Why I am a Preterist, Part II
Kurt Simmons, JD
In this article, we continue our study of
Biblical Eschatology and
Why I am a Preterist.
The Three-Story Pyramid of Biblical Interpretation
|The body of scripture devoted to the topic of Eschatology may be divided into three categories: 1) Time Texts, 2) Characters & Events, and 3) Veiled Speech and Symbolic Imagery. The time texts are direct statements about when the things predicted would be fulfilled. The second catagory consists of passages describing readily identifiable individuals and nations, and historically verifiable events associated with Christ's second coming.|
The third category does not provide new or different material
from the others. Rather, it merely describes the time,
characters, and events in a
form or manner. Even
though they merely describe the time, characters, and events in
a different form, because such passages are susceptible to
varying interpretations, it is useful, if not necessary, to
assign them a separate place of their own.
It is a basic rule of hermeneutics that difficult or obscure passages are to be interpreted in light of others that are open and plain. Thus, as we approach the corpus of eschatological writings, the foundation of our interpretation should be express statements of time. Next should come passages whose characters and events are readily identifiable. Last in order are passages that are of a veiled or symbolic nature. In other words, we interpret the symbolic passages in light of the other categories, and not vice versa.
This three-story pyramid is the foundation of the Preterist interpretation of eschatology. In our first article, Why I am a Preterist Part I, we reviewed 37 New Testament time texts, and saw that they unanimously placed Christ's return within the lives of the first disciples. In this article, we move to the second story of the pyramid: readily identifiable individuals, nations, and historically verifiable events associated with Christ's return.
"Everything points to the Destruction of
I remember almost 30 years ago when a
friend of mine, who was serving as a youth minister, brought a
young man to meet me.
It seems this young man felt that the second coming was a
past event. When I
asked him why he had this view, he said "because everything
points to the destruction of
49:1, 10 - "And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather
yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall
you in the last days…the scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and
unto him shall the gathering of the people be."
This passage, spoken by the patriarch Jacob
upon his deathbed, ties the "last days" to events bound up with
Biblical Israel and the coming of Christ. Since the "last days"
are tethered by this prophecy to Biblical Israel, when the
nation terminated and ceased to exist so did the last days.
Indeed, the "last days" are coterminous with the last end
and closing days of the Jewish state. Jacob does not directly
describe the destruction of the Jewish nation, but his saying
"what will befall you
in the last days" certainly carries ominous overtones suggesting
that event. In
saying that the monarchial power would not depart from
24:14-25 - "And now, behold, I go to my people: come therefore,
and I will advertise thee what this people shall do to thy
people in the latter days…I shall see him, but not now: I shall
behold him, but now nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob,
and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the
corners of Moab and destroy all the children of Sheth. And
This is Balaam's prophecy of events that
would occur in the latter days. Like Jacob's prophecy, Christ
was to appear in the latter days while Biblical Israel still
existed. Jesus is
referred to under the imagery of a "Star" and "Sceptre," and "he
that shall have dominion."
"And ships shall come from Chittim and shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber, and he also shall perish for ever."
The prophet Daniel mentions "Chittim" in a
context that makes unmistakable reference to
The Song of Moses & the Destruction of the Jewish State
The next passage we want to look at is the
"Song of Moses."
This is a long passage, taking up the whole of Deuteronomy 32,
so we can only touch upon parts of it here. The prophecy
describes the destruction of the Jewish nation, and it is cited
by several New Testament writers as overtaking the first century
Jews. Here is the introduction to the Song:
Deut. 31:28, 29 - "Gather unto me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to record against them. For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I commanded you: and evil will befall you in the latter days."
This is the third occurrence of the phrase "latter days" we have encountered. In each instance the latter days are tied to the destruction of the Jewish nation and polity. Like Jacob's prophecy to his sons, Moses uses the identical language, describing what will "befall you in the latter days." Here are selections from the Song itself:
Deut. 32:15-21 - "But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger. They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee. And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters. And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith. They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation."
This passage addresses
Deut. 32:29, 35, 36 - O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!...To me belongeth vengeance and recompense; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste. For the LORD shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up, or left.
This portion of Moses' prophetic song again
10:30, 37 - "For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth
unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord
shall judge his people…For yet a little while, and he that shall
come will come, and will not tarry."
The epistle to the Hebrews addresses the
nation's apostasy from God by clinging to the Old Testament
temple ritual while rejecting the gospel of Christ. Persecuted
by unbelieving Jews, the epistle warns believers against
succumbing to pressure to renounce Christ and return to the law.
If there is a passage in the Old Testament that describes
this precise period shortly before Christ's return to destroy
the nation, it is Isaiah 66.
Isaiah and the Second Coming of Christ
We looked at Isa. 66 in our first article
in this series, but include it again since it is so critical to
our study. Isaiah opens by describing the Jews adherence to the
dead ritual of the law, calling the temple ritual an
that killeth an ox is if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a
lamb, as if he cut off a dog's neck; he that offereth an
oblation, as if he offered swine's blood; he that burneth
incense, as if he blessed an idol.
Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul
delighteth in their abominations. I also will choose their
delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I
called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but
they did evil before mine eyes, and shoes that in which I
delighted not. Isa.
Next, Isaiah addresses Christians who were
being "cast out" (excommunicated) by their fellow Jews for
Jesus' name sake. Even before Jesus was crucified, the rulers of
the Jews had decreed that anyone who confessed Christ was to be
cast out (Jn. ,
The "appearing" of the Lord refers to his second coming.
"Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word; Your breath that hated you, that cast you out for my name's sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed." Isa. 66:5
Finally, we see the Lord's wrath upon the
Jews as he came in providential judgment upon the nation.
voice of noise from the city, a voice form the temple, a voice
of the Lord that rendereth recompense to his enemies…for behold
the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots like a
whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with
flames of fire."
Isa. 66:3-6, 15
Stephen quoted this passage of Isaiah when
tried before the Sanhedrin for saying Christ would destroy
Jerusalem and remove the customs given by Moses (Acts 6:13, 14;
7:48-50). This shows the first century fulfillment of Isaiah's
prophecy and the coming of Christ in the destruction of
Zachariah and the Day of the Lord upon
Zachariah 14:1, 2 - Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.
Here is express reference to the
eschatological destruction of
Malachi, Elijah, and the Day of the Lord
Zechariah is followed by Malachi, who predicted the opening of the eschatological period by the appearance of "Elijah". We know from Jesus' word in the gospels, that Elijah here referred to John the Baptist (Matt. ). Notice that the coming of Christ is set in a Judean context:
Mal. 3:1, 2 - Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.
Mal. 4:1- For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch… Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
The Old Testament thus closes with
eschatological warnings of the "day of the Lord" marked by the
Messiah's coming, who would be preceded by the appearance of
"Elijah" (John the Baptist).
The period in which we are to look for the events
predicted therefore belongs to that of the first disciples, not
we who live thousands of years later.
New Testament Predictions of
The Old Testament closed with Malachi's warning of a coming day of wrath. The New Testament opens with John renewing those warnings, saying that the time was now fulfilled and the day was soon at hand:
Matt. 3:7-12 - But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
John warned the religious rulers of his day
that the ax was already laid to the root of the trees,
indicating that the eschatological period had was upon. Christ
would soon appear, who would gather his followers into heaven by
martyrdom, but burn up the persecutors with unquenchable fire.
Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen
This parable is one of the more explicit in
terms of Christ's coming to destroy the Jewish nation.
The parable describes
- When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he
do unto those husbandmen?
They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked
men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which
shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith unto
them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the
builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner:
this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?
Therefore say I unto you, The
The chief priests and Pharisees clearly
understood that Jesus had spoken this parable against them, thus
confirming the first century context of the prediction. The
imagery of the Stone crushing its opponents evokes the
prophecies of Psalm 2, 110, and Daniel 2.
The Great Denunciation upon
Shortly before Jesus' arrest, he made his
"great denunciation" upon
Matt. 23:34-39 - Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Here is explicit reference to Jesus' coming
in the events that witnessed
Jesus' Great Eschatological Discourse
After his Great Denunciation, Jesus left
the temple and walked to the
Matt. 24:1-3 - And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
The disciples asked three questions: 1)
when will these things be (e.g., the destruction of
The Destruction of
The symbolism and imagery of Revelation belongs to the top
story of our interpretative pyramid, but there is at least one
explicit reference to
Rev. 11:1, 2 - And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
Reference to the "holy city"
21:23, 25 - "For these be the days of vengeance, that all things
which are written may be fulfilled…and they shall fall by the
edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all
nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles,
until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled."
The similarity of language fairly
conclusively shows an identity of subject, and means that
Revelation describes, at least in part, the destruction of
Rev. 11: 3-7 - And I
will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a
thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.
These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing
before the God of the earth. And if any man will hurt them, fire
proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and
if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.
These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of
their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to
blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they
will. And when they shall have finished their testimony, the
beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war
against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their
dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which
spiritually is called
The identity of the "two witnesses" (Gk.
"martyrs") is a matter of great dispute. We believe that this
refers to Peter and Paul, whose martyrdom marked the beginning
of the persecution under Nero and the Jews (the "beast" which
ascends out of the bottomless pit), which continued 3 1/2 years
("three days and a half" v. 9, 11). But if the identity of the
"two witnesses" is open to question, the "great city" is not,
for John specifically tells us it is the city "where our Lord
was crucified." If we trace the phrase "great city" throughout
the rest of the book, we will find that
"That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar."
"And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth."
This short survey is but a fraction of the
verses that connect the AD 70 destruction of
The next great eschatological figure is
The prophet Daniel lived during the
Babylonian captivity. The Jewish nation was destroyed by the
Assyrio-Babylonians invasions, culminating in the destruction of
We can even pin-point the time in Roman
history when these events had to occur, as described by the
First, the period was one when the
he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy
people, all these things shall be finished."
Dan. 12:7; cf. Deut. 32:36
Thus, the window for fulfillment is about
100 years (27 BC to AD 70). (See our commentary on Daniel for a
full explication of these visions).
Although interpretation of Daniel's visions
belongs in part to the third tier of our interpretative pyramid
(veiled speech and symbolic imagery), it overlaps the second
tier of readily
identifiable historical characters and events.
"In the first ten verses of chapter 13, a character is introduced of central importance to the events of the great tribulation. This passage is first of all a revelation of the revived Roman Empire in its period of worldwide dominion…The identity of this beast is quite clear in it reference to the revived Roman Empire, as the description is similar to that found in Daniel 7:7-8…The wounding of the heads seems instead to be a reference to the fact that the Roman Empire as such seemingly died and is now going to be revived." 
second sign appearing in heaven is described as a great red
dragon having seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns upon
his heads. From the similar description givein in 13:1 and the
parallel reference in Daniel 7:7-8, 24, it is clear that the
Thus, Walvoord acknowledges that
The Continuous Historical method believes
that books like Daniel and Revelation portray a continuous
panorama of history from the time of their writing until earth's
supposed end. Like
Futurists, the Continuous Historical school recognizes that the
kingdom and coming of Christ are intimately connected
fourth Beast was the empire which succeeded that of the Greeks,
and this was the Roman…This Empire continued in its greatness
till the reign of Theodosius the great; and then brake into ten
kingdoms, represented by the ten horns of this Beast."
The eleventh horn, which rose up among the ten (Dan. 7:8), is asserted to be the Catholic Church and Papacy:
"It was a horn of the
fourth Beast, and rooted up three of his first horns; and
therefore we are to look for it among the nations of the Latin
Empire, after the rise of the ten horns. But it was a kingdom of
a different kind from the other ten kingdoms, having a life or
soul peculiar to itself, with eyes and a mouth. By its eyes it
was a Seer; and its mouth speaking great things and changing
times and laws, it was a Prophet as well as a King. And such a
Seer, a Prophet and a King, is the Church of Rome…With his mouth
he gives laws to kings and nations as an Oracle; and pretends to
Infallibility, and that his dictates are binding to the whole
world; which is to be a Prophet in the highest degree…In the
eighth century, by rooting up and subduing the Exarchate of
Ravenna, the kingdom of the Lombards, and the Senate and Dukedom
of Rome he acquired Peter’s Patrimony out of their dominions;
and thereby rose up as a temporal Prince or King, or horn of the
fourth Beast. "
Although this view was widely
received during the Reformation, no respected
scholarship believes it today. History has moved on and the Catholic Church's
complete irrelevance in world events no longer allows us
to suppose that it figures in the books of Daniel or
Revelation, particularly as any sort of credible world
power capable of leading world-wide persecution of the
saints. Besides, the whole hypothesis runs counter to
scripture in many places.Jesus expressly declared that his kingdom and
coming would occur in the lives of the first disciples
, 28; 26:64; Mk. ; 9:1; 14:62). But by this hypothesis, the
kingdom and coming of Christ have not come after 2,000
years. Moreover, Daniel set 490 prophetic weeks from the
order of Artexerxes Longimanus to rebuild
A Future Temple & ElijahOther "end time" figures Futurists believe will be revived or reappear include the Jerusalem temple and Elijah. Destruction of the temple is an unmistakable part of Jesus' Olivet Discourse connected with his return. Ignoring the obvious historical context and Jesus' statement placing his return within his own generation (Matt. 24:34), Dispensationalists argue a "third temple" will be built sometime in the future.Regarding the temple portrayed in Rev. 11:1, 2, Walvoord states,
Temple here is apparently that which will be in existence dring the
great tribulation. Originally constructed for the worship of the
Jews and the renewal of their ancient sacrifices, during the
great tribulation it is desecrated and becomes the home of an
idol of the world ruler."
According to Walvoord, the appearance of
"Elijah" who was to appear before the day of the Lord was only
"partially" fulfilled in John the Baptist and will therefore in
some form or manner appear again:
"Support for the identification of Elijah as one of the two
witnesses is found in the prediction that Elijah will come
'before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord'
(Mal. 4:5). This seem to be at least partially fulfilled by the
coming of John the Baptist according to the discussion of Christ
with his disciples."
Why are Futurists forced to bring these ancient characters back onto the stage of history? It is owing to their belief in a literal kingdom upon earth and the sudden, cataclysmic end to the universe at Christ's return. In other words, they interpret the third tier of the pyramid - the symbolic speech and veiled language - literally, and are thus forced to ignore the time texts and revive ancient historical characters.We leave to the reader to decide which paradigm is the more reasonable: The Preterist view, which takes the scriptures as it finds them, or the Future view, which is constantly forced to "fudge" in order to validate its views.
 Cf. Matthew Henry and Adam Clarke in loc
 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Moody Press, 1967), pp. 197-199.
 Ibid, p. 189.
 Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, 176.
 Ibid, 178, 179.
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