Preterism 101:

The Foundations of Fulfilled Eschatology

As more and more people become serious students of “last things,” the number of those investigating Preterism is constantly increasing. Hence, there is a recurring need to set forth the “first principles” of the Preterist interpretation of scripture. In this article, we will look at the foundations of fulfilled eschatology.


There are three basic interpretative schools of “eschatology,” or the “study of last things.” These are Futurism, Preterism, and Idealism. Idealism was the dominate view from A.D. 400-1200. Idealism takes an allegorical approach to Revelation and related books, viewing them as depicting abstractly the struggle and eventual triumph of good over evil, but not tied to or portraying any particular events in history. Augustine is probably the father of Idealism and his book “The City of God” is still the best known example of this approach. Robert Mounce, in his commentary on Revelation defined Idealism, saying, “Revelation is a theological poem presenting the ageless struggle between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. It is a philosophy of history wherein Christian forces are continuously meeting and conquering the demonic forces of evil.”[1]

The late nineteenth century scholar William Milligan described Idealism, saying, “While the Apocalypse thus embraces the whole period of the Christian dispensation, it sets before us within this period the action of great principles and not special incidents; we are not to look in the Apocalypse for special events, but for the exhibition of the principles which govern the history of both the world and the Church.”[2]

By this view, the battles of Revelation portray spiritual struggles of any and every age of history; the beast is any political movement or government opposing or persecuting the church; the harlot is any corrupt form of the church, or worldly seduction, etc. In short, the book of Revelation, rather than portraying in symbolic language actual events prophesied by Christ and the apostles and prophets, is loosed from all historic anchorage and set adrift upon the sea of history where it has no certain or particular meaning whatever.

Futurism - Apocalyptic

Futurism, as the name implies, operates upon the assumption that the second coming of Christ is a future event. Idealism also typically assumes the second coming has yet to occur, but where Futurism attempts to identify specific events in history to predict when the second coming will occur, Idealism is just content to leave Revelation a closed book of abstract allegories. Idealism was replaced briefly during the 13th century with a form of Futurism we may call “apocalypticism.” Apocalypticism differs from Futurism in that while both view the second coming as an imminent event, apocalypticism  produces new visions and revelations of the end. The Essenes are an example of an apocalyptic sect that looked for the imminent end of the age, and were involved in visions and prophecies, many of which have been preserved and come down to us in the Dead Sea Scrolls  (e.g., the book of Jubilees, the War Scroll, etc.).

Apocalyticism in the 13th century was ignited by Joachim of Fiore (A.D. 1132-1202), who interpreted the book of Revelation as teaching that there were three stages to history corresponding to the three persons of the Trinity: The first age corresponded to the Father, which was the era of fear and of law; the second age corresponded to the Son, and was marked by the gospel; the third age would correspond to the Holy Spirit, and would be marked by monastic-like purity and devotion.  Joachim taught that the second age was already drawing to a close, and that the third epoch would begin about A.D. 1260. Joachim’s predictions excited a spirit of apocalyptic frenzy in his followers, who produced many new visions and prophecies of the end. In Rev.  12:6, 14, the woman (the church) goes into hiding 1260 days (42 months, 3 ½ years) during the persecution of Saul, Caiaphas, and Pilate. However, taking the 1260 days for years, followers of Joachim believed the true church was in hiding, repressed by the corrupt institutions of the Catholic Church, which would emerge from hiding in the year A.D. 1260. However, when A.D. 1260 came and went and nothing happened, the movement died off, and Idealism again became dominate until the Reformation, when belief that the Catholic Church is portrayed in prophecy was revived under a species of Futurism called “Historicism.”

Futurism - Historicism

Historicism−also called the “Continuous Historical method”−saw portrayed in the books of Daniel and Revelation a continuous panorama of history, beginning with the Babylonian captivity until the world’s end. However, as the role of the Roman Empire in end-time prophecy is unmistakably portrayed and universally admitted, following the collapse of Rome, the prophecies were extended and kept alive by affirming that the Empire was still extant in the Catholic Church and papacy, which were believed to be its successors. The ten horns of Daniel’s fourth beast, rather than the ten senatorial provinces created by Augustus in 27 B.C., became ten nations of the Holy Roman Empire; the “little horn,” rather than portraying Nero Caesar, who persecuted the saints 3 ½ years and was destroyed by the coming of Christ in A.D. 66-70, became the Catholic Church and papacy. In Revelation, the beast and Harlot were similarly interpreted, the Catholic Church replacing the Roman Empire. Protestant Reformers and church, saw themselves in the imagery of Daniel and Revelation portrayed by the woman persecuted by the Catholic Church; Protestants thus supposed themselves to be living in the “last days” and expected the world’s end, sometimes resulting in violent outbreaks and revolutions in Europe: the Fifth Monarchy men of the Puritan Revolution under Olive Cromwell being but a single example (the Fifth Monarchy refers to the Kingdom of Christ that would follow the four world empires portrayed by Daniel, which some supposed the revolution that overthrew Charles I would inaugurate). However, in time Historicism exhausted its credibility and died a sudden death with William Miller and the Millerite Movement in the 1840’s, whose twice failed predictions of Christ’s return delivered its death blow.

Furturism - Premillennial Dispensationalism

About the time Historicism died, Premillennial Dispensationalism was born, and has grown until it is the dominate view today. This view was developed in the 1830’s by John Nelson Darby and made popular by the Scofield Reference Bible, edited by Cyrus Scofield and published by Oxford University Press. The essential elements of this form of Futurism is belief in the secret “pre-tribulation” rapture of the saints, followed by the physical, bodily return of Christ and a literal thousand-year reign on earth. Dispensationalism teaches that Christ came, not to die upon a Roman cross, but to establish an earthly kingdom. However, when rejected by the Jews, God seized upon the church and gospel as a type of parenthesis in God’s covenantal dealings with the Jews until they are ready to accept Christ as king, when Jesus will then return and establish his kingdom upon earth in which the Jews would share rule. In other words, God deals with the Jews differently than other men, and does not require that they obey the gospel to be saved; the church and gospel were not the “eternal purpose” God ordained for man’s salvation as taught by Christ and Paul (Eph. 1:, 10; 3:11), but stop-gap measures undertaken when the Jews frustrated God’s purpose by rejecting Christ.

Several leaders within the Plymouth Brethren, a movement started by Darby himself, deemed Darby’s views heretical for teaching two distinct and separate ways to salvation, one for Jews and one for Gentiles: If the Church were removed and a Jewish remnant were the fruit of God's redemptive work apart from Christ then it must be the result of “'another” Gospel condemned by the Apostle Paul in Galatians. Indeed, quite apart from Darby’s views, millennialism in general was condemned by the Ausburg Confession: “Art. XVII - We also condemn all others who are now spreading the Jewish idea that before the dead are raised, the godly will rule this world and that everywhere the ungodly will be overcome.” Similarly, the Second Helvetic Confession states: “We also reject the Jewish dream of a millennium, or golden age on earth, before the last judgment.” Calvin wrote in his Institutes that millennialism is a “fiction” “too childish either to need or to be worth a refutation.”[3]

Foundational Assumptions & Observations of Preterism

The third interpretative school of “end things” is Preterism.  The word “preterist” is from the Latin “ire” (to go) and prae (before), i.e., to go before; the past participle is “praeteritus,” from which we get the English word preterist – has gone past.  The Latin Vulgate uses the future tense of this word in Matt. 24:34: “non praeteribit haec generatio donec omnia haec fiant” (“this generation will not pass away until all these things be fulfilled”). Use of the term praeteribit in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse makes the name “preterist” particularly appropriate, since Preterists take the view that Jesus’ prophecies, as well as those of Daniel, Revelation, Thessalonians, and the rest, were all fulfilled within the generation of the first disciples. Some of the basic assumptions and observations of Preterists in support of this conclusion include: 

1. There have been many “days of the Lord”;

2. There have been many “comings” (visitations) of the Lord;

3. The language of the Prophet’s is figurative and poetic;

4. The time statements of the New Testament must be accepted at face value

Old Testament “Days of the Lord”

When we open the New Testament, among the first things we encounter are predictions of coming eschatological judgment.  Such predictions are all through the gospels and epistles, almost on every page. This time of eschatological judgment was called the “day of the Lord.” Peter mentions it by name twice (Acts 2:17-21; II Pet. 3:10-13). Paul also uses the phrase:

“But of the times and seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.” I Thess. 5:1-3

Other times the eschatological crisis is referred to by as the “coming” (I Thess. 4:15) or “appearing” (II Tim. 4:1) of the Lord, or “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (I Cor. 1:8), or “that day” (II Thess. 1:10). It is essential to our understanding of New Testament eschatology to realize that the Old Testament records many days of the Lord. These were not “eschatological;” they occurred within the parameters of the existing age and did not mark its end or termination. However, since the phrase is applied equally to both, we cannot hope to understand its significance in the New Testament unless we first understand its use in the Old Testament. Briefly stated, a “day of the Lord” refers to a time of divine judgment upon men and nations, typically by invasion of foreign armies, but also including drought, famine, pestilence, and various plagues, including crop-destroying insects (locusts, cankerworms, etc.), often all at the same time. I am not aware of any example of a “day of the Lord” confined to judgment of a single nation. Rather, the term seems to be have been used of times of world-judgment, which overtook multiple nations. Isaiah thus describes the fall of Babylon, saying:

“Howl ye; for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty. Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man’s heart shall melt…Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it…And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.” Isa. 13:1-11

Notice, that although the prophecy is specifically directed against Babylon (v. 1, 19), the coming destruction was part of a larger time of world-encompassing divine wrath (v. 11): God would use the armies of the Mede-Persian Empire to punish Babylon and the world. Another example occurs in the book of Zephaniah:

“I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the Lord. I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumbling-blocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the Lord. I will also stretch out mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem...Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord God: for the day of the Lord is at hand: for the Lord hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath bid his guests…The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wastenness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers…the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land.” Zeph. 1:14-18

This prophecy was given in the days of days of Josiah, king of Judah (v. 1), and foretold the coming destruction of Judah by the Babylonians. However, divine wrath was in no way confined to the Jews: Zephaniah also names Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron of the Philistines, Moab, Ammon, Ethiopia, and Assyria among the nations and cities that would suffer visitation (Zeph. 2:4-12). Zephaniah’s prophecy thus answers to Isaiah’s “little apocalypse” (Isa. 24; cf. Jer. 4:23-27), which describes God’s wrath upon the ancient world by the Assyrio-Babylonian and Mede-Persian invasions in terms of “emptying of the earth” of inhabitants, and returning earth to its primordial chaos before creation. The nations and cities that were to suffer divine wrath included Palestine, Philistia, Moab, Damascus, Syria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Tema, Seir, Edom, Arabia, Kedar, Elam, Kir, Tyre, and Zidon (Isa. 14-23).

Another example of a “day of the Lord” occurs in Ezekiel, where the prophet foretells wrath upon Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, Lydia, Chub, and various mingled peoples of northern Africa.

“Son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Howl ye, Woe worth the day! For the day is near, even the day of the Lord is near, a cloudy day; it shall be the time of the heathen. And the sword shall come upon Egypt, and great pain shall be in Ethiopia, when the slain shall fall in Egypt, and they shall take away her multitude, and her foundations shall be broken down. Ethiopia, and Libya, and Lydia, and all the mingled people, Chub, and the men of the land that is in league, shall fall with them by the sword.” Ezek. 30:2-5

This is the same “day of the Lord” already discussed, which was fulfilled by the armies of the Babylonians (Ezek. 30:10). We call separate attention to it here to emphasize the prolific use of the term in the Old Testament, and that it describes a time of world-wrath, which witnessed the overthrow of governments and nations, but not the end of the world or cosmos itself.

Old Testament Comings & Visitations of the Lord

Like “days of the Lord,” there are numerous examples of the Lord’s coming and visitation in the Old Testament.  We do not speak here of the Lord’s appearance to Abraham (Gen. 18:1-3, 33), Moses (Ex. 3:1-6), Joshua (Jos. 5:13-15), Gideon (Jud. 6:11, 12), or such like, for these manifestations shed no light upon the second coming of Christ as the Son of man. Rather, we confine our inquiry here to providential comings in divine judgment and wrath, for it is here that we gain a window into Christ’s second coming. In reality, a “day of the Lord” is by definition a coming and visitation of the Lord, and the “days of the Lord” we have examined all involved the Lord’s coming in wrath and judgment upon men and nations. Our purpose here therefore is to note the how these occur together. We have seen the “day of the Lord” by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians that would overtake Egypt. Isaiah describes these same events as a coming of the Lord:

“The burden of Egypt. Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it. And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight everyone against his neighbor; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom…And the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord; and a fierce king shall rule over them, saith the Lord of hosts.” Isa. 19:1-4

This language is particularly insightful when compared with New Testament descriptions of Christ’s second coming: It involves a coming of the Lord upon clouds, in which his presence visits wrath in the form of war, destruction, and national servitude, all of which occur in the Olivet Discourse (Lk. 21:20-24; Matt. 24:30).

The overthrow of Babylon by the armies of Cyrus (Isa. 45:1), which Isaiah called a “day of the Lord,” is also expressly described as a coming of the Lord:

“I have commanded my sanctified ones, I have also called my mighty ones for mine anger, even them that rejoice in my highness. The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like as of a great people; a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together: the Lord of hosts mustereth the host of the battle. They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, even the Lord, and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land.” Isa. 13:3-5

Isaiah says the Lord “comes” in the kingdoms he gathers together to overthrow Babylon; the armies of the Medes and Persians are the weapons of his indignation. Another example of the Lord coming in judgment occurs in the book of Micah, which describes God’s judgment upon Samaria and Jerusalem by the Assyrio-Babylonian invasions:

“Hear all ye people; hearken, O earth, and all that therein is: and let the Lord God be witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple. For, behold, the Lord cometh forth out of his place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains shall be molten under him, and the valleys shall be cleft, as wax before the fire, and as the waters that are poured down a steep place. For the transgression of Jacob is all this, and for the sins of the house of Israel. What is the transgression of Jacob? Is it not Samaria? And what are the high places of Judah? Are they not Jerusalem? Therefore I will make Samaria as an heap of the field, and as plantings of a vineyard: and I will pour down the stones thereof into the valley, and I will discover the foundations thereof.” Mic. 1:2-6

Micah describes the Lord coming forth from his place, coming down to the earth, and overthrowing cities unto their very foundations.  In this, as in the previous examples, the Lord’s coming was not physical and visible, but spiritual and providential, discernable only to the eye of the understanding by the judgments and world-events that transpired.  Paul describes Christ’s coming in precisely these same terms:

“That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: which in his times he shall shew, who is the only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting, Amen.” I Tim. 6:14-16

Paul says no man has seen nor can see Christ in his full divinity, but that he would show his divinity and godhead providentially at his appearing in the world-events that would attend his coming. The idea of Christ’s physical, visible, bodily coming to destroy the cosmos is completely groundless. Another point we should notice about Micah’s description is that it is highly figurative and poetic: the melting of the mountains so that they pour down like water in a steep place describe the pouring down of the rocks of the hill of Samaria, uncovering the foundations of city’s walls and defensive munitions. This leads to the next point we need to visit, which is the figurative and hyperbolic nature of prophetic language employed in “days of the Lord” and his coming in wrath.

The Figurative and Poetic Nature of Prophetic Utterance

Students of the New Testament are familiar the language of a “collapsing cosmos” in which stars fall out of sky, the sun is black like sackcloth and the moon is blood. It is often supposed that this language is quite literal. However, this language has a long history in the Old Testament and it was always intended to be poetic and figurative, not literal. Consider the following example from the “day of the Lord” on Babylon:

“Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. ..Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger…Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished. Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it. Their bows also shall dash the young men to pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eyes shall not spare children. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.” Isa. 13:9-19

This is the same time of judgment we have surveyed several times before. Here, however, we want to notice the hyperbolic nature of the language. The usus loquendi (manner of speaking) of the prophet is highly charged: The stars, sun, and moon are darkened over Babylon at her fall; the heavens are shaken and the earth is removed out of its place. However, no one would contend these things actually occurred in 539 B.C. when Cyrus took the city: They are merely poetic expressions employed to emphasize the cataclysmic nature of Babylon’s fall.

Another example from the book of Isaiah is God’s judgment upon Edom and Idumea, which occurred as part of the larger time of world-judgment upon the nations. According to Obadiah, Edom treacherously forgot the brotherly covenant and participated in the spoil of Jerusalem by the Babylonians; hence God would visit Edom for its evil deeds against the Jews:

“Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it. For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree…For it is the day of the Lord's vengeance, and the year of recompence for the controversy of Zion.” Isa. 34:1-8

There are two points we want to observe about this portion of Isaiah’s prophecy: First, as with early examples, this day of the Lord’s vengeance was a time of world-wrath; God’s anger and judgment was upon “the world;” his indignation was upon “all nations.” We know from the book of Jeremiah that God brought all nations into subjection under Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 27:6-11), whose empire was to be the first of four world kingdoms, and stood as a sort of “adumbration” or “foreshadow” of the kingdom of Christ, who received world-dominion at his ascension (Dan. 7:13, 14, 27). Edom would not escape, but would suffer the common fate of other nations. Second, the language of the mountains melting from the blood of the slain, the stars falling from their courses, and the heavens rolling up as a scroll are obvious poetic exaggerations, used to portray the utter devastation that would overtake Edom. If there were any doubt about the figurative nature of the language, the second half of the prophecy makes this clear:

 And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever. But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness. They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing. And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls. The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest. There shall the great owl make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow: there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate.” Isa. 34:9-15

This half of the prophecy makes clear that the language of cosmic destruction is purely symbolic. The streams will be turned to pitch, the dust to brimstone (burning sulfur), and land burning pitch. Yet, for all that, the land will be inhabited by various beasts. How can beasts dwell in a land whose dust is burning sulfur and pitch? Clearly, they can’t. Hence, the unavoidable conclusion is that none of this is intended to be understood literally or taken at face value, but expresses poetically the great desolations that would befall Edom.

The Eschatological Day of the Lord and New Testament Time Statements

Having surveyed the Old Testament “days of the Lord,” his “comings” in wrath, and the figurative nature of prophetic utterance describing these events, we are now ready to turn to the New Testament. The prophecies of the New Testament were not spoken a vacuum: Christ and the apostles were Jews, who grew up in the synagogue listening to the Old Testament prophets read week to week; they were Jews and spoke to the Jewish people in the language and imagery with which the Jews were accustomed. Therefore, when we encounter prophetic language in the New Testament identical in form with that of the Old Testament, we may assume it is to be understood the same way. Absent clear evidence of intent to the contrary, language that was figurative in the Old Testament cannot suddenly be taken literally in the New Testament; otherwise how could the Jews ever understand what was being said? Thus, as we turn to New Testament prophecies of the “second coming” of Christ and “day of the Lord,” we must keep in mind their continuity with Old Testament usage and precedent. More than that, however, New Testament eschatology is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy; prophecies of Christ’s “second coming” and the “day of the Lord” were first uttered in the Old Testament: The only thing “new” about these prophecies was their imminent fulfillment. Thus, when Peter on the day of Pentecost following Christ’s ascension warns of the coming “day of the Lord,” he merely repeats a prophecy first uttered by Joel:

“But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:14-21

Peter quotes the prophet Joel, warning of a coming “day of the Lord” in terms identical with those we have encountered before, including sword and fire, and the darkening of the sun and moon. Having seen that this language was figurative in the Old Testament, we may conclude that it is figurative here in the New Testament. This is confirmed to a certain extent by Peter, who indicates that the things foretold by Joel were in the midst of being fulfilled, and concludes his sermon, saying, “Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:4). “This generation” echoes Jesus’ great denunciation, in which he prophesied the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem:

“Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Matt. 23:34-39

After uttering these words, Jesus went across to the Mount of Olives, where he elaborated further upon his coming in wrath to destroy the city and temple, concluding with this time statement:

“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” Matt. 24:34

Jesus’ statement in his great denunciation, above, that the Jews would persecute his disciples from city to city, bringing all the righteous blood shed upon earth upon their heads at his coming, should be compared with Jesus’ identical statement in the so-called “limited commission”:

“But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I ay unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.” Matt. 10:23

Thus, we have three direct statements by Jesus that he would come in wrath upon that generation, and there are others besides these we have yet to look at. But if there were any question about the context of Peter’s words, the prophecy of Joel dispels all doubt:

“Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand; a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations…The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining: And the Lord shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executed his word: for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide it? Joel 2:1-11

Joel’s “day of the Lord” was a time of wrath that would specifically overtake the Jewish nation. The chronology of the prophecy is established by reference to chariots (2:5), swords (v. 8), the temple (1:9, 13, 16), priests (v. 9, 13; 2:7), assembling the people by trumpets (2:1, 15), meat and drink offerings (1:9; 2:14), and other incidents of ancient Jewish life. However, Joel’s prophecy is not confined to the Jews: he expands his words to include “all nations” (3:2); God would “sit to judge all the heathen round about” (v. 12). Joel’s language is identical with the tradition of other Old Testament prophets, and so should be understood the same way: He is not predicting the end of the cosmos, but a time of divine wrath and visitation upon the world, in which the Jews of Jesus’ generation were singled out for especial judgment.

The Day of the Lord and Destruction of the Jewish Nation in the Old Testament

Joel is not the only Old Testament prophet to warn of the destruction of the Jewish nation. In fact, there are so many of these prophecies that we cannot possibly look at them all, but must confine ourselves to a few. Therefore we will look at some of the earliest and the latest to establish the continuity and prominence of this theme. The earliest reference occurs in the book of Numbers, and was uttered by the prophet Balaam:

“I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth…Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city…And ships shall come from the coast of Chittim, and shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber, and he also shall perish forever.” Num. 24:17-24

This is a prophecy of Christ, who was to obtain world dominion, not in an earthly kingdom as the Jews or Dispensationalists suppose, but at his ascension (Dan. 7:13, 14; I Pet. 3:22). At his ascension, Christ sat down on the right hand of God “henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool” (Heb. 10:13; cf. Ps. 110:1). Hence, Balaam ascribes divine wrath to Christ, and the overthrow his enemies is the prominent feature of his prophecy. We know from various sources, including Daniel (Dan. 11:30) and the Dead Sea scrolls, that the “Chittim” or “Kittim” refer to the Romans. “Asshur” refers to Assyria, the eastern-most border of the Roman Empire in the time of Christ; “Eber” was a descendant of Abraham (Gen. 11:16, 26). “Eber” is believed to be the root of the word “Hebrew;” thus the phrase “Abram the Hebrew” (Gen. 14:13); viz., the father of the Hebrew nation. The Chittim coming in ships to “afflict and destroy Eber forever” is therefore the first clear reference we have to the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem by Rome.

Moses, the lawgiver of the Jewish nation, also prophesied the destruction that would befall the nation in the latter days, but we cannot take time to visit these here, so we will merely provide the citations for the read to pursue on his own (Deut. 31:28-32:43).

Isaiah’s prophecy of the new heavens and earth (Isa. 65-66) is a symbol for the world under the rule and dominion of Christ, in which he redeems his people from their enemies and gives them the ascendancy in earth; it contains several explicit references to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. The chronology of this prophecy is established by Stephen, who quoted it at his trial for saying Jesus would come and destroy the city and temple and change the customs Moses had given the people (Acts 6:14; 7:48-50). It is also quoted by Paul, who applied it to the Jews of his generation and their rejection of Christ (Rom. 10:20, 21). Thus, we have the double witness of these two men inspired men as to the  historical context of the prophecy.The prophecy opens with the Lord saying

“I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts.” Isa. 65:1, 2

This is quoted by Paul to the Romans regarding the Jews (Rom. 10:20, 21), whom he also calls “enemies of the gospel” (Rom. 11:28). The prophet continues, saying, God would bring forth a remnant seed out of Jacob (v. 8-10), but would destroy those rest:

“Therefore will I number you to the sword, and ye shall all bow down to the slaughter: because when I called, ye did not answer; when I spake, ye did not hear; but did evil before mine eyes, and did choose that wherein I delighted not.” Isa. 65:12

The Jews rejected Christ, choosing instead to establish their own system of righteousness through law-keeping and the temple ritual (Rom. 10:3). They wrongly supposed that the presence of the temple ensured God’s blessing and preservation, but this became undoing: God does not dwell in temples made with hands:

“Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? And where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those thing have been saith the Lord.” Isa. 66:1, 2

This was quoted by Stephen at his trail in support of the proposition that the temple was holy only insofar as a symbol of God’s presence. Stephen had charged that Christ would destroy the temple; he therefore cites Isaiah in this place to show that the destruction of the temple had been prophesied by Isaiah centuries before. How could Stephen be condemned for merely repeating what Isaiah had foretold?

“He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.” Isa. 66:3

Here we see that continuation of the temple service was deemed an abomination to God. The temple service was a grand object lesson pointing to the sacrifice and priesthood of Christ’s cross. Jesus’ fulfilled the law’s demand for blood atonement at Calvary. Hence, the types and shadows embodied in the law ended at the cross (Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:10). The continuation of the temple service and animal sacrifices thus stood as an implicit denial of the sacrifice and high priesthood of Christ, and marked the Jewish nation for destruction. Not inappropriately, it was at the feast of Passover that the legions of Titus suddenly appeared on the Mount of Olives (cf. Zech. 14:4) and before the walls of Jerusalem, shutting up within city over a million Christ-denying worshippers who came from all over to celebrate the feast.[4]

“Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, and cast you out for my name’s sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.” Isa. 66:5

“Casting out for my name’s sake” makes unmistakable reference to the Jews putting the disciples out of the synagogue for confessing Christ (cf. Jn. 9:22; 12:42; 16:2). However, Jesus would “appear” (come), redeeming them from their enemies’ hands in the destruction of the Jewish nation:

“A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice for the Lord that rendereth recompense to his enemies…For behold, the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire…and they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.” Isa. 66.6, 15, 24

Here we have explicit reference to the destruction of the city and temple by Christ coming against the Jews, whose carcasses would be cast forth out of the city into the Valley of Gehenna, like dung upon the face of the ground, where they were devoured by fire and maggots. Josephus reports that over 600,000 Jews died of famine during the siege were carried out of the city gates this way.[5] Following defeat of the persecutors, the world was like a “new heaven and earth” marked by the righteous reign of Christ and the saints, in which the “new Jerusalem,” the church, the covenantal habitation of the saints is the capital city, whose gates are open to all who seek salvation (II Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21, 22).

Still More Explicit References to the Fall of Jerusalem

We have seen Peter invoke Joel and Stephen invoke Isaiah to describe events overtaking the first century believers. Let’s look now at Zechariah, Malachi, and John the Baptist.

“Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.” Zech. 14:1-3

The historical context of this “day of the Lord” follows the suffering of Christ: “In that day thee shall be a fountain opened in the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness… and one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends” (Zech. 13:1, 6). Hence, there can be no doubt about its reference to the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem and God’s wrath upon the Roman Empire for persecution of the church. Malachi is to the same effect. Malachi passes over the earthly ministry of Christ, focusing instead upon his wrath against the Jewish nation:

“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts...For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yes, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leaven them neither root nor branch…Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” Mal. 3:1; 4:1, 5,6

We know that John the Baptist was the one who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah, to preach repentance and baptism, and prepare a people for Christ (Matt. 11:14; 17:10-13). It is therefore little wonder that John preached an imminent day of judgment:

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.  And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:  Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Notice John’s statement that the ax was already laid to the root of the trees: the time of eschatological judgment had already commenced! The saints (the wheat) would be gathered into the eternal kingdom by martyrdom under Nero and the Jews; unbelieving Jews (the chaff) would be consumed in divine wrath; the Roman capital would be burned, and the empire suffer cataclysmic convulsions and judgments in the “year of four emperors” following Nero’s death. John was followed by Jesus, who also made numerous express statements placing the eschatological crisis within the lives of the generation that crucified him:

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 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. 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. 16:26-28

It is important to understand that the judgment began, not concluded, at Christ’s coming. This was the point at which Jesus sat upon the throne of his glory, and commenced the “great white throne” judgment portrayed in Matt. 25:31-46 and Rev. 20:11-15. Jesus said that all judgment has been given to him, because he is the Son of man (Jn. 5:27, 30). Daniel tied the Hadean resurrection to the destruction of Jerusalem, which Jesus indicated was soon to occur (Dan. 12:1, 2, 7; Jn. 5:25-29; cf. Rev. 11:1, 2, 15-19). Although Hades is now destroyed, Paul says we must “all appear” before the judgment seat of Christ to receive the things done in the body (II Cor. 5:10). Hence, the judgment spoken of here was not a “once for all” event, but the commencement of the judgment that will last as long as earth endures.

A few more quick references and we must conclude: At his trial before the Sanhedrin, when asked if he was the Son of God, Jesus answered:

“Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” Matt. 26:64; cf. Mk. 14:62; Lk. 22:67-69

This is a clear reference to Dan. 7:13, 14, in which “one like the Son of man” ascends to heaven in clouds of glory, where he is given a kingdom, power, and glory, followed by his coming in wrath against the persecutors of the church (Dan. 721-27), there identified as the Roman power (the fourth world empire), but clearly also including the Jews, who were the moving force behind persecution of the saints (see generally the book of Acts, where the Jews opposed the gospel everywhere it was carried by Paul). The fulfillment of Jesus’ words that the Sanhedrin would witness his coming is recorded by Josephus, who says that the Zealots, shut up in the temple by the high priests, sent to the Idumeans to come to their assistance. However, the high priests shut the Idumeans out of the city. In revenge, when the Idumeans gained access to the city that night during a storm, they proceeded to slaughter 20,000 citizens, but especially sought out the high priests and members of the Sanhedrin, whom they slew, and cast out naked before the city walls.

“And I cannot but think that it was because God had doomed this city to destruction, as a polluted city, and was resolved to purge his sanctuary by fire, that he cut off these its great defenders and well-wishers, while those that a little before had worn the sacred garments, and had presided over the public worship, and had been esteemed venerable by those that dwelt on the whole habitable earth when they came into our city, were cast out naked, and seen to be the food of dogs and wild beasts.” [6]

Time Statements from the Epistles and Revelation

Having surveyed many of the time statements in the gospels, let us turn briefly to the epistles for what light they can shed upon the topic. Here we find that as we move closer toward the end of the first generation of believers, the language of imminence intensifies as Christ’s coming grew nearer:

I Thessalonians is, perhaps, the earliest of the epistles. Paul states that they are waiting for Christ’s return, which is clearly understood to be in their lifetimes, but not in the immediate future:

“And to wait from his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come...For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we  which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” I Thess. 1:10; 4:15-17

The “we which are alive and remain” mirrors Jesus’ statement in Matt. 16:26-28, saying that some of the disciples would not taste of death before the saw Christ coming in his kingdom to judge the living and dead (cf. II Tim. 4:1). It also mirrors Jesus’ word to Peter that the apostle John would live until Christ’s return (Jn. 21:20-23). Apparently, Paul’s words here were misunderstood to teach that those alive at Christ’s return would be translated to heaven without seeing death. Thus, the saying went around that the apostle John would not die (Jn. 21:23). But John denies this was Jesus’ meaning; therefore, we must not impute this meaning to Paul either. The word “then” is a conjunctive adverb showing sequence: The dead would be raised from Hades at Christ’s coming; then the living would be caught up together with them into glory. The word “together” does not signify the catching up occurs at the same time. This is the mistake some early believers made. Rather, “together” signifies they would be caught up together to the same place. Jesus’ word that they would not taste of death UNTIL they saw the Son of man coming, shows that they would in fact die. The “catching up” thus refers to a post-mortem translation of the soul or spirit to glory, not something that happens apart from physical death. In any event, it is quite clear that Paul and Thessalonians understood Christ would return in their lifetimes. II Thessalonians is to the same effect: The saints were being persecuted by their countrymen and the Jews, but would be saved out of their enemies’ hand at Christ’s coming. Paul says that the day is not immediately “at hand” but gives all the signs they were to watch for before it came (Claudius–the restrainer who restrained Roman and Jewish persecution of the church–would be taken out of the way; then Nero would be revealed as the man of sin and son of perdition by his persecution of the church, followed by the coming of Christ: II Thess. 2:1-8; cf. Dan. 7:21-27 where Nero is the “little horn” who persecutes the church for 3 ½ years).

The Corinthians were likewise waiting for the coming of the Lord, and expected Christ’s return in their lifetimes (I Cor. 1:7, 8). Here, however, Paul tells them that the “time is short” and that marriage may therefore not be expedient, given the persecution and suffering that would proceed that day (I Cor. 7:29).

In Romans, the day had advanced so far as to be imminent: The night of persecution was “far spent,” and the day of delivery was “at hand;” Christ would “shortly” bruise the adversary beneath their feet (Rom. 13:12; 16:20).

Peter, writing to the persecuted churches of Galatia, Cappodocia, Asia, and Bithynia, said that Christ was “ready” to judge the quick and the dead, and that the culmination of things prophesied was “at hand” (I Pet. 4:5, 7).

James said “the coming of the Lord draweth nigh…the judge standeth before the door” (Jm. 5:8, 9).

The author of Hebrews said it was a “very little while” (Gk. mikron oson oson) and he that cometh will come and will not tarry” (Heb. 10:37).

I John says the fact that there were many opposing Christ (antichrists) showed that it was then the “last hour” (Gk. escath wra).

Revelation opens and closes, saying, the things it contained must “shortly come to pass,” the time was “at hand,” and that Christ would come “quickly” (Rev. 1:1, 3: 22:6, 7, 10, 12, 20).

The only thing that remains a mystery is how anyone can believe that Christ has not come two thousand years later?


Futurism and Idealism are failed systems that have been repeatedly discredited down through the centuries. The foundational assumptions and observations of Preterism have the overwhelming weight of scripture supporting it them, and offer an immeasurably superior approach to understanding eschatology.

[1] Robert Mounce, The New International Commentary of the New Testament: The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 43.

[2] William Milligan, The Book of Revelation (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1889), 153-4.

[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, XXV 

[4] Josephus, Wars, 5.3.1

[5] Josephus, Wars, 5.13.7

[6] Josephus, Wars, 4.5.1-3.


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