Why I am a Preterist, Part III
In this article we conclude our series "Why
I am a Preterist."
As noted in a previous article, the corpus
or body of writings devoted to the study of "last things" may be
divided into three categories, which together make up a pyramid
The first story of the pyramid and very foundation of Preterism
are the many Times Texts
in the Bible placing Jesus' second coming in the first century.
In our first article in this series, we looked at 37
times texts, which unanimously place the return of Christ within
the first disciples' lives.
Here are but a few of the many passages we examined:
- "But when they persecute you in one city, flee ye into
another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone
over the cities of
, till the Son of man be come." Israel
- Matt. 16:27, 28 - "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom."
The second story of the pyramid consists in
historical characters and
events that were to mark Christ's kingdom and coming. Here
we saw that from Genesis to Revelation, the latter days were
tied to Biblical Israel and
"A voice of noise from the city, a voice from 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
The first and second stories of the
pyramid, therefore, corroborate each other and establish the
second coming as a past event. We learn from scripture that there was to be a "second
coming." The scripture are inerrant and immutable. Therefore we
believe in the second coming as an indisputable fact and article
of the Christian faith.
But the same scriptures that speak of a second coming
also tell us that it would occur within the first disciples'
lifetimes. Shouldn't we receive the
when of the second coming in the same spirit of faith we receive the
fact of the second
coming? How can we receive scripture's testimony regarding one,
but not receive scripture's testimony regarding the other? Yet,
that is precisely what most of Christendom does.
Most of Christendom believes that Jesus' return is still
future. Christians are taught that Christ's coming will be
bodily and visible and
that a fiery conflagration will
end the physical cosmos
(according to some), or that Christ will introduce a
(according to others). However, these scenarios create hopeless
contradiction between the "what" of the second coming, and the
"when." Can the
majority of Christendom just be plain wrong? If so, what is it
that has led so many into error?
To answer these questions we need to turn to the language
of the prophets, and thus come at last to the third story of our
The Usus Loquendi of the Prophets
The chief reason so many Christians have
fallen into error regarding the past fulfillment of Christ's
second coming is a prevailing lack of familiarity with the
usus loquendi of the
prophets. "Usus loquendi"
is a Latin phrase that describes the
established use or custom of speaking employed by the prophets. The
language of the prophets was poetic and figurative. The word
pictures they painted are among the most beautiful and powerful
in the world. They are also among the most terrifying. When God
visited judgment upon the world, bringing war, famine, and
pestilence upon the nations, the language employed was highly
exaggerated, to emphasize the severity of the coming judgment
and to lead the nations to repentance. The prophets described
the Lord as coming in wrath, riding upon the clouds as upon a
chariot; the earth melts at his presence; the isles flee
from before him; mountains and hills are dissolved by the blood
of the multitudes slain; the land is turned into burning pitch;
rivers of brimstone go before him, consuming the wicked from off
the earth; the sun is darkened; the moon turned to blood; stars
fall from their courses, and men seek to hide themselves in the
holes and caves of the earth from heaven's appointed wrath. This language of a
"collapsing universe" occurs over and over again in the Old
Testament to describe heaven's judgment upon men and nations,
not the destruction of the cosmos itself. Sir Isaac Newton
explains the imagery of the prophets this way:
"The figurative language of the prophets is taken from the analogy between the world natural and an empire or kingdom considered as a world politic. Accordingly, the world natural, consisting of heaven and earth, signifies the whole world politic, consisting of thrones and people, or so much of it as is considered in prophecy; and the things in that world signify the analogous things in this. For the heavens and the things therein signify thrones and dignities, and those who enjoy them: and the earth, with the things thereon, the inferior people; and the lowest parts of the earth, called Hades or Hell, the lowest or most miserable part of them. Great earthquakes, and the shaking of heaven and earth, are put for the shaking of kingdoms, so as to distract and overthrow them; the creating of a new heaven and earth, and the passing of an old one; or the beginning and end of a world, for the rise and ruin of a body politic signified thereby. The sun [stands], for the whole species and race of kings, in the kingdoms of the world politic; the moon, for the body of common people considered as the king's wife; the stars, for subordinate princes and great men; or for bishops and rulers of the people of God, when the sun is Christ. Setting of the sun, moon, and stars; darkening the sun, turning the moon into blood, and falling of the stars, for the ceasing of a kingdom."
What was true of the Old Testament is true
of the New Testament.
The New Testament was not spoken in a vacuum. Jesus and
his disciples were Jews and spoke to Jews. All Jews belonged to
the local synagogue, and grew up hearing the Old Testament
prophets read aloud every Sabbath. Most Jews were literate, and
any male might be called upon to read from the prophets in the
synagogue (Lk. 4:16-20; Acts 15:21). At such times, the Jews
would have heard Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the "minor
prophets" pronounced divine wrath and judgment upon their
ancestors for apostasy, idolatry, and sin. Equally important,
they would have heard historical narratives describing
fulfillment of these
prophecies, and how the nation was destroyed in judgment upon
their sin. The language of
prophecy and its historical fulfillment would therefore have
been known and familiar to the Jews of Jesus' day.
We know by comparing Jesus' pronouncements
About this same time also the prince of the devils, who is the contriver of all evil, shall be bound with chains, and shall be imprisoned during the thousand years of the heavenly rule in which righteousness shall reign in the world, so that he may contrive no evil against the people of God. After His coming the righteous shall be collected from all the earth, and the judgment being completed, the sacred city shall be planted in the middle of the earth, in which God Himself the builder may dwell together with the righteous bearing rule in it…the earth will open its fruitfulness, and bring forth most abundant fruits of its own accord; the rocky mountains shall drop with honey; streams of wine shall run down, and rivers flow with mile: in short, the world itself shall rejoice, and all nature exult, being rescued and set fee from the dominion of evil and impiety, and guilt and error. Throughout this time beasts shall not be nourished by blood, nor birds by prey; but all things shall be peaceful and tranquil. Lions and calves shall stand together at the manger, and the wolf shall not carry off the sheep, the hound shall not hunt for prey; hawks and eagles shall not injure; the infant shall play with serpents.
For Lactantius, the prophets do not
communicate spiritual truths in poetic and figurative language,
but spoke literally, so that men are taught to look for rivers
to flow with actual wine! With these sorts of expectations about
the second coming, it is no wonder men are still looking for
Christ's return. This situation has more or less continued until
today. Christians lack sufficient grounding in the Old Testament
to intelligently interpret Biblical eschatology. In the balance of this article, we will survey many
passages from the prophets to see how they used language and how
this same language is used in the New Testament.
Day of the Lord
This phrase occurs in its complete form
twice in the New Testament (Acts ; II Pet. ), though the abbreviated form "day" occurs
with some frequency. It is widely assumed that it refers to the
end of the world, but this is incorrect.
The phrase occurs numerous times throughout the Old
Testament, where it describes times of divine judgment upon the
world. Typically, it is accompanied by figurative language of
preternatural phenomena in which the Lord comes in wrath upon
the nations. Isaiah's description of the fall of
First, Isaiah describes the Lord's coming
in the armies of the nations. Notice that the Lord's coming is
not bodily and visible, but spiritual and providential:
Isa. 13:1, 4, 6 - "The burden of
, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see...The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like as of a great people; a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together: the LORD of hosts mustereth the host of the battle. They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, even the LORD, and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land. Babylon
This may be compared with Matthew:
- Matt. 24:30 - And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Next, Isaiah describes the terror and
destruction brought upon the world by the Mede-Persian armies in
the day of the Lord. Isaiah evokes imagery of a woman in
travail, a theme familiar to New Testament eschatology,
describing a time of national and world calamity:
- Isa. 13:6-8 - "Howl ye; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty. Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man's heart shall melt: And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames."
This may be compared with these New Testament passages:
Mk. 13:8 - For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginning of sorrows [birth pangs].
- I Thess. 5:3 -For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
Isaiah then describes heaven's wrath upon
sinners in terms of celestial phenomena, in which the heavens
themselves refuse to shine upon the world of men:
- Isa. 13:9-12 - "Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir."
This should be compared with Luke:
- Lk. 21:25, 26 - And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.
Shaking of Heaven & Earth
- Isa. 13: 13, 14 - Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger. And it shall be as the chased roe, and as a sheep that no man taketh up: they shall every man turn to his own people, and flee every one into his own land.
- Heb. 12:26, 27 - Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Thus, all of the apocalyptic language
usually associated with the "end of the world" in the New
Testament has an established usage in the Old Testament
associated with times of judgment upon earth's nations. The
language is poetic and figurative, not literal. Here is another
"day of the Lord;" this time upon
Mountains Melted with Blood
First, Isaiah describes a time world-wrath
as the armies of
- Isa. 34:1-3 - Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it. For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood.
Dissolution of the Heavens
Next, Isaiah describes the very heavens
themselves as being dissolved in language identical with the
second epistle of Peter. If the language of Isaiah is
figurative, as surely it is, what rule of interpretation makes
Peter's imagery literal?
- Isa. 34:4 - And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree.
Compare with Peter:
- II Pet. 3:10 - But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
Land Soaked with Blood
Isaiah does not leave us in doubt about what nation is under heaven's wrath, but names Idumea (Edom), saying their land would be soaked with blood.
- Isa. 34: 5-7 - For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment. The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea. And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.
Earth turned to Brimstone & Ceaseless Burning
- Isa. 34:8-10 - For it is
the day of the LORD's vengeance, and the year of recompence for
the controversy of
Compare with New Testament passages:
- II Pet. 3:11, 12 - Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
- Rev. 14:10-11 - The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.
Coming on Clouds
Another familiar image of the second coming
is Christ coming on clouds of glory.
Most assume this is literal, but Old Testament prophets
employed this imagery rather frequently to times of national and
Isa. 19:1 - The burden of
. Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt : and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it. Egypt
- Ezek. 30:13-18 - Thus saith the Lord God…I will put a fear
landof Egypt Egypt
- Ezek. 32:7-8 - And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with cloud, and the moon shall not giver her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon they land, saith the Lord God.
Earth Melting at the Presence of the Lord
Most expect at the second coming that
Christ will descend from heaven with a shout and that the earth
will melt before him. This imagery is fairly common in the Old
Testament; the prophet Miach's description of judgment upon
- Mic. 1:2-5 - Hear, all ye
people; hearken, O earth, and all that therein is: and let the
Lord GOD be witness against you, the LORD from his holy temple.
For, behold, the LORD cometh forth out of his place, and will
come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the
mountains shall be molten under him, and the valleys shall be
cleft, as wax before the fire, and as the waters that are poured
down a steep place. For the transgression of Jacob is all this,
and for the sins of the house of
Israel Samaria Judah Jerusalem
What about Second Peter 3?
Some may object that, although many of the passages cited above have the look and feel of hyperbolic speech, the second epistle of Peter sounds much more "matter of fact," and does not seem to be of the same poetic genre as the prophets. There is some truth to this observation. Peter's statements about the elements melting with fervent heat appear in the midst of a plain-speaking epistle, not in the course of a long poetic book or passage. Might not Peter be speaking of a nuclear holocaust at the world's end? No. Peter's reference to the promised "new heavens and earth" toward the end of his epistle make this impossible (II Pet. ). This promise is from the book of Isaiah, where it clearly refers to the altered condition of world political affairs following Christ's judgment upon the Jews and Romans.
- Isa. 66:5-22 - Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren 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. A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the LORD that rendereth recompence 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. For by fire and by his sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many…For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain.
The socio-political environment of the
world had been oppressive to God's people down through the long
centuries, culminating in the persecution of Nero and the Jews.
But, with the ascension of Christ and his rule over the nations,
dominion has come to the saints, who now find themselves in
world-wide ascendancy as Daniel the prophet foretold:
- Dan. 7:27 - And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.
Origen and the Figurative Use of Language
Before closing, it will be worth our while
to cite one of the earliest and most learned of the early
Patristic Writers, Origen.
Origen (A.D. 185-254) writings were voluminous.
His friend and patron, Ambrosius, bore the expense of
seven amanuenses and an equal number of transcribers, as well as
girls practiced in calligraphy, to make copies for publication
of the works dictated by Origen.
Jerome says that he wrote more than any individual could
read. Epiphanius related that his works amounted to 6,000
writings. His magnum opus
was the Hexapala, a critical edition of the Greek and Hebrew
scriptures set in six columns, including versions of the 1)
Hebrew, 2) Hebrew transliterated into Greek, 3) Aquila of
Sinope, 4) Symmachus the Ebionite, 5) a recension of the
Septuagint, 6) Theodotion.
His works published in the Ante-Nicene Fathers include
A Letter to Africanus about the History of Susanna,
A Letter to Gregory,
and Contra Celsus.
In Contra Celsus,
Origen defended the idea of God “coming down” to earth,
affirming that scriptural usage shows that this language is
if the voices of the prophets say that God ‘comes down,’ who has
said, ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord,’ the term
is used in a
figurative sense. For God ‘comes down’ from His own height and greatness when He
arranges the affairs of men, and especially those of the
Furthermore, the bodily descent of God is
also accommodative language, not to be taken literally:
as custom leads men to say that teachers ‘condescend’ to
children, and wise men to those youths who have just betaken
themselves to philosophy, not by ‘descending in a
manner; so, if God is said
anywhere in the holy Scriptures to ‘come down, it is understood
as spoken in conformity with the usage which so employs the
word, and in like manner also with the expression, ‘go up.’
But if the “coming down” of God is
figurative, and is not literal or bodily, Origen also affirms
that the fire of Christ’s conflagration is merely figurative:
“But it is in mockery that Celsus says we speak of ‘God coming down like a torturer bearing fire,’ and thus compels us unseasonably to investigate words of deeper meaning, we shall make a few remarks, sufficient to enable our hearers to form an idea of the defense which disposes of the ridicule of Celsus against us, and then we shall turn to what follows. The divine word says that our God is ‘a consuming fire,’ and that ‘He draws rivers of fire before Him;’ nay, that he even entereth in as ‘a refiner’s fire, and as a fuller’s herb,’ to purify His own people. But when He is said to be a ‘consuming fire,” we inquire what are the things which are appropriate to be consumed by God. And we assert that they are wickedness, and the works which result from it, and which, being figuratively called ‘wood, hay, stubble,’ God consumes as a fire. The wicked man, accordingly, is said to build upon the previously-laid foundation of reason, ‘wood, and hay, and stubble.’ If, then, any one can show that these words were differently understood by the writer, and can prove that the wicked man literally builds up ‘wood, or hay, or stubble,’ it is evident that the fire must be understood to be material, and an object of sense. But if, on the contrary, the works of the wicked man are spoken of figuratively, under the names of ‘wood, or hay, or stubble,” why does it not once occur (to inquire) in what sense the word ‘fire’ is to be taken, so that ‘wood’ of such a kind should be consumed? For (the scripture) says: “The fire will try each man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work be burned, he shall suffer loss.”
Here we have Origen’s answer to Celsus’ mock that God comes down as a “torturer bearing fire.” First, the coming down is figurative; second, the bodily form is merely accommodative, not literal; third, the fire of Christ’s wrath is also figurative.
In connection with this last, a survey of the texts quoted by Origen shows all are traditional “second coming” passages:
Heb. 12:26-29 - “Our God is a consuming fire.”
II Cor. - “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.”
These “second coming” passages, coupled with Origen’s figurative understanding of prophetic language, show that Origen viewed the second coming in terms precisely as Preterists do today. Moreover, this view did nor originate with Origen; he merely defended what appears to have been the consensus of the day, as surely it would have to have been to come to the attention of an outsider and unbeliever like Celsus and make its way into his book.
The three story pyramid of interpretation of Time Texts, Characters and Events, and Symbolic Language weave into a threefold cord that cannot be broken. We hope you will embrace Preterism as the only credible and defensible interpretive school of eschatology.
 Sir Isaac
Newton, Observations on the Prophecies of Daniel,
Part i. chap. ii
s, Divine Inistitutes, VII, xxiv; Ante Nicene Fathers Vol. 7, p. 219.
 Contra Celsus, IV, xiii; Ante-Nicene Father, Vol IV, pg. 501, 2
 Contra Celsus, IV, xii; Ante-Nicene Father, Vol. IV, pg. 502
 Contra Celsus, IV, xiii; Ante-Nicene Fathers IV, pg. 502.
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