I have a friend at work who is bright and inquisitive. He is a Protestant who has studied the LDS Church extensively. He has one major stumbling block. He says Joseph Smith is a false prophet because he prophesied that the Savior would return in his lifetime or by the 1890s. Does that prophesy ring a bell?
Sounds like your friend has a very common misunderstanding of what a prophet is and is not. Many assume that once the Lord calls a person to be a prophet that the person must then always speak as if it were the voice of the Lord. That the prophet can no longer have personal weakness, or make mistakes or be wrong about anything. All we need to do is read the scriptures to prove that this assumption is false. Yet many still demand that Joseph Smith must have been perfect while still here in mortally and since he wasn’t, he therefore must be false. A standard they don’t hold any biblical prophet to.
Now you asked me if I was familiar with the prophecy about the Second Coming of Christ that Joseph Smith gave, and I am. It can be found in the 130th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 14-17 which reads:
14 I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following:
15 Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man; therefore let this suffice, and trouble me no more on this matter.
16 I was left thus, without being able to decide whether this coming referred to the beginning of the millennium or to some previous appearing, or whether I should die and thus see his face.
17 I believe the coming of the Son of Man will not be any sooner than that time.
Now knowing that Joseph Smith didn’t reach 85 years old… and that he didn’t even come close, we can see the very big if in verse 15. Joseph even acknowledged it in verse 16. That was the totality of the revelation on that matter.
Then Joseph began to teach the revelation to others and over time the conditional part of the revelation didn’t get as much emphasis. Now your friend can’t say that Joseph Smith was trying to distort the word of the Lord, because he gives it to us right there in the scriptures. But the idea that perhaps Joseph didn’t want to face the idea that he might not live out a normal life-time, until he absolutely had to, seems very human and understandable to me.
Your friend undoubtedly found records from the church’s archives where Joseph Smith talks and teaches about the first part of this revelation and sees it as an unfulfilled prophecy, rather then an incomplete teaching of what the Lord had revealed to him.