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Inheriting the Kingdom
Preterism (Past Fulfillment)
The word ‘Preterism’ means past fulfillment. Bible prophecy is viewed as mostly fulfilled in the first coming of Christ, or by the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Preterism goes together with Amillennialism and Covenant Theology. These views predominated during most Church history because the early Church distanced themselves from the Jews. Traditional Preterism has also been taken to the extreme. Full-preterism, or hyper-preterism states that every prophecy in Scripture has been fulfilled, including the return of Christ, the resurrection, and the new heavens and the new earth. These last fulfillments are stated as having happened in 70 AD. First, we will take a look at the problems with full-preterism. Then we will look the more traditional preterism.
The Scriptural arguments for full preterism almost always begin here:
Matthew 10:23 ESV When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
Matthew 16:28 ESV Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
Matthew 24:34 ESV Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.Was Jesus telling the disciples that he would return within their lifetimes? These three verses would seem to say yes. Full preterists argue that Jesus did in fact come in 70 AD.
Did Jesus fail to keep his promise? Full preterists argue that Jesus did come (parousia) in 70 AD. Then, after confusing their potential converts, they proceed to give complex arguments as to why Jesus did in fact return in the clouds, in judgment. They argue that the resurrection is fulfilled with believers living in heaven. Then they argue the new heavens and the new earth is the new covenant. They can convince people the Bible does not prophecy the future and return of Christ, the defeat of Satan, and the end of sin and death.
There is no need to come up with complex and doubtful reasons as to why Jesus really did keep these three promises without it really being the return of Christ. Refer to section 15.13 of my book titled, “Daniel and Revelation,” to see why prophecies that concern the blessing or the cursing of a nation are conditional upon repentance (Jeremiah 18:7-10, quoted below). The Jewish leaders had 40 years to repent before Jerusalem was destroyed. If they had repented, these conditional prophecies of Jesus would have come to past. This is what Jesus hoped would happen.
As we shown in section 15.13 of “Daniel and Revelation,” the seventy weeks of Daniel allowed for Israel to either accept or reject the Messiah. Jesus truly hoped that the Jewish leaders might repent and that he would be able to return in their lifetimes. Paul believed Jesus would return in their lifetime, even knowing that it would require the repentance of the Jewish leaders. This was not a false hope. It could have happened if the Jewish leaders had said, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The people of Israel has said these very words as Jesus rode in on a donkey. But as Jesus had so indicated, he would not be able to return if those who sat on the seat of Moses would not repented and recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
Jeremiah 18:7-10 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy it; (8) if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do to them. (9) At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; (10) if they do that which is evil in my sight, that they not obey my voice, then I will repent of the good, with which I said I would benefit them.
There is no need to stretch the Scripture for reasons why these three prophecies of Jesus did come to pass, as many have tried to do. According to Jeremiah 18:7-10, these types of prophecies are conditional. When the Jewish leaders asked for a sign to prove his claims, Jesus said the only sign that would be given to that evil generation was the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:38-41).
Both Jesus and Jonah were in the heart of the earth, or the belly of the fish, for three days and nights. The resurrection of Jesus was a major sign. But the sign of Jonah goes much deeper. Jonah unconditionally prophesied that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days. But starting with the king, they repented and were not destroyed. Jonah was not a false prophet. Likewise, Jesus was not a false prophet for saying that he would return within 40 years (that generation) because the Jewish leaders did not repent. According to Jeremiah 18:7-10, it works both ways.
Scripture is divided into the New Testament and the Old Testament. The word ‘testament’ means covenant. In other words, Covenant Theology views the New Covenant (Testament) as making the Old Covenant (Testament) obsolete. “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (ESV Hebrews 8:13). In other words, the entire Old Testament is viewed as being obsolete. But does that really make God’s covenant with Abraham obsolete? How about God’s covenant with Noah? Is it obsolete?
Galatians 3:17-18 Now I say this. A covenant confirmed beforehand by God in Christ, the law, which came four hundred thirty years after, does not annul, so as to make the promise of no effect. (18) For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by promise.
Paul is saying that the covenant with Moses does not make obsolete the covenant with Abraham. Paul is not speaking of the new covenant. But I think the principle remains. The covenant with Moses was conditional and based on our obedience. That’s why we needed a new covenant that is not conditional for those whom God chooses. But the Abrahamic covenant was not conditional. Abraham was elected.
Covenant Theology tends to lump God’s covenant with Abraham together with God’s covenant with Moses. Both become the “Old Testament,” without mentioning God’s covenant with Noah. The Davidic covenant is said to be fulfilled in Christ’s current heavenly reign. The kingdom of heaven is viewed as entirely a spiritual kingdom that is “not of this world.” The Old Testament becomes “reinterpreted in the light of the New Testament.” Thus, the “Old Testament” replaces the “New Testament” and the Church winds up becoming the New Israel.
God’s covenant with Abraham involves the land of Israel including Jerusalem. Thus, those who hold to Covenant Theology would say the Jewish nation of modern-day Israel has nothing to do with Scripture or with Bible prophecy. These Christians often do not stand with Israel. This is known as Supersessionism and is also called Replacement Theology. Supersessionism says Christianity is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. It’s true that Jews who deny Jesus as the Messiah will not inherit the kingdom. But Supersessionism views God as forever turning his back on the Jewish people. Paul, of course, teaches that his people, the Jewish people, will be unhardened.
The Covenant Theologian should point out that Gentiles in Christ are also heirs to Abraham’s promise (Galatians 3:29). Does this mean that all Christians from all generations, and most all the Jews, will all be living in the land promised to Abraham? Dispensationalists would say the Jews will live in the land but the Church is a recipient of the land only a spiritual way. But this breaks their own grammatical/historical hermeneutical principle. We are literally recipients of Abraham’s promise of the land. But what about, “In my Father's house are many rooms. If it weren't so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2)? Are these rooms in the land of Israel?
The only way to resolve this is to realize that Old Jerusalem is a representation of New Jerusalem and that the New Jerusalem will be in orbit around the earth. We will reign with Christ. The Old Jerusalem will be the capitol of the world and we will live in the New Jerusalem. It will all function together as we live and reign with Christ. This then, is fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. The kingdom is today present in the hearts of the believer because the Holy Spirit dwells in us. But that’s only a small partial fulfillment of the future heavenly kingdom that is to come.
The earthly kingdom of heaven (or kingdom of God) was prophesied in Daniel 2. The Rock, not made by human hands, strikes the feet of the statue and the whole statue crumbles. Then the Rock expands into a mountain that covers the whole earth. This is recognized even by Preterists as being the kingdom of Christ Jesus, who is the Rock that becomes a mountain and covers the earth. Mountains can be symbolic of kingdoms. Preterists agree with this interpretation. But Preterists view the kingdom as being entirely spiritual and “not of this world.”
Preterists would say that the spiritual kingdom of heaven began to expand around the world as the Roman Empire fell. Constantine converted Rome to Christianity. Today, the Roman Empire is gone and it will not be revived. So, this is reasonable interpretation of the statue so long as the legs of iron are Rome. Look at the cover of my book titled, “Daniel and Revelation,” especially at the right foot. You might want to consider the Achilles' heel of Preterism as hidden on the back side this foot. If the legs of iron are interpreted as Rome, the preterist interpretation holds some merit. The kingdom begins to fill the earth as Rome dwindles away. But as soon as one realizes that the legs of iron is really the Islamic Caliphate, the whole preterist view crumbles along with the rest of the statue. The future and literal kingdom of heaven that expands throughout the world does not happen until after Islam is destroyed.