PRETERISM PART “2”

Matthew Chapter 24, Past or Future?

There are strikingly profound similarities between the eschatology of Jehovah’s Witnesses and that of Full Preterism.   Both groups claim: (1) Christ has already returned; (2) they know the year of His return; (3) they know the location of His return, and finally (4) they have evidence of His return.  

The Watchtower teaches that Christ returned in 1914 while the Preterists teach that Christ returned in A.D. 70.  Both groups assert that the Second Coming of Christ was invisible; while He failed to physically return, His arrival was seen through the manifestation of an historical event (the outbreak of World War I in 1914 proving that the Gentile Times had ended for the Watchtower, and the desolation of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 for Preterists).  This kind of rhetoric reminds me of what Christ warned His disciples of: 

“If therefore they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go forth, or, Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.”  Matthew 24:26. 

The words of Christ need to be read by both groups.  Those who claim to know of His whereabouts, and or know when He was going to return, all speak with a lying tongue. As Christ continues the conversation concerning His return, His statement was crystal  clear: 

For just as the lightening comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.” Matthew 24:27. 

The words of Jesus Christ at Matthew 24: 26-27 forewarn the coming of men or women who will claim knowledge of His whereabouts or return.  Unfortunately, many will ignore this warning, and will believe the teachings of man over the words of God the Son.  

Among the Body of Christ, we all have our own opinions regarding the subject of Pre, Mid, or Post Tribulation views.  However, Full Preterists (also called Covenant Eschatology or Transmillennialism) believe that the prophecies in Matthew 24 and Revelation were largely or completely fulfilled in the past, hence the latin word preter, which means “past.” 

According to Full preterists, AD 70 saw the culmination of the Great Tribulation, the Antichrist, the Abomination of Desolation, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the restoration of all things; in other words, all biblical prophecy has seen fulfillment.  Ironically, former Full Preterists call Full Preterism heresy.  

Although Partial Preterists are not as extreme in their beliefs, they do mirror the Full Preterist position that the books of Daniel, Matthew and Revelation (with the exception of the last 2 or 3 chapters) have all seen complete fulfillment by AD 70.  The belief system of Partial Preterists are not the focus of this article, but because they hold to the same Book of Matthew position, they too come under scrutiny.  However, that said, it is my understanding that their system of belief includes the denial of the rapture and the millennium, and their use of hermeneutics for Revelation are throughly inconsistent. Those topics will be covered in future articles.  

My book “The Bible vs The Watchtower … YOU Decide …” was written using the authority of Scripture to refute Watchtower beliefs.  This article will be no different.  We will examine the Full and Partial Preterist claims that the Book of Matthew saw complete fulfillment by AD 70, i.e., Matthew Chapter 24 past or future?  However, this article will not be all inclusive.  My primary focus is the physical return of Jesus Christ.  

Our opening verses: 

“ 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 what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’’ Matthew 24: 1-3

As this is interpreted, the entire context must be kept in mind.  Jesus Christ is dealing with issues pertaining to Israel, exclusively, and not to the church.  The Olivet Discourse is the rejection of the Messiah and the disciplining of Israel (Matthew 23), and the questions of the disciples pertain only to Jewish concerns.

The disciples knew nothing (at this point) about the church age.  In His answer, Jesus spoke of things that involved the Jewish people, such as the Sabbath (Matthew 24:20), those living in Judea (Matthew 24:16), the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15), the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 24:14), and the presence of false prophets (Matthew 24:11), which would be a problem for Israel (false teachers would be a problem for the church).  In light of this, we should not see the church age in the Olivet Discourse, even as some have in Matthew 24:4-8.  

Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum Th.D., and the Second Advent of Christ

“The second coming of Christ does have a major precondition that must be met before Christ will return to establish the Messianic Kingdom.  What this condition is can be deduced from five passages of Scripture.  The first passage is Leviticus 26:40-42 … Moses predicted how, because of disobedience to God’s revealed will, the Jews would be scattered all over the world.  According to the New Testament, this came as a direct result of the rejection of the Messiahship of Jesus.  

By verse 39, the world-wide dispersion is a fact.  Up to this point, Leviticus 26 has been fulfilled.  In verse 42, Moses states that God has every intention of giving Israel all the blessings and promises of the Abrahamic Covenant during the Messianic Kingdom.  It is first necessary for them to fulfill the condition of verse 40: … they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers.  

Something to notice is that the word iniquity is in the singular and that it is specific.  There is one specific iniquity committed by the fathers and continued by them which Israel must confess before she can begin to enjoy all of the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant. 

The second passage is Jeremiah 3:11-18.  In verses 14-18, Jeremiah describes the blessings which God has in store for Israel in the Messianic Kingdom.  It will be a time of tremendous blessing and restoration for the Jewish people when the kingdom is established by their Messiah.  However, all of these blessings are conditioned by verse 13 where they must acknowledge or confess one specific iniquity which they committed against Jehovah their God.  

The third passage is in the Book of Zechariah.  Chapters 12-14 are a single unit of thought containing one prophecy God gave the prophet.  Chapter 13 speaks of the national cleansing of Israel from their sin.  Chapter 14 describes the second coming of the Messiah (vv. 1-15) and the establishment of the kingdom (vv. 16-21).  However, the cleansing of Israel followed by the second coming of Christ and the Messianic Kingdom are all conditioned on Zechariah 12:10. 

“And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born.” Zechariah 12:10

Before Israel will receive the cleansing of her sin, and before Christ will return to establish His kingdom, Israel must first look unto the One whom they have pierced and must plead for His return.  Once they do this, then, and only then, will they receive their cleansing and begin to enjoy the blessings of the Messianic Age.  

The fourth passage is in Hosea five.  The One who is doing the speaking throughout the chapter is God Himself, and God is still speaking in verse 15: 

“I will go and return to My place, Until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face: in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.”

There are certain presuppositions behind the understanding of this verse.  Before anyone can return to a place, he must first leave it.  In this passage God states that He is going to return to His place.  God’s place in heaven.  Before God can return to heaven, He must first leave it.  God left heaven at the incarnation when He became a man, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Then, because of one specific offense committed against Him, He returned to heaven at the ascension from the Mount of Olives.  This verse further states that He will not come back to the earth until the offense that caused Him to return to heaven is acknowledged or confessed.  

The national Jewish offense committed against the person of Jesus is not, as so many people think, in killing Him.  The actual killing of Christ was done by Gentile, not Jewish, hands.  He was condemned and sentenced by a Gentile judge.  He was crucified by Gentile soldiers.  All this is ultimately irrelevant, for regardless of Jewish acceptance or Jewish rejection, Jesus would have had to die anyway to become the sacrifice for sin.  The national offense of Israel was in the rejection of His messiahship.  According to this verse, only when this offense is acknowledged or confessed will Christ come back to the earth.  

The fifth passage is in Matthew 23 which contains Christ’s denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees, the Jewish leadership of that day, for leading the nation in the rejection of His messiahship.  He was still speaking to them in verses 37-39:  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.  Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!  For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!  Matthew 23: 37-39.

Speaking to the Jewish leadership, Christ reiterated His original desire to gather them if they would only accept Him (v. 37).  Because of their rejection of His messiahship, in place of being gathered they are going to be scattered.  Their house, the Jewish Temple, will be left desolate and will be destroyed with nothing remaining (v. 38).  He then declares that they will not see Him again until they say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord (v. 39).  This is a quotation of a messianic Psalm, Psalm 118:26.  

Jesus will not come back to earth until the Jews and the Jewish leaders ask Him to come back.  Just as the Jewish leaders led the nation to the rejection of the Messiahship of Jesus, they must some day lead the nation to the acceptance of the Messiahship of Jesus.  This, then, is the twofold basis of the second coming of Christ: Israel must confess her national sin and then plead for Messiah to return, to mourn for Him as one mourns for an only son.  Until these two things happen, there will be no second coming.’” Israelogy: The Missing Link In Systematic Theology, by Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Th.M., Ph.D., pp. 781-784.

By the use of Scripture, Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s expertise in Hebrew / Old Testament prophecy reveals the reason Christ has yet to appear.  Without regurgitating Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s insights, it’s no wonder we have yet to see lightning flashing from the east to the west as Christ predicted — the conditions to His return have not yet occurred.  But wait, there is more. 

Scripture teaches us that God’s word never returns to Him empty.  If then, as Full Preterits dogmatically assert, Christ returned in AD 70, when in human history did the Prophetic Scriptures Dr. Fruchtenbaum enumerate materialize?  When exactly did the passages of Scripture below come to fruition? 

For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!  Matthew 23:39.

“And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born.” Zechariah 12:10.

“BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.  Even so, Amen.” Rev. 1:7.

and then 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 great power and glory.” Matthew 24:30.   

To bring us into the 21st Century for a moment, His physical appearance alone would create a journalistic frenzy.  It would be all over the newspapers and television networks across the world.  Why can I say this?  Because of how the New Testament Greek words describe His Second Coming, and what those words literally mean.  

Although I am not qualified to interpret the Greek words themselves, Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D., a Greek scholar, absolutely is.  According to Dr. Zodhiates, the words used to describe the Second Coming of Christ are as follows: 

The word translated ‘coming’ is parousia, which basically means ‘presence’ or arrival.  In Hellenistic Greek it was used to designate the visit of a ruler.  The word parousia is used in Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39; I Cor. 15:23; 16:17; II Cor. 7:6,7; 10:10; Phil. 1:26; 2:12; I Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; II Thess. 2:1, 8, 9; James 5:7,8; II Pet. 1:16; 3:4, 12; I John 2:28.  

The specific meaning of parousia is made clear in I Thess. 4;15 where it is defined as the time when the Lord shall come out of heaven (I Thess. 1:10). At that time the dead who are believers will rise first, and those who are believers and are alive will be changed and be caught up in the air by Jesus Christ.  

Apokalupsis is another Greek word speaking of the return of Christ. There is yet a third word used which is related to the Second Coming of the Lord and that is epiphaneia which means, ‘a manifestation.’ In Ancient Greek, it was used especially of the appearing of the gods and also the manifestation of divine power and providence in extraordinary events.  In the N.T. it is used of the appearing of the manifestation of Jesus Christ on earth (II Thess. 2:8; I Tim. 6:14; II Tim. 1:10; 4:1,8; Tit. 2:13.  These are the only references in the N.T. of the word epiphaneia. The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible – by Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D. 

The Greek words describing the return of Christ paint a picture of illuminating clarity.   In other words, the whole world will see His physical return.  His arrival will be like the flashing of lightning from east to west: “For just as the lightening comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.” Matthew 24:27.

But wait, there is more, still.   

Dr. Walter Martin was the author of “The Kingdom of the Cults.”  In his book, under the heading “The Physical Return of Christ,” refuting the Watchtower interpretation of the Greek word parousia, paragraph 3 reads: 

“these arguments are another example of the half-truths used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to lead people astray.  To begin with, Thayer, who is esteemed reliable in the field of scholarship, clearly states on page 490 of his Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament that parousia, especially in the New Testament, refers to the second coming of Christ in visible form to raise the dead, hold the last judgment, and set up the kingdom of God. … The physical return of Christ is the ‘blessed hope’ of Christendom (Titus 2:13), and the language used to portray its visible certainty is most explicit.  In Titus 2:13 the Greek word epiphaneia (‘appearing’) is more correctly translated ‘manifestation’ or ‘visible’ from phanero, ‘to make manifest, or visible, or known.’” (pp. 152-153)

Walter Martin then says, “The language is self-explanatory.  When the Lord returns with His saints, “every eye shall see Him” (Matthew 24:30, cf. Revelation 1:7). 

This brings me to the next passage of Scripture, which is important because it is the go-to text of Full and Partial Preterists when pushing their position: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Matthew 24:34.

Dr. Zodhiates analyzes this Scripture as follows:  

“The signs mentioned in Matthew 24:4-14 can be misconstrued because they are general in character.  But the signs given in verses 15-28 are specific and discernible.  Then in verse 29 the sun, the moon, and the stars will be involved, signs that immediately follow the seven-year period of the Great Tribulation.  These signs point clearly to Christ’s appearance on earth.  In the same way, the fig tree, when ‘its twigs get tender and its leaves come out’, points to summer’s approach.

Jesus said that if we are alert when we ‘shall see all these things’ take place, we will then ‘know’ (from gingko [1097], to experientially know) that the coming of the Lord is ‘near’ (eggus [1451], at the very doors.  The adjective eggus is relative and should be contrasted to heko (2240), to be here, to arrive (2 Pet. 3:10).  ‘These things’ refers to the sensational heavenly disturbances referred to in verse 29.  Through these visible events, the Lord will knock at the doors of people’s hearts.

Jesus concluded His teaching with these words, ‘Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.’ When the sun and moon are darkened and stars fall from the skies, Jesus advised us to realize that the end is near.  These events will take place in rapid succession.  

In general, Jesus taught that the generation that ‘see[s] all these things’ (v. 33) will not pass away without witnessing the completion of all the events prophesied. ‘All these things’ were typically fulfilled in the forty years from A.D. 30 to 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed.  Jerusalem’s destruction was a sign for believers to prepare for the rapture of His church and parousia.  Typical fulfillment of prophecy enhances imminence – the nearness of the Lord’s return.  

Imminence in these verses refers to Christ’s coming in judgment after the Tribulation period and is aimed squarely at unbelievers; as Paul says, ‘Ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief’ (1 Thess. 5:4).’” Exegetical Commentary on Matthew, by Spiros Zodhiates, pp. 411-412.

In light of the analysis by Dr. Zodhiates and his expert knowledge of New Testament Greek, illuminating the literal meanings of the words describing Christ’s physical return, Preterists are unable to scripturally reconcile their claim that the Matthew 24:34 “generation” of A.D. 70 ran concurrently with the arrival of Christ.  On the other hand, Dr. Zodhiates’ “typical fulfillment” analysis is contextually sustainable. 

There is but one last passage of Scripture I’d like to focus on because it, too, involves this event.  It is found at Matthew 24:21: “for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall.” 

“The words ‘great’ and tribulation,’ occurring without definite articles, should be taken generically, introducing us to a special kind of tribulation.  Such” translates a form of the relative pronoun hoios (3634), such a one.  The contrast that follows is between this and every other tribulation.  This will be the severest.  

To this time’ translates heos (2193), until this time. The last phrase, ‘no, nor ever shall be,’ begins with the negative oude (3761), ‘but not.’  This is a contrasting compound conjunction of the two negatives ou (3756) and me (3361) combined as an intensive combination, meaning absolutely not, never at any time.  The intensive negative means that this tribulation will be absolutely unprecedented.  Exegetical Commentary on Matthew, by Spiros Zodhiates, p. 401.

Here Dr. Zodhiates also helps us to understand the literal meanings of the Greek words describing the Great Tribulation.  The phrase “no, nor ever shall be” helps us understand that this event of horror will be unparalleled to anything in human history.  The carnage will be so vast that if not stopped no flesh would survive.

“Full preterism is a small but tenacious movement within some fundamentalist circles.  But the concerned Christian should not allow its size to fool him: it is also a theologically dangerous movement.” Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D.

“Full preterism is not just another eschatology. It affects other aspects of systematic theology as well. Theology is systematic. That is, it draws upon the whole of the Bible. Rather than utilizing individual texts in isolation from one another, it attempts to relate various portions to one another, to coalesce the varied teachings into some type of harmonious or coherent whole.” Christian Theology (Erickson, Millard J., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990) p.21.

Despite the failures of both our forefathers and contemporary Christians, the truth of God about last things still stands. One day Christ will return to sum up all things. The dead will rise, Christ will sit as judge, and every human will be examined and consigned to his or her eternal home either in heaven or in hell. These tenets are the stuff of true Biblical eschatology.” The Day and Hour: Christianity’s Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, Inc., 2000) Gumerlock, Francis X.

Summary

My goal in writing this piece was simple — to discuss and analyze whether Matthew Chapter 24 agrees, or disagrees, with Full and Partial Preterists that Christ returned invisibly in A.D. 70.  

Full Preterism attempts to force a square peg into a round hole.  It could also be said that it places the cart before the horse, because before we experience the physical arrival of Christ, certain prophecy must be fulfilled.  

Dr. Fruchtenbaum presented 5 passages of Scripture (4 Old Testament and 1 New Testament) demonstrating what must take place prior to the return of Jesus Christ (Leviticus 26:40-42; Jeremiah 3:11-18; Zechariah  Chapters 12-14; Hosea 5; Matthew 23: 37-39), but none of these events have been fulfilled. 

Dr. Zodhiates presented the literal meanings of Greek New Testament words used to describe the physical return of Jesus Christ.  When Christ does return, His appearance will be so spectacularly revealing that not a soul on earth will miss it.  His Matthew Exegetical Commentary also interpreted Greek New Testament words describing the Great Tribulation, which demonstrate that this event will be so severe and catastrophic, it will be absolutely unprecedented in the history of mankind. No future battle or carnage of destruction will parallel this horrific event.  So if it had already occurred, everyone would certainly know it. 

Conclusion

In lieu of all the unfulfilled prophecies which must take place prior to His return, our insight into the literal meanings and their applications of Greek words used describing His arrival, placed alongside the cataclysmic Great Tribulation’s unparalleled human carnage to any past, present or future war in human history, Preterists are faced with a conundrum.  How can they possibly reconcile their claim that Christ already returned and the Great Tribulation already occurred? 

Although Preterists are faced with a problem with their interpretation of Scripture, the Bible is crystal clear.  There is no ambiguity.  There is no escaping the logical conclusion of which Dr. Zodhiates refers (A.D. 70 was only a “typical fulfillment” of Matthew 24).  To insist that Christ returned in A.D. 70, invisibly, is as credible as the Watchtower’s claim that Christ returned invisibly in 1914.  Therefore, and as demonstrated above, the Bible categorically repudiates Full and Partial Preterism eschatology on their Matthew 24 position. 

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