Biblical Eschatology (Studying the Scriptures Anew) by David Showalter
(Studying the Scriptures Anew)
by David Showalter
In the years that I've been alive, I have come to understand that there are very few things in this life that people will ever change unless they are forced to. I've also learned that next to politics, religion is the one area where people will yield very little ground. When confronted with a Biblical viewpoint that is contrary to their own, even good Christian people can become very hostile. The reason this happens is because deep down inside we all believe that our viewpoint is the right one. The idea that our paradigm of truth could be wrong, or even called into question, is extremely unsettling to most people.
For those of us raised in the church, especially those who attend the same church or denomination that they grew up in, if we are completely honest with ourselves, we must admit that our theological views are what they are simply because that's what we've always been taught. They were formed in us from the moment we first went to the church nursery. Of course we didn't understand this, but since birth we have been fed a particular theological paradigm. From our earliest days we were surrounded by those who believed like us, and since we all believed alike, and since we all validated one another in these views, there was absolutely no reason for us to ever question if what we believed was true or not. It simply was.
Then one day something happens. You read a particular verse, or you hear a pastor speaking on a particular scripture, and it doesn't quite fit your paradigm of truth. It becomes a burr under your saddle, and you find yourself thinking, "That's not what I've always believed, but what if that's right?" For the first time in your life your theological foundations have been shaken in a particular area. For some people this leads to intense study of scripture. For others the thought of being wrong about something in the Bible is so upsetting that they cannot stomach it. They reject it outright and completely without study. For the person who simply rejects the new idea based on prejudice alone, the words of Winston Churchill ring true. He is reported to have said, "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened". A foolish person dismisses theological ideas that cause them to think. The wise will pick up the word and study.
That was where I found myself a few years ago. I was eating lunch with a friend and we began discussing eschatology. That is, the study of end times. My friend was explaining his end time position to me when he mentioned the word "Preterism". The word Preterism derives from a Latin word that means "past in fulfillment". He was not a Preterist himself, and at first the word meant nothing to me. He explained that Preterists believe that many, if not all, of the Bible prophecies pertaining to the end times have already been fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. He went on to explain that there are two types of Preterists; partial and full. Partial Preterists believe that many end time prophecies have been fulfilled, but not all. Full Preterists believe all have been fulfilled.
Since, at that time, I had no clue of what happened in Jerusalem in 70AD, or how it even related to scripture, I was always taught that the apocalyptic passages of scripture were all still in the future. Like the vast majority of professing Christians today, I believed that the rapture was imminent, that an evil world leader (the Antichrist) was on the horizon, computer chips were the mark of the beast, and that our generation was the ones who would see the fulfillment of the book of Revelation. Minus some sensationalism, my thinking was right along the lines of the "Left Behind" culture. I was stunned by the idea that anyone could think that some, much less all, of those prophecies were already fulfilled so long ago. I mean, look around! This isn't what I was taught to look for. It was totally crazy because it didn't fit my paradigm of truth. I didn't yet realize that the paradigm of truth that I was filtering through had been shaped, not by years of intense study, but by years of scriptural ignorance, ignorance of history, and an absolute blind reliance upon what others told me to be true about the apocalyptic passages.
Other than introducing me to Preterism, I can't say that the lunch we shared made an immediate impact on me. The next step in my introduction to Preterism came not too much later when another friend of mine told me about a website he had visited and wanted me to check out. The only problem was that he gave me the wrong Internet address. The address he gave me waswww.bereanbiblechurch.org. I began looking around this website and it didn't take too long for me to discern that this church agreed with me on the doctrines of salvation. That was great! Then, and this I credit to the providence of God alone, I realized that the pastor of this church was a Preterist.
The concept of Preterism had now been in my mind long enough that it was no longer a novelty. It even sort of intrigued me, as if only to make me scratch my head in disbelief. Preterism was still foolishness for the most part, but after reading an article or two from this new website I was confronted with some scriptures that were being interpreted in a way that was contrary to my lifelong paradigm. Not only were these scriptures supporting the Preterist view, but they were being backed up by historical evidence that I had never before heard about. What was I to make of all this? It took maybe two or three more articles for me to see that this was not some paper-thin eschatology. These articles were dealing with very clear scriptures that I had never before given any thought to, or if I had I simply forced them to fit my current end time paradigm like a square peg in a round hole.
After letting it rattle around in my head a while, I determined that it would be injurious to my spiritual life if I didn't at least study Preterism for myself. I soon found that several modern theologians, including the well respected R.C. Sproul, who hold to at least partial Preterism. That encouraged me that this was not a totally ridiculous concept. Using other websites, I found hundreds of quotes from non-Preterist pastors and theologians who saw in the scriptures a Preterist bent to eschatology, even if they themselves were not Preterists. At this point I determined to be like the Berean believers in Acts 17:11 who, "received the word with great eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see whether these things were so."
All I wanted was to know the truth, and let it set me free, whatever it may be. If I was already in the light, great! If I was not, then I wanted nothing more than to be in the light. It was perfectly fine with me if I had been wrong all this time. I had been wrong on other things in my life, both Biblical and non-Biblical. I just thank God that for some reason he gave me the fire to search and know theological issues. I want to believe the scriptures with a childlike faith, but I don't want to be a spiritual child. I want to know my God, and understand what his word says. I want a challenge and that makes me dig deep. More than anything I want my children to know that their father knew what he believed, but more importantly, that he had truly studied the scriptures for himself so that he knew why he believed as he did, and could defend it by rightly dividing the word.
It has been approximately four years since my initial introduction to Preterism. Since that time, through the scriptures and countless writings both for and against Preterism, through study, meditating on the word, prayer, and most importantly, the providence and enlightenment of God, I can now say that I find myself to be a full Preterist. Being a Preterist means taking a lot of scorn and ridicule from others, even friends. The ridicule comes mainly in the raised eyebrows and questions that seem to indicate that I'm crazy if I disagree with church creeds or historical beliefs. I've even been told by some that I'm on "dangerous ground" for taking this stand. What has been my response? My response is that I stand on the scriptures and the clear teachings of Christ, even if I don't understand it all, and that I will be happy to change my eschatological viewpoint if the same scriptures can be used to prove me wrong.
If you're anything like me, I'm constantly getting emails from friends with all sorts of quotes from historical people. Unless there's a way to verify it, you never know whether the person it is attributed to really said it, but as I think about Preterism, and what it costs to take a stand for it, it brought to mind the following quote that I received. Whether it's accurate or not, I don't know. All I do know is that it's dead-on in regards to Preterists like myself
"In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce manbrave, hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds however, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot." (Mark Twain)
Having detailed the events that got me to this point, I now want to turn my focus to how I will attempt to arrive at the conclusions to support my position. In the 1500's one of the main cries of the Protestant Reformation was "Sola Scriptura". It is a Latin phrase that, when translated into English, means "Scripture Alone". While many people today are forsaking scripture alone and deriving their eschatological paradigms from church history, creeds, popular televangelists, or the Left Behind series, I will arrive at all of my conclusions using scripture alone. This does not mean that I will not quote other people or sources, but what it does mean is that my ultimate authority for believing something is right or wrong will lie with the scriptures alone.
In presenting any end-time position, I do not believe it is possible for anyone to be able to show with exact certitude every little detail of how something has, or will happen. If the prophecies are fulfilled, the best that a Preterist can do is use scripture and recorded history to look back on those events to explain what happened and how it relates to the Bible. If the prophecies have not been fulfilled, the best a futurist can do is simply make educated guesses about what will happen and what scripture is pointing towards. What I will attempt to do is establish the overarching argument for Preterism, and then go back in and support it with additional scripture and history. Since the primary purpose of this paper is focusing on the TIMING of the second coming, not the details of every little passage of scripture surrounding it, I will not attempt to prove every detail of HOW it happened. My main goal is to show the clear and emphatic teaching of WHEN it was to happen, and how it differs from today's mainstream Christian view.
I believe that many of the end time scriptures contained in the bible have been, for centuries, misunderstood, avoided, or twisted so as to have a new meaning. The main reason for this is the lack of good hermeneutical principles. Hermeneutics is the science of interpreting a document. In this case, the Bible. Without solid hermeneutical rules to interpret the Bible you end up with poor theology. The two major rules of hermeneutics are the analogy of faith, and audience relevance.
Rule #1: The analogy of faith means that scripture interprets scripture. This means that when we want to arrive at an eschatological conclusion we are to use the clear and easily understood passages of scripture to help us understand the less clear. We don't build our eschatology using the veiled or difficult to understand prophecies and then shove the obvious scriptures into that paradigm. The analogy of faith is a safeguard that should help us from reading in to the scriptures something that is not there. If one scripture seems to contradict another, then we must turn to what is easily understood, and then continue digging until we have reconciled the apparent contradiction or difficult understanding. God is not the author of confusion, and I believe his word is adequately clear to show us the answers.
Rule #2: The second rule of hermeneutics is audience relevance. This means that whatever a passage meant, or whatever words spoken in scripture meant, it meant or had direct application to the original intended audience. If we disengage the original audience from the scriptures then we can make any passage mean whatever we want, or make them apply to whomever we want. Whenever we read the scriptures we must ask ourselves, "Who is this person talking or writing directly to?" We must remember that the Bible is nothing more than a collection of personal letters and history books written by real people, to real people, in real time, and with real time contexts. For instance, in the book of Philippians the Apostle Paul wrote the following
(Philippians 2:19) 19 But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition.
Does this verse teach us that we are supposed to be still waiting on Timothy today so that he can take word back to Paul on how we're doing? No. Why? Because we correctly understand audience relevance, and that this was a personal letter from Paul to a real church in Philippi in 62AD about an event (sending Timothy) that was imminent to them, not to us. We correctly understand the time and place context. The Philippians are the intended audience of this book. All time statements in the Bible must be viewed through this same lens of audience relevance. The books of the Bible are not mystical letters written nebulously to Christians throughout eternity whereby all time statements are free to be extracted and applied to whatever generation we wish. No, each book was directed to a specific audience, and again, scripture is more than adequate to show us who that audience was.
The hermeneutical principles of the analogy of faith, and audience relevance are critical in making a case for the Preterist position. They are equally foundational, and must be used by whomever wishes to attack Preterism.
In keeping with the subject of audience relevance, this may perhaps shock many people, but there is not one book in the Bible that was written TO anyone living today. Every single book in the Bible was written FOR us, for application and understanding, but none of them were written TO us. Every book in the bible is a personal letter, a history book, or writing by a prophet to particular people at a particular time and for a particular reason. Yes, we do glean truth and understanding from these books today, but that is far different than saying that these books were written TO us. To put it another way, we are reading other people's mail. Whenever someone today says "Here's what this scripture means to me", we should be the first to say, "It doesn't matter what it means to you. It only matters what it meant to the original audience". That is where we find out what the Bible truly means.
Having laid out how I got here, and how I will plan to arrive at my conclusions, let us now turn to the largest and clearest section of scripture in which Christ himself discussed his second coming; the Olivet Discourse. The Olivet Discourse is located in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. All three have slight differences in their wording based on whom they were writing to, but all three are parallel and deal with the same events.