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David S. Clark - The Message From Patmos: A Postmillennial Commentary on the Book of Revelation (1921) "This early twentieth-century Postmillennial commentary on the Book of Revelation, written by the father of theologian Gordon Clark, offers an easy-to-read alternative to the popular Pre-millennial/Dispensational views of the best-selling Scofield Reference Bible and a multitude of other dissertations on end-time prophecy that litter the shelves of Christian bookstores. "

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Will the Real Preterism Please Stand Up?

By Stephen E. Atkerson


 Lately I have spoken with several folks who, when they heard the word “preterism,” automatically thought of the end time heresy that the actual second coming of Jesus was in A.D. 70. These same people were surprised to learn that there are really two types of preterism.

 The one most talked about today is that which proposes that the second coming was in A.D. 70 and is an already past event, never to be repeated. This form of preterism is highly controversial. In fact, it is heretical. It is a relatively new kid on the theological block. This fact alone should sound a heresy warning alarm. Those who advocate it prefer to call it full preterism. It began in earnest in the 1870s with the writings of a congregational pastor in England named James Stuart Russell. He first chose to publish his heretical preterist book anonymously, and not until after his retirement from the pastorate did he allow his name to appear on a subsequent edition.

 The other type of preterism is much older, and not nearly so controversial. This older view holds that many of the prophecies of the New Testament were fulfilled in the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, but that the actual second coming of Jesus is still a future event. Thus, this older preterism is within the bounds of orthodox Christianity (as defined by the historic creeds and confessions of literally every denomination). This older view could be called classical or orthodox preterism. In fact, in many theological works it is often even spelled differently, as “praeterism.” See

 Throughout the past 2,000 years there have always been Christians who understand some of the prophecies of the New Testament to have been fulfilled in A.D. 70. Yet all of these believers all still looked forward to the second coming as a future event. None of them taught that the actual second coming was in the first century. One of the first people to advocate heretical preterism was Russell back in the 1870s. Throughout history, the overwhelming majority of preterists held to the orthodox preterist view.

 What are the origins of preterism in general? Trace elements of preterism can be found back in the earliest days of Christianity. However, as a fully developed eschatological system, classical preterism dates only from the time of the Reformation. Men such as Wycliffe in England, Zwingli in Switzerland, Luther and Melanchthon in Germany, Knox in Scotland, and Calvin in France all taught that the Roman Catholic papacy was the Antichrist of Scripture. (This system of end time beliefs is called historicism.*) So convincing were these Protestants in identifying the office of the Pope with the little horn of Daniel’s prophecy and also the beast of Revelation with the Catholic Church that Rome lost one-half of its followers. In an effort to begin to deflect some of this highly effective criticism, Rome, in 1545, convened a special council that met in Trent, Italy. The Council of Trent’s job was to strategize a “Counter Reformation.” Biblical prophecies concerning the man of sin, the little horn and the beast needed to be reinterpreted. A Spanish Jesuit priest named Luis de Alcasar proposed a scheme to do this. His idea was for the Catholicism to teach a first century fulfillment of biblical prophecies concerning the anti-Christ and the beast. The advantage of this for the Catholics was that they could then claim that the application of end times biblical prophecies were in no way possible referring to the Vatican. Thus was the development of preterism as a systematized theology of end times. Modern Preterism has its origins as an anti-Protestant Counter Reformation theory. The Preterist School was developed by the Jesuit priest Alcasar.

 The next big push for preterism came from Protestant theological liberalism in the 1800s. These unbelieving academicians were rationalists. They had little room in their belief system for the supernatural. A literal fulfillment of many end times prophecies would require the supernatural, clearly miraculous intervention of God into human history. Since classical preterism takes many spectacular aspects of biblical prophecy allegorically (as opposed to literally), an A.D. 70 fulfillment of these prophecies fit in nicely with their anti-supernatural presuppositions. The Roman invasion of Judah and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple could easily be explained apart from anything miraculous. Not even the Roman army that destroyed the city realized that they were pawns in executing God’s judgment upon a sinful people. Because there was no obvious miraculous intervention of God into history regarding the fulfillment of many New Testament prophecies, the preterist interpretation made the Bible seem more like a natural book of human origin. Thus, the liberals latched onto preterism.

 The Catholic origin and later the liberal Protestant advocacy of preterism do not necessarily mean that classical preterism as a system is wrong. Like all systems it must be carefully studied and judged from Scripture. Though the Catholics and unbelieving liberal Protestants had suspect motives, perhaps God used them in spite of themselves for good (much as He did Joseph being sold into slavery). But, the facts of history are the facts and as such are unalterable.

 In conclusion, when someone presents a preterist argument, it might be helpful to determine which type of preterism is meant (orthodox or heretical). Though developed by the Roman Catholics, classical preterism is still within the bounds of historic orthodoxy in that it looks for a future, bodily coming of the Lord Jesus. Heretical preterism is outside the boundaries of historic Christian theology in that it teaches that the second coming is a past event, and that our Lord’s return was neither bodily nor visible. Heretical preterism also teaches that the general resurrection of the dead is now a past event and was of such a nature that buried bodies were never literally resurrected (and never will be). Rather, what is advocated is that the souls of the dead were given new and different bodies, fit for heaven. This too is outside the bounds of historic orthodoxy, which teaches that the dead will be resurrected with glorified versions of their former physical bodies, resulting in empty tombs, just as Jesus’ tomb was empty.

Heretical preterism runs afoul of 2 Timothy 2:17-18 in that it teaches the resurrection of the dead to have already taken place. As warned in 2 Timothy 2, such teachings destroy people’s faith. Jesus clearly predicted that when He appears again, all who are in their tombs will come out. If Jesus’ second appearance really was in A.D. 70, then why are there still bodies in the grave, even in ancient tombs? Perhaps Jesus was wrong about what would happen upon His final return, in which case He cannot be trusted. Or perhaps the church, all the church, has been wrong for the past two millennia about the nature of the second coming, misunderstanding Jesus’ words. If so, Jesus still cannot be trusted since He promised that the Holy Spirit would guide the church into all truth. Imagine: just like the Jews missed the first coming, so too the church has missed the second coming! For the Spirit to fail in such a colossal way further suggests that Jesus’ words cannot be trusted. Beware the destructive heresy of heretical preterism. It is nothing but godless chatter. Those who believe it have wandered away from the truth.

 *To find out more about historicism, the end time belief system held to universally by those who advanced the Protestant Reformation, go to or or

Steve Atkerson

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