A little while ago, in Fervent, Effectual Prayer, I mentioned that it has been on my heart to encourage a fresh wave of believing prayer for the nations. Then in our last post, God’s Purposes For The Nations, I shared my personal story of confusion over eschatology. Reading the Bible out loud instilled in me a great expectation of victory and the gospel triumphing until all nations would come to worship Jesus and the whole earth would be filled with the knowledge of God’s glory. But this conflicted with what I was taught about eschatology and with my understanding of certain other verses. I soon realized how much our eschatology can determine whether or not we agree with God’s purposes for the nations in believing prayer.
Do I Really Want To Get Into Eschatology?
Eschatology is a subject I’ve mostly avoided on my blog until now. One reason is that many people feel so strongly about it that they block and shun anybody with a different view—even if that view is well within the bounds of orthodox Christian theology and many of the best Bible scholars today hold it.
The other reason I’ve mostly avoided eschatology is that there is a lot to explain, a lot of questions and objections to answer, and quite frankly, it would be a great deal of work for me to lay it all out. Even though I could do that, other people already have. (And some have done a very good job of it.) I’m not interested in doing a lot of work to say the same things that some very good scholars have already laid out. I’d rather point people to where they can learn more. I have plenty to write about from a unique perspective, and I don’t need to create a great body of work explaining exactly the same things that others have said.
So why am I talking about eschatology now? I have realized that some of the most popular eschatology today is one of the main things hindering Christians from engaging in believing prayer for the nations. I’ve seen how perverse it is when Christians hear bad news and rejoice because they think it means Jesus is about to return. I’ve seen how the idea that “the world is getting worse” distorts Christians’ perception of reality and has also fostered hundreds of false prophecies throughout church history and continues to do so. In fact, more people than you would imagine have lost their lives or committed suicide after being led astray by such false prophecies.
I’m more interested in telling my story and encouraging people to learn more than in insisting everyone sees the same way. So I’ll give you just enough for a basic understanding of my view. Some people, as I was, are barely aware that there is a solid alternative to the most popular eschatology today. Or how much of today’s most popular eschatology is just made up to make all the pieces fit together, or in some cases, didn’t exist for much of church history.
I respect you if you have a different view, as many people throughout church history have had varying views on the subject. I will even share a resource from a friend who has a different view of the book of Revelation than I do. His book gives a good overview of the major Christian interpretations of Revelation. It goes on to give a take on things which differs from my view, but is still much more coherent, reasonable, and optimistic than what I was taught as a kid. If you’ve ever felt like eschatology was impossible to understand, the reason may be that many of the explanations you’ve heard really don’t make any sense and are not coherent with the rest of scripture!
I was at a Voice of the Apostles conference in 2010 (I think) with Randy Clark and Bill Johnson when I heard a recommendation for the book “Victorious Eschatology.” I think it was Randy who recommended it. (Bill has always been ambiguous about his eschatology.) I went over to the book table right away and picked it up.
I got into the book quickly and read an explanation of Mathew 24 that I’d never heard before. It cleared up so much confusion that I’d had! The book contained quotes from many famous Christians throughout church history, proving that they believed at least part of Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24 was fulfilled in AD 70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. (Some of those people made conflicting statements on the matter, which only shows that they were also a bit confused by it.) The book also pointed out very clear and precise fulfillment in history of the events Jesus’ prophesied.
Partial preterism is the view that some prophesies have been fulfilled. Technically, every Christian is at least partially “preterist” in some sense because if you believe Jesus came, died, and rose again, you believe that Isaiah 53 and many other Old Testament prophecies have already been fulfilled. But there are different views on how much has been fulfilled.
Full preterism is a much newer position that denies any future return of Christ, resurrection, or judgment. Most partial preterists consider full preterism a heretical and problematic doctrine. The problem is that many people indiscriminately use the word “preterist” without distinguishing between partial and full preterism. There is a huge difference! To be clear, I believe in Jesus’ future return, the resurrection, and the judgment. I am simply convinced that some prophecies which are clearly talking about past events have been confused with prophecies about Jesus’ final return.
“Surely, All These Things Will Happen Before This Generation Passes Away!”
The biggest point of confusion is that Jesus said in no uncertain language that some of the people standing there with him, in the first century, would see the events of Matthew 24. Including “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” Other scriptures also make the timing clear.
Matthew 24:30, 34 (NIV) “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth[a] will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory…Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (The footnote here after earth says “tribes of the land,” as the Greek word here is often used in reference to the land of Israel.)
Matthew 16:27-28 (NIV) For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Matthew 26:64 (NIV) “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Spoken before his crucifixion to people in the first century.)
Some people have tried to reinterpret “this generation” as “that generation” or “this people.” The problem is it doesn’t say “that generation” and it should have used other language to say “this people.” You can compare nearly 60 different translations of the Bible in English and almost all of them say “this generation.” I have heard the issue debated between the best of scholars, and I think the argument that “this generation” means anything other than “this generation” is almost totally indefensible. There is no getting around this statement. “This” is a near demonstrative, and we use a far demonstrative (“That”) to talk about a future generation.
Arbitrarily changing what the Bible says to fit a particular theological view is unacceptable. It also doesn’t resolve the other verses in which Jesus said people who were standing there in the first century would see his coming.
Some who were more intellectually honest about this point have actually said that Jesus was mistaken. Even the great Christian Apologist C.S. Lewis thought Jesus was confused on this point and missed it. C.S. Lewis called it “the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.” And atheists have used it to say that Jesus was wrong and thus was not who he claimed to be.
Many who reinterpreted “this generation” to fit their theology said it meant “that generation when Israel becomes a nation again.” Thus many Christians were convinced Jesus would return in 1988. When they missed it, they reinterpreted a “generation” as 70 years instead of 40 years. But they missed it again last year! (2018 was 70 years after Israel became a nation.) This is typical of 2000 years of church history of people trying to apply Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation to their present day.
So what is the solution? Various places in the Old Testament use similar language to talk about God coming in judgment. The “coming” they are talking about is not Jesus’ final, physical return. For example, Isaiah 19 is a prophecy that most scholars agree is fulfilled:
Isaiah 19:1 (NIV) A prophecy against Egypt: See, the Lord rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. The idols of Egypt tremble before him, and the hearts of the Egyptians melt with fear.
In Daniel chapter 7, Jesus comes to the Ancient of Days. This is a “coming,” but it is not a coming to earth. It is coming to the Father to receive his kingdom, not his final coming.
Daniel 7:13-14 (NIV) “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
When you read Matthew 24, read it together with Matthew 23. What is Jesus talking about? He is talking about all the blood of the prophets coming on “this generation,” about judgment and the destruction of the temple, when not one stone will remain upon another. When did this happen? The temple was destroyed in AD 70.
The writings of Josephus and other historians show that the predictions of Jesus, the wars and rumors of wars, the falling away, the tribulation, happened very precisely as Jesus said. I don’t feel like going into the details, but I can point you to where you can learn more. The fulfillment of Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 was so precise that I can’t ignore it. In fact, various sources record that first century Christians understood their current events as what Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24, and therefore escaped the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by fleeing to Pella.
Jesus said the gospel would be preached in all the world, and then the end would come. And multiple New Testament scriptures confirm clearly that the gospel was preached in all the world in the first century. (See this article, or this one for more detail.)
As scripture says, the “end” Jesus was talking about was “the end of the age.” And it has been confused with the end of the world! If you do a Bible search of terms like “last days” and “last hour,” you will find that all the New Testament authors who used these terms believed their time was the last days. This is because they were talking about the end of the age which Jesus prophesied, not the end of the world. It has not been the “last days” for 2,000 years!
What Are The Implications Of This?
First, for me this view clears up a lot of confusion by giving a coherent understanding of Matthew 24. But more than that, it leads us to understand that Jesus was not referring to our time when he talked about a great falling away and the love of many growing cold. The “great tribulation” of Matthew 24 is a past event. The phrase “last days” in scripture is a reference to their time, not our time.
For a good introduction to a partial preterist view, Jonathan Welton has made his book “Raptureless” available for free online. Or you can check out “Victorious Eschatology,” which was my introduction to the partial preterist view. Welton’s book “The Art Of Revelation” is a very understandable explanation of the book of Revelation. If you prefer listening, you can check out Gary DeMar or Dr. Kenneth Gentry on Youtube. Just try searching their names with phrases like “Matthew 24,”“The Beast,” “antichrist,” “man of lawlessness,” “Revelation,” “Olivet discourse,” “Great Tribulation” “debate,” etc.
Remember that the partial preterist view does see scripture passages like 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4, Matthew 25 (usually), and others as references to Jesus’ return in our future. But it maintains that many scripture passages which are confused with Jesus’ future return are actually past events.
Next week I’ll share why I don’t expect a single, future “antichrist” figure to take over the world. And for those who’d like to explore other views that may also be simpler and more coherent than the popular pessimistic teachings, I’ll link to a book from a friend who is not a partial preterist but still holds a lot of views in common with me.
Then we’ll look at a few statistics in an article called “It’s Hard To Argue That The World’s Not Getting Better!” And we’ll go on from there to talk more about believing prayer for nations to turn to Christ.