Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

12.2.2. The Motivations of Preterism

Although all preterists insist that their view of Scripture is the best way to understand and explain the text, it is useful to understand that some preterists are influenced in their tendency to interpret future passages as having been already fulfilled by a variety of motives. One motive is to respond to the criticism of skeptics who have pointed out that Jesus’ promises to come soon have not yet materialized. Preterists believe that their view that Jesus has come in a “spiritual way” prior to A.D. 70 vindicates the Bible in the eyes of such skeptics (e.g., Bertrand Russell). But tailoring interpretation to favor non-believers is unlikely to win them to Christ.

Do preterists think that Bertrand Russell, or anyone else who is antagonistic to the Christian faith, is going to be convinced that the Bible is God’s Word by arguing that Jesus came in A.D. 70? A preterist coming [of Christ] is a pathetic coming. It does no honor. . . to the integrity of Scripture. The substitutionary atonement of Christ, the Trinitarian nature of the Godhead, and many other [doctrines], are all truths that come from Scripture, but also truths that invite the attack of agnostics, atheists, humanists, and secularists. Why is it, when we come to prophecy, that suddenly we must tailor our interpretation to suit non-believers?1

As we have previously mentioned, there is also the motivation to remove what appears to be a coming global judgment out of the path of Christian reconstructionism and dominion. How are Christians to be motivated to convert the governmental institutions of the world through political action if the book of Revelation, understood in a normal way, seems to describe an unparalleled time of persecution and global catastrophe in divine response by God to global apostasy on the part of the nations?

[Gentry] associates cultural defeatism and retreatist pietism with assigning a late date to Revelation and wants to date the book before A.D. 70 so as to have biblical support for the implementation of long-term Christian cultural progress and dominion. This probably reflects his basic motivation for the early dating of Revelation: a desire for an undiluted rationale to support Christian social and political involvement.2

If it is not practical to undermine the authority of the book, then the next best thing is to reinterpret its teachings in a way which sweeps its predictive revelation aside. This is accomplished within preterism by moving the future back to the past.3

But how could what appears to be a global time of unparalleled trouble (Dan. Dan. 12:1; Jer. Jer. 30:7; Mtt. Mat. 24:21; Mark Mark 13:19; Rev. Rev. 3:10+; Rev. 7:14+) be moved from the future to the past? The way preterism accomplishes this shift is to explain that the book’s description of a coming time of tribulation involving Babylon and the earth dwellers is actually a veiled description of God’s wrath being poured out on Jerusalem and the Jews in the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in A.D. 70.

The Preterist will be glad to remind the futurist that the opening verses of Revelation chapter one indicate a first-century fulfillment: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass. . . for the time is at hand ” (Rev. Rev. 1:1+, Rev. 1:3+). For the preterist, the book of Revelation was written around A.D. 68 and it has the same focus as the Olivet Discourse: some impending disaster in the immediate future that will affect the ancient Roman world. What might that be? Preterists unanimously point to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.4

The events of the book are understood as describing this time period, localized to the events of Rome and the Mediterranean, and during which Nero (most commonly) occupies the role of the Beast of Revelation Rev. 13:1+. In the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jewish state finds its ultimate judgment and complete rejection while the blessings of the kingdom are transferred to the “New Israel,” the Church. Never mind that John uses completely different terms to describe the primary recipients of God’s wrath, the preterist manages to maneuver Israel into place as the recipient of God’s judgment. “ ‘The preterist perspective . . . sees . . . Babylon the Great’ represent[ing] apostate Israel, who aids Rome in oppressing Christians. Accordingly, part of the purpose of the book is to encourage Christians that their Jewish persecutors will be judged for their apostasy and to assure the readers that they are now the true Israel.”5 The preterist identifies the Beast of Revelation with pagan Rome which Daniel sees as the object of final judgment, but then insists that it is apostate Israel that is the focus of God’s judgment in the book of Revelation.6

Although many preterists are devout, conservative, and orthodox in their views, the preterist system of interpretation has also attracted liberal and neo-orthodox interpreters who tend to view the Scriptures as a textbook for sociological progress and minimize its supernatural and judgmental elements.7

In summary, preterism is often fueled by several underlying motivations: First, a desire to move the time of tribulation described by the book of Revelation from the future into the past. This removes a major stumbling block to the view of Dominion Theology as embraced by Christian reconstructionists that all the world’s institutions will eventually come under the sway of Christianity through the worldwide dissemination and progression of the gospel. Second, a desire to reinterpret the many passages in both OT and NT which speak of a future time of restoration and blessing involving the nation Israel as applying to the Church. Israel’s rejection of Messiah Jesus is seen as an irrecoverable error necessitating the replacement of Israel by the Church as the spiritual inheritor of previous promises to Israel.8 Third, an attempt to interpret Scripture in a way which minimizes the objections of skeptics. Fourth, a desire on the part of more liberal preterists to avoid taking predictive prophesy as supernatural and descriptive of events to come.


Notes

1 Larry Spargimino, “How Preterists Misuse History to Advance their View of Prophecy,” in Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, eds., The End Times Controversy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2003), 26-27.

2 Robert L. Thomas, “Theonomy and the Dating of Revelation,” in Richard L. Mayhue, ed., The Master’s Seminary Journal, vol. 5 (Sun Valley, CA: The Master’s Seminary, 1994), 187-188.

3 Idealism is also guilty of reinterpreting the book to avoid the obvious implications of a horrific time yet future coming upon the world.

4 Spargimino, “How Preterists Misuse History to Advance their View of Prophecy,” 9.

5 Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 44.

6 “The prophecies of Daniel Dan. 2:1 and Dan. 7:1 alluded to throughout the Apocalypse foresee a last judgment of the evil nations, not primarily of unbelieving Israel. Interestingly, these preterist interpreters identify the beast of Daniel Dan. 7:1 in Rev. Rev. 13:1+ff. with a pagan nation (Rome), which Daniel then sees as the object of final judgment. But then they identify apostate Israel elsewhere in the book as the main object of Daniel’s prophesied final judgment.”—Ibid.

7 “Since the preterist and idealist interpretations are not committed to predictive prophecy in Revelation, they tend chiefly to be advocated today by liberal or neo-orthodox interpreters. To them, Revelation is merely a statement of faith in sociological progress and the eventual triumph of a more equable world order.”—Henry Morris, The Revelation Record (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983), 26. “The [preterist] view [is] held by a majority of contemporary scholars, not a few of whom are identified with the liberal interpretation of Christianity.”—Alan F. Johnson, Revelation: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 13.

8 Regardless of statements by Paul to the contrary: Rom. Rom. 11:11-12.