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Tuesday
Sep032019

Views of the Endtimes: Full Preterism

Various Passages.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 1, 2019.

Today we begin a series on important prophecies of the Bible and how different Christians have come to interpret them.  Our approach will be to ask a question regarding a particular aspect of prophecy, which will then serve as a filter that creates a clear separation between different views.

For those who think that prophecy is unimportant, or worse a wild, goose chase, I would give a caution.  Jesus and his apostles not only taught that prophecy was important, but they also gave more prophecies that aligned with the Old Testament ones that had not been fulfilled yet.  In fact, if you simply take the number of verses that have a prophecy in them, whether they are fulfilled or not, and divide it by the total number of verses in the Bible, you will find that around 27 to 28 percent of the Bible is prophecy.  So, prophecy is obviously important to our Lord. 

However, prophecy is not an attempt to tell us everything that will happen in the future.  We must remain humble and cautious in these matters.  If we are to take our Lord and his Apostles seriously for our salvation, and daily walk, then we should also take them seriously as they spoke on things that they said were to come in the future.

Is there a literal, physical return of Jesus from heaven in the future?

Our first question has to do with what is called the Second Coming of Christ.  Is it still in the future, and will it be a literal, physical return of Jesus from heaven?  There is a group of Christians who claim that this is not what the Bible says will happen.  We will talk more about how they get there in a bit.

We will focus on the main views, rather than on the multitude of individual interpretations that people hold.  Even these individual interpretations can be sorted into categories, which our filter questions will help us analyze.  I say this because it may appear as we go along that I am presenting these views as a monolithic or absolute scheme.  This is not so.  To give you an idea, this first category that we will look at has over sixteen unique approaches.  However, they all agree that the Bible does not say that Jesus is going to return to earth physically.

The group that answers the above question as, “no,” is called Full Preterism, or, as they like to call themselves, Consistent Preterism.  The name preterism uses the prefix preter, which comes from the Latin word for “past.”  It refers to how a person approaches Bible prophecy in general.  Preterists see Bible prophecy as being fulfilled in the past, as opposed to futurists, who see much of it to be fulfilled in the future.  Preterism is the view and preterist is the person who holds the view.  In fact, any time you read a prophecy in the Bible, you have to ask yourself what it is predicting and whether that has happened or not.  Thus, I would technically be a preterist regarding the prophecies of the First Coming of Jesus, but the word is not really used in that way.  There is a group that is usually called Partial Preterists or Moderate Preterists.  They would say that most of prophecy has been fulfilled in the past except for the Second Coming and the Resurrection.  We will talk about them at a later date.  So, how do full preterists come to believe that Jesus has already come back and fulfilled all the prophecies of the Bible?

Before we answer that question, let’s get a better feel for what all they believe.  If you think the Bible says something that hasn’t happened yet, it is only because you are ignorant of exactly what was meant and the historical events that fulfilled it.  According to this view, the Day of the Lord and the end times are references to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  The reign of Jesus, or Messiah, over all of the earth is actually a spiritual reign, and not meant to be a physical reign on earth.  The Second Coming of Jesus is also a spiritual event in which Jesus came in wrath upon Israel in 70 AD.  They will typically add that, when a person first believes on Jesus, they have their own personal, spiritual, Second Coming at that point.  The Final Judgment scenes of Revelation have already occurred in 70 AD, as well as the resurrection.  Yes, according to this view, you missed the Resurrection that the Bible talks about, and Satan has been bound, metaphorically of course.  We are actually in the New Heavens and the New Earth already because they were never intended to be physically new, but rather, spiritually new.  So, what are we doing?  The goal of the Church is to help all humans discover and accept what Christ has done for them.  The whole world will eventually be converted and mankind will enter Utopia.

Now, this view has variations about exactly when all these things were accomplished, but they generally fall within the first century AD.

Before we go into the negatives about this view, let me just say up front that they say much that we can agree with.  Those who believe that Jesus will literally and physically return, also believe that he is already spiritually reigning in our hearts.  They also believe that Christians already participate in the Kingdom of God by the Holy Spirit.  In fact, believers are described as those who have judged themselves already, and thus will avoid the Final Judgment.  Lastly, they also believe that the works of Satan can be bound by believers who stand against him and trust God.  So, many aspects of this view can be embraced.  The problem is that they see these things as the only thing promised in Scripture.  Is everything promised only metaphor and none of it also literal?

This would be my up-front statement:  This view directly contradicts Scripture and offers unsatisfying reasoning for their “misinterpretations” of the prophetic passages.  Let’s deal with three main arguments from Scripture that Full Preterists use to substantiate their view.

In Matthew 24:34, we are told, “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”  Immediately before this verse, and in all three of the Gospels, Jesus is telling about his Second Coming.  So far, it looks like a good case.  They believe that Jesus is pointing to his disciples as he says, “this generation…”  However, in verse 33, Jesus first refers to those who “see all these things,” and then states “this generation.”  This leaves the door open that it is just as possible that Jesus is referring to a later generation, i.e. the generation that sees all these things. 

If you study Matthew 24 and chart out what Jesus prophesies about the future, you come away with an outline that has two parts.  The first part he calls the “Beginning of Sorrows.”  He clearly states that it is a period that is not the end, but comes before the end.  He details many signs that will occur during this period in which the Gospel goes to the ends of the earth.  This becomes the tipping point to the second half of the discussion.  After the Gospel goes to the ends of the earth, then the end will come.  So, all the signs before this (false christs, wars, great earthquakes, famines and pestilence, persecution and martyrdom, false prophets, lawlessness, and the love of many growing cold) are not signs of the end times at all.  The Gospel would be preached to all the world under difficult circumstances, but believers were not to confuse that with the end.  Luke states that this period of difficulty that is not the end would last until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.  This period is not dated.  To say that the Gospel was preached in all the nations by 70 AD requires a very limited view of what Scriptures promise.  It really is a big stretch.  After Matthew states that the end will come, he describes the Great Tribulation and the Second Coming of Christ.  Some signs of these times were signs in the heavens and on earth, and false christs and prophets doing powerful signs to deceive.  All Christians before the end would see the first set of signs, but this second set would be seen by the generation that would also see the Second Coming of Christ.  Jesus is not predicting that he would come back during the first century.  He is stating that the generation that sees the second grouping of signs would see him come back.

In Matthew 16:27-28, we have another statement that at first glance appears to state that Jesus had to come back during the first century.  The problem is that this is not exactly what it says.  In verse 27, Jesus clearly speaks of his Second Coming “in the glory of His Father with His angels, and…reward each one…”  Then verse 28 states that some who were still alive at the time that he was speaking would not die before they saw the Son of Man coming “in his kingdom,” with no mention of angels and rewarding people for according to their works.

Mark 9:1 adds the phrase that they would see him “present with power.”  All three gospels follow this statement up with the account of the transfiguration of Jesus.  James, John, and Peter see Jesus transfigured before them.  What is that?  We are told, “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.  And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.  Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, let us make here three tabernacles; one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’  While he was still speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  Hear Him!’”  (NKJV).  These three disciples were allowed to see Jesus in his glory and kingdom power.  John sees this again in chapter one of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.  If only one of the Gospels had done this then we might still be speculative, but all three connect these two events directly.  The disciples themselves clearly saw the transfiguration as the fulfillment of what Jesus said, and not the Second Coming.

In Revelation 22:12 and 20, preterists emphasize the promises that Jesus is coming soon, which is the translation used by NIV, ESV, RSV, NLT, and some others.  The argument is that Jesus said he was coming soon, and 2,000 years is too long to qualify.  He had to come earlier.  This overlooks the reality that Old Testament passages often speak of things happening “soon” that are hundreds of years or more later.  The word that is translated “soon” in these passages is not a word about timing primarily, but of manner.  It is an adverb in these verses that speaks of how he will come, not when.  In other places it will use the noun form of this word in a prepositional phrase that similarly speaks of how it is done, not when.  Thus, Jesus is encouraging his followers that, when these things happen, they will happen quickly. 

We should also note that there are plenty of passages in the New Testament that speak of a delay of Christ’s Coming.  2 Peter 3:3-4 says, “Knowing this that scoffers will come in the last days walking according to their lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’  For since the fathers [patriarchs] fell asleep [died], all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’”  Notice that things would take so long that scoffers would be using that as the foundation for their unbelief.  Also, Peter states that they forget about the judgment of the flood.  The Second Coming of Christ will be like the flood judgment, only this time it will be by fire.

Another passage regarding delay is Matthew 24:48-50.  There Jesus tells a parable that says, “But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of…”  Again, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that it will take long enough for believers to quit watching, abuse their position over other believers, and even embrace the ways of the world.

On top of this, the Revelation itself, during the 7th Trumpet of Revelation 10:6, declares that “there should be no more delay.”  Up until then God has been restraining things and keeping the end at bay, but at some point, He ceases and allows things to quickly come to a head.

Dr. Ron Rhodes of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries (RonRhodes.org) has this to say about preterism.  “Against preterism, futurists note that key events described in the book of Revelation simply did not occur in A. D. 70.  For example, in A.D. 70 “a third of mankind” was not killed, as predicted in Revelation 9:18.  Nor has “every living creature in the sea died,” as predicted in Revelation 16:3.  In order to explain these texts, preterists must resort to an allegorical interpretation since they did not happen literally.”  I would add that these attempts to explain an allegorical fulfillment are often extremely stretched.  Now let’s quickly lay out several reasons why we know that Christ will come back literally, physically, and from heaven, which hasn’t happened yet.

First, the resurrection of Jesus and those who followed him was always considered physical and for every believer of all time.  In Matthew 10:28, Jesus warned us not to fear those who can kill the body, but to fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in the fires of Gehenna.  He clearly warns of a physical punishment within Gehenna.  This ties together with Revelation 20, where all the dead are resurrected (bodily), judged, and put in the Lake of Fire.  We can understand a person taking the book of Revelation as mere symbolism, but the words of Jesus are clearly more than symbolic.  He is clearly warning of the foolishness of such fear.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:50-54, cannot be understood without terrible twisting of the text to mean anything but a literal, physical resurrection of the righteous.50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” (NKJV).  Paul categorically states in verse 50 that, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God,” which the preterist view point contradicts.  So, what was God’s solution to this problem?  Paul explains that God will change our mortal flesh and blood into a glorified body that cannot perish.  Paul’s argument does not make sense without a literal resurrection and one that encompasses every believer, even those today.  To say that this is a spiritual resurrection truly stretches the argument because in the argument our flesh itself is the part of the problem that the resurrection solves.  Paul also states, in Philippians 3:20-21, “20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” (NKJV).  Over and over again, the resurrection is connected to a bodily transformation, from an earthly body to a heavenly body (which is never meant to mean a spirit).

If there is still any question, Acts 1:9-11 should put the argument to rest.  Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (NKJV).  Here we see that the apostles were told that Jesus would return in like manner as they saw him go.  This would be from heaven, supernaturally on the clouds of the sky, and in a glorified body that is physical, yet immortal.  Of course, this perfectly matches up with the scene described in Revelation 19.

11 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head weremany crowns. He [e]had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies in heaven, clothed in [f]fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. 15 Now out of His mouth goes a [g]sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.  17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, “Come and gather together for the [h]supper of the great God, 18 that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people,[i]free and slave, both small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20 Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. “

In countless places throughout the New Testament, believers are encouraged to be faithful and the hope placed in front of them is the Second Coming of Christ and the Resurrection of the body.  These promises often make little sense in the original context if we treat them only as spiritual metaphors. 

Let me just remind us again that I do not have a problem with recognizing spiritual fulfillments of these prophecies.  Yes, for many, the day they die is basically the Second Coming of Jesus.  We are also spiritually raised up to new life in order to live for Jesus.  However, it is a travesty to surrender the greatest promises that the Lord Jesus and his prophets have given us.

In fact, these arguments are the same arguments that unbelievers use to prove that Jesus failed.  Preterists appear to be trying to cut these arguments out from under unbelievers, and yet then they come across as many cults do when their prophecies fail.  How many Christian cults and false teachers have proclaimed that Jesus was returning on a certain day, only to be proven as liars?  The answer is many, and growing every day.  If they don’t flat out say that they were wrong, they often declare that they were correct, only Jesus came back spiritually.  You just can’t see it.  This doesn’t cause people to marvel at the power and wisdom of God.  Rather, it causes them to shake their head and blaspheme God.

Jesus is coming back, and all who have embraced him in faith will enter into his promised kingdom over all the earth, where the swords will be pounded down to ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3).  As Revelation 1:7 says, “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him.  Even so, Amen.”  It won’t be just Israel seeing him in 70 A.D., and they won’t just metaphorically see him.  He will be seen by all the nations in the flesh.

As we look at the world today, it is becoming clearer and clearer that mankind will not save itself.  Our leaders will not solve the problems of the world because the problems of the world are rooted in the sin of mankind.  Only Jesus can save us from our sins, and only Jesus has been given authority from God to rule the whole earth physically from Jerusalem.  Amen!

Endtimes audio