Preterism and the Orthodox Doctrine of Christʼs Parousia A Constructive Critique of M.R. King by Richard A. White B.A., Grove City College, 1986 A Thesis submitted to the Faculty in partial fulﬁllment of the requirements for the degrees of Master of Arts in Christian Thought with a Major in Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Deerﬁeld Illinois June 1988 INTRODUCTION In 1983, the evangelical publishing company Baker Book House reprinted the 1887 edition of The Parousia by J. Stuart Russell. In this provocative work, Russell contends that all of biblical prophecy, including the return of Christ, was fulﬁlled in the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. As Russell himself concludes: As the result of the investigation we are landing in this dilemma: either the whole group of predictions, comprehending the destruction of Jerusalem, the coming of the Lord, the resurrection of the dead, and the rewarding of the faithful, did take place before the passing away of that generation, as predicted by Christ, taught by the apostles, and expected by the whole church; or else the hope of the church was a delusion, the teaching of the apostles an error, the predictions of Jesus a dream.  Actually, such an approach to prophecy was not uncommon in Russellʼs day; the “preterist” school of prophetic interpretation had many adherents, including the prominent 19th century scholar Milton Terry. In his highly acclaimed Biblical Hermeneutics, Terry afﬁrms the preterist viewpoint, concluding that “the parousia of the Son of man was to be coincident with the appalling catastrophe of Jerusalem and the Jewish polity.”  As Ernest Hampden-Cook bluntly put it, “The belief that the second coming of the Son of man is still future cannot be reconciled with any reasonable interpretation of the New Testament as a divinely-inspired message and record.”  In view of the startling conclusions set forth by these theologians, we may well wonder how a book such as Russellʼs The Parousia became a Baker reprint. Indeed, all orthodox Christians, regardless of their millennial persuasion, believe that Christ will return. The watchword of the early church is still good today; the Lord is coming, maranatha! It is a surprise, therefore, to learn that Russell's work is selling by the thousands. Walter C. Hibbard, president of a leading evangelical book service, stated in a letter to this author that The Parousia is “one of the most consistent best-sellers in our whole line!” .
Apparently, preterist ideas are gaining an audience among evangelicals. Indeed, such a conclusion is unavoidable in view of the fact that, in the evangelical world today, there is an entire movement underway based on preterist eschatology. M.R. King, an evangelical New Testament scholar and a specialist in prophetic studies, in 1987 published The Cross and the Parousia of Christ, a massive study devoted to developing the views of consistent preterism.  He boldly proclaims in the introduction, “It will be shown in this volume, with the full support of Scripture, that every facet of New Testament eschatology is applicable exclusively to the ﬁnal period of the Old Testament aeon.”  This statement becomes even more intriguing when it is remembered that King is a strict inerrantist! In an earlier volume, he writes, “Any interpretation. that removes the coming of Christ as taught in the gospels, the epistles, and Revelation from the time and events of that generation, unwittingly denies the inspiration of Godʼs word, and builds a false concept of Godʼs eternal purpose with respect to the end-time.”  King argues that all prophecy is “applicable exclusively” to the time period leading up to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. In this way, he maintains that there is no scriptural warrant for positing a future millennium, resurrection, or return of Christ. Clearly, such a conclusion is not in keeping with what historic, orthodox Christianity has always taught and believed. The preterist position teaching, however, has gone forth, and it is persuading many evangelicals that Christ's coming is no longer something to look forward to.
however, we will develop this critique by assuming that the interpretive framework of preterism that we will look at in chapter on e is correct, or at least substantially plausible. For example, according to preterist though the entire Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) has application in terms of fulﬁllment in the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. M.R. King goes one step further: He argues that the Olivet Discourse was fulﬁlled exclusively in A.D.70; it cannot apply to the future. Now in our critique, we could very well call into question the view that the entire Olivet Discourse is actually fulﬁlled in A.D. 7-0, but for strategic reasons, we will refrain from such a thoroughgoing, critical approach. Ourʼs will be a more modest approach, with a restricted critical scope. We will assume, for the sake or argument, that it may well be entirely applicable to the ﬁrst century. Our response, therefore, is meant to focus more narrowly upon what emerges as the most substantive problem, namely, Kingʼs denial of any future advent beyond A.D. 70. In other words, we will attempt to show that, even allowing for the possible correctness of the general preterist perspective, Kingʼs unorthodox conclusion need not follow. Thus, in at least one sense, the theological focus of this study intends to serve an irenic function by challenging Kingʼs unorthodox conclusions precisely in terms of Kingʼs own premises.
Revelation. How do preterists ﬁnd ﬁrst century fulﬁllments for these passages? In short, what is the interpretative framework of preterism? Before we begin, we must clarify how we are using the word “preterist” in this chapter. In some cases, we may look at a preterist interpretation of an author who is not a “preterist” in the strict sense. For example, an author might argue that the “abomination of desolation” in Matt. 24:15 was fulﬁlled in some sense in the Jewish Wars prior to A.D. 70. Furthermore, we might ﬁnd the interpretation of this author helpful in clarifying the overall preterist thesis. Yet, this same author might depart from the preterist thesis later on in Matt. 24, arguing for example, that the “Son of Man coming on the clouds” (Matt. 24:30) was not fulﬁlled in the ﬁrst century. Even though this author is not a “preterist” in a strict sense, we might still ﬁnd occasion to look at his interpretation of the “abomination of desolation” which is in keeping with preterism.
of the disciples.  At this point, though we will elaborate more on the issue later, we need to understand exactly what the preterists mean when they argue that Christ returned in A.D. 70. How is this so? How did Jesus regard the fall of Jerusalem as the end of the age? These two events, the return of Christ and the end of the age, are inseparably connected, according to M.R. King. To begin, King points out that the end of the aeon (sometimes translated world) in Scripture never means the end of the physical world, but the end of the age characterized by ﬂeshly Israel and the old covenant. King explains: The world marked for destruction in prophecy, the end of which involved the second coming of Christ, and resulted in the redemption of true Israel, was the Jewish world. Therefore, it is the end of the Jewish world, not this material earth, that ﬁts into the timetable of prophecy, and brings harmony of thought and purpose into Godʼs scheme of redemption.  With the cessation of temple sacriﬁces and the total destruction of Israelʼs holy city in Old Testament Judaism, for all practical purposes was over, A.D. 70, according to King.  AsJ. Lambrecht states, “. Israel’s history ends with the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70!”  The End of the age, therefore, transpired with the destruction of Jerusalem, according to the preterist view.
Of course, the visible event King is referring to here is the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple. According to King then, Christ returns in judgment against apostate Israel in A.D. 70, brining to a close the Jewish world of the old aeon (old covenant).  Returning to the text, the preterists go on, citing references from Josephus, to show that false Christs (vs. 5), wars and rumors of wars (vs. 6), famines and earthquakes (vs. 7), tribulation (vs. 9), apostasy (vs. 10), false prophets (vs. 11), and lawlessness (vs. 12) were all predominant during the Jewish Wars, which begin in A.D. 66. Verse 14, however, would appear to be problematic: And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come (Matt. 24:14).
The preterists point out that this kind of apocalyptic language was commonly used in the Old Testament to describe judgment on nations such as Babylon, Egypt, and Israel. As James B. Jordan explains: The astral bodies are signs of the rulers of the world, for they themselves are said to “govern” day and night (Gen. 1:16, 18). Moreover, since the astral bodies are also clocks, they symbolize the times of the nations. The fall of stars, the darkening of sun and moon, can be and often are a sign of the collapse of a given nation.  Some examples include For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not ﬂash for their light; The sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will not shed its light (Isa. 13:10).
In this context, there was no visible, physical coming of the Lord. Why then, ask the preterists, should such a physical coming be expected when this same kind of language is employed by the New Testament? Milton Terry sums up preterist thinking on this matter: We might ﬁll volumes with extracts showing how exegetes and writers on New Testament doctrine assume as a principle not to be questioned that such highly wrought language as Matt. 24:29-31; I Thess. 4:16; and II Peter 3:10, 12, taken almost Old Testament prophecies of judgement on nations and verbatim from kingdoms which long ago perished, must be literally understood. Too little study of Old Testament ideas of judgment, and apocalyptic language and style, would seem to be the main reason for this one sided exegesis. It will require more than assertion to convince thoughtful men that the ﬁgurative language of Isaiah and Daniel, admitted on all hands to be such in those ancient prophets, is to be literally interpreted when used by Jesus and Paul.  Verse 31, then, is likewise understood as ﬁgurative language by the preterists. That verse reads: And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
world and the New Covenant go hand-in-hand in prophecy, and, consequently, in fulﬁllment. Christ made it clear that the consummation of the aeon of law was the eschatology passing of the old heaven and earth. He said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophetic: I am not come to destroy, but to fulﬁll. For verily I saw unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulﬁlled” (Matt. 5:17,18). If the aeon of the law and the prophets has been fulﬁlled, then the heaven and earth of biblical eschatology has passed away. The cross was the decisive event, the fall of Jerusalem was the consummating event. [**] The outmoded heaven and earth in view here signiﬁes, not the material heaven and earth, but the Jewish world of the old temple, old Jerusalem, old covenant, etc., according to King. [**] What we contend for, is the unity and continuity of the whole discourse. From the beginning of the twenty-forth chapter of St. Matthew to the close of the twenty-ﬁfth, it is one and indivisible. The theme is the approaching consummation of the age, with its attendant and concomitant events; the woes which were to overtake that “wicked generation,” comprehending the invasion of the Roman armies, the siege and capture of Jerusalem, the total destruction of the temple, the frightful calamities of the people. Along with this we ﬁnd the true Parousia, or the coming of the Son of man, the judicial inﬂiction of divine wrath upon the impenitent, and the deliverance and recompense of the faithful. From beginning to end, these two chapters form one continuous, consecutive, and homogeneous discourse. So it must have been regarded by the disciples, to whom it was addressed and so, in the absence of any hint of indication to the contrary in the record, we feel bound to regard it. [**] The destruction of the old Jerusalem, Christ’s coming, and the end of the age are all understood as being tied together in one event in Matt. 24. [*] Before leaving the gospels, we will note some other texts important for the preterists. They include: But whenever they persecute you in this city, ﬂee to the next, for truly I say to you, you shall not ﬁnish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes (Matt. 10:23).
Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom (Matt. 16:28) Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).