© 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 214 – Preterism’s Deception: 6 Problems in Interpretations of the End of the Church Age
23 Jan 2003
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
Just to review just a bit again, we have been working with the merging of the prophecies of the Old Testament that an Old Testament person would have known and understood with the new information in the New Testament, so we bring together the two programs of God. One has to do with Israel and the Gentile nations and the other has to do with the church. So the title in that section of the notes beginning on page 120 is the church and the Tribulation. I said we’re going to go through different positions, because in the overall flow of church history …, remember so that we have patience when we work through these things, don’t get unduly put out by other believers who hold different positions. Remember you can look upon church history as a time of the maturing of the body of Christ and the maturing of the body of Christ is a maturing in the understanding of God’s Word. The maturity is defined to be that way.
In Israel’s era, the growth of Israel was actually measured, if you want it measurable, by the spirituality of the nation and its occupation of the land. The maturity of the church can’t be measured by real estate because the church doesn’t have any real estate. Israel has real estate, not the church. So there are different measures of the church’s growth versus measures of Israel’s growth in the Old Testament. The first 300–400 years of church history what were the issues? First of all they had to get together the Word of God, had to have it canonized. The other issue was what’s the nature of God—the Trinity; who was Jesus Christ—the God-man. We maybe take it for granted, yeah, we can state that doctrine quickly but it took 300–400 years for the church to work that through.
Then we came to the Middle Ages and you can say there were two men in the Middle Ages that held the views of what did Jesus do on the cross, the atonement; one was Abelard and the other was Anselm. Anselm said what Jesus did on the cross was something objective, it was satisfying the justice of God, there was an atoning work being done there. Abelard said the effect of the cross is what counts, not what happened on the cross but what happens in your heart when you look at the cross. So it was all subjective and the view of Abelard went on into liberalism and Anselm became part of orthodoxy. So orthodoxy, after that period of time, recognized the God-man went to the cross and He paid for sin. He made atonement for sin. It’s not something that some fundamentalist preacher in the 1920s invented. You tend to get that around the staid denominational circles, that they think that we fundies are the ones that made this up yesterday.
It goes back to at least the time of Anselm; it goes back to the New Testament and the Bible of course. But in the flow of church history it’s not a new thing, this is not new truth.
Then we came to the Reformation and the issue in the Reformation was how the work of Christ is appropriated. So the issue was the gospel, we are saved by faith. The issue there was between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. We still have people in our circles that can’t tell the difference. I was talking to someone the other day and they were saying oh, religious people start wars all over the place, and of course when people make that remark you can always remind them that the most people killed in the 20th century were secular regimes, communism and fascism, and Nazism, those are the ones that kill more people. In the whole inquisition in Europe there were only hundreds killed. When Stalin and Hitler killed there were 30,000,000 killed, a little order of magnitude problem there.
In any case, they were talking about Ireland and saying see, it’s the Catholics and the Protestants. I said look, you can walk down the street in Northern Ireland and ask anybody at random and they couldn’t tell you the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism. They’re in it because their grandfather was in it and their great-grandfather was in it and they’re perpetuating this family feud that’s gone on for centuries, they don’t have a clue about the difference between Rome and the Reformation, not a clue. You’re just going to have to speak up sometimes when people say that kind of stuff to you.
So in the Reformation the issue was how can I appropriate, how is the grace of God passed from the cross to man. The issue is that the Reformers said very clearly you are justified by faith and they said faith alone. Catholicism says you’re justified by faith, but they don’t say by faith alone. It’s by faith in doing works, etc., and then it’s dribbled out to you in sacramental activities like going to mass, etc. That was the Protestant Reformation, but here’s what was left. At the end of the Protestant Reformation what was left was a whole bunch of other stuff that had been inherited from Rome, such as the doctrine of the church.
What did the Protestants do at the end of the Reformation? Think about it. They established state churches, so they replaced the Roman Catholic Church, which was a church state, the Vatican is a state, it’s a nation. Roman Catholicism is not just a religion, it is an international existing legal entity called the Vatican to which we send ambassadors. Roman Catholicism is a church-state, not just a church. The Protestants then went on and what did they do in Germany? They had a state church. What was it called? Lutheran. They went into Switzerland and they formed the Reformed churches there. So the Protestants kind of carried over the same concept that the church and the community were the same. If you read the history in American, when the Puritans came here, they basically did the same thing in the Massachusetts Bay colony. Everybody in the community was baptized and becoming a citizen of the community was becoming baptized and sort of becoming this.
So the church really wasn’t clear, nor was eschatology, which is the idea of what’s going to happen, where does the church place itself in the big picture. What had happened was that Luther and Calvin and the other guys, they had their own battles to fight which were over in the area of salvation. After the Reformation got through they were left as inheritors of Roman Catholic eschatology. So we go back to the way things were left at the end of the Reformation, just to understand once again why we’re going through all these details.
What happened here at the end of the Reformation is that theology became what I call frozen up, in that the gimmick that the Protestants relied upon, they had to, they were fighting Roman Catholics all over Europe, was that they set up very detailed creeds. And these creeds have much good in them. The Westminster Confession of Faith still has one of the most eloquent answers to the question what is the purpose of man—to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We can agree with that, so there’s lots of good stuff in these creeds. We’re not quibbling there.
What we’re saying, however, is they did it too fast. What they should have done was put into the creeds the authority of Scripture, the Trinity, the deity of Jesus, what Jesus did on the cross, how I appropriate that by faith. If they’d just left it there everybody would have been cool. But they went on to include doctrines of the church, which we call ecclesiology, and doctrines of prophecy, where is history going which we call eschatology. By hardening things up prematurely like that, they froze the understanding of the church as it was understood in the 15th century. And they froze the idea of eschatology at 15th century levels, as though the Holy Spirit hasn’t taught anybody in the last 400 years. Well, the Holy Spirit has and as history goes on there’s been a clarification because the Holy Spirit works in different ways and usually how the Holy Spirit works in the Church Age is we always have to be hit with a heresy of something before the church does something to respond. It was the heretics that called forth Athenasius who clarified the person of Jesus. It was Abelard who [can’t understand word] the church to debate what happened on the Cross. It was Rome that irritated people with the indulgences and everything else about how does a person get saved.
Similarly in the last 300 years there have been increasingly dogmatic positions of the nature of the state, of government. And if you think about it, in the 20th century, the two biggest anti-Christian movements were communism and fascism. Those movements were dominated by a foreign eschatology. The Nazis knew their goal and they thought they knew where history was going. Karl Marx and the communist knew their goal and they thought they knew where history was going. So until the church faces this we don’t really think about getting hold of the big picture. So the emphasis in the 19th and 20th centuries, I believe the Holy Spirit has prompted us to get involved in better understanding ecclesiology and eschatology and out of that has come the understanding that we’re going through now. We’ve looked at how you combine all this at the end of history, the church and Israel’s programs.
On page 120 we started out with preterism and that’s one of the so-called solutions and as we said there are characteristics of preterism. You don’t have to know all the details but you ought to be cognizant of the basic things because it’s pretty heavy in Maryland right now. So if you go to Christian camps or a Christian bookstore and you may run into this; maybe in Christian organizations that you belong to. You just want to kind of know and not be caught off guard when you run into this kind of thing. What did we say preterism was all about? Preterism is that Reformed theology which is basically amillennial or postmillennial. Amillennialism says that church history goes on and here’s the return of Christ and that’s it; it’s a very simple picture. Postmillennialism is that you go through church history and things are getting better and better and better and then Jesus comes. So they’re kind of close together in that sense.
The problem with this view is that if this is the Church Age, the question is what happened to the program with Israel? What happened to the program with the Gentile nations? Since the church was never clarified, the church kind of becomes a surrogate for Israel. The church replaces Israel in these schemes. Then the prophecies that are given in the Old Testament are transferred to the church, but the problem is in the transfer things get gooed up. Why do they get gooed up? Because Israel was a nation. Is the church a nation? No. The church doesn’t have a government. Israel was a nation that had a government. Israel was a nation who had land. Does the church have land? The church doesn’t have land. The church doesn’t have a government. The church is a strange new entity and when you move prophecies that were attached to Israel in the Old Testament, bring them over and attach them to the church now you’ve to go some fudging and you spiritualize those prophecies. So you spiritualize going into the land and the glorious Millennial Kingdom is really not a kingdom, it’s really not literally going into the land, it’s just kind of a metaphor of spiritual blessing. This is what happens. You want to keep your eye on the ball here; always look at the hermeneutic involved. By that we mean look at how Scripture is being interpreted. Hermeneutics means the rules of interpretation.
Here’s a simple way to remember so you don’t get fogged up with details. If you go and buy a car and you get a note from the bank on the car, so you carry this little note around, you’re borrowing money to buy your car. There’s a contract that you had to sign for that car. You have a contract and you sign that contract. That contract is between you, who signed there, and the bank. That contract says you have certain obligations and the bank has certain obligations. If in your head you will always remember these two words are the same kind of thing: covenant and contract. Make those words equal and it will help you think this through. That contract that you get when you buy a car, you buy a house and you have an obligation, you have to make payments and there’s a little note in the fine print in the contract that says if you don’t make the payment they come get your car, because you don’t fully own the car until you finish the last payment.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could allegorize your auto loan contract and say well you really don’t have to make 48 different payments, 48 is just a number of completion. Do you see how stupid it is? So that’s what you do, you think in terms of a contract. Would you take an auto loan or a mortgage loan and apply this hermeneutic to it? Yet we think nothing of it when Israel had five contracts with God, they were called covenants, that’s a religious word for it but they mean contracts. We wouldn’t do our mortgage payments that way, we wouldn’t do our auto loans that way, yet we can do it with the Scriptures. Look at the inconsistency here.
So if you’re consistent you can’t do that and you wind up with premillennialism. In premillennialism, the word “pre” means the Lord Jesus Christ comes pre, or prior to the Kingdom. So you have the Church Age going on like this, you have this problem we’re dealing with, then you have Christ comes back and you have this 1,000 years of perfect environment, it’s not perfect environment because it’s still fallen, but the Lord Jesus Christ reigns with a rod of iron. And then history ends and we have the eternal state. I went through all of human history and showed you that every one of these dispensations or ages has a goal. They’re not just selected. God is the perfect teacher. He doesn’t teach you calculus before you’ve had algebra. He doesn’t teach you algebra before you had arithmetic. You’ve got to have a sequence, so in history each dispensation teaches more about God and about man.
And the last lesson is the last age of history and what is God going to teach us in that last thousand year period? It’s a demonstration of what man so far as never been able to get together and that is a peaceful world, free of war, no militaries will be involved and you have world peace. What God does, how He teaches the human race corporately is how He teaches us as individuals. How does He teach most of us most of the time? He’ll let us go out and try to do our thing, we fall flat on our face, we look up and say, oh, got to trust the Lord. Then things kind of straighten out. He’s doing the same thing corporately with the human race. The human race right now is desperate for world peace. We’ve had the United Nations, before that the League of Nations. The idea is can’t we all get together and have peace. And it doesn’t work; it doesn’t work for a number of reasons.
The point is, the Millennial Kingdom, it will work and it will work because certain things are true. Here are the things that contribute to that world peace yet to come, and each of these things cannot be brought about by a political schema. Number one, there has to be a perfect human leader who will not sin. No candidate is available right now. There is coming one who will, and it’s the Lord Jesus Christ. And it says in the Book of Revelation that He rules by force. The sword is beaten into plow shears but it also says He rules the nations with a rod of iron because in the Millennial Kingdom there will be unbelievers born who will reject Him and there will be the flesh, and there will be the potential for war again. But the reason there won’t be a war is because you have a perfect administration led by Jesus Christ, ruling with absolute dictatorial authority over all the nations.
Of course, what happens, at the end of the Millennial Kingdom Satan is let loose, that’s one of the other conditions, Satan is going to be incarcerated for 999 years and if he’s incarcerated, he and his demons are prevented from deceiving the nations. That’s what the Bible says; he is actively deceiving the nations. In fact, remember in the Book of Daniel the demonic powers were so powerful over Persia that if you had a three dimensional map of the world you’d see this big cluster of demonic powers right on top of what is now Iran and when Daniel was inside praying, how long did it take the angel to come deliver his prayer? Two weeks, and the angel tells him that in order to get to you, Daniel, I had to call for reinforcements, I had to break through this demonic power canopy that existed over the nation of Iran at the time. So that’s the point that’s involved here; that will be eliminated and that makes peaceful conditions. So you see the Millennial Kingdom can’t come because of a United Nations program for this, or a United Nations program for that, or a United States program, or the French or the Germans or whatever, nobody has the power to do this, only the Lord Jesus Christ.
So the Millennial Kingdom winds up and then at the end of this Kingdom Satan is let loose for a while to see if mankind has ever learned the lesson. They’ve 900+ years of peace. Just think about it. Let’s go back to 2000 and let’s subtract 900, so you get 1100. The condition at the end of the Millennium would be as if today there hadn’t been a war since Thomas Aquinas’ day in the Middle Age, there hadn’t been any wars in the 20th century, the 19th century, 18th century, 17th century, 16th century, all the way back to 1000 years. In other words, no memory of what war was like. Satan is let loose for a short time and what happens? World War to try to overthrow the reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. So what’s proved? The depravity of man, that man is a hopeless sinner apart from God.
At that point we can go into eternity because now every possible objection to the reign of God has been demonstrated in the laboratory called human history. Human history is a laboratory and for all eternity we’ll probably see videos or however God plans on reviewing history with us, because each one of us comes out of only a little piece of history, so here we are in heaven for all eternity and we’ve got discuss the grace of God and the glory of God and how can we discuss the glory of God if we don’t see His handiwork, and part of His handiwork was this human history that we just emerged out of. So you’re sitting down having lunch in your resurrection body talking to a saint that lived at 930 and he asks you what was the United States, tell me about what your period of history was like. And you can say what were you doing in 900 AD in the middle of Europe, how did you write back then, how did the Lord work in those days? Those will be topics of discussion, but a larger topic, I believe, will be for us to constantly be reminded and immersed in the glory of God of what He was doing; so somehow He’s going to review history for us, and it will be kind of like a rerun, here’s what we did. Now if you’re ever tempted to think this, watch that, so to speak.
That’s history and preterism has fastened itself on to amillennialism and postmillennialism. Here’s why, because if you take the prophecies literally the Church Age ends in a disaster. The Church Age is not going to end nicely. This is bad news for anybody who sees history to flow smoothly, so in order to deal with this, what these Reformed people do is they’ve changed the rules of interpretation and they’re tried to reinterpret passages like Matthew 24 and the Book of Revelation. We said last week that Matthew 24, the Olivet Discourse, is largely as being fulfilled in AD 70; the entire Book of Revelation is seen as fulfilled in AD 70. Then I went on in the notes to illustrate some of the problems of preterism.
The first problem, page 122, was that AD 70 doesn’t fulfill the picture we see in the Bible of the return of Jesus. They say the Lord returned in some way, in some fashion in AD 70. Before class a person said well I missed it; yeah, so did I, so did a lot of people. It doesn’t fit. For one thing, when Jesus ascended on the Mount of Olives, what did the two angels say to the disciples? They said as you have seen Him leave, going up, up, up into a cloud, so He will come again, down, down, down out of a cloud and He’s going to come right to that place. I mean this is not requiring heavy Bible study to understand the simple fact of what the angel was saying. If He came in AD 70, did anybody see Jesus coming out of a cloud in AD 70? No, so what they say is that He came in the form of Vespasian and Titus’ armies to destroy Jerusalem. And they said that was the coming of the Lord, it was coming judgment upon the nation Israel. That doesn’t fit, so that’s what we said the first objection is that the model of preterism, i.e., its concept of the return of Christ doesn’t really fit the advent passages.
Next on page 123 we dealt with the problem, they claim that the term “come quickly,” and here’s where they say they are literal and we are allegorical; they claim that this adverbial expression, coming soon or coming quickly, that this expression always mean come soon in the sense of a few hours or a few days. We said, however, if you look at the language, even our own everyday language, we have expressions like that where we don’t mean it’s going to happen in a few years but rather it potentially can happen any time. I give you Tommy Ice’s illustration on page 123: “An illustration from sports may help. A team may make it to the championship game. It may be said of the team that the championship is ‘at hand’ or ‘within grasp.’ This does not mean that it is certain to come within a short period of time, just because it is at hand. Just ask the Buffalo Bills. The NFL championship has been ‘near’ or ‘at hand’ for a number of years for the Bills, but thus far is has yet to arrive.” There’s an example of something being “at hand.” That’s the second meaning, so preterism denies that that whole cluster of expressions can have this meaning of imminency, something could happen. That’s the third objection.
Now we come to page 124. Turn to Matthew 24:34, this is their favorite text. I think their Bibles, the binding is cracked right here at Matthew 24. The verse they will quote is verse 34 and in verse 34 Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Can you see the problem that they think we have here? If this generation isn’t going to pass away until all these things be fulfilled, and all these things refer to Matthew 24, then how do we interpret “this generation.” Doesn’t that mean that the generation that was listening then to the Lord Jesus Christ will not pass away until these things be fulfilled? That’s their argument for why “these things,” Matthew 24 and the Book of Revelation, had to have happened within the lifetime of those people who were hearing the Lord Jesus. So that gives you something to think about.
In the next paragraph follow my reasoning in responding to this. “A favorite proof-text centers upon the identity of ‘this generation’ in Matthew 24:34. Preterists ask these questions: is not ‘this generation’ in Matthew 24:34 the same group of people being addressed by Jesus since the last contextual use of the phrase ‘this generation’ (Matthew 23:36)…” that’s the previous chapter and part of Bible study is you always go to the context. So there’s the last time that phrase, “this generation” was used, and clearly in Matthew 23:36 it does mean this generation, the generation to which Jesus is speaking. So they say “if Jesus had meant to refer to a future generation would He not have used ‘that generation’?”
However, if you look carefully at Matthew 24:34, let’s talk about grammar a minute here. One of the great ways of studying the Bible, maybe I’m showing my age but when I went through English class the English teacher taught us to diagram sentences. That might have been eclipsed by sex education or whatever else is the going thing now. But “this generation” is an expression and if you had to diagram a sentence with this in it, you have “this generation,” and you have to explain what is that word, what function grammatically does that word do. Well, it’s a pronoun and it modifies a noun and it’s what’s called a demonstrative. If you look at it this way, when do you use, in your everyday language “this” or “that.” Why, when you talk, do you select “this” instead of selecting “that.” If you’re selecting the demonstrative “this” you’re visualizing at the point you’re saying that something close up to you, either physically close to you or mentally on a picture. You’re saying look at this, something right here we can see; look at that, and that’s a rule of grammar, that’s how language is used.
Where else in the same verse do you observe a near term demonstrative? It’s plural form; after “things.” Look at “things,” is it a far demonstrative or is it a near demonstrative pronoun? It’s a near demonstrative, “these things,” not those things,” but “these things.” Now what are the “things?” Here it is, “these things.” However Jesus is doing this at this point in His discussion, He has a generation of people and things that are going to happen together in the foreground of His discussion. At this point He is not positioning Himself in the present and looking into the future, for if He had been in the present looking into the future, He would have said “that generation will not go away until those things are fulfilled.”
What Jesus has done at this point in the discussion is what often happens in Biblical prophecy. He has moved into the future. So now He’s into the future, and He says “These things” and “this generation.” Now what do you suppose is the interpretation of the phrase “this generation?” It’s the generation that is present when these things happen. “This generation that is present when these things happen will not pass away until it’s fulfilled.” In other words, the Tribulation is easily going to be within one generation He says, it’s not going to drag on and on and on. This generation will not pass away that sees these things.
Follow in the notes and I’ll justify this from the Old Testament. “Let’s think about pronouns like ‘this/these’ and ‘that/those’, especially as used in eschatological texts. Pronouns substitute for object-nouns previously mentioned or implied in the context. Demonstrative pronouns help locate where the object is within the speaker’s perspective. ‘This’ points out an object that is visualized as nearby to the speaker; ‘that’ points out an object that is visualized as further away from the speaker. By careful observing which demonstrative a speaker uses, the listener can learn where the speaker locates himself relative to the objects that are spoken of. Everyday speech as well as literary texts often show that a speaker shifts his location relative to the objects that are spoken of. Eschatological texts are no exception.”
Before I go any further, do you know where you can see this nicely is in writing reports? If you see a news story of something that happened and they interview somebody, and the reporter is speaking about that event, but when the reporter writes about what the witnesses to the event is saying, they’ll quote somebody who is saying well, this plane did that, this plane did something, this plane fell out of the air. What’s “this plane?” The plane that the guy saw when it happened. But the reporter is reporting his terms for that past event. Relative to the reporter’s writing it was “that” plane last week that did that. But to the observer who was there on the scene, it was “this” plane, the plane that he saw.
Now watch how it happens in prophecy, we see this all the time in the Old Testament, I’m going to illustrate it for you. “Experienced readers of Old Testament prophecy know that such a shifting back-and-forth between a present-centered perspective and a future-centered one is common in eschatological passage. Readers repeatedly observe shifts in temporal viewpoint from the present to the future then back to the present as in Psalm 2 and many other places.”
Turn to Psalm 2, here’s a case in point, we could go to hundreds and hundreds of cases but we’ll just go to two. In Psalm 2, “Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples devising a vain thing?  The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed.” In what time framework is that reporter? It’s obviously David and he’s looking into the future. And he looks into the future he sees this, and he quotes what they’re saying in verse 3, but he’s quoting it as though they’re saying it to him now. He doesn’t write in verse 2, “Then they will say, “let us tear their fetters apart,” rather he just quotes it as though he were there. David has moved into the future so that now the future is present to him and he’s observing people saying this. Verse 4 goes on about this and in verse 7 is another case, “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, Thou art My son, today I have begotten Thee.  Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thy inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession.” When is that going to happen? That’s future. But it’s written about as though David is on scene, we are on scene with him and we are there observing it. For example, if we were to use the demonstrative in verse 7 we might have written the text, “I will surely tell of this decree.” Do you see how appropriate it would have been, the present in that situation?
Now I want to show you where the demonstrative, this shifting back and forth, occurs explicitly. It’s implicit in these passages like Psalm 2 where you see oscillation back and forth. Isaiah 12:4, it’s speaking of a future time and it is an expression, very common in prophecy, notice how it begins, “And in that day you will say,” stop there, if you look at that clause, “in that day you will say,” where do you place the writer with respect to what’s happened? Is he there placing himself on scene or is he here now looking into the future? He’s sitting in the present looking into the future. “In that day,” that distant day, “In that day they will say.”
Following the paragraph, “In Isaiah 12, for another example, the text speaks of a future time as ‘that day’ (Isaiah 12:4), a day located further away from the speaker. It shows that the speaker visualizes himself as in the present looking into the future.” But now the text goes on, “Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name. Make known His deeds among the peoples; make them remember that His name is exalted.  Praise the LORD in song, for He has done excellent things; let this be known throughout the earth.” What’s that? Where is the center of the text happening in time? Is it happening at the time it is being written or have you been transported forward into the future to observe this being said, and together with the people you are conversing with them and you are saying “let this be known.” Do you see the shift? It’s now that near demonstrative. We could go on and on about this. The problem is that in prophecy you have this shifting back and forth, “this” to “that,” and it’s just the nature of prophecy. That’s just the way the Old Testament is structured in text after text after text.
So the conclusion at the bottom of page 124, “Preterists think that Jesus throughout all of His discourse in Matthew 24 never moves away from a present-centered perspective. In such a perspective ‘this’ and ‘these’ would refer to tings present,” i.e., in the year that Jesus spoke that, “and ‘that’ and those’ would refer to things in the future. Indeed, Jesus has this present-centered perspective when speaking of the future time of His coming. He uses ‘that’ and ‘those’ in such expressions as ‘those days’ and ‘that’ hour (Matthew 24:19, 22, 29, 36).” I deliberately had you look back at Isaiah 12 because I wanted you to observe that in prophecy they’ll often say “that day,” in “that day,” in “that hour.” Jesus follows exactly that Old Testament convention when He’s talking about “in that day” such and such will happen. He’s doing exactly what Isaiah did, Jeremiah did, and all the prophets did. Why? Because He’s Jewish and He operates within the same prophetic framework and understanding as the Semitic peoples of the Old Testament.
“He also speaks of the past flood of Noah as ‘those days’ (Matthew 24:38). The objects Jesus speaks about are remote to His vantage point in the present. “However, when He speaks of specific events in that future time (wars, famines, earthquakes, astronomical catastrophism), He uses the demonstrative pronoun ‘these’ (Matthew 24:8, 33….”). Back to Matthew 24 and once again looking at the context. Verse 8, here’s where Jesus did it again, “But all these things,” it doesn’t say “those things,” in the future, He says “these things,” the things that He just got through speaking about, these things that are visually present in the imagination of both Him and the people who have heard Him speak these words. He’s loaded the imaginations up of His disciples, He’s described the things [blank spot]… Verse 7, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes,” so He’s got all this in the mind’s eye of the people listening to Him.
Now that they’re in the mind’s eye, they’re visualizing gosh, what these famines are going to look like, imagine what the earthquakes will do, so they’re thinking this. They bend their imagination, transported out into the future and they’re looking at these things, look at this, and Jesus says, “these things,’” because He’s placing Himself in that future time frame. So you’ve got to watch it when you look at a prophetic text, you can’t just haul in here at forty miles an hour and drive through. You’ve got to watch the subtleties and this is not hair splitting, this is just understanding how it is with prophetic literature.
Continuing on page 125, “He uses the demonstrative pronoun ‘these’ (Matthew 24:8, 33) indicating that in His perspective the prophesied phenomena are now in the foreground. No longer is He standing in the present looking to the future. Now He stands in the future look at its features ‘close up.’ He focuses upon these future works of God as though He and His audience are there in that future time looking at them as they occur. And it is while He has this future-centered perspective looking at these features close up, that He utters the sentence, ‘this generation will now pass away until all these things take place,’ (Matthew 24:34). In this context it is clear that ‘this generation’ belongs to the same visualized foreground as the events themselves. The generation Jesus has in mind is the generation who get to see these Tribulational judgments. Thus He uses the near demonstrative pronouns ‘this’ and ‘these’ that tie both the objects viewed and the viewers together in that same future time.” Now watch this, “If He had meant to say what the preterists think He is saying, He would have remained in the present-centered perspective, looking into the future and uttering something like this: ‘This generation not pass away until all those things take place.’” Had He said that we would pause here for some eschatological reconsideration. But He didn’t say it, He said “This generation and these things,” placing the generation and the things in the same temporal foreground. So that’s how we respond to their key proof text.
Another problem that arises with the preterist position: We said that the book of Revelation actually is an expansion of the condensed overview of history Daniel was given in Daniel 9. This is a very, very crucial Old Testament text, it happened toward the end of the Old Testament. Daniel is high up in the bureaucracy of both Iraq and Iran; he’s got to be a leader in both of those countries. We went through this earlier, verses 24–26, look at verse 25. Here’s a verse that looks forward into the future and is summarizing of Israel’s calendar clock. So we have Daniel being told how long things are going to go on. He says “you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks,” seven plus sixty-two is sixty-nine; sixty-nine of these things called “weeks.” But the Aramaic that’s translated “weeks” is simply the word “seven.” So what he’s really saying, to translate literally is “sixty-nine sevens,” and that’s the time in years between the time of going to rebuild Jerusalem at the end of the exile until the Messiah.
Then he says in verse 26, “Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.” Historically who destroyed the city and the sanctuary in AD 70? What country destroyed Israel? Rome! It says not the prince who is to come; it says “the people of the prince who is to come.” Do you understand why people believe the antichrist will be someone who has vast powers over the area that originally was concerned with Rome and the Roman Empire? “… the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.  And he” the prince, “he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week,” look at that, one seven, so there’s a seven all by itself here. There are sixty-nine of the sevens here and there is one seven here. That’s where we get the word “Daniel’s Seventieth Seven” or “Daniels’ Seventieth Week.”
I want you to know that vocabulary because the next view, post-tribulationalism, that we deal with and the one after that, the three-quarter Tribulationalism it’s very critical that we work with what the label is, it’s Daniel’s Seventieth Week. This is the Seventieth week, seven years long. “The people of the prince who is to come … will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week,” how many years is that? What’s the middle of seven? Three and a half. “… in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction,” so right here in the middle of that, there’d be three and a half years, there’s an abomination, and it’s that abomination that Jesus is talking about in Matthew 24. He says when you see the abomination spoken of by Daniel, you get out of the city, and you’d better pray that it doesn’t happen on a Sabbath so you can have traffic.
So Jesus is expanding in Matthew 24 and John in the Book of Revelation, the content out of this little verse or two back in Daniel. This is the heart beat that gets expanded as the Holy Spirit expands our knowledge base. Now here’s the problem for preterists. The preterists, while he tries to hold to that sixty-nine in verse 26 as literal because we know literally it happened, he’s got to hold to the literalness of the seventieth week. But the seventieth week is only seven years long. So if you have the crucifixion of Christ and you add seven, Jesus was crucified in AD 33 (in AD 32 by some accounts) that gets up to AD 40, it doesn’t get you up to AD 70. So by not handling this right he can’t get the seventieth week pushed up into AD 70. That’s the point in the next paragraph.
This is problem number 5 for preterism. “Preterism experiences difficulty with Daniel 9:24–27. If, like most non-dispensational systems, preterism denies that a gap exists” and they all do “between the first 69 weeks and the 70th, then that 70th seek, a seven-year period, cannot be made to stretch from AD 32 or 33” all the way up to AD 70 without going allegorical in your interpretation of the numbers. And they can’t do that because they’ve already gone literal with the first 69. You can’t have 69 and all of a sudden have seven imaginary or seven figurative years. So there’s a problem there too.
And ultimately why I’m showing you this is the scheme of interpretation compels them to maintain consistency to go non-literal. This is the problem you always get into. Sooner or later a bad eschatology forces you into a non-literal hermeneutics; somewhere along the line if you push it far enough you get in hot water.
The last one, bottom of page 125, here’s the other problem we run into. It’s quite simple to understand this. If Matthew 24 and the Book of Revelation prophesy of AD 70 what does that tell you about the date of their composition? They had to have been written before AD 70. If they’d been written in AD 90 they’re not prophesying about what happened, it would be past history of what happened. In AD 90 you would have written a history of AD 70, you wouldn’t write a prophecy looking forward to it.
So, “preterists must date the Book of Revelation before AD 70 in order to have AD 70 events appear as future happenings. Evidence for the date of this book,” and this is debated in scholarly circles. “Evidence for the date of this book is split between an early date near AD 70 and a later date near AD 96. While other schools of interpretation can accept either date,” we can accept either date, frankly, “preterism can accept only the earlier date.” Let me give you a clue as to why most conservative scholars accept an AD 96 date for Revelation. Here’s why. There was an early church father who was called Irenaeus; here are his dates: he was born in AD 120 and he died in 202, so he’s the next generation after the apostles. He left some writings about what he thought the date of Revelation was. So he’s a lot closer than we are, he’s only a generation removed. He wrote this statement around 180 and here’s what he said. “We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of the antichrist, for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision.” Who do you suppose he’s talking about? John. “For that was seen not very long time since, but almost in our day toward the end of Domitian’s reign.”
So here’s a guy, a church father, and he’s saying the Book of Revelation is written by John right near Domitian’s reign. Well, Domitian reigned after AD 70. So again preterism has a problem here trying to establish … a guy wrote his whole PhD dissertation trying to argue that this book has got to be written before AD 70 and the evidence just really isn’t there.
So I’ve gone through five problems with preterism, let me give you one more. Number six in the objection is the date of revelation. Here’s another problem with preterism. “Moreover, if preterism were true, then much of the rest of the New Testament motivational passages that rely upon the future coming of Christ to encourage godly living would become irrelevant,” would it not. The entire Book of Revelation would be irrelevant, wouldn’t it, if it’s already happened. So often we read in the New Testament passages, the passages that always look forward to the coming of Christ and all this and that, well if He came in AD 70 what happens to all these things. Basically you’ve lost your whole motivation that’s given to you in the New Testament.
“With Christ’s coming already past, much of the New Testament cannot,” and here’s the big point, most of the New Testament now, and this is where there is a spirit, I believe there is a deception going on in this view that’s very serious and it smells of Satan right here. Here’s the key sentence. “With Christ’s coming already past, much of the New cannot directly relate to the Christian life today.” See, much of the New Testament is irrelevant, it was only written to those people that lived between the time of Pentecost and AD 70. “It would have applied only to believers living between Pentecost and AD 70. Preterism, for all its complaints against dispensationalism, winds up in the end creating its own dispensation between the ascension of Jesus Christ and AD 70 that takes away much of the New Testament!”
Thus ends the discussion on preterism and I hope I’ve raised enough issues for you so you won’t waste your time in life worrying about preterism. Next week we’ll start post-tribulationism. From now on all of the positions we are going to deal with are people who are conservative, who are premillennial, most of them, and here’s that Daniel 70th week, and these positions are all going to be defined here, they’ll all be defined in terms of where they place the Rapture—not the return of Christ but the Rapture. I said there’s going to be a difference because in Reformed thought there is no difference; the Rapture and return are the same. So here’s the beginning, here are the seven years, the view that Jesus comes prior to is called naturally pre-tribulationalism. The view that He comes at the end would be naturally called post-tribulationalism. So we’ll talk about post-tribulationism next time. If you’ve got your head screwed on and you’re listening carefully, and you just saw the diagram and you saw me the word post on the right side of the diagram, what have I said that they do to the Rapture and the return of Christ? They coalesce them. That’s why on page 127 of the notes I have a big table on the differences between the Rapture and the return. Look at that, because that becomes a real critical issue in how we’re going to handle these areas.
Question asked, something about why does one group go this way, another group go that way yet they’re studying the same Scriptures: Clough replies: One of our policeman raised a good question. That’s true, when something happens, and I image it might be very frustrating in police work is that you have this crime or something happen and you start doing interviews and you interview five people and you get five different views and here you are trying to prosecute this guy. You know what the defense lawyer is going to do, he’s going to say see that, they don’t really know what they’re talking about. And then the case kind of goes pfft in the courtroom. So I can understand the issue.
The issue is why do we have theological divergence within people who profess to believe the Scriptures. I think there’s several reasons for that and I think one of the key reasons is what I’ve gone through here and I reviewed a little in the beginning of the lesson; it has helped me understand a lot of this to visualize it in terms of the progress of church history, that these ideas, forget the Tribulation issue for a minute and go back to the millennial issue. That idea about the Millennium, pre, “a” or post, goes back centuries and it is one that goes back, even in the early days prior to what we call Roman Catholicism. And there are agenda that accompany it and that’s why there’s really no substitute, sometime, to study church history.
I recommend a book for you to have on your Christian bookshelf, it’s called Our Legacy and it’s written by a professor of church history [John Hannah] at Dallas Seminary; actually it’s his class notes on church history that he’s got in published form. There are other church history books out there, but when you look at church history, and you ask yourself, you see all this divergence over everything, baptism, this, that, the Eastern church, the Western Church, the Catholic Church, the Protestant Church, within Protestantism the Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists and you begin to say what is going on here with all this? Keep your eye on the big heavy ideas and don’t get lost in the trees. It’s going to be very easy to lose the forest for the trees because the next four views we deal with are people who agree over a wide area but they disagree over some of these details.
The view I finished tonight which is preterism is quite different from the rest of them and it’s quite different because it’s associated with amillennialism and postmillennialism. It’s part of that package and the reason it is is because there’s a certain internal logic; ideas always have consequences. Remember that; people think that ideas don’t have consequences. Ideas have consequences and bad ideas have bad consequences. God has made us to be rational beings, He created us to understand His will and His will is rational. So when Satan deceives or he trips us up, and we’re all subject to deception, we can’t sit here and be so proud and say oh, we’ve got the truth and everybody else is deceived because we always have to look to make sure we’re not being misled. Each one of us in our Christian life can be misled; just living the practical every day Christian life we’re subject to deceptions. It’s so easy to do that, there’s not a person here including myself who hasn’t been embarrassed and ashamed of being stupidly misled and deceived. That’s just part of the Christian life. So that’s on a microcosm.
Now with the church on a macrocosm it’s the same sort of thing. If you go back in church history, when the church was active in Israel and had a high Jewish component, there was a little bit of theological diversity, but it was held together by a common respect for a literal interpretation of Scripture, because the conservative Jews, Jews that were serious about their Bible, even to this day the Orthodox Jews, the ones you see with a beanie, they tend to agree with us, for example, on creation. The Orthodox Jew believes in literal creation and some of them are good scientists and it’s an unspoken area because we evangelical creationists have been outspoken so we’re identified, we’re targets; they’re kind of quiet but they believe the same way. So again it’s that Jewish influence molded out of the centuries of their own history. Thy have no problem when the Bible says something is going to happen in Jerusalem. They don’t turn Jerusalem into Rome; they don’t turn Jerusalem into a [can’t understand word]. They know where Jerusalem is, they want to all go back there and live there. They don’t have a problem.
What happened is that as the centuries went on in church history, less and less percent of the church was Jewish. They developed a schism. In fact, by the time of Bar Kokhba’s revolt late in the 2nd century, the Hebrew Christians refused to join the revolt. At that point if you were a Christian Jew you could just kiss it off as far as any reconciliation between you and the rest of the Jewish community; you were just a traitor, you were not a patriot, you didn’t stick with us.
So there was a political rupture that happened, and then as time went on and you get to the point of Augustine and his era, Constantine and that whole era, and the church wins out basically. The pagan society of Rome, as powerful as it was collapsed. It collapsed, polytheism contributed to a large degree to it, although paganism was splitting around in this they had no central idea, no longer were people volunteer to the army, they had to hire people to fight for them and they basically were hiring non-Romans to fight in the Roman army because enough Romans wouldn’t do it. Their businesses went to pot, civilization collapsed and it was a big shock. But guess what? In the middle of all that collapse, what society that lived in that part of the Mediterranean kept going, that had a work ethic, who had morality. It was the church; it was the Christians.
So the Christians kind of survived the collapse of Rome because they had this character; they were lawful people. If you want to read the story, Augustine’s City of God is very good; that’s his defense because a lot of the Romans blamed the Christians for the collapse of Rome. Now think about this, put yourself in a Roman position. If you were a Roman and you looked and saw your country go down the tube, and you believed in paganism, and you believed that Zeus or Jupiter and these gods were angry with you, the country couldn’t have gone down without the gods being angry, and you knew these Christian people down the street that didn’t worship Jupiter, didn’t worship Venus, didn’t pay obeisance to the gods, what would be your attitude to that Christian down the street? You’d say hey, I know why this society collapsed, it’s those people.
So there was animosity. The Christians got blamed for this collapse thing. After the thing come on and the Roman Empire became (quote) “Christianized” (end quote), politically acceptable, at that point there was an agenda that formed. You can see how the deception started. We can’t be prideful and look back, well if I were there I would have straightened them out. Probably not!
The agenda was this; the persecutions had stopped, there was great potential now; paganism was out of the way, yeah, the society had collapsed but the church was going fine. We have new buildings now, people aren’t being thrown to the lions, whew, we can breathe a sigh of relief, it’s the day of the church. The tendency there would be to say well look at those kingdom passages, they’re coming to pass in our time, this is the day of the great triumph, the church has triumphed over the paganistic society. So that lent a political social motive to develop amillennialism.
Add to that another thread to this was that Augustine had studied whom. By the way, Augustine did not know Hebrew, couldn’t read it. Augustine had studied under Greek philosophers and one of the things that the Greek philosophers demeaned was the flesh. They equated the flesh with the source of all evil. And it was your spirit that was good, and all the passions of man, this is this flesh thing. That’s not true; the flesh is not inherently bad. The Greek problem was that they saw the fallen flesh extrapolated and said all flesh has this behavior, therefore flesh is bad. What doctrine in the Christian position would have prevented you from deducing that conclusion? The fall, creation. God didn’t make the flesh fallen; the flesh at one time wasn’t fallen, it wasn’t the source of evil and the future isn’t going to be the source of evil because we get a resurrection body.
But Augustine had thought about this, and he kept thinking in terms, the flesh is bad, the flesh is bad, the material is bad, the material is bad. So without a Jewish influence under the seductive moment of history when whew, we’re free now, the Christians can really get going and then add to that a shaky hermeneutic that looks at these texts about the lion shall live with the lamb and the mountains shall grow in Jerusalem and there will be a temple in Jerusalem on a high mountain. The tendency would have been that can’t literally be, the higher truth is this, and so Augustine was the guy who set up amillennialism. He wasn’t the only guy but he jelled it; he was a genius. Augustine had many good things he did and many horrible things. Augustine was the guy that declared that you could only be saved if you joined the Church of Rome, sorry about the other churches. So he was a very ardent Roman Catholic in one sense; he was also a very ardent (we would say) Protestant in another sense because he was the guy who held to God’s sovereignty in history.
Anyway you have this agenda and this took over. Premillennialism was just absolutely lost. Nobody even questioned it, they marched on, okay, this is the Church Age and this is the time of Kingdom and blessing. Now if this is the time of Kingdom and blessing what do you do about the prophets? What’s the characteristic of the millennium? I said one of the conditions that you have to have in order to get a well-ordered human society; who had to be banished? Satan! Satan and the demons had to be incarcerated. If they’re incarcerated right now why do I read in the New Testament be careful because the devil “like a roaring lion seeks whom he may devour,” he’s lose.
That’s why I said with preterism if this is the Kingdom, you’ve got a conflict right with that Scripture. Going back to the question, I believe that what happened is that there was a wholesale deception that happened in the 3rd and 4th centuries due to a convergence of various themes of history and it went on and God didn’t make an issue out of it because in those days what the Holy Spirit was making an issue was hey guys, get the person of Christ straight, just do that and it’ll make Me happy. Then we come to the Middle Ages, hey guys, get the cross straight. So what I see is that as the church goes forward you have a progress in which these deceptions are largely rejected, and it leads to these movements. So when you say this group A and this group B, if you trace their histories you can trace it back to one of these things.
Let’s go forward to another easy to see one. What about mode of baptism, that’s a good one because there are Bible-believing Christians that are Presbyterian; there are Bible-believing Christians and they’re “baptistic” type, I mean, you don’t have to be a Baptist but if you believe in believer’s baptism you’re a Baptist in that regard. How did that get started? Think back historically. What mode of baptism did the Roman Catholic Church practice? Infant baptism, except for an adult convert. They sprinkled, the mode, sprinkling, got started because you don’t want to drown a baby so infant baptism, the corollary usually is sprinkling for safety purposes. So you have infant baptism, infant baptism, infant baptism, infant baptism, it goes on and on. But if you think about it and you have infant baptism, what you’re saying is that you’re somehow joining into a relationship with the church when you’re a little baby. Now the problem comes, what’s the relationship the baby has with God after the drops get sprinkled on its forehead versus the relationship the baby had before the drops got sprinkled on his forehead.
Roman Catholicism has developed a big theology out of this. You’re in trouble if your kid isn’t baptized and sprinkled because they’re worried about the salvation issue; to them it’s a very critical thing. This stays, everybody accepts it, it goes on and on and on and on, it comes up to the Protestant Reformation. Now the Protestants got a problem because they’re saying that you’re saved by faith. Can a baby believe? So what happened was that within Presbyterian circles they hold to infant baptism but they are very careful to say it doesn’t save the child; it’s sort of a covenant promise that is made by the parents to raise the child in a godly environment, etc. See what happened? They preserved the mode but they changed theology because at that point in church progress it became clear about how you’re saved. So that forced them to rethink this infant baptism thing.
Right in the same generation with Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, there’s another guy, but he came up with the idea … he said wait a minute, wait, wait, wait, wait, you guys are telling me that our theology should be built sola Scriptura, we should go directly to the Scriptures, even if the church fathers say something, they don’t really count as much as the Scriptures count. That’s sola Scriptura, not the Scripture and the church fathers but sola Scriptura, every doctrine has to be justified ONLY by the Scripture, not by Scripture plus something else. So they said you know, the way I look at the Scriptures in the New Testament we don’t really find infant baptism there.
The Protestant Reformers were fighting all kinds of battles with Rome and all of a sudden this thing erupts behind them and they say hey look, we can’t fight everything so you guys just hush up. And the Protestants joined with the Catholics to persecute the Anabaptists. So there was the rise of the modal problem, but if you think through and know your church history, and I guess that’s my big answer to the question, is you’ve got to see this all in the light of church history. What led to these things? They didn’t just erupt, there’s a certain logic behind them and if you understand the logic it makes things easier to talk to people without getting too upset. They realize that we’re all a product of history. So the Anabaptists finally basically have articulated and sharpened up their position and see no reason why we should bother with infant baptism because what’s the justification for it. So that’s how all that started.
The eschatology, I say is putting finishing touches on a line of thought. The amillennial and the postmillennial have got to deal with pessimistic passages; they’ve got to deal with these things. The darkness, the moon, the catastrophes, etc., they’ve got to deal with this and it stands in the way of history going to the person of Christ and ending. What do you do with all this stuff that’s in there? It’s always been kind of a problem that festered. Preterism is a maneuver … I’m not saying they sat in a smoke-filled room and figured this out, I’m saying that there’s an agenda behind this that we are almost subliminally unconscious about that when we have an idea we will live it out. And almost unintentionally we will live it out and to get rid of all this stuff they fastened on the idea well look, wouldn’t it be nice if we could just scoop it all up and drop it in AD 70 and get rid of it. Whew, that gives me relief, now I don’t have to deal with that.
The problem is, once you’ve done that you’ve scooped out half the New Testament and that’s where we left it with preterism. But I believe there are big ideas at work here that flow through history, and I recommend you read history. It gives you a better appreciation that this didn’t … it’s not like we had five kindergarten kids in the classroom and they all came up with this just to be nasty. It didn’t happen that way.
Question asked; something about Reformed people seem to put tradition on a par with Scripture: Clough replies: Yes, and that’s getting stronger in evangelical circles at this point. We’ve had people leaving Protestantism and going back to Rome who graduated from Westminster Seminary. And the reason is, if you think what you just said, you said that they take tradition and Scripture; what does Rome do? They are a lot better at it than amateur Protestants. So if you’re going to go that route, you might as well go to Rome because they have the libraries, they have the experience, they’ve got the scholars, so that’s the way to go. And that’s what you’re going to see. I believe that the Reformed people who are going in that direction will either come this way or they’re going to go to Rome.