5 Key Errors of Preterism
By Jonathan C. Brentner
A glance at the title of this article may cause you to wonder why I am writing about such a topic. Isn’t this just inflaming disagreement on something that doesn’t matter? Am I not just stirring up divisions?
Before I answer these questions, let me share with you the basics of what preterists believe. They teach that all biblical prophecy has been fulfilled; this includes Matthew 24 as well as the entire book of Revelation. They claim all these things happened before and during AD 70 when Titus and the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. They believe Jesus returned as the city fell thus fulfilling His promise to return to the earth.
Despite the fact that these teachings seem far out of the mainstream, this view of fulfilled prophecy continues to grow rapidly in popularity. Raptureless, a book by Jonathan Welton promoting the teachings of the preterists, remains a bestseller in its third printing.
So why am I writing about preterism? It’s my passion to warn believers about false teachings related to future things as well as to draw the attention of the saints to Jesus’ appearing. Because I see preterism as a serious threat, I want to describe what I believe are 5 key errors of this flawed teaching.
1. Preterism Diminishes the Glory of Jesus
In Matthew 24:29-31, Jesus describes His glorious return at which time everyone on earth will mourn as they see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” We see this magnificent display of dazzling supremacy recounted again in Revelation 19:11-20:6.
To assert that an obscure vision of chariots clashing in the sky fulfilled these prophecies of Jesus’ breathtaking return to earth, as the preterists do, makes no sense. How can they claim this localized vision fulfilled this great prophecy? No one in AD 70 claims they saw Jesus in this vision let alone observed Him defeat the kingdom of Satan, lock up the devil, and usher in a kingdom of righteousness as Jesus does at His Second Coming. There’s no record of the world seeing any of this.
Preterism further diminishes Jesus’ glory by negating His inheritance. Listen to what the Father promises the Son in Psalm 2:8-9, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage; and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” It’s clear from the context that these are physical nations with governing kings. The promise of Psalm 2 as well as that of Isaiah 9:6-7 relate to a time when Jesus will physically govern the nations of the world.
Can you even for a moment imagine the Father reneging on His promise to Son regarding the nations? Yet this is precisely what preterists ask us to do through their denials of a future physical kingdom with Jesus ruling over it, which is what the Father promised to the Son.
2. Preterism Exalts the Church Rather Than Jesus
Furthermore, preterists teach that the church will convert the world to Christ and bring in a glorious reign of righteousness over all the earth. This becomes possible because of the past fulfillment of Revelation 20:1-6 where Satan is bound and thus unable to deter the church from its mission. There are a number of things wrong with this scenario.
First and foremost, such teaching exalts the church, not Jesus. Rather than watching and waiting for Jesus’ return as He instructed, preterism shifts the hope of believers to the church and its grand task of converting the world. In so doing they ascribe grandeur to the church that is reserved solely for Jesus. The Bible teaches Jesus will bring in this glorious kingdom of righteousness, not the church.
Second, Jesus warned His followers that in this current age the world would hate them and most would reject the Gospel. Jesus never promised that our proclamation of the Gospel would later result in the salvation of all humanity. He taught that many seeds of the Gospel would fall on hard soil along the path where the” evil one,” AKA Satan, would snatch them away before they could take root (Matt. 12:19).
Third, to say that the devil is “disempowered” during this age, as one preterist teacher describes it, not only denies the reality of our current world but also contradicts numerous passages throughout the New Testament that speak of our ongoing battle against the devil.
3. Preterism Negates the Biblical Hope of Believers
The apostle Peter told his readers to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13). By proclaiming that Jesus has already fulfilled the prophecies of Scripture, preterists shift the hope of believers to the church and this world. In doing so, they negate the many wonderful promises of the New Testament that lift up Jesus as our ultimate hope.
It’s clear throughout the New Testament that God intended our future expectation to be on Jesus’ return for His church at which time we will receive glorified bodies (Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Cor. 15:50-54), experience eternal victory over death (1 Cor. 15:54-56; 1 Thess. 1:9-10, 4:13-5:11), and be caught up to forever be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Where is our hope if the Lord has already fulfilled all these future promises? Does this not leave us with the church as our ultimate hope?
Beginning in the Garden of Eden, God has always given His people hope for the future that revolved around the coming Messiah. In Genesis 3:15, He promised to send a deliverer to defeat the enemy who had just lured Adam and Eve in sin. After that, we see numerous pictures and prophecies throughout the Old Testament that Jesus fulfilled with His first coming.
Why would God suddenly leave us without prophecies pointing to Jesus and our hope in Him? To claim we have no sure word of prophecy after AD 70 goes against the flow of Scripture and the character of God who loves to declare the end from the beginning (see Isaiah 46:8-11).
4. Preterism Errs in Its Claims Regarding Church History
Preterists maintain that John wrote the book of Revelation in about AD 65-67. If the apostle wrote the book after AD 70, then preterism cannot be true since John would be writing about the future return of the Lord after it took place. The entire system of preterism beliefs depends on this early date for the writing of Revelation.
It’s impossible, however, to maintain that John wrote the book before AD 70. Many writers in the early centuries of the church place John’s banishment to the Isle of Patmos and the writing of Revelation late in the reign of the Emperor Domitian, who ruled over Rome from AD 81-96. Irenaeus, who grew up in the church at Smyrna and later became a prominent writer in the early church, stated that John wrote Revelation during this time.
And, if Jesus returned in AD 70 as Preterists claim, why is it that so many prominent church fathers still looked for it as a future event in the early centuries of the church? Leaders such as Papias (70-163), Irenaeus (130-202), Justyn Martyr (100-165), and Tertullian (155-240) all wrote about Jesus’ future return to rule over the world. How could the entire church have missed Jesus’ glorious Second Coming in AD 70? It’s impossible.
In addition, the conditions at the churches in Revelation 2-3 fit better with an AD 95 writing of the book. An earthquake devastated the city of Laodicea around AD 60. They were still recovering in AD 65 and were not “rich” or prospering at the time (3:17). Paul wrote 1 and 2 Timothy in the AD 65-67 time-frame. Yet in writing to Timothy at Ephesus, he does not address any of the issues the Lord recounted in 2:1-6. And, if Jesus is addressing these churches at the end of Paul’s time of ministry to them, why does He not mention the apostle? All these things make better sense with a date of AD 95 for the writing.
The testimony of church history completely dispels preterism. Besides its almost unanimous witness to a later date for the writing of Revelation, all the prominent writers of the second and third centuries placed Jesus’ Second Coming in the future. How could they all have missed it?
5. Extreme Preterism Perverts the Gospel
Moderate preterists believe in a still future return of Jesus where he will come bodily to the earth and resurrect the bodies of dead believers. Although they believe the book of Revelation occurred in the distant past, they look forward to spending eternity with the Savior with bodies like that of the resurrected Savior. Although still sadly in error, they remain true to the basic promises of the Gospel.
“Full” Preterists, however, pervert the Gospel with their denial of the future bodily resurrection of the saints. This error distorts the Gospel.
Paul attacked a similar teaching in Corinth where similar to today’s preterists; some denied a future resurrection of the dead. In response, the apostle said this, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (1 Cor. 15:13, see also v. 16). Paul equated the denial of a future resurrection with a repudiation of the same for the Savior.
The apostle then added this in verse 19 “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
The essence of our hope is a bodily resurrection; it’s the future tense of the Gospel. Any teaching that excludes our future hope of immortal bodies misrepresents the Gospel.
No matter what timing you attribute to the event Paul describes in Philippians 3:20-21 and 1 Corinthians 1:50-57, these passages unmistakably teach that all followers of Christ will receive “imperishable” bodies at Jesus’ appearing. To assert otherwise distorts the Gospel hope of believers.
In 2 Timothy 2:15-18, Paul says that those who “say that the resurrection has already taken place” place themselves outside the truth and “destroy the faith of some.” The only resurrection that could mistakenly be placed in the past is that of believers. Is this not what many Preterists do with their denial of a future immortal body for the saints?
Biblical prophecy is all about Jesus from beginning to end.
All of Scripture from Genesis through Revelation focuses the hope of the faithful on the Savior. The Old Testament sparks hope of forgiveness through Jesus’ first coming and gives Israel hope of a glorious restoration with His Second Coming. The New Testament reveals the fulfillment of prophecy related to the first and clarifies our hope in Jesus’ appearing for His church as well as our hope for all eternity.
Our Lord, who loves to reveal to the future so that its fulfillment points to Him, did not leave His church without a hope-filled vision of the future for almost two thousand years. Much biblical prophecy awaits a future fulfillment.
By dismissing all prophecy as being already fulfilled, preterists cause considerable harm in the church by taking the eyes of the faithful off the wondrous joy ahead for them. My hope is to point believers to the truth so the proponents of preterism do not deceive them.
Don’t let anyone take your eyes off Jesus; He’s the prize and your only refuge in a troubled world. He’s coming soon!