Previous article in this series: January 15, 2011, p. 183.
The importance for postmillennialism of its preterist interpretation of Matthew 24:1-33 is that the apostolic doctrine of the last days elsewhere in New Testament Scripture depends upon Christ’s teaching in Matthew 24. If the events foretold by Christ in Matthew 24 took place, not merely typically, but in full and final reality prior to or in AD 70, the same must be true of all such prophecies made by the apostles. All happened in the past, as concerns the church in the twenty-first century. And this is the conclusion that the postmillennialists draw from their preterist understanding of Matthew 24.
The lawlessness of the last days predicted by the apostolic Scriptures refers to the “prevalence of Jewish lawlessness” prior to AD 70.¹
The apostasy, or falling away from the truth of the gospel, in the last days that is foretold in II Thessalonians 2:3 and many other places in the New Testament was the “political revolt” and “religious rebellion” of the Jews prior to AD 70.²
The New Testament warnings of the persecution of the church in the last days were fulfilled in the Jewish and Roman persecution of the early church before AD 70. Regarding the warning of persecution implicit in the prophecy of the “man of sin” in II Thessalonians 2:3, the realization was in the past, in the persecution of the early church by the Jews: “All of the lawless deeds of those priests who sent Jesus to His death and persecuted His bride, the church, had reached their climax by the time the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70.”³ Concerning the “war with the saints” of the beast of Revelation (Rev. 13:5, 7), this refers to the persecution of the church by Emperor Caesar Nero—a persecution that was fulfilled before AD 70. “The Beast’s ‘war with the saints’ [was] the Neronic persecution…. This persecution finally ended with the death of Nero…[in] A.D. 68.” Indeed, all of the persecution of the church spoken of in the book of Revelation refers to the persecution by Nero— a persecution that ended prior to AD 70.4
According to the preterist postmillennialists, the “great tribulation” foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24:21does not refer to the persecution of the church at all. Rather, it refers to the suffering of the Jews in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. “The so-called [by Jesus Christ in Matt. 24:21—DJE] Great Tribulation is long behind us, and…was Israel’s tribulation, not the church’s.”5 The postmillennial Christian Reconstructionists are simply following the lead of J. Marcellus Kik here: “Jesus is speaking [inMatt. 24:21—DJE] about a tribulation to be experienced only by the Jewish nation.”6
Antichrist likewise was a figure in the past. The “man of sin,” the “son of perdition,” whose revelation, according to II Thessalonians 2:2, 3, would immediately precede and signal the “day of Christ” was probably a first-century Jewish high priest.7 The beast from the sea of Revelation 13 was Caesar Nero: “The Emperor Nero Caesar is the Beast of Revelation specifically considered and…Rome is the Beast generically considered.”8 The Antichrist of Scripture was not these men, who lived and died prior to AD 70, only typically, but in full and final reality. No Antichrist looms for the church in the future.
“Preterizing” the Book of Revelation
Since most of the book of Revelation predicts lawlessness, apostasy, Antichrist, and tribulation and since its eschatology must conform to the doctrine of the last things taught by Jesus inMatthew 24:1-33, most of Revelation too is explained by the postmillennialists as having happened in the past, prior to AD 70. David Chilton begins his bizarre commentary on Revelation with these words: “The Book of Revelation is primarily a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.”9 The conclusion to the commentary reminds us that “the Book of Revelation has a contemporary [that is, contemporary to those living shortly before AD 70—DJE] focus; it is not about the Second Coming… but about the inauguration of the New Covenant era during the Last Days—the period A.D. 30-70, from the Ascension of Christ to the fall of Jerusalem.”10
Contemporary postmillennialists are confident that they have successfully “preterized” Revelation 3-19. Everything prophesied in these chapters has already taken place. Nothing in these chapters is future to the church in the twenty-first century.
With regard to the book of Revelation, preterism now expands from hermeneutics (interpretation of Scripture) to New Testament introduction (the study of the nature, date, and place in the inspired body of Holy Scripture of the book of Revelation). If the book of Revelation is, in fact, prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the persecution of the church by the Roman emperor Nero prior to his death in AD 68, the date of its writing by the apostle John cannot be about AD 96, as the church has always believed. Obviously, if John wrote about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 96, he would have been lying when he wrote that the book is a “prophecy” (Rev. 1:3) of “things which must shortly come to pass” (Rev. 1:1). John would have been guilty of the deceit of predictive prophecy after the event.
Therefore, consistent with their preterist interpretation of the New Testament predictions of apostasy, Antichrist, and tribulation, the postmillennialists date the writing of the book of Revelation before AD 70. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. has devoted an entire, full-length book to proving that John wrote Revelation prior to AD 70.11 Gentry’s conclusion is that the apostle wrote Revelation “after the outbreak of the Neronic persecution in late A.D. 64 and before the declaration of the Jewish War in early A.D. 67. A date in either A.D. 65 or early A.D. 66 would be most suitable.”12
Extending Preterist Interpretation
The exegetical activity of giving a preterist interpretation to all the New Testament passages that speak of tribulation continues, and intensifies. Whereas Kik put Matthew 24:1-35 in the past, locating the beginning of Jesus’ reference to His second coming at verse thirty-six of Matthew 24, postmillennialist Martin G. Selbrede extends the preterist interpretation of Jesus’ eschatological discourse through verse thirty of Matthew 25. In the odd language of postmillennial preterism, Selbrede declares that we must “preterize the entire chapter [Matthew 24] and half of the next chapter as well.”13 What this means is that everything in all of Matthew 24 and in Matthew 25:1-30 refers exclusively to events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and was fulfilled in that ancient history. Christ begins to speak of His bodily coming in the future and of events connected with that coming only at Matthew 25:31, with the prophecy of the final judgment.
No New Testament passage that predicts apostasy, conflict for the church, impending cataclysm, or the nearness of the coming of Christ escapes the preterist exegesis. In addition to Matthew 24:1-25:30 (and the parallel passages in Mark 13 and Luke 21) and almost the entire book of Revelation, Matthew 10:22; Matthew 16:27, 28; Matthew 26:64; John 21:21, 22; Romans 8:18; Romans 13:11, 12; Romans 16:20; I Corinthians 7:31; I Corinthians 10:11;Philippians 4:5; Hebrews 10:25; James 5:7-9; I Peter 4:7; I John 2:18;II Timothy 3; Titus 2:13, and many more pas-sages are explained as having been fulfilled in the past, at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Despite the difficulty of verse nine (how does one account for the Lord’s longsuffering with a view to the repenting of all His own in the short period between AD 30 and AD 70?), Martin Selbrede entertains the hope that some “clever preterist” will yet explain even II Peter 3 as having been fulfilled in the past and, therefore, as not referring to the second coming of Christ and the end of the world at all.14 The zealous postmillennialist is not only open to the notion, but also eager for its validation, that “the promise of his coming” (II Pet. 3:4); “the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (II Pet. 3:7); “the day of the Lord” (II Pet. 3:10); the burning up of the earth and all the works in it (II Pet. 3:10); “the coming of the day of God” (II Pet. 3:12); and the “new heavens and a new earth” (II Pet. 3:13), happened, in reality and finally, in AD 70.
It follows that for Martin Selbrede and his fellow Christian Reconstruction postmillennialists the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 is the reason why they are “diligent…[to be] found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (II Pet. 3:14); why they “account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (II Pet. 3:15); and why they beware lest they be led away with the error of the wicked (II Pet. 3:17).
On this preterist explanation of II Peter 3, those to whom Peter wrote were looking for the new heavens and new earth that would come into existence immediately following the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (II Pet. 3:13), and evidently found them. Whatever we Christians in the twenty-first century should be looking for, it is not new heavens and a new earth, for the new heavens and new earth of II Peter 3:13 came into existence in AD 70.
So rigorous, so iron-clad, is the preterist explanation of the New Testament passages prophesying tribulation for the church that the (“partial”) preterism of Christian Reconstruction asserts that the “last days” themselves are past. Whereas the Christian church has always supposed that the “last days,” which began with the ascension of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, stretch out, and in a special way have reference, to the time immediately preceding the second, bodily coming of Christ, preterism teaches that the “last days” are past. “The Biblical expression Last Days properly refers to the period from the Advent of Christ until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.”15
Preterism, specifically partial preterism, thus, annihilates (future) eschatology. “Eschatology” means and refers to the ‘last things’ that happen in the last days. But according to preterism, there is no future “eschatology.” The last days with their last things are past. They ended in AD 70.
¹ Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church (Atlanta, Georgia: American Vision, 1994), 338-345.
² Ibid., 334-338.
³ Ibid., 334.
4 Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Beast of Revelation (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), 47-56.
5 Gary North, “Publisher’s Preface,” in ibid., xviii.
6 J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory(Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1971), 117.
7 DeMar, Last Days Madness, 329-345.
8 Gentry, The Beast of Revelation, 19; see also pp. 29-39, in which Gentry plays the numbers game with the letters in “Caesar Nero,” in Hebrew, to arrive at 666.
9 David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Ft. Worth, Texas: Dominion Press, 1987), 4.
10 Ibid., 582.
11 Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (San Francisco: Christian Universities Press, 1997).
12 Ibid., 336.
13 Martin G. Selbrede, “Reconstructing Postmillennialism,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction: Symposium on Eschatology 15 (Winter, 1998): 185.
14 Ibid., 196, 197.
15 Chilton, Days of Vengeance, 16.