Has Bible Prophecy Failed?

After decades of failed prophetic expectations, it is time for believers to reexamine many popular ideas about the “last days.” 

Fifty years ago, I was influenced greatly by the bestseller, ‘The Late Great Planet Earth.’ In it, I read how last-day prophecies were being fulfilled before my eyes. All the “signs” pointed to me as a member of the “last generation” that would live before the return of Jesus. The Antichrist, Armageddon, and the Millennium were all just around the corner.

The arguments were appealing. I mean, who is not thrilled by the thought of witnessing the fulfillment of prophecy firsthand? And at first glance, quite compelling.

Supposedly, the “last days” commenced with the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948. And according to Jesus, the “generation” that saw that event would witness the concluding events of the age, or so the theory goes. And in the popular interpretive scheme, a “biblical generation” is defined as “forty years” in length.

This was a life-changing perspective, to know that within my lifetime I would see the rise of a ten-nation confederacy and the Antichrist, the start of the “Great Tribulation,” the invasion of Israel by “Rosh, Gog, and Magog,” the “mark of the beast,” the “false prophet,” and of course, the return of the “Son of Man on the clouds of heaven.” Mathematics may not be my strength, but by simply adding 40 years to 1948 I came up with a date of 1988 for the arrival of Jesus, and so did many other unsuspecting Christians.

By the late 1980s, expectations were running so high the Prophecy Industry began to produce books and pamphlets with titles like ‘88 reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.’ And since 1970, the view represented by ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’ has become the dominant interpretation of the “end-times,” and to this very day, Dispensationalism continues to drive the Prophecy Industry.

So, here we are in 2022, two “biblical generations” have passed since the founding of Israel. Rather than morph into a ten-nation revived Roman Empire, the former European Common Market became the European Union headquartered in Brussels with 27-member states. Rather than evolve into “Gog and Magog” and attack Israel from the north, the former Soviet Union collapsed under its own weight, one of the most pivotal events since the Second World War, and one NONE of the prophecy “experts” saw coming. 1988 came and went with NO tribulation, NO Antichrist, NO “mark of the Beast,” NO “false prophet,” and NO “rapture” or second coming.

I admit it. At times I can be a bit slow and hesitate to buck the popular view. Still, by around 1991 or 1992 I was beginning to smell a prophetic rat. Things no longer jibed. So, what went wrong? Has Bible prophecy failed?

According to the leaders of the Prophecy Industry, things are still proceeding according to plan, only, perhaps, they have found it necessary to make a slight adjustment or two in their arithmetic.  Maybe they forgot to carry the ‘2’ or convert forty 365-day years into 360-day years. They still peg the start of the “last days” to 1948, but rather than admit error, they have redefined a “biblical generation.” Now, it is anywhere from forty to eighty, and even up to one-hundred and twenty years long. All very convenient, all very self-serving, and all very dishonest. It seems, that whenever an interpretation fails, one simply only needs to redefine terms and recalculate dates.

But to put it another way - When has the Prophecy Industry ever got one right? According to Deuteronomy, if a prophet gets one prediction wrong, he is a false prophet. Whether that warning is still applicable under the New Covenant, it does not bode well for today’s prophecy “experts,” nor does common sense or logic.

But the failure of the Prophecy Industry does not mean that Bible prophecy has failed. It can just as well indicate that many of the prophecy “experts” are completely wrong, that there is something fundamentally wrong in their methods and assumptions. In fact, by far, this is the likeliest explanation for their multiple failures.

It would take days, even weeks, to examine all the predictions, assumptions, and interpretive nuances of the Prophecy Industry, so I will point out just three errors common to every version of this interpretive school. For that matter, the Prophecy Industry cannot survive if Christians begin to question these assumptions, for it is dependent on promoting heightened prophetic expectations among Christians.

First, in the Bible, the “last days” commenced with the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. “In the last days, declares God, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” This may be counterintuitive; nevertheless, the “last days” have been underway since the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. That period did NOT begin in 1948.

Second, according to Christ’s repeated warning, no one except “God alone,” period, end-of-discussion, knows the timing of that day. He alone knows the “day,” the “hour,” and the “season” of the “coming of the Son of Man.” The idea that we can approximate the date of his return by adding a certain number of years to 1948 is incompatible with the teachings of the New Testament.

Third, Israel is NOT the determining factor or the key to understanding end-times prophecy. Jesus was explicit. The “end” will only come when the church has completed its primary task – to preach “this gospel of the kingdom to all nations.”

In the apostolic tradition, there is one Lord, one gospel, one salvation, one covenant, one covenant people of God, and one’s ethnicity has no bearing on one’s inclusion in it. In Christ, no longer can there be “Jew or Gentile.”

Sooner or later, the prophecy “experts” must all explain away Christ’s warning did not really mean what it obviously does mean. Most often, they claim we cannot know the “precise day or hour,” but Jesus did not say we could not know the general “season.”

Putting aside the false logic (‘argumentum e silentio’), Jesus said that very thing. “It is NOT for you to know the season” or ‘kairos.’ By Dispensationalist logic, because Christ did not include the week, month, year, decade, or century in his warning, we can know the week, month, year, decade, and century of his coming, just not the exact day and hour– (Mark 13:33).

Just prior to his ascension, Jesus told his disciples that “it is not for you to know times [plural] or seasons [plural], which the Father hath set within His own authority.” And the plural terms “times” and “seasons” cover just about any way one might delimit time – (Mark 13:33, Acts 1:7).

Church history is replete with examples of men who have predicted the timing of Christ’s return. And while their methods and conclusions have varied, one thing they all have in common is that ALL of them without exception failed. And so far, today’s Prophecy Industry is NO exception to the rule. Like all their predecessors, the “experts” have chosen NOT to heed the clear and repeated warning of Jesus.

In none of this am I claiming that Christ’s return is not imminent, nor that it will not occur before the present generation comes to an end. For all I know, he may arrive “on the clouds” tomorrow, and that is why we must always be ready for his “sudden” return.

And that is the point. I do NOT know, you do NOT know, and most certainly today’s self-appointed prophecy “experts” do NOT know when the “end” will come, or whether we are members of the “last generation.”

Since we cannot calculate the time of the “end,” is it important to study Bible prophecy? Yes! Absolutely! Among other things, prophetic passages teach us what is coming and what to expect (e.g., the “apostasy,” deceivers, the resurrection), and how to be prepared for every eventuality so that his “arrival” does not overtake us “like a thief in the night.”

What I am “suggesting” - “shouting from the rooftops” - is that it is high time for us to reexamine the many popular claims and fads about the “last days” propagated by the Prophecy Industry over the last several decades. Bible prophecy has NOT failed, but the so-called "experts" have, and miserably so.



The Suffering Servant

The Living Word