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Problems with Preterism
by Philip B. Brown
Preterism means past fulfillment. The opposite of the preterist view is generally the futurist view. Various prophetic passages are debated as to whether they are already fulfilled, or whether they are to be fulfilled in the future. Passages that are often debated along these lines are Daniel 9, Zechariah 14, Matthew 24, Luke 21, and the book of Revelation. Some people take the preterist view on some of these passages, and the futurist view on other passages. Many people consider Matthew 24 and Luke 21 to be partially fulfilled, but to still have future aspects to their fulfillment. Generally, the preterist view of a passage is that it was fulfilled on or prior to 70 AD, when Rome conquered Jerusalem and scattered the Jews. With regard to Revelation itself, however, some preterists consider fulfillment to be as late as 400 AD.Various aspects of the preteristism have been around for most of church history. But with regard to the preterist interpretation of Revelation itself, it dates back to the Catholic Church’s Council of Trent, which was held to condemn the Protestant Reformation. The Spanish Jesuit Luis De Alcazar (AD 1554-1613) published a 900-page book on Revelation that introduced the preterist interpretation of Revelation. The preterist views of Matthew 24 and Daniel 9, however, have been around since the early church fathers.
Right after Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple, the disciples asked, “When will all this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). Does Scripture give us signs, or events that must happen just prior to Christ’s second coming? Will there be a time of a literal antichrist, when a man rules the world and when he literally “sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God?” (2nd Thessalonians 2:1-4) Will Christ return at the literal battle of Armageddon? Are the events that are happening today in Israel a part of what the Bible prophesied? Is there anything in unfulfilled Bible prophecy that must happen before Christ returns? Or does all unfulfilled prophecy speak only about the actual second coming, the judgment, and the eternal state thereafter? To one degree or another, preterism believes there is no prophecy after 70 AD, other than the actual second coming, the judgment, and the eternal state thereafter.
In recent years, there has been a growing belief system called full-preterism. Full-preterism takes past-fulfillment one-step further by saying that all Bible prophecy was fulfilled by 70 AD. This includes the second coming, the judgment, the new heavens and new earth, and the eternal state. Full preterists refer to the prior preterist belief system as partial preterism. Perhaps this is done because full preterists believe that their system is the logical conclusion to the preterist hermeneutical system and arguments. With this I agree. If I were to adopt the preterist hermeneutical system and arguments, I would probably be a full-preterist myself. But I’m not a preterist. I do believe in future unfulfilled signs of Christ’s return. While it’s certainly descriptive, I consider the term “partial preterism” a somewhat condescending term. Preterism was around long before full-preterism. Therefore, in this article I will refer to the prior belief system as historical preteristism.