To the Preterist with Love
A Look at the Preterist Controversy.
By Jeff Russell
TO THE PRETERIST WITH LOVE
“That you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and the
Commandment of us the Apostles of the Lord and Savior, knowing this first: that scoffers will
come in the last days, saying where is the promise of His coming?" (II Peter 3:2-4).
The word “preterist” is heard a lot on Christian radio talk shows, in academic circles, and on several web sites on the Internet these days. Preterist simply means “past” and the preterist view of Bible prophecy teaches that most, if not all end-time prophecy, has already been fulfilled (including the events of Revelation). According to Preterists, these prophecies were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. In fact they refer to Jerusalem’s destruction as the “fall of Israel.” Generally, preterists tend to regard those who support Israel and the Jewish people, and who are looking for our Lord’s personal return and the Rapture of the Church, as “escapists” - archaic in our thinking.
WHAT PRETERISTS BELIEVE
Some Preterists hold that these prophecies were fulfilled during the Bar Kochba war (135-150 AD), including the tribulation period and that we are “currently living in an inaugurated new heaven and new earth, since the Book of Revelation had to have a first century fulfillment” (see Thomas Ice, Has Bible Prophecy Already Been Fulfilled - the Internet). Other Preterists believe that the events of Revelation were fulfilled during the first three centuries as God waged war on the two early enemies of the church: Israel and Rome, resulting in the “Christianization” of Rome under Constantine. They teach that our Lord returned “spiritually” at that time.
Preterism is an old and long-ago discredited view which, strangely, is becoming popular in evangelical circles. It stands on very weak ground, is grammatically deficient, is not supported by adequate scholarship, is historically unsubstantiated, does not hold to the personal return of our Lord, and violates sound principles of biblical interpretation. But, because it is being espoused by a very well known and respected Bible teacher who holds that the Church has replaced Israel and is the recipient of all the promises of God given to Israel, the Preterist view is gaining attention and growing momentum especially among young, elitist, evangelical clergy. At its root, it is an effort to compromise with liberal theological scholarship.
In this brief article we are offering you some of the views of the Preterists with a brief refutation. Space limits us from an exhaustive approach at this time. But this subject will be revisited from time to time in the pages of our newsletter.
Most Preterists argue that major prophetic portions of Scripture such as the Olivet Discourse and the Book of the Revelation were fulfilled in events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem. They suggest that the events had to take place before the end of the first century AD - within 40 years of our Lord’s crucifixion - to conform to their understanding of the word “generation” (Matthew 24:32-34). They therefore also teach that all of these second coming prophecies were local, referring only to Jerusalem. We’ll discuss this in a later paragraph.
Another segment of preterists believe that there is yet a future “second coming” (Acts 1:9-11, I Corinthians 15:51-53;
I Thessalonians 4:16-17) and the resurrection of believers at Christ’s return. The more extreme, however, hold that ALL future Bible prophecy has been fulfilled and that there is no future physical coming of Christ. Thomas Ice quotes R.C. Sproul in his book The Last Days According to Jesus, suggesting that “Jesus returned in the first century. He returned spiritually through the acts of the Roman army who destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70” (Thomas Ice on the Internet).
It is clear that the Preterists’ views arise from a failure to “distinguish between the rapture which the Scriptures teach could take place without warning at any moment, and the second coming which will be preceded by the signs of Matthew 24. The New Testament teaches that Christ’s coming in the clouds to rapture His church is imminent (I Corinthians 1:7; Philippians 3:20; I Thessalonians 1:10; Titus 2:12, 13; Hebrews 9:28; I Peter 1:13; Jude 2; cf. Matthew 24:45-47; Mark 13:33-37; Luke 21:35-40) and is an event that could have taken place at any time during the last 2,000 years.
THE MATTHEW PASSAGES
Preterists rely heavily on three major “timing passages” in Matthew which they believe demand a first century fulfillment.
The first passage is Matthew 10:23, “But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another. For verily I say unto you, ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come.”
To be consistent with Matthew’s use of the term “coming,” this cannot be a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem as some Preterists teach, or a reference to the triumphal entry as other Preterists teach. It is a reference to a coming “in the glory of His Father,” and “with His angels,” the purpose of which is “to render to every man according to his deeds” (Matthew 26:27,28), a coming in which Christ shall “sit on the throne of His glory” (Matthew 19:28); a coming that will be visible (Matthew 24:27), sudden and unexpected (Matthew 24:37, 39, 44), a coming “on clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30; cf. 25:31, 26:64).
The second passage is Matthew 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.”
Preterists call this another “time-text” indicator, supporting their contention that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70 by the Romans fulfilled this prophecy. Since the text clearly refers to dying, its meaning is plain - some who were hearing Christ’s words would not die before witnessing some kind of “coming” of Jesus in His glory. This statement is true of several - namely Peter, James, and John (Matthew 17:1), who were shortly thereafter participants with our Lord at the Transfiguration. It is interesting that both Peter and John reference this in their epistles. In John’s case notably, he wrote his epistles nearly a quarter of a century after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
The third and most widely used “time-text” employed by Preterists in their attempts to establish their thesis about Bible prophecy, is Matthew 24:34: “Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.” Preterists believe that the events of the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation had to occur within the next 40 years (which they interpret to be a “generation”), including the Great Tribulation. This violates both the facts of the discourse and the basic laws of biblical interpretation. It is part of Jesus’ discourse on the fig tree which most scholars believe is a reference to Israel, and it promises rescue for the Jews. There was no rescue for the Jews remaining in Jerusalem during its destruction in AD 70. Nearly a million perished. Here, Matthew speaks of a divine rescue which will occur at the return of our Lord (vv. 29 & 31). The fig tree is clearly meant to be an additional sign of our Lord’s return.
Furthermore, the weight of scholarship strongly supports that the Greek word genera used in this passage means race, posterity or nation, and is clearly a reference to the nation of Israel (see Zodiates, New Testament Word Studies, Lexical Aids, page 897). Israel, as the Bible clearly teaches, will survive, and will experience all of the promised blessings which God has promised them. It is surprising that Preterist spokesperson Gary DeMar dogmatically declares, “The integrity of the Bible (i.e. the Preterist view) is at stake in the discussion of the biblical meaning of 'this generation.'” It is and clearly he is mistaken.
Furthermore, there is no interpretive principle to support the preterist teaching that “all these things” refer to a non-bodily, non-personal, coming of Christ through the Roman army in the first century. Interestingly, Matthew 24:33 notes that “it is near, even at the doors.” In fact, Christ’s Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24; Mark 13: Luke 21) does not contain a single sentence, phrase, or other term that requires a first century fulfillment, except for Luke 21:20-24 which speaks of Jerusalem’s destruction itself.
THE REVELATION PASSAGES
A fatal error of the Preterists is that they also rely very strongly on the meaning of 10 “time-text” passages in Revelation in which the term “quickly” is used - which they define without regard to anything else in each passages’ text or context to support their views.
A form of the Greek word for “quickly” (tachos) is used 8 times in Revelation (1:1; 2:5; 3:11; 11:14; 22:6; 7; 12, & 20. The tachos family of words may mean “soon,” or it may refer to the manner in which the action occurs, i.e., quickly or suddenly.
Dr. John Walvoord, former President of Dallas Seminary, points out that events which Daniel declared would take place “in the latter days” are in the book of Revelation described as shortly (tachei) - that is “quickly or suddenly coming to pass, indicating rapidity of execution after the beginning takes place.” The idea is that the event may occur soon, but that when it does, it will be sudden as to duration (cf. Luke 18:8; Acts 12:7, 18, 22; 25:4; Romans 16:20). A similar word tachys, is translated “quickly” seven times in Revelation as meaning “without delay, quickly, or at once" (2:5, 16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:7, 12, 20).
One of the leading Greek lexicons in our day is Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich (BAG). The two times that the word tachos appears as a noun in Revelation, it is also coupled with the Greek proposition en, causing the phrase to function grammatically as an adverb, and revealing to us the “sudden” manner in which events will take place. BAG gives as its meaning “quick, swift, speedy” (p. 814 ), and specifically classifies all six uses in Revelation as meaning “without delay, quickly, or at once" (p. 815).
Other lexicons also agree, and recommend a translation descriptive of the manner in which things will happen (see Revelation 2:16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:7, 12, 20). Further, the most authoritative Greek grammar is Blass, Debrunner, and Funk, which also fully supports this position. Thomas Ice points out, “all the occurrences of the tachos word family in Revelation are adverbs of manner.”
There are many serious problems with the Preterist view. But, perhaps the most serious is how it impacts on the character and nature of God. Preterism relegates our God to one who doesn’t keep His promise for Israel’s present and future, and thus cannot be trusted. Our God is a covenant-keeping God. He will keep His promises of future glory to Israel (see Isaiah chapters 28-66). He will also keep His promises to you and me.
“For the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail nor destroy you,
nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them" (Deuteronomy 4:31).
GLOSSARY OF PRETERIST REDEFINITIONS OF PROPHETIC TERMS
The Great Tribulation - “took place at 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 AD 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 Rapture - is “the catching up of the living saints ‘to meet the Lord in the air.’ The Bible does not teach any difference between the Second Coming and the Rapture; they are simply different aspects of the Last Day.”
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 – “in Revelation - was a symbol of both Nero in particular, and the Roman Empire in general.”
The False Prophet - “in Revelation - was none other than the leadership of apostate Israel, who rejected Christ and worshipped the Beast."
The Great Harlot - “in Revelation - was Jerusalem, which had always been…falling into apostasy and persecuting the prophets, and 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 10 contains the idea of a fullness of quantity; in other words, it stands for manyness. A thousand multiplies and intensifies this (i.e. 10 x 10 x10), in order to express great vastness, an undefined period of time. Perhaps requiring 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 (Matthew 21:43) which is why Christ destroyed the Jewish state. In destroying Israel, Christ transferred the blessings of the kingdom from Israel to His 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 (Revelation 20:7-10). “The Dragon will be released for a short time, to deceive the nations in his last-ditch effort 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 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, nor will be, a literal ‘Battle of Armageddon,' for there is no such place.” Editor’s comment: strange, I was just there, and have been many times. It is a literal place now, throughout history, and in the future.(Ed Steele)
(The foregoing is a list of direct quotes assembled from the statements by Preterist teachers and found on The Internet)
The Author: Ed Steele is a former pastor and serious student of the Bible. He has written many published articles and books. He serves on the Jerusalem College of Technology American Board, and the California Israel Exchange which promotes business and commerce between California and the state of Israel. In 1990 he was awarded the Faith and Freedom Award from the Religious Heritage in America Foundation for his interfaith work. Before Ed’s passing he worked tirelessly for Israel, regarding subjects like God’s plan for the Nation of Israel and their rightful place in the land. In addition, Ed served in the Ministry of David Hocking at Hope for Today and published many wonderful books through his company, Promise Publishing.
Pastor Terry Reynolds
Pastor Jeff Russell
I'm sorry to say that this is a very poor critique of preterism. The above answers to preterism have been dealt with by numerous writers for centuries. The author needs to interact with true preterist arguments and not just simplistic caricatures. I suggest interacting with books like Is Jesus Coming Soon?, Last Days Madness, Wars and Rumors of Wars, Identifying the Real Last Days Scoffers, 10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered by Gary DeMar.
The trouble with preterism is it doesn't make a biblical distinction between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven as the bible does.... Also, there are no preterist that believe the King James Bible is perfect,or infallible... Thus, they have no foundation of Scripture.... They even would say there is no perfect Greek or Hebrew text since the 1st or second century..... Hogwash!
You discourage readers by using such a faint font. Blacken it up so it can be clearly read.
Thank you for the information on what these false teachers are spreading around the world. I will continue to read your article, and it does not matter if the print is faint or black, what matters is that it is the truth.
No amount of scriptural proof common sense nor context and weighing up all scriptures concerning eschatology will change a pterists mind. Without Jesys their is no eschatology as He is the Eschatos. The beginning and the end Alpha and Omega, besides preterism annuls the blessed hope and many other Biblical promises made concerning the Body of Christ the church.
Plain logic looking at the current world we live in tells us these prophecies are yet ti be fulfilled.
Five years ago, I started doing my own research into "the last days" as i seen too many contradiction in our church teaching. Some of it was completely laughable at best. I been doing a lot of my own personal research into preteristism the last year and the things you says about it are misleading. I truly believe you know nothing about preteristism to discredit the teaching.
And I have several dispensational books that promise/predict a rapture by 1917, 1948, 1953, 1988, 2000. Something about the boy who cried wolf .....
Genera is not referring to Israel, and the weakest response to preterism are those that are done with a Judeo-centric eschatology in mind.
The full preterist view has merit. It’s only when we try to understand it thru our preconceived notions that it appears a strange belief. In 1998 I tried to disprove it when a Bible scholar friend began to believe it. I could not disprove it. I learned ‘audience relevance’ and how the time statements were written to the early church, not us in 2023. I learned about apocalyptic language such as ‘coming on clouds’ and how that signifies judgment. I learned the history of the Roman Jewish War and Nero and the horrific persecution of the saints. The ‘new heavens and earth’ is not a physical planet since the earth endures forever (Eccl 1:4, Eph 3:21). It is the New Covenant. The ‘last days’ pertained to the end of the Old Covenant age. The ‘elements that melt in fervent heat’ were ‘principles’ of the Old Covenant system. The abomination of desolation was the Roman armies desecrating the temple and entering the Holy of Holies. The 40 years between Jesus’ ascension and return were foreshadowed by the 40 year wilderness wandering. Also read John 21:22 and let that sink in, what Jesus said to Peter. I admit, this raises eyebrows. It’s somewhat hard to believe because we were taught differently. I still have questions like, did the Euphrates River dry up back then? Did many run to and fro and did knowledge increase? I seek truth just as any other believer, and I keep digging because I love Jesus and His Word. I hope all of us continue to because it’s paramount to know the times we live in… the first 2000 years of the forever kingdom of Christ? Or the last days of earth awaiting His return?