“the law is done away on an individual level (not to the exclusion of the historical passing away of the Law of Moses). What I am presenting in this article is a more systematic development and exploration of this idea. “
Some Preterists, dare I say hyper-Preterists, so over-emphasize the historical completion of eschatological events that they fail to acknowledge individual and recapitulatory eschatology (a concept that I will explain herein). These Preterists deny Idealism and, with it, the power of Preterism. What these Preterists say, in effect, is that on every possible level, sin, death and the law are done away. What I hope to show plainly is that the same concepts that applied in the dissolution of the law apply uniquely toward individuals today.
What I will present is a Preterism modified by Idealism. I received hints of the necessity of this modification from Tim Martin, who has always claimed to like both Preterism and Idealism. Also, “PretMan”, Jonathan, gave me a hint when I wrote on Adam and Christ as Federal (Covenant) Heads. He spoke of a mini-Preterism going on in the lives of individuals. His idea, basically an old Reformed one, was that the law is done away on an individual level (not to the exclusion of the historical passing away of the Law of Moses). What I am presenting in this article is a more systematic development and exploration of this idea.
What you will see drawn out of the text is that the following concepts (normally understood as one-time eschatological events) recur anew in the lives of individuals:
earthly house torn down and replaced by a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens
this age…that age
death swallowed up in life
Before continuing further, I must say that my old approach disallowed diverse usage in the text of the Scriptures. Or, at the very least, I was inconsistent is recognizing diverse applications. In the effort to be consistent and systematic, I actually became reductionistic. So too do I think that many of my brethren have shared in my folly.
For instance, I was trying to assume that any contrast of “this age…age to come” spoke of the dispensational difference between the historical law of Moses and the inception of the grace and truth in Jesus Christ. In short, I assumed that the “this age…that age” distinction was the same everywhere Christ and the apostles employed it.
So too did I try to reconcile seemingly divergent ideas concerning the “kingdom.” One seemed mystical, operating inside the individual. Another seemed historical and outwardly manifest. My effort was to square these things under one “consistent” understanding.
In some areas it was simply too strained to attempt this reconciliation. These “anomalies” opened the door for a better explanation. One of these door-openers, which I had simply held as an anomaly, was in 2 Corinthians 5. It is #1 on my above list.
In this text is a clear contrast, in certain language, between 1. an earthly tent, a house which is torn down and 2. a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Of course, the historically-minded Preterist (who doesn’t also regard the theoretical and idealistic) and who hadn’t seen this text before would immediately jump and say that this passage must refer to a.d. 70. They would also say, “It is fulfilled.” “The temple has been torn down, never to happen again,” is what they would cry.
Yet it is plain that Paul is speaking of “the body” as the house that is torn down. Jesus also spoke of his body as a temple that was destroyed but made to rise again. Also, Paul elsewhere calls the individual’s body a “temple of the holy spirit” (1 Cor 6:19).
In this 2 Cor 5 text, Paul says also, “For indeed, while we are in this tent we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.” This quote touches upon my #8 above.
The point that Preterists maintain is that death has already been destroyed, the victory already won. Maybe so! Indeed, maybe so on a visible historical scale in reference to the Mosaic economy and the Temple of Herod. Yet maybe not so quite yet with reference to the individual.
Judgment too is something that some might claim is entirely past (#2). Yet even on the individual level is there an eschatological judgment. The Scriptures say that “it is appointed unto men once to die and after this judgment” (Heb 9:27) So, judgment not only came at the culmination of the law of Moses but at the end of life, after men die. Of course, Christians have always maintained this doctrine.
Before continuing down the list, I might mention that this fusion of Preterism and Idealism would help make sense of many things. One is the “already…not yet” language or instances where something, in one text, is said to be done or past and, in another place, is left to the future.
2 Tim 1:10 says that Christ “abolished death,” yet Revelation looked at that abolishment as future saying “there will no longer be any death.” Salvation, the kingdom, and other concepts also fall under this umbrella.
Making matters even more complicated, these concepts aren’t only relegated even to two things; they don’t just apply to a.d. 70 and to the individual at his death. Truly, we need to consult the immediate context of a passage to see how the language is employed.
But…on with the list.
Salvation is #3. It was something, in one sense, attached to the events of a.d. 70 (“salvation is nearer than when we first believed.”). Yet in many (if not most) places, it is individual and personal. Should I say, like the evangelical, that Christ must be our “personal Savior”? It’s not the language I am accustomed to using because I think corporately and historically. Yet I will henceforth not shy away from its use.
The next matter that is historically eschatological but also individually applicable is the kingdom (#4). A.D. 70 may be regarded in many ways as the ushering in of the kingdom. The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. Christ, in his judgment, comes in his kingdom. Yet the kingdom comes privately and personally as well. It is more than eschatological. Christ, of course, speaks of the difficulty by which men enter the kingdom of heaven. He does not mean the post-a.d. 70 world. He also says, “The kingdom of God comes not with observation, nor will they say ‘behold, here’ or ‘there, behold’, for the kingdom of God is within you.” Most of Christ’s talk about the kingdom concerns personal righteousness and trust in the power and working of God. The coming is only a particular manifestation and outworking of the kingdom.
Regarding resurrection (#5), Paul speaks of it individually in writing the Philippians. He speaks of “being conformed to his death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on….” Hereafter, he says that the Lord Jesus Christ “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of his glory.” Whether Paul speaks here of a transformation in this life or afterwards is a question for debate. In other places, Paul speaks of regeneration in terms of a death and resurrection. Yet it would be odd for Paul to speak of himself as unregenerate, though he does speak of himself as dying daily (presumably to rise again each day to a better resurrection). Yet another possibility is that the contrast between “the body of our humble state” and “the blody of his glory” parallels Paul’s contrast in 2 Cor 5, which was between the earthly tent in which we groan (our present body) and the heavenly dwelling (our body of resurrection).
Another area in which eschatological language may not entirely be confined to pre/post a.d. 70 is in the “this age…that age” distinction (#6). I will not spoon-feed on this point, partly because I have yet to fully discern which passages speak in which sense. Nevertheless, it seems that some places might contrast the two dispensations and other places contrast earthly life and the hereafter. I am not certain that it makes sense to say, with pre/post a.d. 70 in mind, that blasphemy of the holy spirit will not be forgiven in this age or in the age to come.
Incidentally, comprehensive grace folks could not allow it to refer to pre/post a.d. 70 lest they say that even post-a.d. 70 (i.e. the age to come) there are sins not forgiven. Yet CG also cannot accept idealism and the individual recapitulation of the Preterist story in the lives of the saints lest it mean that individuals too might face the twofold possibility of inheriting eternal life or corruption and the lake burning with fire. Indeed, the same test that applied to those in the first century, to accept or to reject, would be revisited in us individually. We know that “our temple” will be torn down. We know that judgment will coincide with this event. Will we receive salvation? Will our temple’s destruction, because we serve it (i.e. the flesh) bring shame and abhorrence to us? Or will it bring an even greater glory, a temple not made with hands, because we regard the spirit? Will death be swallowed up in life? Will we live again in our bodies the Preterist story? If so, there are two sides to that story, one of shame and one of glory. Let us individually win the victory that was won in a.d. 70!
Now, my article is not about comprehensive grace. A response to it will be forthcoming. In the meantime, I will continue.
The distinction between old and new is #7. We already know the historical change-over from the old and new covenants. Yet this same language applies individually, especially in Paul’s epistles. He speaks of putting off the old man and putting on the new. In any case, it is inadequate to relegate all old/new distinctions to pre/post a.d. 70. The outworking is individual too. For this reason, there is still “old” today.
I have already spoken about #8 during my discussion of #1. Heaven is last, #9. Many Christians have spoken of “heaven” as the hereafter (in particular for the rigthteous). Preterists note that heaven is now, that the imagery of heaven speaks of present spiritual realities. Nevertheless, I wonder if the two are not mutually exclusive. Heaven is a real place. Angels and saints do dwell there. So the question then becomes whether it is merely a metaphor of spiritual truths that had come to light in Christ. I would say that the answer to that question is no. So, the traditional view of heaven is correct after all. At least, it tells part of the story. Preterists tell the rest.
Thinking about the above, I cannot help but have a renewed excitement. We do actually get to live the Preterist story! Wow! We can also become mini-futurists. There is still an earthly house to be torn down! There is still a future expectation of judgment! There is yet a resurrection to attain. I am overwhelmed with the thought of it.
This understanding also makes sense to me in light of a concept with which I wrestled in studying the law and prophets. The concept with the breaking (and keeping) of the covenant. Indeed, most places spoke of the covenant in entirely corporate or national terms. It was kept and it was broken on a national level, not merely individually. For instance, when Judah was in captivity, it was not as if Daniel’s individual faithfulness kept him personally out of exile. No! The whole nation went into captivity regardless of personal faithfulness.
Nevertheless, there are also places that speak of individual keeping and breaking of the covenant. Circumcision is an example. The man (i.e. individual) not circumcised has broken God’s covenant. Also, the psalms speak of faithfulness with respect to the covenant individually in places.
It would seem as if the same idea is at work with this historical/preteristic v. theoretical/idealistic understanding. The events of a.d. 70 seem to have been national in scale. So too was the atonement national. Yet there is still the scale of the individual at work. Also, there are sacrifices other than the atonement. The atonement never made subsequent sacrifices unnecessary.
One last notion that I will add here at the end, for further explanation, is the concept of the law. Indeed, I usually think of the law, historically (in terms of the law of Moses, which was caused to pass away). Yet I wonder if Paul spoke more individually when he mentioned the law that worked in our members and the law of sin and death. He may have idealized the law of Moses and took it out of history and into our flesh. If so, the Reformed Churches of centuries past and federal theology, with its “covenant of works” in Adam and “covenant of grace in Christ,” may be more correct than I had thought. This system holds a development of Luther’s Law/Gospel distinction, which posits the two against one another not historically but in idealistic terms in the lives of individuals. Luther’s “law” is the Calvinistic (though not from Calvin himself) “covenant of works.” Luther’s “gospel” is the Reformed “covenant of grace.”
My intention in this article was not to vindicate Reformed theology. Actually, at this point in the article, I am thinking aloud. In any case, there is much more to consider in this matter. Idealism may be compatible with Preterism. Particular history may be compatible with general theory/ideals/principles. Themes may be recurring. If anything makes Preterism relevant and compelling for today, this teaching is it.
Marcus comes from a Reformed Presbyterian background. He is a husband, father and U.S. Air Force officer stationed in Minot, ND. Permission to reprint given from planetpreterist.com
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Dear Marcus, This is a very good thought provoking article. Since becoming a Preterist, I have a spent a lot of time re-reading the New Testament to determine, contextually, what were specific events or promises for the first century Church vs. eternal principles for all of us in the New Covenant age.
I believe there is a real lack of knowledge within Christiandom, regarding the covenants, the fulfillment of the Law,the significance of the transitional period,the vindication of the pre-parousia Church,the judgement and destruction of Jerusalem/Temple. This deficiency has been instrumental in allowing all sorts of futuristic speculation to be considered truth.
However, I believe the best view recognizes the importance of all the fulfilling events of the consummation of the ages in 70AD as establishing and “inaugurating” the New Covenant and Spiritual kingdom in which, individually, we all must relate to the Lord.
Sometimes we can become so hyper or extreme when presenting our views to the point of becoming irrelevent to our age. I am praying the Lord will help me be balanced, consistent and to be encouraging to others in their search.
Thanks Marcus, dave
In case anyone was wondering, what I meant by “hyper” was unbalanced. A hyper-Calvinist is someone who rejects anything that even, on the surface, sounds Arminian. They cannot reconcile all the passages together. They might not be able to accept the idea that God works “in” and “through” men. Because they are so focused on “God does it all”, they set up a false dichotomy between what men seem to accomplish (which may really be done by God) and what God does.
In this case, Preterists can become so focused on old becoming new in a.d. 70 that they limit that phenomenon to that time alone. The same applies to the destruction of the temple. Individually, we will each have our temples destroyed.
When I speak of hyper, I am not referring to CGers alone, but I do think that CG is hyper. I am not picking a fight here. I’ll present my reasons in depth later.
What most CG seems to be saying is that death has already been swallowed in life, the victory is already won, the law and death and sin have been conquered, the judgment has come, the temple has been destroyed.
On one hand, that is entirely true. Yet there is another level on which that belief is not true. If they recognized and acknowledged that level, there would be greater balance in their doctrine.
“On one hand, that is entirely true. Yet there is another level on which that belief is not true. If they recognized and acknowledged that level, there would be greater balance in their doctrine.”
We need to look at it the way God did.
From the “foundation of the earth” Abraham was redeemed. Yet we all know he never attained until AD 70 according to Hebrews.
From the “foundation of the earth” those judged at AD 70 in the Great White throne had their fates already determined. Yet it took AD 70 in our finite time to see (this already true and completed event from the “foundations”) it become true in our history.
We may not have to face death. it may already be defeated, but it was so before God ever created us. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to see it become true in our lives. We still live life for a reason, to be like Christ. The purpose for a Christian in becoming one doesn’t change. We are to come out of our dead state (covanentally) and conform to the image of Christ. Though our judgment, resurrection, etc may be completed because of AD 70, we must still experience it on a personal level.
The great power of this approach is that it presents preterism, not as a foe to traditional Christian theology and spiritual application, but, indeed, a servant. The wider non-preterist church of Jesus needs preterism to rightly get the historical foundation of the “experiential” elements of sin, judgment, salvation and resurection, et al. Preterism does not necessarily deny these things, it illuminates them.
What if we could say to non-prets that their view on the “experiential” level of so many future things is not entirely wrong, but lacking the historical foundation to properly apply? If you do not understand the historical setting of a text of Scripture, then you will misapply it. Likewise the great “spiritual” traditions in the church have been led into distortions because they did not fully understand the historical setting for these doctrines.
What we have to admit is that preterism is true in two distinct senses. It is true in the “historical” sense, and it is true in the individual “experiential” sense. I submit these two terms to the preterist discussion. There is Preterism(H) and there is Preterism(E). The one gurantees the other and vice versa.
What I have been bothered by for years now is that Preterism will never overpower the centuries of good spiritual insight that has been developed over the ages. A certain sense of futurism is necessary as a call to purify ourselves in light of God’s judgment to come at death for each of us. Does this negate the doctrine of the past resurrection and judgment? No. It assumes it. Preterism(H) can only complement historic futuristic spiritual development (some call it formation) in a very powerful way.
Thanks Marcus for your work,