I saw the article “Preterism Examined and Refuted” by Charles H. Campbell on the AlwaysBeReady website. I picked a few of his examinations and refutations and quickly put together a short response. There were many more, but I didn’t see anything new that I and many others have not already dealt with in great detail over many centuries. For example, see my book Wars and Rumors of Wars, an exposition of parts of Matthew 23 and Matthew 24:1-34 at AmericanVision.org. Also, see Last Days Madness and Is Jesus Coming Soon?, and _Matthew 24 Fulfilled by John Bray.
There are similar claims of refutations of preterism online. They are similarly superficial. Anyone reading them who is not familiar with preterism could be easily persuaded. As a new Christian in 1973, I most likely would have been persuaded. It wasn’t until I started asking questions about the claims made by Hal Lindsey in his 1970 book The Late Great Planet Earth and doing my own research that I began to see that Jesus was describing events related to that generation (Matt. 24:34).
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Campbell’s First Claim: In Matt. 24:15, the “Abomination of Desolation” (that time when the Antichrist will set himself up in the temple of God and declare himself to be God: 2 Thess. 2).
My First Response: Campbell assumes that this event has not happened even though Jesus said everything would take place before “this generation,” their generation, passed away (Matt. 24:34). Notice the audience reference: “When YOU see…” Who are the “you”? What audience? The people who were listening to Jesus including those who asked the questions we find in 24:3. Do you see the word antichrist” anywhere mentioned? What is the biblical definition of antichrist? How many antichrists were there? When were the antichrists? See 1 Jn 2:18-22; 4:1-3; 2:7. The temple was still standing when Paul wrote 2 Thess. 2. The “man of lawlessness” was alive in Paul’s day: “You know what restrains him now…”
Campbell’s Second Claim: In Matt. 24:21, Jesus mentions the time of the “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall.”
My Second Response: Jesus is using language elsewhere in the Bible. It’s often described as “rhetorical hyperbole.” The same wording was used by Ezekiel: “Because of all your abominations, I will do among you what I have not done and like of which I will never do again” (5:9). If it’s literal, then we have a contradiction. There are other places where similar language is used. For example, Solomon was said to be the greatest whoever was and whoever will be. And yet, the NT says that something greater than Solomon is here. That something was Jesus (Matt. 12:42). The judgment on Jerusalem that included the destruction of the temple was a covenantal judgment. It was the greatest because it extinguished a covenantal nation in a visible and dramatic way. This brings me to his third point.
Campbell’s Third Claim: In Matt. 24:29, He mentions the sun and moon being darkened and that “the stars will fall from the sky.”
My Third Response: Jesus is quoting the OT. Israel is described in Genesis 37 as sun, moon, and stars. We see something similar in Revelation 12. The language Jesus used to describe Israel’s demise as the guardian of the covenant promises and them being turned over to a “nation producing the fruit of it” (Matt. 21:43) is like the entire cosmos collapsing. See similar language in Isaiah 13:10; 24:1-3, 19, 23; 34:4; Ezek. 32:7-8; Amos 5:20; etc.
Campbell’s Fourth Claim: And then in v. 30, Jesus mentions “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky.”
My Fourth Response: The better translation is “heaven” (ouranos) rather than sky. Jesus is quoting Dan. 7:13 which describes the Son of Man coming to the Ancient of Days. Some Old Greek manuscripts have, “coming as the Ancient of Days,” which is in judgment like what we find in Isa. 19:1 and Micah 1:5. Most likely, however, Jesus was describing His ascension. He said the following to the religious leaders at His ecclesiastical trial:
“Now the chief priests and the entire Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, and said, “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’” The high priest stood up and said to Him, “Do You offer no answer for what these men are testifying against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I place You under oath by the living God, to tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus *said to him, “You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now on you [plural] will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven’” (Matt. 26:59-64).
The high priest understood Jesus well enough to tear his robes and say, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? See, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?” They answered, “He deserves death!” (vv. 65-66).
Campbell’s Fifth Claim The key to understanding this verse (Matthew 24:34) is found by backing up a verse. Notice verse 33…. “Even so you too, when you see these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I say to you, this generation [What generation? the generation who, in v. 33, sees “all” those things] will not pass away until all these things take place.” So, Jesus says “when you see all these things” (v. 33). What things? [See above for my response]
• The “Abomination of Desolation” (v.15)
• The time of “great tribulation” (v. 21) “such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now nor ever shall.”
• The stars falling from the skies (v. 29)
That generation (the Tribulation generation) will not pass away without also seeing the coming of the Son of Man to the Earth (mentioned in v. 30).
Jesus was talking about the generation of people who would be alive during the events leading up to His Second Coming, that is, during the time of tribulation.
My Fifth Response: I agree with Campbell that “The key to understanding this verse (Matthew 24:34) is found by backing up a verse. Notice verse 33…. ‘Even so you too, when you see these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.” When who sees these things? We are back to audience relevance. The “you” in 24:33 referred to them. Jesus said in 24:4, “And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘See to it that no misleads you.’” Why would the audience in 24:4 be different from the audience in 24:33 and elsewhere in the chapter? The “you” is “them.” The use of “you” is “them” throughout the chapter. Does anyone think that when Jesus used the second person plural that His audience thought He was referring to some distant audience? The same question needs to be asked about the use of “you” in verses 6, 9, 15, 20, 23, 25, 26. The clincher is 24:25: “Behold, I have told you in advance.” Jesus did not say, “I have told you in advance about these events that are going to happen to some future generation.”
Campbell claims, “Jesus was talking about the generation of people who would be alive during the events leading up to His Second Coming, that is, during the time of tribulation.” No, He was talking about their generation since that’s what “this generation” means every time it’s used in Matthew’s gospel (11:16-24; 12:41-45; 17:17; 23:36).
Campbell states: “That generation (the Tribulation generation) will not pass away without also seeing the coming of the Son of Man to the Earth (mentioned in v. 30).” Matthew 24:30 does not say “the Son of Man” will come “to the Earth.” Jesus is quoting Daniel 7:13: “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a son of man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him.” There is no mention of Earth unless the Ancient of Days will be residing on Earth when Campbell’s version of a future physical coming of Jesus takes place.
Advice: If you are going to critique a position, make sure you know the arguments used for that position. Mr. Campbell has not done that. His arguments are stereotypical and flimsy. It’s not as if he does not know those who support the partial preterist (more accurately ‘partial futurist’) position since he mentions some of its advocates: Hank Hanegraaff, R.C. Sproul, Gary DeMar, and Kenneth Gentry.
Then there’s the long list of commentators who have taught a similar view going back centuries. John Lightfoot (1602-1675), John Owen (1616-1683), John Brown (1784-1858), Adam Clarke (1762-1832), John Gill (1697-1771), John Jortin (1698-1770), Henry Hammond (1605-1660), Alexander Gerard (1728-1795), Nehemiah Nisbett (18th century), William Warburton (1698-1779), Thomas Newton (1704-1782), William Newcome (1729-1800), and others.
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