All Christians believe in fulfilled prophecy. This makes them preterists to some degree. A preterist interpretation of prophecy puts its fulfillment in the past. What separated unbelieving Jews from believing Jews in the first century was the issue of fulfilled prophecy. Was Jesus the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures that predicted a coming redeemer? Jews who rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah believed He was not the fulfillment of these many prophecies. To them, Jesus was an imposter. He was the son of a carpenter (Matt. 13:53–58). Jews who still believe in the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures are looking forward to their version of the First Coming of the Messiah.
Floyd Hamilton has calculated that there are more than 330 distinct predictions that Jesus fulfilled. Christians believe these prophecies have been fulfilled. Their fulfillment is in our past, thus, making us preterists.
The New Testament also contains prophetic material. There are prophecies related to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus predicted Peter’s denial of Him (Matt. 26:33–35; Mark 14:29–31; Luke 22:33–34; John 13:36–38). In the last chapter of John’s gospel, we find a prediction about the disciple whom Jesus loved, presumably John, and Peter (John 21:18–23). In Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 there is a record of Jesus’ comprehensive Olivet Discourse that maps out the future of Israel’s temple and describes wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, plagues, national conflicts, great signs from the heavens, signs in the sun, moon, and stars, persecution, the spread of the gospel to the then known world (Matt. 24:14; Col. 1:6, 23), the abomination of desolation, false prophets, false christs, and more.
Last Days Madness
The end is here...again. At every calendar milestone, self-proclaimed modern-day ‘prophets’ arise to stir up a furor rivaled only by the impending apocalypse they predict. This doom-and-gloom prognostication is not only spread by a few fanatics, but millions of Christians, including some of the most recognized names in mainstream Christianity who are caught up in the latest ‘last days’ frenzy.Buy Now
“[T]he term preterism … derives from the Latin presupposition preter (‘past’) and the verb ire (‘to go’), thus referring to what which has gone past and belongs to history.” In Latin, the perfect tense commonly functions as the preterite tense and refers to an action completed in the past. The Greek equivalent would be the aorist tense.
John was told, “write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which are about to happen after these things [μέλλει γενέσθαι μετὰ ταῦτα]” (Rev. 1:19; 4:1). Some things were happening as Revelation was revealed to John (the things which are), and some things were about to happen. A preterist would connect what John had seen, the “things which are,” with the things that were “about to happen” after these things with no postponement or gap in time.
Since John is told that the events revealed to him were to take place “soon” (1:1) “for the time is near” (1:3), Revelation is about events that were to happen soon for those living in John’s day, in particular, in events leading up to and including the end of the Old Covenant represented outwardly by the temple and Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem. The Old Covenant had been replaced with a better covenant in the person and work of Jesus Christ who embodies all that the Old Covenant could only represent in temporal (stones) and fallen elements (human priests). Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), the temple built without hands (John 2:13–22; see Mark 14:58; 15:29; Acts 6:14), the fulfillment of the Davidic kingship (Acts 2:22-36), and “a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man” (Heb. 8:1–2). The Old Covenant was planned obsolescence. The unbelieving Jews turned the temple into an idol like the brass serpent in the wilderness (Num. 21:4–9; John 3:14–16; 2 Kings 18:4).
There is another component to consider in the interpretive process: audience relevance. How would John’s audience have understood the prophecy? Even today, prophecy preachers turn to the time indicators in Revelation and argue that Jesus is coming soon. But if “soon” means near to the time when we hear a prophecy enthusiast say that Jesus’ coming is “soon,” then why didn’t “soon” mean “soon” to Revelation’s first readers?
Dave Hunt’s book How Close Are We? includes the following subtitle: “Compelling Evidence for the Soon Return of Christ?” What did Mr. Hunt want his readers to understand by the use of the word “soon”? He certainly didn’t have in mind nearly 2000 years in the future from the time he wrote his book in 1993.
On the Brink is the title of a prophetic work written by Daymond R. Duck. In the introduction, Duck tells his readers that his book has “300 Points of Light on the Soon Return of Jesus.” Duck and Hunt want their readers to believe that Jesus’ coming is going to take place soon, and by soon, they mean near, and by near they mean in this generation, and by “this generation,” they mean this one here and now. Why didn’t “soon” and “near” mean “soon” and “near” to those who read these time words in the first century?
Chuck Smith published The Soon to be Revealed Antichrist in 1976. What did Chuck Smith mean by “soon”? While he says we can’t know who the antichrist is, he does say “God is giving us many signs that we are nearing the last days — the stage is being set.” Smith also stated that “we are living in the last generation, which began with the rebirth of Israel in 1948 (see Matt. 24:32–34).” We get some idea from these comments what Smith meant by near.
Does anybody think that these books would have sold well if they carried a title like “We Don’t Know When the Antichrist Will be Revealed So Quit Asking”? The authors purposely chose time words to put readers on the edge of their prophetic seats because they know that “soon,” “close,” and “at hand” mean soon, close, and at hand.
I wrote Is Jesus Coming Soon? The answer is, Jesus came soon after He told His disciples that He would return within a generation of His earthly ministry based on what He told them in Matthew 24: “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (v. 34), and that included His judgment coming (v. 27) and His ascension where He took His seat at His Father’s right hand (v. 30). Chuck Smith appealed to these same passages to persuade his 1976 reading audience that they were “nearing the last days” and “this generation” is their generation. So why didn’t Jesus’ audience interpret these same words and phrases in the same way and apply them to their time? They did, and that’s the point.
While Dave Hunt offered what he believed was “compelling evidence for the soon return of Christ,” he claims that “the early church believed that Christ could come at any moment.” In a chapter describing what he believes is the New Testament doctrine of “imminency,” he writes:
From even a cursory reading of the New Testament there can be no doubt that it was considered normal in the early church to expect Christ at any moment. Paul greeted the Christians at Corinth as those who were “waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7) — again language that requires imminency. He urged Timothy to “keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 6:14).
What we find missing in Hunt’s study of the issue of timing related to the coming of Jesus is a discussion of verses that deal with the timing of Jesus’ return. The Bible does not tell us that Jesus can come “at any moment” spread out over several millennia. The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus’ coming was “near,” close at hand, for those living in the first century. Here are some examples:
• “Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door” (James 5:7–9).
• “The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (1 Peter 4:7).
• “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond‑servants, the things which must shortly take place¼” (Rev. 1:1).
• “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near” (Rev. 1:3).
• “And he said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true’; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to his bond‑servants the things which must shortly take place” (Rev. 22:6).
• “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book” (Rev. 22:7).
• “And he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near’” (Rev. 22:10).
• “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12; cf. Matt. 16:27).
• “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
These verses, and others like them, clearly state that Jesus’ return was “near,” that He was coming “quickly.” Dispensationalists like to claim that Jesus could come at “any moment” to “rapture” His church. There is no such doctrine in Scripture. “That James does not expect the period to be long is clear when he says the parousia of the Lord (cf. 5:7) is near.”
Wars and Rumors of Wars
Skeptics read the Olivet Discourse in the right way, but come to the wrong conclusion. Christian futurists read it the wrong way and come to a different wrong conclusion. Jesus predicted that He would return within the time period of that generation alone. Unfortunately, too many Christians are giving the wrong answer when skeptics claim Jesus was mistaken. Everything Jesus said would happen before that generation passed away did happen.Buy Now
In the closing chapter of Revelation John is told, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (Rev. 22:10). The first readers of Revelation would have read words like “soon,” “near,” “quickly,” and “at hand” and most likely would have assumed that the time was near for them. This contrasts with what was told to Daniel hundreds of years before: “But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the time of the end; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase” (Dan. 12:4; also 8:26, 10:14). A. Berkeley Michelson writes:
Everyone who interprets a passage of the Bible stands in a present time while he examines a document that comes from a past time. He must discover what each statement meant to the original speaker or writer, and to the original hearers or readers, in their own present time.
This is easier said than done since there is always the temptation to interpret Scripture in terms of our time.
Floyd E. Hamilton, The Basis of Christian Faith: A Modern Defense of the Christian Religion, rev. ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), 160.
Simon J. Kistemaker, “Hyper-Preterism and Revelation,” When Shall These Things Be?: A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism, ed. Keith A. Mathison (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), 218.
Notice that the Jews were thinking in literal terms.
Daymond R. Duck, On the Brink: East-Understand End-Time Bible Prophecy (Lancaster, PA: Starburst Publishers, 1995), 9.
Chuck Smith, The Soon to be Revealed Antichrist (Costa Mesa, CA: Maranatha House Publishers, 1976), 3.
Dave Hunt, How Close Are We?: Compelling Evidence for the Soon Return of Christ (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1993), 248.
Peter Davids, Commentary on James (NIGTC) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 184.
A. Berkeley Michelsen, Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 55.