Is the End of the World near? Are we living in the Last Days? Is Christ's return at hand? For 150 years here in America we have constantly been told we were living on the threshold of the end of the world and Christ's return. Prediction after prediction has failed to materialize, and false hope after false hope has been foisted upon the Christian community. Many Christians have been disillusioned, and are already looking for more reasonable explanations. Some have been so disillusioned they left the faith altogether. And the secular media (who are always looking for an excuse) are further discrediting Christianity because of it. Something is terribly wrong with traditional views of Bible Prophecy. There is a serious need to re-examine the whole issue of Last Things.
Bible prophecy can be understood, but Futurist views have fallen far short for many reasons: their extreme physical/literalizing approach, their seeming inability to distinguish between figurative and literal language, and their failure to properly take into account the historical-grammatical-cultural context of the prophecies (specifically what they meant to their original audience).
Even the most difficult prophetic passage comes alive when approached properly. It is time to look at some alternatives, and the Preterist view is a great place to start.
"Preterist" means past in fulfillment, and "Futurist" means future in fulfillment. Preterist basically means the opposite of Futurist. Futurists believe most end-time prophecies (especially the big three major ones - Parousia, Resur., and Judgment) are yet to be fulfilled. Preterists believe that most or all of Bible Prophecy (especially the big three events) has already been fulfilled in Christ and the on-going expansion of His Kingdom. Most Futurists do not really believe Christ has been successful yet in fully establishing His kingdom.
The "Preterist" interpretation of Bible prophecy has been mentioned several times in publications such as Christianity Today, Christian News, Great Christian Books catalog, World Magazine, and several others. There is already at least one daily radio program teaching from the preterist perspective and several monthly and quarterly publications. Scores of preterist books, tracts, video and audio tapes have been produced and many more are on the way. It is beginning to capture significant public attention, and is "spreading like wildfire" at the grass roots level. It is compatible with the essential beliefs of all Christians, and is already represented in nearly all Protestant denominations and the Roman Church.
When will Christ return? This question is relevant, and can be answered by scripture. Jesus seems to have answered it very clearly in these passages (Matt. 10:23; Matt. 16:27,28; Matt. 24:34). Ever wonder why the First Century Christians expected Jesus to come in their lifetime, and where they got this expectation from? Take a look at the extreme sense of imminency in these passages: James 5:8,9; 1 Pet. 4:7; Matt. 10:23; Matt. 16:27,28; Matt. 24:34. These verses have always troubled Bible students, and have been used by liberal theologians to attack the inspiration of Scripture. They reason that these passages were not fulfilled when they were supposed to be (the first century generation), so Jesus and the NT writers failed in their predictions and were therefore not inspired. But these verses point to Christ's coming in some sense in connection with the Fall of Jerusalem at 70AD. So, Jesus' predictions were fulfilled. He did not fail, nor do we need to engage in theological gymnastics to try to explain-away the seeming delay or postponement of His return. It happened right on schedule. Many knew the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD was important in God's scheme of redemption, but never understood its full significance. It has to do with the consummation of the plan of redemption. The final events of the redemptive drama came to pass in the first century within the apostles' generation (before A.D. 70). Christ's kingdom is here now. Paradise has been restored in Christ (spiritually-speaking).
Christ has conquered all His enemies and has given us the Kingdom.
Bible prophecy absolutely makes sense when approached from this past-fulfillment (preterist) perspective! It puts emphasis on the spiritual nature of God's Kingdom, not on the physical, materialistic, sensual, and sensational. It teaches a realized spiritual salvation in Christ and the Church now, instead of a frustrated hope for a postponed sensually-gratifying paradise way off in the future. It has an optimistic worldview that gets involved, makes a positive difference, and lights a candle, rather than cursing the darkness, longing for a rapture-escape, or retreating from society. It doesn't engage in wild-eyed speculation like futurist views. It's just simple, straight-forward Bible interpretation.
Most Christian theologians in Europe a century ago took a somewhat preterist approach, and none of them considered it unorthodox. One of the leading proponents of the preterist view back then was James Stuart Russell (not to be confused with the Jehovah's Witness founder with the same last name, Charles Taze Russell - there is no relation). J. S. Russell (1816-1895) published a book in 1878 entitled, The Parousia. We here at IPA recently reprinted it. Some leading theologians and Christian spokesmen have had the following to say about the book and the preterist view:
- F. W. Farrar said Russell's book was "full of suggestiveness."
- Charles H. Spurgeon, who did not accept the preterist view, nevertheless stated that Russell's book "throws so much new light upon obscure portions of the Scriptures, and is accompanied with so much critical research and close reasoning, that it can be injurious to none and may be profitable to all."
- Walt Hibbard (Chairman, Great Christian Books) "In view of Dr. Russell's marvelous and insightful observations, no serious student of Biblical eschatology should attempt to construct a systematic scheme of apocalyptic events without first consulting this 19th century work, The Parousia."
- Gary DeMar (President of American Vision) "How many times have you struggled with the interpretation of certain Biblical texts related to the time of Jesus' return because they did not fit with a preconceived system of eschatology? Russell's Parousia takes the Bible seriously when it tells us of the nearness of Christ's return. Those who claim to interpret the Bible literally, trip over the obvious meaning of these time texts by making Scripture mean the opposite of what it unequivocally declares. Reading Russell is a breath of fresh air in a room filled with smoke and mirror hermeneutics."
- Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. (Sr. Pastor of Reedy River Presbyterian Church) "Although I do not agree with all the conclusions of J. Stuart Russell's The Parousia, I highly recommend this well-organized, carefully argued, and compellingly written defense of preterism to serious and mature students of the Bible. It is one of the most persuasive and challenging books I have read on the subject of eschatology and has had a great impact on my own thinking. Russell's biblico-theological study of New Testament eschatology sets a standard of excellence."
- Dr. R. C. Sproul (Ligonier Ministries) "I believe that Russell's work is one of the most important treatments on Biblical eschatology that is available to the church today. The issues raised in this volume with respect to the time-frame references of the New Testament to the Parousia are vitally important not only for eschatology but for the future debate over the credibility of Sacred Scripture."
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