Q&R with Brad Jersak – What do you make of “Preterism”?
For years I was a full preterist. I recently started questioning its soundness. And realizing that full preterism may be false has left me wondering about the correct view of the “end times.”
For our readers’ sake, let’s begin with some simplistic definitions, then follow up with a response.
FULL PRETERISM argues and believes that ALL of the “end times” prophecies of the New Testament (including the resurrection of the dead, Jesus’ Second Coming, and the final judgment) were fulfilled in the events connected to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Let’s now also add some significant caveats before proceeding. When we talk about the “end times,” please recognize that we’re speculating about a mystery. Even what Scripture itself says about the “end times” is subject to the limits of human interpretation, and after two millennia, we are further from a consensus than we’ve ever been. So what follows shouldn’t be considered dogmatic. I will restrict myself to making brief observations about the data we have.
First, I’ve never been able to embrace “full preterism” because long after the destruction of Jerusalem, the apostolic tradition came to a solid consensus that according to the Scriptures, “We believe… he [Jesus Christ] will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead” and also, that “we look for the resurrection and the life of the age to come.” (Nicene Creed)
So quite obviously, early Christian tradition confessed that the resurrection, judgment, and return of Jesus had not happened in their fullness in the first century. We still look forward to the fullness of these promises.
And it’s a good thing, too, because apart from the resurrection of all people and the restoration of all things, the gospel would only be good news for those who are privileged with wealth and comfort in this lifetime, and we’d have no real good news to offer the desperate and destitute in places like the slums of City Soleil, Haiti. Imagine telling them, “It’s all been fulfilled.” They would rightly scoff: “Really? So NOTHING awaits? There’s no end to the brutality of history and no hope for our restoration? No thanks!”
So as I understand preterism, if ANY of the promises and prophecies still await fulfillment, then we’re not describing full preterism, are we? I’m not entirely sure how the “F.P.s” would answer that.
On the other hand, I do believe that MUCH of what the New Testament prophesied was, in fact, fulfilled in the apostles’ lifetime and in the fall of Jerusalem. I was raised in an “end times” tradition called “dispensationalism” that trained me to live in constant expectancy that texts such as Daniel, or Jesus’ “little apocalypse” in Matthew, or the Book of Revelation anticipated a literal “any-day” parousia (second coming), probably next week, of “the rapture,” “the great tribulation,” “the Battle of Armageddon,” etc.
But as I read those passages more carefully, I see that the author of Revelation prophesies “the things which must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1) and speaks of these events as being “near” (Revelation 1:3). Further, when delivering his apocalyptic prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus says to his audience, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34).
I remember how the dispensationalists wrestled such verses into their system, but my interpretive conscience could no longer justify the contortions that were required. All that to say, I’m more of a preterist than I used to be. I suppose I would call myself a “partial preterist” in this sense: yes, I believe that the apocalyptic prophecies in Matthew and in Revelation are nearly all referring to and fulfilled in the first century. But in chapters such as 1 Corinthians 15 and perhaps the last two chapters of Revelation, we recognize the forthcoming promise of the end of death in resurrection, the end of history in a restored creation, and a final judgment when nothing and no one remains un-vanquished by the love of Jesus. At least, that’s how I see it at this moment in my journey.