The failed prophecies of the historical Jesus
I would like to let you all know what first convinced me that Jesus existed as a historical human being.
The three earliest gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) each contain roughly the same set of apocalyptic prophecies, each with a certain deadline. The apocalyptic deadlines are as follows:
And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’
Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.
These deadlines are in the context of Jesus predicting the details of the apocalypse.
In Mark 8, the prophecies are as follows:
- If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it
- Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels
And the deadline for these two prophecies is, "Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power."
Mark 13 contains much fuller detail. In Mark 13, the prophecies are as follows:
- Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray.
- When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.
- For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom
- there will be earthquakes in various places
- there will be famines
- they will hand you over to councils
- you will be beaten in synagogues
- you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them
- bring you to trial and hand you over
- Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child
- children will rise against parents and have them put to death
- you will be hated by all because of my name
- the one who endures to the end will be saved
- the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be
- those in Judea must flee to the mountains
- Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days
- in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be
- for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days
- False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.
- sun and moon will be darkened
- the stars will be falling from heaven
- the powers in the heavens will be shaken
- Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory
- Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
And the deadline for all of these prophecies is given as, "Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place."
This means, at the very least, the Christian author of the gospel of Mark believed that Jesus taught the apocalypse is right around the corner. So, what is the best explanation for this belief? There is a known personality profile of those who lead religious movements and tell others that the end of the world is directly at hand: doomsday cult leaders. History and the modern day is littered with those people, and they very much tend to be actual people, not mere myths. If you take the gospel accounts at face value, even regardless of whether or not you accept the theology or miracle stories, that is the character profile that you find in Jesus. In addition to the doomsday prophecies,
- He strongly encouraged complete devotion to his self (Matthew 16:16-17).
- He encouraged hatred of one's family (Luke 14:26) and complete separation from one's family (Matthew 19:29).
- He made enemies of the religious authorities (Matthew 21:23-27).
Shortly after I found about the apparently failed doomsday prophecies of Jesus, I immediately concluded that Jesus really was a doomsday cult leader. I then wondered why this wasn't a big rhetorical point against Christianity. There were apparently a lot of atheists on the Internet who, rightly or wrongly, believed that Jesus never actually existed, primarily because they believed that the gospels can not be used for historical evidence. However, the gospels do contain direct evidence of what many of the earliest Christians believed, so maybe we can make very good conclusions from what they apparently believed. It is much more plausible that their beliefs spring from an actual single human traveling cult leader named Jesus than it is from a mere myth of such a man.
I was told that I was not the first to come up with this theory of Jesus the doomsday prophet. In fact, it was first proposed one hundred years ago by a critical scholar named Albert Schweitzer. Since then, a very similar model of Jesus has been predominately accepted among critical historians of the New Testament. It is what Bart Ehrman believes, for example. They call the model of Jesus the "apocalyptic prophet." Bart Ehrman wrote a book titled, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. I strongly recommend that book. It is the only modern book fully laying out evidence for that model of Jesus for the lay readers.