Professor R.C. Sproul defines Preterism as, “An eschatological viewpoint that places many or all eschatological events in the past, especially during the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70”.1 A recent convert to partial Preterism, Sproul’s scholarly influence within Christianity has contributed greatly to Preterism cause.
One of Preterism’s strongest promoters today is Gary DeMar. His book, Last Days Madness, published in 1999 by American Vision, declares: (1) No signs today point forward to Christ’s return (p. 158); (2) Jesus “came” in 70 AD (p. 71, 123-125); (3) All of Matthew 24 is behind us; (4) Nero was the “beast” (p. 258); (5) “The man of sin” (2 Thess. 2:4) has come and gone (p. 280); (6) Revelation’s primary focus is events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem (p. 217); (7) The “end” of the world refers to the end of the Jewish world in 70 AD (p. 189).
Although Preterists rely on different arguments, their main contention is that when the New Testament says the Day of Christ is “at hand” (Rev. 1:3) or “near” (James 5:8), and that Jesus Christ is coming “quickly” (Rev. 22:10) or in “a little while” (Heb. 10:37), these words must have meant exactly that to their original readers in the first century. In other words, “near,” “at hand,” “quickly,” and “a little while,” must mean a short time after they were written.
Among other things, I believe Preterists are wrong for the following reasons:
- “At hand,” “quickly,” “near,” “a little while”: These words reflect God’s eternal perspective, not man’s. In the context of the timing of the return of our Lord, Peter said, “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Thus, to God, time is relative. To Him, a one thousand year period is like one short day. Peter said we should “not forget this one thing.” As we shall see, “this one thing” is the key to Preterism’s failure. Two verses later Peter continued, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (vs. 10). Preterists contend for literalism. Honestly, did this literally happen in 70 A.D.?
- A “little while” that lasted over 500 years: The book of Haggai was written around 500 B.C., “in the second year of King Darius,” (Haggai 1:1). Notice carefully: “For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and the earth, the sea, and dry land: and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory, says the Lord of hosts” (Haggai 2:6,7). The phrase, the Desire of All Nations, refers to Jesus Christ. Not only was Christ’s coming to be “in a little while,” but so was the shaking of the heavens and the earth. First of all, Christ didn’t come until 500 years after this prophecy was given; and secondly, the New Testament book of Hebrews quotes Haggai 2:6 as still future! (Hebrews 10:27; 12:26,27). Thus Haggai 2:6,7 is biblical proof that “a little while” does not literally only a few days or years. Even if one were to take this literally, how long is a “little while”? Ten minutes? Two days? Five years? Again, the only way “a little while” makes sense is to interpret the phrase from God’s perspective, not man’s.
- Scriptures Predicting a Delay in the Advent: Not only are there verses in the New Testament teaching that Jesus Christ’s second coming would come “soon,” “quickly,” and was “at hand,” but there are also other verses implying a long delay before the Advent. In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, Jesus said, “But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept” (Matthew 25:5). In His very next parable Jesus described “a man traveling to a far country … [and] after a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them” (Matthew 25:14, 19). Thus in Christ’s parables describing the time frame of His return, He said there would be a delay and “a long time” in between in first and second comings.
- Christ’s return will be global, not localized in Judea: Preterists believe the “coming” of Jesus took place in 70 A.D. when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, yet this doesn’t square with the facts. In Matthew 24:37-39, Jesus compared His return to Noah’s flood which was global, not local (Genesis 7:21,22). Matthew 24:30 says that Jesus Christ’s return will be witnessed by “all the tribes of the earth,” not just people in Judea. Revelation 6 describes the real “end of the world” as reaching out far beyond the Jewish world. “And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every island and mountain were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mightily men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains: And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of their wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand” (Rev. 6:14-17). Did this really happen in 70 A.D. as preterists contend? No. These verses describe people all around the world hiding in caves “from the face of him that sits on the throne!” Again, Preterists contend for literalism. This great day of wrath did not literally happen in 70 A.D.
- The significance of Revelation 22:11: This passage says that when Jesus Christ does finally come “quickly,” He will reward “every man” (not just Jews) according to their works. In addition, prior to His return, a solemn announcement will be made in heaven, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And behold, I come quickly …” (Rev. 22:11, 12). Notice carefully that right before Jesus really comes the destiny of every living human being will be decided. The lost, having rejected Christ’s cleansing blood, will remain filthy still; while those who are blood-washed and prepared will be ready for this holy event. It should be obvious that this final pronouncement concerning the destiny of all living human beings (those alive on earth at the second coming) did not take occur in 70 A.D. It is yet to come.
Paul wrote that the true Christians should be “looking” forward to “the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…” (Titus 2:11). Surely the Lord knew this verse would be read by Christians in this generation. Does “looking” still apply to us? Of course. That’s why we should keep “looking” forward to the second coming of Jesus Christ and abandon Preterism. And we should do it “quickly.”