Preterists believe they are adequately interpreting the historical background by relating the fulfillment of major prophetic events to the time of the original audience. For instance, the preterist viewpoint is thought to best interpret Christ’s words in Matthew 24:34 (“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled”), and other references to the coming of Christ as “quickly” or “at hand” (Matt 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:15; Luke 21:30-31; Rev 2:5, 16; 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20).1 Since the events of the Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation parallel each other, then these passages are understood to refer only to events that occurred in the first century. The following chart indicates the different types of preterism.
Mild preterism interprets the Book of Revelation as fulfilled in both the first century with the fall of Jerusalem and the fifth century with the fall of Rome. The first half of Revelation refers to AD 70, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, and the second half refers to the judgment upon Rome. Therefore, the majority of Bible prophecy was fulfilled when God brought His wrath upon Isreal and Rome. Partial preterists understand the greater part of Bible prophecy as being fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem, but they still anticipate a future second coming and resurrection/judgment. Full preterism believes that all eschatological prophecies were fulfilled in AD 70, and that there will only be a spiritual resurrection rather than a bodily resurrection. Consequently, full preterism is heretical. The preterist view teaches that the destruction of God’s enemy, Israel, is indisputable proof for the divine establishment of Christianity.
History Is Evidence That Preterism Is False
Preterists Bahnsen and Gentry wrote, “Eusebius . . . details the woes that befell Jerusalem in A.D. 70, mostly by reference to Josephus…He then cites Matthew 24:19-21 as his lead-in reference and later refers to Luke 21:20, 23, 24!”2 If true, this claim would be the most substantial (due to Eusebius’ recognition as a standard reference with regard to the early church). Prior to the rise of preterism late in the past century, J. Oliver Buswell had already devoted a section to the “distorted emphasis” of preterism.
Since the time of…there have been those who have thought that Christ’s prophecy of the abomination of desolation was somehow fulfilled when Titus destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and that the words referring to “Jerusalem surrounded with armies” are just another way of saying “the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place.” It can be shown, however, that nothing which took place at the fall of Jerusalem fulfilled the prophecy of Christ in regard to “the abomination of desolation” spoken of by Daniel. Attention has been called to the fact that Eusebius, in his Canons, lists Luke’s reference to Jerusalem surrounded with armies as a verse peculiar to Luke, not parallel to anything in Matthew or Mark. Nevertheless, Eusebius’ Church Historyis a chief source for the erroneous identification.
The case for the theory that the prediction of Christ as to the abomination of desolation was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem is well summarized in Schaff’s Church History, Vol. 1, pp. 390-404. Schaff draws almost entirely from Eusebius’ Church History, Book III, Chapters V-VIII and from Josephus’ Jewish Wars, Books V and VI. Eusebius, in turn, is dependent almost entirely upon Josephus. The removal of Christians to Pella in Perea before the fall of Jerusalem is cited as the fulfillment of the command to flee at the sign of the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15 ff.; Mark 13:14 ff.).3
Philip Schaff wrote, “Eusebius puts the flight to Pella before the war (proV tou’ pulevmou), or four years before the destruction of Jerusalem” (1.VI.39).4 It is assumed that Schaff’s comments concerning the “Effects of the Destruction of Jerusalem on the Christian Church” were based upon Eusebius’ use of the phrase proV tou’ pulevmou.
The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war [proV tou’ pulevmou], removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella. Here, those that believed in Christ, having removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had entirely abandoned the royal city itself, and the whole land of Judea; the divine justice, for their crimes against Christ and his apostles, finally overtook them, totally destroying the whole generation of those evildoers from the earth [Book III, Chapter V].5
Buswell commented, “One of our a-millennial friends…points out that the comma after, ‘before the war,’ shows that the warning, not the flight, took place before the war. Thus, this friend argues, the flight may have taken place after the abomination of desolation.”6Schaff’s understanding of proV tou' pulevmou would have been consistent with the subsequent statement of Eusebius in the previous quote. In other words, Eusebius stated, “the divine justice” was after “those that believed in Christ [were] removed from Jerusalem.”
Yet it may be proper to mention, also, what things occurred that show the benignity of that all-gracious Providence that had deferred their destruction for forty years after their crimes against Christ. During which time the greater part of the apostle and disciples, James himself, the first bishop there, usually called the brother of our Lord, still surviving, and still remaining in Jerusalem, continued the strongest bulwark of the place (Book III, Chapter VII).7
According to Eusebius, the church at Jerusalem departed to an area “beyond the Jordan, called Pella,” before the destruction of the Temple occurred in AD 70. It is possible, as Buswell concurred, that the departure from Jerusalem could have occured when the church witnessed the beginning stage of the siege of Jerusalem by Titus and his armies. However, there is no historical account that would substantiate the fact that the departure to Pella was due to any understanding that the abomination of desolation (Matt 24:15) had just occurred and the subsequent reaction was to flee the city according to Matthew 24:16-21. The departure of the church to Pella does correlate well with Luke 21:20-23, but there is no basis to allow correlation with Matthew 24:15 or Mark 13:14. The abomination of desolation prophesied in Daniel 9:27 cannot be equated with the events that occurred in the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem.
The Biblical Teaching Against Preterism
Daniel prophesied that after Messiah is crucified, the Romans, that is, the people of the prince who is to come, would destroy Jerusalem and the second Temple. The prince who is to come is the eschatological Antichrist. However, the destruction of Jerusalem would occur due to the national rejection of the Messiah (Matt 24:1-2; Luke 19:41-44). The prophecy does not end with the AD 70 destruction; rather, its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. In other words, the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and his armies in the first century was not the final destruction of the holy city. The reference to the end extends the prophecy to the seventieth week. A time interval, the dispensation of the church, will occur between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks.
The interval in the current dispensation of the church of the fulfillment of the messianic program for Israel is derived from the Greek verb apotelw, meaning, “to complete” or “to be perfected.” Randall Price explained, “The apotelesmatic interpretation recognizes in Old Testament texts that present the messianic program as a single event, a near and far historical fulfillment is intended, separated by an indeterminate period of time.” It is this period of time that is known as an “intercalation” or a “gap”; however, the term “prophetic postponement” is more preferable. Since the Old Testament prophets did not have the current dispensation as a great parenthesis revealed to them, God would reveal the mystery of the church in the New Testament. Postponement is an intercalation (gap) in fulfillment, concluding that the delay is only temporary, and hence prophetic since there is a purposeful and preordained work in the divine program. God implied a parenthesis in His messianic program in the Old Testament with references of Israel’s hardening (Isa 6:9-13; Zech 7:11-12) and judicial exile (Deut 4:27-30; 28:36-37, 49-50, 64-68); however, this postponement in the divine program was not fully revealed until the New Testament (John 12:37-40; Acts 28:25-28; Rom 11:25-26).8
It can be said that a false covenant, the same covenant prophesied by the prophet Isaiah (28:14-22), is made with Israel by the Antichrist. The seventieth week is the false covenant that lasts for one week of years;9 that is, a period of seven years commonly understood as the tribulation, or time of God’s wrath. The passage also teaches that the tribulation is divided by the abomination of desolation into two three and one half year periods (cf. 2 Thess 2:3-4).
According to the eschatological chronology of Daniel 9 and 2 Thessalonians 2, the tribulation will follow the rapture of the church, which is yet future and will terminate the present prophetic postponement of the church age between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. Shortly after the rapture, the tribulation will begin with the signing of the false covenant between Israel and the Antichrist. It is this event that will inaugurate the final events of Daniel 9:24-27.
The nature of the tribulation will focus upon Israel. Jeremiah 30:7 refers to the tribulation period as a time of Jacob’s distress. During this period, God will prepare Israel for restoration and conversion (Deut 4:29-30; Jer 30:3-11; Zech 12:10). God will also judge an unbelieving world during this time for its sins against Him (Isa 13:9; 24:19-20; Rev 4—19). All nations and communities will be affected by this judgment. However, for those who trust in the Messiah, there will be salvation. This time of wrath will also result in worldwide evangelization and mass conversions (Matt 24:14; Rev 7:1-17). The tribulation will end with the return of Christ to this earth. He will descend upon the Mount of Olives, cross the Kidron Valley, and enter the Eastern Gate (Zech 14:4; cf. Matt 24—25). Clearly, there is not a single event that occurred at the destruction of Jerusalem which can be said to fulfill Daniel’s description and Christ’s reference of Daniel in Matthew 24:15.
1 Matthew 24:34, and the Revelation passages, are indicating “the manner in which tribulational events will occur, and not their timing.” Ron J. Bigalke Jr., “The Olivet Discourse: A Resolution of Time,” Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 9 (Spring 2003): 125-26.
2 Greg L. Bahnsen and Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., House Divided: The Break-Up of Dispensational Theology (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), 277-78.
3 J. Oliver Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962; reprint, 10th printing, 1976), 2:401-02.
4 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1858; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 1:402.
5 Eusebius Pamphilus, Ecclesiastical History, trans. Christian Frederick Cruse (reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 86.
6 Buswell, Systematic Theology, 2:402.
7 Eusebius, History, 94.
8 Randall Price, “Prophetic Postponement in Daniel 9:24-27,” in Progressive Dispensationalism: An Analysis of the Movement and Defense of Traditional Dispensationalism, gen. ed. Ron J. Bigalke Jr. (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2005), 218-9.
9 The Hebrew word for week is sh`B|u'<, which means a unit of seven.