Jesus: The Perennial No-Show
Opening a Can of Worms
Early in the 1990’s, I participated in an evolution/creation debate that appeared in the letter to the editor section of a local newspaper. My most vocal opponent in that debate was a creationist pastor, whom I shall refer to as Preter. Eventually, the debate developed into one in which the good pastor and I were communicating directly with one another through the mails. As is often the case in such debates, the subject eventually turned from one about the scientific aspects of evolution/creation into one that dealt primarily with the reliability and authenticity of the Bible. At one point early in our exchange, Preter asked me if I believed that Jesus is God. I responded thusly:
Is Jesus God? First the legitimate question arises as to whether he actually claimed that he was or whether those words were later put in his mouth by his press agents. If he claimed it himself, it is logical to assume that he was either a clever salesman or that he suffered from delusions of grandeur (or perhaps a combination of the two). The scriptures are not much help in this regard. A few passages such as some of those you listed and Matt. 4:7 indicate that God and Jesus are one and the same. Yet there are many such as Matt. 3:17 and 10:32, Mark 14:36, and John 8:42, 11:41-42, and 12:49 that leave little doubt that they are two separate entities. To assume otherwise would imply that in some instances God was in the habit of talking to himself. Regardless whether Jesus thought he is/was God, he most assuredly did not possess the godly gift of foretelling the future. If the words of Jesus are to be taken literally, one can only conclude that he was certain that his “coming” to usher in the final “kingdom of God/heaven/Jesus” on earth, would occur during the lifetime of most of his contemporaries, e.g., Matt. 10:23 (“…Ye [the disciples] shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man [Jesus] be come.”), Matt. 16:28 (“Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man [Jesus] coming in his kingdom.”), Mark 13:30 (“Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.”), and Luke 21:32 (“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.”). I personally cannot perceive of an omniscient God making such a grievous error. [Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV, unless otherwise specified.]
[Other examples that I could have cited include: Matt. 24:34 (“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”), Matt. 23:36 (“Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.” The Living Bible Paraphrased interprets this passage as, “Yes, all the accumulated judgment of the centuries shall break upon the heads of this very generation.”), Mark 9:1 (“…Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.”), Mark 14:62 and Matt. 26:64 (“…ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”), and Luke 9:27 (“But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.”)]
A straightforward reading of the verses that precede Matt.10:23 and 16:28, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32 left little doubt in my mind (and in the minds of most objective readers) that they were referring to Jesus’ promised “coming,” in conjunction with which, the final judgment of mankind is supposed to take place. Since it is quite obvious that the final judgment of mankind did not occur during the lifetime of those to whom Jesus was speaking (or anytime since), I assumed I had presented a logical and convincing argument against the accuracy of his prophecy.
What I naively failed to take into account was the fact that Christians have had nearly 2,000 years to invent ad hoc excuses and fanciful rationalizations designed to cover up this embarrassing flaw in the Bible legend. I also failed to appreciate the fact that some apologists, like Preter, have no qualms about engaging in selective reading and ignoring (or concocting nonstandard definitions for) words and phrases they find problematic. If self-serving word games are necessary to maintain the charade of biblical inerrancy, these apologists are more than happy to play along.
Kingdom of God/Heaven/Jesus
Since a number of the prophetic verses in question speak of the coming of the “kingdom of God/heaven/Jesus,” it would be helpful to know precisely what these phrases mean. Unfortunately, as with so much of the other obscure language used in the Bible, there is no universally held understanding of what they mean. Some Christians interpret the “kingdom” in these verses as being more spiritual in nature and already partially established, while others equate it, quite literally, with a real kingdom that will be ruled by God at the end times. As this source notes, “Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom of God as the theme of his gospel as well as the destination for the righteous in the end of days.” According to the same source, “When the New Testament authors spoke of Jesus coming to judge the living and the dead they were saying the same thing as the Kingdom coming because he was in fact appointed to be the King of the Kingdom.” And here the “kingdom” is described as follows: “Jesus assumes his hearers understand the Kingdom foundation that was laid in the Hebrew Scriptures. When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven (both meaning the same thing) he speaks of the time of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. A time of a restored earth where the faithful will worship and serve their God forever under the rulership of a righteous leader of the Davidic line. This was the Messianic hope of the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures and was carried over and echoed in the words of John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul and others in the Greek Scriptures.”
Dan. 2:44, 7:13-14, 22 and Rev. 11:15 speak of a future kingdom that God will rule on earth. Matt. 5:3,10,12 speak of a future kingdom of heaven in which the “poor in spirit” and those “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” will be rewarded. According to Matt. 7:21-23 and Luke 13:22-30, there will come a time when people will enter the kingdom of heaven/God on a future day of judgment. Jesus also looked forward to a future reunion with his disciples in which he would drink with them in God’s kingdom. (Matt. 26:29) Whatever the exact meaning of these phrases, it is reasonable to assume that they had eschatological [end times] connotations for most of those who heard them in 1st century.
Bible Study Backfires
Because, at the time, I was rather inexperienced at debating with Christians of the fundamentalist mindset, I was not prepared for the counter argument that Preter threw at me. And because the Internet was not then readily available, I was forced to consult books on the subject and to carefully read and analyze pertinent Bible verses in order to formulate my rebuttal. It was while engaging in this latter activity that I soon discovered that reading the Bible with an open mind quickly dispels any notion that it is a coherent, internally consistent document of divinely inspired origin. Truth be told, I owe a debt of gratitude to Preter for forcing me to examine the Bible in considerable detail. There is nothing like serious Bible study to reveal just how riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions it actually is. (See here and here.)
Preter Attempts to Rescue Jesus from an Embarrassing Mistake
In response to my initial comments about Jesus’ lack of prophetic expertise, Preter introduced me to an apologetic concept about which I was completely unaware. According to this imaginative excuse for Jesus’ failed prophecy, all the things predicted in the verses preceding Matt.10:23, 16:28, and 24:34; Mark 13:30; and Luke 21:32 actually did occur while his contemporaries were still alive. Purportedly, they occurred in 70 CE during the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies, which Preter confidently declared had been sent by, none other than, Jesus himself. In other words, Jesus’ prophecy about the coming “Kingdome of God” did not fail. Instead, according to Preter, I had failed to interpret the scriptures properly. I soon discovered that this exercise in self-delusion even had a name, Preterism, and that there are even such nuances as partial and full Preterism. Wikipedia defines Preterism as follows:
Preterism is a variant of Christian eschatology which holds that some or all of the biblical prophecies concerning the Last Days (or End Times) refer to events which actually happened in the first century after Christ's birth. The term Preterism comes from the Latin praeter, meaning "past". Adherents of Preterism are known as Preterists.
I subsequently learned that, in addition to Preterists, there are also so-called Historists and Futurists. Unlike the Preterists, the Historists believe that some of the Bible prophecies regarding the end times were fulfilled in the 1st century, but that others are still being fulfilled, and that the whole process will not be completed until some future date. Futurists, on the other hand, believe that fulfillment of virtually all the end-time prophecies will not commence until some three to seven days before the eagerly anticipated end of the world. If the Bible is divinely inspired, one wonders why God allowed it to be written in such vague language that even those who are sincere believers have such diverse and mutually exclusive opinions about what it actually says.
A straightforward reading of the Bible leads one to logically conclude that Jesus botched his second-coming prophecy. Obviously, this is of great concern to Christian fundamentalists such as Preter. It is unthinkable for True Believersä like him to admit that Jesus could have ever been mistaken about a prophecy, or anything else for that matter. In keeping with the gravity of my accusation (and the fact that an objective reading of the Bible appears to support my case), Preter went to great lengths to provide me with various and sundry arguments in favor of his position and to try to convince me that I was interpreting the pertinent passages incorrectly.
In his first rebuttal letter to me on the subject, Preter said that he would “prove beyond a shadow of a doubt” that he was right and I was wrong. At first I was rather overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of his responses. (After all, apologists have had nearly 2,000 years to invent them.) But then, as I actually started carefully examining the verses in question and consulting other sources, it became clear to me that all Preter and his fellow Preterists were trying to do was to save the Bible from an embarrassing lack of coherence and consistency. The more he grasped at straws in a vain attempt to preserve the inerrancy of the Bible, the more it became obvious to me that his arguments were as groundless as those he had used to support the pseudoscience of creationism.
The written debate between Preter and myself went on sporadically for nearly five years. During that time, the matter of Jesus’ failed prophecy was a reoccurring topic of discussion. In what follows, I have presented the gist of Preter’s arguments (not verbatim and in abbreviated form) in support of his semi-Preterist interpretation of the scriptures and my rebuttals (also not verbatim and with some additional commentary) to them. Since Preter is a thorough and dedicated defender of the faith, he managed to cover most of the pro-Preterist arguments in his correspondence. The aim of my comments was to demonstrate that the prophetic scriptures in question could not be referring only to the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, i.e., that they also encompassed the much-ballyhooed final judgment, which most assuredly did not take place as predicted at that time. This, of course, would establish that Jesus’ prophecy was in error. Preter sought to prove otherwise. (For the sake of clarity, the topics are not necessarily presented in the order in which they occurred in our original correspondence. It is hoped the reader will excuse a certain amount of redundancy that has resulted from the extended nature of our discussion.)
Before launching into the arguments and counterarguments, let me first comment on my understanding of the origin and authenticity of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) which figure prominently in this discussion. The best scholarship has determined that they are anonymous documents whose authors’ names were not assigned to them until some 40 years after they were written. The names were chosen to give them a more authoritative stature, and they were written no less than 30 years after the events they purport to describe. Prior to their appearance, the stories they tell were passed on by oral tradition from one person to another for at least three decades. (Everyone knows how stories often become embellished and modified during such retellings.) The stories they tell about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are just a few among many other accounts that were circulating at the time. Some parts of these stories appear to have been borrowed from a common source. Other parts were apparently developed independently without one author being aware of what the others were writing. (How else can one account for all the inconsistencies and contradictions in the resurrection story alone? See the Easter Challenge.)
Preter is of the opinion that the stories told in the gospels and other books of the Bible are divinely inspired and represent a factual recitation of history. I think it more reasonable to assume that these books are the work of fallible men who were not immune to fabricating the “facts” when it served their purpose of promoting Jesus as the prophesied Jewish Messiah. Preter believes that, when Jesus’ words are repeated in the gospels, they represent what he actually said. Similarly, he believes that Jesus (and other people) did everything the Bible says he (they) did. I think it more likely that most of what is written about Jesus in the Bible was invented by religious pitchmen who concocted largely fictional accounts based on hand-me-down oral legends. Therefore, when I quote something from the Bible in what follows, it does not mean that I take it as the gospel truth or think that the event depicted actually occurred. Such quotations are included only for the sake of argument.
The language used in Matt. 24 is typical Old Testament (O.T.) “national judgment language.” The language refers specifically to a judgment that was about to come or was eventually going to come to a nation. This language was referring only to the fall of Jerusalem, not the final judgment. An example of this language occurs in Matt. 24:29, i.e., sun darkened, moon looses light, stars fall. It also occurs in Isa. 13:9-19 regarding the judgment on Babylon and various other O.T. scriptures. The same thing can be said about Matt. 24:30, i.e., son of man coming on the clouds. The parallel occurs in Isa. 19:1 and Jer 4:13. The language is figurative. Nobody believed such things would actually take place. First century readers would understand Jesus’ words only one way, i.e., as predicting a national judgment. This is what happened when Jesus sent the Roman armies to destroy Jerusalem in 70 CE.
While some of the language used in Matt. 24 (the so-called Olivet Discourse) may be typical O.T. national judgment language, there is no logical reason to think that such language would not also be used in conjunction with an event as momentous as the final judgment. In fact, there is every reason to expect that this same type of language would be used in the context of the end times, and it was. For example, this exact same type of language is used in Rev. 6:12-17, Acts 2:17-21, and 1 Thess. 4:14-17 where these verses most assuredly do refer to the final judgment.
While modern-day readers would undoubtedly consider much of this language to be figurative, it is likely that those who wrote, read, and/or heard the scriptures in the 1st century would take them quite literally. It must be kept in mind that these were superstitious people who lived in pre-scientific times. When the ancients saw meteors (falling stars), eclipses of the sun and moon (sun darkened, moon loses light), the moon/sun on the horizon shining through hazy skies (moon/sun turning to blood), etc., they associated them with signs and omens from God. We now have scientific explanations for such phenomena. Jesus and his contemporaries did not. It is entirely reasonable to assume that people living in biblical times would expect such astronomical phenomena to actually occur and portend and/or coincide with significant events like the final judgment. Most people in that era (and an appallingly high percentage even today) would take the report of such things as the purported wandering star at the birth of Jesus (Matt. 2:9) and the darkening of the sun at his crucifixion (Matt. 27:45) quite literally. And most of them would not question that the moon and sun really did stand still during one of Joshua’s genocidal campaigns (Josh. 10:12-13). There is no good reason to think that they would restrict such language exclusively to the description of events that were to befall Jerusalem in 70 CE. And, as discussed above, there is clear evidence from the Bible that they did not.
A document known as the Didache (Teachings of the Twelve Apostles) which was found in a monastery in Constantinople was published in 1883. This document, which reflects the thinking of the early Christians during the formative period of the Church, has been determined to have been written no later than 150 CE, and more likely towards the end of the 1st century. Contrary to Preter’s assertion, this document shows that early Christians did indeed understand passages such as the Olivet Discourse in Matt. 24 in the context of future events when, quite literally, heaven would open, the trumpet would sound, the dead would be resurrected, and the world would see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven. As an example, a section of Chapter 16 from the Didache reads as follows:
“Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but those who endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. And then shall appear the signs of the truth: first, the sign of an outspreading in heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet. And third, the resurrection of the dead -- yet not of all, but as it is said: "
‘The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him.’ Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.”
No mention is made of the destruction of Jerusalem in this document. Instead, it talks of a future worldwide event that will supposedly follow the resurrection of the dead. Subsequent compilers did not change the Didache. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that those living in the apostolic age did not subscribe to the Preterist view that (whether spoken of figuratively or not) the trumpet had already sounded and the Lord had come upon the clouds during the fall of the temple in 70 CE. As noted in the New Dictionary of Theology (Ferguson et. al. eds., Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1988), “If, as the Preterists claim, their interpretation of the Olivet Discourse is so irrefutably clear, it is surprising that the first two centuries of church history and virtually the entire past century of scholarly work missed it.”
Evidence that Jesus’ prophecies about the coming of the Son of Man in judgment of mankind were not universally interpreted by 1st century readers as pertaining only to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE can also be found in the writings of Paul. In various epistles (1 Thess. 4:13-17; 1Cor. 15:20-23, 51-54) Paul clearly associated Jesus’ much-anticipated coming with the general resurrection of the dead. The fact that Paul was also wrong about the imminent timing of the event is beside the point. If a prominent contributor to the Bible like Paul (who wrote before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE) thought Jesus’ coming on the clouds was temporally connected with the final judgment, how can the argument that 1st century readers thought of it as pertaining only to a national judgment be rationally supported? Furthermore, 2 Peter 3:10 links the coming of the Lord to a time when the earth will be destroyed. Quite obviously, this did not occur in 70 CE. During the last supper, Judas is said to have asked Jesus why he was revealing himself only to the disciples and not the entire world. (John 14:22) This verse shows that the disciples had expectations for Jesus’ sphere of influence that far eclipsed the city of Jerusalem.
In Mark 1:15, Jesus is claimed to have warned his followers that “…The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Similarly in Matt. 4:17 he is said to have admonished his listeners to “…Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Warnings about repenting of sins and the impending establishment of kingdoms of God/heaven have clear eschatological connotations. Substantial numbers of Christians today associate these verses with the eagerly awaited end times. The argument that many inhabitants of the 1st century would not interpret them the same way is yet another example of desperation hermeneutics. The only rationale for putting this spin on the scriptures is to save Jesus from making a false prediction.
Regarding Matt. 24:31, “sending forth his angels to gather the elect”, this is again O.T. national judgment language. Angels simply means “messenger”, whether human or otherwise. See Matt. 11:10; Luke 7:24, 9:52; Jas. 2:25. These all use the same Greek word, but refer to human messengers. Jesus did send forth his messengers, the apostles, to gather forth his elect (Matt. 24:14).
While the word in question can be also used to refer to earthly messengers, in Matt. 24:31 it can only be talking about genuine, card-carrying, heavenly angels. These angels are charged with the responsibility of gathering the elect, not only from the earth, but also “from one end of heaven to another” (Matt. 24:31) and “the uttermost part of heaven” (Mark 13:27). Clearly this is an assignment that far outstrips the abilities of any earth-bound apostle. Since there is no evidence in the Bible (or anywhere else for that matter) that the elect were gathered from the outer fringes of heaven in 70 CE, these verses are additional examples of a failed prophecy.
(During the long and tortuous course of our debate, Preter would frequently shout at me because I did not properly “READ THE CONTEXT.” A more classic case of the pot calling the kettle black is difficult to imagine. Conveniently ignoring the references to the gathering of the elect in heaven in the aforementioned verses is a case in point.)
While on the subject of apostles and their commission, Matt. 24:14 reads, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” In the same context, Mark 13:10 reads, “And the gospel must first be published among all nations.” By 70 CE the gospel had neither been preached nor published in all the nations of the world. Whatever “…then shall the end come” refers to, the conditions were not met in 70 CE. Therefore, taking the Bible at its word, Jesus’ prophecy (regardless what “end” was spoken of) could not have been fulfilled at that time.
Matt. 24:34 reads, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” Just as Jesus predicted, he did come in that generation in 70 AD when he sent the Roman armies to destroy Jerusalem. That is why he says in vs. 16 that his people should flee and pray that it is not the Sabbath when the gates would be closed. No one will be able to flee from Jesus’ final coming, but they could flee from the one he speaks about in Matt. 24 (and 10:23; 16:28, etc.).
At least I did not have to deal with the non-Preterist apologetic that claims the word for “generation” does not actually mean what it says. Be that as it may, the mayhem that will accompany the fulfillment of this prophecy is described in Matt. 24:21 thusly: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor shall ever be.” Mark 13:19 describes the situation as follows: “For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be.” Clearly such a calamity can only be reserved for the uniquely horrendous events surrounding judgment day during the so-called end times. Whatever is going to happen is even going to be worse than what supposedly occurred during Noah’s Flood when virtually all life was said to have been erased from the surface of the earth. Although traumatic to the inhabitants of the city, the fall of Jerusalem could never count as the greatest tribulation to ever befall mankind.
Matt. 24:22 reads, “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” (See also Luke 21:21 and Mark 13:14) This is a promise that God will shorten the final days of end time’s tribulation to spare the elect death and undue suffering. Even with a tribulation of shortened duration, there would be no guarantee that they would escape completely unscathed. Fleeing the area where most of the action would be taking place would increase their chances of surviving the carnage until Jesus comes swooping down on the clouds to rescue them. While no one might be able to avoid Jesus’ “final coming,” by fleeing the area of major conflict, they would at least minimize the odds of being hacked to pieces before he arrived. Why should they endure unnecessary pain and bloodshed when the second coming was nigh at hand? Therefore, Jesus’ purported advice that they flee, does make sense in terms of great tribulation the Bible said was going to happen during his final coming.
Preter calls attention to Matt. 16:28 in his defense, but fails to mention the preceding verse. Verse 27 says, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” This is an unambiguous reference to the end times judgment which, quite obviously, did not occur in 70 CE. This is another example of the selective reading that biblical apologists find so useful to their cause.
[I address the stipulation in Matt. 24:34 “till all these things be fulfilled” later in the article.]
To further see that Jesus was merely talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, look at the question he was answering (Matt. 24:1-3). He told them that the temple was going to be destroyed (vs. 1 and 2) and they asked when and what will be the sign of the “end of the age” (i.e., the Jewish O.T. age). The KJV says “world” instead of “age”, the word having both meanings. Now, they could not have asked about the “second coming” or any personal return of Jesus, for they did not even believe in such a thing at this time. They never believed he was even going to leave (Matt. 16:21-22; 20:20-22; Luke 19:11; 18:31-34; 24:21-25; John 14:1-5, 16:16-18, 20:9). They had no concept of his death, let alone his resurrection and return. They thought he was going to set up an earthly kingdom and kick out the Romans. Thus, they did not ask about what we call the “second coming”, and Jesus did not give them an answer to something they neither asked about nor comprehended. They asked about the destruction of Jerusalem and he told them about it. Forty years before it happened, Jesus described in great detail the horrible events of 70 AD.
In Matt. 24:3, the disciples did not ask only about the destruction of Jerusalem. They asked a two-part question, i.e., (1) “…Tell us, when shall these things be? [the destruction of the Jerusalem temple] (2) and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world.” (According to the major theme of the N.T., Jesus’ “coming” and the “end of the world” were inextricably linked.) The most common meanings for the word translated as “world” in this verse are “for ever, an unbroken age, perpetuity of time, eternity, worlds, and universe.” (See here.) Because this word connotes all of creation and an unbounded time frame, it is reasonable to assume that the author of this verse was using it to refer to events associated with the end of the world as they knew it. This exact same phrase [sunteleia anion] is used in Matt. 13:49-50 where the context is most assuredly that of a worldwide last judgment, i.e., angels severing the wicked from the just and wailing and the gnashing of teeth in the furnace of fire. The same holds true for Matt. 13:39. And this is the exact same phrase used in Matthew’s version of the “Great Commission” where he tells his disciples he will be with them till “the end of the world.” (Surely Matthew did not mean to imply that Jesus abandoned his disciples after the fall to the temple in 70 CE.) For the sake of consistency, it is reasonable to conclude the Matthew did not mean anything different in Matt. 24:3 than he did when he used the same phrase in reference to the last times and the “Great Commission” in all the other places it occurs in his writings.
The disciples were familiar with the end time prophecies of the O.T. The second part of their question asks specifically about what signs they should expect to see when these final events begin to unfold. And, in the following verses, Jesus answers that question. In doing so, Jesus indicates that a sequence of events will occur. First, there will be a series of events leading up to the tribulation and destruction of the temple (Matt. 24:5-14). Second, the events connected with the tribulation and the destruction of the temple shall ensue (Matt. 24:15-28). Third, “immediately after the tribulation of those days,” signs shall appear in the heavens and then the “Son of man” shall come on the clouds (Matt. 24:29-35). Restricting the question(s) to one that dealt only with the fall of Jerusalem is not justified from consideration of the construction of the sentence, the meaning of the word interpreted as “world,” or the nature of answer that Jesus gave to the questions. Ignoring the conjunctions “and” in the verse does not mean that others are so careless when they read the passage.
The N.T. authors taught that the Law of Moses (which prevailed during the “Jewish O.T. age”) ended when Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead. (For examples, see Rom. 10:4, Gal. 3:13-25, Eph. 2:15, and 2 Cor. 3:13-14) There is not a single passage that states it ended with the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Preter’s claim that the end of the “Jewish OT age” occurred in 70 CE is inconsistent with other relevant teachings of Bible.
Portraying the disciples as being oblivious to the fate that would befall Jesus is a literary device used to lend them an air of enhanced credibility. Had the individuals who reported the resurrection been waiting in a state of rapt expectation, their testimony would not have carried as much clout. In the gospel myth, these “witnesses” are depicted as being unaware, impartial, and initially disbelieving. Thomas is even said to have failed to believe that he was seeing the resurrected Jesus even after he walked right through a locked door in plain view. Impartiality always makes for a more credible witness; and the story is easier to swallow if the witnesses are portrayed as being initially skeptical. Although the gospel writers played fast and loose with the truth, that does not mean that they were not clever in developing their storylines.
Preter claims that the verses in question could not be referring to the second coming because the disciples did not understand the concept that Jesus would die, be resurrected, and make a return trip. Moses and the prophets are said to have known that Jesus would die and be resurrected (Acts 26:22-23), and so did David (Acts 2:29-32). In John 1:45 it is said that the disciples identified Jesus as the one about “whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write…” Why, if they recognized Jesus as one written about by Moses and the prophets, would they be totally oblivious of his prophesied death, resurrection, and subsequent “coming” to enlighten the world? Since they thought that Jesus was the one whom Moses and the prophets had prophesied would die, come back to life, and enlighten the world, why would it be unexpected of them to ask when all this was going to commence?
Paul obviously knew Jesus had died, believed he had been resurrected, and thought that he would come back to earth again as part of the final judgment scenario in which the dead would be resurrected (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1Cor. 15:20-23, 51-54). Ditto John (John 5:24-25). Peter thought that the “end of all things” was at hand (1 Peter 4:7) and that the existing heaven and earth would be destroyed and new ones would be created in their place (2 Peter 3:12-13). James was certain Jesus’ second coming was drawing nigh (Jas. 5:8). The failure of Jesus’ apostles to heed his every word after he had performed various miraculous stunts, e.g., walking on water, raising the dead, turning water into wine, undergoing a transfiguration, etc., is beyond belief. Only those who are a few sandwiches short of a picnic would fail to pay rapt attention and eagerly embrace every utterance by a person who possessed such “obvious” godly connections. The depiction of the disciples as being retards when it comes to comprehending what Jesus was telling them about his death and resurrection is contrived literary fiction. Either that, or one must conclude that Jesus was as big a failure at verbal communication as he was at prophecy.
Regarding Jesus’ communication skills, one could not blame the disciples if they actually did experience confusion about Jesus’ ramblings on these matters. When discussing his death and resurrection, he had the nasty habit of speaking in cryptic and parabolic language that obscured the message he was trying to get across. If Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that he was going to die and be resurrected, why didn’t he explain it to them (in private, if need be) in plain language that they could easily comprehend? Instead, he seemed to derive perverse pleasure from their inability to make sense out of his convoluted manner of speaking. Why use language that obscures your message, and then rebuke your audience for failing to understand your every word? Furthermore, you really can’t find fault with the disciples for hesitating to ask Jesus for clarification. Once when Peter was trying to clear up the confusion, Jesus snapped back and called him Satan. (Matt. 16:23 and Mark 8:33) That kind of response tends to put a damper on further inquiry.
Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the disciples were really so dense that they couldn’t comprehend Jesus’ repeated declarations about his death and resurrection, it would still make sense for them to ask about his “coming.” According to Acts 1:6, prior to Jesus’ purported ascension, the disciples asked him, “…Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom of Israel.” If they thought Jesus was on the verge of establishing himself as some kind of king who would liberate the Jews and vanquish the Romans, it would only be natural for them to ask him, in Matt 24:3, when he was going to get his act together. In accordance with this scenario, they were not asking about his so-called second coming at all. According to Strong’s Concordance, the word translated as “coming” in Matt. 24 and related verses means “presence, coming, arrival, and advent.”
Considering Acts 1:6, it would have been reasonable for them to ask when he was going to come into power to save them from the Romans. Jesus’ followers thought that his hoped-for “coming” into power to restore Israel would occur in conjunction with the “end of the world” and the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth as prophesied in the O.T. That is why they inquired about these two matters in Matt. 24:3. Jesus assured them in Matt. 24:34 and various other verses previously mentioned that “all these things” would be fulfilled during the lifetime of some of those listening to him. In Luke 21:22, Jesus confidently predicts, “For these are the days of vengeance [when Jerusalem is besieged], that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” All things written by the prophets in the Bible did not happen when Jesus said it would, nor have they anytime since. Jesus simply got it wrong.
There are a number of qualifying statements in the pertinent verses which argue strongly that they could not be referring only to what happened (will happen) during the fall of Jerusalem. Consider the following examples: Luke 21:28 - “…for your redemption (i.e., delivery from sin) draweth nigh.” This is an obvious reference to the final judgment, not the loss of a city. Luke 21:22 - “…That all things which are written may be fulfilled." Luke 21:32 - “…till all be fulfilled.” “All” includes everything prophesied in the Bible, up to and including, the second coming. It includes everything that was predicted by the O.T. prophets which includes a great deal more than just what happen during the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Luke 21:35 - “…shall it come to all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.” Whatever this tribulation is, the events associated with it are all encompassing and are not restricted to the people living in the confines of Jerusalem or its immediate surroundings. Therefore, it cannot be simply a prophecy of the fall of the city. Matt. 24:14 - “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations: and then shall the end come.” Mark 13:10 - “And the gospel must first be published among all nations.” As discussed above, the gospel was neither preached nor published worldwide by 70 CE. (People in places such as China, Australia, Iceland, and the Americas had never heard or read a word about it by that time. Many still haven’t.) Matt. 24:21 - “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor shall ever be.” See also Mark 13:19. Again, as discussed above, while traumatic for the inhabitants of the city, the fall of Jerusalem was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the greatest tribulation to occur (or that would ever occur) during the history of the earth. It would pale in comparison to the mythical worldwide Flood of Noah and even the more recent Jewish Holocaust.
The Moon Turning to Blood – Figurative or Literal Language?
There is much in Matt. 24 to indicate figurative intent, i.e., “stars falling from the sky.” READ THE CONTEXT!! Look at the language in Acts 2:20 – will the moon literally turn into blood?
The question is not what you or I now think about it. The pertinent question is how Luke (the supposed author of Acts) and his audience would have understood the passages. People living at that time would have no reason to doubt that cosmic catastrophes had accompanied, and would accompany, significant events in their history. Gen. 1:14 says that is one of the reasons that the “lights” were placed in the firmament in the first place, to provide “signs.” Anyone who seriously believed that rivers were once turned to blood in Egypt (Exod. 7:17-20) would have no difficulty believing that the moon might suffer a similar fate on certain auspicious occasions. Anyone who swallowed the story that God once created a meandering star whose position could be used to ascertain the exact location of a stable (Matt. 2:9) would not think it unusual that God might cause them to fall from the sky at the end times. The Gospel authors who concocted the myth surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion did not hesitate to incorporate many implausible phenomena in their writings, e.g., the darkening of the sun (Matt. 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44) and the occurrence of zombie awakening earthquakes (Matt. 27:51-53). They knew that people living in that era who heard their stories would not seriously question the occurrence of such things. Certainly anyone who believed that God had once destroyed most of the inhabitants of the earth in a worldwide flood where some of the water came from open windows in the dome of the sky (Gen. 7:11, 8:2) would find nothing exceptional in the cosmic events depicted in Matt. 24 and related narratives.
The fact that this type of language was used in association with critical events in the O.T. is all the more reason for the N.T. story tellers to use it to depict what they thought would happen during the most auspicious time of all. They were superstitious and scientifically naïve people. They did not possess the basic knowledge that would enable them to question such fantastic occurrences. Preter is mind reading across the millennia with the benefit of scientific hindsight from the 21st century when he insists that 1st century authors and readers would only interpret such things figuratively. Since the predicted cosmic catastrophes did not occur during the fall of the temple, Preter is forced to argue that they could not have been intended as anything other than figurative discourse. His argument, which ignores the worldview of the people involved, is nothing but a futile attempt to absolve the Bible of error.
Revelations on Book of Revelation
The Preterist view holds that Jesus and the entire N.T. looked only to the 70 A.D. “coming” (not a view I hold). Most liberal scholars hold this view (though they say it was written after the event.). Kenneth Gentry, a conservative Presbyterian scholar, interprets Matt. 24 and Revelation as referring to the 70 A.D. destruction of Jerusalem – only. His book, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelations, does a good job of proving Revelation to be written prior to 70 A.D. and to this event.
Revelation does not refer to the last judgment anymore than does Matt. 24. It spoke of things that were to “shortly take place” and were “near.” It was a “sign” in a vision that was filled with figures and symbols. Gentry’s book on the subject is very scholarly and quotes over 500 ancient and modern scholars on the subject.
Now there is a telling example of the fundamentalist mindset in action. According to Preter, Revelation cannot be referring to the last judgment because it talks about events that were “shortly to take place” and were “near.” In other words, it cannot be talking about the last judgment because, if it is talking about the last judgment, the scripture is wrong about the timing. To put it another way, if Revelation is talking about the last judgment, then the Bible is in error. And since fundamentalists, like Preter cannot bear the thought of the Bible being in error, Revelations can’t, in accordance with their presuppositions, be talking about the last judgment. This is an example of the logical fallacy called “Begging the Question.” In this case, the truth that the Bible cannot be in error is assumed within the original premise that Revelation cannot be talking about the last judgment. Since it has not been proven that the Bible cannot be in error (in fact quite the opposite has been clearly established), the premise that it cannot be referring to the last judgment is not logically supported. If Revelation is referring to the last judgment, the Bible is in error, and Preter is forced to twist himself into theological knots in an attempt to prove the Bible does not mean what is says. From his further comments, it is obvious that he is more than happy to engage is whatever subterfuge is necessary to “prove” the Bible is error free.
Whether or not most liberal scholars think that the entire N.T. looked only to the 70 A.D. “coming’ it does not mean that they consider the events to be restricted only to the fall of Jerusalem. As stated in the Five Gospels (about as good a “liberal scholar” source as one can find), the Jesus Seminar has the following to say about Mark 13, “Mark has constructed two lengthy discourses in his gospel: 4:1-3 on parables, and 13:1-37 on the events that will bring history to a close.” “A notable feature of early Christian instruction is that teaching about last things (termed eschatology) occurs at the conclusion of the catechism of the manual of instruction…Mark thus appropriately makes Jesus’ discourse on last things his final public discourse.” Similar statements are made regarding Matt. 24 and Luke 21 whose authors, according to conventional wisdom, borrowed much of their material from Mark. Most “liberal” scholars are of the opinion that the fall of Jerusalem as described by the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) was intended only as an immediate prelude to the final judgment that the disciples erroneously thought was just around the corner.
As discussed above, in order for Preter to make the argument that Revelation deals only with events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, he is forced into the awkward position of expunging from it any reference to the last judgment, which quite obviously did not occur in 70 CE. This is a formidable challenge indeed. I have a book by Roy Allan Anderson, Unfolding the Revelation, that provides a detailed verse-by-verse analysis “proving” most emphatically that Revelation does pertain to the coming last judgment. A book published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Life-How did it get here?, arrives at the same conclusion. The book, Exploring the Bible, has the following to say about Revelation, “…it describes the end of time, the return of Christ to judge the world, the fall of Satan, and the New Heaven that will arise in glory.” I once attended a lecture by Lyle Albrecht who made it abundantly clear that the numerous predictions in Revelation regarding the last days “prove” that the momentous event is just around the corner. The brochure that advertised the event said Mr. Albrecht is a student of biblical languages who has made a comprehensive study of Bible prophecy. Furthermore, the self-help section of my K.J.V. Bible describes Revelation as having to do with prophecies “…the subject of which is the state of the Church, from the close of the Sacred Volume till the consummation of all things…” More to the point, it also says that Revelation was written in 94-95 A.D. when John had been banished to the Isle of Patmos by Emperor Domitian. In order for Revelation to represent prophesy of the 70 CE fall of the temple, it would have to have been written prior to 70 CE. While the exact dating of Revelation is subject to considerable debate, this site makes a credible argument for its later composition. (See here.)
But then I am not telling Preter anything that he does not already know. He knows that the vast majority of biblical scholars think that Gentry is full of baloney in claiming that Revelation refers only to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, no matter how many sources he may have quoted. Even if it were written in 67/68 CE, as some scholars argue, that does not restrict its scope only to the horrors associated with the Jewish revolt that began in 66 CE. Anyone who can read Rev. 20:11-15 (the judging by God on his great white throne of the resurrected dead from earth, sea, and Hades), and Rev. 21:1-4 (the passing away of the first heaven and the first earth, the appearance of a new heaven and a new earth, and the descending of God and the New Jerusalem from heaven to the new earth for the perfect New Age of peace and justice) and still argue, with a straight face, that they do not refer to the end times is a master of self-deception. Where does such deliteralization end? It appears it only ends when Preter discovers a literal reading that does not conflict with his preconceived notions about the inerrancy of the Bible. Unfortunately for him, there are few such readings he can point to.
It was the prevailing wisdom in N.T. times (incorrect though it may have been) that the existing world would soon come to an end and be replaced by God’s kingdom. There was a fervent hope that the Roman oppressors would soon be defeated and that God/Jesus would triumphantly arrive on the scene to reward the righteous and punish the damned. The N.T. is replete with references to the imminent and much-anticipated nature of such an occurrence (Matt. 3:2, 4:17, 10:23, 16:28, 24:34; Mark 1:15, 9:1, 13:30; Luke 9:26-27, 21:31-32; John 5:25; Acts 2:17; Phil. 4:5; 2 Thess. 2:2; Rom. 13:11-12; 1 Pet. 1:20, 4:7 and 17, Heb. 1:1-2, 9:26, 10:36-37; 1 John 2:18 and 28; Jas. 5:3 and 7-8; 1 Cor. 7:29, 10:11; Rev. 1:1-3, 3:11, 22:6-7 and 12 and 20). As is made clear in 1Thess. 4:17 and Heb. 9:26-28, they thought that the reappearance of Jesus would be closely associated with this great finale.
Preter and other fundamentalists like Gentry reject Revelation as a prophecy of the end times, not because it lacks the proper eschatological language, but because of their presupposition that the Bible could not possibly be in error regarding the timing of such an event. That may be considered objective thinking to a biblical fundamentalist, but no serious scholar would think so. If Preter is correct in his minority opinion regarding the message of Revelation, why has God allowed so many (most) other devout Christians to be led astray on this matter? And why does God communicate in such confusing language that it requires legions of biblical scholars to try to figure out what He is saying? Many children in grade school could provide a more easily understood and coherent message than God appears capable of inspiring from his selected authors.
Last Does Not Mean Last
The phrase “last hour” is not described in John. [This is a reference to 1 John 2:18 – “Little children, it is the last time…”] You are assuming (along with the uninspired author of your Bible’s footnotes) that John is referring to the last hour of the world. However, this is not the common meaning of this language in scripture. This phrase, along with phrases such as “the last days”, “in latter days”, etc., is typical language used simply to refer to a critical time period, whether it be a coming persecution, a coming critical event (such as the ushering in of the New Covenant), a national judgment, or the final coming of Christ.
Now let me give you some examples of how John himself (quoting Jesus) used this kind of language to refer to various critical moments. In John 2:4, Jesus says “my hour has not yet come” (cf. John 7:30, 12:27, 13:1, 17:1). In John 4:21-23, he speaks of “an hour” that was coming and was really already there (“and now is”). Same in John 5:25 to refer to the spiritual resurrection in Christ, the new birth.
The similar phrase “last days” also usually (if not always) refers to the time between 33 AD and 70 AD. For example, in Acts 2:16-17, Peter, quoting from the O.T. prophet Joel, explains the events of Acts 2:1-4 as being the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy of the “last days.” Peter was saying that the “last days” were upon them (and not the judgment language in the quote from Joel – vs. 19-20). James, writing to the “twelve tribes dispersed abroad” (i.e., Jewish Christians), says that it is “in the last days that you have stored up your treasure” (Jas. 5:3). This proves (just as Acts 2:17 does) that the “last days” were already in existence in the first century. In the very same context, James speaks of the “coming of the Lord” (Jas. 5:7-8). I believe he was speaking of the same “coming” that Jesus spoke of in Matt. 24. The book of Hebrews also proves that they considered the “last days” to be the days in which they lived (Heb. 1:2, 9:26). Compare also 1 Cor. 10:11 (“upon whom the ends of the ages have come”) and notice it says “ends,” plural, probably referring to the “final end” of the O.T. age and the “beginning of the end” of the N.T. age (like the two ends of a rope joined together.)
I do not dispute Preter’s contention that most of the Jews and Christians of the 1st century thought that they were living in the “last days” and that the “end of the world/age” and the “final hour” were upon them. Such a worldview is clearly supported by the scriptures. What I disagree with is his insistence that these phrases pertain only to the timing of events surrounding the fall of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. An objective assessment of all the pertinent scriptures shows that such a premise is arbitrary and ill-founded. The only reason anyone would endorse such a factitious interpretation would be to avoid confronting the fact that Jesus’ prediction about his “coming” was a failure.
The examples Preter gives (John 2:4, 4:21-23, 7:30, 12:27, 13:1, and 17:1) do not speak about the “last hour” or “final hour.” Most refer to the timing of events that were supposed to take place closely before or after Jesus’ crucifixion and purported resurrection. The fact that the Bible uses the same word for “hour” in these passages as it does when discussing the last or final hour is irrelevant to the matter under discussion. Preter appears to be arguing that, because the word for “hour” is not always used to denote the “last” times (i.e., the end of the world), it cannot be used in this context in 1 John 2:18. That’s like arguing that, because the word “student” is not always used to indicate an outstanding performer in class, a “top student” cannot mean one who excels at his/her studies. The adjective, “last [eschstos],” that modifies “times” in 1 John 2:18 is what gives the phrase its eschatological connotation.
When John 5:25 says that “now is” the hour when the dead will hear Jesus’ voice and will be resurrected (i.e., “they that hear shall live”), it is impossible for Preter to permit this passage to mean what it truly says because to do so would acknowledge that the Bible made a timing error. Nonetheless, read in context of the next four verses, it becomes abundantly clear that vs. 25 was indeed addressing events connected with the final judgment. (John 5:26-29 - “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”) These verses talk about dead people hearing Jesus’ voice, rising from their graves, and being judged for their previous conduct. To claim, as Preter does, that this is merely some kind of a “spiritual resurrection in Christ, the new birth” is yet another example of his failure to READ THE CONTEXT.
Preter argues that the “uninspired author” of my Bible’s footnotes is wrong in stating that Revelation (supposedly authored by John) is speaking of events associated with the final judgment. Is there any merit to Preter’s argument? To find out, one need only examine how John addressed the subject in his fantastical masterpiece that occurs as the last book in the Bible. To simplify things a bit, I have prepared a condensed version of Revelation as follows:
Rev. 1:1-3 John received a vision from God. Revelation unveils future activities soon to occur.
1:9-11 John received this heavenly vision while he was in Patmos.
3:10-12 A time of great tribulation is coming to test everyone alive. Jesus says, “I am coming soon!” A new city of Jerusalem will come down from the heavens.
4:1 John is given his vision to learn what must happen in the future.
6:9-11 It will only be necessary to wait a little longer until the Lord will judge the people of the earth.
6:12-17 There will be earthquakes, darkening of the sun, a red moon, and falling stars. People all over the earth will hide from God who will come in anger.
7:9-10 Vast crowds of people from every nation of the earth speaking all languages will stand in front of the throne of God.
8 Angels will blow trumpets causing thunder, lightning, earthquakes, hail, fire that will incinerate a third of the earth, burning mountains which will be thrown into the sea, blood-red seas, falling stars that will poison rivers and springs killing many people, and darkening of the sun and moon.
9:3-11 Smoke from a burning pit will arise causing the sun and air to darken. Stinging locusts will emerge from the smoke to torture nonbelievers for five months.
9:13-19 Demons will be released to kill a third of all mankind.
10:5-7 God’s plans, as announced by the prophets, will be fulfilled without delay.
11:4-13 Two prophets will preach unhindered for 3.5 days/years after which they will be killed by nonbelievers. They will ultimately be resurrected and rise into heaven. Nations will trample the Holy City for 42 months. There will be an earthquake that will level one-tenth of the city killing 7,000 people.
11:15 Loud voices from heaven will shout, “The Lord and his Anointed shall now rule the world from this day to eternity.”
11:18-19 The dead will be judged and the servants will be rewarded. There will be great hailstorms, thunder, and a mighty earthquake.
12:7-9 There will be a war in heaven and the devil will be cast down to earth.
13 The Devil and the “Creature” will rule the earth, do miraculous things, and require all people to be tattooed with the number 666.
14:6-7 Angels will preach God’s greatness to everyone on earth. The time has come when He will sit as judge.
14:9-12 Any people with the 666 tattoo will suffer fiery torture forever.
14:15-20 People will be gathered by angels for the final judgment.
16:1-21 Angels will cause malignant sores on nonbelievers, kill everything in the oceans, turn the rivers and springs in blood, cause nonbelievers to be incinerated by the sun, and dry up the river Euphrates. The judgment day of God is coming. Voices from heaven will shout, “It is finished.” Then there will be thunder, lightning, and the most destructive earthquake ever to occur on earth. “Babylon” [Rome] will be split into three sections, cities around the world will be destroyed, islands will vanish, mountains will be flattened, and hundred-pound hailstones will fall.
18:2 “Babylon” will fall.
18:8 “Babylon” will be destroyed by fire in a single day.
19 God’s army will destroy the Devil’s army.
20:4-5 The first resurrection of the dead will occur.
20:10-15 After 1,000 years, the Devil will for the second time be thrown into to “Lake of Fire.” The remaining dead will be resurrected and subjected to the final judgment.
21:1-2 A new Jerusalem will descend from heaven to earth.
22:6-8 The angel tells John that all these things spoken of in Revelation are trustworthy and true. The angel reiterates that Jesus is coming soon. The angel reminds John that God, who informs the prophets, has sent him (the angel) to tell him what will happen soon.
22:10 The angel warned John that the time of fulfillment is near.
22:12 Jesus will be coming soon to repay everyone according to the deeds he has done,
22:16 Jesus has sent the angel to John so he can inform the churches of all these things.
22:20 He who declares all these things says he is coming soon.
It is not specified what John was smoking when he composed Revelation, but whatever it was, it must have been of extremely high potency. One thing is certain - he was definitely inhaling. It is also clear from Revelation that John thought that Jesus would return in the immediate future to initiate a judgment of mankind that would be universal in scope, encompassing all the people of the earth, and causing calamities of biblical proportions worldwide. None of the hallucinogen-induced nonsense John babbled about happened “soon” after he wrote about it, nor has it happened within the intervening 2,000 or so years. John was as dismal a failure at predicting the future as Jesus was. Any attempt to conflate the message of Revelation with the events of 70 CE is a pathetic exercise in desperation hermeneutics. Only someone with the mindset of a biblical inerrantist could con themselves into believing that Revelation accurately describes the “70 A.D. destruction of Jerusalem – only.”
(Preter and his fellow Preterists should take special note of the admonition in Rev. 22:18-19.) John, like the prophets of yore, had a hallucinogenic vision that a heavenly messenger was giving him the pertinent poop. Like all the rest, he got plenty of poop - none of which was pertinent. If anyone is “uninspired” regarding this matter, it is clearly the Preterists, not the author of my Bible’s footnotes.
Regarding the disciple Peter’s reference to the prophet, Joel, Peter did indeed appear to think that the events described in Acts 2:1-4 were the fulfillment of Joel’s purported prophecy of the “last days.” New Testament writers were habitually trying to make a connection, tenuous though it might be, to what was happening in their own lives with what had been prophesied in the O.T. According to Joel, the apocalyptic final accounting (during which the enemies of the Jews would be vanquished, the Jews would inherit an ideal state and eternal security, Egypt would become a desolated wilderness, and all manner of bizarre signs and wonders would occur) was near at hand. (Joel 1:15 and 3:14) Not only was Joel wrong in predicting that these events would occur in short order, but Peter was also wrong in thinking the incoherent jabbering that occurred at Pentecost was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. Perhaps he was looking for some way to explain such irrationally behavior. However, except for the display of mass hysteria, the rest of Joel’s prognostications did not come to fruition at Pentecost, nor have they anytime since
Peter most likely believed that all those signs and wonders which Joel had prophesied (Acts 2:19-20) would also soon come to pass. If he did not think so, then it is unlikely he would have included them in his sermon. As addressed above, those were superstitious, pre-scientific times when the possible occurrence of bizarre phenomena such as those described in Joel and Matt. 24:29 were not seriously questioned – especially since the prophets had repeatedly predicted that they would occur as part of the final judgment. There is every reason to think that Peter fully expected them to occur in the “last” days in which he thought he was living. There is nothing in the Bible, that I am aware of, that would suggest devout Jews and Christians in the first century did not expect these miraculous phenomena to occur in conjunction with the final judgment, which, they thought, would occur within their lifetimes. The only reason Preter must argue that Peter did not have such expectations is to avoid the painful truth that he was wrong about the immediacy of the day of reckoning.
I agree with Preter that Matt. 24:1-3, 34; Jas. 5:3; Heb. 1:2, 9:26; and 1 Cor. 10:11 indicate that the authors of the N.T. thought they were living in the “last days.” The problem is, they were wrong. And now Christian fundamentalists like Preter must apologize for their stunning lack of insight. Preter’s rope analogy with 1 Cor. 10:11 is a bit of a stretch. The “ends” in this verse most likely refer to the ends of all the ages up to, and including, the one in which Paul lived, which he incorrectly thought was the last. It is unreasonable to think that, if the N.T. authors were speaking of an imminent transition from an O.T. to an N.T. age, they would couch their language in such negative terms, emphasizing only the termination of the former. If they were truly convinced that the inauguration of a wonderful new Christian era was about to ensue, they would have used language such as “the glorious beginning times,” “the inaugural hour,” “the initial days,” “the commencing of the new world,” etc. to describe it. The fact that they used language that connoted finality and cessation lends credence to the conclusion that they had the final judgment in mind – not the genesis of some marvelous new Christian age.
In an article in Biblical Review (12/98, p. 38), John Gager, who teaches religion at Princeton University had the following to say about Paul: “Paul’s message was intensely eschatological: The end of the world was at hand. Within his own lifetime, the trumpet would sound, the dead would be raised, and this age would come to an end. Everything was happening at a fever pitch. ‘The appointed time has grown very short,’ as he states in 1 Cor. 7:29.” I know that Christian fundamentalist like Preter give little credence to what “liberal” scholars such as Gager have to say. Nonetheless, I am again prompted to ask how people who seriously study the Bible can arrive at such diverse opinions about the message it is trying to get across. In the case of Matt. 24 and related scripture, it appears the problem is not so much what the Bible actually says, but rather that the Preterists are trying to force it to say something that it doesn’t.
Clear as Mud
So you see, they all believed that the “last days,” the “end of the age,” the “final hour” was upon them. For it was. That is, the end of the age in which God dealt with man through law or through the Old Testament law. It was a new age, an age of grace. But because the nation of Israel rejected their Messiah and persecuted his followers, they were to be judged. Then in the book of Revelation God reveals that he will judge the Romans as well. But since that time of judgment (or persecution) was near, John says it was the “last hour.” It was a crucial time. You may interpret it as the final coming of Christ if you so wish, but you have no basis upon which to do so. You have no proof. But I have presented you with ample evidence to suggest that John is not referring to the final coming. And the consistency of the Bible writers on this subject (and every other subject) is a line of evidence for its inspiration.
It is kind of Preter to allow me to interpret 1 John 2:18 as referring to Jesus’ final coming. I will continue to do so because that is the only interpretation that is consistent with the common biblical theme of the immediacy of the final judgment. Keeping in mind that John is supposed to have written Revelation, it is difficult to imagine any objective person reading it (see my condensed version above) and concluding that John did not think a final, worldwide judgment involving the resurrection of the dead was just around the corner. Preter may dream that he has provided me with ample evidence to refute this interpretation, but all he has done is demonstrate that he does not know the difference between convincing evidence and apologetic, faith-based assertions. Preter’s claim notwithstanding, God did not “judge the Romans” any time close to “soon” after John wrote in Revelation that “the time of fulfillment is near.”
There is also this matter of the supposed abrogation of the O.T. laws which Preter claims occurred in 70 CE. In order to make such claim, he must ignore the statements, supposedly made by Jesus, which say that every niggling detail of the O.T. laws is universally applicable and remains in effect until the end of the world as we know it. According to the Good Book, “…one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments…he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven…” (Matt. 5:17-20) “The law and the prophets were until John…” “…And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” (Luke 16:16-17) (See also Deut. 4:2) Furthermore, we are also informed that God does not change his mind (Num. 23:19 and 1 Sam. 15:29), or anything else for that matter (Mal. 3:6; Ps. 102:25-27; and Heb. 13:8), and that He has revealed his law and we and our descendants are to obey it forever. (Deut. 29:29 and Ps. 119:51-52) Like most other biblical inerrantists, Preter simply ignores “ample evidence” that does not conform to his idea of what he wants the Bible to say.
As for Preter’s claim of the consistency of the Bible writers on every subject, see Dan Barker's Easter Challenge.
Pushing the Pre-70 CE Dating of the N.T.
It is significant that NOT ONE N.T. passage speaks in the past tense of this most significant event (70 A.D. destruction of Jerusalem). No event besides the death and resurrection of Christ and the beginning of the church in Acts 2 was more momentous to Christians or catastrophic to the Jews. This is explainable only if the N.T. was completed prior to 70 A.D. It could not have been gradually modified and formulated over the next two centuries as liberal scholars contend. The destruction of Jerusalem was too important an event for any past-tense references not to have slipped in even if the writers were trying to make it appear they were prophesying of the event. The great, though liberal, scholar, A.T. Robinson, regards this as powerful evidence that the entire N.T. was written prior to 70 A.D.
There are a least two good reasons why no mention is made (in the past tense) of the destruction of Jerusalem in the writings of the synoptics. First, the fall of Jerusalem is described in the N.T. as being the immediate prelude to the last judgment. Two of the authors, Mark and Matthew, predicted that this end time event would follow hot on the heels of the events that took place in 70 CE. As discussed above, the Bible was full of predictions of the imminent occurrence of the last judgment. Since this was obviously a gross miscalculation, it makes sense that the story tellers would be reluctant to call undue attention to the initial event that was supposed to usher in the whole shebang. Further discussion of the fate of the temple would only draw attention to miserably failed prophecy. It makes no sense to air one’s dirty laundry if it can be avoided.
Second, there was the matter of minimizing the suspicions of the Romans. As far as the Romans were concerned, in the beginning of the Christian movement, there was very little to differentiate between the Christians and the non-Christian Jews from which their religion had evolved. To the Romans, the Christians were just another run-of-the-mill Jewish sect that read many of the same holy books and thought that their messiah had arrived. Because of this close kinship, it was not a good idea to remind the Romans that they had recently had to put down a Jewish rebellion. In fact, the descriptions of the 70 CE event in the Bible are written in cryptic language so as not to be obvious to those who are not in the know. The early Christians went to great pains to avoid placing unnecessary blame on their captors with whom they were trying to curry favor. It is reasonable that they would keep the temple destruction on the back burner, not only to avoid placing blame, but also to keep from reminding the Romans that the group with whom they were dealing was an offshoot of the violent and rebellious Jews. This is a reasonable explanation why the temple debacle was not touted as fulfilled prophecy by authors who would have written after it occurred. The silence on this issue is consistent with Luke’s omission of Paul’s execution at the hands of Nero and the gospel writers’ efforts to shift the blame for Jesus’ crucifixion from the Romans to the Jews. (See here.)
From my reading on the subject, Robinsons’ theory on the pre-70 CE writing of the entire N.T. has gained very limited acceptance among prominent scholars. Most scholars place Mark’s gospel at around 65-80 CE. Even if one assumes an earlier date in this range prior to the fall of the temple, it would not have required divine inspiration for Mark to have correctly predicted the event. The Jewish revolt began in earnest in 66 CE. Two centuries earlier, the Seleucids under Antiochus IV Epiphanes had defiled the temple and may have destroyed it. The city was now under siege by the Romans who were a far more formidable enemy. A disastrous outcome that might involve the sacking of the temple would not have been difficult to predict. After all, even meteorologists get it right once in awhile. Since Matthew and Luke borrowed heavily from Mark, the “prediction” also shows up in their accounts. Since most scholars place the writings of Matthew and Luke at or soon after the event, it is no longer a prediction for these two, but a recitation of history.
As far as I have been able to ascertain, no Christian writer ever mentions one of the four gospels by name or borrows any direct quotations from them until about 100 years after Jesus’ death. It is not until about 140 or 150 A.D. that such quotes start appearing in the writings of Marcion, Justin, and Papias. This, in the opinion of most scholars, makes it very unlikely that all these documents could have been finalized as early as 70 CE. Further evidence in support of this late dating comes from the fact that Luke opens with a dedication to Theophilos that was taken from Antiquities, written by Josephus in 94 CE. Acts, thought to have been written by Luke, opens with a phrase borrowed from an even later book by Josephus called Against Apion. Obviously, Luke and Acts must have been written after those dates. In addition, the incompatibilities in genealogies from Luke and Matthew (See here.) are good evidence that they were written at approximately the same time without each other’s knowledge. Otherwise, they would have borrowed from the existing genealogy and avoided the problem of creating inconsistencies between the versions they wrote.
No one knows precisely when any of the books of the Bible were written. The dates ascribed by mainstream scholars to the books of the N.T. can be found here. Virtually every source I have consulted places Mark, the first book to discuss the fall of the temple, no earlier than the period in which the Jewish revolt had already begun. Considering the insurgency of the Jewish Zealots during this period, the outcomes of similar Jewish campaigns in the past, and the ruthlessness of the Romans in dealing with such insurrections, correctly predicting the destruction of the temple would not have required a Ph.D. in political science. Successfully predicting the timing of the last judgment would indeed require a unique gift from God. Obviously, none of the gospel writers had it. And neither did Jesus, if their fables are to be believed.
Scapegoating the Jews
The Jews were trying hard to destroy Christianity. One need only read the N.T. to see that nearly all persecution in the N.T. was instigated by the Jews. Christianity was fighting for its existence and for its legitimacy in the eyes of God. It claimed to be the fulfillment of the O.T. The destruction of Jerusalem brought an end to Christianity’s number one enemy – Judaism. In the eyes of the Christians it showed once for all time who were the true Jews and with whom god was pleased. The importance of the fall of Jerusalem makes it clear as to why Jesus would prophesy of it in the terms he used in Matt. 24. It was an advent of Christ coming on the unbelieving Jews who rejected their Messiah and persecuted his saints. The world of the Jews who rejected Christ was coming to an end – their sun was going to be darkened as he “punched their lights out,” so to speak.
Persecution of the early Christians by the Jews is yet another myth perpetrated by the evangelists to discredit the competition. Much of this supposed hostility originally derives from Paul’s activities as described in Acts. These accounts claim that Paul, at the time a Pharisee, was sent to Damascus with a mandate from the High Priest in Jerusalem to arrest any Christians there. This was very likely a fabrication since Damascus was outside the confines of Judea, and the Sanhedrin would not have had jurisdiction in that region. Furthermore, Paul purportedly tells the Gallations at the time of his conversion that he had not met any members of the Jerusalem Church (Gal. 1:16-17, Jerusalem Bible). This does not square with the accounts in Acts that make him out to be some sort of religious hit man sanctioned by the Pharisees on a mission to interrogate a figure like Stephen. In Jesus a Life, A.N. Wilson discusses the situation as follows, “Outside the pages of the N.T., there is no evidence that the Jews have ever been guilty of religious persecutions. The Jews have been notably disputatious among themselves, free with harsh words about one another, and ready to break into sects at a seemingly small provocation. But this is different from persecuting zeal. There has never been a Jewish ‘Inquisition.’ The story of such an ‘Inquisition’ in Acts, therefore, needs to be treated with some circumspection.”
To emphasize the significance of the fall of the temple, Preter states, “The destruction of Jerusalem brought an end to Christianity’s number one enemy – Judaism.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Any opposition experienced by the Christians at the hands of the Jews was child’s play compared to the violent persecution which was subsequently meted out by the pagans of Rome. The murder of thousands of Christians by the emperor Hadrian (117-138 CE) has often been described as the darkest period of Christian history. During the reigns of Domitian (81-96), Hadrian, Decius, (249-51), and Diocletian (284-305), persecution of the Christians was particularly barbaric. It was during the reign of Diocletian that the practice of feeding Christians (and anyone else who failed to profess the official state religion) to lions was perfected as a spectator sport. It was not until Constantine (306-337) made Christianity the favored state religion that the Christians’ worst nightmares were over, for a while. Many still had the Moslem atrocities of the 7th and 8th centuries to look forward to. Preter is clearly overplaying the significance of the fall of Jerusalem by making the Jews out to be arch enemy number one. Any theological disputes that the Christians may have had with the Jews pale in significance when compared to the atrocities which they would later suffer at the hands of the Romans, Moslems, and their own theocrats.
The world of the Jews did not come to an end in 70 CE. The Jewish religion continues to flourish in Israel and other countries to this day. If any event could be said to have “punched out their lights,” it would be the Second Jewish Revolt (see here) which took place later during 132-135 CE. Simon Bar Kokhba, who was recognized as the Jewish Messiah, led the revolt which had much more grave consequences for the Jews than did the fall of the temple in 70 CE. Some 580,000 Jews were killed, and 50 towns and 985 villages in Israel were destroyed. Unlike the outcome of the first revolt in 70 CE, the majority of the population was either killed or sold into slavery after the second one. Jewish religious and political activities were suppressed far more brutally than they were after the 70 CE debacle. Preter’s contention that the world of the Jews had come to an end in 70 CE does not gibe with historical reality.
With regard to Preter’s statement that, “The world of the Jews who rejected Christ was coming to an end…," it is relevant to consider Matt. 23:33-39. In these verses, which immediately precede the Olivet Discourse, Jesus warns the unbelieving Jews that they will soon (“All these things will come upon this generation”) be going to hell because their ancestors persecuted and killed the prophets. The promise that punishment will come on “this generation” is consistent with the prevailing belief of an imminent final judgment. In verse 39, Jesus says the non-Christian Jews of the time will not see him again until they proclaim, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” In other words, they will not see him again until they have changed their attitude and recognize him as a true representative of God. If this verse was referring to his “coming in the clouds” at the fall of the temple, then it was a false prophecy. The non-Christian Jews did not proclaim Jesus’ divinity in 70 CE, nor have they at anytime since. If Jesus said that they would not see him “coming” again until they acknowledged him as the Messiah, then he must not have “come” in 70 CE because they still have not done so.
Preter Rebuts His Own Argument
The 70 A.D. judgment was the “last trumpet” for Judah and the physical nation of Israel, the “end of the age.” The “last days” were upon them (Acts 2:16-17). Yes, this type of language is also used to announce the final judgment day (1 Thess. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15:52), but after having described national judgments this way for hundreds of years, it is only natural that the final, ultimate world judgment would be described similarly. [Emphasis mine] But the context, not merely the language, determines what is being described. Just because the “last trumpet” describes the final judgment in one place does not mean it cannot describe a national judgment in another.
Early on in this discussion, Preter adamantly declared, “The language is figurative. Nobody believed such things would actually take place. First century readers would understand Jesus’ words only one way, i.e., as predicting a national judgment.” Preter has finally been forced to concede what I have been saying all along, i.e., that this type of language would also be expected to have been used in conjunction with prophecy of the end times. In essence, this admission does serious damage to the crux of his argument. Now such “figurative language” cannot be summarily dismissed as pertaining only to national judgments. It now becomes equally applicable to writings pertaining to the final judgment as well. Therefore, the use of such language in Matt. 24 and related passages cannot be used to unconditionally exclude them from referencing the final judgment as Preter has been attempting to do.
Preter says that to properly understand them, Bible verses must be read in context. Okay, let’s do that. He cites 1 Thess. 4:16 and 1 Cor, 15:52 as examples of final judgment narration. 1 Thess. 4:15 says, “I can tell you this directly from the Lord; that we who are still living when the Lords returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in the grave.” (The Living Bible Paraphrased) Verse 17, from the same source, reads, “Then we who are still alive and remain on earth will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever.” Based on a straightforward reading of these passages then, Paul thought that some of those to whom he was speaking would still be alive when Jesus came to raise the dead. The context tells us that Paul thought that the trumpet associated with the final judgment would be heard by “we who are still living” at the time. It is yet another example of context proving the Bible to be in error.
Paul wrote repeatedly about the imminent nature of the final judgment, e.g., Phil. 4:5; 2 Thess. 2:2; Rom. 13:11-12; 1 Cor. 7:29, 10:11; Heb. 1:1-2, 9:26, 10:36-37. Therefore, reading Preter’s two examples in the context of what Paul has to say about the timing of the event leads one to conclude that Paul thought the final judgment, as described in 1 Thess. 4:16 and 1 Cor. 15:52 was going to occur immediately, if not sooner. The final judgment did not occur soon after Paul wrote about it, it did not occur in 70 CE, nor has it occurred any time in the intervening 2,000 or so years. Hence, as determined from reading in context, Paul was as clueless about when it was going to happen as Jesus was.
Heaven Doesn’t Mean Heaven
As for angels gathering the elect from the “farthest end of heaven” (Matt. 24), the word “heaven” often refers to the immediate atmosphere around us, i.e., the sky. It obviously is used in Matt. 24:31 and Mark 13:27 to mean from around the earth (“one end of the sky to the other”). Just as the rest of that part of the passage, it is hyperbolic language whether it refers to the third heaven (where God is) or to our atmosphere. I don’t believe Matt. 24 was meant to convey every literal detail that you can make it convey. The whole point is that there is going to be a judgment out of which God’s messengers will pluck the elect. It is as figurative as verses 29 and 30.
Preter’s claim that Matt. 24:31 and Mark 13:27 refer only to the gathering of the elect from around the whole earth is of little benefit to his overall argument. Even if we grant him the unwarranted assumption that the word for “heaven” really means “earth” in this instance, angels, messengers, or whatever they were did not scour the entire planet plucking all of God’s chosen people at the fall of the temple. Furthermore, while Mark speaks of gathering from the earth, he also includes another extra-terrestrial dimension. Verse 13:27 says the elect will be gathered “from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.” It is unreasonable to assume that Mark would have intended the word for “heaven” to be understood as “earth” in this sentence. To maintain that he did would make the passage read nonsensically: “to the uttermost part the earth to the uttermost part of the earth.” If he had intended the word to mean the same thing in both instances, he would have used the same word in both instances.
The word translated as “heaven” in these passages [ouranos] occurs 284 times in the King James Version of the Bible (KJV). It is translated as “heaven” 268 times, “air” ten times, “sky” five times, and “heavenly” one time. This word is used some 77 times by Mathew and 18 times by Mark. According to Strong’s concordance, it is translated as “heaven” 72 times in Matthew’s writings and 16 times in those of Mark. Clearly, Preter’s attempt to make it say something else is not consistent with the common translation of this word. It is not clear why anyone who was trying to describe an activity that was supposed to take place on the surface of the earth on worldwide basis would state it in terms of occurring from “one end of the sky (or air) to the other.” That is, unless they thought the earth ended at the horizon and was met there by the wall of the sky. I give even Matthew and Mark more credit than that.
As Preter has acknowledged, this is precisely the style of language the biblical authors would be expected to use in describing an event as momentous as the final judgment. Nonetheless, he claims that this language in Matt. 24 and Mark 13 should only be interpreted figuratively. Should we also interpret the accounts of Jesus walking on water, undergoing a transfiguration, rising from the dead, etc. figuratively? What specific criteria should one use to differentiate between the literal and figurative passages in the Bible? It appears they are to be taken literally when they are in agreement with whatever spin a certain sect puts on the Bible, and they are to be taken figuratively when they contradict it. I wonder. Does Preter disagree that angels, or some other heavenly hosts, will assemble the elect “from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven” at the end times? I thought something along those lines was part of the overall plan.
While Moses and the Prophets and David believed in and taught of the resurrection, no one in Jesus’ day believed it, especially not his disciples (Matt. 16:21-22; 20:20-22; Luke 19:11; 18:31-34; 24:21-25; John 14:1-3,16:16-18, 20:9). It was absolutely foreign to them. Yes, Paul believed, as did the 12 – after the resurrection and the receiving of the Holy Spirit that would guide them into all truth (John 14:26). And yes, Jesus spoke of it often. However, while under the yoke of the Romans, the hope for a military savior and ruler was so strong that the Jews missed the significance of the O.T. prophesies on the resurrection and the disciples did not perceive one bit of what Jesus said on the subject. Having no thought of Jesus dying, let alone going to heaven, until the final judgment, they could not have asked about such a thing.
According to the Bible legend, the disciples were aware of Jesus’ virgin birth and the role which God played in it. They were also witness to the many miracles which he is said to have performed: everything from raising the dead to walking on water. Peter, John, and James are said to have witnessed his incarnation at which Moses and Elias reappeared from the dead. According to John, there was no doubt that Jesus was the promised Messiah. As I have discussed above, in John 1:45, it is said that the disciples identified Jesus as the one about “whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write…” And what did Moses and the prophets write? Among other things, they are said to have written about Jesus’ death, resurrection, and “coming” to enlighten the world when, in the future, God rules his kingdom on earth. (Acts 2:29-32, 26:22-23; Dan 2:44,7:13-14,22) If the disciples thought that Jesus was the one spoken of by Moses and the prophets, it is nonsensical to claim that they knew nothing about Jesus dying, being resurrected, and returning to usher in the end times. If the disciples identified Jesus as the one Moses and the prophets wrote about, they must surely have understood what Moses and the prophets said his fate would be. Expectation of the establishment of a kingdom of God and final judgment was rampant in Israel during the first century. (Matt. 3:2, 4:17, 10:23, 16:27-28, 24:34; Mark 1:15, 9:1, 13:30; Luke 9:26-27, 21:31-32; John 5:25; Acts 2:17; Phil. 4:5; 2 Thess. 2:2; Rom. 13:11-12; 1 Pet. 1:20, 4:7 and 17, Heb. 1:1-2, 9:26, 10:36-37; 1 John 2:18 and 28; Jas. 5:3 and 7-8; 1 Cor. 7:29, 10:11; Rev. 1:1-3, 3:11; 22:7 and 12). Considering the foregoing, it makes perfect sense for the disciples to ask when the miracle-working and God-transfigured Jesus would be “coming” (either in his present form or after his resurrection) to initiate the process.
The foregoing notwithstanding, let’s assume that the disciples didn’t really know what John 1:45 said they knew. And let’s assume that they really did only see Jesus in terms of a “military savior and ruler” (who could, incidentally, work miracles and was transfigured by God!). Further, let’s assume that, in the second question in Matt. 24:3, they were only asking about when he was “coming” to begin his military campaign against the Romans. This still does not rule out the likelihood that they were asking when (and what would be the signs that) the much-anticipated “end of the world” would occur. The disciples belonged to a generation that believed the end of the world was near. (See Matt. 3:2 and Mark 1:15) After hearing Jesus speak about the destruction of the temple, it would only be natural for the disciples to connect this catastrophic event with the end times when the Romans would finally get what was coming to them. Since imminent end times predictions were all the rage at the time, why wouldn’t they ask a miracle worker who had been transfigured by God such a question? Who would be better qualified to provide a meaningful answer? Jesus gave a graphic description of what would happen as a prelude to the event using the appropriate O.T. language and said it was all going to transpire in their lifetime. Not only was Jesus wrong about the timing of the final judgment, he also failed to meet their expectations as a military leader.
Not Necessarily Final Judgment Language
When the disciples asked about the “signs”, we see in Mark’s and Luke’s accounts that they asked about the sign when “all these things” would take place. What “things”? The things of Mark 13:2 – destruction of the temple. Mark’s and Luke’s accounts show us that the seemingly three-fold question of Matt. 24:3 is really one question. They wanted to know when Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the temple would take place, what would be the signs of it and of the “end of the age” (i.e., the Jewish age). None of the discourse in Matt. 24 sounds like sounds like final judgment – until you get to vs. 29. However, as I proved to you and you chose to ignore, vs. 29 is not necessarily final judgment language, but on the contrary, is typical national judgment language.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Matt. 24:3 and Mark 13:4 do only refer to the disciples asking when “Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the temple would take place, what would be the signs of it and of the ‘end of the age’ (i.e., the Jewish age).” If the disciples did not ask specifically about the timing of the final judgment in Mark’s and Luke’s accounts, this is still no reason for Jesus to hesitate to give them further information on the subject. He frequently gave them information they did not ask for and supposedly did not understand. One example where Jesus offered unsolicited information is Matt. 16:24-28 where, in the last verse, he says, “Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man [Jesus] coming in his kingdom.” That this statement was made in reference to the final judgment (and not just the fall of the temple) is evidenced by vs. 27 that links this “coming” to a time when “he shall reward every man according to his works.” Jesus rewarding every man according to his works will purportedly occur at the final judgment. It did not occur in 70 CE.
Contrary to Preter’s self-serving mistranslation of Matt. 24:3, the disciples did not ask “…what would be the signs of it [the tribulation] and of the ‘end of the age.’” Rather they asked, “…what will be the sign of thy coming, and the end of the world?” Matt. 24:29 states the signs will be manifestations that will occur “immediately after the tribulation.” According to Matthew, then, these will not be signs presaging the tribulation. They will be signs that will occur immediately after the tribulation to signify the of coming of the Son of man in “the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Preter’s apologetic version, purposely or otherwise, misrepresents the true sequence of events in these passages.
Whatever questions were asked in Matt. 24:3, Mark 13:4, and Luke 21:7, it would not be unusual for these authors to have Jesus give additional information about a final judgment that they thought (hoped) was linked to and would shortly follow the events of 70 CE. Preter now acknowledges that the type of language used in Matt. 24:29 and beyond is typical of that used in describing the final judgment. What he has proved is that his original claim that “F[f]irst century readers would understand Jesus’ words only one way, i.e., as predicting a national judgment” is fallacious.
And Doesn’t Mean And
Up until that point [Matt. 24:29], everyone agrees that Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem. Now I ask you, where did he all of a sudden change subjects? He says nothing that indicates that he is now about to talk about a different subject and one of which they did not even ask. The language does not demand it, even if in our 20th century eyes it indicates it. Jesus would not talk about such an important subject in such vague terms, never indicating that he has now changed the subject. It is only a small step to include vss. 29-31 in with the rest of his words on the destruction of Jerusalem – which came true in 70 AD just as he said.
The subject changes which Preter says do not exist actually occur at Mark 13:24 (“But in those days after the tribulation…”), at Matt. 24:29 (“immediately after the tribulation of those days…”), and at Luke 21:25 (“And there shall be signs…”). The compilers of the Bible clearly recognized them as subject changes because they are all set off by new paragraphs from the preceding verses that dealt with the fall of the temple.
After discussing the tribulation and then switching the subject to describe the signs that will portend the next phase of the prophecy, Mark 13:26 says, “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” (See also Matt. 24:30 and Luke 21:27.) The gospel writers thought that, in a relatively short time after the fall of the temple, Jesus was going to physically descend from the clouds to take control of matters. They thought he was going to descend from the clouds after the tribulation just as it was claimed he had ascended to them after his purported resurrection. (Acts 1:9) In keeping with the description of his earlier departure, “coming in the clouds” would, quite literally, be his expected route of return as well. These passages have to do with a different subject than the fall of the temple. They pertain to the subject of Jesus actually “coming in the clouds” sometime after the fall of the temple.
According to Luke 21 the signs following the tribulation will not occur “…until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled,” as indicated in verse 24. Luke thought that the signs would not occur until the Romans were out of power, and the Son of man would not appear until the signs had been revealed. This is a subject dealing with a time when the Romans would no longer be in control. It is a subject quite different from that of the Roman sacking of the temple.
What is Jesus supposed to do after “coming in the clouds”? According to Matt. 16:27, he will “…reward every man according to his works.” That is last judgment language if there ever was any. Jesus did not reward every man according to his works at the time of the fall of the temple (nor any time since). If “coming in the clouds” in Mark 13:26, Matt, 24:30, and Luke 12:27 is only referring to the 70 CE fall of the temple, then it is a failed prophecy. Jesus neither came on a cloud nor rewarded every man according to his works at that time. It may be only a small step to include vss. 29-31 in with the temple destruction scenario. Nonetheless, it is an illogical and contextually unjustifiable one.
Jesus would not speak in vague language? Tell that to his disciples who, as Preter acknowledges, could not make sense of the confusing parables he was in the habit of telling. Either the disciples were not too bright or Jesus was a poor communicator. Preter can take his choice.
Dating of Mark
By the way, even the Jesus Seminar types believe that Mark was written well before 70 AD. And in Mark we have a very clear prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem (Mark 13:2-30 – the temple would be destroyed in their generation). This was no “sign of the times” from which Jesus could deduce such a prediction, for in his day there was relative peace throughout the empire. Even in 50 AD, when Mark was supposed to have been written (even according to the liberal critics), the empire was at such peace that Paul could safely travel the Roman world. So much for the impossibility of prophecy.
Preter is wrong in stating that the “Jesus Seminar types” place Mark’s writing well before 70 CE. In fact, as stated in “The Five Gospels,” the Jesus Seminar places them at 70 CE. The majority of “liberal scholars” date them no earlier than 65 CE, a time when the Jewish revolt was just commencing. Considering the overwhelming odds in favor of the Romans, the destruction of temple would not be difficult to foresee – especially if Mark’s account was written during the year, or within a few years of, when it occurred. No special gift of prophecy is necessary to make educated guesses under such circumstances. Not to mention how a few centuries of recopying, redaction, and judicious text selection can improve the illusion of “prophetic” hits as well. (See here for a more detailed analysis of the subject.)
Redemption Doesn’t Mean Redemption
Who says that “redemption” only means “delivery from sin”? While this is the usual N.T. meaning, it was not always so under the O.T. (and Jesus lived under the O.T., not the N.T.). Lands, slaves, and firstborn Israelites were redeemed (Num. 3:49f; Lev. 25:24, 51, 52; Jer. 32:7) as was the nation of Israel. Redemption means “to buy back.” One can be “bought back” from slavery or from a judgment (physical destruction). Context determines the meaning.
According to Strong’s Greek Dictionary, the Greek word for redemption in Luke 21:28 [apolutrosis, 629]
refers to salvation when used in the Christian context. (See here.) It is used eight other times in the N.T. to signify this meaning. In fact, at least three Bibles (i.e., The New Living Translation, The Good News Translation, and The Living Bible – Paraphrased) translate this word in Luke 21:28 as “salvation.” Preter is correct in saying that the context determines the meaning. It little matters what related words meant in the O.T. Jesus was claimed to have been speaking to an N.T. audience who would have understood the specific word used in Luke 21:28 to mean delivery from sin, i.e., salvation.
With regard to the expected destruction of the temple, Matt. 24;15 says, “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet; stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)” Mark 13:14 says virtually the same thing. In other words, Matthew and Mark are saying that, when people see the desecration of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans, they should remember that they should understand it as fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel. After warning people to flee from the area, Matthew then says, in verse 21, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, nor ever shall be.” (See also Mark 13:19)
Did Daniel actually make such a prediction? Well, Daniel 12:1-2 says, “And at that time shall [the angel] Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” By connecting the destruction of the temple by the Romans to the prophecy of Daniel, Matthew also associates this event with a time when the dead shall rise from the earth and receive everlasting life or contempt. Whether these passages from Daniel actually had anything to do with the events of 70 CE is beside the point. Matthew and Mark obviously thought that they did. (The N.T. authors were notorious for trying to shoehorn O.T. prophecy to 1st century events.) The gospel authors thought that the destruction of the temple and the “coming of the Son of man” would coincide with a time of redemption when the righteous would be resurrected to everlasting life – just as they thought Daniel had predicted. Read in the context of the reference to Daniel’s supposed prophecy, redemption in the aforementioned verses clearly denotes a sense of rewarding the resurrected dead with eternal life. Preter’s refusal to assign it a meaning that is consistent with its use elsewhere in the N.T. stems solely from his desire to paper over Jesus’ (or the gospel writers’) failed prophecy. Once again, Preter has failed to heed his own advice to READ THE CONTEXT.
In Luke 21:32, Jesus says in effect that the generation of people he is addressing won’t pass into oblivion “till all be fulfilled.” Among those things that are to be fulfilled, he indicates, in verse 31, that “the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.” He makes it clear that he thinks (or Luke thinks) that those hearing his words will still be alive when the things he has predicted (including the apocalyptic establishment of God’s theocracy on earth) are finally fulfilled. The kingdom of the Christian God was not established on earth in 70 CE, nor has it been established on earth any time since. Jesus (Luke) simply got it wrong.
Till All Be Fulfilled Doesn’t Mean Till All Be Fulfilled
The “all things” fulfilled is a general statement. It does not necessarily mean that in this predicted judgment virtually everything will be fulfilled. It simply says that without the fulfillment of the judgment predicted by Jesus (whether or not the final judgment), all things cannot be fulfilled. It does not say that at that time all things will be fulfilled, but merely that its fulfillment is necessary to the fulfillment of all things. For example, once the final judgment comes, if any earlier predicted events failed, “all things” would not be fulfilled even if the final judgment was. If any scripture fails to come true, no matter when its predicted occurrence, “all things” would not be fulfilled. It says nothing about finality.
Also, the word “all” is not always used in the absolute sense. Though it is usually universal, often it is used in a very limited sense (1 Cor. 10:23.33; 1 John 2:20), other times in a general but not absolute sense (Matt. 10:22). Context determines.
I would like to congratulate Preter on a masterpiece of apologetic doublespeak in the preceding paragraphs. Preter’s ability to obfuscate notwithstanding, the three synoptics all say that the generation of the people hearing Jesus’ words will not come to an end until [mechri] all “these things” or all things” have been fulfilled. (See Matt. 24:34, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32) As stated above, “all these things” that Jesus predicted did not occur during the generation of those to whom he was speaking. Specifying that all things will be fulfilled before the generation passes away puts a definite time constraint on the fulfillment of the prediction. No matter how badly Preter attempts to muddy the water with his creative hermeneutics, it is still crystal clear that Jesus’ prophecy was a failure.
Arguing that “all” does not really mean “all” is like former President Clinton arguing over what the definition of “is” is when he was caught with his pants down. People who find themselves in indefensible positions often resort to drastic measures in an attempt to save face. The Greek word translated as “all” in these verses is used 1243 times in the N.T. The nine most frequent translations of the word in the KJV are: all (748 times), all things (170 times), every (117 times), all men (41 times), whosoever (31 times), everyone (28 times), whole (12 times), all manner of (11 times), and every man (11 times). Unless there is a persuasive reason to employ an unconventional meaning of a word (because of specific modifiers, context, etc.), the standard definition should always be used. To whitewash a failed prophecy is not a persuasive reason from a linguistic standpoint.
Whole Earth Doesn’t Mean Whole Earth
As for coming on “all them that dwell on the face of the earth”, this is merely another typical Jewish idiom for the land of Jerusalem or the Roman Empire. Luke used this very language earlier in ch.2:1 to refer to the Roman census. Paul used it in Rom.1:8 and Col. 1:16, 20 to refer to the area over which the gospel had been spread, obviously not meaning to say that the gospel had been spread to China, Australia, or the American continents. Luke used this same language in Acts 2:5 to refer to seven nations as “every nation under heaven.” If Luke and Paul could use the language this way, Jesus certainly could. The idea was that it would happen in their world, like when we say that a person’s whole world has been shattered. Sometimes it referred to the Roman Empire, sometimes just the world of the Israelites.
First, it should be pointed out that Preter left out a very important word in the phrase he quoted. The phrase from Luke 21:35 should read, “…shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.” The Greek word used in this verse that is translated as “whole” is “pas.” The common translations of this word are: “each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything.” Somehow he could not bring himself to include the adjective that denotes a meaning (i.e., worldwide) that he cannot allow.
The Greek words translated as earth in Rom. 1:8 (i.e., “kosmos”) and Luke 2:1 (i.e., “oikoumene”) are not the same as the word that is used in Luke 21:35 and Preter’s other two examples, i.e., Col. 1:16 and 20. Preter is comparing apples and oranges. The Greek word for earth in Luke 21:35 and Col. 1:16 and 20 is “ge.” In Col. 1:16, it is used in the context of “…all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth…” In this verse, and verse 20, the earth is portrayed as an entity that stands in juxtapostion to heaven. The terms are used in describing the entire scope of God’s creation and the scope of his redemptive power. Obviously, such an earthly entity would encompass considerably more than just the “land of Jerusalem or the Roman Empire.”
Luke uses the same word for earth, “ge,” just two verses before vs. 35 in a context that most assuredly does refer to the entire world. (i.e., “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.”) In fact, “ge” is used extensively by the synoptics to refer to whole earth in numerous other passages, e.g., Matt. 5:5, 18, 35; 6:10, 19; 9:6; 10:34; 11:25; 16:19; 18:18, 19; 28:18; Mark 2:10; 13:27, 31; Luke 2:14; 5:24; 10:21; 11:2; 12:49, 51, 56; 16:17; 21:25, 33, 35; 23:44. According to Strong, the only time a different word translated as “earth” appears in the synoptics is in Luke 21:26.
If the phrase in Luke 21:35 was just intended as a “typical Jewish idiom” for the Roman Empire, then Luke was wrong in using it in conjunction with the fall of the temple. The 70 CE debacle involving the temple destruction did not encompass the entire Roman Empire. Matt. 24:14 says that the “end” will not come until the gospel has been preached “in all the world for a witness unto all nations.” Mark 13:10 says the gospel “must first be published among all nations.” Neither of these conditions was met by 70 CE, even if they are made to refer only to the Roman Empire. Luke 21:22 says that the event will occur so that all that has been written may be fulfilled. All that had been written at the time Jesus supposedly spoke those words included Dan. 12:1-4 which promises that, during the time of great tribulation, “every one that shall be found written in the book” shall be delivered and that many of the dead will be reawakened to everlasting life and some to everlasting contempt. These conditions were not fulfilled in 70 CE, nor at any time before then or after.
The apostles’ knowledge of the world was extremely limited. To them, the part of Roman Empire with which they were familiar (more specifically the Mediterranean area) was basically the entire world. Of course they did not envision the gospel being preached in China, Australia, or the American continents. They were unaware that such places even existed. The early evangelists no doubt thought that they could (or had) easily spread the good news all over the entire world during their lifetimes. This is not so much a testament to their religious zeal as it is to their ignorance of world geography. The fact is, they didn’t have a clue how large the world actually is.
While “ge” is used in the Bible to denote limited geographical areas, modifiers and context determine such usage. For example, in Mat.11:24 (“…it shall be more tolerable for the land [“ge”] of Sodom…”), the prepositional phrase “of Sodom” is used to restrict “ge” to the area of Sodom. In every case where “ge” refers to only a limited area, linguistic markers are used to denote a restrictive meaning. If Luke had intended “ge” to refer only to the land of Jerusalem or the Roman Empire, by convention, he would have included modifiers to make such a distinction evident. The fact no such modifiers or contextual determinants were included in Luke 21:35 means that this verse is best interpreted as referring to the “whole earth.” For a detailed rebuttal to the argument that “ge” in this passage pertains only to “the land of Jerusalem or the Roman Empire,” see Farrell Till’s in-depth treatment of the subject about one-fifth of the way down the page here.
Greatest Tribulation Does Not Mean Greatest Tribulation
With regard to Matt. 24:21, in the O.T. when national judgments occurred, it was often spoken of in such hyperbolic language indicating that such a thing was “the greatest tribulation that ever befell the earth” (Dan 9:11,12; 12:1; Joel 1:2; 2:2; Ezek 5:9; 1 Kings 14:9; 16:25, 30, 33).
Matt. 24:21says that the tribulation in question will be of a magnitude “such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor shall ever be.” Mark 13:19 similarly describes it as an “affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be.” These verses may be couched in O.T. language, but they also contain an element of finality and severity which is unmatched in any comparable descriptions in the Bible. All the others Preter listed (with the exception of Joel 2:2) simply make reference to situations which are worse than any which preceded them or which are specific to the transgressors mentioned in the verses, i.e., Ezek. 5:9-10. They do not say that they are the worst tribulations/afflictions that will ever happen, as do Matt.24:21 and Mark 13:19. Joel 2:2 does make such a future reference, but it contains the qualifier that it is limited in its scope to a time encompassing “many generations.” Matt. 24:21 and Mark 13:19 contain no such qualifiers. They clearly refer to an event so horrendous that it will be the most devastating calamity to ever befall the earth. The events of 70 CE fall far short of meeting that criterion.
Beating A Hasty Retreat
As to God shortening the days because of the elect’s sake, that is exactly what happened in the destruction of Jerusalem. When the Roman general Vespasian, who began the siege of Jerusalem, heard of the political tumult in Rome and returned to Rome to become the new emperor, he sent his son, Titus, back to Jerusalem to finish the siege. During the lull in the siege, Christians alert to the warnings of Christ fled the city.
Imagine that. People having the common sense to flee a battle zone during a lull in the fighting. Sharp people those early Christians!
Actually the situation was somewhat different according to this source,
“The growing and highly visible danger of war, however, had alerted the Christians in Jerusalem. The
entire Christian community estimated at 20,000 people, or at least a large share of them, left Jerusalem
a short time before the outbreak of combat operations. They fled to Pella Dekapolis, a non-Jewish
and pro-Roman city south of the Golan Heights. These were, of course, those among the Christians of
Jerusalem who did not regard themselves Jewish anymore, as many others still did. Among others, early
Christian author Eusebius of Caesarea recorded this.” [emphasis mine; spelling errors corrected]
Rather than fleeing during a lull, most of the Christians appear to have been smart enough to get out of Dodge before the serious fighting began.
If It Looks Like A Duck, Walks Like A Duck, And Quacks Like A Duck…
Now on Matt. 24, I admit that on a surface reading it sounds like the final coming, especially from vs. 29 on and especially to 20th century westerners. However, we must be very careful of reading the Bible superficially and making quick conclusions. We must interpret such language based upon their culture, not ours. Thus, one must use the O.T. to understand much of the N.T. Twentieth-century Americans who have heard of the second coming all their lives, but rarely have heard a word about the destruction of Jerusalem, will naturally read their views (and prejudices) into a passage like Matt. 24.
On a surface reading, Matt. 24 and related passages in Mark 13 and Luke 21 do indeed sound like the final coming. Furthermore, after an objective and thorough reading of these and other related verses, one is led to the inescapable conclusion that the final coming is exactly what they are referring to. Yes, we must be careful to interpret such language in terms of their culture, and not ours. We must understand that the authors were living at a time when superstition and supernaturalism were de rigueur and explanations of natural phenomena in scientific terms had not yet been advanced. We must put these writings in their proper historical and societal perspective. We must be aware that the authors lived in a society in which many were convinced that the end times were imminent and that God would soon deliver the faithful from Roman oppression and establish his kingdom on earth. We must recognize that these accounts were written decades after the fact by Christian public relations agents who would not hesitate to embellish the facts to further their agenda. And we must understand that they would use the apocalyptic language of the O.T. in an attempt to add prophetic clout to their narratives.
On the other hand, one should not let preconceived notions that the Bible is completely free of error prejudice one’s interpretation of what it says. And one should not distort the obvious intentions of the authors simply because one cannot bear the thought that Jesus could have been mistaken about the timing of his final engagement. Preter has let his prejudices stand in the way of an objective interpretation of these scriptures. Like all good Christian apologists, he is willing to convince himself that black is white if it is necessary to defend the inerrancy of the Bible.
In order to misread Matt. 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 as predictions pertaining exclusively to the fall the temple in 70 CE, Preter must deliteralize much of what these verses say. He must argue that “the end of the world” refers only to the end of the temple; that “in all the world for a witness unto all nations” refers only to the Mediterranean area; that “then shall the end come” refers only to the demise of Jerusalem; that “see the kingdom of God” means only to see the destruction of the temple; that “all the tribes of the earth” means only the inhabitants of Jerusalem; that seeing “the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” refers only to a symbolic presence of a messiah whom no one saw at the time; that “reward every man according to his works” does not refer to the final judgment; that “till all these things be fulfilled” is limited only to the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem; that “I have foretold you all things” refers only to the events of 70 CE; that angels gathering the elect “to the uttermost part of heaven” does not refer to heavenly angels; that “all things that are written may be fulfilled” does not include what is written in Dan. 12:1-2; that “redemption” does not mean salvation; that the disciples did not know what John 1:45 said they knew; and that “all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth” refers only to the residents of Jerusalem. Furthermore, he must ignore the fact that Matthew and Mark specifically link Daniel’s prediction of the resurrection of the dead to the fall of the temple.
It would be one thing if only a verse or two were in dispute. But when all the pertinent verses are objectively examined in context, it is clear that Preter’s interpretation simply does not stand up under scrutiny. With all that deliteralization going on, it would be easier for him to throw out the Bible and write his own gospel. If so much of the Bible can be explained away by interpreting it as figurative language that does not mean what it clearly says, how can anyone be certain of what parts to take literally?
Preter’s best efforts notwithstanding, he has failed to make a credible case for the Preterist assertion that Matt. 24 and related scriptures were referring only to the Roman sacking of Jerusalem in 70 CE. There are just too many instances in which Preterists must adopt unconventional meanings of words, ignore context, and deliteralize straightforward statements for their idiosyncratic hermeneutics to be taken seriously. It is understandable why the Preterist interpretation has gained acceptance among some Christian fundamentalist sects. Superficially, it can appear to provide a handy means of explaining away the glaring failure of the Olivet Prophecy. On closer examination, however, it proves to be nothing more than an abortive attempt to save the Bible from error. What follows is a recap of some of the lines of evidence discussed above that show why Preterism is at odds with the very scripture that it pretends to defend.
Messianic fever was rampant during the early 1st century. There was a common misconception that a messiah (the inaugurator of the end) would materialize to save the Jews from oppression by the Romans and establish a kingdom of God. The coming of the messiah was intrinsically linked to a time of the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment of mankind. Initially, the expectation was one of an immediate occurrence, e.g., Mark 1:15 and Luke 19:11. Then the event was postponed for several weeks or so, e.g., Matt. 10:23. When that deadline had passed, the event was further delayed, but was predicted to occur during the lifetime of some of those to whom Jesus spoke (Matt. 16:28 and Mark 9:1). Then it was further postponed when Jesus was claimed to have said it would occur during the time when some from his generation (“this generation”) would still be alive (Mark 13:30). Finally even John had to admit he might not be alive when it occurred (John 21:23). The fact it has still not occurred (despite many hopeful predictions in the intervening 2,000 years or so) is something with which biblical inerrantists like Preter must now contend. The Preterist solution, of course, is to pretend that it occurred in 70 CE.
Since the subject is dealt with most thoroughly in the Olivet Prophecy in Matt. 24, it is worthwhile to review the sequence of events depicted in that chapter and the one immediately following. In vs. 3, Jesus’ disciples asked him a specific two-part question: “Tell us when shall these things [the complete destruction of the temple] be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and the end of the world?” Some of the preconditions and signs were given by Jesus as follows: “…this gospel…shall be preached in all the world…” (vs. 14), the greatest tribulation of all time will take place (vs. 21), “Immediately after the tribulation,” the sun and moon will cease to give light and the stars will fall from heaven (vs. 29), all the nations of the earth will mourn and everyone on earth will see the “Son of man” floating down from the sky in the clouds “with power and great glory” (vs. 30), and the “elect” will be gathered together from all over the earth and heaven by angles blowing trumpets (vs. 31). We are then reminded in vs. 34 that “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” Matt. 25 continues this theme by describing what will happen “When [as previously discussed in Matt. 24] the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him…” (vs. 31). At that time, the righteous shall be separated from the wicked (vss. 32-33) and the wicked shall be cast “into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels…” and they shall go into “everlasting punishment” (vss. 41 and 46). The righteous, on the other hand shall be rewarded with eternal life (vs. 46).
Contrary to the Preterist scenario, none of the preconditions and signs listed above occurred during the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, nor did the final judgment (as clearly depicted in the aforementioned verses from Matt. 25) take place at that time. It is only by taking these verses out of context and playing word games with them that they can be distorted into something that fits the Preterist interpretation. If Jesus really did “come on the clouds” in 70 CE, does that aerial display count as the second coming? If so, does this mean that Christians are now awaiting the third coming? The O.T. prophets only predicted a single coming. So much for the consistency of the Bible message.
Despite Preterist claims to the contrary, it does not take a biblical scholar to determine that, when the authors of the N.T. used terms such as “last days,” “final hour,” etc. they were talking about the timing of the final judgment of mankind. It is obvious, from their frequency and context in which these terms were used that the authors had much more in mind than merely the fall of the temple in 70 CE. A few examples serve to illustrate this point:
Matt. 10:23 (Jesus will return to establish his kingdom before his disciples have preached in all the cities of Israel.)
Matt. 16:27-28 (Some of Jesus’ contemporaries will live to see him coming to “judge each person according to his deeds.”)
Matt. 23:36 (“Yes, all the accumulated judgment of the centuries shall break upon the heads of this very generation.” – The Living Bible Paraphrased)
Matt. 24:15 (When you see the destruction of the temple, remember that this is a fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy.) The prophecy in Dan. 12:1-2 includes the resurrection of the dead.
Mark 13:30 (Some of Jesus’ contemporaries will be alive to see “all these things” including angels gathering the elect from heaven and the entire earth, darkened sun and moon, etc.)
Luke 21:32 (Some of that generation will be alive to see “all things fulfilled.” This encompasses all things written by the prophets [vs. 22] which includes the resurrection of the dead [Dan. 12:1-2], splitting of the Mount of Olives [Zech. 14:4], world peace and justice [Isa. 2:4 and 11:6-9], and building of the third temple [Mic. 4:1 and Ezek. 40-45]. When these things occur you will know that your redemption is close at hand [vs. 28].)
Rom. 13:11-12 (Time is running out. Salvation will occur sooner than we thought.)
Rom. 16:20 (The god of peace will soon crush Satan.)
1 Cor. 7:26-31 (The remaining time is very short and the world is its present form will soon be gone. Things are so uncertain that it would be better not to get married.)
1 Cor. 10:11 (The behaviors of past sinners were given as examples to learn from in these last days as the world nears its end.)
1 Thess. 4:15-18 (The final judgment will occur when some of us are still alive, at which time we will ascend in the clouds to heaven.)
2 Tim. 4:1 (When Jesus comes to set up his kingdom, he will judge the living and the dead.)
Heb. 1:2 (God has spoken to the faithful in these last days. )
Heb. 9:26 (Jesus has appeared at the end of the world to put way sin by sacrificing himself.)
Heb. 10:25-27 (Jesus’ day of returning [at which time God’s awful anger will consume his enemies] is approaching.)
Heb. 10:36-37 (If you want the reward of all things that God has promised you, be patient. His coming will not be delayed much longer.)
Jas. 5:3 (People have heaped treasure together for the last days.)
Jas. 5:7-9 (Be patient and don’t argue among yourselves. The great Judge is almost here.)
1 Pet. 1:19-20 (Jesus is manifest in these last times.)
1 Pet. 4:5-7 (God is ready to judge the living and the dead. Therefore, be thoughtful men of prayer because the end of all things is coming soon.)
1 Pet. 4:17 (The time has come for the final judgment.)
2 Pet. 3:10-14 (You should try to hasten the day when God will destroy the heavens and earth. While you are waiting for that time, try also to live without sinning.)
1 John 2:18 (We know it is the last time.)
Rev. 10:5-7 (God’s plans, as announced by the prophets, will be fulfilled without delay.)
Rev, 14:15-20 (People will be gathered by angels for the final judgment.)
Rev. 22:10 (The angel warned John that the time of fulfillment is near.)
Rev. 22:12 (Jesus will be coming soon to repay everyone according to his/her deeds.)
While the foregoing list is not exhaustive, it clearly establishes (for anyone not wearing biblical blinders) that the authors of the N.T. were firmly convinced that Jesus’ return was imminent, and that when he did return, it would be in conjunction with a final judgment of mankind and the end of the world as they knew it. Years, decades, and millennia have passed by and still there are people waiting for the fulfillment of the promise that was broken 2,000 years ago. Preterists cannot face the reality that Jesus and the authors of the N.T. were prophetic failures. In order to keep up the pretense that the Bible is inerrant, Preterists are forced to ignore, bastardize, wrench out of context, and/or rewrite much of what it has to say about Jesus’ purported second coming. In doing so, it would be prudent for them to heed the words of Rev. 22:18-19 which, to paraphrase, warns: If anyone adds to or subtracts from anything written in Revelation, he shall findeth himself in deepeth doo doo and upeth to his derriere in alligators.
Jesus and/or the 1st century biblical authors who put words in Jesus' mouth was/were mistaken about what he/they thought would be an early return trip to vanquish the Romans, establish a kingdom of God on earth, and preside over the final judgment of mankind. Similarly, Preterists are mistaken if they think their mangling of biblical scripture has done anything to change the fact that Jesus missed his appointment. For more critical comment on Preterism, see the section on Preterism here and the following websites:
Problems with Preterism The Problem with Preterism Preterism and Study of the Apocalypse The Lowdown on God's Showdown
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