First, for the sake of context, you should note that I have another article (here) that gives a summary of the views I will speak of in the next couple of articles. That article is a summary of my eschatology. That is just a fancy theological way of saying the “study of the end.” I want to ask you to read that article before you read this article. Otherwise, you might get information overload.
This particular article is going to be the beginning of a new series that expounds upon some key points I make in the article linked above. It is going to be a four-part series on the subjects of partial preterism, God’s sovereignty (determinism/Calvinism/Augustinianism), God’s love (free will/Arminianism/Pelagianism), God’s wrath (justice/judgment/retribution), and God getting what He wants (apokatastasis/universalism/reconciliation).
These subjects have a lot to do with my eschatology. But it should be understood that when we talk about eschatology, we are really talking about the character, power, will, and love of God. This series still won’t be exhaustive, but it will be a little more detailed than my summary article on eschatology. If you have any questions or want a more detailed response, you can contact me, and I’ll be happy to chat.
So, What Does Preterism Mean?
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 my version of partial preterism. 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. One more thing before I dive in, it might help give a little more context if you read the article linked here on what’s called “full preterism” first. I know, I know, I’m having you read two articles before I let you read this one, but it is necessary, especially if you are still getting used to the nuances in eschatology.
What is Partial Preterism?
Partial preterism is exactly what it sounds like. It means that I believe that the majority of the prophesy in Scripture has happened already. Not all (like the full preterist in the article mentioned above) but almost all. I believe all of the book of Revelation has already happened besides the last couple of chapters. An overly simplistic way of saying it is that I believe we are in the middle of chapter 20 right now. I believe that all of Matthew 24 has happened already (in that generation, as Jesus said). I believe that there is a sense in which Jesus “came again” in 70 AD. There are a lot of variations of partial preterism, but I’m going to give a summary of my understanding. I won’t get to everything, but I’m always happy to chat if you’re interested.
The Prophet, Daniel: The Futurist Who Became a Partial Preterist
A lot of this discussion goes back to Daniel 9 in the OT and the “70 weeks.” I won’t fully unpack this here, but there is pretty much universal agreement that the “weeks” in Daniel 9 are really sets of 7 years. So, 7 multiplied by 70 is 490 years. Pretty much everyone agrees so far. Basically, Daniel recognizes that the time ordained for Israel to be under captivity and away from their homeland was coming to an end. God assures Daniel that He will keep His promise to send them home.
Furthermore, God mentions the 70 “7s” that will start at the decree for Israel to return home, rebuild their temple, and be restored. The restoration will begin then and will be completed after “7 weeks” (or 49 years). Following that, 62 weeks will pass (434 years), which totals 69 weeks (483 years) from the decree. There are some disagreements about when the decree was made for Israel to return home (so as to start the “weeks”). I have an answer for that if you want to email me and ask. I’m trying not to get TOO caught up in the weeds here.
This is where there starts to be less agreement among various schools of eschatological thought. The 70 “7s” (490 years) are supposed to bring an end to the transgression, an end of the sin, an atonement for iniquity, a completion of prophecy, an anointing of the most holy place, the Messiah (Jesus Christ), the rejection of the Messiah, war, desolation, and a complete destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. There are actually more expectations mentioned in other books like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah (etc.), but this is specifically what is mentioned in Daniel.
There is a potential pause in the middle of the 70th week (after 486ish years). Again, there is disagreement about when the decree happened. However, there is also disagreement about how long this “pause” is and who specifically caused the potential pause, or even if there is a pause (vs. 27). That, coupled with Revelation 20 and the “1000-year” kingdom, is where we get various views like premill, amill, postmill. Admittedly, that assessment regarding the reason there are differing views is a little oversimplified, but it is generally true. In the middle of the 70th week, there will be a stop of grain offerings and sacrifices. The week will end with the total destruction of Israel.
Now, I think that the 69 weeks likely ended at His baptism and that the supposed “pause” where the sacrifices and offerings ended is His work on the cross. The last half of the last week ended with Stephen being stoned to death. From there, Israel’s fate was sealed, and the Gospel went to the Samaritans and then to the rest of the world. Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple in Matthew 23-25 in what some people call the “little apocalypse” or the “Olivet Discourse.” Jesus declared the destruction in the same way Daniel and the rest of the prophets declared the destruction.
What the Hell does Hell have to Do with Partial Preterism?
The word “hell” is used 13 times in the NT, always in and around Jerusalem, and all but once by Jesus. And even then, it was used by James, the brother of Jesus. The word is a word from Norse mythology, not Greek or Hebrew. The word we translate as hell is Gehenna, which means the “valley of Hinnom.” Gehenna is a valley outside of the south walls of Jerusalem. It was a place cursed by God because of child sacrifices that Israel/Judah performed there long before the time of Jesus. Some scholars say that it was a continually burning garbage pit for those in Jerusalem. Josephus, a non-Christian Jewish historian and contemporary of Jesus, says that countless bodies were literally thrown into Gehenna (hell) by the Roman soldiers to be burned after the destruction of Jerusalem. A “literal” view of “hell” is that the Jews who rejected Jesus and the warning of the prophets were given over to their stubborn desires to be in bed with the Roman government until the Romans finally were tired of them and the rebellion of the Jewish zealots and conquered the city. Almost every judgment passage we see in Scripture, especially regarding hell and Jerusalem, is concerning 70 AD.
Did Jesus Already Come?
The phrases “coming of the Lord” and “the skies will be rolled back” and “coming on the clouds” and “unquenchable fire” are all sayings that are found concerning various nations in the OT. Those judgments in the OT were “comings” of the Lord, they were judgments, they were unquenchable fires. Literally? No, if by literally we mean “physically.” But yes, if by literally we mean “actually.” Jesus used that same language for Jerusalem. In 70 AD, Jesus “came on the clouds” and pronounced judgment on Israel and they literally went to hell. Does that mean that there isn’t a spiritual punishment postmortem? I’m not there yet. But don’t worry, I will get to that in this series. For now, suffice it to say that most of the judgment passages in the NT refer to physical judgments when, as Paul says in Romans 1, God gave them over to the consequences of the actions they stubbornly held to.
So, What do I Believe?
I believe that, between the time of Jesus and 70 AD, Satan was alive and well, seeking to devour. I believe that those who died in Christ in this time were in whatever hades/sheol is (aka: an intermediate state). I believe that gentiles who are “Jews in their hearts,” as Paul says in Romans, were given the opportunity to accept Jesus postmortem. I believe the same is true for faithful Jews and those who loved Yahweh prior to the covenant of Abraham. I believe that, until 70 AD, we were in an “already, but not yet” state where we were inaugurally resurrected, in the Kingdom, and the Bride of Christ. However, we did not yet realize those truths in their fullness.
I believe that, post-70, those dead in Christ rose to reign with Him in His Kingdom. Those who die before a future climatic final judgment will also reign with Him in the Kingdom (no more “intermediate” state for believers). Satan is bound in that he cannot stop the spread of the Kingdom. I believe that those who die outside of Christ remain as they are until final judgment (sidenote: I also believe in postmortem opportunity, but I’ll write on that later). I believe we are the “Bride of Christ;” we are the “new heavens and new earth;” we are the “temple of God” NOW. For real! Is that fully manifested and understood by us on this side of eternity? No! But it’s real. Not just something that is in name only; it is really who we are now. All spiritual blessings that are in Christ Jesus are ours now.
I believe all the NT books were written prior to 70 AD (ask me if you want to know why). I believe in what is called postmillennialism. For me, that means that I believe we are symbolically in the 1000-year Kingdom of Jesus now. It also means that I believe that, while there are ups and downs and specific contexts to consider, the trajectory for God’s Kingdom being on earth as it is in Heaven is looking up. Jesus is expanding the boundaries of the Kingdom until there is no more room for the gates of hades. Death is defeated. The check has been cashed. But when we see the reality of that Jesus will hand the Kingdom over to the Father (1 Cor. 15). Satan will be released after the 1000 years but will immediately be destroyed (we will talk more about that later as well). The “trajectory” I mentioned above is primarily a Heavenly one, and the symbols in Revelation can have a modern spiritual meaning as well. However, there were real, physical, and contextual meanings to the symbols in Revelation. There is also real and physical fruit of that “trajectory” of the Kingdom of God today on Earth!
After Satan’s destruction, Jesus will judge the living and the dead, those inside and outside of Christ. Those in Christ will see the fullness of the Kingdom and receive their new bodies. They will also receive a reward for the work they have done. Their salvation is not based on works, but there is a reward for their works. Those outside of Christ are judged by their works. If their name is not written in the book of life, they are thrown into the lake of fire. Satan, hades, death, and the beasts of Revelation were also thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. It is a spiritual death. But death has to be destroyed before God receives His Kingdom, right? Right! But you guessed it; we will talk about that a little later. There’s no more curse, there’s healing for the nations, God’s river of life (which is also a river of fire, Daniel 7) flows outside of the eternal city forevermore. I believe the beast of the sea in Revelation is the Roman governing authorities, specifically Nero and whoever else might be the king. I believe the beast of the land is the governing authorities of Israel (the Herods, the rich, the religious leaders, etc.). I believe the two witnesses are the law and the prophets; Moses and Elijah. The great city, the harlot, and Babylon are all Jerusalem.
In summary, I believe that we are in a symbolic “1000-year” reign of Christ in which Jesus is bringing Heaven to Earth, expanding the borders of the Kingdom, and manifesting the reality that he is defeating death. When that goal is satisfied, there will be a final judgment for the wicked and the righteous. The righteous will receive the fullness of the “new heaven and new earth” forevermore.
In my next article, I will talk about determinism and free will and how that plays into this conversation regarding eschatology and God’s character. – Jesse