What is Preterism?
Article by Dr. Thomas Ice
This is an excellent article by Dr. Thomas Ice dealing with a subject which is becoming more popular with fundamental Christians. Many individuals are now looking to Preterism to try to discredit Dispensationalism. Therefore, it becomes very important for us to understand, and to answer this doctrine.
WHEN WILL PROPHECY BE FULFILLED?
What is preterism? Before I explain that in more detail, I want to orient you to the four views that people hold in relation to the timing of prophetic fulfillment. The four views are simple in the sense that they reflect the only four possible ways that one can relate to time: past, present, future, and timeless. When speaking of the fulfillment of Bible prophecy these four timing possibilities are called preterism, historicism, futurism, and idealism. The preterist (Latin for "past") believes that most, if not all prophecy has already been fulfilled, usually in relation to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The historicist (present) sees much of the current church age as equal to the tribulation period. Thus, prophecy has been and will be fulfilled during the current church age. Futurists (future) usually believe that almost no prophetic events are occurring in the current church age, but will take place in the following future events: the seven years of Daniel's seventieth week including the second coming, the 1,000 year millennium, and the eternal state. This is the view that I and those who are dispensationalists hold to. The idealist (timeless) does not believe either that the Bible indicates the timing of events or that we can determine their timing in advance. Therefore, idealists see prophetic passages as teaching great truths about God to be applied to our present lives.
PRETERISM VS. FUTURISM
Idealism, as an approach to Bible prophecy, is rarely followed outside of liberal scholarship and thus is not a significant factor in the mainstream of current evangelical debate over when prophecy will be fulfilled. Historicism, once the dominate view of Protestants from the Reformation until the middle of last century, appears to exert little attraction as a system of prophetic interpretation to conservative Christians, outside of Seventh-Day Adventist circles. However, it must be noted that most historicists take a preterist view of the Olivet Discourse, but disassociate it from the tribulation as found in Revelation and some New Testament Epistles. During the last 150 years, within evangelicalism, futurism has grown to dominate and overcome historicism. At the turn of the millennium, we see an attempt to challenge futurism arising from evangelical preterism. The last five to ten years have seen an increase in the ranks of preterism, from hundreds to thousands, and has attracted well known Bible scholars such as R.C. Sproul.
WHAT IS PRETERISM
Preterists argue that major prophetic portions of Scripture such as the Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation were fulfilled in events surrounding the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. Preterists believe that they are compelled to take such a view because Matthew 24:34 and its parallel passages say that "this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." This means it had to take place in the first century, they argue. Revelation, they advocate, says something similar in the passages that say Christ is coming "quickly" or that His return is "at hand." Having settled in their mind that these prophecies had to take place in the first century, they believe they are justified in making the rest of the language fit into a local (Jerusalem), instead of a worldwide fulfillment. Most preterists believe that we are currently living in at least an inaugurated new heavens and new earth, since all the Book of Revelation had to have a first century fulfillment.
Three Kinds of Preterism
There are at least three kinds of preterism. For lack of better terms we will call them mild, moderate, and extreme.
I have never personally encountered a mild preterist. I have only met them in books like Isbon T. Beckwith's The Apocalypse of John. Today, most of those calling themselves preterists would fall into the moderate camp. R. C. Sproul, Kenneth Gentry, Gary DeMar, Gary North, and Greg Bahnsen belong in this group. However, extreme preterism is growing and has made noticeable gains in recent years. Although David Chilton's books on preterism are from the moderate perspective, he did convert to extreme preterism before his death a few years ago. Other extreme preterists include: Max King, John Bray, Ed Stevens, and Walt Hibbard.
- MILD preterism teaches that the Book of Revelation was fulfilled during the first three centuries as God waged war on the two early enemies of the church: Israel and Rome. The first half of Revelation teaches that Israel was defeated in A.D. 70, while the last half of Revelation is about God's conquest of Rome in the fourth century when Constantine declared the Roman Empire Christian. Thus, this earliest form of preterism teaches that Revelation was fulfilled in the first 300 years of the church's history.
- MODERATE preterists believe that almost all prophecy was fulfilled in the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. They do believe that a few passages still teach a yet future second coming (Acts 1:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) and the resurrection of believers at Christ's bodily return.
- EXTREME preterists, or consistent preterists, as they prefer to be known, hold that all future Bible prophecy was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. If there is a future second coming, they say, the Bible does not talk about it. Extreme preterists believe that there is no future bodily resurrection, which place them outside the realm of Christian orthodoxy.
STRANGE PRETERIST IMPLICATIONS
The preterist understanding greatly affects events, personalities, and chronologies. If preterism is true, (it is not) then what a different view of the past and future there would be than what we have been led to believe up to this point. If it is true, then what a vastly different view of Christianity it would produce. The following list includes many of the strange beliefs that preterism yields:
Preterists contend that most of the biblical passages that I would see as future have already been fulfilled in the first century. R. C. Sproul has adopted this view in his recent book The Last Days According To Jesus. Why are an increasing number of evangelicals coming to what I strongly believe is an erroneous conclusion?
- The Great Tribulation took place in the Fall of Israel. It will not be repeated and thus is not a future event.
- The Great Apostasy happened in the first century. We therefore have no Biblical warrant to expect increasing apostasy as history progresses; instead, we should expect the increasing Christianization of the world.
- The Last Days is a Biblical expression for the period between Christ's Advent and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70: the "last days" of Israel.
- The Antichrist is a term used by John to describe the widespread apostasy of the Christian Church prior to the Fall of Jerusalem. In general, any apostate teacher or system can be called 'antichrist'; but the word does not refer to some future Fuhrer.
- The Second Coming, coinciding with the Rapture and the Resurrection, will take place at the end of the Millennium, when history is sealed at the Judgment.
- The Beast of Revelation was a symbol of both Nero in particular and the Roman Empire in general.
- The False Prophet of Revelation was none other than the leadership of apostate Israel, who rejected Christ and worshiped the Beast.
- The Great Harlot of Revelation was Jerusalem (which had always been falling into apostasy and persecuting the prophets) which had ceased to be the City of God.
- The Millennium is the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, which He established at His First Advent, the period between the First and Second Advents of Christ; the Millennium is going on now, with Christians reigning as kings on earth. Other postmillennialists interpret the millennium as a future stage of history. Though the kingdom is already inaugurated, there will someday be a greater outpouring of the Spirit than the church has yet experienced.
- The First Resurrection of Revelation 20:5 is a Spiritual resurrection: our justification and regeneration in Christ.
- The Thousand Years of Revelation 20:2-7 is a large, rounded-off number, the number ten contains the idea of a fullness of quantity; in other words, it stands for manyness. A thousand multiplies and intensifies this (10 X 10 X 10), in order to express great vastness which represent a vast, undefined period of time -- It may require a million years.
- The New Creation has already begun: The Bible describes our salvation in Christ, both now and in eternity, as a new heaven and a new earth.
- Israel, in contrast to the eventual faithfulness and empowerment by the Holy Spirit of the Church, ethnic Israel was excommunicated for its apostasy and will never again be God's Kingdom. Thus, the Bible does not tell of any future plan for Israel as a special nation. The Church is now that new nation (Matt. 21:43) which is why Christ destroyed the Jewish state. In destroying Israel, Christ transferred the blessings of the kingdom from Israel to a new people, the church.
- The New Jerusalem the City of God, is the Church, now and forever.
- The Final Apostasy refers to Satan's last gasp in history (Rev. 20:7-10). The Dragon will be released for a short time, to deceive the nations in his last-ditch attempt to overthrow the Kingdom. This will be in the far future, at the close of the Messianic age, shortly before the Second Coming.
- Armageddon was for St. John a symbol of defeat and desolation, a Waterloo signifying the defeat of those who set themselves against God, who obey false prophets instead of the true. There never was or will be a literal Battle of Armageddon, for there is no such place.
In the introduction of his book on prophecy, Dr. Sproul believes that he is helping to save biblical Christianity from liberal skeptics like Bertrand Russell and Albert Schweitzer by adopting a preterist interpretation of Bible prophecy. "One of Russell's chief criticisms of the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels is that Jesus was wrong with respect to the timing of his future return," notes Dr. Sproul. "At issue for Russell is the time-frame reference of these prophecies. Russell charges that Jesus failed to return during the time frame he had predicted." Dr. Sproul, along with many other preterists, answers this charge from liberals by saying that Jesus did return in the first century. He returned spiritually through the acts of the Roman army who destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70.
Dr. Sproul believes that he is defending the integrity of Scripture by adopting the preterist interpretation. However, in reality, I believe that he is adopting a naturalistic interpretation that too many liberals feel at home with. While Dr. Sproul sees Matthew 24 as a prophecy that was fulfilled in the first century, liberal preterists join him in giving a naturalistic explanation even though from a different framework. However, they both deny that our Lord prophesied a supernatural, bodily, visible return of Christ in fulfillment of Matthew 24.
THREE PRETERIST PROOFTEXTS
Dr. Sproul and other preterists often teach that there are three major passages in Matthew that demand a first century fulfillment. The three verses are Matthew 10:23; 16:28; and 24:34. I will examine this triad of texts in the order in which they appear in Matthew and demonstrate why they do not support a first century, preterist fulfillment.
Mat 10:23 But when they persecute you in this city, flee into another; for truly I say to you, In no way shall you have finished the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.
"Again, if Russell is correct in concluding that the coming referred to in this text is the parousia of Christ, then the primary time-frame for the parousia must be restricted to a forty-year period," writes Dr. Sproul. "It surely did not take the disciples much more than forty years to cover the boundaries of Palestine with the gospel message." This view is not defended in his book; instead, Dr. Sproul merely asserts it as a supposition, taking J. Stuart Russell's word for it. Russell tells us, "our Lord probably intended to intimate that the apostles would not finish evangelizing the towns of Palestine, before He should come to destroy Jerusalem and scatter the nation." Does the plain reading of this passage teach us what preterists say? I don't believe it does.
First, the time of fulfillment for this passage depends upon establishing the context for which our Lord envisioned its realization. Even J. Stuart Russell believes that there is "abundant warrant for assigning the important prediction contained in Matt. x. 23 to the discourse delivered on the Mount of Olives." He explains that, "It is an admitted fact that even the Synoptical Gospels do not relate all events in precisely the same order; . . . Dr. Blaikie observes: 'It is generally understood that Matthew arranged his narrative more by subjects and places than by chronology.'" I am in agreement at this point that the context is that of the Olivet Discourse, even though we disagree as to when that period takes place. Thus, to a large extent, a discussion of the time when Matthew 10:23 is to be fulfilled must be postponed until interpretative decisions are made concerning other passages such as Matthew 24.
Second, when consulting a harmony of the Gospels, it becomes evident that the other uses of the vocabulary from the context of Matthew 10:16-23 parallels in the Synoptic Gospels the various versions of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 17 and 21). In fact, the New Geneva Study Bible, of which Dr. Sproul is the General Editor, says of this passage, "The 'coming' is the Second Coming of Christ to judge the earth. This view fits most of the other occurrences of the phrase (24:30; 25:31; 26:64; but see 16:28)." This information supports the conclusion from the previous point that the timing of the fulfillment of this passage is tied to the Olivet Discourse.
Third, all agree that there is no indication in Scripture that the disciples experienced the kind of persecution mentioned in this passage before the crucifixion of Christ. J. Stuart Russell admits, "There is no evidence that the disciples met with such treatment on their evangelistic tour." Thus, this sustains the conclusion to which we are building: that our Lord has a future time in mind when He speaks the words of this passage.
Fourth, I believe that Matthew 10:21-23 refers to events that will take place in the seventieth week of Daniel, climaxing in the glorious second coming of Christ because of the nature of the vocabulary. This point could not be made any clearer than has been stated by the Reformed commentator, William Hendriksen: These explanations ignore the fact that in the other Matthew passages in which the coming of the Son of man is mentioned and described the reference is linked with the Second Coming. It is a coming in the glory of his Father, with his angels, to render to every man according to his deed (16:27, 28); a coming when Christ shall sit on the throne of his glory (19:28); a coming that will be visible (24:27); sudden and unexpected (24:37.39.44); a coming on clouds of heaven with power and great glory (24:30; cf. 25:31; 26:64). It would be strange therefore if from 10:23 any reference to Christ's exaltation which attains its climax in the Second Coming would be wholly excluded. . . . The destruction of Jerusalem is predicted not here in chapter 10 but in 22:7; 23:38; see also 24:2,15 ff." Fifth, the use of the title "Son of Man" has a definite doctrinal signification -- it always refers to the (Parousia) Second Coming. The phrase, so expressive of His humanity, indicates a visible, personal Coming, which was not exhibited at the destruction of Jerusalem. Beside this, all excepting John were deceased before the city was overthrown.
Some have suggested that the coming of the Son of Man refers to Christ's Triumphal Entry (Matt. 21:1-11; Lk. 19:39-44) George Peters notes that "This took place before the disciples had made the tour of the cities, and meets the conditions of the passage" It is noted that Matthew 21:9, speaking of Christ, says, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." While this view has much to commend, it does not handle the persecution aspects of the passage, which did not occur in relation to the Triumphal Entry. Instead, I believe that Matthew 10:21-23 refers to a still future time of tribulation and the second advent. How should this passage be explained? The apostles never completed their kingdom ministry before their program was put on hold and God began to focus on the Gentiles by ushering in the Grace Dispensation. This was because Israel did not receive their message. This thought (about the nation's rejection) is developed throughout the remainder of chapter 10 and in chapter 11, in which Jesus finally castigates Israel, withdraws the message of national deliverance and turns to individuals within the nation with an offer of salvation in Mt. 11:28-30. Dr. Stanley Toussaint further explains: The Messiah was simply looking past His death to the time of tribulation following. At the time the disciples would have the same message and possibly the same power. The narrow road leading to the kingdom leads through the tribulation (Matthew 10:16), and this persecution is to be of a religious and political nature (Matthew 10:16-19). . . .
The Lord made no error and clearly had the coming for judgment in mind. However, the coming is contingent upon Israel's acceptance of its King, because even after His resurrection, that nation refused Him, it became impossible to establish the kingdom (cf. Acts 3:18-26). In fact, the tribulation period did not come; if it had, the promise of the soon coming of the Son of Man would have been of great comfort to the apostles. Matthew 10:23 does not support the preterist contention that the coming of the Son of Man occurred in A.D. 70 through the Roman Army. Instead, Christ was looking ahead to another time, the tribulation leading up to the glorious second advent which I believe will be made clearer as we investigate related passages.
THE PRETERIST CONTENTION IN MATTHEW 16
I now turn to the preterist's misguided contention that Matthew 16:28 supports a past prophetic fulfillment.
Mat 16:27 For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He shall reward each one according to his works.
Mat 16:28 Truly I say to you, There are some standing here who shall not taste of death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.
Dr. Sproul and other preterists teach that this passage contains another time-text indicator supporting their contention that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70 by the Romans fulfilled this prophecy in the past. Thus, coupled with a similar understanding of other so-called time-texts, almost all of Bible prophecy-like Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation-have already been fulfilled. The expression "shall not taste death" clearly refers to dying, so we may render the text to mean that some who were hearing Jesus' words on this occasion would not die before witnessing some kind of coming of Jesus. . . .
If Jesus had in mind a time-frame of roughly forty years, it could also be said that during this time-frame some of his disciples would not taste death. If the Olivet Discourse refers primarily to events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and if the word generation refers to a forty-year period, then it is possible, if not probable, that Jesus' reference to his coming in Matthew 16:28 refers to the same events, not to the transfiguration or other close-at-hand events. Preterists believe that Matthew 16:28 and parallel passages (Mk. 9:1; Lk. 9:27) are a prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem accomplished through the Roman army in A.D. 70. I believe that Matthew 16:28 was fulfilled by events that took place on the Mount of Transfiguration.
THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION FULFILLMENT
In setting up a proper interpretation of this passage we should begin by observing the comparisons and contrasts of the three parallel statements found in Matthew 16:27-28, Mark 9:1, and Luke 9:26-27. Since all three accounts are descriptive of the same event, it is interesting to note the vocabulary and contexts of each inspired writer.
Matthew 16:27 is speaking of the future second coming, while verse 28 refers to the impending transfiguration. Why are these verses positioned in this way? Because earlier Christ reveals clearly His impending death to His disciples (see 16:21). Peter reacts to this suffering phase of Jesus' career (16:22). Our Lord responded to Peter with His famous Get behind Me, Satan! statement (16:23). Then Jesus provides a lesson to His disciples on denial of self (16:24-26). Christ is teaching that the order for entrance into His kingdom, for both Himself and His followers, is the path of first the cross and then the crown. Suffering precedes glory! But the glory will one day come at Christ's second advent, when each individual will be required to give an account of his actions during the time of suffering (16:27). In order to encourage His followers, who would have to suffer the bitter pill of the impending death of Jesus and their own suffering and eventual deaths for Christ's sake, Christ provides a word of the promised future glory in 16:28 about some who will see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom. After Jesus predicted His own death, Peter and the other disciples needed reassurance that Jesus would ultimately triumph. His prediction that some of them would see the Kingdom of God present with power must have alleviated their fears. Thus, verse twenty-seven looks at the establishment of the Kingdom in the future, while a promise of seeing the Messiah in His glory is the thought of verse twenty-eight. They are two separate predictions separated by the words "truly I say to you."
Preterists and some other interpreters say that the phrase from Matthew 16:28, "there are some standing here who shall not taste of death," cannot be fulfilled by the immediately following transfiguration event. "But the transfiguration cannot be its fulfillment," insists Gary DeMar, "since Jesus indicated that some who were standing with Him would still be alive when He came, but most would be dead." DeMar misses the point of the passage in his attempt to prove too much, as noted by commentator William Lane who counters such a view by noting: . . . it is not said that death will exclude some of those present from seeing the announced event. All that is required by Jesus' statement is that "some" will see a further interruption of the power and sovereignty of God before they experience the suffering foreseen in Ch. 8:34-35. Some opposing the transfiguration interpretation say that a week is too short of a time frame to make proper sense of the statement. Ken Gentry says, "It was not powerfully to evidence itself immediately, for many of His disciples would die before it acted in power." George N. H. Peters quotes a Dr. Kendrick who says that the disputed phrase "refer not to length of life, but to privilege; some shall have the privilege of beholding Him in His glory even before they die." When we consider the force of the preceding context leading up to our Lord's statement, our view makes the best sense. Randolph Yeager explains, "That Jesus should have suggested that some who had been standing there might die within the next week is in line with what He had been saying about taking up the cross, denying oneself, losing one's life, etc."
A further problem with the preterist view is that our Lord said "some standing here. . . ." It is clear that the term "some" would have to include at least two or more individuals within the scope of its meaning, since "some" is plural and coupled with a plural verb. The word "some" nicely fits the three disciples, Peter, James, and John (Mt. 17:1) who were the participants with our Lord at the transfiguration. On the other hand, Peter notes that John only survived among the 12 disciples till the destruction of Jerusalem.
In all three instances of this parallel passage (Mt. 16:28; Mk. 9:1; Lk. 9:27) they are all immediately followed by the account of the transfiguration. This contextual relationship by itself is a strong reason to favor our interpretation and shifts the burden of proof on those opposing this view. In other words, Jesus made a prediction about a future event and in each instance, Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the fulfillment of that prediction in the passage that follows. The contextual fact is supported by the grammatical construction that connects these passages. Alva J. McClain notes that "the conjunction with which chapter 17 begins clearly establishes the unbroken continuity of thought between 16:28 and 17:1, as also in the accounts of Mark and Luke where no chapter division occurs."
All three accounts of the prophesied event speak of seeing the Kingdom. Matthew says they will see "the Son of Man coming in His kingdom," emphasizing the person of the Son of Man coming. Mark says, they see the kingdom of God and he adds that it will come with power. Luke simply says that they see the kingdom of God. The transfiguration fits all aspects of the various emphases found in each of the three precise predictions.
Matthew's stress upon the actual, physical presence of the Son of Man is clearly met in the transfiguration because Jesus was personally and visibly present. Matthew says:
Mat 17:2 And He was transfigured before them. And His face shone as the sun, and His clothing was white as the light.
The preterist interpretation does not meet Matthew's criteria, since Jesus was not personally present in the later destruction of Jerusalem.
Mark's emphasis upon a display of the kingdom with "power" was certainly fulfilled by the transfiguration. No one could doubt that the transfiguration certainly fit the definition of a power encounter for the disciples. That Jesus appears dressed in the Shekinah glory of God upon the Mount (Mk. 9:3) is further evidence to the disciples that He was God and acted with His power.
Luke's simple statement about some who will see the kingdom of God is vindicated also by his account (9:28-36). Twice Luke records our Lord describing the transfiguration with the term glory (9:31,32). Why does Luke exclude the reference to Jerusalem's destruction? Because Luke does not associate the kingdom's power with this event. . . Additionally, Jesus is not associated with Jerusalem's destruction directly, so it is not in view.
The transfiguration made such an impression upon John and Peter that both provided a description of the glorified Christ in later writings (Rev. 1:12-20; 2 Pet. 1:16-21). Both describe the risen and glorified Christ in relation to His second advent (Rev. 1:7; 2 Pet. 1:16). No one doubts that Peter has in mind the transfiguration in 2 Peter 1:16-18. I believe that Peter restates in his final epistle the same pattern established by our Lord in the passages we have been discussing above (Mt. 16:28; Mk. 9:1; Lk. 9:27). When encouraging believers to remain faithful to the faith (2 Pet. 1:12ff), Peter, like our Lord, reminds his readers of the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:16). Peter follows Jesus' pattern of supporting the future Second Advent by citing the past transfiguration (2 Pet. 1:16-18). In this way, Peter's second epistle supports the futurist understanding of Matthew 16:28, etc.
George Peters says that 2 Peter 1:16-18 "is unquestionably, then, linking it with the still future Advent as a striking exhibition of the glory that shall be revealed -- which is confirmed by Peter introducing this allusion to prove that Christ would thus again come." William Lane further explains that "Peter made known to his churches the power that was to be revealed at Jesus' coming in terms of the glory which had been revealed in the transfiguration. This expresses precisely the relationship between Ch. 8:38 (parousia) and Ch. 9:1 (transfiguration). The transfiguration was a momentary, but real (and witnessed) manifestation of Jesus' sovereign power which pointed beyond itself to the parousia, when he will come 'with power and glory' (Ch. 13:26)."
The preterist contention that our Lord's prophecy in Matthew 16:28 predicts the destruction of the Temple in the first century has been proven to be off base. Instead, we have found that Matthew 16:27 refers to a yet future second coming of Christ, while 16:28 was fulfilled only a week after the prophecy was uttered by our Lord through His transfiguration before Peter, James, and John. "The immediate sequel to Jesus' solemn promise is the account of the transfiguration (Ch. 9:2-8)," explains Lane. "This indicates that Mark understood Jesus' statement to refer to this moment of transcendent glory conceived as an enthronement and an anticipation of the glory which is to come. . . . The fulfillment of Jesus' promise a short time later (Ch. 9:2) provided encouragement to the harassed the Little Flock in the early Acts period and that their commitment to Jesus and the gospel (the Kingdom gospel) was valid. The parousia is an absolute certainty. The transfiguration constituted a warning to all others that the ambiguity which permits the humiliation of Jesus and of those faithful to him will be resolved in the decisive intervention of God promised in Ch. 8:38)."
THE PRETERIST CONTENTION IN MATTHEW 24
The most widely used verse in the Bible by preterists in their attempts to establish their thesis concerning Bible prophecy is Matthew 24:34. The much debated passage says, "Truly I say to you, This generation shall not pass until all these things are fulfilled." (see also Mk 13:30; Lk 21:32).
THE PRETERIST INTERPRETATION
R. C. Sproul says in his book, "I am convinced that the substance of the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in A.D. 70 . . ." Ken Gentry declares of Matthew 24:34: "This statement of Christ is indisputably clear-and absolutely demanding of a first-century fulfillment of the events in the preceding verses, including the Great Tribulation." Gary DeMar believes "that all the events prior to Matthew 24:34 referred to events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70." In fact, DeMar dogmatically declares: "An honest assessment of Scripture can lead to no other conclusion. The integrity of the Bible is at stake in the discussion of the biblical meaning of "this generation." Why does DeMar make such a polarizing, though misguided overstatement? I think it can be understood by Dr. Sproul's framing of the issue from the following explanation: The cataclysmic course surrounding the parousia as predicted in the Olivet Discourse obviously did not occur "literally" in A.D. 70. . . . This problem of literal fulfillment leaves us with three basic solutions to interpreting the Olivet Discourse:
1. We can interpret the entire discourse literally. In this case we must conclude that some elements of Jesus' prophecy failed to come to pass, as advocates of "consistent eschatology" maintain.
2. We can interpret the events surrounding the predicted parousia literally and interpret the time-frame references figuratively. This method is employed by those who do not restrict the phrase . . . to Jesus' contemporaries.
3. We can interpret the time-frame references literally and the events surrounding the parousia figuratively. . . . All of Jesus' prophecies in the Olivet Discourse were fulfilled during the period between the discourse itself and the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70.
The third option is followed by preterists."
Dr. Sproul's framing of the possible interpretations of "this generation" distorts the first possibility with the perspective of liberalism. How so? Many interpreters, such as us dispensationalists, interpret the entire discourse literally, but we dogmatically reject any notion "that some elements of Jesus' prophecy failed to come to pass." This does not mean that we have abandoned literal interpretation, nor does it "logically lead" to a failure in the fulfillment of Christ's prophecy.
A FUTURIST INTERPRETATION
Those of us taking a consistently literal interpretation of the entire Olivet Discourse take a different literal interpretation of "this generation" than supposed by Dr. Sproul's suggestion. I believe that the timing of "this generation" in Matthew 24:34 is governed by the related phrase "all these things." In other words, Christ is saying that the generation that sees "all these things" occur will not cease to exist until all the events of the future tribulation are literally fulfilled. Frankly, this is both a literal interpretation and one that was not fulfilled in the first century. Christ is not ultimately speaking to His contemporaries, but to the generation to whom the signs of Matthew 24 will become evident. Dr. Darrell Bock, in commenting on the parallel passage to Matthew 24 in Luke's Gospel concurs: "What Jesus is saying is that the generation that sees the beginning of the end, also sees its end. When the signs come, they will proceed quickly; they will not drag on for many generations. It will happen within a generation. . . ." The tradition reflected in Revelation shows that the consummation comes very quickly once it comes. Nonetheless, in the discourse's prophetic context, the remark comes after making comments about the nearness of the end to certain signs. As such it is the issue of the signs that controls the passage's force, making this view likely. If this view is correct, Jesus says that when the signs of the beginning of the end come, then the end will come relatively quickly, within a generation. In spite of the preterist chorus that "this generation" has to refer to the first century, an alternate literal interpretation relates it to the timing of the fulfillment of other events in context. While it is true that other uses of "this generation" refer to Christ's contemporaries, that is because they are historical texts. The use of "this generation" in the Olivet Discourse in the fig tree passages are prophetic texts. In fact, when one compares the use of "this generation" at the beginning of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 23:36 (which is an undisputed reference to A.D. 70) with the prophetic use in Matthew 24:34, a contrast seems obvious. Jesus is contrasting the deliverance for Israel in Matthew 24:34 with the predicted judgment of Matthew 23:36.
ALL THESE THINGS
When challenged or threatened about the veracity of other interpretative details, preterists almost always fall back to what Gary DeMar calls the "time texts." Their understanding of "this generation" (Matthew 24:34) in the Olivet Discourse becomes, for them, the proof text that settles all arguments and justifies their fanciful interpretation of many other details referred to by Christ as "all these things" in verse 34. Dr. Gentry explains: We find the key to locating the great tribulation in history in Matthew 24:34: . . . This statement of Christ is indisputably clear-and absolutely demanding of a first century fulfillment of the events in the preceding verses, including the great tribulation (v. 21).. Yet all these things of Matthew 24:3-31 are allegorized to fit into their first century fulfillment scheme. Since "this generation"(verse 34) is controlled by the meaning of "all these things," it is obvious that these things did not occur in and around the events of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70.
Contextual surroundings determine the nuance of a specific word or phrase. It is true that every other use of "this generation" in Matthew (11:16; 12:41,42,45; 23:36) refers to Christ's contemporaries, but that is determined by observation from each of their contexts, not from the phrase by itself. Thus, if the contextual factors in Matthew 24 do not refer to A.D. 70 events, then the timing of the text would have to refer to the future. This is the futurist contention, that the events described in Matthew 24 did not occur in the first century. When were the Jews, who were under siege, rescued by the Lord in A.D. 70? They were not rescued, they were judged, as noted in Luke 21:2024. But Matthew 24 speaks of a Divine rescue of those who are under siege (24:29-31). This could not have been fulfilled by the first century. In fact, the Jewish Christian community fled Jerusalem before the final siege. Matthew 24 speaks about the deliverance of Jews who are under siege. This did not happen under the first century Roman siege.
The statement just preceding Christ's "this generation" statement says, "So you, likewise, when you see all these things, shall know that it is near, at the doors." (Matthew 24:33). The point of Christ's parable of the fig tree (Matthew 24:32-35) is that all the events noted earlier in Matthew 24:431 are signs that tell those under siege that help is coming in the Person of Christ at His return to rescue His people. In contradiction to this, preterists teach that "all these things" refer to the non-bodily, non-personal, coming of Christ through the Roman army in the first century. They are forced to say that the whole passage speaks of a coming of Christ via the events leading up to what Christ actually says, will be His return. Yet, contra preterism, Christ says in the fig tree parable that preceding events instruct the reader to recognize that He is near, right at the door. Had a first century reader tried to apply a preterist understanding to Matthew 24, it would have been too late for him to flee the city. Instead, they were told to flee the city when the siege first occurred, as noted in the first century warning of Luke 21:2024. Instead, the Jewish generation that sees "all these things" will be rescued as noted in Luke 21:2728. Once again the question arises, "When was Israel rescued in A.D. 70?" They were not. Neither were "all these things" (Matthew 24:33,34) fulfilled in the first century. These will all be fulfilled in the last half of the seventieth week of Daniel, which will take place in the future.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
I do not believe that Christ's Olivet Discourse (Mt 24; Mk 13; Lk 21) contains a single sentence, phrase, or term that requires a first century fulfillment, except for Luke 21:2024. Since the timing of "this generation" is not innate in the phrase itself but is governed by its immediate context, then I believe it refers to a future generation because the events depicted have yet to take place. This can be seen most clearly in Luke's account of our Lord's Discourse since he answers all three of the disciples questions. I believe that Matthew and Mark only deal with the future questions.
Luke's account includes the answer to the disciple's question (Luke 21:2024) about when there will come a time when "As to these things which you see, days will come in which there shall not be left a stone on a stone, which shall not be thrown down." (verse 6). Multiple time references are necessary. This is evident in the wording of the question in verse 7.
The first part of the question-"And they asked Him, saying, Teacher, but when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign when these things are about to take place?"- relates to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. This explains the first century section in verses 2024. Christ's answer to their second question-"what shall be the sign when these things are about to take place?"- relates to "signs" preceding His Second Advent. This is a different event than that of their first question, and the event is still future to our day. The second question is answered in verses 2528, which follows the long period of time described in the second half of verse 24 - "Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the nations until the times of the nations is fulfilled. " Thus, verse 32, ("This generation shall not pass away until all these things are fulfilled.") will be fulfilled in the future, for the scope of "all these things" refers to verses 2528, not verses 2024. Arnold Fruchtenbaum explains: "Then Jesus stated that the generation that sees this event, the abomination of desolation, will still be around when the second coming of Christ occurs three-and-a-half years later. . . . Verse 34 is intended to be a word of comfort in light of the world-wide attempt at Jewish destruction. It must be kept in mind that the abomination of desolation signals Satan's and the Antichrist's final attempt to destroy and exterminate the Jews. The fact that the Jewish generation will still be here when the second coming of Christ occurs shows that Satan's attempt towards Jewish destruction will fail, and the Jewish saints of the second half of Daniel's seventieth week can receive comfort from these words." As we leave behind key passages from Matthew's Gospel, I will now shift gears and turn to the preterist interpretation of the Book of Revelation. It should come as no surprise to learn that preterists believe that John's Revelation from Jesus Christ has already been fulfilled. Why do they take such a strange view?
THE PRETERIST CONTENTION IN REVELATION
"The closer we get to the year 2000, the farther we get from the events of Revelation," says preterist Ken Gentry. "'Preterism' holds that the bulk of John's prophecies occurred in the first century, soon after his writing of them. Though the prophecies were in the future when John wrote and when his original audience read them, they are now in our past." Dr. R. C. Sproul apparently agrees with Dr. Gentry's basic understanding of Revelation as fulfilled prophecy. In his commentary on Revelation, the late David Chilton, a preterist, said, The Book of Revelation is not about the Second Coming of Christ. It is about the destruction of Israel and Christ's victory over His enemies in the establishment of the New Covenant Temple. In fact, as we shall see, the word coming as used in the Book of Revelation never refers to the Second Coming. Revelation prophesies the judgment of God on apostate Israel; and while it does briefly point to events beyond its immediate concerns, that is done merely as a "wrap-up," to show that the ungodly will never prevail against Christ's Kingdom. But the main focus of Revelation is upon events which were soon to take place." As with the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24; Mk. 14; Lk. 21), the preterist view does not view Bible prophecy as "things to come," but rather as "things that came." Why do they come to such an errant conclusion?
PRETERIST "TIMING" ARGUMENT
Preterists believe they are driven to a first century fulfillment of Revelation because, like the Olivet Discourse, they believe it says it will be fulfilled soon. What arguments do preterists appeal to in an effort to support their understanding of Revelation?
Dr. Gentry begins his argument for a first century fulfillment of Revelation by noting its similarity to the Olivet Discourse. It is an interesting fact noted by a number of commentators that John's Gospel is the only Gospel that does not contain the Olivet Discourse, and that it would seem John's Revelation served as His exposition of the Discourse.
If, as seems likely, Revelation is indeed John's exposition of the Olivet Discourse, we must remember that in the delivery of the Discourse the Lord emphasized that it focused on Israel (Matt. 24:1,2, 15-16; cp. Matt. 23:32ff.) and was to occur in His generation (Matt. 24:34). Thus, since preterists believe that there is a parallel between what is taught in the Olivet Discourse and Revelation (I agree that both refer to the same events), they naturally would have to believe that Revelation was fulfilled in the first century (I disagree that either has been fulfilled).
"One of the most helpful interpretive clues in Revelation is . . . the contemporary expectation of the author regarding the fulfillment of the prophecies. John clearly expects the soon fulfillment of his prophecy," says Dr. Gentry. Preterist Gary DeMar has collected what he calls the "time texts" in Revelation, which lead him to believe that the fulfillment of the Apocalypse had to occur during the first century. These are:
1) The events "must shortly (tchos) come to pass." (1:1).
2) "for the time is at hand." (eggs) (1:3).
3) "I will come unto thee quickly (tachs)." (2:16).
4) "I come quickly (tachs)." (3:11).
5) "the third woe cometh quickly (tachs)." (11:14).
6) "the things which must shortly (tchos) be done." (22:6).
7) "Behold, I come quickly (tachs)." (22:7).
8) " the time is at hand." (eggs) (22:10).
9) "Behold, I am coming quickly (tachs)." (22:12). 10) "Surely I come quickly (tachs)." (22:20).
It appears presumptuous at the outset of the interpretative process that these verses are labeled "time texts" by DeMar. The timing of a passage is determined by taking into account all factors in a given passage. I hope to show that these terms are more properly interpreted as qualitative indicators (not chronological indicators) describing how Christ will return. How will He return? It will be "quickly" or "suddenly."
Without a doubt, the exegetical survival of the preterist position revolves around the meaning of these passages. When they arrive at passages which do not appear to harmonize with their view, if taken plainly, they commonly revert to their "timing" passages and say, "Whatever this passage means, we have already established that it had to be fulfilled within the first century." In accordance with this belief, they search first century "newspapers" for an event that comprises the closest fit to the passage and usually cite it as a fulfillment of the biblical text in discussion.
PRETERIST THEME OF REVELATION
Revelation 1:7 says, "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen." This passage is often recognized as the theme verse of Revelation. Preterists believe that "Revelation's main focus of attention (though not its only point) is this: God will soon judge the first-century Jews for rejecting and crucifying his Son, their Messiah," notes Dr. Gentry. "John states his theme in his introduction at Revelation 1:7," Dr. Gentry continues, "just after he declares the nearness of the events (1:1,3), a theme that is directly relevant to the first-century circumstances." Not surprisingly, Dr. Gentry believes that "in its contextual setting verse 7 points to the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple in A.D. 70." Preterists do not believe that this verse speaks of Christ Second Coming. Instead they see it as another reference to the A.D. 70 destruction. Thus, in usual fashion, preterists turn the perspective of Revelation 1:7 from a global to a local perspective, from a Gentile to a Jewish outlook, and from a future to a past fulfillment. All these are reversals of its actual meaning.
As with the Olivet Discourse, when one sifts through the details of Revelation it is clear that preterism fails to prove its claims when compared with the totality of Scripture. Preterists attempt to work their exegetical voodoo on the Book of Revelation as they have done with the Olivet Discourse.
REBUTTAL OF PRETERIST INTERPRETATION
Now I will turn to a dissection of the above stated preterist approach to Revelation. After that is completed, I will provide reasons why the Bible teaches that the events of Revelation, which include the tribulation, second coming, and millennium are yet future events. But first I will deal with their false understanding of Revelation 1:7.
As noted above, Preterists believe that Revelation 1:7 speaks of only the land of Israel and was local. On the other hand, if it refers to Gentiles and is global, then their view is impossible and it has to be future. We can analyze the passage by dividing it into the following four interpretive elements: 1) Christ's "coming," 2) "with the clouds," 3) "every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him;" and 4) "all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him." Since I will be discussing later the meaning of Christ's "coming with the clouds," I will defer commenting on this first two elements until then. However, I, like almost all interpreters of Scripture before me, believe it to be a clear reference to the bodily, personal return of Christ at a yet future time. This is supported by the final two items in the passage. Items number three and four include clear allusions to Zechariah 12:10-14.
3) "every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him:" This element plays a key role in determining whether this passage has a global or local intent. The first part of this element ("every eye shall see Him") does not appear in the Old Testament reference. The other element, "and they also which pierced Him," is the part from Zechariah. It is clear that those who pierced Him in Zechariah are a reference to the Jewish people. This, both preterist and futurist would agree. The debate arises over whether "every eye" is a reference to just the Jewish nation (the preterist contention) or to the people of the whole earth (the futurist understanding). The way to resolve who is intended in the scope of the reference is to compare it to the subset "and they also which pierced Him." If the larger group of "every eye" refers to the Jewish nation, then it does not make sense that the smaller group "even those who pierced Him," would be a reference to the same exact people, as preterists contend. Their reading of the passage would be as follows: "every eye (Israel) will see Him, event those who pierced Him (Israel)." There would be no need of have a sub-group if both mean the same thing. If "every eye" refers to all the peoples of the world as the larger group, then the qualifying phrase "even those who pierced Him" would be emphasizing the Jewish element as the smaller sub-group. Thus, it is not surprising that virtually everyone, other than preterists, take this element of this passage in a global sense. It appears that bias, not the clear meaning of the text, is the only reason the preterist takes this part of the passage in a restricted manner.
4) " and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him:" The Greek word for "earth" can refer to either the "earth," as in "heavens and earth" (Gen. 1:1), or "land," as in the "land of Israel" (1 Sam. 13:19). The problem with taking this to refer to the land of Israel is that every other usage of the exact phrase "all the kindreds of the earth" in the original language always has a universal nuance (Gen. 12:3; 28:14; Ps. 72:17; Zech. 14:17). This supports our futurist interpretation.
Preterists have to restrict the meaning of clear universal language in the Bible in order to make their system appear to work. However, as we are demonstrating, they have to force the biblical text into such a meaning time after time. Revelation 1:7 is another example of a passage that speaks of the global scope of God's future judgment upon mankind. I will continue dealing with these items.
CLOUD COMING IN REVELATION 1:7
I will now deal with the theme verse of Revelation which reads as follows: "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen." (Rev. 1:7). Preterists believe that this passage supports an A.D. 70 fulfillment of Revelation.
"John states his theme in his introduction at Revelation 1:7," claims Dr. Gentry, "just after he declares the nearness of the events (1:1,3), a theme that is directly relevant to the first-century circumstances." Not surprisingly, Dr. Gentry believes that "in its contextual setting verse 7 points to the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple in A.D. 70." Preterists do not believe that this verse speaks of Christ Second Coming as the church has historically understood this passage. Instead they see it as another reference to the A.D. 70 destruction. Thus, in usual fashion, preterists turn the perspective of Revelation 1:7 from a global to a local perspective, from a Gentile to a Jewish outlook, and from a future to a past fulfillment. All these are reversals of its actual meaning.
I have now dealt with all of Revelation 1:7 except the part that deals with Christ coming with clouds. Dr. Gentry attempts a most strained interpretation when he calls this "a providential coming of Christ in historical judgments upon men." He provides the following forced explanation: "In the Old Testament, clouds are frequently employed as symbols of divine wrath and judgment. Often God is seen surrounded with foreboding clouds which express His unapproachable holiness and righteousness. Thus, God is poetically portrayed in certain judgment scenes as coming in the clouds to wreak historical vengeance upon His enemies." Dr. Gentry cites the following passages as examples: 2 Sam. 22:8,10; Ps. 18:7-15; 68:4,33; 97:2-39; 104:3; Isa. 13:9; 19:1; 26:21; 30:27; Joel 2:1,2; Mic. 1:3; Nah. 1:2ff; Zeph. 1:14,15. He then concludes, "The New Testament picks up this apocalyptic judgment imagery when it speaks of Christ's coming in clouds of judgment during history."
REFUTATION OF DR. GENTRY'S VIEW
There are many problems with Dr. Gentry's declaration that Revelation 1:7 is the same as the Old Testament passages he cites. First, he cites no reasons from the context of Revelation 1:7 why it should be understood as a parallel to these Old Testament passages. He just declares them to be similar. Dr. Robert Thomas has made the following insightful observation: Gentry interprets a reference to clouds in Revelation 1:7 as a nonpersonal coming of Christ. Christ never returned to earth in A.D 70 personally, so explaining the fall of Jerusalem as his coming violates the principle of literal interpretation. All contextual indications point to a literal and personal-coming of Christ in that verse. Gentry calls this a "judgment-coming" of Christ, but the criteria of Revelation also connect a deliverance of the faithful with that coming. Preterism nowhere explains the promised deliverance from persecution that is associated with the coming, for example, in 3:10-11. Gentry's interpretation of 1:7 simply does not fulfill the criteria of literal interpretation of the text. The fact is, the church did not escape persecution in A.D. 70, but continued to suffer for Christ's sake long after that. Second, some of those Old Testament passages most likely are speaking of Christ's second coming. Dr. Gentry often assumes that because they are in the Old Testament they must have already been fulfilled. Such is often not the case. I believe that Isaiah 26:21; 30:27; Joel 2:1,2 and Zephaniah 1:14-15 are second coming contexts. This means that these passages also look for a yet future, not a past fulfillment. Nahum 1:2ff, although less clear, could also refer to an eschatological time.
Third, I do not think that a single one of the Old Testament passages cited by Dr. Gentry parallels Revelation 1:7. As you examine them, they describe the Lord as "riding" upon a cloud in judgment against the Lord's enemies, much as Dr. Gentry has said. However, when compared to Revelation 1:7, there are too many differences. As Dr. Thomas notes above, Revelation 1:7 speaks of a coming to rescue someone, while those Old Testament references are all descriptive of judgment. Revelation 1:7 provides a different atmosphere than we see in the Old Testament passages. Christ's coming in Revelation 1:7, and in its parallel passage Matthew 24:30, builds upon the Old Testament fact that the Lord established His identity in cloud comings. But, in these passages we have a description of the Lord returning to the earth. This is not found in the Old Testament citations noted by Dr. Gentry. There are too many differences between the two concepts as noted by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes: "The clouds intended here are not dark storm-clouds which presage divine judgment, . . . but the bright clouds of his transcendental glory. They stand for the shekinah glory of God's presence which caused the face of Moses to shine with supernatural brilliance . . . and they are to be identified with the 'bright cloud' of Christ's divine glory witnessed by Peter, James, and John on the mount of transfiguration (Mt. 17:5), and with the cloud which received him out of the apostles' sight at his ascension. . . . " Fourth, the preterist view of Revelation 1:7 confuses a global event for a local event. Dr. Thomas has noted in the following: "Another hermeneutical shortcoming of preterism relates to the limiting of the promised coming of Christ in 1:7 to Judea. What does a localized judgment hundreds of miles away have to do with the seven churches in Asia? John uses two long chapters in addressing those churches regarding the implications of the coming of Christ for them. For instance, the promise to shield the Philadelphian church from judgment (3:10-11) is meaningless if that judgment occurs far beyond the borders of that city." Fifth, even if there were the types of parallels between the cloud comings of the Old Testament and the text of Revelation 1:7, which I do not believe there are as Dr. Gentry has suggested, they would be meaningless because of what happened at Christ's ascension as described in Acts 1:9-11. Notice what it says,
Act 1:9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
Act 1:10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
Act 1:11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.
The whole focus of Christ's cloud coming after this event is defined by the ascension. The next time Christ comes on the clouds, it is clearly said here to be bodily, personal, and coming with clouds. This is what Matthew 24:30 and Revelation 1:9 refer too. All of the New Testament, because of this event, looks to Christ's return in this way. Thus, any future cloud coming from this point on would have to be seen in light of this glorious promise.
Finally, to take Dr. Gentry's preterist interpretation of Revelation 1:7 creates many more problems with the rest of the Book of Revelation. This has been most clearly noted by Dr. Thomas. "This preterist view of 1:7 . . . creates several unsolvable interpretive dilemmas within the verse itself, not to mention elsewhere in the book: inconsistency regarding the identity of those who pierced him, the tribes of the earth, and the land [or earth]. Are they limited to Jews and their land, or do they include Romans and the rest of the world? A preterist must contradict himself on these issues to have a past fulfillment of 1:7. They cannot limit those who pierced him to Jews only and elsewhere include the Romans as objects of Christ's cloud coming. They cannot limit the kindreds of the earth [or land] to Israel only, because in this case Zechariah 12:10ff. would require the mourning to be one of repentance, not of despair (as their interpretation holds). Their acknowledged worldwide scope of Revelation as a whole rules out their limitation of the land to Palestine in this verse." The preterist interpretation of Revelation 1:7 in relationship to Christ's coming is necessary if Revelation was fulfilled in the first century. However, the torturous interpretation of otherwise plain and clear language must be distorted beyond clear recognition in order to attempt such a devious view. When Revelation 1:7 is combined with Revelation 19:11-21, it is more than clear that such a reference is of a global, future, bodily and literal return of Jesus the Messiah from heaven to planet earth. While the preterist notion that this passage had to be fulfilled in the first century is required of their view, they are not able to provide actual exegetical support for such a position. When examined in the light of letting Scripture interpret Scripture, it becomes most clear that these are yet future events.
"QUICKLY": HOW OR WHEN?
We are beginning to see that the current error known as preterism is based upon the misinterpretations of a few key passages. While Matthew 24:34 and the phrase "this generation" is their central passage, their dependence upon the so-called "time text" of Revelation becomes important in their attempts to "preterize" most of end-time Bible prophecy. Thus, the terms "quickly" and "near" become the basis for their insistence that the Book of Revelation was fulfilled in the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem. Now I will deal with the term "quickly."
What Bible verses do preterists appeal to in an effort to support their understanding of Revelation? "One of the most helpful interpretive clues in Revelation is . . . the contemporary expectation of the author regarding the fulfillment of the prophecies. John clearly expects the soon fulfillment of his prophecy," says Dr. Ken Gentry. I hope to show that these terms are more properly interpreted as qualitative indicators describing how Christ will return. How will He return?; it will be "quickly" or "suddenly."
A form of the Greek word for "quickly" (tchos) is used eight times in Revelation (1:1; 2:16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:6; 22:7; 22:12; 22:20). Tchos and its family of related words can be used to mean "soon" or "shortly" as preterists believe (relating to time), or it can be used to mean "quickly" or "suddenly" as many futurists contend (manner in which action occurs). The tchos family is attested in the Bible as referring to both possibilities. On the one hand, 1 Timothy 3:14 is a timing passage, "These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly:." On the other hand, Acts 22:18 is descriptive of the manner in which the action takes place, "And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me."
The "timing interpretation" of the preterists teaches that the tchos word family used in Revelation (1:1; 2:16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:6, 7, 12, 20) means that Christ came in judgment upon Israel through the Roman army in events surrounding the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem. But how would the "manner interpretation" of the futurist understand the use of the tchos family in Revelation? Futurist, John Walvoord explains: "That which Daniel declared would occur "in the latter days" is here described as "shortly" (Gr., en tachei), that is, "quickly or suddenly coming to pass," indicating rapidity of execution after the beginning takes place. The idea is not that the event may occur soon, but that when it does, it will be sudden (cf. Luke 18:8; Acts 12:7; 22:18; 25:4; Rom. 16:20)." A similar word, tachys, is translated "quickly" seven times in Revelation (2:5, 16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:7, 12, 20). Dr. Gentry is correct to note universal agreement among lexicons as to the general meaning of the tchos word family, but these lexicographers generally do not support the preterist interpretation. Dr. Gentry's presentation of the lexical evidence is skewed and thus his conclusions are faulty in his effort to support a preterist interpretation of the tchos word family. We now turn to an examination of how the tchos word family is used in Revelation.
Support for the Futurist Interpretation
1. The lexical use. The leading Greek lexicon in our day is Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich (BAG), which lists the following definitions for tchos: "speed, quickness, swiftness, haste" (p. 814). The two times that this noun appears in Revelation (1:1; 22:6), it is coupled with the preposition en, causing this phrase to function grammatically as an adverb revealing to us the "sudden" manner in which these events will take place. They will occur "swiftly." The other word in the tchos family used in Revelation as an adverb is tachs, which all six times occurs with the verb rchomai, "to come" (2:16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:7, 12, 20). BAG gives as its meaning "quick, swift, speedy" (p. 814) and specifically classifies all six uses in Revelation as meaning "without delay, quickly, at once" (p. 815). Thus, contrary to the timing assumption of preterists like Gary DeMar and Ken Gentry, who take every occurrence as a reference to timing, BAG (the other lexicons also agree) recommends a translation descriptive of the manner in which things will happen (Rev. 2:16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:7, 12, 20).
A descriptive use of tchos is also supported by the over 60 times it is cited as the prefix making up a compound word according to the mother of all Greek lexicons, Liddell and Scott (p. 1762). G. H. Lang gives the following example:
"tachy does not mean soon but swiftly. It indicates rapidity of action, as is well seen in its accurate use in the medical compound tachycardia (tachy and karda=the heart), which does not mean that the heart will beat soon, but that it is beating rapidly. Of course, the swift action may take place at the very same time, as in Mt 28:7-8: (And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.) but the thought is not that they did not loiter, but that their movement was swift. Thus here also. If the Lord be regarded as speaking in the day when John lived, then He did not mean that He was returning soon, but swiftly and suddenly whenever the time should have arrived . . . it is the swiftness of His movement that the word emphasizes."
2. The grammatical use. Just as BAG is the leading lexicon in our day, the most authoritative Greek grammar is one produced by Blass, Debrunner, and Funk (Blass-Debrunner). Blass-Debrunner, in their section on adverbs, divides them into four categories: 1) adverbs of manner, 2) adverbs of place, 3) adverbs of time, 4) correlative adverbs (pp. 55-57). The tchos family is used as the major example under the classification of "adverbs of manner." No example from the tchos family is listed under "adverbs of time." In a related citation, Blass-Debrunner classify en tchei as an example of "manner," Luke 18:8 (p. 118). Greek scholar Nigel Turner also supports this adverbial sense as meaning "quickly."
Not only is there a preponderance of lexical support for understanding the tchos family as including the notion of "quickly" or "suddenly," there is the further support that all the occurrences in Revelation are adverbs of manner. These terms are not descriptive of when the events will occur and our Lord will come, but rather, descriptive of the manner in which they will take place when they occur. These adverbial phrases in Revelation can more accurately be translated "with swiftness, quickly, all at once, in a rapid pace [when it takes place]."
3. The Old Testament (LXX) use. It is significant to note that the Septuagint uses tchos in passages which even by the most conservative estimations could not have occurred for hundreds, even thousands of years. For example, Isaiah 13:22 says, ". . . Her (Israel) fateful time also will soon come. . ." This was written around 700 B.C. foretelling the destruction of Babylon which occurred in 539 B.C. Similarly, Isaiah 5:26 speaks of the manner, not the time frame, by which the Assyrian invasion of Israel "shall come with speed swiftly." Isaiah 51:5 says, "My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust." This passage probably will be fulfilled in the millennium, but no interpreter would place it sooner than Christ's first coming, at least 700 years after it was given. Isaiah 58:8 speaks of Israel's recovery as "speedily spring(ing) forth." If it is a "timing passage," then the earliest it could have happened is 700 years later, but most likely it has yet to occur. Many other citations in the Septuagint from the tchos family can be noted in support of the futurist interpretation of the usage in Revelation.
4. A "timing" interpretation would require an A.D. 70 fulfillment of the entire book of Revelation. Revelation 22:6, "And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done. " This is passage #6 from Gary DeMar's list of "time indicators" for Revelation as noted above. However, Dr. Gentry cites Revelation 20:7-9 as a reference to the yet future second coming. This creates a contradiction within Gentry's brand of preterism. Since Revelation 22:6 is a statement referring to the whole book of Revelation, it would be impossible to take tchos as a reference to A.D. 70 (as Dr. Gentry does) and at the same time hold that Revelation 20:7-9 teaches the second coming. Gentry must either adopt a view similar to futurism or shift to the extreme preterist view that understands the entire book of Revelation as past history and thus eliminating any future second coming and resurrection.
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