home > articles > Atheists Claim That Bible Prophecy Has Failed!
Many of the “new” atheists are now making a lot of noise about Bible Prophecy. Theologically liberal scholars have long fuelled the atheists’ assertions that Bible Prophecy is really just fabricated history made to sound like predictive prophecies. But now they’ve gone a step further! In fact, for some of them, they’ve made these new claims about “failed” Bible prophecies central to their arguments for atheism…
It was Bertrand Russell who mocked Christianity by claiming that Jesus has been proven to be a false prophet and therefore without any credibility. He based his arguments on the statements in Matthew 24 by Christ. Jesus was very precise about what he said would happen in the future. Jesus was also very clear about when these things would take place. And for these two incontrovertible facts atheists feel they have an air-tight case against Jesus and Christianity.
In particular, Bertrand Russell was highlighting two verses in Matthew 24 to make his case.
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
The meaning of what Christ said is plain. Bertrand Russell nearly understood exactly what Christ was saying. And so did C.S. Lewis. Lewis saw what Russell later saw. For Lewis, these two verses almost rocked his faith to the core. Where Russell said that Jesus made some bad guesses about the future (and therefore could not claim to be divinely inspired), Lewis went further and wondered whether Jesus had “deceived” His disciples with these two verses! But unlike Russell, Lewis did not renounce faith in Christ because of this passage, instead he claimed that Christ later confessed His ignorance about what He saying when He said-
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
For Lewis, this statement in verse 36 qualified the earlier two verses of Christ. Lewis, like many Evangelical scholars, makes the claim that Matthew 24:36 is Jesus switching minds. That is, of the 49 verses of Matthew 24 where Jesus is speaking, for 48 of these verses Jesus is speaking with his “divine” mind, but for verse 36 He is speaking with His “human” mind. As divine, Jesus was omniscient. But as a human, Jesus was apparently intellectually vulnerable, they reason. This argument is proffered against the claims of atheists who refuse to make any mind distinction with Jesus. But is fails to impress most atheists. So for the past century, or so, a new Evangelical response has grown in popularity. So ubiquitous has this response become among Evangelicals that it is barely ever challenged. And here it is…
THIS MEANS THAT ?
Matthew 24:34 is one of 16 instances where Christ refers to “this generation“. What has become popular among Evangelicals is the idea promoted by nineteenth-century Bible Commentator, John Nelson Darby, that when Jesus said “this generation” in Matthew 24:34, He actually meant: “that generation”. That is, of the 16 instances where Jesus described His current audience as “this generation” this is the only reference where He meant a generation yet to be born for two millennia! This is the idea that has been popularised by Tim LaHaye in his Left Behind series and preached by popular TV Evangelists such as John Hagee.
While atheists respectfully dismiss C.S. Lewis’s explanation of this conundrum, they patently scoff at this newer popularised explanation. Most recently, former Wheaton graduate, Bart Ehrman has used this apparent dilemma to promote his attack on Christianity, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. Atheist websites are now picking up on this as well and troubling the faith of perhaps thousands of Christ-followers. For a long time, critics of the Bible have had a huge mountain to get over to justify their criticism of the Bible when it came to Bible prophecy. Afterall, some Bible prophecy, written centuries before the events described, give such precise detail that it is simply impossible to deny their fulfilment. For example, in Isaiah 53 the prophet writing around 700BC gives over 40 predictive details about the coming Jewish Messiah. The standard write-offs for such prophecies by atheists is to claim that they were written after the events and dressed up to sound predictive. But this doesn’t wash with Isaiah’s prophecy. Desperate liberals who go to great lengths to deny the supernatural, even tried to devise a theory about there being two Isaiah’s to explain his predictive success (it’s called the Deutero-Isaiah Theory). But not even that failed theory can possibly accommodate Isaiah 53 since the events fulfilling it happened some 700 years later! Vainly, some liberal critics asserted that Isaiah 53 must have been written after Christ. But then the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls – where exact copies of Isaiah’s prophecies dating back to centuries BC were discovered – completely destroyed that theory. Fulfilled Bible prophecy stands as one of the most naturally inexplicable phenomena ever. It therefore stands as one of the greatest evidences for the supernatural and the authority of God to not only intervene in human affairs but to announce such interventions before He does it!
SORRY MR RUSSELL, MR LEWIS, MR EHRMAN – MATTHEW 24 WAS FULFILLED!
Let’s return specifically to the verses used by Bertrand Russell, CS Lewis and lately, Bart Ehrman. Matthew 24:30 and 34. It is presumed by all three gentlemen that verse 30 is Christ referring to His “return”, commonly called “The Second Coming of Christ” (although that exact expression occurs no-where in the New Testament!). But is it? The verse doesn’t actually say it. It refers to Christ “appearing” (Greek word is – eltho) which means to appear (Strong’s Concordance #G2064). It is rendered in English as “coming” but this is generally another Greek word parousia – and this word conveys a different meaning than the word “return”. Secondly, notice where Christ said this would take place: “then will appear in heaven…” This verse is an allusion to Daniel 7:13-
I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
Jesus seems to citing this verse. In this verse, the Son of Man is ascending not descending. Jesus calls this a “sign” – a shadow – not the full deal. This verse does not refer to what has become known as the Second Coming of Christ, but to the appearing of Christ before the Father (the “Ancient of Days”) to bring to an end the Temple (Old Covenant) Age. A Covenant always ends with accountabilty, that is: judgment. This is the point of Matthew 24. Christ is telling His disciples that within their lifetimes He would “appear” (Greek words, eltho and parousia) – not on earth – but before the Father to receive the decree to judge those who had rejected Him and His Covenant of Grace. Daniel goes on to describe this time (nearly 400 years before it occured) by saying that after this time Christ would commence His rule over all peoples, not just Israel. This is what “the Kingdom on earth” means-
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
And thus Jesus tells the Disciples after the events to come in Jerusalem’s judgment that His Kingdom (inaugurated at the Cross) would commence on earth-
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be…”
He had already told His Disciples prior to this that some of them would be alive when they would see His Kingdom commence-
“Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
The events that Jesus described in Matthew 24 were indeed all fulfilled prior to the expiration of that generation- by 70AD, the prophecies of Jesus in Matthew 24 had been fulfilled. The Jewsh historian, Josephus, unwittingly gives us ample evidence that everything Christ predicted would happen within 40 or so years of His utterance did happen. Readers of Matthew 24 should keep in mind that the Disciples did not ask Christ about the end of the “world” (Greek word, “kosmos“) but rather, about the end of the Age (Greek word, “aion”). Readers should note that Matthew 24:14 also does not refer to the Gospel going to the whole world (it is not “cosmos” in this verse either) but to the whole of the “known world” or “empire” (Greek word= “oichoumene”), and that Paul records this being fufilled in Colossians 1:5-6, 23.
I have written in more detail about this in my eBook on Matthew 24 where I pick up on CS Lewis’s description of Matthew 24:34 as the most embarrassing verse in the Bible, and explained how each of these verses was indeed fulfilled in the lifetime of Christ’s generation. [view a sample chapter] I have also revised and updated this into a newly published paperback book: The Most Embarrassing Verse In The Bible available in the Shop section.
So, sorry Messers Russell, Lewis, and Ehrman, Jesus was right after all!
For those wanting a more artistic presentation of the events of Matthew 24, I strongly recommend Hank Hanegraaff’s, THE LAST DISCIPLE and THE LAST SACRIFICE – available from equip.org.
PROPHECY AS A FAITH-INSPIRER…
We can well do without Christian sensationalists who think they can predict the future. Dispensationalism’s consistent failures to accurately predict our future are well documented : Prophetic Fortune-Telling. I recommend that every believer get back to the Bible and realise that the God who will one day return, resurrect everyone, judge all, and reign forever, is a God whose prophecies have always come to pass.
In my eBook on the Book of Revelation, I have more fully explained what an orthodox Preterist Hermeneutic looks like. Thousands of people have now downloaded this eBook and read it. I am greatly encouraged by the emails, cards and letters I have received from some of these people who have found the teaching within this eBook helpful. Even recently I had someone acquire and read this book, THE MOST EMBARRASSING BOOK IN THE BIBLE, with a view to disproving it and showing me where I was wrong. This is something I strongly encourage people to do. And several have joined this lady’s motivation for reading it. It is something that I would encourage Preterists who are attending good churches with good pastors to share with their pastor in the hope that he might have the myths of what some people say Preterism is all about, dispelled.
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
Dr. Andrew Corbett, Legana, Tasmania, May 17th 2008
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I have written a fuller explanation of the book of Revelation in my eBook- THE MOST EMBARRASSING BOOK IN THE BIBLE (click here to read a preview). The application from the Book of Revelation is that despite what appears to be an impotent Church struggling to serve an apparently impotent Christ, the Church is in reality made up of overcomers who lay down their lives gladly to promote Christ and His Gospel. In so doing, the Kingdom of Christ is extended, prayers are offered and heard, miracles are graced, and the believer can die with infinite hope that their Lord will keep them for eternity and clothe them with a new body which can not be subject to pain, injury, sorrow, or sin. With this knowledge we can endure momentary hardship during the brevity of this life on earth. We can be assured that our greatest delights and deepest moments of fulfilment are yet to come in the life to come.
¶ “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.