You are hereWhat is the Narrative of Revelation

What is the Narrative of Revelation

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By Duncan - Posted on 05 September 2008

by Duncan McKenzie
In case anyone is interested, I may finally have volume I of my book out in early 2009. The thing is so long I decided to split it into two volumes. Volume I will be about 350 pages; volume II will be about 450 pages. It is the product of eight years of labor!In case anyone is interested, I may finally have volume I of my book out in early 2009. The thing is so long I decided to split it into two volumes. Volume I will be about 350 pages; volume II will be about 450 pages. It is the product of eight years of labor!

Volume I: Daniel and 2 Thessalonians

Introduction

II. Introduction to the Book of Daniel and the Coming of God’s Kingdom

III. The Fall of the Spectacular Human Image and the Establishment of the Kingdom of God (Daniel 2)

IV. The Little Horn of the Fourth Beast (Daniel 7)

V. The King of the North and the Time of the End (Daniel 11:36-12:13)

VI. The Day of the Lord

VII. The Man of Lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2)

Volume II: The Book of Revelation

I.                   Introduction to the Book of Revelation

II.                The Beast and the False Prophet (Revelation 13)

III.             The Beast and the Harlot (Revelation 17)

IV.             The Beast and the Fall of Babylon (Revelation 18)

V.                The Second Coming (Revelation 19)

VI.             The Millennium and New Heaven and New Earth; Preliminary Considerations

VII.          The Millennium and New Heaven and New Earth (Revelation 20-22)

VIII.       Where Are We Now?

What is the Narrative of the book of Revelation?

Is there a narrative to Revelation? Does it have a unifying storyline? Despite the many complexities of the book, the answer to this question is a definite yes; there is a clear storyline to Revelation. Revelation is a tale of two cities, Babylon and New Jerusalem; these two cities are also said to be two women, the harlot and the bride (Rev. 17:1-3; Rev. 21:9-10). The judgments of Revelation culminate with the destruction of one of these women and then the marriage of the other. The harlot (Babylon) is destroyed and then the bride (New Jerusalem) becomes married (Rev. 19:1-7).

There is an exact parallel of Revelation’s contrast of two women/cities in Galatians. In Galatians 4:21-31 we are told of two women who are two wives (Hagar and Sarah) who correspond to two cities (physical Jerusalem and heavenly Jerusalem). We are told that these two women/cities are symbolic of two communities of people, those under the old covenant and those under the new covenant.

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewomen. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar- for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children- but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all…But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. Galatians 4:21-31 NKJV emphasis added

It is obvious that the “Jerusalem above” of Galatians 4:26 corresponds to the New Jerusalem of Revelation (which comes down out of heaven, Rev. 21:2, 10); but could first-century Jerusalem (Gal. 4:25) correspond to Mystery Babylon (Rev. 17:5)? The answer is Yes! Babylon is called “the great city” in Revelation (Rev. 17:18; 18:21), The very first place in Revelation that we encounter “the great city” (Rev. 11:8) we are told that it was where Jesus was crucified (i.e. Jerusalem). Like pagan Babylon, Jerusalem had destroyed God’s Temple (i.e. Jesus, John 2:18-22) and was persecuting God’s people. In Revelation, as in Galatians (4:29), one women persecutes the other (i.e. the harlot persecutes the bride, Rev. 17:6; 18:24, cf. Matthew 23:29-37). Similarly in Revelation, as in Galatians (4:30), one of the two women is cast out (Rev. 18:21) while the other woman receives her inheritance (the Lord takes the bride as His wife).

It should be noted that, like the two women of Galatians, the two women of Revelation are also two wives. It is obvious that the bride is a wife, as she becomes married (Rev. 21:9). It is easy to miss that the harlot is also a wife (cf. Ezek. 16:32), a widowed wife. Unfaithful Israel went from being a queen to a widow when she had her King killed (Rev. 18:7; cf. Matt 21:5). Again, the subject of Revelation is exactly the same as Galatians 4:21-31; both are talking about two women/cities who are two wives. The contrast of these two women is being used as a vehicle to contrast the two covenants and those who were part of them.

The judgments of Revelation climax in chapter 17-19 with the destruction of the persecuting city of Babylon (Rev. 18:24) and then God marries His bride (Rev. 19:7). The exact same scenario of the burning of a wicked city (Matt. 22:7; Rev. 18:8) followed by a wedding is found in Matthew 22:

And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding and they were not willing to come. Again he sent out other servants, saying ‘Tell those who are invited “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies destroyed those murders and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. Matthew 22:1-10.

The above parable (which obviously speaks of the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem) explains why it is that right after the destruction of harlot Babylon that the bride becomes married.

After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her.” Again they said, “Alleluia! Her smoke rises up forever and ever!” And the twenty-four elders and the four living creature fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying “Amen! Alleluia!” Then a voice came from the throne saying, “Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both small and great!” And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thundering saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:1-7

The harlot motif is a common Old Testament image for unfaithful Israel: Lev 17:7; Lev 20:5-6; Num 14:33; Num 15:39; Deut 31:16; Judg 2:17; Judg 8:27; 1 Chr. 5:25; 2 Chr 21:11; Ps 73:27; Hosea 1:2; Hos 2:2-5; Hos 4:15; Hos 9:1; Jer. 2:20; Jer 3:2,9,13: Jer 5:7,11; Jer 13:27; Eze. 6:9; Eze 16; Eze 23; Eze 43:7,9. The harlot of Revelation is arrayed in the colors of the Temple and clothes of the High Priest (Rev. 17:4; Rev. 18:16; cf. Ex. 28). The merchandise of harlot Babylon is the merchandise that was used in the construction and furnishings of the Temple (Rev. 18:12) as well as its sacrifices (v. 13) see my article “The Merchandise of Babylon” http://planetpreterist.com/news-2786.html. The plagues of Babylon (pestilence, mourning, famine and burning, Rev. 18:8 NASB) are exactly what happened to Jerusalem (not Rome) at AD 70.

The destruction of the harlot city in Revelation is drawn from the destruction of Jerusalem in Ezekiel 16. In Ezekiel 16 God said that the nations that Jerusalem had been unfaithful with (committing spiritual harlotry) would turn on her and destroy her with fire (vv. 35-43). Harlot Jerusalem is portrayed in Ezekiel 16 as being dressed in the furnishings of the tabernacle, her “food” consisting of items used in the sacrifices (vv. 10-13). This parallels the harlot Babylon being dressed in the furnishings of the Temple and garments of the High Priest, her “merchandise” consisting of items used in the sacrifices (Rev. 18:13). Revelation 17-19 is showing, the AD 70 burning of unfaithful Jerusalem and her Temple at the end of the old covenant age. Moses was told that this would happen in the “latter days”

And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?’…and evil with befall [them] in the latter days (Deut. 31:16-17, 29).

This is the storyline of Revelation: God judges and ultimately destroys His unfaithful old covenant wife and then marries His new covenant bride.

Lastly, scholars have been slow to catch on to what we preterists have been saying about harlot Babylon. NT Wright noted that there has even been hostility to this interpretation:

Recent commentators (e.g. Massyngberde Ford, 1975) have suggested the great and wicked city [of Rev. 17-19] is not Rome but Jerusalem (cf. Rev. 11:8). I have discovered that this suggestion arouses anger in some circles, which is not explained simply as annoyance at an exegetical peculiarity (plenty of those are to be found in all the journals, but they merely arouse curiosity). What is at stake here, and for whom?

N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 2 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), footnote, 358.

Saying the harlot is unfaithful Israel is hardly an exegetical peculiarity; it is not a tangential interpretation driven by the quest for novelty. Given the consistent OT portrayal of God’s unfaithful old covenant people as the harlot, unfaithful Israel should be the starting point in one’s examination of the harlot of Revelation. There are only two exceptions (where a Gentile city is called a harlot) in the whole OT for goodness sake!

Consider one of the conclusions that Wright came to in his study of the gospels:

When we read through the synoptic tradition (and John, for that matter) we find a great deal of warning of coming judgment, in all strands of the traditions, and all pointing in one direction. Jesus, I shall now argue, predicted that judgment would fall on the nation [of Israel] in general and on Jerusalem in particular. That is to say, he reinterprets a standard Jewish belief (the coming judgment which would fall on the nations) in terms of a coming judgment which would fall on impenitent Israel. The great prophets had done exactly the same. Jerusalem, under its present regime, had become Babylon.

emphasis mine, Jesus and the Victory of God, 322-323

Wright noted that his conclusion “may be held by some to carry implications for the reading of Rev. 17-19.” ibid 358

Since Jesus borrowed from the language of the fall of Babylon in talking about the fall of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:29 cf. Is. 13:10, 13) it should not be surprising that John did the same in Revelation.

For more on Babylon and the theme of Revelation see: “A Summary of Harlot Babylon” http://planetpreterist.com/news-2817.html “The Covenant Judgments of Revelation” http://planetpreterist.com/news-5109.html Duncan

sidwms's picture

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Missina's picture

Very good article, however I have one slightly nitpicking question, so treat this as off topic. :)

You said that the harlot is a widowed wife because her king was killed. But what about Jeremiah 3:8? Perhaps it's due to lack of study, but I have always been under the impression that God wrote his unfaithful Israel the bill of divorce, releasing her and putting her away before Christ's death ever did.

mljtl's picture

In Jeremiah 3:8, God had already divorced Israel (the 10 northern tribes in 722BC; 2 Kings 17:21-23), and the prophet was using this as a warning to the southern kingdom of Judah. God did not divorce Judah. It was Judah who killed her King and therefore became a widow.

Hope this makes sense.

Steve

Missina's picture

Yup, sounds good to me. Thanks! :)

Islamaphobe's picture

Duncan,

As the tensions that exist in our contemporary world continue to grow--and they will, rapidly--interest in eschatology will also escalate, and I think there will be a market for more thoughtful treatments of it than those served up by writers who appeal to the sensationalism of the gullible folk who have snapped up the servings of the Apocalypse Now school. I wish you luck in your venture, and I shall gladly buy a copy of vol. 1 and make my small contribution to cutting the financial cost to you of helping to improve the public's understanding of important Scriptural issues.

John S. Evans

Duncan2's picture

Thanks John! It is amazing how when if comes to the book of Daniel one gets two wrong opionions. Those who say it is talking about the second cent. BC and those who say it is talking about the future. A first cent. fulfillment (cf. Dan. 9:26-27) gets totally overlooked.

tom-g's picture

Hey Duncan,

I was very impressed with your explanation of the two cities.

I would think that if you were to reconcile in your mind when John was given his vision in Revelation you might develop a much clearer and more powerful understanding. I am not speaking of whether it was before or after AD70, I am speaking of whether it was before any of the other NT books were written.

It is obvious that you perceive that Paul in Galatians is clearly explaining the two cities that were shrouded in symbol and imagery in Revelation. But, was that not one of the major functions the "Paraclete" was to perform for the apostles when he came? To bring to remembrance the things Jesus said, to teach them things to come and to lead them into all truth?

It is equally obvious that every book in the NT contributes to a clear explanation of John's vision, particularly John's four other books. But then did our Lord not say that he was giving this vision to his servant John to give to his other servants? Do you think it is then a coincidence that John, Paul, James, Peter and Jude identify themselves specifically in their salutations as servants of Christ and then proceed in their work to cover the same ground as that covered in the Revelation?

Certainly the imagery in Revelation was the same imagery that was used many times in the OT, but repeating that imagery in Revelation does not make it any clearer than it was in the OT, but providing a clear explanation under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was the function the Apostles were given by our Lord, and was clearly the purpose that our Lord intended for them when he commanded John to share with them his vision, and their responsibility was then to clearly explain it.

Excluding the Revelation, without the 14 books by Paul, the 4 by John, the 2 by Peter and the 1 by James, together with the Acts and the 3 synoptic gospels; there is no way to understand God's narrative of his eternal plan that was conceived before he created all things.

The chronological time and events encompassed in the Revelation covers the same chronological time and events encompassed from Matthew through Jude. Look for John's vision to have been given before any of the NT was written and that all of the NT writers were aware of it and were explaining it and the entire word of God becomes a clear cohesive whole progressively revealed.

To sum up, if you were to continue to explain the Revelation from the writings of the Apostles in the NT as you began to do with your explanation of the 2 cities and forget the invalid reversion of trying to use the OT to reveal the truth of the Revelation, you will be on solid ground. Nor will their explanations fail you in your inquiry into the meaning of the Revelation.

I think the truth of my suggestion is clearly demonstrated by asking yourself if you can interpret Revelation without recourse to any knowledge provided in the NT? If not, then which came first, a prophetic vision shrouded in symbols and imagery? Or, the clear progressively revealed explanation of the prophecy without symbols and imagery? Peter, when addressing this question taught that: "we have a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto you do well that you take heed." We, of course, know what that more sure word of prophecy was, was the Revelation!

Respectfully,
Tom

jhb's picture

Ahhhhhh... Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Actually, Tom-G, I've never heard of your hypothesis stated anywhere before I read your comments to Duncan's article. You've opened up a very, very interesting line of reasoning.

jhb

tom-g's picture

Thank you jhb,

It is a very strange interpretation that would understand that the mystery which had never been revealed or understood until it was progressively revealed in its clarity and fulness to the Apostles and prophets of Christ through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would after the clearly explained revelation then show the same events and times in a vision to John clouded in imagery and symbols.

Only the reverse makes sense. The prophetic vision in all of its beautiful imagery and symbols was given first and then the Apostles and prophets of the Lord were progressively led into the explanation of the truth of that imagery and symbols by the Spirit.

Just several examples are Duncan's article which points out very clearly that Paul explained the image of the two cities in the vision. Also the same John who received the vision explains in his gospel (Jn 19:37) the fulfillment of the prophecy of Revelation 1:7. Where shall we go for the truth of the explanation of the church, adorned as the bride of Christ, the lamb? To the Apostles and prophets of Christ in their clear explanation (Ep 3:1-21) by revelation of the vision? Or to the symbolic imagery revealed in the vision? (as Paul explained, it was not clear whether the man who received the vision was in the body or out of the body when he was transported to the third heaven)

Having clearly explained these things through the Apostles, what is accomplished by then at a later time symbolically revealing the same things in a vision that then has to be interpreted by his servants the Apostles that have already been explained by the Apostles?

It is a strange system indeed that advocates reversing the concept of the progressive revelation of the mystery. It certainly makes the leading and work of the Holy Spirit and the gospel preached by Paul meaningless and of none effect.

Tom

jhb's picture

Hi Tom-G,

After sharing your perspective with my wife, followed by a period of digestion and contemplation, we both stood back and exclaimed, "Brilliant!"

For over 25 years I've understood, taught, and preached on the principle of "progressive revelation" from Old to New Covenants but had never thought of applying that same principle to the chronology of the New Testament canon.

Are there any resources -- books, websites, etc. -- underscoring your perspective that you could refer us to? Or are you a lone "voice crying in the wilderness"?

Thank you for your contribution.

jhb

tom-g's picture

Thank you jhb, you don't know how grateful I am for your response.

And, unfortunately no, I am not aware of any resources to which I might refer you, only the scripture. Many Christians loudly proclaim their belief that scripture is true and then proceed with their words and study from the view of an enemy. I have always rested on my study as a friend of scripture. I am not looking for how I might create questions of skepticism or contradictions. I have always tried to positively hide the Word in my heart through prayer study and meditation so that I might not sin against my Lord and Savior. And thus how I might understand, that what he has progressively revealed to us in his Word, is what he desires for us to understand about himself and the eternal plan he had for us in him, our Lord Christ Jesus, before he created all things seen and not seen.

Almost simultaneously, with the clarity of the concept of the ultimate end of the progressively revealed truth being in the divinely revealed truth of the mystery of the vision and all of scripture through the apostles, not just the vision itself given by our Lord that occurred prior to that. Almost simultaneously came the clarity of another question that had been nagging me for some time, the question of the Trinity as revealed by the Spirit through the apostles.

I asked myself if I truly believed in the Trinity or was I just giving lip service to it? My answer was yes, I did believe that God was revealed in the explanation of the apostles as three persons; God the Father; God the Son; and God the Holy Spirit. With that I realized that I now had committed myself to the tremendous burden to be a trinitarian. I had to think trinitarian, speak trinitarian, and read, study, interpret and most importantly pray as a trinitarian (Heavenly Father, Lord, God, Lord God, all applied without discrimination to the same person, many times in the same sentence?). That realization almost floored me, because I now knew that I almost had to eliminate the ambiguous word god from my vocabulary, unless it was with a clear understanding that it included all three, or specifying which of the three members of the triune Godhead it was being applied to.

I almost cringed at the thought of how quickly the pews would be emptied of theists, deists, and monotheists of every stripe, if the scriptures were interpreted and taught as trinitarian. I immediately thought of: "In the beginning the Lord Jesus Christ created the heaven and the earth" or: "And the Lord Jesus Christ said to the Father and the Holy Spirit, let us make Man in our image and after our likeness...So the Lord Jesus Christ created man in the image of the triune Godhead, in the image of the triune Godhead the Lord Jesus Christ created them... And the Lord Jesus Christ blessed them..."

Then there is this: "Hear oh Israel, the Lord Jesus Christ, our God, is one Lord Jesus Christ."

Then there is: "Behold the days come saith the Lord Jesus Christ, that I, the Lord Jesus Christ will make a new covenant... Not according to the covenant I, the Lord Jesus Christ made... But this shall be the covenant I, the Lord Jesus Christ will make... I, the Lord Jesus Christ will put my, the Lord Jesus Christ, law..."

Then there is: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word was the Lord Jesus Christ..."

In John's vision we read: "It is done, I, the Lord Jesus Christ, am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end...I, the Lord Jesus Christ will be his God and he shall be my, the Lord Jesus Christ, son."

And we read: "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of his, the Lord Jesus Christ, christ." (A contradiction? No! The anointed called out ones of our Lord Jesus Christ are we, his Christ, the church, his body and bride.)

By the way, if you would like to understand the symbolism of "1000 years" in Revelation, and read the explanation given by Peter in 2 Peter 3:1-18, with the understanding that he is clearly explaining the doctrine given by our Lord in Ecl. 8:11, you will see that the 1000 years is the relative period of time covering both the time and the events that occur between the promise made by God of "His coming" and the fulfilling of that promise.
The delay, according to natural man's reconing. of which (according to Ecl.8:11) was the subject of the scoffers who were walking after their own lusts.

I really had no intention of going into this type explanation but your response greatly excited me. For yes!, until now I have felt like a lonely "voice crying in the wilderness."

Tom

ChristyGrl's picture

Can you explain the 1,000 years thing in terms for the less knowledgeable. I'd love help with an explanation for that.

mazuur's picture

tom,

I have to agree. After thinking about it for a while, it does seem to make perfect sense. While, works such as "Before Jerusalem Fell", focused on the Revelation being written before AD 70, not much, that I know of, has considered its timing in relation to the other NT books.

Thanks for the thought!

-Rich

-Rich

mljtl's picture

A couple of years ago (probably '05 or '06) John Anderson gave a presentation at his Sparta conference in which he tried to show that Paul was actually referring to John in 2 Corinthians 12, rather than himself as the one who had received "inexpressible words" when he was caught up to the third heaven. He contended that John had shared this "revelation" with Peter, James and Paul when they met together in Jerusalem (Gal. 2). It was a very interesting presentation and I can't say that I found any holes in his reasoning. I think he was more trying to show the early authorship of Revelation than looking at it from the perspective that Tom presented above. It does however, seem to support Tom's contention.

I checked John's website earlier today and could not find Conference audios offered anywhere. I'm sure John probably has them available and if contacted directly could probably make this presentation available. I have it on CD at home and will probably take another listen to it.

Steve

tom-g's picture

Hey Steve,

I was interested in your comment. I have not heard of John Anderson nor read anything by him. I would be interested to read or listen to the presentation you reference.

By the way, my take on the time statements such as Matthew 16:28 are important to preterists simply for dating the parousia. Just as you indicate dating the authorship of the Revelation was the importance for Anderson.

My inquiries have taken a different direction. Certainly 16:28 establishes the time of the parousia, but for the "Some standing here who shall not taste of death", so what? What practical meaning did our Lord's statement have for them? Who specifically were that "Some standing here"? Were they specifically referenced simply to establish the parousia and then dropped out of sight in the rest of the scriptures? Was any information that could include them, then only as a part of a larger class of persons? Or were they in fact a very special class of persons in the Lord, that the scriptures reference many many times with specific applications only to that special group of persons?

My study has found the last to be true, so prominent in fact, that much of the NT is by, for, to, and about them specifically. It is this special group of persons that bring unity and meaning to all of the NT. Without that recognition it seems to me to be impossible to understand the Revelation.

Tom

mljtl's picture

Tom,

John Anderson's message from the 2005 Bible Conference was titled "Does the Apostle Paul Date the Book of Revelation?" I re-listened to a good portion of it this evening, and think that based on your comments to Duncan, you would find it very interesting. If John doesn't have it available, I would be willing to make a copy of my CD and send it to you, with his permission. I'm thinking that it would be worthwhile to get his ideas down on paper. As far as I know, John has done that himself. John has changed his views on a lot of things over the past couple of years and it could be that he no longer is convinced of his own argument, but I find it pretty convincing.

Steve

mljtl's picture

Tom,

John Anderson has held an annual conference in Sparta, North Carolina at least for the past 6 or 7 years. He also has a weekly radio program that can be accessed on line at his website: http://www.lighthouseproductionsllc.com/

Don Preston was a regular on his radio broadcast up until about a year and half ago. Don, Jack Scott, John Noe, Sam Frost, Gary Demar, William Bell, and others have spoken at his conference in years past. John has turned away from the full preterist position that he formerly held to and would now probably more properly be classified as a partial preterist. He has a phone number listed on his website. I'm sure that he could get you a copy of that presentation. I'll try to find my CD when I get home this evening and find the title so that he would know more quickly what you are referring to.

Can you elaborate more on your statements regarding Matthew 16:28?

Steve

tom-g's picture

Thanks greatly Rich, you know how much your positive comment means to me.

Tom

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