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Church-State Relations and the Book of Revelation
An Introduction to The Parousia: A Careful Look at the New Testament Doctrine of the Lord's Second Coming
by James Stuart Russell (1878) // Written by
Todd Dennis, Curator

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The Fatal Mistakes of Preterism

By Dr. Mal Couch
President, Tyndale Seminary 2002

Preterism is flawed with a long list of hermeneutical and theological errors:

  • First, Preterism is reactionary in that it tries to come up with eschatological theories that placate the criticisms of the world.

  • Second, Preterism is simply warmed over allegorical interpretation, which tries desperately to get rid of most normal understandings of future prophetic themes.

  • Third, allegorical interpretation, whether of the amillennial or Preterist stripe, are but a few steps away from liberalism. This is not to say that all those who wrongly buy into fuzzy amillennialism, or Preterism, are liberal. But it can be shown that for the most part, non-normal interpretation leads to liberalism. Liberals take both past miracles and prophecy future in a non-actual sense.

  • Fourth, Preterism ignores some clear and obvious literal interpretative issues in Matthew 24.

  • Fifth, Preterism goes against what we know as to how the very early church interpreted kingdom prophecies.

So while Preterists think they have beaten the liberal critics with their allegorical view to prophecy, they have actually fallen into the hands of the enemy.

 Preterism is Reactionary

John Noē (Dead in Their Tracks) says that American churches "have fallen victim to the liberal/skeptical attack on the Bible" (p. 1), and they threw away their conservative faith when the liberals attacked the conservative churches at their weakest point, i.e., that is, concerning the belief of Christ's literal Second Coming. This is similar to the argument R. C. Sproul makes in his book, The Last Days According to Jesus. There is some missing in this picture.

Noē goes on and quotes Bertrand Russell, Albert Schweitzer, Jewish skeptics, Muslim, and even C.S. Lewis, who said that Jesus "was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else."

Noē confesses "we are embarrassed" that the Lord did not return when He was supposed to. Noē then adds, "Do you hear what these critics and even C.S. Lewis are saying? They are saying Jesus was literally wrong when he made numerous time-restrictive predictions and statements regarding his coming, his return."

In other words, according to Noe and Sproul, we now must do Systematic Theology, and adjust our hermeneutics away from the historical and biblical teaching of the Scriptures of a literal return of Christ, to shut the mouths of the critics. We must adopt an allegorical approach to future issues so that the critical liberals will not attack us. Pagans are driving the hermeneutic motivation and methodology.

Those who know the Bible teaches a literal, historic, and earthly return of Christ do not have to adjust their theology to prove anything to the critics. Those who understand that the basic hermeneutic of the Bible is in normal interpretation can steer the ship straight and do not have to go off course to please the world, as Noē and Sproul do.  

 Preterism is based on Allegorical Interpretation

It is suggested to all preterists that they read again the classic volume on allegorical interpretation, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, by Bernard Ramm.

Allegorical interpretation believes that beneath the letter (rhete) or the obvious (phanera) is the real meaning (hyponoia) of the passage. Allegory is defined by some as an extended metaphor. If we presume that the document has a secret meaning (hyponoia) and there are no cues concerning the hidden meaning interpretation is difficult. We are on very uncertain grounds. (p. 24)

Ramm continues and explains that the Greeks had a religious heritage in Homer and the writings of Hesiod, but the population was turning away from these works and becoming more irreligious or atheistic. To solve the problem the story of the gods "were not to be taken literally. Rather underneath [in the religious writings] is the secret meaning (hyponoia). (p. 25)

This is almost exactly what John Noe advocates. As the Greeks did with their sacred writings, Christians must adjust the message of Scripture to please the world.

Ramm writes about "one of the strange fates of history. The allegorical method arose to save the reputation of ancient Greek religious poets" (p. 26) The Alexandrian, North African Jews "were so impressed that they accepted the teachings of Greek philosophy." (Ibid.)

Greek allegory traveled from Philo (20-54 AD), to Origen (cira. 250), through whom "it was bequeathed to the Christian Church." (Ibid.)

In regard to the Second Coming of Christ, John Noē wants the church to return to pagan Greek interpretation.

Ramm writes,

The allegorical system that arose among the pagan Greeks, copied by the Alexandrian Jews, was next adopted by the Christian church and largely dominated exegesis until the Reformation, with such notable exceptions as the Syrian school of Antioch and the Victorines of the Middle Ages. (p. 28)

Ramm continues and quotes K. Fullerton who writes,

When the historical sense of a passage is once abandoned there is wanting any sound regulative principle to govern exegesis. The mystical [allegorical] method of exegesis, is an unscientific and arbitrary method, reduces the Bible to obscure enigmas, undermines the authority of all interpretation. (p. 31)

Preterism is but a few steps away from liberalism

While many Preterists are not liberal in their overall theology, this movement leads to liberalism. If all the language of Scripture pertaining to the Second Coming of Christ is not to be taken historically and in a normal sense, then why not take the virgin birth of Christ, for example, or other miracles in a "spiritualized" way, as the Preterists do in reference to prophecy? Preterism opens the door for similar liberal departure.

This is not true of classical premillennialism that argues, from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible must be understood in its normal meaning and in its plain sense. Premillennialists are thus consistent. But Preterists must sweep all of the Second Coming passages with a broad broom that forever gets rid of any future, historic, and objective return of Christ. Once common sense interpretation has been abandoned, there is rarely a turning back.

Preterists ignore certain obvious and clear statements in Matthew 24-25

The Olivet Discourse (found also in Mark and Luke) cannot be ignored and swept under the rug in an allegorical, non-literal way. But this is exactly what the Preterists do with the words of Christ in regard to His earthly return. Yet, there are too many verses that make it clear that the Lord Jesus will be visually seen with the eyes on the day that He comes back.

On this issue, Noe becomes terribly inconsistent. For example he would probably say the destruction of the temple, the abomination of desolation (Mt. 24:15) in 70 AD, was certainly seen ("when you see the abomination "), but he would then argue that Christ's coming as the Son of Man was not actually seen but simply a spiritual coming not observed with the physical eye.

[It can be historically proven that the "Abomination of Desolation" has to do with a far future event yet coming, and not with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.]

But what is the evidence that Christ's return would be visually seen? And will He actually sit on a throne in which the all the nations will be gathered before Him? 

Compare the following:

  • "When you see" ("horao,"Aor. Act. Subj.) the Abomination " (Mt. 24:15).

  • "All tribes they will [in the future] themselves see ("horao," Fut. Mid. Ind.) the Son of              Man coming on the clouds" (v. 31).

  • "If anyone says to you, 'Behold ("eipon," Aor. Imper. of horao), or look, here is the Christ,'or 'There He is '" (v. 23).

  • "For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah" (v. 37). How is it like the days of Noah? A physical, historical happening.

  • "So will the coming of the Son of Man be" (v. 39). A physical, historical happening.

  • "Just as the lightning comes and flashes , so will the coming of the Son of Man be" (v. 27).  Lightning can be seen physically.

Important from the Greek text:

  • "Just as" is hosper gar (protasis)with "so" (also) outos (apodosis) meaning just as, precisely as (The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, EDNT) (v. 27).

  • "For just as the lightning comes from the east so also will the coming of the Son of Man be" (v. 27). As the lightning can be seen, so also the Lord's return.

  • "For as the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah" (v. 37). As the judgment days of Noah happened literally and historically, so the judgment days of Christ's Coming.

The Gospels continue:

  • "They will see the Son of Man coming in clouds" (Mk. 13:26). He will be visibly observed.

  • "And just as (kai kathos) it happened ("came to be," ginomai) in the days of Noah, so also (outos kai) it will be in the days of the Son of Man" (Lu.17:26).

  • As judgment came on the day of Noah and when fire rained down on Sodom, the same will happen "on the day that the Son of Man is revealed" (v. 30). Is revealed is apokalupto (Pres. Pass. Ind.). On this word, as used in this verse, the EDNT says, "The still concealed Son of Man in the future will be revealed by God, i.e., presented publicly."  Was Jesus publicly revealed in 70 AD as the Preterists argue? 

  • Matthew 25:31 says "when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him" (Mt. 25:32). Will be gathered together ("sunago" Fut. Pass. Ind.), or they will be gathered together. Where will they be gathered?

  • Together is emprosthen in Greek and means "to place before one's face, in front of, in the presence of." (EDNT)  "With an emphasis on visibility, is significant." (EDNT)

 Preterism goes against the views of the witness of the very early church

It was not until the time of Origen (circa. 250 AD) that the church began progressively turning amillennial. But before, the church was clearly premillennial. Could the early church have agreed with today's Preterists? The answer is a loud NO.

Coming along after the time of the apostle John (90-95 AD), the earliest Fathers (1) were looking for an earthly return of Jesus, (2) were looking for an earthly kingdom reign, (3) were taking the prophecies of the Second Coming literally, (4) and did not associate that future kingdom with the church, the two were separate.

One of the most well know experts on prophecy, LeRoy Edwin Froom, writes, "The early church was distinctly premillennialist in her cherished expectations of Christ's Second Coming advent. His coming and kingdom were her constant hope. The Apostolic Fathers anticipated a future kingdom." (The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, Vol. 1, 207)

The Epistle of Clement (95 AD) says "Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, 'Speedily will He come, and will not tarry;' and 'The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One, for whom ye look.'" (p. 208)

In the Second Epistle we read, "Let us then wait for the kingdom of God, from hour to hour, seeing that we know not the day of the appearing of God." (Ibid.)

Eusebius quotes Papias as saying "that there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on earth." (p. 216).

Justin Martyr wrote "For He shall come on the clouds as the Son of Man, so Daniel foretold, and His angels shall come with Him." (p. 232) He added,

 But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare. (p. 234)

Irenaeus further stated:

  • The millennial kingdom would begin with the Second Coming of Christ.

  • The millennium would last 1000 years, the millennial Sabbath.

  • The new Jerusalem would come after the millennial kingdom.

  • The millennium, known popularly as chiliasm, "was the prevailing view of this time." (pp. 250-51)

Froom writes there was an "increasing departure that finally took form in the general apostasy of the [early] church, which eventually turned her eyes from the future advent hope and caused her to set herself up [as a substitute] as the millennial kingdom of God on earth." (p. 252) Amillennialism replaced premillennialism.

 Preterism: Now you see it, now you don't

Preterism is actually 180 degrees opposite of what it claims to be. John Noe says futurists practice "literary gymnastics," when in reality, that is what he does. By hocus-pocus, the Second Coming of Christ is no longer literal, it's spiritualized, and you can't actually see it happening. Who is practicing "literary gymnastics"?

1. Noe says, "the only solution to the problem of non-occurrence is occurrence". (p. 59) To Noe,

  • Non-occurrence = Jesus did not come back. Therefore to Noe:
  •  Occurrence = Jesus' Second Coming, whereby He sneaked back to earth spiritually.

2. Now in all fairness to Noe, he does write that Christ did return. He says, "Jesus did return, bodily and literally, just as and when He said He would. He no longer is departed. He is here with us." (p. 60) Now Noe mixes literal prophetic truth with the spiritual reality of Christ's spiritual presence. But the bodily return of Jesus will be seen by all the tribes of earth with their physical eyes, and He will reign physically on His glorious throne. Meanwhile, He is certainly here in spirit, but this is not the Second Coming.

The final chapter of Noe's book is written by Dr. James Craig, a pastor in Indianapolis. He accuses futurists of expounding an eschatology of despair, of doom and gloom. Again, smoke and mirrors. Futurists are the most positive people about the final outcome of world history. The world, as the early church Fathers taught, will go into a period of terrible tribulation, but then the Second Coming in which Jesus Christ will vanquish evil and establish His kingdom. Sounds pretty positive to me.

The final accusation against futurist Premillennialists is that they just sit back and couldn't care less about evangelism. Again, just the opposite is true. During the last century, almost all the major evangelical seminaries and Bible institutes were Premillennial, and they were training the majority of missionaries going throughout the world with the Gospel. The Scofield Reference Bible had far greater impact on teaching and winning the average man to Christ than can be imagined.

To label futurists as isolationists or disinterested in evangelism is just plain poor understanding of church history.

--Mal Couch, President

Tyndale Seminary

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