And it Came to Pass
A Review of The Third Annual CEF Symposium: Preterism
By David A. Green
Although the various authors of And It Came to Pass do not teach that “all things written” stand fulfilled today (Lk. 21:22; I Peter 4:7), they do teach that the bulk of New-Testament prophecies is fulfilled. And though this book falls short of teaching the full significance of the Advent of the King and His eternal Kingdom (Matt. 16:28; II Cor. 6:16; Rev. 21:3) at the Judgment of the Ministry of Death (II Cor. 3:7), it does reason in a manner which may dislodge many of the eschatological assumptions from the mind of a dispensationalist.
As R. C. Sproul says in the foreword, And It Came to Pass may serve well as an “introduction to some of the most fascinating and important elements of preterist interpretation.” Dr. Sproul further notes that as critics of the Bible teach a supposed Parousia failure and thus reject the inspiration and authority of the Bible, the preterist approach interprets the Bible’s imagery and time-frame references soberly, and “offers a framework for consistent interpretation.” (The full preterist view Sproul calls “radical preterism,” and though he says it “faces serious difficulties with . . . the believer’s experience of the resurrection of the body,” he does allow that “serious study and dialogue are needed if we are to reach agreement as to how far preterism is to go . . . . “)
The Introduction of And It Came to Pass is by T. J. Morin. In it he gives a brief statement of interpretive premises, saying that the authors of this symposium are committed to “only Scripture and all of Scripture,” “to the grammatico-historical hermeneutic,” “to the self-interpreting character of the divine revelation” and “to an early date for the Apocalypse” (pp. 2-4). In this review, we shall see how committed all of the authors are to all of these principles.
The first chapter was written by James Nance, and is entitled, Old Testament Pictures of Judgment. In examining “the Coming of the Lord,” Mr. Nance demonstrates that the Coming of the Son of Man in Matt. 10:23; 26:64; and Rev. 1:7 should be interpreted in light of Isa. 19:1 and Micah 1:3,4, which were prophecies of the destruction of ancient Egypt and Samaria. In both of those cases, “the Lord came in judgment, using one nation to punish another for its sins” (pp. 12,13). And so it was for first-century Israel. Thus is the Old Testament the interpretive key to the New-Testament writings.
But after establishing this sound Biblical interpretative standard, Mr. Nance suggests that the people of the first century actually saw Jesus physically coming on the clouds with the angels. He says this because of the account of Josephus in The Wars of the Jews, Book VI, Ch. V, Sec. 3, where it is written that “chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding the cities.”
While it is tempting to take advantage of such recorded occurrences as hyper-literal (as Chris Schlect puts it, on p. 84) fulfillments of the Coming of the Son of Man, it is best to confine our interpretation to the Biblical, “grammatico-historical hermeneutic.” As Mr. Nance himself teaches on page 8, we must not interpret the old-testament prophetic language used in the New Testament in a radically different way than it is interpreted in the old testament.
Chapter 2 was written by Douglas Wilson and is entitled, Biblical Pictures of the New Cosmos. In this essay, Mr. Wilson demonstrates how that the preterist paradigm makes manifest the Church’s true purpose in the world today, which purpose is to conquer the nations with the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Mr. Wilson utilizes the book of Hebrews to demonstrate how that in the first century, God was preparing “the new Israel, the Church, for her coming ‘invasion of the world’” (p. 22-25). The Exodus under Moses was parallel to Pentecost, the 40-year wilderness journey under Moses was parallel to the 40-year period after Pentecost, and the conquering of the land of Canaan under Joshua was parallel to the destruction of the Gospel-hindering City of Jerusalem in A. D. 70 (p. 25). Through the power of Christ’s resurrection (Col. 2:15), the first-century Christians received the “new heavens and the new earth” (the ever-increasing Kingdom of Christ) (p. 29), after the “old heaven and earth” of Christ’s enemies was “shaken” and removed in A. D. 70 (Heb. 12:25-29; cf. I Cor. 2:6). Since that time and forever, “the God of this age” is the Lord Jesus Christ, because the age in which we live today is the Christian aeon. “The devil, the god of a prior age, has been defeated” (p. 34). Amen!
Chapter 3 was written by Douglas Jones, and is entitled Daniel’s Seventy Weeks: Imposing an Impotent Atonement. Mr. Jones shows us how that the central pillar of dispensational interpretation –the imaginary 2000-year “gap” between the sixty ninth and the seventieth week of Daniel’s seventy weeks– is logically dependent on a low view of Christ’s atoning work at the cross. The solid reasoning of this chapter deals a deadly blow to both dispensational and Arminian theology (pp. 36-62).
Chapter 4 was written by Gregory C. Dickison and is entitled Apocalypse Then: The Historical Doctrines of Matthew 24. In this essay Mr. Dickison concisely demonstrates how that the parables and prophecies in Matt. 21-24 were all fulfilled in A. D. 70.
In his first paragraph on page 63, Mr. Dickison appears to be a “radical preterist” as he contradicts Chris Schlect from pages 98,99. He says, “. . . the Lord’s Second Coming . . . [is a matter] of history” (p. 63). Nothing in the remainder of the essay contradicts that statement, unless perhaps it is the last sentence in which he teaches that the present-day Church is the Bride of Christ. This latter declaration implies that the “Second Coming” of Christ in A. D. 70 was not His Coming to marry His Bride/Church, but that the Marriage is yet to take place in our future. What Mr. Dickison meant is uncertain, and the ambiguity is unfortunate.
Chapter 5 was written by Chris Schlect and is entitled, A Reasonable Look at Revelation. This essay sets forth some guiding principles in interpreting the book of Revelation (p. 79). Mr. Schlect first presents two “unbiblical assumptions” concerning Biblical prophecy:
The first assumption is that “prophecy will be clearly understood after the prophesied events occur in history” (p. 81). Mr. Schlect shows that this was not always the case. Rather, “confusion over prophecy results from poor exegesis,” that is, from a poor knowledge of Scripture, and not from a lack of fulfillment (pp. 83,84).
The second assumption is “that biblical prophecies will be fulfilled in a strict, word-for-word sense and almost never in a figurative or poetic sense.” This assumption Mr. Schlect rightly terms “hyper-literalism” (p. 84). Many who hold to this view maintain that every prophecy of the first Appearing of Christ was literally fulfilled to the letter, but are at a loss to consistently interpret Isa. 40:3-5 which speaks of John the Baptizer making a highway straight, and about valleys being exalted and mountains being lowered through his ministry (p. 86). I might add that hyper-literalists would also have a difficult time proving that Christ was surrounded by literal “bulls of Bashan” (Ps. 22:12).
In Mr. Schlect’s discussion of the book of Revelation, he teaches that the interpretive foundation of the book is to be found in 1:1-8 where we find:
1. The intended audience (p. 90) –which was not 20th-century saints, but first-century saints in Asia Minor
2. The theme of the book (pp. 99-101) –which was the Coming of Christ in judgment against first-century Israel,
3. The imminence of that Coming (p. 86-89) and
4. The eternal Kingship of Jesus and success of His Church throughout history –which success was based on what Christ had already accomplished before the writing of the book of Revelation, and not based upon a (yet) future event (pp. 95-97).
Point number four demonstrates that the Kingdom of Christ and His saints on earth is not a future prospect where “Messiah in the flesh” presides, as dispensationalism teaches.
It is regrettable that Mr. Schlect goes on from this point to state that since the A. D.-70 “Coming” in Rev. 1:7 was not in flesh it could not therefore have been the final Coming of Christ (pp. 98,99).
Even as dispensationalists wrongly suppose that the prophecies of the Lord’s Coming in A. D. 70 must be interpreted hyper-literally and therefore could not have actually been fulfilled in A.D. 70, Mr. Schlect here wrongly concludes that since the Lord’s Coming in A. D. 70 was not a hyper-literal fulfillment of a “Coming of the Lord” prophecy, it cannot therefore be the “last” Coming of the Lord.
But this reasoning does not have the virtue of “exegetical consistency.” The Bible simply does not set forth the principle that the final or greatest Coming of Yahweh must be “in flesh,” or that the prophecies of that Coming must be interpreted hyper-literally.
As preterists, we must remember that in A. D. 70 both the King and His Kingdom came (Matt. 16:28), and that the purpose of that Advent was to establish the true Tabernacle of God among men (Rev. 21:1-3). Unlike the other Comings of the Lord, He came to stay in A. D. 70. Christ and the Father dwell and walk among us (Jn. 14:23; II Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:22) in fulfillment of all the promises of God. Now, if both the King and His Kingdom are dwelling among us today, what eschatological Coming can we possibly await?
Chapter 6 was written by James Nance (who wrote the first chapter) and is entitled, The Anti-Christ And the Beast. His main thesis is that the Antichrist and the Beast are not the same. (It is difficult to know if I am giving an accurate reflection of this article because four of its eleven pages were blank in my copy of the book.) Although Mr. Nance well recognizes that the Antichrist was a spirit (p. 109), he also believes that it was probably a man, namely Cerinthus, “a religious leader of John’s day who denied that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh” (p. 112). Mr. Nance regards the Beast generally as the Roman empire and specifically as Nero.
Chapter 7 was written by T. J. Morin (who wrote the Introduction) and is entitled The Harlot. Utilizing the unified testimony of fourteen old-testament books and three New-Testament books, Mr. Morin presents numerous pieces of evidence in support of the fact that first-century Jerusalem, God’s covenant-wife which played the harlot, was “Babylon the Great” of the book of Revelation.
Douglas Wilson (who wrote chapter 2) wrote the last chapter, which is entitled, Who Cares? In this final paper he shows how that one’s eschatology affects the nature of one’s evangelism (p. 129). With a wrong eschatology we may be sharing the Good News “in an unbiblical context” (p. 130). Dispensationalism (which expects the “rapture” to happen any day) can cause Christians to be apathetic about some very important things; it can lead to a very unhealthy “short term” world view which leads one to abandon all consideration and planning for one’s descendants. As Mr. Wilson puts it, “If all that matters is getting individuals saved and into the lifeboat, then we are not going to seek to establish godly patterns for future generations for our schools, cities, churches, etc. . . . Consequently, by concentrating on individuals, we reach far fewer individuals” (pp. 130,131).
How true this is, and how well said. The any-day “rapture” doctrine is destructive and false.
Although postmillennialists, such as those who wrote And It Came to Pass, do not believe in the any-day “rapture,” they do nonetheless believe in the same literal “rapture” as dispensationalism teaches. The difference is that postmillennialists believe that planet Earth must first gradually become Christianized, according to their interpretation of such verses as Isa. 11:9. (“For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”) The resulting “golden age,” it is believed, will then last “1,000 years” (Rev. 20) or probably more, and only when that “millennial age” is completed will the literal “rapture” occur, according to the postmillennial belief.
One can see the social optimism and benefits of this doctrine in contrast to the doom and gloom of dispensationalism. But the fact that postmillennialism is more compatible with the spirit of God’s word than is dispensationalism does not mean that postmillennialism is in fact the truth. Rather, postmillennialism is like the feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s image: “part of iron and part of clay.”
If postmillennialists were more consistent in their adherence to their stated principles of “the grammatico-historical hermeneutic,” and “the self-interpreting character of the divine revelation,” they would maintain that such verses as Isa. 11:9 were fulfilled in the first century, in accordance with such divine declarations as these:
“. . . the Gospel . . . was preached to every creature which is under heaven . . . ” (Col. 1:23).
“[The voice of those preaching the gospel] has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world” (Rom. 10:18).
There is no sober reason why Isa. 11:9 should not be interpreted in the same hyperbolic fashion as Col. 1:23 and Rom. 10:18.
Isa. 11:9 is fulfilled. And if the “rapture” is really to take place more than 1,000 years after Isa. 11:9 is fulfilled, according as postmillennialism teaches, then the “rapture” could theoretically take place “any day” in the twentieth/twenty-first century.
Because of exegetical “chinks in the armor” like this one, postmillennialism will not prove in time to be the final antidote to “Rapture Fever” (any-day “rapture” hysteria). More likely, the cure will prove to be full preterism, which:
1. Understands the rapture/resurrection passage of I Thess. 5:13-18 to be non-literal (Cf. Jn. 17:15,20), [fulfilled in AD70]
2. Puts the rapture/resurrection-event in the end of the apostolic era, [fulfilled in AD70] and
3. Plants the redeemed generations of humanity firmly on the ground today to love God and neighbor, and to build societies that glorify God, forever and ever (Eph. 3:21), indefinitely. [See Frost’s “infinity paradox”]
Partial preterism (postmillennialism, et al) is well intentioned and often effective in its fight against dispensationalism, and it has many benefits and strong biblical features, but it is not biblical enough to consistently pull down all the strongholds of erroneous doctrinal systems and to build in their places the eternal City of God (II Cor. 10:4,5). Only the Gospel in a truly biblical context can effect such a long-term change in the nations of the earth.
Despite numerous printing errors, typos, occasional syntactical ambiguities and lapses in interpretive methods, and despite a very limited index, And It Came to Pass has some good things to say to dispensationalists who are not yet familiar with preterism. I would recommend the book for those readers.
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