Why is it that some prophecies in Scripture don"t come to pass as predicted?

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When we go to Scripture, and we have a high view of Scripture, and we have a high expectation of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture, it can be interesting to puzzle over what appear to be prophecies that don't come true as they've been predicted. One of the things that's very important, and it was a revolutionary thought for me long ago in seminary, was that in that very question — "Why didn't this come true as predicted?" — we're taking for granted what prophecy is for. We are assuming on the forefront that prophecy is for telling about the future, and therefore, if the future doesn't come about in that way, it wasn't really prophecy. But if we go to Scripture and we see what God himself has said to us about what Scripture is, and particularly Jeremiah is helpful on this, where God says that prophecy is to cause change in behavior. I had a professor long ago who will be familiar to the watchers of Third Millennium Ministry's materials who said you need to go into the prophets with a thinking through a hermeneutic of activation and understanding an approach to try to draw the meaning out that was meant to activate, to motivate, to move people. In Jeremiah, God says that he has the right, that he withholds the privilege to say one thing — for example, to promise great blessings — but if the people do not obey, and if they turn away from him, that despite the fact that he has said, "I will bless you," that he could curse them and that he could bring harm. Meanwhile he also says, "I could also say there will be great harm, and there will be curses in the covenant, but if the people turn towards me and turn away from their sin, I reserve the right, so to speak, not to cause those prophecies to be fulfilled." If the intent of Scripture, primarily and above all, in prophecy was to tell us the future, then God would not, could not, say those things about his own prophecies. But he does say that, because what he does want in prophecy is to cause change in his people and to bring them back to him. Now, that could be seen as a problem apologetically for those who want prophecy to be this way, to go through, find every single example of telling the future, find the mark in time where it really happened and thereby prove the truth of Christianity. And I understand and appreciate those efforts, and there are remarkable prophecies that have come true in just simply amazing ways, but there are also places in which it doesn't seem to be exactly what you would have expected based on the reading, places in which people, the people of Nineveh, could come back later and say, "Oh, I guess Jonah was never right because here we are, we're still here," as opposed to recognizing that as having been because they repented, and thereby God repented of what he had told them he would do. That as we go to Scripture and let Scripture do what it says it wants to do, that there can still be the apologetic work of the prophecies that have come true and that there for which there is really almost no explanation without requiring of Scripture that it do something that it was never intended to do and that God never said he was doing in the first place.

Answer by Dr. Tim Sansbury