Gary discusses several claims in a recent book by an author who claims to be an atheist because of failed prophecies about the “end times."

There is a history of skeptics that turn to Bible prophecy and claim Jesus was wrong about the timing of His coming at “the end of the age” (Matt. 24:3) and the signs associated with it. Noted atheist Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) wrote the following in his book Why I Am Not a Christian, a lecture he delivered on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society:

I am concerned with Christ as he appears in the Gospel narrative as it stands, and there one does find some things that do not seem to be very wise. For one thing, He certainly thought that His sec­ond coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time. There are a great many texts that prove that and there are a lot of places where it is quite clear that He believed that His coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living. That was the belief of His earlier fol­lowers, and it was the basis of a good deal of His moral teaching.[1]

It’s obvious that Russell was not aware of, or ignored, the mountain of scholarship available to him that showed that the prophecy given by Jesus was fulfilled in exacting detail, when He said it would, before the gener­ation of those to whom He was speaking passed away.

There have been others. C. S. Lewis understood the dilemma pres­ent in Jesus' statement in Matthew 24:34 that He would return before that first-century generation passed away. After dealing with critics who maintained that Jesus was just another Palestinian seer, Lewis confronts what he considers to be the more serious objection:

But there is worse to come. “Say what you like,” we shall be told, “the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. 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.”

It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.[2]

In his debate with Douglas Wilson in 2008, and captured in the vid­eo Collision, the late self-described “non-theist” Christopher Hitchens charged that Jesus was mistaken when He predicted His coming within a generation because it did not come to pass. This, of course, would make Jesus a false prophet and the New Testament an unreliable authority. In just a few sentences Wilson showed that Jesus was referring to a judgment coming that took place before that first-century generation passed away.

Wars and Rumors of Wars

Wars and Rumors of Wars

A first-century interpretation of the Olivet Discourse was once common in commentaries and narrative-style books that describe the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. There is also a history of skeptics who turn to Bible prophecy and claim Jesus was wrong about the timing of His coming at ‘the end of the age’ and the signs associated with it. A mountain of scholarship shows that the prophecy given by Jesus was fulfilled in exacting detail when He said it would: before the generation of those to whom He was speaking passed away.

Buy Now

Christian futurists and atheists will often use the same mistaken arguments when dealing with Jesus' words in the Olivet Discourse. Gary discusses several claims in a recent book by an author who claims to be an atheist because of failed prophecies about the “end times.” While his claims are nothing new, he does quote from and interact with Gary’s book Last Days Madness, which led to this audio response.

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[1] Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 16.

[2] C. S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1960), 97-98. Also see Gerald A. Larue, “The Bible and the Prophets of Doom,” Skeptical Inquirer (January/February 1999), 29; Michael Shermer, How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science (New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 2000), 1-7; Tim Callahan, Bible Prophecy: Failure or Fulfillment? (Altadena, CA: Millennium Press, 1997), 204-229.