08 August, 2006

Preterism

Preterism is a Christian belief 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. Full preterism states that all prophecies about the Kingdom were fulfilled in the first century and the Kingdom of God was set up in or around AD70 when Jerusalem fell to the Romans. Many preterists cling to "time statements" that are used in the NT which suggest that the Kingdom of God was about to come when Jesus was on the earth.

How does the preterist look at Nebuchadnezzar’s image in Daniel 2? Can there be any interpretation that finds its fulfillment in AD70?

The image consists of five elements:

• Head of gold
• Breast and arms of silver
• Belly and thighs of bronze
• Legs of iron
• Feet of iron and clay


We are told that the golden head represents Nebuchadnezzar (Babylon) and the other elements represent “kingdoms” that would follow on after. The book of Daniel itself tells us what the second and third kingdoms are: Daniel 5 tells us that Medo-Persia followed Babylon and then in Daniel 8 we find that Greece followed Medo-Persia. We can be fairly sure that this is a solid interpretation based on two other facts:

1. The parallel prophecy in Daniel 7 where there are four beasts. The lion is a good representation of Babylon, the bear of Medo-Persia, raised up on one side (the Persian part was the stronger) and leopard represents Greece with its four heads corresponding to the division of the empire into four parts (also mentioned in Daniel 8 about Greece).
2. History confirms that these were empires that held sway over the people and land of Israel, in that order.

The fourth kingdom of iron is not mentioned in Daniel, nor anywhere in the Old Testament. This is because it only had its beginnings after the Old Testament had been finished. But we can be fairly certain that Rome is the 4th empire. In the days of the Lord Jesus Christ it was Rome that held sway over God’s people.

The feet and toes are not a fifth kingdom. We know this for three reasons:

1. They are not introduced, as the second, third and fourth are, with words to the effect “and a fifth kingdom” or “another kingdom”. It simply says “and the kingdom shall be…” This suggests it is a continuation of the fourth kingdom of iron but with the introduction of clay.
2. There are only 4 kingdoms in Daniel 7.
3. Rome has held sway over God’s people and nothing has replaced it. This 3rd point is significant in the light of the book of Revelation, which takes up the picture and presents a story of the apostasy (Roman Catholic Church) in opposition to the saints.

We are told that a stone came and smote the image on the feet, destroying not only the feet but the whole image. The kingdom of men was replaced by the kingdom of God in the vision, and it filled the whole earth.

In what sense can these things be slotted into AD 70? The preterist is forced to say that the stone smiting the image represents Christ coming in AD 70 against Jerusalem. Unfortunately this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever:

1. The image is antagonistic to Israel. The image is destroyed in the vision, not Israel. Unless things can be twisted to the effect that Israel becomes the image (which would be a valiant feat of interpretation) AD 70 simply cannot be the fulfillment of the prophecy.
2. The kingdom of iron, Rome, was not destroyed in AD 70. In fact it was the victor and it continues until this day.
3. When Jesus came in judgment through the agency of the Roman armies in AD 70 the kingdom of men was not utterly destroyed. It still continues.

One of the mistakes of preterism is their use of the various “time statements” in the New Testament. This post will briefly examine time statements that, if taken at face value without looking into what they actually mean, suggest the kingdom of God was about to be set up in the generation of the apostles.

The problem comes with not understanding what the word “kingdom” denotes in the Greek. The word is “basileia”, and the English “kingdom” is not necessarily a good translation in all contexts, or rather it is not a full translation of the word. When we, as English speaking people, think of a “kingdom” we generally picture a territory ruled over by a sovereign. However, consider one lexicon’s definition of the word “basileia”:

1. royal power, kingship, dominion, rule
1a) not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom
1b) of the royal power of Jesus as the triumphant Messiah
1c) of the royal power and dignity conferred on Christians in the Messiah’s kingdom
2. a kingdom, the territory subject to the rule of a king
3. used in the N.T. to refer to the reign of the Messiah

Notice definition (1) above since this is how the word “basileia” is often used in the New Testament. The word does signify a kingdom or realm, i.e. a territory or country governed by a ruler, it also signifies the majesty, title and honour of a king. The things of a king are thus expressed by “basileia”. To illustrate this consider one of the favourite verses of the preterist:

“Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matt 16:28).

The preterist will say that this means the apostles would see the coming of Christ and the establishment of the (spiritual) kingdom of God in their own generation. They are only half right. The juxtaposition of this verse and the vision on the mount of transfiguration is not to be lost sight of. Note Peter’s comments on his experience:

“For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount” (2 Pet 1:16-18).

The word for “coming” in this passage is “parousia”. It comes from the word “pareimi” which means “to be present” or “to have come”. Therefore Peter and the other disciples saw Jesus in his parousia, in his actual presence. He had “come” already. But note what they saw – “power”, “majesty”, “honour and glory”. What Jesus was telling the disciples in Matthew 16 was that they were about to see the “basileia”, the majesty of the exalted king in glory and that is exactly what they saw.

John the Baptist said “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2). The word for “is at hand “ in the Greek is “eggizo” and is in the perfect tense. This tells us that John was not saying “the kingdom is about to come in the near future” but “the kingdom of heaven has come to hand”. i.e. it is present and in your midst. So John is saying that the one whose way he came to prepare, the king, was standing among them!

Just as in the Old Testament where kings and kingdoms are used synonymously (e.g. Dan 2:44) so we can read “basileia” as either “king” or “kingdom” depending on the context. The king was there, at hand, in their midst. But they refused his rulership and the kingdom did not come, and is still future.

2 Comments:

Blogger Scott said...

I am a former Full Preterist and have recently published an article to my blog on why I can no longer accept that position. This may be something you may want to check out.

http://www.shadowsofthecross.com/

September 24, 2007 5:42 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Scott,

I'd be interested in hearing your answers to the questions asked in this post.

September 24, 2007 10:31 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home