Volume 7, Issue 2: Eschaton
A Case for Preterism
Jack Van Deventer
ow can one hope to promote peace in a world that
(we are told) is getting worse and worse, by God's decree no less? Many
Christians would have us believe that God sits aloof, unconcerned as the world
hurtles toward destruction. They tend to discourage prospects for peace as an
effort in futility when the modern day prophets of doom warn, "You don't polish
brass on a sinking ship." Such thinking has spawned a preponderance of
evangelicals who have retreated as losers from a battle whose victory was
assured at the Cross.
In the last issue, I presented a case for (1) Christ's sovereignty and
comprehensive lordship in world affairs, (2) Satan's defeat, and (3) the
progressive advancement of Christ's kingdom. An undeniable abundance of passages
point to Christ's victory over Satan, sin, and death. But what are we to make of
the passages that indicate massive destruction on an unprecedented scale?
Specifically, how can one be an optimist in view of the wars, famines,
earthquakes, tribulation, etc. of the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke
21) or of the beast, plagues, and destruction in the book of Revelation? How is
one to understand such passages?
One of the fundamentals of hermeneutics is to ask, "What did the passage mean
to the recipients of the message?" Modern prophetic interpreters would tell you
that these passages meant little or nothing to the hearers because the text
dealt with matters that would take place 2,000 years later. That is, God really
intended these prophecies for us and not for the people to whom they were spoken
But is this what the Bible teaches? What does God reveal about the timing of
these events? In the Olivet Discourse, Christ states specifically, "Assuredly, I
say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things
take place" (Matt. 24:34). This generation refers to the time period that
Jesus was speaking to. In an attempt to get around the literal meaning of this
passage, some have asserted that generation really means race ,
nation , or Israel , but nowhere in Scripture is the word used
this way. Kik calls such attempts to change the meaning of the word "unwarranted
and unscriptural," 1 while
Alexander calls it "monstrous." 2 In
recent years, even some premillennialists have conceded that attempts to change
the meaning of the word generation are unjustified. The Bible is clear
that Jesus was warning His generation of impending judgment.
Similarly, the book of Revelation, written to the seven churches, begins and
ends by emphasizing the timing of "things which must shortly take place" (Rev.
1:1). John reiterates that "the time is near" (Rev. 1:3) and emphasizes "the
hour which is about to come upon the whole world" (Rev.3:10 NASB). He closes the
book by reminding them repeatedly of Jesus' words "Behold, I am coming quickly!"
(Rev.22:7, 22:12, 22:20) and warns of "the things which must shortly take place"
(Rev.22:6). How many more ways can John state the immediacy of upcoming events?
As with the Olivet Discourse, Revelation is loaded with time references that
indicate a very near fulfillment.
What judgment are these passages referring to? Historically, many Christians
have believed that they refer to the wholesale destruction of Jerusalem in
August and September of A.D. 70 at the hands of the Romans and other armies
(Luke 21:20). According to first-century historian Josephus, an eyewitness of
the destruction, approximately 1,100,000 Jews were slaughtered. 3 The
city of Jerusalem was demolished, and the magnificent temple was destroyed so
that not a single stone was left upon another, just as Jesus had prophesied
We have strong Scriptural support that the evil emperor Nero was the beast
spoken of in Revelation 13. Nero was the first emperor to persecute Christianity
(Rev. 13:7). His persecution lasted a period of 42 months (13:5), from November
A.D. 64 sup>4 until
his death in June A.D. 68. 5 The
Hebrew spelling of Nero Caesar adds up to 666 6 (Rev.
13:18), he was the sixth of seven rulers 7 (Rev.
17:10), and he died from a sword wound 8 (Rev.
13:10). Note also that the apostle John refers to himself as a fellow partaker
"in the tribulation," (Rev. 1:9), not a tribulation or one of the
tribulations. John affirmed the tribulation's present reality back when
Revelation was written.
The view that these prophecies have been fulfilled is referred to as
preterism , coming from the Latin word preter meaning past
. R.C. Sproul notes, "The modern revival of preterism represents an interesting
and important paradigm shift in eschatology. The advantage of preterism is that
it 'saves the phenomena' of the New Testament time-frame references; it
interprets biblical prophecy according to the images used in Scripture itself;
and it offers a framework for consistent interpretation of the difficult
apocalyptic literature of the Bible, such as that found in Daniel and
As the year 2000 approaches, pop-futurists will work themselves into a frenzy
trying to figure out who the Antichrist is. Booksellers will laugh all the way
to the bank as they continue to repackage and resell their old, failed
prophecies to accommodate the insatiable gullibility of many evangelicals who,
not knowing history, are destined to repeat it.10 This
form of pessimistic eschatology was only invented in the 1830s, 11 but
as early as 1887 the great Bible preacher Charles Spurgeon observed, "Blessed
are they who read and hear the words of the prophecy of the Revelation, but the
like blessing has evidently not fallen on those who pretend to expound it, for
generation after generation of them have been proved to be in error by the mere
lapse of time, and the present race will follow to the same inglorious