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Prophecy Strikes Out

By Merle Hertzler ~

Jeremiah steps to the plate. Here’s the pitch. Jeremiah swings–“After seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place”–and he misses. Strike one!

It was not looking good for the home team. Yes, the inning had started with hope. The home team, the Jews, were basking in great promises. The prophet Nathan had told David, “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Sam 7:16) Forever! But, in spite of this promise, the northern tribes were taken captive by Assyria in 740 BC. One out. Then Babylon deported the southern tribes in 597 BC. Two outs.


And that is when Jeremiah came to the plate. The kingdom had not lasted forever. The people were defeated. Now what? Jeremiah writes:

For this is what the LORD says: “When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:10-11

Jeremiah explains here that, yes, they were being captured, but this was all part of God’s plan. Eventually, the LORD really would give them everlasting peace and prosperity, just as the former prophets had said. But the Jews would first need to spend 70 years in captivity. Why? According to Jeremiah, the problem is that they had disobeyed God. (Jeremiah 25:8-14).

Where had they gone wrong? 2 Chronicles is more specific:

He took into exile those who had escaped from the sword to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept the Sabbath until seventy years were complete.

2 Chronicles 26:20-21

The land needed to keep sabbaths? Yes. According to Leviticus 25:3-5 every seventh year the Jews were not to plant crops. They weren’t even allowed to eat grapes that grew wild. Needless, to say, farmers didn’t like this rule. They had to eat. And what was the consequence for disobeying? According to Leviticus 26:33-35, if they didn’t obey this command, they would be taken captive for the sabbatical years that they missed. (Most likely Leviticus was written after the captivity started, so no, Leviticus is not a miraculous prophecy of future captivity.)

And so, Jeremiah, seeing that Babylon was conquering and deporting the Jews, comes up with an explanation. He says that they had missed seventy sabbatical years. Hence, they needed to suffer captivity for 70 years. And when those seventy years were over? Peace and prosperity.

And how long had it taken to miss those 70 sabbatical years? 490. So, how can it be fair to judge a teenager, for instance, for something that happened over the previous 490 years? Good question, but we digress.

Jeremiah promised peace and prosperity after 70 years of captivity. Jeremiah struck out. Yes, the Jews did return from captivity, but the captivity had lasted 49 years (from 586 BC to 537 BC), not 70 years as predicted. Worse for Jeremiah, the Jews did not return to a peaceful and prosperous kingdom. They remained a weak nation that got kicked around by their neighbors. So Jeremiah’s prophecy was not looking good.

Jeremiah missed on that swing. He steps back from the plate. But wait. It looks like the home team is calling time out. That’s right, Daniel is walking out of the dugout. It looks like he is going to pinch hit for Jeremiah. Daniel comes into the game. He steps up to the plate.


Our story continues with the book of Daniel. This book tells of a Daniel who was taken captive by Babylon about the time of Jeremiah. But the book was most likely written, not by a Daniel in Babylon, nor by anybody close to Daniel, but rather, more than four centuries later. The text of the book of Daniel, written in late Hebrew and Aramaic, could not have been written during the Babylonian captivity. The book is hazy on history of the Babylonian times, falsely stating, for instance, that Belshazzar was a son of Nebuchadnezzar and became king. But the book is quite clear on the history of the Seleucid Dynasty up to about 165 BC in the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes. Daniel knew his own current events but was fuzzy on ancient history.

Further, the book fails when it makes future predictions beyond the days of Antiochus. Daniel 11 can accurately portray current events, but the book fails when it predicts what would happen after those events, such as in Daniel 12. The author could have learned from Yogi Berra: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Daniel knew the present (around 165 BC) but was foggy on the past and the future.

In Daniel 9, we find the story of a Daniel who was reflecting on the prophecy of Jeremiah.

in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.

Daniel 9:2

Jeremiah’s prophecy had failed. People needed an explanation. And so, we find this story about Daniel agonizing over the meaning of this prophecy. Daniel mourns:

We have done wrong, and acted wickedly and rebelled…Open shame belongs to us… so the curse has gushed forth on us…Jerusalem and Your people have become an object of taunting to all those around us.

Daniel 9

Typical of the Old Testament prophets, Daniel 9 sees the suffering of the Jewish people and blames the victims.

Daniel 9 continues. We find that, while Daniel was dwelling on this prophecy, the angel Gabriel appears and says:

Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.

Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.

And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off, and shall have nothing; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war; desolations are decreed.

Daniel 9:24-26 RSV

There is a lot to unpack here. First, we now read that the turmoil will not last 70 years, as Jeremiah had predicted, but 70 times 7, that is, 490 years. Apparently, they were now being punished, not only for the 70 missed sabbatical years, but for 490 years of disobedience.

Daniel 9 tells us this 490 year period begins with, “the word to restore and build Jerusalem.” Most likely Daniel was starting his 70 weeks of years at the same place where Jeremiah had started his seventy years. So this word to restore must refer to the word of Jeremiah that a restoration is coming, the very prophecy that started the whole anticipation of the 70 years interlude until the kingdom. That word was spoken around 597 BC. The book of Daniel conveniently finds that the 490-year period from this word ends at about the time this book was written, about 165 BC. Yes, the author’s math is a little off, but seeing the book’s fuzzy recording of Babylonian history centuries prior, it’s not surprising the numbers are a little off. It would have been difficult to calculate the exact length of time centuries prior to the modern calendar. Regardless, Daniel’s readers were to interpret that the humiliation was about to end, that the time is imminent “to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness…and to anoint a most holy place.” The prophesied restored kingdom of Israel is just around the corner. That is the promise of the book of Daniel.

The prophecy of seventy weeks mentioned an anointed one (Hebrew māšîaḥ) twice. In verse 25 it said an anointed one would come after seven weeks of years (49 years). This refers, undoubtedly, to Cyrus and his decree freeing the Jews 49 years after the start of the captivity. Isaiah 45:1 also refers to this Cyrus as an anointed one, a māšîaḥ.

Later interpretations would take the Hebrew māšîaḥ to mean a specific Messiah, but not so in the Old Testament. Many people, such as Cyrus, could be called the Lord’s anointed.

The seventy weeks prophecy mentions a second anointed one in Dan 9:26, where it says an anointed one will be cut off after 69 weeks of years (483 years). This probably refers to the cutting off of the priesthood of Aaron, an event that the writer of Daniel knew as a current event.

Years later Christians and Jews would read such promises of a māšîaḥ as referring to a coming Messiah, or, when translated into Greek, a Christ. These verses in Daniel about a messiah would take on new significance years later.

Daniel is dealing specifically with a predicted restoration of Israel. He gives specifics of what he expects in chapter 7. He was looking for a person, a “son of man,” to rule with an everlasting dominion that would never end:

I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a son of man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.

And to Him was given dominion,
Honor, and a kingdom,
So that all the peoples, nations, and populations of all languages
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13-14

The language is poetic, with the promise of a good ruler coming with the clouds of heaven. The image would stick, and show up years later in the New Testament, but there the clouds become literal, and the “son of man” comes from the clouds.

In Daniel’s day, many heeded the call of prophets like Daniel. They set out to establish this kingdom. This led to the Maccabean Revolt, a long war between the Jews and their rulers. The Jews achieved some measure of autonomy, but they never established the powerful kingdom with peace and prosperity that had been promised. In 37 BC, Herod the Great took over the kingdom as a client state of the Romans. This was looking nothing like an everlasting Jewish kingdom.

Daniel gets set in the batter’s box. Here’s the pitch. “Seventy weeks of years!” Swing and a miss! Strike Two! But wait again, there is another stir in the home dugout. It looks like there are a number of players begging to come into the game. And look at this! Now Mark comes out to pinch hit for Daniel. Mark comes up to the plate with two outs and two strikes.


This brings us to the first century AD. Trouble was stirring in Judea. Josephus reports that many Jews were rebelling against Rome. There was a popular claim that God was about to send an anointed one, a messiah, to lead them to victory over Rome.

Richard Carrier writes:

The main reason the Jews made war on Rome, he [Josephus] says, “was an ambiguous prophecy found in their sacred writings, announcing that at that time someone from their country would become ruler of the world,” (Josephus, Jewish War 6.312-16). This same prophecy is alluded to by Suetonius in Life of Vespasian 4 (“an ancient superstition was current in the East, that out of Judaea at this time would come the rulers of the world”) and Tacitus in Histories 5.13 (“in most there was a firm persuasion, that in the ancient records of their priests was contained a prediction of how at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers, coming from Judaea, were to acquire universal empire”

Source: Newman on Prophecy as Miracle by Richard Carrier

Which prophecy was telling them it was about to occur at this very time? Although these writers are not specific, we do know that Josephus was aware of Daniel. That is the most obvious source for this claim. The Jews could have been looking at this prophecy of seventy weeks of years and expecting the promise to apply to them.

How did they understand Daniel to refer to their own day? The seventy weeks were to begin at “the word to restore and build Jerusalem.” One could interpret this to refer, not to the prophecy of Jeremiah, but to a later command to restore Jerusalem, such as the command to Nehemiah in 445 BC. Adding 490 years to this date, we could calculate an end of the Jewish troubles would come around 46 AD. (Our calendar skips the year 0.) This calculation could well have been available to the Jews in the first century, and they too could have been using it to predict an imminent messiah.

Julius Africanus, a Christian writing around 220 AD, had an interesting variation. He recognized that the Hebrew year consisted of 12 lunar months of 29.5 days each, with periodic leap months added to keep the year in sync with the seasons. He calculated that, if he left out the leap months, and the years of Daniel’s prophecy were assumed to be 12 months of 29.5 days each, then the 490 years of Daniel ended around 30 AD (see Newman on Prophecy as Miracle ). Other Christians have come up with ways of getting this prophecy to line up with the reported crucifixion by using an assumed year that consisted of twelve months of 30 days each, and finding the death of Christ to be near the end of 483 such years (69 *7). But all of this is creative manipulation of numbers and taking words of Daniel that were referring to a different time altogether. Daniel was speaking of his own day, not of a future Messiah.

The correlation of the claimed crucifixion with this prophecy could be simply because that was when people were expecting it. The stage had been set for Christianity. Paul and others could have known the Messiah was expected around 30 AD and picked the crucifixion of an unknown Nazarene to be the foretold cutting off of the Messiah. Paul and others could then preach that this Messiah (Greek Christ) was alive in the spirit world. They could make up a whole religion on this Messiah.

The Jesus of history was largely unknown. If he existed, few people seem to have noticed him before later Christians came along. Christians who were expecting a crucified Messiah could have taken anybody who died when their interpretation of the prophecy demanded it, and then said he was now living in heaven in spirit as the Messiah.

Paul, for instance, has little interest in the life of Jesus. He never mentions any miracles and never mentions a parable. Only once does he mention a saying of Jesus in context, when he refers to the Last Supper, but even then he emphasizes that he learned this from revelation (I Cor 11:23), not from eyewitness accounts. Elsewhere, he is adamant that he did not receive any thing he taught from others (Gal 1:11-17). If any stories of Jesus on Earth were circulating, Paul ignores them and shows contempt for even listening to what others might have told him about a Jesus on Earth. He was going solely on scripture and perceived revelation. If there was a historical person behind Paul’s concept of the Christ, that historical person meant little to what Paul writes (Carrier, 2014). So if Paul’s Jesus was based on a historical person, just about any crucified Jew would have qualified.

But then came Mark, writing about 40 years after the reported crucifixion. He decided that he would write actual details about this Jesus on Earth. What were his sources? We don’t know. He doesn’t tell us. As far as we know, these stories were unknown before Mark. Yes, they may have been in lost documents or word of mouth, but we have no record of that before Mark. Mark could have made some of this up, or even made it all up. Which events in his book are history and which are not? We will probably never know. Perhaps there never even was a historical Jesus.

For our purposes, we are concerned about what Mark says in chapter 13. Here, Mark has his Jesus accurately portray the destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem. Is this a case of proven miraculous prophecy? No. We never hear the claim that Jesus said it until Mark, writing after the fall of Jerusalem, tells us that Jesus had predicted it some 40 years earlier. Mark could simply have put the words in Jesus’s mouth, since Mark now knew of the event as history.

Daniel had prophesied, that, in the middle of the seventieth week, Antiochus would cause the Jewish sacrifices to cease, an event he refers to as an abomination of desolation (Daniel 9:27). Mark and his followers could easily parallel the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD with the destruction of the temple referred to in Daniel. Mark infers that Daniel 9 is actually referring to his own time. Mark apparently feels these events in his day are so obviously the abomination of desolation spoken of in Daniel 9 that all it takes is a brief, “Ahem, let the reader understand” to make his point obvious:

Now when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION standing where it should not be—let the reader understand—then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.

Mark 13:14

Mark here says that Jesus was speaking to specific disciples. So, the words “when you see,” in context, refers to those disciples seeing this happen. Thus, Mark is saying that the abomination of desolation referred to by Daniel was about to happen in the lifetime of those disciples. That means the end of the humiliation of the Jews, the end of the seventy weeks, the time “to bring in everlasting righteousness” was now. Finally, the prophecy of Jeremiah and Daniel was going to be fulfilled! Mark writes:

they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN CLOUDS with great power and glory. And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven.


That sounds just like the arrival of the son of man predicted in Daniel 7:13-14. That son of man would now build that everlasting kingdom that ruled all peoples. It was happening soon, within the lifetime of the disciples that were hearing Jesus say this. It was to be an everlasting kingdom.

It didn’t happen. Just like Daniel, Mark had put words in the mouth of a prophet accurately foretelling events that Mark knows as current events. But when Mark has his Jesus speak of future events, he is completely wrong. Mark goofed.

Mark stands in the batter’s box. Here’s the pitch. Strrriiiiike Three. He struck him out. Game over.

Matthew, et. al.

That’s the end, yes? Three strikes and you’re out, yes? The kingdom didn’t come in 70 years. It didn’t come in 490 years. It didn’t come in the reinterpreted 490 years. All these predictions failed. One might think the game was over.

There is a lot of commotion in the dugout. It looks like they are asking for another strike. And here comes Matthew asking for his turn. This isn’t Little League. They don’t get four strikes. But here comes Matthew to the plate.

In Matthew 24, the author repeats the content of Mark 13, often word for word. But Matthew was simply rewriting the book of Mark to his liking. He included the same parenthetical as Mark–“Let the reader understand”–and the same promised coming of the kingdom. Matthew writes probably more than a decade after Mark, and it was now obvious that the kingdom was being delayed. Matthew, like Mark, still promises that it will come in the lifetime of the disciples. Yes, Matthew acknowledges the delay (Matthew 25:5), but he tells those reading his book to still expect that they will see it. It will end soon.

But that kingdom did not come.

Matthew steps to the plate. “Be patient. Soon.” Swing and a miss. Strike four.

This brings us to the book of Revelation, probably written even later. This book keys off of Daniel. Revelation refers to a time of great trouble during a 42-month period, which is universally understood as a reference to the 3 1/2 year period of the last half of Daniel’s 70th week. So it is common to think of Revelation as a story of a fulfillment of the seventieth week of Daniel in a seven year period commonly known as the Tribulation. When was the author, John, expecting this? The first verse tells us these are “the things which must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1). Soon.

Now, John steps up. “Soon” Swing and a miss. Strike five.

As the years went on, many would read Revelation and reinterpret its vague imagery. There were always ways to adopt the vague references of Revelation to any time period.

And the game is going to continue. Here comes Pope Sylvester II to the plate. “1000 AD”. Strike six. (Thomson, 2017)

Next batter, Pope Innocent III: “1284”. Strike seven.

Mary Bateman: “1806”. Strike eight.

William Miller steps to the plate. “1844” Strike nine.

Herbert Armstrong: 1936. No, 1943. No, 1972. Let’s try 1975. Strikes ten through thirteen.

Hal Lindsey: “1988”. Strike fourteen. (Lindsey, 1970)

Pat Robertson: “2007”. Strike fifteen.

Harold Camping: “2011” Strike sixteen.

Game over.


Carrier, Richard (2014) On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt.

Lindsey, Hal (1970) The Late Great Planet Earth, (See Wikipedia article)

Thompson, Avery (2017) Ten Super Specific Doomsday Predictions that Didn’t Pan Out. Popular Mechanics, September 2017

by Merle Hertzler —