The word preterism means past. So, if one says that she holds a preterist position on an issue, she is saying that she believes it is a past event. Like with most any view about most anything, there are usually subcategories and schisms within the umbrella of any particular view. What I am describing in this article is called full preterism. I actually had this in a section of an article I’m writing on what is called partial preterism, but it proved to be too much for one article. Hence the reason I decided to make this an article of its own. I’m not what’s called a full preterist (also known as a hyper or consistent preterist). However, I want to describe what full preterism is and push against the idea that some have that the view is a golden ticket to hell.
First and foremost, they believe that all of the prophecies in Scripture were fulfilled in the past. Again, there are always people in subcategories that mean different things in different ways when they say that it is all in the past. But most hyper/full preterists I run into believe that the culmination of all biblical prophecy is in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in 70 AD. A general view of this version of preterism would be that the “1000-year kingdom” of Revelation 20 was symbolic of the 40 years between Jesus and 70 AD. Many hyper/full preterists believe that Satan was bound during that time as far as the spreading of the Gospel is concerned (Rev. 20) and that he was released for a short while and finally destroyed in that same time period. The Bible mentions two resurrections (Dan. 12; John 5; Rev. 20). There are different views in hyper/full preterism regarding that. But the idea is that Christians who die post-70 go to be with God in His fullness. There is not a physical resurrection of the body. Most full preterists I know of are either conditionalists (annihilationists) or universalists when it comes to the idea of “hell” and what happens to those outside of Christ when they die. There is no climatic “final judgment day” the way we often think of it as a collective future event. Jesus came again in 70 AD, we are the “new heavens and new earth” mentioned in Revelation 21-22, and we are the temple of God.
I want to chase a rabbit here if you let me. I think it’s important. I would dare say that most Christians think that such a view is heretical. That word means if one has that view that he/she is outside of the scope of acceptable beliefs in Christianity and is not genuinely a Christian. There are usually two overarching reasons that one might believe that a full preterist is a heretic.
First, the average Christian might think that a full preterist is a heretic because he assumes that a full preterist doesn’t believe Jesus did what He said He would do and come back again. I know that in the Churches of Christ (the denomination I grew up in), for example, we typically did not have a good understanding of eschatology. Technically, the Church of Christ tends to teach what is called an “amillennial” view of the “1000-year kingdom” of Revelation. That means that they believe that the “1000 years” is symbolically and/or spiritually happening now in the heavenly places. They are also non-credal. That means that they tend to be unimpressed with the creeds of the 4th century and beyond. The only acceptable creed is the Bible alone (and, unofficially, the CofC lectureships). There was not a whole lot of talk about the resurrection of the physical body that Paul seems to have in mind in 1 Corinthians 15, or that the creeds of the early church later alluded to. The average Christian I run into (especially from my background) who hears about full preterism gets upset because they think that the full preterist doesn’t believe Jesus came a second time. Is that true? Not at all! They believe that He came again in 70 AD. I’ll explain why they believe that in slightly more detail in my article on partial preterism.
Second, the Christian who is a student of eschatology and church history might have different concerns. To varying degrees, such an individual might be willing to concede that some type of “coming of the Lord” happened through Jesus in 70 AD, but he would also remind the full preterist that there is supposed to be a final judgment with a physical resurrection. Such a biblical student will point to the creeds, to the message of Paul, and to various “judgment” passages to make the case that there is another “coming of Jesus” that is intended to be a resurrection of the physical body. The full preterist doesn’t believe that there will be a future final judgment where each individual will have a resurrected physical body. Therefore, full preterists are heretics, right? I don’t think we can make that judgment.
The full preterist would (generally) respond by saying that she does believe in a final judgment, just not a future collective climax. She does believe in the final resurrection of the body, but it’s the body of Christ (as the church). She does believe Jesus came again, but it was the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, as prophesied by the OT prophets of old as well as Jesus Himself in Mathew 24 (He said He would come in that generation). She would say that it is a presupposition on our part that there is a third “coming” of Jesus and/or that the “coming” in 70 AD is not legitimate. It is upon that presupposition that we assume that the judgment of all is not at death. And that it is upon that presupposition that we assume that the resurrected body is a physical one. As a side note, there is only one place that I can think of that speaks to resurrected bodies (plural) instead of a resurrected body (singular). Even when I look at the Apostles Creed of the Nicene Creed, I do not see how full preterism is heretical. Do I think it is what the authors of those creeds had in mind? No! Do I think that the Bible teaches it? No! Is it heretical? In my understanding, not at all!
I didn’t know I was going to say THAT much about full preterism, but I felt like it needed to be said. I’m tired of people I know and love being accused of laziness, gnosticism, and heresy. These people know their stuff and love God. Does that necessarily make them right? No! But, in my understanding of the Word and the Spirit, these people are my brothers and sisters in Christ. There’s always more that could and should be said on either side of a conversation like this, but my point for posting this is to hopefully influence us all to have some grace. – Jesse