Response to the Preterist Position as Outlined in The Last Days According to Jesus — Part 3
This is Part III in my discussion of preterism as discussed in R. C. Sproul's The Last Days According to Jesus. In Part I, this discussion began with an explanation of the basic tenets of this eschatological position, which maintains that all end-times references in the New Testament (specifically the Matthew 24 prophecy) were fulfilled in A.D. 70, followed by my basic assessment of this view's biblical credibility. Part II discussed the problems associated with this view in detail, particularly the imperfect and incomplete fulfillment of the specific prophecies described by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse.
Beyond the problems in reconciling the specifics of the prophecy itself, however, preterism has additional implications that make it unacceptable. These problems revolve around the larger implications for the relevance of the scriptures in the lives of believers. These problems will be discussed here.
It is important to remember that, according to the preterist position, the Second Coming occurred in A.D. 70. If this is, in fact, the case, then all of the judgments — of Israel, of Christians, and of the nations — have been fulfilled, as well. This means that all of the familiar parables: of the day and the hour, the faithful servant and the evil servant, the wise and foolish virgins, the parable of the talents, the judgment of the nations, the testing of believers works by fire, are in the past. In some cases, such as 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Peter, and Revelation, the prophecies of entire books have been fulfilled and therefore have little or no practical consequences for believers' lives today.
This makes the New Testament a first-century faith, not a living faith for believers of all ages. And if these events are fulfilled, what is there left for us to look forward to? Where is our purifying hope? Will there be judgment beyond A.D. 70? Will there be rewards for the works of believers? Or were the judgments and rewards given in the first century? If there will be future judgment and rewards, where can they be found in scripture if preterism teaches that all of the end times prophecies have been fulfilled? How can the scriptures motivate us for today?
The more I study end times prophecy, the more amazed I become at how tightly the Second Coming of Christ and the Day of the Lord are woven throughout the fabric of the New Testament. Hardly a page goes by without an exhortation, warning, or promise based on this expectation. To suggest that all of the end-times prophecies have been fulfilled would leave the scriptures in tattered shreds. And yet, Paul said that all scripture is useful for edification for all Christians (2 Tim. 3:16). How can both be true?
Here are the key books that would be left in shreds by the preterist view:
- 1 Corinthians
- 1 Thessalonians
- 2 Thessalonians
- 1 Peter
- 2 Peter
- 1 Timothy
- 2 Timothy
- 1 John
When Is the Final Judgment?
There is another inconsistency in the preterist view, as well. Like non-preterists, many preterists seem to expect a final day of judgment — indeed, a final day of history as we know it — but once we remove all of the relevant scriptures, where do we find it? If all of the eschatological events have been fulfilled, including the judgment of Israel, the rewards given to believers, and the judgment of the nations, what scriptures are left to point to this future day?
Repeatedly, preterists take issue with scholars of other positions who, they believe, are not using the natural reading of the text, stretching it beyond credulity. Let's apply the same test to preterism. Stepping back from the requirements to “prove” the preterist position, do we really believe that the emphasis that Jesus, Paul, and the other New Testament writers placed on “the end of the world” have been fulfilled? I think of the reference to 1 Cor. 3:11-15: “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test each ones' work, of what sort it is.” Is the natural reading really that the judgment of all Christians occurred in A.D. 70? If so, what judgment awaits the rest of us? It simply has no satisfying meaning outside the end-times context.
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