An Introduction to Preterism

An interested reader asked us for a link to an article that summarized some of the main tenets of the eschatological position we hold here, which is called preterism. Neither I nor fellow preterist Tektonite Dee Dee Warren could recall ever seeing such a thing, so I've decided to make one of my own, putting together some broad strokes to whet the appetite for the larger articles here. Dee Dee has recently written her own summary which we append below.

What is preterism? If I had to sum up in everyday language, I would define preterism as a belief that some substantial portion of Biblical prophecy now taken to refer to the "End Times" actually was fulfilled by 70 AD, coincident with the destruction of Jerusalem. The core proof point for us is that we take Jesus' warning of things taking place in "this generation" to clearly mean that they must take place within the next 40 years. Such time texts are a cornerstone for the preterist case.

What does this imply in terms of the future for us? It means, the popular understanding of a Rapture, a 7 year Tribulation, and an Antichrist figure are not in our future of necessity. If they are, it will be as a "double fulfillment" but is not necessary to fulfill Biblical prophecy. The chief preterist view holds that all that surely remains in our future is final resurrection and judgment.

Chief preterist view? Are there others? Yes, there is a view sometimes called full preterism (or by proponents, "consistent preterism") which holds that ALL Biblical prophecy is now fulfilled, including those that preterists of my school say refer to the final resurrection. This view is considered heretical by preterists of my school, who are often called "partial" preterists but are here called preterists or "orthodox" preterists.

So what about verses that refer to the Rapture? Preterists see those as references to the final resurrection, which is in our future still.

And verses that refer to the Tribulation? Preterists understand the Tribulation to have occured during (but not exhausting) the 7 year period to have been fulfilled in the Jewish War which lasted from 66-73 AD. The Tribulation does not take up the full 7 years but is centered on the years 67-70.

What about the Anti-christ, 666? We usually see Nero as having filled that slot, though I know others have suggested Titus, Vespasian, and others. I do see roles for Titus and Vespasian, however, in the fulfillment of prophecy.

So what has been fulfilled and what hasn't? Preterists say that the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in the Jewish War or in the time leading up to it, as was Daniel 9, and all of Revelation up until part of the last two chapters. According to preterists, we are NOW in the "millenium" of Rev. 20. What is past that, and the final resurrection (referred to in John 5, in 1 Corinthians and the Thessalonian correspondence, and elsewhere) is yet to come.

Is this some sort of weirdo view? If you consider R. C. Sproul a weirdo, I suppose it is. (Grin.) He is the most prominent proponent of the preterist view today. Gary DeMar is less prominent but has written much more on the subject. Hank Hanegraaff of CRI has also recently adopted preterism.

What do people like Tim LaHaye think of preterism? From what I have read, they are fairly misinformed about it. Most critics of preterism end up mixing up the orthodox version with the heretical version to some extent. Most though are just too caught up in a too-Western, too-literal interpretation of the Bible. I have found preterism to be far more consistent with a reading of the text that would have been understood by the people who wrote the Bible.

-JPH


And now for Dee Dee's summation, originally posted on TheologyWeb and now provided for us:


TIMING IS EVERYTHING

I once attended a Kay Arthur Inductive Bible Study course in which it was taught that in interpreting a passage one must ask the “5 Ws and an H.” I doubt there is anyone who would disagree that asking who (or to whom), what, when, where, why and how is important. However, in interpreting prophecy, I find that the majority of Christians today have an interpretive grid that they force onto the text with a predetermined agenda of what the “what” MUST mean, and then force the “when” to conform, complete with nonsensical gaps. I realize that some may say the same in reverse of preterists, and that is my job to show that is not the case.

The futurist often prides himself on taking things literally, and yet, when confronted with clear time texts, this literality is abandoned and the doctrine of “imminence” is fabricated out of whole cloth. These same people state that Jesus’ Second Coming is “soon” and “near,” and expect us to understand by those words what they normally mean. Yet, these same people when they encounter these same words in sacred Scripture do an about face. They say that God meant “it could be soon,” or “it may be near.” But God did not say that. He said, “at hand – soon – some standing here will not taste death – the generation will not pass away (in case we were really thick, which obviously we are) – near – shortly – quickly.” God pretty much exhausted the Greek language for synonyms for saying that something was going to happen in the first century, and yet most of the Church denies it and puts words in God’s mouth. Strong words? Yes, but this cuts to the heart of the test of a true prophet. If a prophet gives express time limitations for the fulfillment of his prophecy, it is circumventing the Deuteronomy 18 test to ignore those limitations.

To now provide an introduction and examples for what I mean, I turn to the passage that was the watershed for my journey into preterism:

Scripture Verse: Matthew 24:34 – Most assuredly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

Stop now and without any theological preconceptions let the full import of that phrase sink in. Certainly the initial prima facie case is mine. Certainly Jesus appears to be saying that the people to whom He is speaking will not die until those things of which He spoke happen. This is certainly confirmed by numerous translations/renderings/paraphrases. For example amongst the renderings intended to make the text plain see these:

Scripture Verse: [GNB] Remember that all these things will happen before the people now living have all died.

[NCV] I tell you the truth, all these things will happen while the people of this time are still living.

Even the Amplified lends support..

Scripture Verse: Truly I tell you, this generation – that, the whole multitude of people living at the same time, in a definite, given period – will not pass away till all these things take place.

Futurists have devised four major ways to get out of this pickle.

(of course liberals “solve” it by merely saying Jesus was wrong)

I shall interact with them as they are raised in this debate. And truth be told, if this were the only strong verse, I would not be a preterist, but it isn’t. Here are some more examples….

Scripture Verse: Matt 10:23 When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Matt 16:28 Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

Romans 16:20 And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.

1 Corinthians 10:11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

James 5:8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand…..Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!

1 John 2:18 Little children, it is the last hour.

Rev 1:1,3 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place…..Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near…

Revelation 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Now if God really had wanted to communicate that this event was truly near, truly soon, truly at hand, truly to happen shortly, and truly to happen before all of them died, [b]what other words could He have used to express it if “near, soon, at hand, shortly, quickly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death until, this generation will not pass away until,” do not cut it? As DeMar so aptly stated, “If the Bible can be interpreted so ‘soon’ can mean ‘late,’ and ‘near’ can mean ‘distant,’ and ‘shortly’ can mean ‘delayed,’ and vice versa, then the Bible can meaning anything and nothing.”

So Plank One is the clear timing statements.

ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER...

This second plank is very much related to the first. However, where the first dealt with explicit references to the timing of when certain things would take place, this plank deals with chronology, or “in what order or sequence will these things take place?”. Only the preterist system makes coherent sense out of all the chronology passages in a consistent manner. One such example is the “end of the age” mentioned in Matthew 24.

When Christ ascended to the Father He sat at His right hand and is in the process of having all enemies put under His feet. Many passages tell us this, but the most important for this particular point is Ephesians 1:15-22 since it has some very important chronological indicators….

Scripture Verse: ….according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, NOT ONLY IN THIS AGE BUT ALSO IN THAT WHICH IS TO COME. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

This passage is very important. It tells us that during the age in which Paul was writing, Christ was having all things put under His feet. Hebrews 1:13 equates this idea with sitting at the right hand of the Father. Paul also tells this that this special position will be occupied by Christ in the age in which he was writing but also in the age which is to come.

Now let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Scripture Verse: But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.

ONE: Christ was raised first. That is a past event.

TWO: Those who are Christ’s will be raised when He comes, this is a future event even to us (the careful reader will note that preterists do not consider this the same “coming” as in Matthew 24).

THREE: He will come at the end of the His reign, making his reign a present reality for us, and the end a future event for us.

FOUR: His reign cannot end until He has destroyed all rule and authority and power, again making His reign a present, progressive reality for us.

FIVE: The last enemy to be destroyed is death, there are NO MORE enemies after death, and no more rule and authority and power before death is destroyed since death is the LAST ENEMY that Christ has to deal with. Stop and let this marinate and sink in.

SIX: After He destroys the last enemy the Messianic Kingdom is over, it is delivered up to God the Father and God will be all in all.

So, this passage tells us that all enemies will finally and completely be put under Christ’s feet at the resurrection with the destruction of the last enemy, death, and at that point, Christ’s special Messianic reign ends. Yet Paul tells us that this special reign lasts through the age in which he was writing and through the end of the age to come. Now unless we are in that age to come, meaning that the age in which Paul was writing has ended, then there is yet a whole age to come before Christ can return to resurrect the saved and the damned. NO ONE BELIEVES THAT.

Ephesians 1:20-1 tells us that there are two ages in view when Paul was writing that passage. The age in which he was writing and the age to come. Paul knew that there was more than one age to come since in Ephesians 2:7 he mentions the ages to come. Now if the final age for us is the eternal state, and it is, it has to be the last of the ages to come, and thus, cannot be the “age to come” in Ephesians 1:20 since there is one more age after that one. Also remember that Christ is over all rule and authority and power and might in the age in which Paul was writing and the age to come. At the time of the resurrection, in 1 Corinthians 15:24 (and surrounding verses) He will have DESTROYED all rule and authority and power and might. Then obviously, the resurrection has to take place at the end of the age to come described in Ephesians 1:20 which would then put in the last of the AGES to come mentioned in Ephesians 2:7. This ties in perfectly with Revelation 20 as well. We are in the millennium, the age to come from Paul’s perspective, we are spiritually reigning and ruling and sharing in the First Resurrection (Christ’s resurrection). When the thousand years are done (this age is finishing, which is the age to come from Paul’s perspective), Christ will put all rule and authority and power under His feet (described as Gog and Magog in Revelation 20), He will resurrect the just and the damned (the second resurrection), and THEN the eternal state begins. The chronology is tight and inescapable. There is no way around it that does not involve incredible sequential contortions and liberal uses of the Gap.

On a side note, there is some confusion that is to be had with the fluidity of the Biblical use of “age” and “world.” There are times, such as in the above, where it can only be referring to the literal progression of time from one age into another. In such a scheme, and no one in this debate would disagree with me, there are three ages. The age in which Christ spoke, the Millennium (i.e. the age to come from when Christ spoke), and the eternal state. This is not a point of disagreement amongst us here, it is just that the chronology I presented completely rules out and makes impossible any idea that “an end of the age” has not already come. However, to make this complete ( Solly ), there are other times when the Scripture seems to just as clearly teach just two ages. How is this resolved? By recognizing that Biblical terms are not rigid and can be used in different ways in different contexts. In the context of this discussion, “age” and “world” have shades of meaning and can be used “rigidly” or “loosely.” When sheer chronology or timing is obviously in view, I am quite comfortable in saying that we should interpret it rigidly chronologically. However, there are times when indeed it is employed to compare the Old Covenant age with the New Covenant age…. Thus rigidly two consecutive ages in the stream of history, and there are other times when it is employed more “loosely” as in the idea of “world” or “state of being” of simply “this present time” (without implying an end) in which it is used to compare the earthly state with the future eternal state. It encompasses “world” in a sense not necessarily of geography but of anthropology, dealing with the mortal concerns and affairs of men. This does not do violence to the semantical range of the word (Thayer spends pages on it) and does clear up a lot of confusion, and again, imbues the preterist system with the only systematically coherent resolution of both timing and chronology.

There are other chronological passages which can be brought into play which space does not permit me to do so here. However, I do ask the reader to take a careful look at Daniel 2:44…

Scripture Verse: And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.

And especially in light of everything else that has been presented, pay careful attention to both the chronology of the predicted Messianic Kingdom (it follows after Rome), and the timing of the predicted Messianic Kingdom (it not only follows after Rome, it is set up while Rome still exists). This is such a powerful predictive verse for the coming of Messiah and His Kingdom, yet futurism completely eviscerates it with its insistence that the whole first century world has to be recreated (i.e. rebuilt Jerusalem, rebuilt Temple, rebuilt nation of Israel, reconstituted Roman Empire) in order to fulfill prophecy that was clearly fulfilled in the original first century world.

Moving on to give a whack with the third plank….

I AM GOING TO PUNCH YOUR LIGHTS OUT

Now no one reading this statement would take it to be a threat that I am going to break into their house and wreak havoc upon their lamps. Why? Because it is an obvious colloquialism… to US. It may not be as obvious to someone in another culture, as I am sure we have all heard humorous stories abut how innocent expressions can be misunderstood when transliterated to another culture (for example I just found out what a particular American colloquialism for “butt” means in Australia and I can assure you, the meaning is really changed ). Now what does this have to do with preterism? Scads…. For when we read a statement like this:

Scripture Verse: Matthew 24:29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

… we low-context moderns have images of the very fabric of the entire universe unraveling. But is that what is really being communicated here? Not if we use a basic rule of Biblical interpretation, use the Bible to interpret the Bible if possible. Do we find this same kind of “decreation imagery” elsewhere in Scripture? Yes in fact we do, indeed, this type of language is identical, to that used to describe things said to have already happened to ancient Israel, Babylon, Egypt, and Edom:

Scripture Verse: Isaiah 13:9-10 Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine.

The context makes it clear that this is a description of a past judgment on Babylon. The language is almost identical to Jesus’ words in the Discourse, and the NAS even has the Jesus’ words indicated as being a direct quote from this passage, a past judgment in which the created universe did not actually dissolve.

Scripture Verse: Ezekiel 32:7-8 When I put out your light, I will cover the heavens, and make its stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of the heavens I will make dark over you, and bring darkness upon your land,’ Says the Lord GOD.

Again, this is a past judgment on Egypt. Did all this LITERALLY happen back then?

Scripture Verse: Isaiah 34:4-5 All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; all their host shall fall down as the leaf falls from the vine, and as fruit falling from a fig tree. “For My sword shall be bathed in heaven; Indeed it shall come down on Edom, and on the people of My curse, for judgment.

And this is a past judgment on Edom. Did I miss the dissolution of the universe back then?

Scripture Verse: Jeremiah 4:23-26 (go back to verses 14 and 16 to see the context) I beheld the earth, and indeed it was without form, and void; and the heavens, they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and indeed they trembled, and all the hills moved back and forth. I beheld, and indeed there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens had fled. I beheld, and indeed the fruitful land was a wilderness, and all its cities were broken down at the presence of the LORD, by His fierce anger.

This is a historical judgment on Israel.

This cosmic imagery is not limited only to ideas of judgment and cursing, the exact same imagery in reverse is used when a nation is blessed:

Scripture Verse: Isaiah 60:19-20 The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; But the LORD will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, nor shall your moon withdraw itself; for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended.

Now is the “sun” here literal? How can the literal sun no longer give light and yet no longer go down? Is it a big ashen ball up in the sky? For anyone who thinks so, take a look at this next passage…

Scripture Verse: Isaiah 30:26 Moreover the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the LORD binds up the bruise of His people and heals the stroke of their wound.

These are speaking of the same or similar blessing events, and the eschatological blessing. Well in this one, not only does the “sun” still give light, it is intensified sevenfold! Now no one in their right mind thinks that a sevenfold brightness to the sun would literally be a good thing. The earth would be utterly incinerated.

Jesus’ words are no different. He is describing a cataclysmic judgment to occur upon the nation of Israel. But some may say “okay Miss Smarty Pants, I may buy your idea of decreation language being used hyperbolically but what about this??”

Scripture Verse: Matthew 24:30 …And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

Well again, does the Bible tells us anything about “coming” and “clouds”? Yes it sure does. The OT is replete with language of YHWH “coming” in judgment and being enfolded in clouds, and not once did it mean that He literally set foot on earth or saddled up a cloud. For example:

Scripture Verse: Isaiah 19:1 – The burden against Egypt. Behold, the LORD rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt; the idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst.

If we were to interpret this passage the way that futurism does the Discourse, we would be forced to believe that YHWH actually sat atop a cloud, rode on into Egypt, dismounted, and then started kicking over idols. Why don’t the literalists do this? Why aren’t they consistent?

Even in Revelation, Jesus threatens to “come” and visit judgment upon real historical first century churches if they did not repent, but certainly He was not threatening a bodily visitation or the end of the world (Revelation 2:16, 3:3).

For some other passages connecting clouds and judgment, see 2 Samuel 22:12; Jeremiah 4:13; Ezekiel 30:3; Nahum 1:3; Zephaniah 1:14-15.

So the third plank of the Positive Case for Preterism is the proper use of apocalyptic symbolism and hyperbole.

As RC Sproul has said,

“ The advantage of preterism is that it 'saves the phenomena' of the New Testament time-frame references; it interprets biblical prophecy according to the images used in Scripture itself; and it offers a framework for consistent interpretation of the difficult apocalyptic literature of the Bible, such as that found in Daniel and Revelation." ”

*The word “orthodox” has been dropped as redundant. Historically speaking preterism has always been orthodox, but a relatively recent band of heretics have attempted to abscond with a history good title. So called “full preterism” is nothing more than repackaged Hymenaeanism (2Timothy 2:17), and as such, is both creedally and Biblically heterodox. Preterists such as myself do not deny any essential of the historic Christian faith. We believe in the future bodily resurrection, the future bodily return of Jesus Christ, the future final redemption of Planet Earth, and the future Final Judgment.