A fellow who calls himself Morgue and looks like Jeremy Irons in the 2002 remake of The Time Machine starring Guy Pearce has declared that Jesus was a liar because His prediction about His return did not happen as He predicted. Here’s the link to the video.
Morgue, as in the place of the dead, and not Mork as in Mork and Mindy, claims that if Jesus lied about this one thing, then how can Jesus be trusted on other matters? It’s a logical inference that I accept, except Jesus didn’t lie.
Was Jesus mistaken about when the “end of the world” would take place? This is Morgue’s first mistake. Jesus was not describing the end of the world but “the end of the age” in Matthew 24:3. Unfortunately, the translators of the King James Bible translated the Greek word aion as “world” instead of the more accurate “age.” Before making this prediction about the “end of the age,” Jesus had told the corrupt religious leaders, in earshot of His disciples, that their temple was going to be left them desolate” (Matt. 23:36). With the temple destroyed, as it was in AD 70, the focal point of Old Covenant Judaism would pass away. The disciples were living in the last days of the Old Covenant’s passing as the writer of Hebrews points out in Hebrews 1:1–2. In the same book, we find this:
So it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a man-made copy of the true sanctuary, but He entered heaven itself, now to appear on our behalf in the presence of God. Nor did He enter heaven to offer Himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, Christ would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But now He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself (9:23–26).
In rehearsing Israel’s history, Paul writes, “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11).
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. [Russell is referring to Matthew 16:27–28. The New Testament writers did not consider this a mistake otherwise they would have fixed the supposed error. Keep in mind that many liberals believe that the NT was written late in the first century, not before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Some claim some of the NT was written in the second century. There is no attempt to edit what would have been an obvious error.]
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.
A similar line of argument is attempted by the skeptic Tim Callahan in Bible Prophecy?: Failure or Fulfillment? “Obviously,” Callahan writes, “the gospel had not been preached to the entire world by 70 C.E., even if we interpret the whole world as being nothing more than the Roman Empire.” He makes a similar mistake by mistranslating the Greek word oikoumenē in Matthew 24:14. Oikoumenē is a word that illustrates limited geography. The gospel only had to be preached as far as Rome could tax since the same Greek word is used in Luke 2:1. Had the gospel been preached throughout the Roman Empire before that generation passed away? The Apostle Paul tells us that the gospel had been preached “to every creature under heaven” (Col. 1:23). In other places where we read that the gospel was “being proclaimed throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8) and had been “made known all the nations” (16:26).
Bart Ehrman has made a name for himself by authoring several books related to biblical criticism. His best-selling book Misquoting Jesus has gone through numerous printings since it was published in 2005. It begins by describing how he struggled to reconcile what he believed to be errors in the Bible with being taught that Scripture is inerrant. His pilgrimage from Moody Bible Institute to Princeton changed him forever. His skeptical pilgrimage begins with what he describes as “one of the most popular books on campus” at the time, Hal “Lindsay’s [sic] apocalyptic blueprint for our future, The Late Great Planet Earth.” Lindsey and other dispensationalist writers teach that the events of Matthew 24 are yet to be fulfilled. Their poor exegesis gives credence to arguments by atheists that Jesus was mistaken.
Ehrman’s story is not unusual. As a student of the New Testament, Ehrman should have known of this preterist argument in interpreting Matthew 24:34. It’s not a new interpretation. It goes back to at least the 4th century and many Bible commentators over the centuries have explained how Jesus was referring to events of that generation and not a future worldwide cataclysm. The events described by Jesus could be escaped on foot by heading to the hills outside of Judea (Matt. 24:16–20).
Morgue should have listened to the debate between the late Christopher Hitchens and Pastor Douglas Wilson found in the 2009 film Collision. The topic Morgue tries to explain is dealt with handily by Wilson. Here’s the exchange that appears in Collision: The Official Study Guide published by American Vision:
DOUGLAS WILSON: When Jesus says in Matthew 24, the moon, the sun is going to go out and the stars fall from the heavens, he is quoting from Isaiah 13 and Isaiah 34. There is de-creation language throughout the Old Testament. Every time it occurs in the Old Testament, it always refers to a military destruction of a nation or a city-state, always. In Isaiah 13, an oracle against the king of Babylon, and then you have the same de-creation language, and then Jesus says in Matthew 24, not one stone is going to be left on another. The disciples say when it is going to happen and Jesus quotes Isaiah, so Jesus is not talking about the end of the space-time universe. He simply isn’t. It has nothing whatever to do with that. It has to do with the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened within one generation, just as Jesus said, authenticating him as a prophet.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Don’t you have an abnormally unsuspicious mind? If you see someone saying, “I am saying this so the prophecies can be fulfilled.” He knows what the prophecies are, and he says, “the prophecies say if the redeemer comes to Jerusalem he will come riding a donkey. Where is my donkey? Let me straddle the donkey and come in when it is Passover time.” It says in the books themselves, it says, this was done so that the prophecies might be fulfilled, so, it is a self-consciousness engineering…
DOUGLAS WILSON: I will give you the…
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: …of what would be laughable to call predictive.
DOUGLAS WILSON: I will give you the donkey. The donkey could have been arranged. What I was talking about. . .
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Donkeys can always be arranged.
DOUGLAS WILSON: Yes. I was talking about . . .
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Asses can be arranged.
DOUGLAS WILSON: I was talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, which was not arranged that way; so when Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, my central point is you interpreted Him as predicting the end of the space-time continuum, He wasn’t talking about that at all. He was predicting the end of the Judaic eon, the temple sacrifices and Jerusalem, and He did not arrange for the Romans to come in and do that.
You see, Morgue was brought up in a family that believed in the end-time system called dispensational premillennialism and the rapture of the church, the Great Tribulation, the rise of Antichrist, and the near destruction of the world. It’s not surprising, therefore, that he is confused about his belief that Jesus was describing the end of the world in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.
The next article will deal with other interpretive errors made by Morgue and given credibility by modern-day prophecy writers.
Collision: Is Christianity Good for the World?
The two contrarians laugh, confide and argue, in public and in private, as they journey through three cities. And the film captures it all. The result is a magnetic conflict, a character-driven narrative that sparkles cinematically with a perfect match of arresting personalities and intellectual rivalry.