Opinions on faith and life

Preterism: A Brief Rebuttal

2002-01-01

quotes from a series by Thomas Ice, with some commentary by Paula Fether
(original documents under Articles at this link)

Definition

Preterism is the belief that all Bible prophecy has already been fulfilled, with the vast majority of preterists holding that it was finished by AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

The Olivet Discourse

I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Matt. 24:34) The timing of this generation is governed by all these things. What things had Jesus just been discussing? The abomination of desolation, suffering with an intensity unprecedented in all history, cunning false prophets, the global and visible return of the Son of Man, cosmic upheaval, the mourning of all the tribes of the earth, who will all see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven, and the angels gathering the elect from all over the world, accompanied by a loud trumpet blast.

Immediately after that list and before verse 34, Jesus tells us to look for the olive tree putting out its leaves. The olive tree is widely held to represent Israel, and the budding leaves indicate that the tree was emerging from a season of dormancy. There is good reason to believe this symbolizes the return of Israel to her homeland after a long delay. It is when you see all this that he is at the door.

Notice the parable following in verses 45-51, where Jesus speaks of an evil slave shirking his duties because the master was staying away a long time, and that after this delay the master would return unexpectedly. How could Jesus return at an unknown and surprising time if the early believers knew he had to return in their generation? And when was Israel rescued in AD 70?

In commenting on the parallel passage of Luke 21, Dr. Darrell Bock writes, the generation that sees the beginning of the end also sees its end. When the signs come, they will proceed quickly; they will not drag on for many generations... The nearness of the end is tied to certain signs.

Matthew 10 and 11

The apostles never completed their kingdom ministry before they turned to the Gentiles. This was because Israel did not receive their message. This thought is developed throughout the remainder of chapter 10 and in chapter 11, in which Jesus finally castigates Israel, withdraws the message of national deliverance and turns to individuals with an offer of salvation in Mt. 11:28-30. Dr. Stanley Toussaint further explains,
The Messiah was simply looking past His death to the time of tribulation following. At the time the disciples would have the same message and possibly the same power. The narrow road leading to the kingdom leads through the tribulation (Matthew 10:16), and this persecution is to be of a religious and political nature (Matthew 10:16-19)...
The Lord made no error and clearly had the coming for judgment in mind. However, the coming is contingent upon Israel accepting its King. Because even after His resurrection that nation refused Him, it became impossible to establish the kingdom (cf. Acts 3:18-26). In fact, the tribulation period did not come; if it had, the promise of the soon coming of the Son of Man would have been of great comfort to the apostles. Matthew 10:23 does not support the preterist contention that the coming of the Son of Man occurred in A.D. 70 through the Roman Army. Instead, Christ was looking ahead to another time, the tribulation leading up to the glorious second advent.

Matthew 16 and parallel passages

Matthew 16:27-28: For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.

Mark 9:1: And He was saying to them, Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.

Luke 9:26-27: For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.

The big question is what is meant by until they see the kingdom of God with power? It could refer to the coming of the Holy Spirit with power at Pentecost. Or it could refer to the Transfiguration that followed directly after Jesus uttered these words. It was a definite display of power, and the wording of this section in the Greek favors this event as being tied directly to the prediction. It cannot refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, since John was the only one among the 12 to survive past that and Jesus said some would survive.

Rev. 1:7 makes this statement: every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him. Those who pierced him, obviously the Jews, are distinguished from every eye, who by default must be Gentiles. The phrase and all the tribes on the earth will mourn because of him refers not to the tribes of Israel but to the other nations, since this exact phrase is always applied universally (see Gen. 12:3; 28:14; Ps. 72:17; Zech. 14:17).

In Acts 1:9-11, the Ascension, the disciples were told that Jesus would return the same way he left— with the clouds, while people are watching the actual physical Jesus. This has not happened yet. Dr. Thomas notes this about Dr. Gentrys preterist interpretation of Rev. 1:7:

This preterist view of 1:7... creates several unsolvable interpretive dilemmas within the verse itself, not to mention elsewhere in the book: inconsistency regarding the identity of those who pierced him, the tribes of the earth, and the land [or earth]. Are they limited to Jews and their land, or do they include Romans and the rest of the world? A preterist must contradict himself on these issues to have a past fulfillment of 1:7. They cannot limit those who pierced him to Jews only and elsewhere include the Romans as objects of Christs cloud coming. They cannot limit the tribes of the earth [or land] to Israel only, because in this case Zechariah 12:10ff. would require the mourning to be one of repentance, not of despair (as their interpretation holds). Their acknowledged worldwide scope of Revelation as a whole rules out their limitation of the land to Palestine in this verse.

Timing

A form of the Greek word for quickly (tachos) is used eight times in Revelation. Tachos and its family of related words can be used to mean soon or shortly as preterists believe (relating to time), or it can be used to mean quickly or suddenly as many futurists contend (manner in which action occurs). The tachos family is attested in the Bible as referring to both possibilities. On the one hand, 1 Timothy 3:14 is a timing passage, I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long. On the other hand, Acts 22:18 is descriptive of the manner in which the action takes place, and I saw Him saying to me, Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.

Not only is there a preponderance of lexical support for understanding the tachos family as including the notion of quickly or suddenly, there is the further support that all the occurrences in Revelation are adverbs of manner. These terms are not descriptive of when the events will occur and our Lord will come, but rather, descriptive of the manner in which they will take place when they do occur. These adverbial phrases in Revelation can more accurately be translated with swiftness, quickly, all at once, in a rapid pace [when it takes place].

It is significant to note that the Septuagint uses tachos in passages which even by the most conservative estimations could not have occurred for hundreds, even thousands of years. For example, Isaiah 13:22 says, ... Her (Israel) fateful time also will soon come... This was written around 700 B.C. foretelling the destruction of Babylon which occurred in 539 B.C. Similarly, Isaiah 5:26 speaks of the manner, not the time frame, by which the Assyrian invasion of lsrael will come with speed swiftly. Isaiah 51:5 says, My righteousness is near, My salvation has gone forth, and My arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands will wait for Me, and for My arm they will wait expectantly. This passage probably will be fulfilled in the millennium, but no interpreter would place it sooner than Christs first coming, at least 700 years after it was given. Isaiah 58:8 speaks of Israels recovery as speedily spring(ing) forth. If it is a timing passage, then the earliest it could have happened is 700 years later, but most likely it has yet to occur.

Many other citations in the Septuagint from the tachos family can be noted in support of the futurist interpretation of the usage in Revelation. In the Book of Revelation John is receiving a vision about future things. He is obviously transported in some way to that future time in order to view the events as they will unfold. This is why the word saw is used 49 times in 46 verses in Revelation because John is witnessing future events. It does not matter at all whether the temple is thought to still be standing in Jerusalem at the time that John sees the vision, since that would not necessarily have any bearing upon a vision. John is told by the angel accompanying him during the vision to measure the temple (Rev. 11:1). Measure what temple? The temple in the vision. In fact, Ezekiel, during a similar vision of a temple (Ezek. 40?48) was told to measure that temple. Dr. Gentry would agree, that when Ezekiel saw and was told to measure a temple, that there was not one standing in Jerusalem. Thus, there is no compulsion whatsoever, that just because a temple is referenced in Revelation 11 that it implies that there had to be a physical temple standing in Jerusalem at the time. Frankly, this is not only a weak argument from Dr. Gentry, it is no argument at all.

When was Revelation written? If before AD 70 it could fit the preterist scenario, but if after, the entire preterist apologetic crumbles. Since a preterist interpretation of Revelation requires an early date of the final book in the Bible, preterists go to great lengths in their attempts to make their view appear viable. For those of us who are futurists, the date of Revelation does not affect our interpretation of the book. The Domitianic date is the overwhelmingly accepted view of scholarship in our day. The only exception, as a class of interpreters, to the late date advocates are preterists. It is not surprising to realize that while their view is short of solid reasons for a pre-A.D. 70 composition, preterists make a heroic, but inadequate effort for their view. It appears to me that the major reason that preterists believe in an early date for Revelation is that their system requires it.

Practical Implications

Since subjects relating to prophecy dominate virtually every page of the New Testament (NT) this would logically mean, for the preterist, that most of the NT does not refer directly to the Church today. Since so much of the NT is written to tell believers how to live between the two comings of Christ, it makes a huge difference if one interprets Christs coming as a past or future event. If preterism is true, then the NT refers to Believers who lived during the forty year period between the death of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Therefore, virtually no part of the NT applies to believers today according to preterist logic. There is no canon that applies directly to believers during the church age.

Preterist advocate Dr. Kenneth Gentry actually believes that current history is identified as the new heavens and new earth of Revelation 21-22 and 2 Peter 3:10-13:2. This is a common preterist viewpoint. Dr. Gentry provides four major reasons why the new creation begins in the first century. It stretches credulity to think of the implications of the details of such a conclusion. If we are currently living in any way in the New Heavens and New Earth then this means that there is no Satan (Rev. 20:10), no death, crying or pain (Rev. 21:4), no longer any unclean, nor those practicing abomination and lying (Rev. 21:27), no curse (Rev. 22:3), the presence of God the Father (Rev. 22:4), just to name a few. Amazing!

Futurism is the natural outgrowth of the consistent literal interpretation of Scripture. This is the accepted approach to hermeneutics by all orthodox interpreters, except when some come to Bible prophecy. Thus, literal or natural interpretation is a support for futurism.

In the process of Moses exhortation to the nation of Israel, he provides in Deuteronomy 4:25-31 an outline of what will happen to this elect nation once they cross over the Jordan River and settle the promised land. A summary of these events would be as follows:

  1. Israel and her descendants would remain long in the land.
  2. Israel would act corruptly and slip into idolatry.
  3. Israel would be kicked out of the land.
  4. The LORD will scatter them among the nations.
  5. Israel would be given over to idolatry during their wanderings.
  6. While dispersed among the nations, Israel would seek and find the LORD when they search for Him with all their heart.
  7. There would come a time of tribulation, said to occur in the latter days, during which time they would turn to the LORD
For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them (Deuteronomy 4:31)

If the first five events have happened to Israel— and no evangelical interpreter would deny that they have— then it is clear from the text that the final events will also occur to the same people in the same way as the earlier events. This is most clear from the context. The Bible does not change horses in midstream so that suddenly Israel, who has received the curses, is dropped out of the picture and the church takes over and receives the blessings. Despite various systems of the theology, the Bible nowhere teaches that God has forsaken Israel (cf. Rom. 11:1). Any reader of the text will have to admit that the same identity is referred to throughout the whole of the text under examination. If it is true that the same Israel is meant throughout the text, then the last three events have yet to be fulfilled for Israel in the same historical way in which the first five events are recognized by all to have taken place. Thus, a fulfillment of the final three events in the life of Israel will have to happen in the future.