One of the arguments used against preterism is that it was developed by Spanish Jesuit Luis De Alcazar (1554–1613) who wrote a commentary titled Vestigio Arcani Sensus in Apocaplysi or Investigation of the Hidden Sense of the Apocalypse in which “he proposed that all of Revelation applied to the era of pagan Rome and the first six centuries of Christianity.” Here’s a typical example: “The Praeterist School, founded by the Jesuit Alcasar in 1614, explains the Revelation by the Fall of Jerusalem, or by the fall of Pagan Rome in 410 A.D.” (G. S. Hitchcock, The Beasts and the Little Horn, 7. Cited in LeRoy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation, 4 vols. (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1954), 2:488.)
Futurists use Alcasar (also spelled Alcazar) to poison the well. Since a Catholic proposed the view, so the argument goes, then it must be wrong because Roman Catholicism as a theological system is wrong. Here’s an example:
Jesuit scholarship rallied to the Roman cause by providing two plausible alternatives to the historical interpretation of the Protestants. 1. Luis de Alcazar (1554–1630) of Seville, Spain, devised what became known as the “preterist” system of prophetic interpretation. This theory proposed that the Revelation deals with events in the Pagan Roman Empire, that antichrist refers to Nero and that the prophecies were therefore fulfilled long before the time of the medieval church. Alcazar’s preterist system has never made any impact on the conservative, or evangelical wing of the Protestant movement, although in the last one hundred years it has become popular among Protestant rationalists and liberals. (M.L. Moser, Jr., An Apologetic of Premillennialism (Little Rock, AR: Challenge Press, 1975), 27.)
Of course, Roman Catholics also adhere to the doctrinal statement that we know as the Apostles’ Creed. So how much of the Apostles’ Creed is wrong? All of it? Some of it?
The 20th century has had its share of prophecy skeptics when it comes to passages that describe a soon coming of Jesus, a coming that would take place in the lifetime of Jesus’ disciples.
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At the time Alcasar wrote, the Protestant Reformers considered the Papal system of the Roman Catholic Church to be the end-time antichrist. The Reformers were nearly unanimous in identifying the Papacy as the Great Harlot of Revelation 17. “For Martin Luther,” a representative of this view, “the Catholic Church was nothing more or less than Babylon — ‘it would be no wonder,’ he wrote in 1520, ‘if God would rain fire and brimstone from heaven and sink Rome into the abyss, as He did Sodom and Gomorrah of old’ — and the pope the Antichrist. ‘If he is not,’ Luther exclaimed, ‘then somebody tell me who is!’” Hundreds of years of Protestant anti-Catholic rhetoric could fill a small library.
For centuries the papacy was the unanimous antichrist candidate. (Samuel J. Cassels, Christ and Antichrist or Jesus of Nazareth Proved to be the Messiah and the Papacy Proved to be the Antichrist (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1846).) The papal system was identified as “both the ‘man of sin’ and the Babylonian whore of which Scripture speaks (2 Thess. 2; Rev. 17–18). In the conviction of the sixteenth-century Protestants, Rome was the great anti-Christ, and so firmly did this belief become established that it was not until the nineteenth century that it was seriously questioned by evangelicals.” (Iain Murray, _The Puritan Hope: Revival and the Interpretation of Prophec_y (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1971), 41.) For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) included the following in Chapter 25 section 6:
There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof: but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.
The antichrist designation was removed in 1789 in the American edition. The revised article reads, “There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof.” There are groups today that still identify the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the antichrist (the historicist view of Revelation), (See Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast: The Roman Catholic Church and the Last Days (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1994.) but most evangelicals no longer hold this position even though they (and I) disagree with many of the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrinal claims and practices.
Once last point about Alcasar being the founder of the preterist school of interpretation needs to be pointed out. Frank X. Gumerlock, writing in his book Revelation and the First Century, states that “Luis Alcasar’s commentary on Revelation, published in 1614, was not the first to take a preterist approach to the main body of the Apocalypse (Chs. 6–19). [John] Henten wrote his comments almost a century before the publication of Alcasar’s commentary.” (Francis X. Gumerlock, Revelation and the First Century: Preterist Interpretations of the Apocalypse in Early Christianity (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2012), 40.) In 1545, Henten made these comments on the date of Revelation:
And first it seems to us that John, this apostle and evangelist who is called the Theologian, was exiled onto Patmos by Nero at the very same time in which he killed the blessed apostles of Christ Peter and Paul. . . . [and] that the Apocalypse was written on Patmos before the destruction of Jerusalem.
According to Gumerlock, Henten (1499–1566), or Hentenius as he is also known, “held that Chapters 6–11 of Revelation referred to the abrogation of Judaism, and Chapters 12–19 referred to the destruction of Roman paganism.” (Gumerlock, Revelation and the First Century, 42.)
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Non-preterist might argue that since Henten was a Roman Catholic, he could have had the same goal in mind that Alcasar had, even though they wrote independent of one another. There aren’t many commentaries on Revelation written in the mid-16th century written by non-Catholics, so we don’t have a lot to go on. Neither Luther nor Calvin wrote commentaries on Revelation.
But those who attack preterism because supposedly a Roman Catholic originated it with his interpretation of Revelation have a problem of their own if poisoning the well is a legitimate way to argue. Francisco Ribera (1537–1591) was a Jesuit doctor of theology in the Roman Catholic Church who began writing a lengthy (500 pages) commentary in 1585 on the book of Revelation (Apocalypse) titled In Sacrum Beati Ioannis Apostoli, & Evangelistiae Apocalypsin Commentarij, and published it about the year 1590.
In order to remove the Catholic Church from consideration as the antichrist power, Ribera proposed that most of Revelation refers to the distant future just prior to the second coming. “He taught that Antichrist would be a single individual, who would rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, abolish the Christian religion, deny Christ, be received by the Jews, pretend to be God, and conquer the world — and all in this brief space of three and one-half years.” (Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, 2:489–490.)
Ribera’s view sounds very similar to modern-day premillennialism.
Let me poison the well a bit more. The Jehovah’s Witnesses follow an end-time scenario that is not much different from the one outlined by dispensationalists. Appeals are made to 2 Timothy 3, sections of Daniel, and, of course, the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24. Just like the dispensationalists, the JWs point to 2 Peter 3:3–4 to support their claim that those who do not believe we are living in the last days are “scoffers.” As evidence that we are living in the last days, like the dispensationalists, they point to “a tribulation that would be greater than any that had yet occurred.” (Awake! (April 2008), 4.) Then there are the obligatory references to nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes, pestilence, and what they believe is a yet future preaching of the gospel into all the world of our day.
You will also find that JWs and dispensationalist share the belief that world wars, terrorism, tsunamis, diseases like malaria, influenza, and AIDs are empirical evidence that the end must be near. There is also the common belief that Armageddon is still in our future. Like the dispensationalists, JWs “are convinced of the reality of these prophecies.” (Awake!, 7.)
If preterism should be discarded because of its supposed Jesuit beginnings, then futurism should similarly be discarded because of its Jesuit association.
Frederic W. Farrar (1831–1903) explains that neither Jesuit Luis De Alcazar nor Francisco Ribera are the originators of preterism:
But to me it seems that the founder of the Preterist School is none other than St. John himself. For he records the Christ as saying to him when he was in the Spirit, ‘Write the things which thou sawest, and THE THINGS WHICH ARE, and the things which are about to happen (ha mellei ginesthai [ἃ μέλλει γενέσθαι]) after these things’ [Rev. 1:19]. No language surely could more clearly define the bearing of the Apocalypse. It is meant to describe the contemporary state of things in the Church and the world, and the events which were to follow in immediate sequence. If the Historical School can strain the latter words into an indication that we are (contrary to all analogy) to have a symbolic and unintelligible sketch of many centuries, the Preterist School may at any rate apply these words, ha eisen [ἃ εἰσὶν], ‘THE THINGS WHICH ARE,’ to vindicate the application of a large part of the Apocalypse to events nearly contemporary, while they also give the natural meaning to the subsequent clause by understanding it of events which were then on the horizon. The Seer emphatically says that the future events which he has to foreshadow will occur speedily (en taxei [“at hand”]) and the recurrent burden of his whole book is the nearness of the Advent (ho kairos engus [“the time is near”]). Language is simply meaningless if it is to be so manipulated by every successive commentator as to make the words “speedily” and “near” imply any number of centuries of delay. (Farrar, The Early Days of Christianity, 432–433.)
It is curious to see with what extraordinary ease commentators explain the perfectly simple and [un]ambiguous expression “speedily” (en taxei), to mean any length of time which they may choose to demand. The word “immediately,” in Matt. xxiv. 29, has been subject to similar handling, in which indeed all Scripture exegesis abounds. The failure to see that the Fall of Jerusalem and the end of the Mosaic Dispensation was a “Second Advent” — and the Second Advent contemplated in many of the New Testament prophecies — has led to a multitude of errors.” (Farrar, The Early Days of Christianity, 432, note 2.)
The biblical record is clear on nearly every page that Jesus came in judgment and vindication of His finished redemptive work before their generation passed away (Matt. 24:34).
Arthur Herman, The Idea of Decline in Western History (New York: The Free Press, 1997), 19.