Can Prophecy Fail?

By Peter Salemi  


There have been many a preacher and self-proclaimed prophets throughout the centuries and even in our time right now that have claimed to predict future events. Some have even come to pass, but most of the time they have NOT!


Psychics, Shamans, gurus you name it have all attempted to predict world events (mostly end of the world scenarios), and all have missed the mark.


Even in the secular world many pollsters and political pundits try to predict the outcome of elections before they even take place. The biggest blunder was the 2016 election where all pollsters predicted a Hilary Clinton victory. But in the secular world all pundits have to do is explain away where they went wrong and why they erred.


But, in the religious world, it’s a different scenario-miss the mark, and it shakes peoples’ faith in God. But is it God’s fault?


It’s in the Bible?


Many followers of a certain religious sect say everything they believe when it comes to prophecy is right out of the Bible! They will even quote to you scripture like prophecies of the mark of the Beast and how the whole world will wear some sort of microchip in their hand and forehead. Or a world leader called the “Anti-Christ” is going to rule the world and sign some sort of 7 years deal with the Jews etc… 


Many have predicted the end of the world in the year 2000, and 2000 came and went. Along with other dates like 2013 and the Mayan calendar. 1975 in prophecy with the Worldwide Church of God. Many of these people that predict these dates will often times say “oh shucks” dig their toe into the sand and then revive and say “I was one year off” and then start the whole process all over again. 


But when human expectations don’t come to pass as proclaimed, it isn’t the Bible’s fault! The problem is that of human interpretations of what the Bible means are often in error. “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20). All these so called prophets who claimed to get their predictions from the Bible did not get it wholly from the scriptures but their understanding was derived from their own interpretation of the Bible plus commonly held public opinions and fears, seemingly apparent trends, and a liberal dose of private and personal guesses. This is a cocktail for disaster!


God warned the Israelites of this thousands of years ago. Ezekiel wrote, “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy, and say thou unto them that prophesy out of their own hearts, Hear ye the word of the LORD;

“Thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!” (13:2-3). These prophets probably even quoted scripture like they do now, yet they have “seen nothing.” The spirit of God did not guide them like it guided Ezekiel, Jeremiah Isaiah etc…These people, “speak a vision of their own heart, and NOT out of the mouth of the LORD.” (Jer 23:16).


Don’t Blame God!


The prophecies of the Bible are sure and have not failed, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy;” (2 Peter 1:19). But man’s understanding and interpretation of the bible prophecies sure has!


Why has man’s understanding of prophecy failed? There are certain mistakes people have made that allow them to fall into this error.


The most important one is that it is not God’s will that man be able to know the specifics about the future. Enabling man to acquire detailed, specific knowledge of yet future events has never been God’s purpose. His prophecies reveal only a general overall picture.


When the prophet Daniel continued to ask for more and more detailed understanding of the broad, all-inclusive prophecies that had been revealed to him, God answered by the angel: “Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end” (Dan. l2:9). Neither Daniel nor any man was or is allowed to understand them perfectly and precisely until they are actually come to pass. An overview is given, and then when its full fulfillment happens and you see how the prophecies came about then God’s purpose of it for us is fulfilled as it says in  John 13:19: “Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe....” This is the real purpose of prophecy! To know that these prophecies are “sure” they will be fulfilled as God says and to give us faith.


This leads us to the second point; if specifics are given then man will try and fulfills those prophecies himself, and that will take away faith in the scriptures and take away the glory from God!


God is not willing for man to determine for Him how He will or must fulfill any prophecy. That would mean that man would be ruling God, rather than that God does and will rule over man (see Ezekiel 20:33 and Isaiah 40: l0 as examples of God’s determination to be the Ruler). No man rules God. “Who hath directed the spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him? With whom took he counsels, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:13-14). One example: The British, Americans and the peoples of Northwestern Europe as a whole do not know they fulfilled the prophecies of Ephraim and Manasseh and the other tribes, it was God’s will for them to fulfill it not theirs.


The third crucial point; unless specifics times table are given like Daniel’s 70 week prophecy, or the 3 and a half year coming tribulation, and the 70 year captivity of the Jews in Babylon and others, God is not committed to some sort of time line as some believe. There are people and organizations in the world with charts and dates that revolve around God’s festivals, and complex calculations trying to fit prophecy in a neat, orderly, timely fashion, and time and time again these scenarios have failed!


One example in this end time-We do not know when the coming fall of the Israelite nations are going to happen, we just know that it will happen unless they repent!


Notice what Christ says, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” (Matthew 24:36). This statement no one seems to abide by, people think they can put the second coming of Jesus Christ in a neat little time table-when Jesus says the opposite. It’s actually a time when, “for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” (v.44; Luke 12:40), so time table will do no one any good!


God has had the prophecies of the Bible written ambiguously and indistinctly so that He can make them work out at the time and in the manner when and how He chooses-and yet fulfill His written Word to the letter. God is flexible.


Conditional Prophecy


Prophecy to a certain degree is conditional. Look at the prophet Jonah. He warned of the fall of Nineveh, and Nineveh repented and God changed his plan! However, was the entire prophecy scrapped because the Assyrians repented? NO! Only the time element was changed. When they returned to their old ways, the punishment was again set in motion and was finally fulfilled in 612 B.C. and Nineveh was destroyed!  


This author writes, “We must keep in mind the principle that all Bible prophecy, except prophecy directly related to salvation, is conditional. It is conditional either because God changes his mind when circumstances change, or because people change the circumstances for which the prophecy was given…. ‘No word is God’s final word. Judgment, far from being absolute, is conditional. A change in man’s conduct brings about a change in God’s judgment…[there are] two different categories of prophecies: The unconditional, which ‘disclose God’s purpose of grace to men and indicate in its grander outlines their appointed course of development,’ and the conditional, which were the rest of Bible prophecy…Regardless of such changes, God will accomplish his larger end, which is the triumph of the kingdom of light over the kingdom of darkness…For instance, Jesus Christ is going to return to this earth to gather the faithful and destroy the wicked. This is a part of God’s unalterable purpose, and it will come to pass despite any decision that might be made by any individual or group. (On the other hand), Peter says that it is possible for us to hasten the day of His coming (2 Peter 3:12—see the margin, which in this case is the preferable rendering), and conversely, it is possible for us to delay the coming through the slowness of our preparation; but we cannot alter the fact that He is coming…. We are all made uncomfortable with that kind of uncertainty, but it is the only one which allows for God’s involvement in the affairs of humankind while preserving free choice. It calls for a brand of faith based not on trust in God’s ability to outline the future in minute detail, but for a faith based on the character and person of a God who will be there with us for every detail as it unfolds and who will lead us through every circumstance if we will let him…This kind of faith becomes a daily adventure of trust in a world that is constantly in flux rather than a diorama set in stone, in which we are painted players playing out a predetermined script.” (Article; The Conditional Nature of Bible Prophecy by Dan Appel, emphasis his and mine).


The overall plan of God cannot be altered-He will save this world through Jesus Christ and the setting up of the Kingdom of God but some prophecies are conditional according to how the people respond to prophecy. If people repent, then God will, “repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” (Jer 18:8). Notice what this same source says about God “repenting” “ ‘In the King James, the Hebrew word ‘niphal’ is translated ‘repent’ 38 times.  The majority of these instances refer to God’s repentance, not man’s . . . Unlike man, who under the conviction of sin feels genuine remorse and sorrow, God is free from sin. Yet the Scriptures inform us that God repents (Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:14; Judges 2:18; 1 Samuel 15:11, et al.), i.e., he relents or changes his dealings with men according to his sovereign purposes….Thus the OT states that God ‘repented’ of the judgments or ‘evil’ which he had planned to carry out. (1 Chronicles 21:15; Jeremiah 18:8; 26:3,19; Amos 7:3,6; Jonah 3:10). [This] certainly is a striking reminder that from God’s perspective, most prophecy (excluding messianic predictions) is conditional upon the response of men.” (ibid, emphasis added). So the conditional prophecies are sure and will come to pass according to how the people respond and react to them.


What do you mean “Fail”?


What about the Apostle Paul’s statement that “prophecies will fail”? (1 Corinth 13:8). That word “fail” is (from the Greek “Katargeo” Strong’s #2673) is properly defined as “to bring to an end, 1Co 2:6; 1Co 13:8; 1Co 15:24; 1Co 15:26; 2Co 3:7;” (Mounce Concise Greek).


The Jerusalem Bible puts it this way,


“Love does not come to an end. But if there are gifts of prophecy, the time will come when they must fail; or the gift of languages, it will not continue for ever; and knowledge-for this, too, the time will come when it must fail.” Notice the pattern of language? He is speaking of things coming to an end.


Were prophecies supposed to come to an end? No!


Notice the context, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1Cor 13:9-10, 12).


Prophecy at the moment we only see “in part” and overview without specifics as mentioned or else man would try and bring it about and take the glory away from God. We lack most of the details concerning the actual working out of the fulfillment of any prophecy but, “when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” At time is going to come when the church of God will be done with partial predictions and guesses about how this things will come to pass. God has purposely made prophecy ambiguous so that he can work out his plan as he sees fit. Even the Apostle Paul said he sees “in part” but then “shall I know” and this is God’s intention. This is what shall “fail” or “cease” knowing in part the fulfilment of prophecies, and when the day comes and we see how God fulfills his prophecies to the letter when they come to pass. Then our faith in scripture strengthens for we then know that the Bible IS God’s word and that we can have faith in it and that God rules over the affairs of men!


That is why human interpretations, additions, or detailed applications of Bible prophecies can only lead to mistaken results and wrongly directed zeal. Those are human prophecies-which have failed and will continue to fail. The Bible is not the problem, men are!


Prophecy is Sure


We in the church should at all costs avoid human error as shown in the points above, and continue the commission to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and do the work of the Watchman to Israel; to preach the Biblical prophecies to the whole world (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 13:10; Acts 1:8; Ezekiel 33). How God fulfills the details, the day will come when what we see “in part” will cease and “when that which is perfect is come [How God fulfills it], then that which is in part shall be done away” For the time being, the church has the revelations of the Biblical prophecies “in part” the overall view of global events; enough revelations to know that “prophecy is sure” and these things will come to pass and tell the world to repent. The details of how they will come to pass? We leave that up to God HE IS IN CHARGE!


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