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A Critique Of Realized Eschatology

Realized Eschatology 1 (hereafter referred to as RE) is a systematic theology that claims all prophecy was exhausted at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. According to this view, the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the end of the world have already happened, specifically:

  • All Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Thus, it is claimed, the Bible says nothing about a future judgment or end of the present world.

  • The "end of the age" in Matthew 13 was describing the end of the old covenant dispensation in A.D. 70, not the end of the world.

  • 2 Peter 3 is yet another description of the destruction of the old covenant world in A.D. 70, not the end of the world, as most think. This means the "last days" were over by A.D. 70 and the church is presently living in the "new heavens" and "new earth" of 2 Peter 3:12-13.

  • The coming of the Son of Man mentioned in Matthew 16: 26-28 took place exclusively in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the end of the Jewish commonwealth.

  • For most REs, the resurrection of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15 is not something yet future. What Paul described in this chapter, they insist, had nothing at all to do with the resurrection of our bodies from the grave. Instead, and this depends on what particular brand of RE to which one subscribes, it is either the mystical resurrection of the body of Christ (namely, the church) from the ashes of a judged Judaism, or the "resurrection" of our spirits, that is, our bodies have nothing to do with it. Either way, REs view "resurrection" in a way totally different from how it has been traditionally viewed. 2

It should be easy to see, then, why RE is sometimes called "The A.D. 70 Doctrine," for the pivotal point of history, according to this position, was, and remains, the destruction of Jerusalem/the Temple in A.D. 70.

Striving For "Consistency," REs Are Right About Some Things

Realized Eschatologists (hereafter referred to as REs), who are also called "full-" or "hyper-Preterists," 3 strive for "consistency" in their view of Bible prophecy. This is admirable. Nevertheless, when the assumptions of REs are examined, serious hermeneutical mistakes are manifested. When these assumptions are shown to be wrong, the entire man-made theory crumbles. Thus, the design of this series of articles is to examine and critique several positions advocated by REs. At the same time, REs rightly observe that when studying the New Testament material relative to the "coming" of Christ,

  1. there are passages which seem to speak of the nearness of the Lord's coming from a first-century vantage point (see James 5:8, for example), and

  2. there are texts which indicate a "coming" of the Lord in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (like Matthew 24:30, for example).

But because REs have already presumed that A.D. 70 is the pivotal point in history, they wrongly assume that "(1)" and "(2)" above ought to be irrevocably tethered, making the Lord's "second [or final] coming" something that took place in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A. D. 70. They then argue that because the Scriptures make it clear that the resurrection of the dead, the day of judgment, and the end of the world were all to occur on the day the Lord returns the second time, they are obligated to "spiritualize," in one way or another, these happenings, contending they took place, in one form or another, in A.D. 70. 4 As a result of such thinking, a whole host of biblical terms which have been traditionally understood to mean one thing are wrested from their immediate context and reinterpreted in order to make the pieces of the RE puzzle fit. But, and this is a significant "but," if there is no pressing necessity to understand the Lord's final coming as an event that took place in A.D. 70, then RE should be viewed as the false doctrine it really is.

It is just here that REs become upset, for they claim their viewpoint is just another of the many different interpretive views espoused by brethren on book of Revelation and the significance of A.D. 70 from a Matthew 24 point of view. For example, there are more than a few brethren who, although not REs, believe Revelation was received and disseminated before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. 5 But because it has been generally understood that such a position changes nothing about what most of us have traditionally believed about core end-time beliefs, there has never been an effort, that I am aware of, to withdraw from or mark such brethren. REs want to use this to argue they should be permitted the freedom to espouse their doctrine without the stigma of being reproved or disciplined. If this argument is bought into, then REs will have free course to propagate their radically different, and blatantly obvious, false doctrine.

The Best Interpreter Of Scripture Has Always Been Scripture Itself

It has been my experience that most false doctrines, particularly those which have become systemized, as has RE, are not just wrong in one place or area of Scripture. They are, instead, prone to make mistakes in numerous places and areas. This is true, for the most part, because the best interpreter of Scripture is Scripture itself. Thus, when one makes a wrong interpretation one place, there will be another passage (or passages) which corrects this wrong interpretation. But if one is not fully honest with himself, the proclivity is to favor the original wrong view/interpretation over the correcting verse or verses. When this happens, the reproving passage or passages are either ignored or wrested to fit the original premise.

The classic example of this is the religionist who incorrectly comes to the conclusion that one is saved by faith alone based on a misinterpretation of Romans 5:1, Ephesians 2:8, and other passages—none of which, incidentally, mention "faith alone." Then, when faced with a clear passage like James 2:24, which says one is not saved by "faith alone," he tries to:

  1. ignore it,

  2. claim it is not a part of the canon, or

  3. explain it in such a way that nullifies what it clearly says.
This, I am sorry to say, is what REs have, in too many cases done. I say it this way because I must make it clear that REs have not been wrong on every passage they have exegeted. What follows is an example.

The Case For Partial Preterism

The book of Revelation begins and ends with clearly articulated time statements:

  • "things which must shortly come to pass" (1:1),

  • "for the time is near" (1:3),

  • "the things which must shortly come to pass" (22:6), and

  • "the time is at hand" (22:10).
In fact, Jesus' own words, "Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book" (22:7), make it clear that the only interpretation of Revelation true to the book itself is one that takes these shortly-come-to-pass scriptures into account. Too many brethren have clearly not done so. Consequently, I agree with REs that those things recorded in the book of Revelation were things which were to shortly come to pass and, thus, cannot, be talking about things that still remain future some two thousand years later. Most who read this will probably not agree with my interpretation of these time passages. 6 Nevertheless, it is just here, and other place like it, that REs are able to get a toehold in the minds of some of our more discerning brethren—brethren who have had trouble with interpretations that ignore the obvious timeframe of the book. Now please don't get me wrong here. I am not trying to make excuses for the RE doctrine. There is, in my mind, no reason or excuse for holding such a position. Even so, this does not forgive our own sloppy interpretations, particularly as they permit this doctrine a foothold in some folks' thinking.

It was after studying for over a year with a brother and friend, who, at the time, was giving this doctrine some serious consideration, that I came to realize that some of the passages brethren have traditionally applied to the Lord's coming in judgment at the end of time were, more than likely, referring to judgment in time. The opposite is true, as well. For once REs buy into the doctrine, they view many, if not most, of the "coming" passages to be referring to A.D. 70.

What I am about to say will be confusing to some, for it will appear to be a bit convoluted. However, when we get to the point in this study where we'll examine specifically the date and prophetic fulfillment of the book of Revelation, and how this especially relates to RE, I believe it will make a lot more sense. But for now, let me just say this: When it comes to the dating of Revelation, I don't agree with the REs, who are "early daters" (A.D. 65). At the same time, I do not agree with most of my brethren who are "late daters" (A.D. 95). Nor do I agree with REs (and some of my non-RE brethren, like Art Ogden, who believe the book was written before A.D. 70) who think the "great harlot" of Revelation 17:1 was Jerusalem, rather than Rome. On the other hand, I do agree with REs et al. that the traditional interpretation of Revelation, which claims it is talking about the fall of Rome on September 4, 476, when Romulus Augustus, the last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire, was deposed, does not jibe with the "shortly come to pass" timeframe of the book itself.

Rejecting, as I do, then, both the early and late date positions, I espouse a "middle-date" thesis (A.D. 76-78). This permits me to respect the "time is near" timeframe, viewing Rome, not Jerusalem, as the "great harlot," and seeing it judged not in A.D. 476, as most late-daters think, but at the death of Domitian in A.D. 96. I view Domitian's death, then, as the judgment against Rome spoken of in the book, and this because of the time-line I've already mentioned. I'll have more to say about this when we examine the REs' broad-based contention that Revelation, along with every other NT book, was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. But, this is not the place for that discussion. At this juncture, all I wish to say is that to be right on some passages, as REs are, and to be able, as a result, to point out the misuse or misunderstanding of such passages by those who hold the more traditional position, are not proofs, in and of themselves, of the validity of RE doctrine—a doctrine which, when believed, turns topsy-turvy everything we have thought, taught, and believed about those things mentioned at the beginning of this article. Finally, when one begins to come to grips with RE's systematic theology, it is difficult not to think that, at its core, it's a doctrine that has already been condemned!

Hymenaeus And Philetus: The Ghosts Of Preterism Past?

Hymenaeus, according to Smith's Bible Dictionary, was one of the earliest of the Gnostic heretics. In connection with Alexander, he blasphemed and made shipwreck of his faith (1 Tim. 1:20). Three years later, he was mentioned in connection with Philetus as a false teacher whose doctrine ate away at spiritual health like a cancer and was overthrowing the faith of some (2 Tim. 2:17-18).

And what specific doctrine was Hymenaeus spreading? Namely this: "that the resurrection is already past" (v. 18). This sounds suspiciously like the doctrine I am here critiquing, does it not? However, REs are quick to point out that they readily acknowledge the accuracy of Paul's charge concerning Hymenaeus' and Philetus' doctrine. Like most everyone else, they agree that Paul's second letter to Timothy was written around A.D. 66, which is too early to fit their A.D. 70 contentions. Thus, they argue, Hymenaeus and Philetus were four years too early to be teaching RE doctrine. Consequently, they claim, Hymenaeus' and Philetus' false teaching had nothing at all to do with REs claim that the resurrection the Bible focuses on actually took place in the vindication of the church belonging to Christ—a spiritual vindication that they claim was a rising (resurrection) from the ashes of a destroyed Judaism in A.D. 70.

Admittedly, in critiquing REs, we must be careful not to make their false doctrine synonymous with the false teaching of Hymenaeus and Philetus. In fact, I can't even be sure in what context Hymenaeus and Philetus were teaching that the resurrection was already past, although, like Smith's Bible Dictionary, I suspect it had something to do with Greek Gnostic thought, which would have certainly opted for some sort of mystical resurrection over an actual bodily resurrection.

However, if it can be demonstrated that REs' interpretations are, by and large, false, then their claim that the resurrection is already past falls into the same category of unbelief in the bodily resurrection of the dead as does that of Hymenaeus and Philetus and, therefore, falls into the same category of condemnation. That this is, in fact, true is something I intend to prove during this study. This same-category-of-unbelief and same-category-of-condemnation point is important because the REs I have studied with or read behind, as I've already mentioned, lobby hard that they not be identified as false teachers/heretics. Their doctrine, they claim, is simply their studied opinion, much like the differences between brethren who hold pre-A.D. 70 or post-A.D. 70 positions on the writing of the book of Revelation. But such a claim is blatantly absurd, for RE is not a simple and understandable difference of opinion on when the book of Revelation was written. On the contrary, it is as radical a systematic theology as has ever been enunciated. As a result, it makes shipwreck of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints and must be rejected by all who love the truth. The few things they may be right about, which are not without importance, are quite insignificant when viewed in the shadow of their all-encompassing doctrine.

Lord willing, I'll be posting part II of this series in the very near future.


Notes

Eschatology is the study of end-time events. Therefore, the term "Realized Eschatology" encompasses the belief that all or most end-time events have already taken place.

"Traditionally" has a bad connotation for some, as it is entirely possible that tradition could mean something widely accepted and practiced, but is, in fact, biblically unsound. This is not the way I am using it here. With its use here, I mean only a view that most have thought to be true. This doesn't mean that it is, though, and therefore the view itself must be accepted or disavowed based on what God has had to say in His Word.

Preterism is an eschatological view that interprets prophecies of the Bible, especially Daniel and Revelation, as events which have already happened in the first century A.D. Preterism comes from the Latin praeter, which is listed in Webster's 1913 dictionary as a prefix denoting that something is "past" or "beyond," signifying that either all or a majority of Bible prophecy was fulfilled by A.D. 70. Adherents of such a view are commonly known as, and even call themselves, Preterists. Consequently, those who hold that all prophecies and end-time events have been fulfilled are usually called "full-" or "hyper-Preterists

I am truly sorry about all these qualifiers, but RE has a great deal of intramural differences. Thus, it is necessary for me to note these, for just as surely as I don't, someone will accuse me of misrepresenting their particular view.

Arthur "Art" Ogdon, in his 1985 commentary on Revelation, entitled The Avenging of the Apostles and Prophets, argued this position for many years and until his death in 2000. He was a capable advocate of this position, which was dubbed "The A.D. 70 Doctrine." This has been confusing for some, as it is the very same designation that has been used to refer to RE. In fact, some who never knew Art and certainly didn't know what he actually taught on this, scandalously referred to him as a "hyper-preterist" (cf. Keith A. Mathison, ed., When Shall These Things Be?, 2004, p. 18). Therefore, when a Christian is using the "A.D. 70 Doctrine" moniker, he must be careful not to confuse Art's position with RE.

I am a full preterist when it comes to the book of Revelation, believing all has been fulfilled in the Lord's vindication of His church, not a partial-preterist, as are most of my brethren, who are still waiting for part of chapter 20 and all of chapters 21-22 to be fulfilled. This will become clearer when later on in this study I deal with REs claim that all Scripture was completed and distributed prior to A.D. 70.

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