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Can we derive a rule of prophecy from this verse? Surely there must be a time frame within the waiting period of prophecy,

If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

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  • Of course, some prophecies require a time frame or a specific set of events to be fulfilled. Can you make this question more specific?
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 24 at 21:25
  • When I read the verse I derive from it that a prophet must give prophecy that is fulfilled within their lifetime. Otherwise how could the people he is yelling prophecies at ever know if they were a false prophet? In other words, why even bother listening to some prophet who will also say that their prophecy may be fulfilled hundreds or thousands of years later and then it might even be fulfilled multiple times afterwards,
    – user64483
    Commented Mar 28 at 22:10
  • Then Daniel and John were false prophets a\s were those that predicted the second coming of Jesus. like Paul? Then what of all the prophets in the OT that predicted the coming of Messiah hundreds of years in the future?
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 28 at 22:56

2 Answers 2

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There no a hard and fast rule about this, either in terms of time limits or prophecies that do not come true. One famous example of an inspired prophecy not coming true is that of Jonah:

Jonah 3:

4 Jonah began his journey through the city, and when he had gone only a single day’s walk announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” 5 the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth. 6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes... 10 When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.

This is a clear case where God gave a prophecy through his messenger that was not fulfilled, because Nineveh was not destroyed. However, the prophecy carried with it an unstated condition: if the people repent, the doom will not be carried out. This accords with the understanding God expressed through Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 18

7 At one moment I may decree concerning a nation or kingdom that I will uproot and tear down and destroy it; 8 but if that nation against whom I have decreed turns from its evil, then I will have a change of heart regarding the evil which I have decreed.

So we can see that prophecies given by God may or may not "come true" depending on the human response. With regard to time limits, the Bible is silent, as far as I can see, except when a time limit is specified. Here is an example of a time-limited prophecy:

Isaiah 7

Listen, house of David! ... The Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel. 15 Curds and honey he will eat so that he may learn to reject evil and choose good; 16 for before the child learns to reject evil and choose good, the land of those two kings whom you dread shall be deserted.

Here, there is a specified time limit. The prophecy is given to King Ahaz of Judah. Emmanuel was to be born during his reign, but before the lad would know right from wrong, Ahaz' enemies (Israel and Syria) would no longer pose a threat. Of course, for Christians, despite the time limit imposed on this prophecy, it actually came true centuries later, when the Gospel of Matthew applied it to the birth of Jesus.

Finally, we should include the statement of Paul, that prophecies are not necessarily absolute, even when given by real prophets:

1 Cor. 13

If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. 9 For we know partially and we prophesy partially, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

Conclusion: Prophecies are time-limited only when this is specified; and even then they may have a dual fulfillment depending on interpretation. Also, Dt. 18:22 does not apply in cases where a human response is involved that causes God to have a change of heart. Finally, according to the NT, prophecies may fail or be "brought to nothing" because even legitimate prophets sometimes do not see the whole truth.

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First thing to note: The scriptures do not provide an exact timeframe that applies universally to all prophecies for when they must be fulfilled. Instead, the timeframe for each prophecy is often specified within the context of the prophecy itself.

Based on this principle, we can establish a general rule of prophecy:

"A prophecy proclaimed in the name of the LORD must come to pass within a reasonable timeframe specified or implied by the prophecy itself. If the prophecy fails to materialize as predicted, it is not from the Lord."

I'll conclude with an example. In the case of Jeremiah's prophecy of the seventy years of Babylonian captivity (Jeremiah 25:1-14), the timeframe is clearly stated within the prophecy itself. Other prophecies, such as those concerning the Messiah in Isaiah or the end times in Daniel, clearly had/have a longer fulfillment that is not explicitly tied to a specific timeframe. Therefore, we must judge the legitimacy of the prophet's prophecies that haven't been fulfilled by their shorter term prophecies that have been fulfilled.


Extra: These scriptures can provide a glimpse into the prophecies delivered by these prophets during their respective times.

Jeremiah:

  • Jeremiah 1:1-19: Call of Jeremiah
  • Jeremiah 25:1-14: Prophecy of the seventy years of Babylonian captivity
  • Jeremiah 39:1-18: Fall of Jerusalem and exile of Judah to Babylon
  • Jeremiah 52:1-34: Historical account of the fall of Jerusalem

Isaiah:

  • Isaiah 6:1-13: Call of Isaiah
  • Isaiah 7:1-17: Prophecy of the virgin birth
  • Isaiah 9:1-7: Prophecy of the Messiah's birth
  • Isaiah 53:1-12: Prophecy of the suffering servant

Ezekiel:

  • Ezekiel 1:1-28: Vision of God's glory
  • Ezekiel 37:1-14: Prophecy of the valley of dry bones
  • Ezekiel 40:1-4: Vision of the future temple
  • Ezekiel 48:1-35: Prophecy of the division of the land among the tribes

Daniel:

  • Daniel 2:1-49: Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the statue
  • Daniel 7:1-28: Daniel's vision of the four beasts
  • Daniel 9:20-27: Prophecy of the seventy weeks
  • Daniel 12:1-13: Prophecy of the end times

Haggai:

  • Haggai 1:1-15: Call to rebuild the temple
  • Haggai 2:1-23: Promise of God's blessing on the rebuilt temple

Zechariah:

  • Zechariah 1:1-21: Call to repentance and return to the Lord
  • Zechariah 3:1-10: Vision of Joshua the high priest
  • Zechariah 9:9-10: Prophecy of the coming of the king on a donkey
  • Zechariah 14:1-21: Prophecy of the day of the Lord and the restoration of Jerusalem

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