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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 or written.
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 (Matt. 24:2).
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 Revelation." 9
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 sepulchre." 12

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