answer, but if correct, it strikes a death blow to all versions of Christianity, and provides an alternate answer to "who was Jesus."

One of the primary themes of Jesus' words, and much of the NT, is the coming of the Kingdom of God. Prophecies about the Holy Spirit, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the world are all woven together seamlessly. At least that's what I'm told, when I look at what Jesus said in the Bible, what I see is that Jesus prophesied the end of the world in the first century.


In Matt. 24:34, Jesus says “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (NASB) The question is what “all these things” are. He's just finished giving a description of his post-tribulation return in 24:29-31, and the signs that he is “near” in v. 32-33. Immediately after Jesus statement in v. 34, he talks about heaven and earth passing away. Jesus talked about Jerusalem in chapter 23, and ambiguously so at the beginning on 24, but nothing around 24:34 happened before this generation passed away. I think the meaning is clear, Jesus thought the world was going to end “soon” in the ordinary sense of the word, and he was wrong. This is repeated in Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32 in the same context.

Matt. 26:64 is not as obvious, but “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” isn't all that cryptic. Jesus was saying that Caiaphas would see his coming and his kingdom. But he didn't. This is repeated in Mark 14:62.

Mark 9:1: “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” The context of this verse is right before the transfiguration. While it is debatable if Peter, James, and John saw the kingdom of God, undoubtedly it was before it came with power. I don't know how many different things the coming of the kingdom of God are speculated to mean, but surely it means something at least after Jesus' death.

There are plenty of other hints as well. The parables of the ten virgins and the talents suggest that living until Jesus' return will be normal, rather than unusual. No one knows the "day or hour" has a very different implication than "millennium or century.”

These verses are all coming from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which were written while “this generation” was mostly alive. But John was written later when most or all of “this generation” had died and accepted that Jesus wasn't coming soon. Rather than going back and clarifying confusing predictions in the early Gospels, John just leaves out these implicating words.

I don't even see a way to liberal my way around this. If Jesus made false prophecies, or if the Gospel writers put words in his mouth, then a religion should not be based on Jesus or the Bible.

The rest of the NT talks about Jesus returning “quickly” as well.

In Acts 2:17, Peter applies a prophecy concerning the “last days” to the first century, and feels no need to qualify it as an initial outpouring of what would come primarily later.

Even well-known verses like I Thess. 4:17 “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord” suggest a first century rapture. “We who are alive” suggests that “we” includes people being addressed. This isn't an issue when viewing the Bible as written by God to us, but it is an issue when viewing the Bible as inspired by God and using the historical process. How would the original audience understand it? Some of them, literally, would be live to see the rapture. The first century church would agree with this, as they did expect Jesus' return to be soon.

By the time II Peter 3:8's “a day is like a thousand years”, was written, Peter felt the need to explain why Jesus wasn't returning “quickly.” At face value, 3:8-9 are an attempt to rationalize the correctness of a false prophecy. And then in 3:16, he slams people who distort Paul's words as “ignorant” and “unstable.” If these words appeared in a newspaper, could you read them without snickering at the bias? I wonder if these people taught that Paul taught that Jesus was coming soon. Early Christians burned heretical material, so we'll never know what was said by skeptics who lived at the time of Jesus.

Where this leaves me is thinking that first century Christianity was based on the false hope of Jesus returning soon, literally. His non-return phased them little, just as false prophesies haven't stopped modern cults. This conclusion can be reached without even being skeptical about the existence of God or the plausibility of miracles.

13 comments:

  1. AGH! Left a huge comment here and it's gone!

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  2. "It's not necessarily the hardest to answer."

    So I'll give it a shot...! Just as a matter of interest, if satisfactory explanations were given to all your problems with Christianity, would you change your mind? I mean, I don't mind if the answer is no, I'll still keep plugging away at investigating these objections to satisfy my own curiosity.
    Anyhoo, I don't agree that Jesus prophesied the end of the world in the first century. Neither does Michael Brown, "Answering Jewish objections to Jesus", which is where I get most of my intelligent responses...
    First up, Matthew 24. Jesus has first prophesied the destruction of the Temple. Then the disciples ask a two-fold question: “When will this happen? (1) and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? (2)” So when Jesus is answering he’s answering the two questions (1) when will the Temple be destroyed and (2) what are the signs of the end of the age. Great persecution and deception were on the immediate horizon for the disciples and would precede the destruction of the Temple, while the return on the clouds of heaven is not so imminent. Was Jesus predicting that the generation he was speaking to would be alive at his return? Three responses: (1) this very generation implies the disciples he was speaking to would still be alive when the Temple was destroyed (which would have been true of course- 70 AD); (2) this generation implies the final generation who would see his return, explaining to his current disciples and all subsequent readers that those who lived to see certain signs fulfilled would be the ones who would see his coming. (3) “generation” can also be translated “race”, meaning the Jewish race would not be destroyed until all these things were fulfilled. In fact, Jesus’ prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple are so accurate that it causes some scholars to believe that the gospels must have been written down after 70 AD to make it seem as if Jesus prophesied these events. However, if this was the case, then why did the gospel writers include the stuff about the end of the world if they were trying to make Jesus’ prophecies seem accurate because they’d already happened? (Does that make sense?)
    Re Mark 9:31 and the corresponding prophecies/Transfiguration in the other synoptics, although you think it wasn’t the kingdom of God coming with power, Moses and Elijah appeared and Peter was so flabbergasted by it all that he started gabbling nonsense (which would probably seem sensible compared to what I would have come out with!). The context that all three synoptic writers use implies that they all believed it to have been fulfilled by the Transfiguration shows that it impressed them enough to include it. Actually, re the kingdom of God coming at Jesus’ death, I think there is much debate about whether it came with Jesus beginning his ministry or at his death.
    Back to Matthew 24-25 and the parable of the virgins. Recall this comes immediately after Matthew’s recording Jesus’ prophecies about his return. There are *three* parables told here one after the other, each indicating that the master/bridegroom/master are away “a long time”, whether that be hours or years in the parables. Jesus obviously really wants to drive home the point that it’s gonna be a while, folks. I don’t think you have to surmise from the parables that he believed his return to be in his disciples’ lifetimes. Usually Jesus’ parables make one point very strongly, in this case- his return will be a while. To deduce that it would have to be within their lifetime would be akin to surmising from the three parables about lost items that God was only looking for younger sons, coins and sheep. Plus, in the parable about the virgins, the bridegroom arrived that same day but the disciples didn’t think Jesus was a false prophet because he didn’t return at midnight the day after he ascended into heaven.
    Just because John omits the prophecies (and I haven’t looked into this at all) doesn’t mean he’s doing it because it looks bad for Christianity. If that was the case, why didn’t the church just abandon use of the Synoptics and stick with John?
    I totally disagree with your interpretation of how to read 2 Peter 3:8. I don’t think Peter lived to be exceptionally old, particularly as he was martyred, so it’s not as if all the current generation had died when he wrote this. Plus he also includes the words “a day is like a thousand years” etc, even though the time span at this stage was nothing like a thousand years, maybe 30 or 40 years since Jesus’ ascension. In fact, you accuse Jesus of not mentioning millennia in his parables, but when Peter mentions millennia, you say it’s an attempt to rationalize a false prophecy. I think that there were believers who felt Jesus was delaying his return but Peter, one of the very ones who heard Jesus’ prophecy, is explaining that it doesn’t have to be in their lifetime- it may in fact be millennia away.
    Also, re early Christians burning heretical material, how do we have so much info about the Gnostics and heretics like Arius and others who debated the doctrine of the Trinity? We do have info about some of the sceptics who were around then!

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  3. Over three hours re-writing? I sure hope the time stamp is exaggerating and you did something else in the process...

    By the weekend I'll try to respond the heart of your argument. For now I'll go with:

    >Just as a matter of interest, if satisfactory explanations were given to all your problems with Christianity, would you change your mind?

    It depends on how you mean that. If I thought there was as much evidence for the Resurrection as Lee Strobel/Josh McDowell thinks, yes, I would change my mind. There are also levels of evidence (and types of evidence) below this that would be sufficient.

    However, answering all my negative arguments would not alone be sufficient. I don't have a single objection to the claim that Hinduism is true that I could state clearly. Yet I am not a Hindu, or all that close either. A positive argument of “this is why it is true” is needed at some point.

    There are still times when I wish I could just believe, stop thinking, and live in a world that makes sense in light of my beliefs. Tonight, for instance. But just as apologetics at one time kept my doubts in check against emotional reasons to disbelieve, counter apologetics now keep my “Will to Believe” in check. What the refutation of my negative arguments would do is remove this check. Where this would lead, I do not know.

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  4. Oh yes I had laptop on while I ran around and did other things. This time, I wrote up on word first and then just cut and pasted it in! Much more sensible.

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  5. >First up, Matthew 24. ... So when Jesus is answering he’s answering the two questions (1) when will the Temple be destroyed and (2) what are the signs of the end of the age.

    So which verses refer to which event? It's easier to come up with an explanation in theory than to fit it back onto the Bible itself.

    >Three responses: (1) this very generation implies the disciples he was speaking to would still be alive when the Temple was destroyed (which would have been true of course- 70 AD); (2) this generation implies the final generation who would see his return, explaining to his current disciples and all subsequent readers that those who lived to see certain signs fulfilled would be the ones who would see his coming. (3) “generation” can also be translated “race”, meaning the Jewish race would not be destroyed until all these things were fulfilled.

    Are not these three responses mutually exclusive?

    Strong's definition makes it clear that generations in Greek is pretty much what it means in English, which excludes the third answer. Jesus doesn't say a generation will see this, but this generation, which excludes the second answer. If “this” versus “a” was the issue, it's quite odd that all three gospels messed up this part in the exact same way. Your first response is consistent with what I'm saying, although I took this to be the one meaning of generation rather than one of many.

    >In fact, Jesus’ prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple are so accurate that it causes some scholars to believe that the gospels must have been written down after 70 AD to make it seem as if Jesus prophesied these events.

    Even if Matthew was written in the fifties, the clarity with which Jesus' end times prophecies are wrong surpasses the clarity with which his Jerusalem prophecies show supernatural foresight.

    In Matthew 24 at least, most of his predictions are pretty generic. It's easier to get lucky with predictions if whenever they doesn't happen "it hasn't happened yet" is a viable defense, as is the case with end times and first-century prophecy woven together.

    >However, if this was the case, then why did the gospel writers include the stuff about the end of the world if they were trying to make Jesus’ prophecies seem accurate because they’d already happened? (Does that make sense?)

    It makes sense if the authors thought Jesus was prophesying about the both the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world which would follow soon after, while only the first had happened so far.

    >re the kingdom of God coming at Jesus’ death, I think there is much debate about whether it came with Jesus beginning his ministry or at his death.

    I'll concede my claim “I don't know how many different things the coming of the kingdom of God are speculated to mean, but surely it means something at least after Jesus' death.” There are a lot more views on this than I thought.

    However, I still find it odd to think that Mark 9:31 is talking about the transfiguration only. The transfiguration was not an event with intrinsic significance. The transfiguration was a means of communication, whereas 9:31 looks like a prophecy about the disciples seeing a pivotal event itself. I would suggest that the reason this verse precedes the transfiguration is that both are pointing forward to the coming of the Kingdom of God with power, meaning Jesus setting up a kingdom on earth.

    Determining what the kingdom of God is is confusing only because Christian theology confusing splits up prophecies about Jerusalem, prophecies about the end times, and prophecies about the end times whose initial outpouring was in the first century.

    The OT coherently prophesies all these events happening in the end times and Jesus coherently prophesies all these events happening soon. The confusing part comes from assuming it to be true.

    >Back to Matthew 24-25 and the parable of the virgins. Recall this comes immediately after Matthew’s recording Jesus’ prophecies about his return. There are *three* parables told here one after the other, each indicating that the master/bridegroom/master are away “a long time”, whether that be hours or years in the parables. Jesus obviously really wants to drive home the point that it’s gonna be a while, folks.

    Matthew 24:48,50 - “But if that evil slave says in his heart, 'My master is not coming for a long time,' ... the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect” In this parable, the evil servant's reasons for behaving improperly is that he incorrectly thinks it's going to be a long time.

    A long time is mentioned twice in these three, first as something that we shouldn't think, and secondly, to mean what is presumably several years in 25:14-30.

    >Just because John omits the prophecies (and I haven’t looked into this at all) doesn’t mean he’s doing it because it looks bad for Christianity. If that was the case, why didn’t the church just abandon use of the Synoptics and stick with John?

    Jehovah's Witnesses made false prophecies and didn't have to change the books from which they came.

    I'm not suggesting it was a matter of John consciously reasoning through all the implications of everything and choosing the words painting Jesus in the best light. I'm suggesting that Jesus' prophetic words became reinterpreted, making them less relevant and causing them to be left out.

    >In fact, you accuse Jesus of not mentioning millennia in his parables, but when Peter mentions millennia, you say it’s an attempt to rationalize a false prophecy.

    II Peter strengthens my case, but only if there is a case to strengthen.

    The problem is that the mentioning of the millennia doesn't solve the problems of “this generation”, “some of you here”, or Jesus' words to Caiaphus. It only answers the use of words like “soon”, “quickly”, “day or hour”, etc.

    >Also, re early Christians burning heretical material, how do we have so much info about the Gnostics and heretics like Arius and others who debated the doctrine of the Trinity? We do have info about some of the skeptics who were around then!

    I'm referring to 30-70 AD skeptics. But admittedly, this claim was copied uncritically into a email I wrote and then copied here. It's my intention not to do that, of course, but I did with this particular claim.

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  6. Instead of quoting Mark's account of Jesus' words before the transfiguration, I should have quoted Jesus' even clearer words in Matthew's account:

    Matt. 16:28-29: “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Again, the all-caps is not me shouting but an OT quotation convention. Although it is the part I want to draw attention to.)

    Maybe “coming in His kingdom” means different things in different places, but surely here, is it not directly connected to the repaying of every man according to his deeds?

    Together with Mark 8:38-9:1: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power”

    and Luke 9:26-27: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God”

    we have a bigger picture of the ideas associated with Mark 9:1 (which I previously mislabeled 9:31).

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  7. I've not much time, but I would like to leave a bit about Jesus' prophesy concerning the end times, and then will come back when time allows and post another bit.

    Mat 24:34
    This generation ... - This age; this race of people. A generation is about 30 or 40 years. The destruction of Jerusalem took place about forty years after this was spoken. See the notes at Mat_16:28.
    Till all these things ... - Until these things shall be accomplished. Until events shall take place which shall be a fulfillment of these words, if there were nothing further intended. He does not mean to exclude the reference to the judgment, but to say that the destruction of Jerusalem would be such as to make appropriate the words of the prediction, were there nothing beyond. Compare the notes at Mat_1:22-23. So when “death” was threatened to Adam, the propriety of the threatening would have been seen, and the threatening would have been fulfilled, had people suffered only temporal death. At the same time the threatening had “a fullness of meaning” that would cover also, and justify, eternal death. Thus the words of Christ describing the destruction of Jerusalem had a fulness of signification that would meet also the events of the judgment, and whose meaning would not be “entirely filled up” until the world was closed.

    Take care, Jeff. I'm still praying for you. N8 T8

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  8. >See the notes at Mat_16:28.

    What do you mean?

    >Until events shall take place which shall be a fulfillment of these words, if there were nothing further intended. He does not mean to exclude the reference to the judgment, but to say that the destruction of Jerusalem would be such as to make appropriate the words of the prediction, were there nothing beyond.

    That makes sense until you look back at Matthew to see if that's what Jesus was saying. Jesus didn't say "immediately after I will start setting up my return." What Jesus said is:

    Matt. 24:29-31: “But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”

    The first question is what “those days” means. I (presumably) agree with you that the dialog right before, in verses 15-28, looks like the fall of Jerusalem. So “the tribulation of those days” means the fall of Jerusalem.

    Did or did not the stars fall from the sky immediately after the tribulation of those days? This is not the sort of thing which divides easily into partial and complete fulfillments. Notice the use of the word “immediately” - it is even clearer than “coming quickly” or “soon.”

    In fact, I would say that it is clearer than any claimed fulfillment of Biblical prophecy that I have ever heard.

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  9. Matt. 26:64 She is not lying that is Mariam not jesus.

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  10. I think we have to concentrate on who Jesus was actually talking to throughout the whole of the Gospels. The answer is of course the Israelites of his time. Or to put it another way - the people of the Covenant of Moses from the Old Testament. His words were most definitely not addressed to you or I living in the 21st century.
    [In Matt. 24:34, Jesus says “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” ]
    To me, the word ‘generation’ used here must certainly mean the people alive then, the ones to whom Jesus was speaking - the Israelites of Jesus' day of course. There's no doubt in my mind on this as it's backed up so overwhelmingly by so many other NT verses - "some of you standing here will see me coming with power" etc.
    So then was Jesus wrong? Or is it possible that modern westerners have a tendency to misunderstand ancient Jewish idioms, as I have done many times too? What does it mean exactly “Heaven and Earth shall pass away but My words shall never pass away?” The physical world? The universe perhaps? And how can His word remain after such events? Or does it simply (or somewhat obscurely to us) refer to the Covenant of Moses and the Levitical priesthood? Those things which were destroyed in AD 70 never to return?
    In the Old Testament God said that He would send another prophet like unto Moses, whom would establish a new covenant with Israel. This covenant would be different in that God would put His indwelling Spirit into the people and write His laws upon their hearts. Different again because this time the covenant shall be extended to the gentiles too, but to the Israelites first. Jesus claims to be that very prophet. The parables about new wine and wineskins refer to the fact that the old covenant of Moses was passing away. He gave them a time limit too - in this generation.

    cont...

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  11. A “Coming with power on the clouds of heaven” is also an Old Testament Jewish idiom for the judgement of God being passed against a nation. There are several of these types of sayings in the OT. In Jesus’ case, He spoke of the imminent judgment coming against Israel, a fact which the Pharisees and priests well understood, not to mention were outraged by.
    The few years leading upto the destruction of Jerusalem, at the hands of Vespasian/Titus of Rome, were the most troublesome in the history of Old Covenant Israel – the tribulation maybe? A million Jews were killed in the sacking of Jerusalem alone. Israel was utterly destroyed and the Levitical system of Moses with it. The followers of Jesus escaped this dreadful judgment because they were warned about it by Jesus beforehand. Somewhere in Luke you will read something like “When you see Jerusalem compassed by armies then you know it’s time to leave and run for the hills” precisely because you will soon see “Me coming on the clouds of heaven with great power” against Jerusalem. Not much point running to the hills if the physical world is about to end is there?
    If you are looking for an actual physical humanly return of Christ to this world, that ought to have occurred in the first century, then consider Jesus’ own words:-
    Matt 24:23 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand.
    26 “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.
    He seems to be suggesting that His return in judgement will not be manifested in the same way as His current earthly human form. Jesus often spoke of Israel being spiritually dead which is likely what the “carcass” here is referring to. The eagles or vultures (depending on translation) likely represents the gentile forces that come to feast on the remains of Israel’s dead carcass.
    So to finalise this, and I have gone on for longer than I expected (sorry) , perhaps it is possible that you have simply misunderstood the context of the Biblical message?

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  12. [Did or did not the stars fall from the sky immediately after the tribulation of those days? This is not the sort of thing which divides easily into partial and complete fulfillments. Notice the use of the word “immediately” - it is even clearer than “coming quickly” or “soon.”]

    The sun being darkened, the moon shall not give its light, stars falling etc. Again, a Jewish OT idiom generally pertaining to the judgement of God befalling a nation. In this case Israel itself. You'll see this sort of language in the OT and it always means a national judgement - along with coming on the clouds of heaven, the earth being shaken/moved out of position etc. One has to wonder why some today take all of this literally (in a modern sense) when the people who wrote it didn't?

    Heaven and Earth passing away - I call it the "collapsing universe" imagery and it always signifies the judgment of God on some nation. It is the opposite of the "constructing universe" imagery of Genesis 1, which might make you pause and wonder what that story really means too!

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    1. I’ve heard claims like this before, and I’m much more familiar with this now than when I wrote the opening post 7 years ago. I (now) agree that some of the phrases like “the stars will fall from the sky” was not meant to be literal. There’s a large range of possibilities, which is enough to conclude that this phrase does not support my claim.

      In most or all of the other cases, however, the obvious interpretation still looks correct to me.

      > “Coming with power on the clouds of heaven” is also an Old Testament Jewish idiom for the judgement of God being passed against a nation.

      The clearest example of this phrase in the OT is in Daniel 7:13. “And behold, with the clouds of heaven, One like a Son of Man was coming.” While this follows the destruction of the fourth beast (a particular nation), the phrase is not part of the destruction itself, but part of the description of what replaces the destroyed kingodom:
      “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.”

      Daniel 7 gives no reason to expect an invisible spiritual kingdom paired a physical Roman victory over Jerusalem. It provides justification to the disciples’ expectations that Jesus was going to replace Roman rule with a physical kingdom.

      > perhaps it is possible that you have simply misunderstood the context of the Biblical message?

      A major problem with appeals to misunderstanding due to our 21st century context is that so many in the first century thought exactly the same thing.

      As C.S. Lewis wrote, “It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, 'this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.' And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else.”

      The idea that Jesus would return quickly did not die through careful analysis of biblical prophecy, but simply through the passage of time proving the obvious interpretation to be false. The possible responses are to fudge the timeline (“a day is like a thousand years”), to fudge what was predicted, or simple to conclude Jesus was wrong.

      Preterism reminds me of Harold Camping’s opinion after the rapture didn’t happen in 2011. When he was proven wrong he took a more careful look at the prophecies and decided that they weren’t wrong, he just misunderstood – they referred to an “invisible judgment day” and a spiritual rather than physical event.

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