Were all of Jesus’ endtime prophecies fulfilled by 70 A.D.? Part 1
HAS BIBLE PROPHECY
ALREADY BEEN FULFILLED?
by Thomas Ice
“The Olivet Discourse is not about the Second Coming of Christ. It is a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.” –David Chilton (Preterist)
“The Book of Revelation is not about the Second Coming of Christ. It is about the destruction of Israel and Christ’s victory over His enemies in the establishment of the New Covenant Temple. In fact, as we shall see, the word coming as used in the Book of Revelation never refers to the Second Coming. Revelation prophesies the judgment of God on apostate Israel; and while it does briefly point to events beyond its immediate concerns, that is done merely as a “wrap-up,” to show that the ungodly will never prevail against Christ’s Kingdom. But the main focus of Revelation is upon events which were soon to take place.” –David Chilton (Preterist)
In February 1999 I attended the Ligonier Ministries National Conference with about 4,000 other people in Orlando, Florida. Ligonier is the ministry of Dr. R. C. Sproul. I attended because for the first time in 30 years the topic was on Bible Prophecy. Guess what? The predominate view, led by Dr. Sproul, was that most of what you and I believe to be future prophecies have already been fulfilled by first century events. This view now being champion by Dr. Sproul and others is known as Preterism.
WHEN WILL PROPHECY BE FULFILLED?
What is Preterism? Before I explain that in more detail, I want to orient you to the four views that people hold in relation to the timing of prophetic fulfillment. The four views are simple in the sense that they reflect the only four possible ways that one can relate to time: past, present, future, and timeless. When speaking of the fulfillment of Bible prophecy these four timing possibilities are called Preterism, historicism, futurism, and idealism.
The preterist (Latin for “past”) believes that most, if not all prophecy has already been fulfilled, usually in relation to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Thehistoricist (present) sees much of the current church age as equal to the tribulation period. Thus, prophecy has been and will be fulfilled during the current church age.Futurists (future) usually believe that almost no prophetic events are occurring in the current church age, but will take place in the following future events: the tribulation of seven years, the second coming, the 1,000 year millennium, and the eternal state. This is the view that I and those who are dispensationalists hold to. The idealist(timeless) does not believe either that the Bible indicates the timing of events or that we can determine their timing in advance. Therefore, idealists see prophetic passages as teaching great truths about God to be applied to our present lives.
PRETERISM VS. FUTURISM
Idealism, as an approach to Bible prophecy, is rarely followed outside of liberal scholarship and thus is not a significant factor in the mainstream of current evangelical debate over when prophecy will be fulfilled. Historicism, once the dominate view of Protestants from the Reformation until the middle of last century, appears to exert little attraction as a system of prophetic interpretation to conservative Christians, outside of Seventh-Day Adventist circles. However, it must be noted that most historicists take a preterist view of the Olivet Discourse, but disassociate it from the tribulation as found in Revelation and some New Testament Epistles. During the last 150 years, within evangelicalism, futurism has grown to dominate and overcome historicism. At the turn of the millennium, we see an attempt to challenge futurism arising from evangelical Preterism. We must await the next millennium to see where this development will lead. But the last five to ten years have seen an increase in the ranks of Preterism, from hundreds to thousands, as someone as well-known as R.C. Sproul has adopted this view.
WHAT IS PRETERISM
Preterists argue that major prophetic portions of Scripture such as the Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation were fulfilled in events surrounding the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. Preterists believe that they are compelled to take such a view because Matthew 24:34 and its parallel passages say that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” This means it had to take place in the first century, they argue. Revelation, they advocate, says something similar in the passages that say Christ is coming “quickly” or that His return is “at hand.” Having settled in their mind that these prophecies had to take place in the first century, they believe they are justified in making the rest of the language fit into a local (Jerusalem), instead of a worldwide fulfillment. Most Preterists believe that we are currently living in at least an inaugurated new heavens and new earth, since all the Book of Revelation had to have a first century fulfillment.
Three Kinds of Preterism
There are at least three kinds of Preterism. For lack of better terms we will call them mild, moderate, and extreme.
o MILD Preterism teaches that the Book of Revelation was fulfilled during the first three centuries as God waged war on the two early enemies of the church: Israel and Rome. The first half of Revelation teaches that Israel was defeated in A.D. 70, while the last half of Revelation is about God’s conquest of Rome in the fourth century when Constantine declared the Roman Empire Christian. Thus, this earliest form of Preterism teaches that Revelation was fulfilled in the first 300 years of the church’s history.
o MODERATE Preterists believe that almost all prophecy was fulfilled in the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. They do believe that a few passages still teach a yet future second coming (Acts 1:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) and the resurrection of believers at Christ’s bodily return.
o EXTREME Preterists, or consistent Preterists, as they prefer to be known as, hold that all future Bible prophecy was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. If there is a future second coming, they say, the Bible does not talk about it. Extreme Preterists believe that there is no future bodily resurrection, which place them outside the realm of Christian orthodoxy.
I have never personally encountered a mild preterist. I have only met them in books like Isbon T. Beckwith’s The Apocalypse of John. Today, most of those calling themselves Preterists would fall into the moderate camp. R. C. Sproul, Kenneth Gentry, Gary DeMar, Gary North, and Greg Bahnsen belong in this group. However, extreme Preterism is growing and has made noticeable gains in recent years. Although David Chilton’s books on Preterism are from the moderate perspective, he did convert to extreme Preterism before his death a few years ago. Other extreme Preterists include: Max King, John Bray, Ed Stevens, and Walt Hibbard.
STRANGE PRETERIST IMPLICATIONS
The preterist understanding greatly affects events, personalities, and chronologies. If Preterism is true, (it is not) then what a different view of the past and future there would be than what we have been led to believe up to this point.. If it is true, then what a vastly different view of Christianity it would produce. The following list includes many of the strange beliefs that Preterism yields:
o The Great Tribulation “took place in the Fall of Israel. It will not be repeated and thus is not a future event.”
o The Great Apostasy “happened in the first century. We therefore have no Biblical warrant to expect increasing apostasy as history progresses; instead, we should expect the increasing Christianization of the world.”
o The Last Days “is a Biblical expression for the period between Christ’s Advent and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70: the “last days” of Israel.”
o The Antichrist “is a term used by John to describe the widespread apostasy of the Christian Church prior to the Fall of Jerusalem. In general, any apostate teacher or system can be called ‘antichrist’; but the word does not refer to some ‘future Fuhrer.'”
o The Rapture is “the ‘catching up’ of the living saints ‘to meet the Lord in the air.’ The Bible does not teach any separation between the Second Coming and the Rapture; they are simply different aspects of the Last Day.”
o The Second Coming “coinciding with the Rapture and the Resurrection, will take place at the end of the Millennium, when history is sealed at the Judgment.”
o The Beast “of Revelation was a symbol of both Nero in particular and the Roman Empire in general.”
o The False Prophet “of Revelation was none other than the leadership of apostate Israel, who rejected Christ and worshiped the Beast.”
o The Great Harlot of Revelation was “Jerusalem which had always been . . . falling into apostasy and persecuting the prophets . . . which had ceased to be the City of God.”
o The Millennium “is the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, which He established at His First Advent. . . . the period between the First and Second Advents of Christ; the Millennium is going on now, with Christians reigning as kings on earth.” “Other postmillennialists interpret the millennium as a future stage of history. Though the kingdom is already inaugurated, there will someday be a greater outpouring of the Spirit than the church has yet experienced.”
o The First Resurrection of Revelation 20:5 is a “Spiritual resurrection: our justification and regeneration in Christ.”
o The Thousand Years of Revelation 20:2-7 is a “large, rounded-off number. . . . the number ten contains the idea of a fullness of quantity; in other words, it stands formanyness. A thousand multiplies and intensifies this (10 X 10 X 10), in order to express great vastness. . . . represent a vast, undefined period of time . . . It may require a million years.”
o The New Creation “has already begun: The Bible describes our salvation in Christ, both now and in eternity, as ‘a new heaven and a new earth.'”
o Israel In contrast to the eventual faithfulness and empowerment by the Holy Spirit of the Church, “ethnic Israel was excommunicated for its apostasy and will never again be God’s Kingdom.” Thus, “the Bible does not tell of any future plan for Israel as a special nation.” The Church is now that new nation (Matt. 21:43) which is why Christ destroyed the Jewish state. “In destroying Israel, Christ transferred the blessings of the kingdom from Israel to a new people, the church.”
o The New Jerusalem “the City of God, is the Church, now and forever.”
o The Final Apostasy refers to Satan’s last gasp in history (Rev. 20:7-10). “The Dragon will be released for a short time, to deceive the nations in his last-ditch attempt to overthrow the Kingdom.” This will be “in the far future, at the close of the Messianic age,” shortly before the Second Coming.
o Armageddon “was for St. John a symbol of defeat and desolation, a ‘Waterloo’ signifying the defeat of those who set themselves against God, who obey false prophets instead of the true.” “There never was or will be a literal ‘Battle of Armageddon,’ for there is no such place.”
Preterists contend that most of the biblical passages that I would see as future have already been fulfilled in the first century. R. C. Sproul has adopted this view in his recent book The Last Days According To Jesus. Why are an increasing number of evangelicals coming to what I strongly believe is an erroneous conclusion?
In the introduction of his book on prophecy, Dr. Sproul believes that he is helping to save biblical Christianity from liberal skeptics like Bertrand Russell and Albert Schweitzer by adopting a preterist interpretation of Bible prophecy. “One of Russell’s chief criticisms of the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels is that Jesus was wrong with respect to the timing of his future return,” notes Dr. Sproul. “At issue for Russell is the time-frame reference of these prophecies. Russell charges that Jesus failed to return during the time frame he had predicted.” Dr. Sproul, along with many other Preterists, answers this charge from liberals by saying that Jesus did return in the first century. He returned spiritually through the acts of the Roman army who destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70.
I do not believe you fight liberalism with liberalism. Dr. Sproul believes that he is defending the integrity of Scripture by adopting the preterist interpretation. However, in reality, I believe that he is adopting a naturalistic interpretation that too many liberals feel at home with. While Dr. Sproul sees Matthew 24 as a prophecy that was fulfilled in the first century, liberal Preterists joins him in giving a naturalistic explanation even though from a different framework. But they both deny that our Lord prophesied a supernatural, bodily, visible return of Christ in fulfillment of Matthew 24.
On the other hand, Dr. Sproul and other Preterists would not have a supposed problem that they and liberals seem to think they have if they adopted the approach of dispensationalism which distinguishes between the rapture that could take place without warning at any moment and the second coming which will be preceded by the signs of Matthew 24. True, many of the post-Apostolic fathers believed that Jesus would come back soon, but the New Testament teaches that Christ’s coming in the clouds to rapture His church is imminent (1 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:10; Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 1:13; Jude 21; cf. Matt. 24:45-47; Mk. 13:33-37; Lk. 12:35-40), an event that could have taken place at any time during the last 2,000 years. Thus, Scripture does not need to be rescued from the higher critics by adopting the preterist interpretation.
THREE PRETERIST PROOF TEXTS
Dr. Sproul and other Preterists often teach that there are three major passages in Matthew that demand a first century fulfillment. The three verses are Matthew 10:23; 16:28; and 24:34. I will examine this triad of texts in the order in which they appear in Matthew and demonstrate why they do not support a first century, preterist fulfillment.
“But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes.”
“Again, if Russell is correct in concluding that the coming referred to in this text is the parousia of Christ, then the primary time-frame for the parousia must be restricted to a forty-year period,” writes Dr. Sproul. “It surely did not take the disciples much more than forty years to cover the boundaries of Palestine with the gospel message.” This view is not defended in his book; instead Dr. Sproul merely asserts it as a supposition, taking J. Stuart Russell’s word for it. Russell tells us, “our Lord probably intended to intimate, that the apostles would not finish evangelizing the towns of Palestine, before He should come to destroy Jerusalem and scatter the nation.” Does the plain reading of this passage teach us what Preterists say? I don’t believe it does.
First, the time of fulfillment for this passage depends upon establishing the context for which our Lord envisioned its realization. Even J. Stuart Russell believes that there is “abundant warrant for assigning the important prediction contained in Matt. x. 23 to the discourse delivered on the Mount of Olives.” He explains that, “It is an admitted fact that even the Synoptic Gospels do not relate all events in precisely the same order; . . . Dr. Blaikie observes: ‘It is generally understood that Matthew arranged his narrative more by subjects and places than by chronology.'” I am in agreement at this point that the context is that of the Olivet Discourse, even though we disagree as to when that period takes place. Thus, to a large extent, a discussion of the time when Matthew 10:23 is to be fulfilled must be postponed until interpretative decisions are made concerning other passages such as Matthew 24.
Second, when consulting a harmony of the Gospels, it becomes evident that the other uses of the vocabulary from the context of Matthew 10:16-23 parallels in the Synoptic Gospels the various versions of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 17 and 21). In fact, the New Geneva Study Bible, of which Dr. Sproul is the General Editor says of this passage, “The ‘coming’ is the Second Coming of Christ to judge the earth. This view fits most of the other occurrences of the phrase (24:30; 25:31; 26:64; but see 16:28).” This information supports the conclusion from the previous point that the timing of the fulfillment of this passage is tied to the Olivet Discourse.
Third, all agree that there is no indication in Scripture that the disciples experienced the kind of persecution mentioned in this passage before the crucifixion of Christ. J. Stuart Russell admits, “There is no evidence that the disciples met with such treatment on their evangelistic tour.” Thus, this sustains the conclusion to which we are building: that our Lord has a future time in mind when He speaks the words of this passage.
Fourth, I believe that Matthew 10:21-23 refers to events that will take place in the tribulation, climaxing in the glorious second coming of Christ because of the nature of the vocabulary. This point could not be made any clearer than has been stated by the Reformed commentator, William Hendriksen:
These explanations ignore the fact that in the other Matthew passages in which the coming of the Son of man is mentioned and described the reference is linked with the second coming. It is a coming “in the glory of his Father,” “with his angels,” “to render to every man according to his deed” (16:27, 28); a coming when Christ shall “sit on the throne of his glory” (19:28); a coming that will be “visible” (24:27); “sudden and unexpected” (24:37.39.44); a coming “on clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (24:30; cf. 25:31; 26:64). It would be strange therefore if from 10:23 any reference to Christ’s exaltation which attains its climax in the second coming would be wholly excluded. . . . The destruction of Jerusalem is predicted not here in chapter 10 but in 22:7; 23:38; see also 24:2, 15 f.”
Fifth, the use of the title “Son of Man” “‘has a definite doctrinal signification-it always refers to the (Parousia) Second Coming.’ The phrase, so expressive of His humanity, indicates a visible, personal Coming, which was not exhibited at the destruction of Jerusalem. Beside this, all expecting John were deceased before the city was overthrown.”
John Calvin is correct when he notes of those who suggest that Matthew 10:23 was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem “is too far-fetched.” Some have suggested that the coming of the Son of Man refers to Christ’s Triumphal Entry (Matt. 21:1-11; Lk. 19:39-44) George Peters notes that “This took place before the disciples had made the tour of the cities, and meets the conditions of the passage” It is noted that Matthew 21:9, speaking of Christ, says, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” While this view has much to commend, it does not handle the persecution aspects of the passage, which did not occur in relation to the Triumphal Entry. Instead, I believe that Matthew 10:21-23 refers to a still future time of tribulation and the second
How should this passage be explained?
The apostles never completed their kingdom ministry before they turned to the Gentiles. This was because Israel did not receive their message. This thought is developed throughout the remainder of chapter 10 and in chapter 11, in which Jesus finally castigates Israel, withdraws the message of national deliverance and turns to individuals with an offer of salvation in Mt. 11:28-30.
Dr. Stanley Toussaint further explains,
The Messiah was simply looking past His death to the time of tribulation following. At the time the disciples would have the same message and possibly the same power. The narrow road leading to the kingdom leads through the tribulation (Matthew 10:16), and this persecution is to be of a religious and political nature (Matthew 10:16-19). . . .
The Lord made no error and clearly had “the coming” for judgment in mind. However, the coming is contingent upon Israel’s acceptance of its King. Because even after His resurrection, that nation refused Him, it became impossible to establish the kingdom (cf. Acts 3:18-26). In fact, the tribulation period did not come; if it had, the promise of the soon coming of the Son of Man would have been of great comfort to the apostles.
Matthew 10:23 does not support the preterist contention that the coming of the Son of Man occurred in A.D. 70 through the Roman Army. Instead, Christ was looking ahead to another time, the tribulation leading up to the glorious second advent which I believe will be made clearer as we investigate related passages.
 Kenneth L. Gentry, “The Days of Vengeance: A Review Article”, The Counsel of Chalcedon, Vol. IX, No. 4., p. 11.
 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, v. xxx. 3
 See Mark Hitchcock, “The Stake in the Heart-The a.d. 95 Date of Revelation,” in Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, editors, The End Times Controversy: The Second Coming Under Attack (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2003), pp. 126-28.
 Mark Hitchcock, “Date of Revelation,” in Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, editors, The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2004), p. 337.
 The following points are gleaned from Mark Hitchcock’s, “Date of Revelation,” pp. 337-38.
 Hitchcock, “Date of Revelation,” p. 337.
 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 8 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, , 1971), vol. I, p. 425.
 Hitchcock, “Date of Revelation,” p. 338.
Were all of Jesus’ endtime prophecies fulfilled by 70 A.D.? Part 1