Ask Steve: Futurism, Historicism, Preterism



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Appointed to Preach: Assessing a Call to Ministry

by David W. Hegg

Category: Christian Ministry

2010 reprint, Mentor





Question: Steve. I am curious as to your eschatological view. Are you a futurist, historicist, or preterist? Explain why you are one and not the other. 

Answer: I am a futurist. I believe this is the accurate view of prophetic/apocalyptic passages in the Old and New Testament because of: 1). Grammatical-historical hermeneutics that result in such an interpretation, 2). Chronology order (such in the book of Revelation) indicates that events depicted in such books have not occurred yet, and 3). Many OT prophecies have not been fulfilled to this day and cannot have already been fulfilled in a figurative and mystical manner because of various contradictory factors. These are some of the reasons why I believe the futurist view does the most justice to interpreting prophetic passages. It honors a reputable hermeneutical system and makes the most sense when all pieces of the biblical puzzle are put together from the OT and NT. However, this response will mostly take into account the weaknesses of the other views like historicism and preterism, and through this critique, I will show why I do not believe that they represent the true intent of the prophetic authors, which hopefully will serve as a backdrop to the otherwise sturdier explanation of futurism.

The preterist view is one of the most popular alternatives to futurism. It teaches that many parts of the book of Revelation have already been fulfilled in the past. Within preterism, there are a few different camps: mild preterism, partial preterism, and extreme preterism. Mild preterism believes that Rev 6-12 occurred around the time of AD 70, while the rest of it fits more within the historicist interpretation. Partial preterism views most of the events of Revelation having already occurred in the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70) and some events are still future (Christ’s second coming, Great White Throne Judgment, new earth). Full preterism believes that Revelation was completely fulfilled in a figurative manner in AD 70, which was the year of “Jesus’ Second Coming” to judge apostate Israel. They do not believe that Revelation predicts anything about the future or the end of history.

The obvious problem with the preterist (both partial and full) view is that it assumes the book of Revelation was written around AD 64 to 67 when a majority of the evidence points to its authorship around AD 95-96 during the reign of Emperor Domitian. This was affirmed by 2nd and 3rd church historians such as Irenaeus, Alexandria, Origen, Victorinus, and Jerome. If preterists are correct in their dating and their hypothesis, then the Apostle John would not have been looking forward to the future, but looking back in history, which does not make much sense when one exegetes the text, since the descriptions of “fulfillment” do not match the events of AD 70. This already shows that the preterist view cannot be correct, for one would have to negate the rules of biblical interpretation to make the book fit with the preterist paradigm.

Aside from the dating issue, the interpretation and prophetic fulfillments of the preterist theology is not satisfactory. Extreme preterists say that the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 was fulfilled in a symbolic manner in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem. However, the problem with this view is that Jesus did not return that year, in which no eye beheld Him. Jesus stated in this speech that the gospel would be preached as a witness to all nations (24:14), which evidently did not happen during the time of AD 70. The gospel hadn’t even reached the whole Roman Empire during this year. The other themes mentioned in these “last day” scenarios, such as nation rising against nation (v.7), the abomination of desolation (v. 16), and the sun being darkened (v. 29) is just too specific and too global in scope to really have been fulfilled in AD 70, especially when there were no corresponding events that matched these verses’ description.

Similar problems can also be seen with the historicist and idealist framework. Historicism, which was popular from the 16th to 19th century, is the view that the prophesied events in the book of Revelation is being fulfilled throughout history from the time of Jesus’ first coming to right now, although scholars disagree as to how certain prophecies were fulfilled and at what time in history. For example, they would view the Great Prostitute of Revelation 17:1-12 as the historic Roman Catholic Church, including false “Protestant” churches, figures such as the Pope as the Antichrist, and the number 666 of Revelation 13:18 to refer to the Latin or Roman Catholic papacy. The problem with this view is that it does not square with the integrity of proper biblical exegesis, which reveals that the time of the Beast’s inauguration to power up until Christ’s Second Coming is actually 3 and ½ years, not 1,000 plus years to accommodate the historicist framework. To believe in the historicist view would be to morph the text into allegory, which can inevitably lead to all sorts of fanciful interpretations that have no warrant, and guesses about how certain prophecies were fulfilled in history.

The idealist view tends to be more far fetched, as it stretches the symbolic and allegorical nature of the book of Revelation to greater heights. Idealism teaches that the book of Revelation is not describing prophecies to be fulfilled at any one particular time or period in history. Rather, Bible prophecies are supposed to be mystical, spiritual lessons that are timeless and teach basic truths. These eschatological lessons are categorized as: 1). Christians are called to endure amidst difficult times, 2). There will be constant battle between good and evil until Christ returns to renew all things, 3). Jesus, and all good and justice, will prevail when it is all said and done. Although this is certainly an interesting and possible interpretation, if not a very edifying message to the saints, it nevertheless does not do complete justice to the book of Revelation, especially given the fact that Revelation (and even other prophetic Old Testament books) is so specific about details concerning the end times (ex. years, spatial dimensions, geography) that to over allegorize it into a broad moral lesson is to completely disregard its prophetic message and its details, making word-for-word exegesis of the text a futile endeavor. There is just not enough warrant to use a spiritualized hermeneutical approach to such a book, regardless of what one thinks about the “apocalyptic” genre of Revelation.

In conclusion, it is safe to say that the futurist view of the book of Revelation is the most probable, not just because it is formulated based on a hermeneutical system used to interpret other biblical books, but that it simply makes the most sense. This is not to say that the futurist view does not have its challenges when it comes to difficult passages to interpret. But as a whole, it seems to be the only view that adequately answers questions regarding the specific nature of the end times and the unfulfilled prophecies of the Old Testament, especially concerning the nation of Israel. When interpreted in the literal sense, we get a clear picture of how the world will end as God also revealed to us how the world began. The Bible is the complete story of history according to God.

Recommended Resource: Understanding End Times Prophecy by Paul Benware