On Preterism, the Second Coming and Hell

When it comes to eschatology my faith tradition, the Churches of Christ, has leaned heavily toward preterism.

According to preterism almost all end-times prophecy in the bible is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. 

I say "almost all" end-times prophecy as there is some diversity among the various preterist positions. A lot of this diversity has to do with the relationship between the book of Revelation and Jesus's apocalyptic discourses in the gospels.

Just about everyone agrees that Jesus's apocalyptic discourses in the synoptic gospels--sometimes called the Olivet Discourse or the "Little Apocalypse"--are discussing the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. These discourses can be found in Mark 13, Matthew 24 and Luke 21.

In light of Jesus's prophecies in the synoptics, the question is how the vision of Babylon in the book of Revelation relates, if at all, to the destruction of Jerusalem. Most preterists want the book of Revelation to be discussing the fall of Jerusalem. But to pull that off you have to get the dating of Revelation prior to AD 70. Most scholars don't think that's possible, putting the writing of Revelation in the AD 90s. And if that's the case then the Babylon of Revelation can't be Jerusalem and is more likely a vision of Rome.

Another aspect of the book of Revelation is the vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22. Most Christians read that text as being about the future, about heaven and the Final Judgment.

All that to say, some preterists--in a view called partial preterism--believe just about every "end times" prophecy was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 except for what is discussed in the book of Revelation, the fall of Rome and the Final Judgment. Thus according to this view, since the fall of Rome occurred in AD 476, the only "end times" event remaining is the Second Coming of Christ and the Final Judgment. Everything else in the bible, eschatologically speaking, has already happened. Only one event remains, the Second Coming. Which can happen at any moment and will happen "in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Cor. 15.52). No rapture, tribulation, or thousand year reign. All that stuff has already occurred, fulfilled in the events surrounding either the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 or the fall or Rome. The only thing left in salvation history is the unpredictable "flash event" of the Second Coming.

That's partial preterism, and it represents what most people in the Churches of Christ have believed. But there is an even more extreme view called full preterism, a view that has rattled around within the Churches of Christ since the 1970s.

Full preterism contends that every "end times" prophecy was fulfilled in AD 70. And this includes the Second Coming and the Final Judgment. This view is sometimes also called "realized eschatology" as it contends that every aspect of biblical eschatology has already been fulfilled or "realized."

The key interpretive move to make this view work is to read every eschatological text in the bible (Revelation included) through Jesus's Olivet Discourse, which, again, most agree is focused on the events of AD 70.

For example, consider the "Second Coming." To start, note how the Olivet Discourse is kicked off by Jesus predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple:
Matthew 24.1-2
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” 
So the event being prophesied about is AD 70, the destruction of the temple. And hearing this the disciples ask a question about the timing of Jesus's "second coming":
Matthew 24.3
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
The association here is pretty clear. The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 is described as the second "coming" of Jesus and as the "end of the age." That AD 70 is indeed being described as the "second coming" of Jesus is made more clear later in the discourse:
Matthew 24.30-31
“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other."
So in the Olivet Discourse the "Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with great power and great glory"--what many would describe as "the Second Coming"--is associated with the events of AD 70.

All that to say, according to a full preterist eschatology the Second Coming of Jesus has already happened. Just as Jesus prophesied that it would happen in AD 70.

(One might ask here about Revelation 21-22. A full preterist reading of Revelation 21-22 argues that the "New Jerusalem" coming to earth is not heaven but the church. The church--as the New Jerusalem and new temple on earth--replaces the former Jerusalem and temple destroyed in AD 70. So again, the New Jerusalem prophecies of Revelation 21-22 have already been fulfilled.)

Okay, so that's the Second Coming. What about Final Judgment?

Again, when we turn to the Olivet Discourse we find Jesus saying this:
Luke 21.20-22
“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.
Notice how the events of AD 70 are described as "the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written." Now if you read that phrase literally--"in fulfillment of all that has been written"--then every mention of hell, eternal judgment or "the lake of fire" in the bible is referring to AD 70.

Simply, when the bible speaks of hell it's talking about the destruction of Jerusalem.

In short, just like the Second Coming, Final Judgment also occurred in AD 70.

Now you might be asking, if the Second Coming and Final Judgment have already occurred what, according to full preterism, is going to happen to us when we die and what happens to the earth?

Well, answers vary. Regarding the fate of the earth a common answer is that the earth just goes on according to the physical laws governing it. Our biological fate on the planet is just that, our biological fate. No supernatural event in our future is going to disrupt those processes.

Incidentally, while preterism hasn't been theologically linked to creation care, I think there's something to explore here. That is, preterism is better than the notion that creation is going to be destroyed by God in a cataclysmic act of destruction. Creation might get destroyed, but according to preterism that would be our doing, not God's. The assumption here being that God's command to care for the earth, for as long as it lasts, remains very much in effect. And the longer we care for the earth the longer we might last upon it. According to preterism, it's all in our hands. It lasts as long as it lasts.

Turning to our fate after death.

Upon our death, according to most preterists, you simply go to heaven or hell. There is no "holding area" (e.g., Hades) where the dead must await a coming Judgment Day. Again, in Christ God's Judgment has already occurred. That is, in Christ the kingdom/church has been established upon the earth and your "eternal fate" at death is dependent upon your relation to that kingdom. Are you in or out? Heaven and hell, in this sense, is already a reality upon the earth. And the kingdom of heaven on earth marks the boundary.

Basically, according to full preterism, every significant event in relation to salvation history has already occurred. God's kingdom has been established upon earth and Christ has won the victory over sin and death. The biblical story of salvation history has reached The End.

There is nothing in human history, now or in the future, that we are "waiting on." All that is left is your decision in relation to the inauguration of the kingdom. Repent and believe the Good News, the Kingdom of God is in your midst.

So that's full preterism.

Let me move to conclude my making a scholarly observation and then get to the point of why I'm sharing of all this.

First, while you might find the preterist view weird, biblical scholars have long recognized that this view is grounded in the biblical witness. Most NT scholars would argue that the first century Christians really did think that the Second Coming of Jesus and the Final Judgment was going to happen in their lifetime. And the theological cataclysm of AD 70 seemed like a good fit for the timing of that event. For the earliest Christians, centered as they were in Jerusalem, the events of AD 70 did seem like "the end of the world" and "the end of the age."

And yet, in the wake of those events many Christians didn't see "the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory." So the parousia of Jesus was pushed into the future. Christian eschatology was created to explain the "delayed parousia" of Jesus who failed to materialize in the clouds, as he had predicted, in AD 70.

What this means is that in the pages of the NT we have a mixed and matched eschatology. On the one hand you have early texts that seem to expect the Second Coming of Jesus in the lifetimes of the first century Christians, perhaps in conjunction with the destruction of Jerusalem. On the other hand you have later texts, written after AD 70, that push the Second Coming into the future in response to the delayed parousia.

That's how you see the situation as a NT scholar. Which is to say, there are texts, like the Olivet Discourse, in the NT that really do point to the Second Coming and the Final Judgement as occurring in AD 70. So the preterists aren't totally crazy. The early Christians really believed that. What the preterists are doing is taking all the "delayed parousia" material from the later NT texts and forcing them to harmonize with the AD 70 expectation material.

That is to say, according to the preterist account, there was no mistake about the AD 70 parousia, Jesus really did come back in judgment at that time. The "Son of Man coming on the clouds" stuff was poetic imagery for events that really took place. In short, preterism is a way of harmonizing the mixed eschatological witness of the NT by reading everything through the earliest Christian expectations regarding the Second Coming of Jesus by claiming that those Christians were correct and that those expectations really were fulfilled.

Of course, such a harmonization creates its own suite of historical, textual and theological problems. But that can be discussed at another time.

I bring all this up for a different reason.

Specifically, as debates about hell continue to rage among Christians more and more I've seen people discuss how, when Jesus discusses Gehenna, hell and judgment, that Jesus is really discussing the destruction of Jerusalem.

And I think that's right. The Olivet Discourse makes that point clear.

But if that's so then the question becomes, if that's what Jesus meant what about the other NT writers?

We're back to the mixed and matched eschatological witness of the NT, those who expected final judgment in AD 70 and those who, in light of the delayed parousia, pushed "hell" into the future.

How, in our debates about hell, are we to deal with that disjoint?  The disjoint between Jesus's this-worldly hell of AD 70 versus the other-worldly hell in the future?

Scholars, of course, know how to do deal with this disjoint. They just leave it as a disjoint and claim that the NT doesn't have a consistent or coherent eschatology. Eschatology was a "work in progress" as the coming of Jesus was indefinitely delayed.

But I can't see that view being something most Christians will be able stomach. Such a view is too disruptive of doctrines regarding biblical inspiration as it asks us to believe that some early biblical writers were "wrong" in expecting Jesus to come in their lifetime.

Thus, for most Christians the push will be toward harmonization, to get all the eschatological texts to "agree."

That may be a fool's errand, but that seems to be where most Christians are. Which brings me to my point.

If 1) we increasing start seeing Jesus's teachings regarding hell as being about the Destruction of Jerusalem (and I think a good case can be made for that), and 2) our view of Scripture pushes us to harmonize the eschatological texts of the New Testament, then I think 3) we start moving toward preterism.

That is, if Final Judgment occurred in AD 70, as Jesus predicted, then we also have to consider the Second Coming as having occurred at the same time. Both events are tied up together in the Olivet Discourse.

You can't point to AD 70 as your definition of hell without AD 70 also being your definition of the Second Coming.

And if that's the case, is preterism--this weird and fringe view espoused by nutty Christians--poised to become more prevalent in discussions about heaven, hell and Christian eschatology?

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31 thoughts on “On Preterism, the Second Coming and Hell”

  1. Of course, there is also another trajectory in the New Testament that isn't preterist or futurist: the demythologised, "being-realised" eschatology of the Johannine material (with kudos to Bultmann). Jesus is always "coming" by the Spirit as the Word of the Father, with heavenly bread and wine from the eschatological banquet; Jesus simply is the Resurrection, "the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us." In which case, eschatology is a thoroughly this-worldly affair: the rupture of God's future breaking into the present, relativising all of our pretty silly speculation about life after death and all of our futile attempts to reconcile the (beautifully) divergent witness of the Scriptures.

  2. You beat me to it, MattS...

    I might add that the "Son of Man is always coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory" when the human being is lifted up in love, dignity and respect, and that how well we see and strive to accomplish this determines in what manner we face God's judgment each day.

  3. Yes, and even further: Jesus is the face of God's judgement each day, the face we encounter in every human other.

  4. Have you investigated pantelism? It is a way of connecting the preterist account with the Johannine vision you articulate but in a way that doesn't involve demytholigizing. It's an interesting viewpoint.

  5. I can't say I've come across it, but I have serious worries - not least worries about anti-semitism - about any account that talks about AD 70 as God's judgement (just consider the sheer brutality of that event). I don't have a problem with accepting the disjointed nature of the NT witness, though, and I realise that most would find that difficult to swallow. But anything else strikes me as being apologetic in the worst sense, and I find it more reasonable to affirm the unreconcilable differences within the NT and explore other, and I think more fruitful, ways of approaching Scripture as a theological text. Following Bultmann, I take John (and to a lesser extent Paul) to set a precedent for demythologising the worldview of the earliest Christian communities, and I think that demythologising is necessary for any interpretation of Scripture - including our interpretation of John! Frankly, we simply cannot avoid demythologising, at least if that word is understood as Bultmann meant it (i.e. not as a woolly liberal project as typically characterised). We need a hermeneutic that enables us to positively recognise that our worldviews (or what Bultmann calls "pre-understanding") shapes our response to Scripture as 21st-century readers, and that this is a good thing. Figures like Ricoeur and Gadamer are obviously relevant here. I'm not convinced that any account that includes preterism is ever going to be hermeneutically sophisticated enough to be of theological relevance to us today. I'd be interested to hear how 'pantelism' tackles these kinds of issues.

  6. Re; AD 70 as God's judgement

    In Philostratus' "Life of Apollonius" there is a story about Titus refusing a wreath of victory after the defeat of Jerusalem because he was just being an instrument of God's wrath. (http://www.livius.org/ap-ark/apollonius/life/va_6_26.html#�29). I'm thinking that's enough to reconcile a lot of the "wrath of God" rhetoric (esp. the "bowls of God's wrath" stuff in Revelation) with the events around AD 70 in a way that is not at all anti-Semitic.

    I'm curious what anybody else might think about that.

  7. I'm trying on the idea that John the Revelator wrote his book later (AD 90), but it was written about a historical event (The destruction of Jerusalem). In other words, the "things that must soon take place" rhetoric would have been poetic, but his first audience would have immediately known what he was talking about.

    Could that work?

  8. I've always been a bit of a (loosely committed) full preterist. But what I have a hard time with is that John could have written - transcribed rather - the Revelation without mentioning the single most cataclysmic event in the life of any Jew: the full and complete destruction of the temple. If it was written after AD 70 one would have to deduce that the terror of that event had abated in a mere 20 or so years, wouldn't it? I don't know. It just seems unlikely. Whatever year it was written the O.T. language points to the "second coming" as an event synonymous with the full destructive power of the Roman army putting an end to the old economy and ushering in the New Heavens and New Earth. Another fine article, brother Beck. Always making me think!

  9. Could it be that the Revelation was written from the pain of witnessing the loss of Jerusalem and turned that pain and ire toward Rome?

  10. This is wonderfully laid out. It straightens some things out in my understanding. Thanks!

  11. I'm not sure I quite understand how this changes matters. Could you explain further?

  12. OK, I see what you're saying. I did not make that very clear.

    That change takes the understanding of wrath from YHWH's wrath on the Jews to the wrath of Titus' (presumably pagan) god. In other words, the wrath being poured out by the bowlful in Revelation is not the wrath of the God revealed in Jesus, it's the wrath of the god of the empire. We embrace the former and reject the later. I'm thinking John's readers would have picked up on that understanding of wrath, but we've overlooked it. The consequences can lead to the anti-semitism you're concerned about.

  13. John A. T. Robinson in Redating the New Testament posed the possibility that ALL the books of the NT were composed before 70. A hard sell indeed, especially John's Gospel. But it does make interpretation of Revelation fit within a preterist framework. Preterist feels good because everything falls into place. But it does seem to lean toward anti-Semitism. And it relies on literal prophecies being literally fulfilled. The messy, ambiguous view of NT eschatology may be more honest.

  14. Hey, you don't have to sell demythologizing to me. I'm with you.

    That said, one worry about demythologizing is that, well, you have to wait for someone like Bultmann, or Ricoeur and Gadamer. Which betrays a certain modern and European White Dude bias.

    On a related note, preterism is a demythologizing move. You'll obviously be noting here that all the mythical and cosmic language related to judgment, the second coming and even the resurrection of the dead are taken to be referring to human experience, the cataclysmic events of AD 70.

    For example, consider this mythical language of the Olivet Discourse:

    "Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with great power and great glory And
    he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather
    his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the

    Note how a preterist reading of this text demythologizes the language. My point here is that a preterist reading of the mythical eschatological language in the NT can sit very comfortablly with liberal theology. Sure, a crude perterism cannot. But liberal theologians borrow from preterism all the time (e.g., they like to point out how Jesus's Ghenna wasn't a mytical hell but a reference to a world-hisoticial event). Which again goes to my point, how demythologizing is implicit in many preterist ideas. And you don't even need to read Ricoeur to get there.

    Regarding Pantelism.

    I'm new to pantelism, so my sketch might be prone to error, but two of the main ideas are these.

    1. Universal reconciliation: Since the events of AD 70 fully encapsulate what the bible means by hell, God's judgment in human history has already been exhausted and, thus, all humanity has been reconciled to God. Pantelism is a species of universalism.

    2. Saved to Serve: The language of salvation in the bible is the language of election. And election is, for both Israel and the Church, the vocation to serve the world. That is, being saved/elected isn't about a future heaven or hell but being called to the priestly task of loving, serving and caring for the world.

    Combining the two ideas you have this: All the world is reconciled to God but some are called/saved/elected to the priestly task of loving and serving the world. Evangelism is calling people into that priestly vocation.

    My point in raising pantelism above is that it's view of salvation is very this-worldly and demythologized: To be saved isn't about going to heaven but about being called into the priestly vocation to love the world.

  15. I don't think full preterism is poised to become more prevalent among Christianity because of the roadblock of the images of the Second Coming. In listening to a full preterist state his case concerning the Synoptics (in a class), many were listening as he taught the notion of Jesus speaking to the Fall of Jerusalem -not the end of the world. That made sense to the hearers. But where many laughed was when he made the connection you brought up: if Final Judgment occurred in AD 70...then we also have to consider the Second Coming as having occurred at the same time. There are too many paintings, stories, songs, teachings in the past 2,000 years alluding to the Second Coming as a future event that the notion of it being a past event was seen as hogwash. The hope connected to the anticipation of the return of Jesus is a boulder -not a pebble that is easily tossed around. I think it will continue to be a "fringe view" among the literalists while the majority of American Christianity will live increasingly more within the disjoint.

  16. I was taught from the same tradition as you that there remains nothing to be fulfilled that would prevent the second coming (the one in the clouds, etc.). Also every sermon and article in our fellowship use the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus as an accurate account of what happens at death - Hades (intermediary state of the dead) composing of Tartarus (for the lost) and Paradise (for the saved) with the great gulf fixed and then the final great Judgment Day after which is eternal heaven and hell. Yet I understand that Jesus used an old Egyptian fable within which to emphasize the main point of the parable, which was how the rich treat the poor (not an explanation of what happens at death).
    On an interesting side note: We argue that there was a time when humankind had no diseases, no pain or suffering, no aging - a perfect paradise. Where was that? On earth of course! But we turn around and say that no way could God make that possible again. So a reconstructed "new earth" (Rev. 21:1) could not possibly happen.

  17. You'll have to forgive my bias for white, European dudes, being one myself! I'm not sure that you have got Bultmann quite right, though. Demythologisation isn't merely "de-metaphoring", as you seem to suggest by the phrase "demythologizes the language", but goes quite a bit deeper (which is why I think kudos to Bultmann and the hermeneutical brigade remains necessary, despite their unfortunate race, geography and gender...!). Here's a nice quote from Bultmann's 'Jesus Christ & Mythology':

    "Mythology expresses a certain understanding of human existence. It believes that the world and human life have their ground and their limits in a power which is beyond all that we can calculate or control. Mythology speaks about this power inadequately and insufficiently because it speaks about it as if it were a worldly power. It speaks of gods who represent the power beyond the visible, comprehensible world. It speaks of gods as if they were men and of their actions as human actions, although it conceives of the gods as endowed with superhuman power and of their actions as incalculable, as capable of breaking the normal, ordinary order of events. It may be said that myths give to the transcendent reality an immanent, this-worldly objectivity. Myths give worldly objectivity to that which is unworldly."

    That last sentence is important and I think still applies to a claim like "God's judgement in human history ended in AD 70". This would remain a mythological statement for Bultmann, I think, because it continues to treat God as an objective, worldly "character" within history. (Bultmann would say that much liberal theology is also mythological in this sense, and that's why labelling him as a liberal is partly mistaken.). This is why I talked about worldviews in the other comment, rather than language. It is a whole conception of God and the world that is in play. And Bultmann argues, convincingly to my mind, that demythologisation is by no means a new thing that got itself invented in the 20th century, but is precisely what John is doing in his Gospel (along with Paul, in a different way). I think a similar thing is going on in the patristic period, particularly someone like Augustine. And so on.

    On pantelism, I struggle to make sense of the claim that "God's judgment in human history has already been exhausted" without seeing it as mythology in Bultmann's sense, as it doesn't demythologise the worldview that preterism (which you rightly see expressed in the NT) needs to assume in its conception of God. I'd be interested to know your thoughts; I'm certainly on board with a worldly understanding of salvation, but my concern is that it requires a worldly God to go with it.

  18. Right, but Bultmann himself believes that God exists (in fact his whole project is about affirming the reality of God). It's just that God doesn't exist the same sense that worldly objects do, which is the problem with the mythological imagination. Unless you mean something stronger by "metaphysical"? (Bultmann, being a Lutheran, was strongly anti-metaphysical insofar as he was against speculative accounts of the "being" or "ontology" of God.)

  19. I like it. When I preached my one sermon (they only gave us one) at theological college it was on the Olivet discourse. My basic thesis was that this section - “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And
    he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather
    his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the
    other." - refers not to Jerusalem but to the cross. Thus, the disciples are being comforted in their future persecution (as is the church being comforted in its present persecution) because when persecution comes, so does the power and glory of God in the resurrection.

  20. Regarding the "Son of Man coming on a cloud," NT Wright has done a nice job of pointing out something that seems obvious in retrospect. Here, Jesus was referring to Daniel 7. In Daniel 7, the image of the Son of Man coming on clouds is quite clearly about him being lifted up to the ancient of days. He is 'coming' to God, not coming to Earth. This has a lot of interesting implications for preterism and partial preterism.

    One quibble: this post says 'scholars say' a few times, as if these issues are settled among NT scholars. But there are very smart and thoughtful scholars on various sides of all of this. Personally, I'm convinced by those who look at this all in an 'already and not yet' sense. For example, just to look at the use that Jesus makes of prophecy in the immediate context. Jesus refers to the 'abomination that causes desolation', which is widely understood as a reference to the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes. The suggestion, in context, is that the Temple is going to be desecrated again, as it was then. And the language of the 'sun being darkened' and the 'stars falling from the sky' are quotes from Isaiah 13:10. That was, itself, a fulfilled prophecy of Medean victory over Babylon (whether you think it was written before or after its fulfillment is irrelevant to my broader point here).In context, the implication is that the new Babylon (Rome) is going to be overtaken. So in predicting the destruction of the Temple, Jesus was quoting and referring to two fulfilled prophecies. This suggests an understanding of history as something that is patterned. In a way that is still familiar to us, it is perfectly coherent to say that Rome was Babylon, and that Nero was Antiochus. In a rather similar way, it makes sense to say that the followers of Jesus were Isaac, and that those who did not follow were Ishmael, drawing to mind a complex narrative of usurpation, transformation and (ambiguous?) reconciliation. All of this helps to more fully explain how it is perfectly coherent to see all of these things as 'already and not yet' fulfilled. A fulfilled prophecy becomes an acknowledged pattern, according to which future events can also be interpreted, and our understanding of them (or at least or integration of them into our existing understandings) can be deepened.

    To translate this reconstruction of the underlying worldview in modern terms, you might even say that what was being articulated was an applied theory of history. The theory is that God is the ultimate ruler of history, and that those who abuse their power will ultimately be brought down. The decisive expression of this view of history, and the revelation of the centrality of Christ (and his bodily victory over death, by passing through it) is the key that opens up fuller insights into what this means and how it happens. In that sense, validation of the warnings in the Mt. Olivet discourse by events does not suggest that 'it is all done', but instead that this understanding of history has validity. There is, I think, some loss of meaning that comes from translating this into these modern terms, but I think there is also a kind of gain. The strangeness of this ancient approach to a 'theory of history' should also have some real familiarity to us, because I think we can understand how it is a valid way to look at history.

  21. I think that's a real possibility. You could certainly read the text consistently through that lens. Change "Rome" to any enemy du jour, and I think that's part of the appeal to futurist understandings. ("Well, I think the antichrist is [fill in the blank]")

    I don't think that read is consistent with the God revealed in Jesus, so it brings up a lot of other questions. (Not the least of which is, should it be removed from the canon?)

  22. In regard to the so-called "Final Judgment," I think what should be made clear is that AD 70, from a full preterist perspective, entailed "clearing out" Hades/Sheol in one mass judgment event, after which each person is judged individually upon his/her death (cf. Heb 9:27). No one is going to miss their own judgment.

    Why folks get wrapped around the axle that a lifetime's worth of sins aren't flashed up on the heavenly screen for all to see (which takes "death by PowerPoint" to an entirely new level), I have no idea. I'd prefer that be kept between me and God. ;-)

  23. I love this discussion and your articulation of the "varied witness" of the New Testament on eschatology, it is, indeed, varied...

    My particular solution to this problem is that there is a good reason that later Christians didn't equate the destruction of Jerusalem with the return of Christ - because Jesus was not taken as being "symbolic" when he prophesied a final judgement that coincided with the destruction of Jerusalem. He prophesied a literal end of the world. Clearly Paul believes that the return of Christ is something more than Jerusalem's fall (i.e. the dead will rise, etc.) and he is our earliest eschatological witness. The only reason we would put a preterist interpretation on the Olivet Discourses is to avoid an errant Jesus. But that, it seems to me, is what we have - an errant, apocalyptic, Jesus. We go back, like other apocalyptic groups, and spiritualize prophecies that did not occur as predicted. When Jesus is seen through the lens of "Apocalyptic End-Times Prophet" (a la Schweitzer and more recently Dale Allison) the puzzle makes sense.

  24. I think Richard here is assuming too much of the text goes back to the historical Jesus, and isn't giving enough weight to the Olivet Discourse being a classic example of post diction 101.

    See in Mark, our earliest Gospel and the (earliest known) source of the Discourse. Here you have this long apocalyptic speech which is unlike any of the short sayings and parables attributed to Jesus througout the Synoptics. Unlike the Jesus remembered through the oral tradition who preached "don't worry about tomorrow, God sends rain upon the just and unjust" you have explicit apocalyptic proclamations about "signs" of the end and the sun blackening and antichrists.

    So what's going on here? The Olivet Discourse seems clearly to me to be an apocalyptic text either composed by the author ("let the reader understand") or perhaps a piece of apocalyptic lit that was circulating around Christian communities and became fully developed/embellished at/after the fall of Jerusalem. Look at Mark's community; the strong links to Judaism, but mostly Gentile. The community knows of some theological disagreements between "Judaizers" and Gentile Christian communities, as well as larger Jewish rejection of the Christian proclamation,

    Then Jerusalem gets smashed to bits following the rebellion. The strongly Jewish Christian church of James and co. is destroyed and scattered. The Jewish nation as a whole is put to the brink amidst mass slaughter. They would have asked "how does this fit into God's plan?" Ultimately, it becomes "the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah . . .this is divine justice." Oral sayings of Jesus preaching judgment on the Temple (highly likely which go back to the historical Jesus) become embellished to have Jesus actually predicting the outcome of Jerusalem's destruction, further solidifying the divine fatefullness of God's Chosen People and it's Temple being reduced to rubble. Mark likely believed that Jerusalem's fall, now made to be prediction at the mouth of Jesus, marked the beginning of events which would culminate in Jesus's return and parousia (see the end of the Gospel "the one you are looking for is not here . . .go to Galilee!"). So you have some of what could be called preterist theology mixed with future eschatology.

    But the parousia never happened. Giving further credence to the long-standing notion that humans will forever try to predict the "end" and continually get it wrong. Jesus didn't focus on it, Paul didn't know and was in fact wrong about it, and the author of Revelation surely had no idea (if one is even assuming Revelation is all about future predictions, which I think is missing the point of 1st century apocalyptic literature).

  25. "Simply, when the bible speaks of hell it's talking about the destruction of Jerusalem." Gehenna = hell - was the garbage dump of Jerusalem, where the fires always burned. Titus at AD 70, when he destroyed Jerusalem, was really shocked how many dead Jews filled up this dump n were burned. This destruction was the end of the Jewish age: they couldn`t bring their sacrifices to god anymore (still till today) to get forgiveness of sins: the mosaic system collapsed. The whole event acording to ancient history was surrounded of supernatural events: f.ex. a whole army in the sky, a messianc star standing one year over the city... The jewish priests thougt, that this was the Final judgement over their nation n their believe system: the spiritual end of the world, because they where gods chosen people.The holy of holies, according to the jews, was the centre of the universe, the point of which god created all. Jesus was a jew.

  26. One interesting information for experimental theologians i forgot: The temple in Jerusalem was the biggest temple complex of the ancient world. It had over 1 Million visitors from outside of Palestine each year, because many (if not most) of the Jews lived among the other nations of the ancient world. But each year, f.ex. at Passover, the Jews from the nations gathered in Jerusalem (over 300000 at Passover) to celebrate with their Jewish brothers. So if Jesus speaks about a judgement of the nations, gathered in Jerusalem (gehenna), according to what they did to the Jewish brothers, it could have had a concrete historical meaning. Jesus said that some of his generation would see this judgement. The siege over Jerusalem started at Passover, Jews from all the nations were in the holy city...

  27. "Jesus who failed to materialize in the clouds, as he had predicted, in AD 70".
    The army of angels in the clouds was seen according to Josephus + Tacitus, f.ex: "a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sunsetting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities" (War of the Jews)
    Josephus (a personal witness to the events) claims that over 1,100,000 Jews were killed during the initial siege. Titus reportedly refused to accept a wreath of victory, as there is "no merit in vanquishing people forsaken by their own God." During the siege, there was mass starvation in which cannibalism widely occurred with, it is believed, some mothers even devouring their own children. Later, there were even mass crucifixions to the degree that wood eventually became unavailable. Remember what Jesus said on his way to the cross to the "great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. (...)
    Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For,
    behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are
    the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave

  28. The preterist view can easily lead to universal salvation, pantelism: AD 70 - last enemy destroyed: death [1Cor 15:26]; sin empowered by the old law is spiritually conquered [1Cor 15:56] If at AD 70 God having reconciled all things in heaven and on earth to himself through the blood of Christ’s cross [Col 1:20]; Then regardless of what you or I or anybody else thinks – God has no more enemies. Even if some men consider themselves enemies of God, from HIS perspective they are not [Col 1:21]. Christ has won, God has made peace.

    Rom 11:32-33 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.

  29. Most, if not all, you said here can be found in the War of the Jews, Book 6.271-315, which includes the quote you said ^^ above (6.297f) regarding the sign in the clouds.

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