Take a deep breath....
For many, any introduction to preterism is an awkward one. It is worth an early note that preterism is technically compatible with every millennial view since preterism is a hermenutic (way of interpreting the Scriptures) and not a theological system. Yet this is why it is awkward. Evangelical America is waiting and praying for the rapture. They are desiring Godly vindication. It is not wrong to presume that God protects and preserves His people. It is not these things in the system form that preterism accosts. Instead it is the fact that preterism is not only a BCV (book, chapter, verse) but a loud declaration that most if not all of the verses associated with the "end time" are instead about the destruction of Jerusalem.
It doesn't take long to realize the importance of the predicament. It becomes clear that the misconception of the impractical nature of eschatology is shattered. Sooner or later, as verse by verse goes through the potential preterism inspection, one of the verses that preterism claims will present confusion and disorientation to traditional futurist and will leave a plethora of intelligent and permissible questions. Many of these questions become very practical to the understanding of Scripture. 1 Thessalonians 4-5 and 2 Thessalonians 1-2 are hallmark passages that have application changes if they are applied to the early church.
There are many testimonies of people coming out of their futurism perspective with frustration (one might even say with weeping and gnashing of teeth). As a way of personal example, my introduction to preterism came in reading R.C. Sproul's book "The Last Days According to Christ". It was an eye opening experience that only helped to confirm where my own private study had been leading me. As a private practice I have read the book of Revelation every year for the past decade. And apart from outside influence I had been lead to pursue a deeper understanding of the differing opinions of the book. Sproul's was the third book that was read after two books by John MacArthur. I cannot recommend Sproul's series strongly enough whether it be the book form or the audio/video lectures. I don't follow or agree with everything Sproul says but his knowledge of where his audience is coming from (typically futurist) is helpful to introduce preterism to futurists.
Instead of diving straight into a preterist understanding of Revelation, we will use a briefer section of Scripture to introduce the concept. The event that stands as the best introduction to preterism is the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). Interestingly enough, this introduction will later serve to help us evaluate John's rendition of the prophecy (aka the book of Revelation). But unlike Revelation, men from all the millennial views have accepted the Olivet Discourse in a preteristic way. In Sproul's series, he talks extensively about this brief teaching time of Jesus and I recommend that you watch it in its entirety. While over the next few weeks I'll personally glean through some elements of it.
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Context is everything. The context for this great discourse is in fact Jesus' own prediction concerning the destruction of the temple (Matt 24:2-3; Mark 13:1-4; Luke 21:5-7). It doesn't take great exegesis to establish this as the context for the passage. The danger, however, presents itself when people assume they know the context (typically because of the imagery involved) without accepting the very context a teaching is derived from. You may be asking, "Can a context change?". And I would answer "yes, it can". But this simple acknowledgment is crucial because we now know that we
a textual reason to
for this to be about the "end times". Without an obvious redirection by Jesus Christ or the gospel writer(s) the only permissible context for Jesus' prediction is about Jerusalem. There are many good interpreters who have taught that the context does change and we'll look at some of those options now.
One such way in which many futurists see a context change is by speculating that the disciples
linked the destruction of the temple with the end of the world (KJV reads "world" while more modern translations read "age"). There are two brief things that need to be mentioned in response to this. First, Jesus does nothing to correct their misconception and neither does the gospel writer Matthew. Throughout the gospels there are example of Jesus being critical of their lack of understanding or the writer indicating that the disciples didn't understand. Neither is provided here. Also, from a purely historical viewpoint, there seems to be no effort to persuade the gospel readers that the disciples had it
in assuming these two things were linked. Secondly, the fact that only Matthew records it is important. There is debate but no conclusive reason to think that the Greek word αἰών (
165) means the end of history when it can strictly be referring to a specific period of time (e.g. Golden Age, Elizabethan Age). A longer discussion on this word is warranted but will not be done here. However if we accept the debate over the word and the possibility that it is a reference to a great age, this would help to explain why Jesus and Matthew don't correct the disciples. If the disciples recognize the great importance of having
mediation with God, then there question of "when will this
or period of time come to an end?" is much more reasonable. The author of Hebrew gives a great exposition of this throughout the letter but especially in chapter nine.
Truthfully, that argument is the strongest in the futurist arsenal. The rest resolve to show the silliness of a preterist view. But they are worth acknowledging as potential companions to the argument found above. So secondly, what about Jesus saying that the gospel must come to the world before the end comes (Matt 24:14)? Is this a context changing marker since even
we have not reached the entire world with the gospel? Not if you take Paul as literally as you take Jesus. Paul in writing to the Colossians declares that "every creature under heaven" has heard the gospel (Col 1:23)! This seems to me a pretty obvious use of hyperbolic language. Nevertheless, is what Paul describes capable of satisfying what Jesus delineates will happen before this significant event? The answer seems to be yes. Or what about the very accusation brought against Paul when he was before Felix (Acts 24:5)! The language there indicates that Paul has incited Jews "throughout the world". It is quickly obvious that we cannot force a meaning onto a word nor force an intent upon the speaker. So finally we can conclude that the context remains unchanged.
How about the "abomination of desolation" (Matt 24:15)? Jesus is reiterating a prophetic prophesy from Daniel (Dan 9:27, 11:31, 12:11). The crucial nature of Daniel to Dispensational thought cannot be discussed here. Instead we'll let Luke explain what Matthew meant when he included the phrase "let the reader understand". Luke describes these events apart from a Jewish audience and apart from Jewish imagery (Luke 21:20). It is clear that when Jerusalem was surrounded by its enemies, the time for the fulfillment would draw near. The understanding of this prophecy does not require a context change.
In a practical argument, some individuals will comment that the great persecution (Matt 24:21; Mark 13:19) obviously has not happened since we've seen greater persecution today then during that day. A full explanation of this requires the inspection of multiple other passages. I'll allow Kenneth Gentry to provide you with an
to this hyperbole language. But let it be enough to surmise that this is a literary element to involve greater attention to what is being described.
Another excellent practical argument involves the dramatic signs that were suppose to presuppose the coming of Christ (Matt 24:29-31). The Jewish historian Josephus describes this in his book "Jewish Wars",
Besides these [signs], a few days after that feast, on the one- and-twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armour were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, "Let us remove hence".
Some are resoundingly critical of the Josephus and the legitimacy of his writing. Some will even go so far as to say that a "not inspired" historian couldn't be used to validate prophecy. I understand their intent but I ask, do we expect
to validate the prophecy if it remains to be seen in the future as the opponents of Josephus believe? It is silly to require inspiration for the simple task of reporting what one saw in their life no matter how unusual it might seem to us.
The last possible contextual clue is the time by which Jesus predicts this all will happen (Matt 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32). "This generation" is a very simple phrase. It becomes obvious quickly that in this case the preterist reads the Bible more simply and literally than the futurist. Not to belittle the opposition, it can be argued that Jesus is referring to a
of people and not the actual generation in front of him. But the reasons to stretch the language to that extent seems foolish in light of the rest of the passage. There simply are no strong reasons to see the context of Jesus' answer changing or correcting what the disciples asked. And now Jesus' own words would be fulfilled by a historical event that meets all the criteria. Instead of becoming a passage with little practical importance to the disciples, the people following Jesus and the early church, preterism restores the idea that Christ came as a prophet to His people and helped to deliver the faithful from impending destruction.
In future posts, I'll look at the events themselves and how they were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem. Comment below. I promise that no futurist comments will be left behind. :-)