Our understanding of Bible prophecy is critical to our understanding of history. Where we locate the Great Tribulation and “The Beast” in history will dictate how we view the future — with optimism or pessimism.
Do we see things getting worse and worse until the Kingdom of Anti-Christ is fully manifested at the close of history? Or do we see things gradually improving under the influence of the gospel until the Kingdom of Christ is fully manifested at the close of history?
The Preterist school of interpretation sees most of Bible prophecy as being fulfilled in the past at the time of the Lord’s first advent and the destruction of Jerusalem. All other schools of interpretation push these events out into the future. One of the arguments against the Preterist school has become a popular myth.
Myth: The Preterist view that most New Testament prophecy was fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was made up by a Jesuit priest to divert attention from accusations by the Reformers that the Pope is the Anti-Christ.
The Jesuit Order was commissioned by the Pope to derail the Protestant Reformation by any possible means in what is known as the Counter Reformation. The Extreme Oath of Induction of the Jesuits binds them to commit any crime in service of the Pope if ordered by a superior. Their preferred modus operandi is to infiltrate Protestant churches and subvert them from within.
As noted, some assert that the Preterist school of interpretation was invented by a Jesuit priest to divert the focus from the Pope as Anti-Christ. “One of the arguments against preterism is that it was started by Spanish Jesuit Luis De Alcazar (1554–1613) who wrote a commentary titled ‘Vestigio Arcani Sensus in Apocaplysi or Investigation of the Hidden Sense of the Apocalypse’ in which ‘he proposed that it all of Revelation applied to the era of pagan Rome and the first six centuries of Christianity.’”
Most are familiar with the Futurist perspective, by virtue of the fictional works of Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye and others. But the Preterist view is often dismissed out-of-hand because the descriptions in the Olivette Discourse (Matthew 24) seem to be too cataclysmic to fit any first century circumstances.
However, the Preterist interpretation is based on a literal interpretation of the time frame given by Jesus Himself in Matthew 24:34. In that passage, Jesus said that everything he just described (verses 5 to 33, including the Great Tribulation) would occur during His generation (“this generation”), the same generation He was addressing in Mt 23:36.
All of chapter 23 is devoted to Jesus’ extensive condemnation of the Jewish leaders, concluding with His fearsome pronouncement that “your house is being left to you desolate.” As He turned His back and walked out, He told the disciples, “…not one stone here shall be left upon another….”
In response to which the disciples asked, “…when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age.?” In context of chapter 23 and chapter 24, especially the time marker of verse 34 (“this generation”), the disciples were asking, when will you come in judgment against the Jewish nation to destroy the temple and put an end to the Old Testament era of sacrificial observances? In Mt. 24:34 Jesus said it would all come to pass within the current generation.
Could it really be true, we wondered? Was Jesus serious? Could everything that He described, including the stars falling from the sky, really have happened in the first century? MythBusters decided to check it out. We set a high standard: every event had to be validated either by the Bible itself or by a 1st Century historian, such as Josephus.
We were amazed to find that almost every prediction was found to be fulfilled in the Bible itself. In fact, almost all of the fulfillments can be found in the Book of Acts. We developed the following table to summarize the findings.
Precursors of Tribulation
Matthew 24 Prophecy: Fulfillment in Acts (usually):
24:5 false Christs Acts 8:9,10 Simon Magnus
24:6 wars and rumors of wars Josephus’ Wars of the Jews
24:7 famines Acts 11:28 “a great famine all
over the world”
24:7 earthquakes Acts 16:26 “a great
24:9 disciples persecuted Acts 8:1 “a great persecution arose”
24:9 disciples killed Acts 7:58 “they went on
24:10 many will fall away Acts 20:29,30 “to draw away
24:11 false prophets Acts 5:36,37 Theudas & Judas
24:12 lawlessness Acts 18:1; I Cor 5:1 – Christian incest
24:14 gospel to whole world Acts 1:8; Rmn 1:8 – “proclaimed
After these events, Jesus said, the end would come (Mt. 24:14). The end of what? The end of the Old Testament era and the Jewish nation. At the first sign of the Roman legions approaching Jerusalem, the Christians were instructed to flee to the mountains immediately (24:15-20).
The flattop houses described were typical of 1st century Judea. In addition, mention of the Sabbath indicates that this tribulation is being visited on the Jews. Luke 21:20 defines the Abomination of Desolation as occurring when you see “Jerusalem surrounded by armies.” Thus, it cannot be a future event. The following table summarizes the major events of the Great Tribulation in the Destruction of Jerusalem.
The Great Tribulation
24:2 “not 1 stone here shall be left” Josephus Soldiers looking for gold
24:15 abomination of desolation Lk 21:20 Defined as “Jerusalem surrounded by armies”: Titus’ Legions
24:16 Christians flee to mountains The only thing like this that occurred in Judea
within the time frame of “this generation”
24:21 Great Tribulation was the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD
24:24 false Christs Acts 13:6 Example of Bar-Jesus
24:29 sun, moon & stars dark Gen. 37:9 Symbolic political extinction of Israel.
Joseph’s dream of sun, moon, stars bowing.
24:30 coming of Son of Man Dan. 7:13 Christ coronated, came to Ancient of Days & came in judgment on national Israel
24:31 gathering of the elect Acts 1:8 “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me…”
The Great Tribulation is described by Jesus as occurring in the middle of history, not the end: “for then there will be a great tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall” (24:21). Much of the Book of Revelation describes this great event in more detail and is now fulfilled prophecy.
Arguing against Preterism (or Post-Millennialism) because a Jesuit priest endorsed it to deflect accusations that the Pope is Anti-Christ is the logical fallacy called “poisoning the well.” The Catholic Church also endorses the Apostle’s Creed. Shall we therefore reject the Apostle’s Creed as heretical?
Preterism may not have been the dominant view of the early church, but it was clearly the view of some of the church fathers. For example, dispensational premillennialist Tommy Ice stated “I would never say that there is no one in the early church who taught preterism. . . . Don’t be foolish enough to say that nothing is out there in church history, because you never know. . . . There is early preterism in people like Eusebius. In fact, his work The Proof of the Gospel is full of preterism in relationship to the Olivet Discourse.” (“Update on Pre-Darby Rapture Statements and Other Issues”: audio tape December 1995).
Moreover, there are many great Reformed theologians who have held the preterist or post-millennial view. These include John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, Charles Spurgeon, Warfield, Marcellus Kik, Lorraine Boettner, Matthew Henry, and others
Case Closed: The Preterist interpretation of prophecy was held by many of the church fathers long before the Jesuit priest Alcazar (1554-1630) employed it in defense of the Pope. But more important than the historical argument is the force of the Biblical argument itself. The Preterist interpretation rests first on a literal interpretation of Jesus’ statement that His generation would experience the Great Tribulation (Mt. 24:34). It rests second on a figurative interpretation of His poetic reference to the political extinction of Israel in Matthew 24:29.