Preterists in the Millennial Arena

knockout punchMy last post discussed problems with the current (and historic for that matter) expositions of Revelation Chapter 20. I noted how the fact that there remains nations in need of, and receiving, healing from the New Jerusalem in Revelation Chapter 21 places that city outside the confines of eternity (which by definition is past the point of healing). So the various premillennial schemes, including the rather recent newcomer—Dispensationalism, fall by the wayside. At best they could only posit that the Millennium would be only stage one in a two stage earthly existence where mortals remain on the earth. I have heard no leader in that faction declare such a eschatological sequence.

Though in the varieties of theologies out there, perhaps someone has. If readers are aware of such a proposed premillennial process please let me know and send me the references, links, or literary sources.

However, my concentration is going to be on what is, in my opinion, the strongest contender in the prophecetic boxing ring today: Full Preterism. However, as I noted before, their interpretation of the Millennium is their soft underbelly that invites a one-two punch attack. In their schema, the Millennial rule of Christ supposedly starts at the ascension and ends just prior to the Jewish Revolt of A.D. 67 or before. As a result, their 1,000 year reign gets discounted to less than 37. That calculates to a discount of over 96%. You couldn’t get a deal like that on eBay!


Nor am I the only one to notice this weakness. Keith Mathison made this very point (perhaps his only good argument, in his contribution to the anti-Preterist diatribe, When Shall These Things Be: A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism:

The most serious problem is that their [the Preterists'] ‘Millennium’ is too short…Full preterists chide futurists for not taking seriously biblical language that denotes a short period of time…However, whether literal or figurative, “a thousand years” denotes a vast period of time. To suggest that “a thousand years” is symbolic of one generation of 40 years or less, I believe, stretches credulity to its breaking point. …I would suggest that “comprehensive preterists,” with their doctrine of the millennium, are not taking seriously enough Biblical language which clearly indicates a long period of time. I believe this is nothing but hermeneutical arbitrariness. We must take all time frame indicators seriously, those that point to short periods of time and those that point to long periods of time. (pg. 241)

Though I hate to side with Mathison against the Preterists, the fact that the Preterists make the 1,000 year reign of Christ last less than 40, is a problem. Nor is Mathison alone finding this glaring weakness. In his website, Joseph R. Balyeat (author of Babylon: the Great City of Revelation) also rather gleefully sends an uppercut to this same interpretive issue:

[I]t seems to me that full preterism at times suffers from the same chronological blindness which preterists are so quick to criticize futurists for. I agree with you that it is quite ridiculous for futurists to claim that “soon” means 2,000 years and “the time is at hand” means 2 millennia. Yet, elsewhere in the book of Revelation (chapter 20), we read about events which were not to happen “soon”, but rather “at the end of 1,000 years”. These events include: the release of Satan for a short time to gather the remaining ungodly from the dark corners of the earth; the final judgment and second death of the wicked, etc. While I agree that the 1,000 years was not meant to be literal, it certainly does indicate a very long period of time. Yet the full preterist position argues that even these events were fulfilled in A.D. 70 or shortly thereafter (i.e., the Bar Kochba rebellion in A.D. 135). “Consistent” preterists become very in-consistent when they rail on futurists for saying “soon could mean 2,000 years”, while they themselves say “1,000 years could mean soon”. Are the time indicators relevant or aren’t they?

So how do the Preterists defend themselves on this hermeneutical problem without falling on the ropes? How do they support their contention that 1,000 years can be compressed into 37? To their credit, at least they don’t ignore the issue hope it goes away. I quote from Alan Bondar‘s book, Reading the Bible Through New Covenant Eyes. Building on Mathison’s admission that the number 1,000 is used symbolically, Bondar then notes..

If “a thousand” is to be taken figuratively, then why must the work “years” be taken literally? In other words, couldn’t it be just as well that John is not defining a literal period of time at all, whether it is actually one thousand exactly or a longer period of time? John could just as well be figuratively describing the perfect accomplishments of Christ that no earthly king could possibly accomplish. In fact, if “the figure…is the number of quantitative perfection,” then John is figuratively defining the prefect reign rather than a length of time….The thousand-year reign of Revelation 20 is not about how long Christ would reign with His saints. The thousand-year reign of Revelation 20 is about what would be perfectly accomplished during those forty years.

Well, no. If it is a symbol of quantitative perfection, as Bondar admits, then it must remain a quantitative symbol. It should not then be changed to a qualitative symbol. That is switching the category of the ultimate meaning of the symbol midstream.

At least the full preterist, Kenneth J. Davies, in his response to Mathison, maintains the 1,000 years of the Millennum as a quantitative symbol. In his post, entitled rather inflammatorily, A Response to the False Witness of Keith Mathison: as Found in His Presentation Named Playing With Fire:

The period from AD 30-70 is too short a time period to fit the symbol of “1,000 years” found in Rev. 20, according to Mr. Mathison. It seems that to more than double the number of years this symbol represents is perfectly acceptable to Mathison, but not to “shorten” it!

Well, yes. Again, I have to agree with Mathison. For those in the first century and not in our inflationary times, a “thousand” was a very large number. Most people would not live to see a thousand of anything in their presence. Barring the main city of Jerusalem, the other major cities barely would have 1,000 residents. Even the title of the rather popular collection 1,001 Arabian Nights, published much later than the first century A.D. kept this association. According to one reviewer “At first the title was merely indicative of a large number of stories; later editors dutifully provided editions with the requisite 1,001 tales.”

So does a 40 year, from A.D. 30 to A.D. 70 or the 37 year period from 30 to 67 meet the definition of a large number of years? Does it seem reasonable to use a symbol of 1,000 years to represent this number? It simply has to represent a larger number than a 37 or 40 year period. A perfect number, certainly; at symbolic number, admittedly; but a larger number of years than 40, necessarily!

If the Preterists hold on to this interpretation, then time statements of any kind, their beloved “soon” passages, especially as they are referenced within this same “symbolic” book, also fall into the black hole of meaninglessness. They will be knocked right out of the Prophetic Arena because of their Millennial glass jaws. They will, like the line from On The Waterfront, be taken out of the Prophetic ring, only to declare to anyone who would bother to listen, “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am..”

5 Responses to “Preterists in the Millennial Arena”

  1. Mike Biehler Says:

    Dear Wandering Heretic,

    I am committed to reason and logic, but this comment is just emotion… please forgive me.

    You have put your finger on the greatest weakness of full preterism… I don’t understand the millenium. I haven’t had time to try to figure it out and suspect that I won’t be able to. But I am a full preterist anyway. I view God’s word from that perspective because it makes sense of a thousand other scriptures.

    I wish to comment on your light-hearted use of the word “heretic”. Since I became a full preterist, I have been labeled a “heretic” My accusers do not take the word lightly. I have been lied to and lied about. I have been slandered and listened to people stand in public and bear false witness against me. I have looked into the eyes of self-righteous people who would happily burn me at the stake. The laws of our pagan society protect me from the hatred of my “Christian friends”.

    So I guess that I’m writing to say that this is serious business. I don’t see love in the people who condemn me; I even wonder if these long-time Christians are Christians at all!

    To me, it seems so simple. It doesn’t really matter whether we believe that Jesus came 1,900 years ago or will come 1,900 years from now. We all have the same glorious hope… the hope of the resurrection. Why the viciousness? Why the sneering words in so much that is written? Why can’t we just agree to disagree? Do you really have to be a futurist to be a Christian?

    Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my name’s sake.” So I am privileged to suffer, but what makes it particularly sad is the discovery that the people who supposedly are “in the Word”, know so very little about it!

    Thank you for reading my comment… please be kind to preterists… we’re just at a different place in our journey than many other people. But if you cannot show love, maybe we’re not on the same after all…

  2. Caine Says:

    Mike,

    A couple of points. First of all, you have to know that your statement “It doesn’t really matter whether we believe that Jesus came 1,900 years ago or will come 1,900 years from now. We all have the same glorious hope…he hope of the resurrection.” is not really true. Full preterists believe the full resurrection of believers happened at 70AD. For this to be true the resurrection of the dead has to be qualitatively different from that which those who believe it will happen at the end of history think it will be. A “Spiritual” resurrection is not the same thing as a bodily resurrection of the flesh. Nor is the resurrection of the corporate body of Israel into the Corporate body of the church the same thing as the full resurrection of the individual bodies of all believers at the end of history. Full preterists may be right, but if so, then the resurrection of the dead as identified by futurists is wrong. You don’t have the same hope as do the futurists. In fact, if the resurrection of the dead already happened, how is that a hope at all? You hope in something future; you rely on or work off something that is past. Again, not saying you are wrong, but you have to at least grasp the differences between the positions. These are not small differences.

    Second, the word “heresy” has lost all meaning in our current culture. Without a universal authority that is agreed upon by all Christians that can clearly define theological matters, the word “heresy” has no teeth. I mean, right now the Church cannot even universally agree as to what baptism means, how it should be performed, or on whom it should be performed. I think they have centuries (even millennia) to go before eschatology gets sorted out. Your Christian foes can rant and fume and call you “heretic” but what power does that word have anymore?

    If you are confident your position is correct (not saying it is— still working that out myself), then just give the NCIS Gibbs’ smile and walk away. I treat the word “heretic” with all the respect it deserves; that is, in this stage of the Church’s development: none.

  3. Mike Biehler Says:

    Caine,

    Thank you for taking the time to reply. I appreciate the dialogue because I’m on a very small theological island and there are no other inhabitants nearby ( except my wife and one friend who is in hiding at the moment.)

    I agree with your comments about the word heresy. But walking away is not an option. I am like the denizen of Plato’s Cave who had seen the light and felt compelled to go back and share the truth with his fellow cave dwellers. I know that his “friends” killed him and similarly I am prepared to suffer too. My Lord demands fidelity to truth. I must obey Him.

    Futurist fantasies permeate our faith and will continue to do so unless we have the courage to point our fellow cave dwellers to the clear teachings of Scripture. I must follow my Lord without regard to the cost.

    I cannot speak for all preterists, but I think that most of us hope that following our deaths we will be resurrected and given a “glorified body” which we will inhabit for eternity in a marvelous place that we call heaven.

    Yes, preterists believe that Old Covenant believers were resurrected 1,900 years ago. Some when Jesus was resurrected, as mentioned in Matt. 27; 52,53, and some at his coming in 70 AD as stated in 1 Thessalonians 4; 15-17. And yes, the resurrection as envisioned by preterists, is qualitatively different than that envisioned by many futurists. But as I said in my first letter, we still have the same hope of resurrection to a glorious eternal life in some new kind of body.

    Futurists and preterists differ about the timing of the resurrection, not about the fact of the resurrection. Preterists believe that “absent from the body is present with the Lord.” (In glorified new bodies.) While futurists believe that following death, believers exist in a disembodied state (Though still with the Lord.) They thus await a future coming of the Lord at which time they will be reunited with their resurrected bodies.

    The exact nature of the resurrected body has been a subject of controversy amongst theologians for millennia. To me, the fact that the molecules of our bodies, are in a constant state of flux, is a strong argument against the idea that those same molecules will be resurrected. I know that plenty of non-preterist theologians share that opinion, so that issue should not be a factor in the futurist/preterist debate.

    I say again, whether Jesus came 1,900 years ago or comes 1,900 from now makes no difference, we all have the same (or similar) hope of resurrection.

    Thanks again for reading.

    Mike

  4. Caine Says:

    Mike, as you admit “the resurrection as envisioned by preterists, is qualitatively different than that envisioned by many futurists.” Your hope to converge the two by stating “we still have the same hope of resurrection to a glorious eternal life in some new kind of body” is less secure. You proclaim, I am guessing, the Eternal Body at Death faction of preterists rather than the corporate body preterists.

    However, full preterism states that all prophecies, ALL PROPHECIES, were completed at AD 70. That means you must already have your Eternal Body… it is not a future event for you. So if this body is future—even if not at some grouped resurrection, but accruing at your future death–it contradicts the fundamental assertion of full preterism that all such events have already happened.

    Second, you have the same hope as does “pop” christianity that does not see past heaven to a future bodily resurrection; but this is not the historic or orthodox faith. Yours is something different. And right now, that difference is the difference between the historic faith and what now must be considered contradictory to that faith–or heresey.

    If you insist on, in my opinion, a rather arrogant assertion, giving your “light” of preterism to the poor cave dwelling futurists, then you had better abandon your fear of being labelled a heretic.

    I would suggest, as does Michael Loomis–the founder of AD70.net, that you take a 3-5 year moratorium on preaching preterism. You need time to sort it out before you hit up others with your doctrine. Also, remember that a guy much smarter than both of us together, Sam Frost–a preterist for nine years and probably their most accomplished systematic theologian, dropped full preterism recently.

    If Sam found enough faults to basically give up a career in books, preaching, and speaking on the issue, maybe it is not as locked down as you think.

    Just food for thought.

  5. Mike Biehler Says:

    Caine,
    Starting with a phony premise, you make a silly assertion:”You must already have your eternal body.” Congratulations you have just refuted the hundreds of verses that point to a first century coming of Jesus! Your words are usually so wise, why do you stoop to a straw man argument? Do you think that there is a big audience out there reading our exchange?

    You are correct when you say that I have the same hope as does “pop” Christianity. Unsophisticated believers expect to go directly to heaven when they die. They get this “unorthodox” idea from Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross: “today you will be with me in paradise” and from Paul’s statement: “Absent from the body is present with the Lord.” Simple Christians, who accept the Bible, generally do not know that their ancient creeds say that at death they will go to a holding tank to await a future judgment day.

    I suspect that you don’t like the phrase “holding tank” and prefer the unbiblical phrase “intermediate state.” The Bible calls the holding tank “Hades” (ESV) or “Hell” (KJV) in Acts 2:31. From the story of Lazarus and the rich man, we know that there were good and bad compartments in Hades. But still, orthodox futurists are loath to tell granny that she is soon going to be in hell!

    You are also correct that my faith is not the “historic orthodox faith.” My faith is based solely on Scripture. I eschew the non-Biblical traditions of men. I will wear the label “heretic” if I must, but I recognize it for what it is: a devious debating trick intended to suppress discussion.

    If we are to continue this correspondence, I suggest that we deal with one or two issues. How about: the present location of old covenant saints like Samuel and David. Or how about: how to treat “heretics”.

    Regards

    Mike

Leave a Reply