© Charles A. Clough 2003
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 6: New Truths of the Kingdom Aristocracy
Chapter 5 – The Destiny of the Church
Lesson 213 – Preterism: What it is, its History & Two Counter Arguments
16 Jan 2003
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We’ve worked with the church for the last year and a half and we’ve talked about the key events that close out this age of history. We talked about three in particular, number one was the Rapture, two was the bema seat, and three was the marriage supper of the Lamb. All three of these events are not revealed in the Old Testament; they are three events that are revealed to the church. The Rapture, whereas resurrection was revealed in the Old Testament, the Rapture wasn’t because the Rapture ties together two things; it ties together the dead Christians who then receive their resurrection bodies and that isn’t astoundingly new truth because that’s already in the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament, but what was astounding by the Rapture announcement in 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4 is that the Christians who are alive translate immediately to resurrection bodies without dying. That’s that translation, that’s a phenomenon. Then once this happens, the believer, all believers, all Christians, all people “in Christ” then go to be with the Lord. So you have this event and clearly it’s the end of the Church Age. That’s what the Apostle Paul said was going to happen; that is the end of this era.
Then the church, Christians according to 2 Corinthians 5, 1 Corinthians 3 go to an evaluation of our lives on the basis of works. This is not an evaluation whether you’re saved or not saved, that’s already been decided or you wouldn’t even be at the bema seat. What it is is a purging of all human good so that what is left is divine good, i.e., things that were done with proper motivation, with the aid of the Holy Spirit. All the stuff we’ve done because of peer pressure, to impress people, impress parents, impress children, impress spouses, all the false motivation stuff goes away. What’s left is the genuine stuff.
Then we have the marriage supper which is the time when Jesus Christ, the Lord Jesus Christ as the head of the church unites with His body, which is the church, and together prepare for the Kingdom of God. What’s involved in that the Bible doesn’t tell us too much, Revelation 19. So these are three key events and what we’ve been saying is that we’re entering this period of our study where we’re looking at the different viewpoints that have occupied Christians in the last 200-300 years as to how do you tie these three events in with the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, because the Old Testament, if you label these three things as New Testament new truths, then you have the old truths from the Old Testament which concern Israel as God’s elect instrument in world history to be the vehicle of the Scriptures, of the Messiah and of world peace.
So Israel is the key instrumentality, not because they are better than anybody else, it’s because God in His sovereignty chose them that way. That’s the way He’s designed history and Israel has this role and Israel, because it’s made up in the Old Testament of believers and unbelievers can’t start the Kingdom until it’s purged of all its unbelief. So Israel goes through various forms of discipline down through history, exiles, she’s still technically in exile, the times of the Gentiles are still going on today. Israel doesn’t control the holy mount, Gentiles do, the United Nations and the Arabs, etc. So Israel is still in that status of not really being fully in possession of the land and that’s a signal of her spiritual state.
Israel is going to go through a period called the Tribulation and that Tribulation is to rid it of unbelief so that the genuine believers are ready for the Kingdom. And simultaneous with Israel, Israel is only one of many nations, you have the Gentile nations and the Gentile nations go down through history and they experience the Tribulation and the issue with the Gentile nations is whether or not they have submitted and recognized the plan of God through the nation Israel during this Tribulation period, because Israel during the Tribulation will have some powerful believers inside the nation doing things. And there will be some powerful believers who are members of Israel or Jews who do all kinds of things globally.
So there’s a response, because once again during the Tribulational period these Jews who appear to be believers are once again functioning like they should have functioned in the Old Testament, namely they’re taking the Scriptures to the world and they’re acting as prophets to the world as the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, etc. If you look at Isaiah, Jeremiah and those writings you’ll see that it’s not all addressed to Israel; those guys had forays out to the Gentile nations. Syria is addressed, Assyria is addressed, Babylon is addressed, Edam is addressed, Egypt is addressed, etc. So the Old Testament prophets had that ministry so that goes on and Gentile nations are given an ultimatum to submit to the King of Israel, pick your side, you’ve got the right to choose one way or the other, there are two choices, you’re for it or against it and there’s no neutral ground and then the people in these nations are judged on the basis of their response.
This is the Old Testament and this is the New Testament, so now the problem comes how does the church fit in; how does this New Testament stuff fit into the Old Testament stuff. We go through five different viewpoints and the first one we are dealing with is preterism. Preterism is a belief that you will find among largely people of Reformed Theology. There are three different views of the Kingdom. One view of the Kingdom is that you have the present age going on and you have the Cross, you have the introduction of the Church Age and you have this period until the time of the end and that’s it. That view is amillennialism. “A” is always the negation, atheist, not a theist, amillennialist, not a millennial, believing that the prophecies of the physical, political Kingdom of God in actual history, people walking around with mortal bodies, being born, dying, etc. that has to be interpreted in one of two ways. It either is a metaphorical picture of the Church Age in which we now live, or it’s a picture of the eternal state yet to come, but there’s no room for a Millennial Kingdom as such.
This position by far has dominated the Christian church down through its history; particularly it has dominated the church from the 4th century on down to about the 19th century as far as Protestants were concerned. Well, 4th century is before Protestants but what I’m saying until the 19th century it wasn’t seriously challenged. So all during these centuries most of the church was a committed amillennial position; I shouldn’t say “committed” because it wasn’t well thought through it was just kind of plopped there and left.
An earlier view views history as the cross, the Church Age, and then Jesus Christ would come and there would be this Millennial Kingdom, then it would be the end of history so you’d have this Millennial Kingdom period and it’s called premillennialism. Again the word “pre” means Christ precedes the Millennial Kingdom. Premillennialism was the belief of the early Jews who became Christians. Premillennialism was circulating in the 1st and 2nd centuries of the church. There is no evidence it was amillennialism. There is very explicit evidence that the early church was premillennial, maybe not well thought through, that’s fine, but basically it was premillennial. You know from our discussions what happened in the 4th century.
The 4th century was the time when Constantine, the Roman Emperor, capitulated to the Christian religion and he made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire by decree. When he did that the earlier persecutions, the idea the church was the enemy of the state, the enemy of the Empire, the treacherous group of cultists, the church was not persecuted after the 4th century like it had been in those first 3 or 4 centuries.
When that happened was relieved and something else happened, namely the church kind of liked to get away from its Jewish roots; it wanted to be more just Christian and not this Jewish thing. So when they did that they lost the premillennial emphasis because what’s the basis of premillennialism but the Old Testament prophecies literally fulfilled. Who in the church do you suppose was adamant about the literal fulfillment of the Old Testament? It was your Hebrew Christians, so you give up your Hebrew Christians, you don’t evangelize the Jews, you don’t have any Hebrew Christian influence so what happens? The church drifts into amillennialism.
The third position, which is an offshoot of amillennialism, is postmillennialism and it’s kind of fuzzy. This looks like amillennialism but it has a little twist to it. “Post” means after, it means Christ comes after the Millennial Kingdom. Well if Christ comes after the Millennial Kingdom what does that do to the Church Age? It immediately makes the Church Age part of the Millennial Kingdom and the idea here is that things are going to get better and better and better and then Jesus is going to come back. You’ve noticed, of course, the world is getting better and better.
The point is here that postmillennialism arose within Protestant circles. It was waylaid in the mid to the 19th century by liberals. The early liberal social reformers in America who basically denied the gospel and replaced the gospel with what they call the social gospel, namely welfare programs, this and that. Not that it’s bad, the point was however was that what they did is they shelved belief that the real issue is people trusting the Lord Jesus Christ, and yes we have welfare but the welfare flows out of the gospel. Those people were postmillennialists; postmillennialists believe that by bringing in welfare-ism, etc. you would bring in the (quote) “great condition.” Most of them then didn’t even believe in the return of Christ but you can see the idea of progress, that’s postmillennialism.
Those are the three positions as far as the Old Testament material goes, is there a Kingdom or is there not. The next question came up in the 19th century when the church said okay, how are we going to reconcile this Israel Gentile thing with the Kingdom and the millennium and everything out here with this. So preterism is the belief, keep in mind that on this diagram with the amil, postmil, and premil, think about it, if amillennialism dominated the church from the 4th century to basically our time, is Roman Catholicism premil, postmil, or amil? The answer must be amil. Roman Catholicism carried on after Augustine, because Augustine was the guy that made the Catholic Church the Catholic Church. Augustine did not believe there was salvation outside of the Church of Rome. He was the guy that started all that off; he had some good ideas but he had those ideas too. So Augustine was the first Roman Catholic theologian of stature and he set off this amillennialism.
Now when the Protestants left Rome, Luther, Calvin, those guys, when they walked out they were men who had a lot of stuff they had to deal with. They had to deal with salvation primarily, so they emphasized doctrines of salvation. They didn’t have time, they didn’t have the energy and they didn’t have the impetus to deal with eschatology. So what do you suppose the Reformers did to amillennialism? They carried it right on; Reformed theology never reformed eschatology, it kept it intact as inherited from Rome.
By the 19th century you had a return to premillennialism, because what’s happening now is you’ve got your third, fourth generation of Protestants who are taking sola Scriptura seriously and that premillennialism came out of literal interpretation. So since there was a return for literal interpretation they got back to the early Hebrew Christian position, and wound up with premillennialism.
Now here’s where the stuff hits the fan because we have now the Church Age, we have, broadly speaking the return of Christ and we have the Millennial Kingdom. In this picture how do you fit the predictions of this Tribulation in here along with the Rapture, bema seat and marriage of the Lamb? What basically happened was that most people just clustered it, just packed it in a bag and left it there, didn’t deal with any fine details, just left it as a clump. That wasn’t enough because when Bible students started studying specific passages you start unwinding things and deal with specific texts, so now what do we do? This was a premillennial discussion. The amillennials didn’t have a problem so much because they didn’t believe in this Millennial Kingdom, they just believed in the return of Christ, Church Age, and they lopped it here too.
But the problem was that if you’re a premillennialist, who occupies the Millennial Kingdom? Resurrected saints or saints in natural bodies? To fulfill a prophecy people are dying so they can’t be dying if they have resurrection bodies. So the Kingdom has to be made of people with natural bodies. It doesn’t mean the resurrected guys can’t be walking around but the Kingdom substantively has to be people in natural bodies. If you’re going to have Christ coming back and you’re going to have resurrection, where does the resurrection fit. You can begin to see things, if you’re going to get a literal Kingdom this starts to force things out into the open because if the Rapture happens here and the resurrection happens here, then everybody is resurrection bodies and nobody has a natural body to start the Kingdom.
So it was those kind of things that Bible teachers in the 19th century, between the years of 1850–1900, about, began to start getting their teeth into this thing and find out what are we doing, we’ve got to find more details here. That went on to the various forms of tribulationalism proposed, which we’ll get into, the pre’s and the a’s, the mid’s, etc. But this left behind all these Reformed people that were amillennial. These people are feeling the heat from all this discussion. This is a big discussion here and lots of heat coming out of it.
And what has happened in our time is that you have people like Tim LaHaye writing the [Left Behind] series, selling millions of copies of this book, people are picking it up all over the place, it’s in the media, it’s all over the place, now how do you feel if you’re an amil? You feel the heat, so the response of amillennialism in our time has been to try to defend against this overwhelming premillennial eschatology. What they have done is take the belief that the Second Coming, all this clump of stuff here that we’ve never been able to sort out and they’re sort of suspecting that the Tim LaHaye crowd is sorting it out, and they don’t want to sort it out because if they did sort it out they’d come to the same conclusion, so the way they try to do this is to move it backwards, to get that clump of material behind us so it doesn’t stand in front of us as far as historical time goes.
So the idea is that a lot of the prophecies, and they have some texts which we’re going to get into, the idea is that if you can show, for example, many of the things in the Olivet Discourse where Jesus is talking about His return, if you can show that a lot of that material has already happened, it will ease the pressure, it gets rid of it. And that’s what preterism means; preterism means it’s past. That’s what preterit is, it means past. What is past? Most of the passages we thought was the Second Advent of Christ have already occurred. You say WHAT?!! When did all this happen, I missed it. You know, run it by me again, I’m a student of history, I didn’t see it. So what they did is they attach it to an event called AD 70, which was the fall of the Temple and the judgment of God upon Israel for rejection of Messiah. That event, they say, is the event behind the drama of the book of Revelation. That event is the drama behind Matthew 24 and its parallels in the Gospels. That is what Jesus was talking about, the imminent coming of God’s wrath, the wrath of God.
The difference, and I just point this out right here to avoid confusion, the wrath of God that they’re talking about in AD 70 was directed against the nation Israel. Now whenever the wrath of God is directed against the nation Israel in the Old Testament picture, Table 8 in the notes, you have God disciplining the nation but not destroying the nation. Right? The wrath of God disciplines Israel but since Israel was promised an eternal destiny, when God disciplines the nation yes, He fiercely disciplines it, I mean, think of the horrors of 586 and 721 BC, the Northern Kingdom going out in 721 BC and the Southern Kingdom going out in 586 BC, the tragedy of the exile, the suffering of the Jews being plundered, being destroyed. That has happened down through history but God says I will never erase My nation, Israel, period. I will discipline her to get her in shape but I’m not going to end her. This interpretation coming out of this amillennialism, where we take AD 70 as an expression of the wrath of God, is a different kind of wrath of God because the kind of wrath of God that they talk about, by identifying this cluster of events and moving it backwards to AD 70, that wrath of God is the termination of Israel in God’s plan.
That’s what they mean, the termination of Israel. It’s not a wrath of God against Gentiles, it’s not a wrath of God against the church, it’s a wrath of God against Israel because of Israel’s rejection of Jesus Christ. Now I don’t think you have to be a theologian here to think that if you really thought this, it predisposes you, as amillennialism always has, to anti-Semitism. And historically the Europeans, who have been dominated by Roman Catholicism in the south part of Europe and in the north part of Europe dominated by Reformed theology and Lutheranism, it’s no secret that anti-Semitism has generally been the case for all of Europe. Jewish synagogues are desecrated in France; the Nazi Germans burned them in Germany; the Poles went after the Jews; the Soviets, Russians, went after the Jews because they were Eastern Orthodox and they were amillennial.
The thing I want you to see is, because I know some of you sit there and think maybe all this is theory. Why I’m citing this history is to show you that ideas have consequences and bad ideas have bad consequences. Ideas set off motion. Once you have an idea it sort of fulfills itself in behavior, and these are the great ideas that have motivated European history for four, five centuries, going back even further into the Middle Ages with Rome. So these are non-trivial things. They are hard, I apologize to keep reviewing these things but this is where the effect of the Bible explains your world in which we live, and the forces that are operating in it. If you get stuff wrong and screwed up, and get the wrong approach, you’re going to have the wrong behavior.
And if you’ve got the wrong behavior you’re fighting the plan of God instead of going along with it. So we don’t want to be in the position of opposing God in what He’s doing in history and the only way we can avoid opposing God in what He’s doing in history is to get straight what it is He’s doing in history and you can’t do that without eschatology. Eschatology is the essence, the doctrine of last things which answers the question, where is history going? Some people don’t care where history is going, that’s why I’m fond of quoting Henry Ford who was reputed to have said in the 1920s, “History is the sequence of one damned thing after another.” That would be an example of history is going nowhere, it’s just there, just chaos, and sometimes you think maybe Henry was right. But in all seriousness there is a plan of God behind the events of history; slowly and exorable it is moving to fulfill His plan.
Let’s look at preterism per se. We want to understand this position of taking this cluster of events and moving it and attaching it to AD 70. On page 120 I introduce preterism and I point out there are two basic passages, one is Matthew 24, the Mount Olivet Discourse, and the second is John’s Book of Revelation. Those are the two key battlegrounds for this area. So know your Scripture, know where the controversy is going on. I want to read some quotes, just so you understand, when I go through on page 121 and we start going through this stuff I don’t want you to think that Charles Clough is making all this up. I’ve got a series of quotes here; you listen, that’s all you have to do, just listen. I’m not saying these are right, in fact I’m going to show they’re not, but I want you to hear this with your own ears. These aren’t my words; these are the words of the preterist themselves.
Here’s what one author said about the Great Tribulation. (Quote), “The Great Tribulation took place in the fall of Israel. It will not be repeated and thus is not a future event.” (End quote). It’s clear that they believe the Tribulation is past. The great apostasy, that’s one of the signs of the Tribulation, (quote) “happened in the first century. We therefore have no biblical warrant to expect increasing apostasy as history progresses. Instead we should expect the increasing Christianization of the world.” (End quote) You see that on every continent, don’t you? “The last days,” according to preterists, “is a biblical expression for the period between Christ’s advent and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The last days of Israel, that’s what meant by the last days.” See what’s happening; understand here, this is slick. Errors aren’t as easy as you think, there’s enough truth mixed with every error to make it attractive. If it weren’t attractive it wouldn’t be a problem. So if you think that’s something’s obviously in error, you might just back up a little bit because most error isn’t clear, and watch how they’re redefining words, the Tribulation is past, the great apostasy happened the first century, the last days are the last days of Israel.
The antichrist, “that’s a term used by John to describe the widespread apostasy of the Christian church prior to the fall of Jerusalem.” The Rapture, “that is a catching up of the living saints to meet the Lord in the air. The Bible doesn’t teach any such separation between the Second Coming and the Rapture; they are simply different aspects of the last day.” That’s a chunk they’ve left here but they cluster it, they keep the Rapture and the return clustered. The beast, if the book of Revelation is past, who was the beast, they’ve got an answer. “The beast of Revelation was a symbol of both Nero in particular and the Roman Empire in general.” So they’ve got an explanation for the beast. The false prophet, this is a good one, “The false prophet of Revelation was none other than the leadership of apostate Israel who rejected Christ and worshiped the beast,” and the beast was wrong and that’s true, there were apostates in Israel that went along with Rome. Herod was one of them. The Millennium, that’s “the Kingdom of Jesus Christ which He established at His First Advent, the period between the First and Second Advents of Christ, the Millennium is going on now,” listen to this, the Millennium “is going on now, with Christians reigning as kings on earth.”
The first resurrection of Revelation 20:5, that’s a spiritual resurrection, that’s our justification and regeneration in Christ. The thousand years, the Millennial Kingdom of Revelation, you know it’s supposed to be a thousand years; “that is a large rounded off number, the number ten contains the idea of a fullness of quantity, in other words, it stands for many-ness, a thousand multiples and intensifies this ten times ten times ten in order to express vastness. It represents a vast undefined period of time, it might require a million years.” (End quote) The new creation, Revelation 21, the new creation follows the return of Christ in the Millennium. The new creation (quote) “it’s already begun. The Bible describes our salvation in Christ both now and in eternity as a new heaven and a new earth.” (End quote) The New Jerusalem, what’s that? That’s “the city of God which is the church.” What did I say about Replacement Theology?
See what’s happening here? Watch how words are being redefined, because if you run across some of these people you will be misled if you listen to their words because they define the words differently than you do. Armageddon, what was Armageddon, that’s in the Book of Revelation. “It was for St. John a symbol of defeat and desolation, a waterloo signifying the defeat of those who set themselves against God, who obey false prophets instead of the true. There never will be a literal battle of Armageddon for there is no such place.” (End quote) I think you’ve gotten enough of that.
Let’s go to page 121. Last time we dealt with the first paragraph, we said that basically the middle sentence of that paragraph, “the same metaphorical interpretation methodology” of Augustine, etc. In the second paragraph, “Preterism thus is bound logically, theologically, and hermeneutically to amillennial or postmillennial views. It cannot coexist with premillennialism.” I think I’ve shown why that’s so, there’s a certain structure here that follows.
The bottom paragraph; now we get into some texts. “What exegetical justification do preterists offer? They cite New Testament texts that seem to anticipate the soon coming of Christ. With these texts in hand, they appeal to believers to defend the inerrancy of Scripture by adopting preterism.” Do you catch the argument that they’re making here? Sproul makes this argument. What he’s saying is if you interpret the text of the New Testament and you read in the New Testament that Jesus is coming soon, He would have had to have come soon or that’s a false text. So AD 70 is when He came, and that saves us from the liberals who want to ridicule the text. In other words they’re talking about … we’re just trying to keep inerrancy going here.
“It has a powerful appeal to evangelical Christians who haven’t studied carefully the cited New Testament texts. Jesus, they point out, clearly stated that his Mount Olivet prophecies were going to be fulfilled in ‘this generation,’ i.e., the one present as He spoke.” Let me show the text, turn to Matthew 24. This is a favorite text, so let’s look at it. Matthew 24:1, “And Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him.  And He answered and said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down.’  And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be,” and they asked Him these questions that led to the Mount Olivet discourse, “when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and the end of the age.”
Now skip down to verse 34. Verse 34 is one of the preterists proof tests. “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” You can see, you hit this raw and you say well gee, maybe there’s something to this. It says “this generation will not pass away until all these things” be fulfilled. So there’s one of their key proof texts. We’ll deal with that verse, but let’s continue in the notes. “The detailed, additional revelation of Matthew 24 events through the Apostle John,” what I mean by that is the Book of Revelation, in other words the Book of Revelation is an amplification of Matthew 24. John the Apostle later wrote and expanded upon the Lord Jesus’ preliminary discussion in Matthew 24. And Matthew 24 is an expansion of the Old Testament prophecies. So when you read the Book of Revelation you read about something is “at hand,” it’s “about to come to pass shortly.”
“Preterists claim that they are literally interpreting these texts while their opponents (futurists) depart from literal interpretation.” Let me show you what they’re talking about. Turn to Revelation 1:1, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the thing which must shortly take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John.” Verse 3, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” Revelation 2:16, “Repent therefore,” He says to one of the churches, “or else I am coming to you quickly and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.” Revelation 3:11, “I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, in order that no one take your crown.”
We could go on through the Revelation but let’s skip to Revelation 22:6, “And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true,’ and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must shortly take place.” Verse 7, “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.” Verse 10, “And he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.’”
Verse 12, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.” And finally verse 20, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
It’s this string of verses that appears to teach that Jesus was to come very shortly, and the liberal critics, the preterists are right here, the liberal critics have seized upon this to say see, the New Testament church actually thought Jesus would come back soon. The second statement: Jesus did not come back soon. Conclusion: the Bible was wrong, Jesus was wrong, and the apostles are wrong. Well, Christians don’t want that, so the preterists are saying well gee, we’ve got to rethink our interpretation, maybe He did come back soon and we missed it, namely AD 70, so if we can show that Jesus came back in AD 70 we save the Bible, apparently, from this criticism. This is where they’re coming from. I’m just portraying what the preterists are saying.
Beginning on page 122 I’m going to start dismantling the preterist position. I’m going to do so in a series of paragraphs and I’m going to take you on a tour, which we won’t finish tonight, I’m going to show six different things that show that preterism does not accomplish what it hopes to accomplish. I want to list these and we’re going to have them paragraph by paragraph. The first paragraph on page 122, “Of course, the most common problem with the preterist approach is the lack of Jesus coming back to earth in AD 70.” I mean, let’s start with the basics. The problem is that when the bottom line is made and everything is said and done, the problem is where did Jesus come in ADF 70? So AD 70, is that the Second Advent? Is that the coming of the Lord Jesus?
If all the events of Matthew 24 and Revelation were fulfilled then, where was Jesus’ coming in AD 70?” Turn to Matthew 24 because again that’s one of the key discourses of Jesus; I want to show you some specific verses to show you the problem here. We’re going to flip between Matthew 24 and Revelation 1. In Matthew 24:30, here’s just one, I could site many, but in Jesus’ discussion when He was talking about Him coming again and answering the disciple’s questions, look at some of the things He said would happen when He came back. Look at verse 30, when I come back, “the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.” Isn’t that interesting, quote from Daniel, it’s Old Testament, [blank spot]
… I list it in the notes, if you return to the notes, we’ll just read through here, you can look up these verses; do look these verses up. Next sentence after Matthew 24:30, “Did ‘every eye … see Him, even they who pierced Him’ (Revelation 1:7)? “Did He return from a cloud,” remember in Acts 1 when we dealt with the ascension, what did the two angels say to the disciples? As He was descending the angels said look, He’s going to come back just the way He left. How did He leave? He left off of the Mount of Olives, went up into the sky and disappeared in a cloud. Two angels are sitting there, the disciples are looking up, and the angels say that’s the way He’s going to come back. Question: Is that the way Jesus came back in AD 70? Are there any reports of Him dropping out of a cloud onto the Mount of Olives in AD 70? I don’t think so!
“Realizing the problem, some ‘partial’ preterists (e.g., R. C. Sproul, Kenneth Gentry) split the second coming passages into two groups: one group (Revelation 1:7; 19:11–21; 22:12–20) supposedly refers to the AD 70 coming in judgment against Israel; a second group (Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17) refers to another future coming in judgment against the whole world.”
So now we have two second comings, one in AD 70 and when you can’t deal with that and that doesn’t fit, we plow all the other verses over to the second coming that we believe in. “Other, more logically-consistent full preterists (Don Preston) insist that all such texts refer to the past even of AD 70.” See, within the preterist camp there is some debate going on. “Christ’s coming in AD 70 cannot be associated with the coming of the Holy Spirit some forty years earlier (as some liberal theologians tried to do during the past century or two).” The liberals used to do that, if you go to The First Liberal Church on Easter Sunday morning and you hear them talk about Jesus coming, the code word is spiritual coming, and some of them really think that’s what Pentecost was all about, that’s when Jesus came back, Pentecost. Preterists aren’t doing that, Preterists aren’t making it Pentecost, they’re making it AD 70.
Here’s point 1, this business of AD 70 doesn’t fit the model that we get for the Second Coming of Jesus. The conclusion of that, point 1 is: “Preterists, therefore, are left with trying to associate it with the Roman invasion and judgment upon Israel. Moreover, they are left trying to interpret present history as the manifestation of the long-promised Kingdom age that fulfills all prophecy.” See what happens? If Christ came in AD 70, then 71, 72, 73, all the way up to 1999, 2000, 2002, … is what? The Kingdom’s here. You didn’t know that did you? That’s the logic. So point one, this paragraph, what have I said: The preterist attempt to identify the coming with AD 70 doesn’t fit the texts. The texts say certain things are going to happen in the Coming of Christ and those things that the text say didn’t happen in AD 70. So you have to get greasy with your hermeneutics to make the text fit AD 70. Now what have you compromised? Literal interpretation.
[Someone asks what hermeneutics is] It’s the science of how you interpret literature; you can interpret literally, you can interpret allegorically.
Turn to page 123, the second point. The first one was that AD 70 doesn’t fit the Second Coming texts. The second point is the meaning of the coming soon texts mean something different than they think it means. In other words, what is the meaning of “at hand” and “soon?” Are these terms forcing us to have to see something close in to the time of the Lord Jesus or have to conclude that He was wrong and the New Testament is wrong? Let’s follow this, this is a little more difficult so follow this carefully.
“Preterists’ most persuasive arguments concern the ‘time texts’ ” and I showed you what the time texts were, I took you to Matthew 24 and Revelation, we looked through those verses, those were the “time texts’ mentioned above—text apparently indicating that Christ was going to come soon after His ascension. Lexical studies of the terms used, however, clearly show that they can have two meanings:” not one. “Soon” can mean not delaying, but it can also mean, the Greek term means quickly. Let me illustrate the difference. “Which meaning a given instance has must be determined by the context. The former meaning” that means soon, here’s what would agree with the preterists, “the former meaning occurs in 1 Timothy 3:14” when Paul says to Timothy, “(I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long.)” Was Paul hoping to come to Timothy shortly? Yes. So there the term does mean come soon.
But “the latter meaning occurs in Matthew 28:7–8 (‘And go quickly and tell His disciples … and they departed quickly from the tomb. …’)” Yeah, it means soon, but it means move it, it means quick.
Here’s an example: if I were to say, using that Greek term, looking at a thunderstorm if I were to say, I’m a weatherman, I have to have a weather illustration, I’m looking at a thunderstorm and I say the bolt of lightning comes quickly. Do I mean that when the thunderstorm starts you start seeing the lightning right away, or do I mean that when the lightening comes it comes quickly? I can mean both, and how you interpret what I say, that’s the context, but you’ve got to be clear that the word itself has two meanings, not one, TWO! It can mean “soon” or it can mean “when it comes it’s going to come quickly.” You can think of an airborne assault, when an airborne assault occurs it occurs quickly, very quickly, soldiers are on top of you all around very quickly. Now it can mean the airborne assault is going to come soon, maybe in the sense of next week, not a month, or it can mean when it does come, it’s going to come quickly. Do you catch the difference in the meaning? That’s the fight about these time terms in the New Testament.
“Such passages sometimes use the illustration of a thief breaking and entering,” remember how many times that’s used in the Bible, Matthew 23:43, the thief, 1 Thessalonians 5:4, the thief, 2 Peter 3:10, the thief. “The thought here isn’t that the thief comes soon, but rather whenever he does come he comes so quickly that one cannot respond.” Do you see, have we abandoned literal interpretation? No, we haven’t, that’s a literal meaning of the word; it’s used two ways. These kind of time terms are used in the sense of short time coming or when it comes it comes quickly.
“The thought focuses upon the sudden interruption into the ‘normal’ state-of-affairs, a miraculous intervention into history like the global flood of Noah’s day (Matthew 24:37-39; 2 Peter 3:1-13.)” Remember what we said, nobody knew about it until what? Until the day that it came.
Let’s turn to Matthew 24:37, here’s an ideal picture of the second kind of the meaning for these time terms. “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah.  For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark.” By the way, how long did Noah preach? 120 years, that didn’t come quickly, did it, in the first sense of the meaning of the word. The flood did not come quickly in the sense of the first meaning; it took 120 years before it came. But what Jesus says,  and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.”
Now here’s Jesus Himself characterizing His return, not in terms of meaning number one but in terms of meaning number two. Where was Jesus’ head when He was talking about these things? He wouldn’t have used the Noahic flood, it came soon, no it did not come soon, but when it came, boom, within hours it was there, people had had it, the ark was sealed, the earth started breaking up, flood, rain, never saw rain before, all of a sudden this water is coming out of the heavens. So you had a miraculous intervention.
So we conclude, “That flood did not come soon; it took over a century to come. When it came, however, unbelieving humanity were utterly unprepared. The New Testament emphasis upon the quickness of Christ’s future coming points to its supernaturalness and unpredictability.” That’s the point of these time texts.
So to review, we have given two counter arguments to preterism. Number one, the model of the Second Coming that we get from the New Testament texts doesn’t fit what actually happened in AD 70 unless you start allegorizing the text to make it fit with AD 70. The second counter argument is that the terms for “at hand” and “soon” have a second meaning, you don’t exhaust it by simply saying they mean “soon.” That doesn’t exhaust the literal meanings because a second literal meaning is whenever it comes, it comes quickly. That’s the point that Jesus is making, because we see right in Jesus’ own words, right here in the Olivet Discourse He Himself is thinking that way when He’s using these words because of the way He illustrates it with Noah’s flood.
Question asked: Clough replies: The question was about Marv Rosenthal fits in to the next to the last position I’m going to deal with. There are five positions, preterism, and when we get through this we basically go into positions within our own camp and we’ll cover post-tribulationalism, mid-tribulationalism, three-quarter-tribulationalism, which is Marv, and pre-tribulationalism. So we have all this stuff on the tribulation thing. We’ll go through all those; in the notes you have the post-tribulational issues that I deal with. But that’s where Marv come in, and we’ll get to him later.
Question asked, something about the words soon and not long and that type of thing, do they sound right for interpreting it in the way that you’re talking about in the translations that we have. Did they translate them correctly: Clough replies: In translating from Greek into English did the translators tend to bias the readers by repeatedly translating these terms such that they had meaning number one and not meaning number two. Actually when you get into this a little further you’ll see that the English isn’t that bad, because it’s somewhat our failure to appreciate that English itself carries this thing. If I tell you, visualize the word “quickly,” it’s an adverb, Jesus comes quickly, English is ambiguous. Think about it, when you use that word “quickly” and you can mean one of two different things. So if you’re a translator you’re kind of stuck because that’s the way English is too. English parallels Greek that way.
[same person says something else] Yeah, because in the Book of Revelation Jesus said “I come quickly.” Now that can mean one of two things, I’m going to come quickly in the sense that in a few years after I ascend I’m going to come back, or it can mean when I come I’m going to come quickly. The thing that makes you decide, it’s the old rule of Bible interpretation, context determines the meaning. And if in Jesus’ own discussion, when this whole thing comes up in Jesus’ discussion, if you look in the Mount of Olivet Discourse and He Himself picks Noah’s Flood out to be the issue, and He uses that as a model of what He means when it means “come quickly,” doesn’t that in the context force you into meaning number two instead of meaning number one?
The repeated use of the “thief” analogy, “the thief” comes through, they knew not until the thief broke in and stole. Thieves don’t take a long time to steal, the pros do it quick. These guys can rip your car off before you can put the key in the ignition, they really are skilled. Not the kids that want drug money or something, they’re stupid, but the professional guys. A really skilled professional crook is a real artist at doing this stuff. He does it quickly. So that metaphor, the thief metaphor tells you it’s meaning number two. The Noah’s ark metaphor tells you it’s meaning number two. So you’ve got built into the textual context enough information to wean you over to number two.
There’s another theme that rises here and I’m not emphasizing it in preterism because it’s going to come back up later, particularly with Marv Rosenthal, and that is the issue of imminency. Imminency is something I haven’t discussed too much here because it really doesn’t pertain to the preterist issue, but imminency is the idea that Christ could come at any time, that no prophesied event need take place before the Rapture. Israel does not have to be regathered before the Rapture, technically. If the Rapture is … Jesus says I am coming for the church, and He doesn’t to tell us to look first for an event prior to that point, then we say it’s imminent.
Another expression in English for something that is imminent is it’s “at hand.” Remember what John the Baptist said, “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” but it didn’t come. What did John mean by that? Let’s think about it. John used exactly the same expression, “the Kingdom of God is at hand,” but it didn’t come. Could it have come then? Yeah, if Israel had accepted Jesus the Kingdom would have come, so it was at hand, was it not. But it didn’t happen. So when you’re talking about the Second Advent of Christ and it says it’s “at hand,” tonight “it’s at hand,” what do we mean? It can happen tonight, it doesn’t mean it will happen tonight.
Tommy Ice uses a neat illustration, I’m not a football fan, I don’t know one team from another, but he has this neat expression in one of his prophecy books. He says you know, whatever the bowl is, has been at hand for the Buffalo Bills but they never got it. What he means was they were so close to getting it and they didn’t get it, it was at hand. So the expression “at hand” has a contingency meaning to it, it can or it cannot. That’s not saying that it’s going to come soon, the “soon-ness” meaning isn’t part of that expression. So we’ve got to get sharp. This is why this is not easy material to deal with and I apologize for it because this is not a course on eschatology, it’s a course on the Biblical Framework but I have to get into eschatology to deal with the end of the Church Age, so that’s why we’re here. But I’m just trying to warn you that there are subtleties here and you really have to have your head screwed on in looking at the text but it’s not esoteric. We can sit here and we can discuss it, everybody knows a thief comes quickly, it’s all within our grasp, we don’t need a PhD in semantic studies to understand this. Any Christian can understand it, it’s just you have to pause a little bit, turn off the TV for a few hours and think. I know this is stressful to some people. But the point is that that’s the only thing that kind of gets you through this stuff.
That’s what we’ve tried to deal with number two, is you’ve got to beware that there is a range of meanings. We call that the semantic range, by the way, words have semantic ranges. And one of the fallacies of Bible study where we can trip up is we haven’t considered the semantic range of words, that they can have these different kind of meanings. People don’t like to hear that because they want some mechanical approach, boom, boom, boom, I put it in a computer and get out the interpretation. It doesn’t work that way because these words have certain semantic ranges.
And the other thing that you have to watch for is that different authors will use the same word differently. If you want a good illustration of that? Eternal life? Take a concordance someday and look up eternal life only in the writings of John. Then take another piece of paper and list all the cases of eternal life only in the writings of Paul. If you do that, you get two pieces of paper; it’s the same word, one is John, the other is Paul. And you start looking at them and you say, whoa, wait a minute; these guys are talking about something different. To Paul eternal life is future; to John eternal life is now. Those two guys use the same word in different ways. It doesn’t mean they’re in conflict because John is bringing out … remember John wrote his Gospels after all the other guys did and he was led by the Holy Spirit to kind of fill up the holes, that which was lacking theologically. So John wants to stress something and Paul wants to stress something else, but you’ve got to be careful, you can’t take eternal life always means something future. If you try that with John you’ve got a problem.
So it’s the old story, in context. And I always visualize this, when I study the Bible I always study it in context, here’s the way to think of it. There are circles of context; the nearest context is the immediate verses. You have a puzzle word here, so you look in the verse before and the verse after, and in Matthew 24 you go through the whole chapter because it was one discourse of the Lord Jesus. So you check it out, check it out, check it out, from beginning to the end, so now you’ve got a chunk of text that’s Jesus’ discourse, and I try to use that text, that context to interpret my word. Sometimes that doesn’t work. So then what do I do? Well, Matthew 24 is written by Matthew, so before I go to Mark and Luke and John, I’d better check how Matthew uses the word. He’s a government bureaucrat, used to filling out forms, keeping records. Mark doesn’t do that.
So you just want to look at Matthew. Maybe you can’t find it in Matthew, now you’re kind of stuck because now you’ve got to go Mark, Luke and John and see kind of how they did it. Sometimes that doesn’t work, now what do you do? Now you have to go into contemporary literature of New Testament times, the papyri evidence, and find out what were people doing in that day, how did they use the term. Sometimes you try to get material that way, usually you don’t have to go that far, usually it’s in the context.
But it gets back to something … George works with quite a few Reformed people in his work place and one of the things he was saying was you observe these guys and one of the things they notice about them is they don’t really get into the text, they can tell you what the creed says, they can tell you theology, they can go through systems of theology, but when it comes to talking about verse X, Y, Z, and what the passage says, it’s kind of mixed there. We don’t want to fall into that trap; we have to know the text of Scripture. There’s no substitute for it, you’ve got to know that and that takes a long time, especially in stuff like this.
Question asked: Clough replies: The question is about since eschatology is so determinative of where you are going, priorities of life, it sets them up, why don’t you see this emphasized more in the church. Then she added is this just the time of history. I think that’s partially true, I think that in the last 200–300 years that really the only time the church has had time to sit down and think this through because we’ve been under siege with Rome, had to deal with who Jesus was, had the Arians running around thinking He was a man, had the Sabellians running around saying that God wasn’t really a Triune God, He was just a God that had three masks and He showed up as the Father one day and showed up as the Son another one, and then we had to deal with the Trinity, I mean, a lot of stuff has gone over the dam here, and it’s part of the maturing of the body of Christ.
I think we live in the age in which eschatology is being beaten out. And I think that if you think about this in terms of how in past church history the Holy Spirit has always energized and motivated us to dig into His Word by allowing apostasy to nip us, you know, the wolves come into the sheep and start biting, and it’s only then that the sheep move and the shepherd gets active. I think that’s what’s happened here. If you think in terms of the kind of persecutions that the church has run into progressively and repeatedly in the last 200 years, it’s all false eschatology.
For example, communism, 90% of communism was eschatology, the dictatorship of the proletariat assured victory. And we know where Marx got it from? Ironically communism comes out of the book of Daniel, the idea of history moving toward… here is an atheist, he doesn’t want to admit it but the idea that history is progressing toward a goal comes only from the Scriptures, because paganism, history goes nowhere, it’s Henry Ford and the Greeks going around in circles. So you have that thing, but then I think there’s another reason why it’s not emphasized in church is because it requires a lot of Bible study and we happen to live in a very lazy generation, so used to watching television they can’t think more than two and a half minutes and the poor guys that are up here teaching the Word see everybody sleeping after twenty.
It always amazes me that people can sit in a congregation, especially the younger kids, and it seems like it’s always the home of the 15-minute bladder. I bet when they sit and watch a football game you don’t see them running down to the john every 15 minutes, but that happens in every congregation I’ve ever been it. It’s like bladders contract or something when everybody sits in the pew. And you have this thing that goes on, any kind of distraction or anything else, and I’m telling you the pastors get this in the material that is sent to them. The professional journals, do you know what they’re saying? You’ve got to entertain people.
I can just see John Calvin entertaining people, John Wesley, John Whitfield, they entertained people? I don’t think so. They intrigued people because of the Word of God that they spoke. But you can’t see Martin Luther and his wife Katrina whatever her name was, sitting down, Katherine, now what are we going to do tomorrow to entertain our folks, and Katherine sits there and says Well, Martin, I don’t know, let’s see if we can make some toys and show them tomorrow. This didn’t go on in church history, come on. But that’s where we are. And the sad thing is it’s promoted in the professional journals that the pastor’s get. It’s taught in our conservative Bible-believing seminaries now. One of the rules in seminary is you cannot teach a group of adults more than twenty minutes. That’s a bunch of bologna.
[Clough asks someone] You teach the inmates, how long do you teach the inmates. An hour and three quarters and she’s teaching guys half of whom are illiterate, not in the sense of illiterate that they can’t read, but illiterate in the sense a lot of them have never been trained to think, she gets them to think. An hour and three quarters that woman teaches inmates. And we’re worried about twenty minutes. So there’s a culture problem that we’ve got and its bad and no one in the church, a few people are, standing up and saying no, that’s not the way we’re going, and I’m sorry, if you want entertainment go down the street some place, this isn’t an entertainment center, we’re not here to entertain you. People need to say that, but they’re not. So there’s a culture problem and then there’s a church growth problem.
Question asked, something about the different terms used for the Kingdom of God: Clough replies: The question is what’s the language, what’s the terminology in the Bible for the Millennial Kingdom. Nowhere will you see the word Millennial Kingdom, that’s just a theological term based on the thousand year reference in Revelation 20. But there’s plenty of occasions talking about the Kingdom, either explicitly using the word k-i-n-g-d-o-m, or the idea is discussed. For example, you all know Psalm 2, it’s a Messianic Psalm and it talks about the King coming and you’d better bow down to the King. It doesn’t mention the word kingdom in that sense, but you know by reading the context. The Psalms that begin with 9: 91, 92, 93, 94, read those Psalms, they’re called the enthronement Psalms by scholars of the book of Psalms. They’re called the enthronement Psalms because all those 90 series look forward to when Yahweh reigns.
Now you’ve got to watch it here, folks, don’t be sloppy. When you read in those Psalms Yahweh reigns, don’t get goosey and religious and talk about some syrupy little feeling, oh, Yahweh reigns, wow. That’s not the way they read that. When they said Yahweh reigns, they meant that Yahweh rules in a Kingdom. And what kingdom experientially had they experienced, were they a part of? It was the kingdom of Israel, with a temple, with a priesthood, that’s how they conceived of the kingdom, and I believe that’s one reason why God gave us the Old Testament, to give us a picture of what that future Kingdom is going to look like. If He hadn’t, we wouldn’t know what the Kingdom looks like.
Our time is up, next week we’ll move further through preterism.