The Preterist Approach to Bible Prophecy
Wikipedia defines Preterism, as a Christian eschatological view that interprets some (partial preterism) or all (full preterism) prophecies of the Bible as events which have already happened. This school of thought interprets the Book of Daniel as referring to events that happened from the 7th century BC until the first century AD, while seeing the prophecies of the Book of Revelation as events that happened in the first century AD. Preterism holds that Ancient Israel finds its continuation or fulfillment in the Christian church at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
The Preterist approach to interpreting bible prophecy uses a simple plain meaning, contextual and historical perspective.
Partial Preterism (often referred to as orthodox preterism or classical preterism) teaches that all prophecies in the Book of Revelation have been fulfilled up to chapter 19. There are still some that have not been fulfilled. Partial Preterism holds that most eschatological prophecies, such as the destruction of Jerusalem, the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation, and the advent of the Day of the Lord as a “judgment-coming” of Christ, were fulfilled either in AD 70 or during the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Nero.
Partial preterism is generally considered to be a historic orthodox interpretation as it affirms all eschatological points of the ecumenical Creeds of the Church.
Also central to preterism thought, Supersessionism, also called replacement theology, is a Christian doctrine which asserts that the New Covenant through Jesus Christ supersedes the Old Covenant, which was made exclusively with the Jewish people. This view directly contrasts with dual-covenant theology which holds that the Mosaic covenant remains valid for Jews.
I would argue, however, it’s not replacement theology at all. The Church does not replace the Jews, rather the New Testament Church includes the Jews. In the New Covenant “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28) The New Covenant Church encompasses all, both Jew and Gentile – all who come to faith in Christ.
Dating of the book of Revelation
The dating of the book of Revelation is of vital importance and preterists believe it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. If it were written after 70 AD, then the “soon” references etc., would not make sense.
Revelation 1:1 says, “The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.” And Rev. 1:3 says “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”
These events in Revelation are soon to take place… not thousands of years into the future. It was written for the people living at that time giving them some expectation of the time is near.
Jesus’ warning in Matthew 24:34 that “this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” is tied back to his similar warning to the scribes and the Pharisees that their judgment would “come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:36), that is, during the first century rather than at a future time long after the scribes and Pharisees had passed from the scene. The destruction in AD 70 occurred within a 40-year generation from the time when Jesus gave that discourse.
A Questionable Beginning
Preterism was first advanced in 1604 by Jesuit priest to counter the Reformation teaching that the Papacy was the whore of Babylon. But, just because it was developed by a Roman Catholic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. There are many doctrines within the Catholic church that are congruent with the Protestant church… albeit, there are some doctrines that are wrong.
What is Preterism? Part 1
Still, partial preterism is not the majority view among American denominations founded after 1500 and meets with significant vocal opposition, especially by those denominations which espouse 18th Century dispensationalism.
Full preterism differs from partial preterism in that full preterists believe that the destruction of Jerusalem fulfilled ALL eschatological or “end times” events, including the resurrection of the dead and Jesus’ Second Coming, or Parousia, and the Final Judgment.
The Revelation from Jesus Christ
Interpreting the book of Revelation is indeed difficult with all it’s prophetic symbolism. But, it holds many prophetic truths regarding the mystery (new testament Church) and those who read it, hear it, and take to heart was is written are blessed.
The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. Revelation 1:1-3
The Preterist Approach to Revelation
What Is Preterism? Part 2
Those countering Preterism point to the following prophecies that have not yet been fulfilled:
And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand. I heard their number. – Rev. 9:15-16
The number of mounted troops was 200 million (twice ten thousand times ten thousand [v.16]). Or was it? Futurist interpreters often insist that this number is to be taken literally, and some have supposed that this must refer to a future army that will come out of China. Sam Storms says that in the Greek, the expression denotes “a ‘double myriad of myriads,’ a ‘myriad’ typically equivalent to 10,000.” Therefore, it’s very possible that John heard the number 20,000, but that this has often been wrongly translated as 200 million. [Pursuing Truth]
It is difficult to say with certainty that Rev. 9:12-19 describes the assault on Jerusalem in 70AD or if it describes a future event. While the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD does fit the Revelation narrative in many ways, there remains some inconsistencies that might leave us in doubt.
I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshipers. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. – Rev. 11:1-2
While chapter 11 of Revelation is a difficult chapter to interpret, the dispensational view has only added a new twist to what the church had believed before. That view teaches there will be a future temple built by the Jews during the future 7 year tribulation where the Antichrist will declare himself to be God.
What temple is being measured here? If we accept the early writing of Revelation (pre 70 AD) it could mean the existing temple that stood at the time. Or, if we accept the later writing of Revelation (post 70 AD), as dispensationalists have since the 1800’s do, it could mean some future restored physical temple in Jerusalem. Another view here is that the temple… along with its worshipers is symbolic of the people of God.
It is difficult to say emphatically which interpretation is correct. Rather than accepting some Bible expositors interpretation of this chapter, Hollywood theology, or popular writer theology, I suggest we attempt to use the Bible and history to help us understand its meaning.
- The Preterist view is this temple was standing at the time John wrote these verses and the symbolism would be meaningless to readers if the temple had already been destroyed at this point. The “measuring” is done in Scripture to separate the holy from the impure and to protect that which is holy. “They will trample on the holy city for 42 months.” The word “Gentiles” in v. 1 is the Greek ethnos (a race, a nation, the nations (as distinct from Israel)). Rome was an empire made up of many nations (ethnos). The Jewish war started by Caesar Nero against Judea and Jerusalem in 66 AD lasted for 3 1/2 years or 42 months until 70 AD. This was a so-called tribulation (Matt. 24:21), another time of Jacobs trouble (Jeremiah 30:7) just as it was when the Babylonians destroyed the first temple in 586 BC.
- There is no reference anywhere else in Scripture of a rebuilt third temple as dispensationalists teach.
- The symbolic interpretation, however, holds some credence here as the book of Hebrews and 1 Corinthians 6:19 is pretty clear that the temple of God are believers.
And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” They are “the two olive trees” and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth.” If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want. – Revelation 11:3-6
Who are the two witnesses? In Revelation 11:3-12 we are told of two witnesses that will prophesy for 1,260 days (3 1/2 years). Oftentimes in prophetic Scripture individuals are symbolic of events, not individual people. (In Rev.6:2 and 19:11-13 the white horse depicts Christ, the fiery red horse and horsemen (Rev. 6:4) represents war and violence, the black horse and horsemen (Rev. 6:5-6) depicts famine, and the pale horse and horsemen (Rev. 6:8) depict the power of famine, plague, and to kill by sword and by the wild beasts.) So, these two witnesses do not necessarily depict individuals but perhaps groups of people. Kenneth Gentry says the two witnesses “probably represent a small body of Christians who remained in Jerusalem to testify against it.”
It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. – Revelation 13:16-17
Those countering Preterism point out the mark of the beast of Rev. 13 has not yet happened nor have the events associated with that narrative occurred. I would argue there is a mark of the beast system that is being set up right now… and in fact, has been evolving for a long time.
Jonathan Welton writes in Raptureless, “Regarding the mark of the beast, it is important to note that in the ancient culture of Rome, the public market was the main source of trade and retail. For people to enter the public market, they had to pass through the main gate. It was required of all who entered the main gate to pay homage to the idol of the Emperor. Once homage was paid, ashes were placed on the hand or on the forehead of the individual, and then they were allowed to pass through the gates and buy and sell merchandise. This was called “taking the mark.””
About the mark of the beast, the prestigious theologian N.T. Wright says: “What’s more, worshipping or not worshipping was quickly becoming the dividing line between people who were acceptable in the community and people who weren’t. Not long after this time, some local officials introduced a formal requirement that unless you had offered the required sacrifices you weren’t allowed in the market. There were various kinds of marks and visible signs, which were used to set people apart either as ‘able to trade’ or as ‘not able to trade’. From quite early on the Christians were faced with a stark alternative: stay true to the lamb and risk losing your livelihood, the ability to sell or buy; capitulate to the monster, sacrifice to Caesar at the behest of the local officials, and then everything will be all right-except your integrity as one of the lamb’s followers.”
Richard Anthony adds: The Christians of the first century were under the military authority of Rome, a nation which openly proclaimed its rulers, the Caesars, to be divine. All those under the jurisdiction of Rome were required by law to publicly proclaim their allegiance to Caesar by burning a pinch of incense and declaring, “Caesar is Lord.” Upon compliance with this law, the people were given a papyrus document called a “libellus,” which they were required to present when either stopped by the Roman police or attempting to engage in commerce in the Roman marketplace, increasing the difficulty of “buying or selling” without this mark. This is the essence of Scripture’s warnings to the early Christians against taking upon themselves the “mark of the beast.”
We don’t need some future beast to fulfill this prophecy. It was a first century reality reality perpetuated by an emperor and empire that were truly beastly. The beast we read of in Revelation is not a coming antichrist or the man of lawlessness. John’s vision of the beast has already been fulfilled in Nero and the Roman Empire.
Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. – Revelation 13:11-14
Those countering Preterism says the false prophet of Rev. 13:1-17 that causes people to follow the antichrist has not yet appeared. 2 Peter 2:1-3 tells us there are many false prophets already among us introducing destructive heresies and causing many to follow their depraved conduct.
The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East.– Revelation 16:12
Jay Adams (Westminster Theological Seminary) is one scholar who points out that Israel’s past conquerors had traditionally crossed the Euphrates before wreaking their destruction. He notes that Josephus (Wars 7:1:3) told of Roman armies stationed along the Euphrates, including the famed 10th Legion, before they made their final advance on Jerusalem in 69-70 AD (Steve Gregg, Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary, p. 186).
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. – Rev. 20:1-3
The fact that Satan is bound does not necessarily mean that there will be a literal heaven on earth. A similar binding of Satan is found in the Book of Jubilees. In Jubilees 48:15, Satan was bound in order to allow the Jews to escape their Egyptian pursuers. This book also lists several other points in Jewish history when Satan was bound; and as a result, the people enjoyed prosperity and peace (Jubilees 23:25-30; 40:9; 46:2).
Whether these arguments against Preterism are valid, only time will tell. Since none of us fully comprehend what prophecy is teaching us, I suppose there is some room for different interpretations.
Preterism is the only approach that makes sense of scripture, the rejection of it is fuelled by other motives arising from some Freudian unconscious one suspects. The ‘evangelist’ imperative masking a continual appeal for funds and ‘Church workers’ paralleled only by the bureaucracy of a Socialist (or European -:)) State, (and then a majority of funding becomes diverted to support pension liabilities) under the illusion that if somehow we can persuade enough people to agree with us (ignoring the reality of identity being rooted in religious cultural practice) then we need no longer chant how long Jah Jah how long.
Whereas the scriptural picture is one of a select and chosen people manifesting Jehovah’s righteousness as a witness and example to other nations, and the failure of their obedience being rooted in the fear of death; which faith in the resurrection of Christ as the New Covenant distinctive is understood to be of sufficient power to overcome, as clearly the world understood as those human systems which exist in opposition to Jehovah are always temporal and thus of death, whereas the engrafted word of Jehovah abides forever, and so each generation after the first Christian century’s first fruits is a continual crop of holy saints until the end of time.
It’s some variants of Preterism which seem to deny the wickedness of the world and argue for some imagined heaven on earth on a par with Post-millennial fantasists that naturally invites mockery as any reading of Marxist theory (or the newspaper) seriously challenges such utopian hopes, and one suspects are only possible in those Countries whose wealth shields from the means by which such wealth is obtained, for which in the wisdom of God there is always a reckoning, if only in the vast migration of peoples to such wealthy countries with the concomitant evisceration of regard for established social norms and customs, as Europe and no doubt the USA learn God is not mocked whatsoever a man sows he shall reap. Peace