BOOKS: BIBLICAL STUDIES (1500BC-AD70) / EARLY CHRISTIAN PRETERISM (AD50-1000) / FREE ONLINE BOOKS (AD1000-2008)
By GR Gaudreau
From Catholic to Full Preterist to Skeptic
As we get ready to enter the next millennium, the preachers of doom-and-gloom are daily telling us, through the medium of television, radio, the Internet, street preaching and whatever other means are available to them, that we should "REPENT! THE END IS NEAR! JESUS IS COMING!" Nothing, it seems, will protect us from "the wrath of the Lamb" (Rev. 6:16). Be ready, they say, for "at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow... yada, yada, yada...", when he finally makes his triumphant return. The old expression "slower than the second coming" will never again be used to taunt believers, because "True Christians"(tm) everywhere will finally be vindicated. Right.
Should that worry us? Should we panic? Well, you can worry, even panic if you wish, but it will all be for naught. Christians have been waiting for the second coming for nearly 2,000 years, and what have we seen of this so-called "terrifying event?" We've seen the promise of his return re-iterated in every generation for the past 20 centuries - that's 50 generations, folks! - with not a sign of its being accomplished, not a single one!
We've heard Christians re-word, re-phrase, re-explain, re-interpret and re-hash, ad nauseam, the passages in the New Testament that speak of "His glorious return," but what have we seen? Zip, zilch, nada, nothing! And this is what we will keep seeing. We will keep hearing that same tired ol' song, as long as there are impressionable people around who will believe it.
The gospel of Matthew, as well as other NT writers, tells us that Jesus was to return in one generation of his leaving this world. Has he done that? No! When Jesus didn't return in the first century, his followers began to formulate all kinds of excuses as to why he hadn't. Passages were re-examined and re-interpreted in order to save their belief, and it's has been going on ever since. Let's look at the passages in which Jesus promised to return.
The actual promise
Matthew 24 is often considered the most important of the three passages. The length detail of this account, often called the "Olivet Discourse," gives us a better starting point than the other two accounts of Mark and Luke, which are more brief than Matthew's. The author of the gospel of John doesn't give us any detail of the Olivet discourse, in fact he never speaks of it.
First, let's look at the context of this discourse. In the previous chapter, Jesus upbraids the Pharisees for their many "sins" against Yahweh and his "chosen people". He pronounces seven woes against them, one of which is particularly interesting to us.
Notice the expression that is used: "all these things shall come upon this generation." Had I been one of the Pharisees hearing this, I would have immediately thought that he meant those of my generation. Wouldn't you? And why shouldn't you think that? In this context that's the only meaning it can have.
Now, the context of the Olivet discourse actually starts in the 23rd chapter. The reason will become evident very soon.
Notice the language used by Jesus. He personifies Jerusalem, meaning to address its leaders, because they are the subjects of this upbraiding, telling Jerusalem [its leaders] that it killed the prophets (Cf. vs. 29-33) as their fathers had done. They are evidently the subjects of this tirade, as this is made clear form the previous verses. Since they are the subjects, then Jesus' words concerning "this generation" (v. 36) has to apply to them and not some nebulous future generation dreamed up by Dispensationalists. As well, the use of generation is clear: It means the people living in his time frame. It does not mean "race" as Dispensationalists claim. The word is never used in this fashion in the NT.
One of the most important things Jesus says when addressing them is to say: "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." This would surely have meant that their house, the temple he had just visited, would be destroyed. How do I know this? Read verses 1-3 of Matthew 24.
The context is very clear that the temple, which they had just left, was the introductory subject of the Olivet Discourse. That the temple meant, in this context, the one standing at that time, is evident from the context we've just examined. Clearly then the setting for this long discourse is the temple, in Jerusalem, at that time. There can be no other temple spoken of in this context. Some Christians are very fond of reminding Sceptics that the Bible should never be interpreted out of context, a fact with which I am in full agreement. Unfortunately, some Christians are the worst offenders when it comes to out-of-context interpretations, as we shall see.
Notice the reactions of Jesus' disciples: when Jesus leaves the temple and goes to the Mount of Olives, the disciples following him are talking about the temple and how beautiful it is. Four of them, Peter, James, John and Andrew, come to him privately ( Cf. Mrk. 13:3) and ask him two questions, the second being in two parts, although some argue that there are three questions.
First, they are curious as to when this will all happen. Remember that Jesus had just told them that not one stone would be left standing on another, meaning a complete destruction of the temple. Next, notice carefully how they associate his coming with the destruction of the temple, and finally, how that, to them, this meant the end of the world. If it didn't, they wouldn't have asked about the end of the world. This is very important because this means that they believed that Jesus himself would return, signaling the end of the world, when that temple, the one standing at that time, in the first century, was to be destroyed.
Perhaps you're wondering why I keep emphasizing the temple and how it is the temple standing in their day? The first century temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, circa 70 CE, by the Roman armies, supposedly accomplishing Jesus' prediction of its doom. The destruction of Jerusalem happened in the first century is uncontested as far as I know. The reason I mention and emphasize it is because the destruction of the temple ties in with the word "generation," i.e., it ties in with Jesus' contemporaries and so does not mean race, but those living in that time period. The concept of race was introduced in order to justify the belief that Jesus was referring to Jews of all generations, meaning that he could come at any time, in any generation, and not necessarily in the first century. This, of course, is a lot of hooey.
Since that temple was destroyed -- and that within the generation of those who had supposedly heard the warnings given by Jesus -- we should have expected that Jesus had returned in the first century and that the world would have ended. Has this happened? No! Therefore, Jesus made a promise that he didn't keep. More to the point, the authors of the three gospels put words in Jesus' mouth -- if indeed Jesus ever existed -- which were never accomplished.
No matter how much our detractors, usually Inerrantists, object that we are badly interpreting the sayings of Jesus and pulling them out of their context, it remains their problem to show that:
This is no mean task considering the evidence that points to a first century (this generation) return, especially in light of the other books in the NT. The synoptic gospels agree with each other that Jesus' return was to be within the generation of his first disciples. To state otherwise is to totally misinterpret these passages.
At this time, I would like to add that some Christians, namely Preterists, believe that "the end of the world" isn't the end of the physical world as we know it, but the end of the "world" as the Israelites knew it, that is, the end of the of Old Covenant, their old way of life and the end of their preferred status with their god, he now turning toward the "elect" among the Gentiles, as well as the Israelite "elect". They do have some support in the OT for this, as some of the language used for "the world" is symbolic and could be interpreted in that way.
The expression used in Matt. 24:34, "this generation", is from the Greek "genea aute_". Adherents to the "eschatology du jour," i.e., Premillennial Dispensationalists, will argue that "genea aute_" actually means "this race", and not the common meaning, Jesus' contemporaries. This is used in order to try and circumvent the problem of why Jesus didn't return in "this generation", meaning the generation that heard Jesus make his promise. The problem with this use of the word "genea", is that it is never used in this way in any of the contexts in which it is found. Of all the 37 occurrences of "genea", Strong's #1074, not one instance means race, as Dispensationalists understand it.
The plain meaning, in the of Matt. 24:34, and in all the other contexts, demands that we see the word to mean what it usually means, that is, a person's contemporaries. This obfuscation by Fundamentalists is but a desperate attempt at trying to cover up, yet again, another of the myriad mistakes of the Bible. I challenge anyone that has no ax to grind, to read the contexts of all the verses in which the word "generation" is found, and come up with the notion that it means "race". If the translators of the English Bibles we now have would have understood it to mean "race", one would think that they would have translated it so. Not one Bible translation that I know of translates "genea" with the word "race"; and I've read quite a few of them in my eighteen years as a believer.
The funniest part of this, is that the fanatical sect of the KJV-only bibliolators, uses this technique in order to avoid the problem of a failed promise, while at the same time asserting that the King James Version is the only English translation that is inspired of God and inerrant. They don't accept the use of "generation" by the KJV translators, who were "protected from error by Almighty God". We are told that what they really meant was "race" and not "generation", as is commonly understood. Any port in a storm, eh?
The common interpretation, outside of the fanatical KJV-only camp, and other Dispensaltionalists, is that "genea" means "generation", that is, those who were Jesus' contemporaries. All the other Christians who admit that "genea" is so used, take a different approach to resolving the obvious conflict brought on by the gospel writers when they used "genea". There are so many different schemes of interpretation that it would require a rather large volume to list them all and give a summary of them. Suffice to say that if Jesus is reported as having said he would come back within the lifetime of his contemporaries, then his promise failed, and it failed miserably.
Imminence in the gospels
What do the other parts of the gospels have to say about Jesus' coming within that generation? They have much to say and the evidence of a failed promise is damning indeed for those who still believe this story.
In Matt. 16:27-28, Jesus claims he will return before some of his hearers taste death. Verse 27 states that he will come "in the glory of the Father with his angels" and that "he shall reward every man according to his works." This sound suspiciously like the declarations of Matt 24-25, where Jesus states he will return and judge all the nations standing before him after the angels separate "the goats" from "the sheep" (Matt 25:31-46). Lest one should be tempted to dismiss this interpretation in favor of a local judgment, simply verify the context of Matt. 25, where it is stated that all nations will be before him [Jesus], and this should dispel that wrongheaded notion.
Another common way that Christians try to avoid being impaled on one of the horns of this dilemma, is to say that Matt. 16:27-28 was accomplished at the Transfiguration On The Mount. Look at this passage carefully (Matt 17:1ff) and ask yourselves why there weren't any angels and no rewarding of all men according to their works, as per Matt 16:27 and Matt. 25:31-46.
And lastly, when Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin, he made a prediction that sent them reeling. He said "nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." (Matt 26:64) Jesus believed, according "Matthew", that the audience he was addressing, that generation, would see him return in glory. No matter what kind of subterfuge one uses to try and explain this away, the problem persists for those who still wait for Jesus to return.
Imminence in Acts
Even just before he left, his disciples expected his return within their lifetimes. Although Jesus answered their question by saying, basically, that it was none of their business when he would come back, he never-the-less did not deny that he wouldn't come back within their lifetime.
Although I realize that the argument from silence proves nothing, I believe that in this case it is an acceptable argument against an indefinite and protracted period. His prediction of returning within one generation, that is, in approximately 40 years, would not preclude his saying that the times and seasons were not for them to know. They were to be vigilant because they did not know the exact time he would return in that generation.
In Acts 2, Peter states that Joel had predicted that in the last days, signs and wonders would happen. Regardless of whether his prediction was true or not -- and I don't believe for one minute that it is -- Peter thought they were living in the last days. To hear some Christians speak, you'd think these last days have been around for nearly 2,000 years. So much for the plain meaning of expressions like "last days".
This expression is found five times in the Bible. In all cases it means just what it says: The days, not centuries, that are the last to come, meaning that Jesus' return would soon happen, was near, was at hand. Every context that uses this expression, and others like it, applies it to its original readers, unless the laws of hermeneutics have somehow changed of late. While I realize that for Christian Inerrantists these rules change whenever it's convenient; for the rest of us they don't.
Imminence in the epistles
In this context, Paul is warning Timothy about the kind of men that he, Timothy, will have to deal with. If Paul had meant that the last days weren't in his generation, why would he warn Timothy not to have anything to do with these men if it meant that he was speaking of men who would live in our times? It makes no sense!
Here, the words used by the author seem very plain. The writer says that "in these last days spoken unto US by his Son." (Emphasis mine) The "us" in this verse, are those who were the original recipients of this letter, as well as the author. If they weren't in the last days, then who was? If it didn't pertain to them primarily and particularly, then to whom, according to this context?
Again, we have the same situation. There is an important question here, as elsewhere, of audience relevance. The audience he was addressing were those who were in the last days, who have "have heaped treasure together for the last days." Conclusion: the readers in James' generation were the ones who were in the last days, not us.
The key to understanding this verse lies in verse 9, where Peter says: "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (Emphasis mine)
Notice the expression "us-ward", meaning : toward us. Who is this "us-ward"? Those to whom the epistle was originally sent (See chap. 1 v. 1). These were they who were in the last days. Does not a plain reading warrant this conclusion? If not, why not?
More evidence of imminence
Who is the "whom" in this verse? Who else but Paul and the first century Corinthians, to whom this letter was addressed. Paul explicitly states that "the ends of the world" had come upon THEM, the Corinthians, and HIM. (Cf, Matt. 24:1-3, especially v.3)
Why is the time short? Because Paul believed that Jesus was coming in his lifetime. Why would he believe it was in his lifetime? Because Jesus had said that he would return within one generation of his departure.
When someone says the time is at hand, do they actually mean that the time is 2,000 or more years away. Not on your life! That would mean totally destroying the common usage of such an expression. The common usage is meant to convey imminence. When a pregnant woman's deliverance is "at hand", does that mean she has to wait another nine months, or perhaps two, three, or five years? Of course not! It means that she is in labour and that she will soon be delivered.
By-the-way, the comparison between a woman in labour and the travail of the newly formed Christian church, waiting for its deliverer, its messiah, is sometimes used in the NT (John 16:21). Paul also used this comparisson when speaking of Christ being formed in the Galatians (Gal. 4:19). Coincidence? I think not!
The writer here stresses the need for the Hebrews to exhort one another, "so much the more" as they saw "the day approaching". Who are "they" in this context? What relevance does this exhortation have for them if the day they see approaching is 2,000 years away, or more? It makes the author and his warning look ridiculous. The whole idea of a return at such a late date, in this context, is preposterous, not to mention downright dishonest, because it twists the true meaning of this verse to accommodate a belief which is without foundation.
There is a sense of great urgency in these verses. Verse 37 says that he will come and he will not tarry (wait). Does that sound like Jesus would only come 50 generations, or more, later??? This is what would be involved if he didn't come within the generation of those his contemporaries. By what stretch of the imagination can one transform "he will not tarry" into what has now become 50 generations? Desperate Christians resorting to desperate measures?
The Greek expression, translated "last time" in this verse is "eschate_ ho_ra". It literally means the "last hour". Could this be any plainer? This doesn't even need further comment. It speaks for itself.
Imminence in the Revelation
The book of Revelation is probably the book which speaks with the most urgency concerning an imminent return of Jesus. Right from the beginning, the author, whom some believe is the apostle John, writes that Jesus is coming and that he is coming soon. Of all of his disciples, if John is indeed the author of Revelation, he uses imagery that speaks of a soon return of Jesus like no one else does. The whole book is encapsulated by verses in the beginning and end which speak of a soon return of Jesus. The language is so plain that anyone could understand that they meant a soon return.
In Rev. 1:3 he states that "the time is at hand". This sets the stage for all that he will write further on. This is repeated in v. 7 of the same chapter. From beginning to end, the Revelation is about Jesus' return and what will happen when he does. In Rev. 22:6,10,12,20, he states in no uncertain terms, that Jesus is to return soon, very soon. The language is unmistakable: He means to convey the idea that Jesus will not break his promise (Cf. 2Pet. 3), that he comes with his reward and that this will soon take place . Why do some Christians constantly deny this? They do so because they know that if they interpret these verses to mean what they are actually saying, they will have to admit that Jesus never did return when he promised he would and that the Bible was wrong. Can we expect this kind of honesty from Christians? the answer, evident to anyone with a bit of common sense is: no, we cannot!
What about Preterism?
There is a movement afoot, recently started by one Max King of the Church of Christ, which states that Jesus did indeed return in 70 CE, at the destruction of Jerusalem. Moreover, Preterists insist that all of the prophecies in the Bible have been fulfilled, including those of the book of Revelation. Some prophecies, it is claimed, have an "on-going" fulfillment. Don't believe me? just do a search using the keyword "Preterist."
Preterists insist that futurists, i.e., Christians who believe that Jesus is yet to come, are dishonest with the Bible. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! They maintain that the imminence statements, some of which I have outlined above, are clear and that the only possible interpretation is that Jesus did indeed return within one generation of his departure, or else he was lying, they say. One of the differences is that Preterists insist that his return was invisible, in the clouds. Shades of Jehovah's Witnesses!
I will give this to Preterists: they at least recognize the futility and dishonesty of trying to make the Bible say that Jesus meant that his return could happen many centuries, even millennia, after he left. However, they also have some very difficult problems to deal with, one of which is Rev. 1:7.
This verse is very explicit in that it states that "every eye shall see him; all the kindreds (tribes) of the earth (land), and even they that pieced him." Now this could be interpreted to mean that only the tribes of Israel saw him, especially those who resided in Jerusalem and "pierced him". However, this is not the import of this verse. this scribe plainly states that every eye shall see Jesus returning, "and they also which pierced him: and all the kindreds of the earth." Anyway you look at it, someone had to have seen him! This is a huge problem for Preterists, who even argue amongst themselves as to what exactly this means. I know this from experience, having been a Preterist myself for some time before I gave up believing in the Bible and its god.
There was an almost never-ending debate over this and other subjects such as the resurrection. Preterists often cite Josephus, their one and only eye witness to the "judgment" of Jerusalem. Josephus mentions, in his "War of the Jews", that people in Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside, saw visions of luminous warriors with bright chariots and shields in the clouds. There is, of course, no independent verification of Josephus' fantastic claims, at least not to my knowledge.
Preterists, none-the-less, insist that this is an independent confirmation of Jesus' return in A.D. 70, the darling date of Preterists. Did anyone ever see Jesus himself in those visions? No! Preterists even admit that. They claim that this is not necessary, since what the inhabitants of Jerusalem saw were the "effects" of Jesus' return, which is to say: they saw Jerusalem being "compassed with armies" (Luke 21:20) and later destroyed, just as Jesus had supposedly predicted. However, the verse says that they would see HIM, not just the effects of his return. But of course, this doesn't stop Preterists from using this interpetation, as it conveniently avoids the actual meaning of the verse and gets them out of a dilemma... or so they think!
Read, if you will, Rev. 1:7, the way Preterists interpet it, and see if it makes sense to you. "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see the effects of his coming , and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds (tribes) of the earth (land) shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen." Does this make any sense to you? The irony is that Preterists are forever accusing Dispensationalists of doing this very thing with other verses that speak of an imminent return.
So what if John says "every eye shall see him, and also they that pierced him and every kindred of the earth?" That doesn't matter one bit when Preterists try to justify their discredited teaching, concerning the "invisible" return of Jesus. One way or the other, the plain meaning of words will be ignored in favor of the vindication of a pet belief. How, pray tell, does one factor in "all the kindreds of the land" in this equation? Everybody in the land of Israel should have witnessed his return. Were they? Just read any of the Talmudic writings to find out. Or for that matter, read Josephus and see what he says happened on that "day". Did he see Jesus returning?
Even if -- and I'm not admitting for a minute that this is right -- Jesus' return was invisible, as Preterists conveniently claim, and that those of the first century only felt the "effects" of his return; how is it that no other nations knew anything about this? They were judged and condemned and never even had a clue it was happening??? Funny, because in Matt 25:31, Jesus states that all nations would be before his throne of judgment. He even addresses them and they answer back. Even if it is admitted that this is in parabolic form, it changes nothing, for the nations would be all too conscious of their judgment, yet nothing of this is ever reported in the annals of antiquity.
One would think that something of this magnitude, something so momentous as the judgment before the throne of God would draw at least some reaction, somewhere. However, not a word is whispered about this in the historical writings of the times. Even Josephus, the Preterist's star witness, doesn't mention that all the kindreds of the earth saw Jesus. Strange indeed!
One also has to wonder what happened to say, American Indians -- North, Central and South American -- during this judgment. And what about the Gaulois, who resided in what is now France, or those who lived in Briton? Were they not aware of this judgment? One would think that if God was going to ask them give an account of their lio ask them give an account of their life on earth, they would at least have been aware of giving that account, would they not? The whole idea of having a just God judge all the peoples of the earth, would at least have required them to be conscious of their judgment, wouldn't it?
This also doesn't take into account that when Yahweh judged people in the OT, they may not have actually seen him, but according to the Bible, they were most certainly aware of being judged. The OT is replete with passages where Yahweh judges the Israelites and they are certainly aware that this is the case. Preterists, however, would have us believe that the judgment of AD 70 was conducted in the "invisible spiritual realm", and that people were not aware of it's taking place.
The only ones who were aware of a judgment were those who resided in Jerusalem at the time of this supposed judgment from "God". How convenient for the Preterist! There is no precedent they can use to back up this "judgment in the spiritual realm," it is the invention of a desperate mind which seeks to justify a discredited belief.
Preterists constantly accuse futurists of evasion and of dismissing the clear meaning of such passages as those I have cited above, in favour of a soon return of Jesus. But on the other hand, Preterists hyper-spiritualize whatever scriptures are in their way. What's that old French proverb again? Oh yes... "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose!" Preterists, who accuse their "brethren" of being dishonest with the Scriptures, end up doing exactly the same thing. Thinking they have found a way to answer the critics, they get mired in their own mud. Oh what a tangled web we weave... There is indeed nothing new under the sun.
The truth, to those who have eyes see it, is that those who wrote about this Jesus, put words in his mouth and had him make a promise that wasn't kept; nor will it ever be kept, because Jesus, if he even existed, went the way of every man before him: He died! Does that matter to Fundamentalists and Evangelicals? Not on your life! They have an ax to grind, namely, the divine inspiration of their beloved Bible. One has to wonder if it isn't the Bible they worship, instead of its supposed author.
Has Jesus returned? (Has Elvis returned?) Will he ever return? OF COURSE NOT! And why won't he return? BECAUSE HE'S DEAD, for crying out loud! Get over it and move on! Either he really made those promises and didn't keep them, which makes him a liar, or simply deluded, or, the gospel writers took a lot of liberty with his words and made him into something he wasn't, or Jesus never really existed and the whole thing was made up; take your pick.
In any event, the whole thing is a fabrication from start to finish. It is myth which has been foisted upon the "faithful" seeking answers to the uncertainties of life. It is an escape from the fate that awaits us all, death and decomposition. Moreover, it smacks of the same mythology that was believed by the Greeks and Romans and all the other superstitious peoples that came before them.
All manner of explanations have been offered to counter the force of the expressions used in the Bible concerning an imminent return that has failed miserably and will NEVER materialize. "Well, this could be interpreted to mean...", or, "Perhaps what the writer was really saying...", and so on, ad nauseam. The excuses, the twists and turns, the fabrications, never cease. If the Bible is so damned clear, then why can't people clearly understand it? If the Biblegod is trying to communicate with humans in a clear and plain manner, as is often stated by Christians, then why is there such confusion, especially among Christians? Why are there so many different and contradictory interpretations given?
I think the reason for all these things is really quite simple. The Bible, like most other ancient religious writings, contains a few facts mixed in with a very generous amount of mythology. The resurrection and return of Jesus are what I would call a very generous amount of mythology, very generous indeed!
What do YOU think ?
Date: 11 Dec 2006
Thank you for your courage to share your former faith struggles and the honesty to state your convictions as they now stand no matter what the cost to you psychologically,personally, or socially. I hope that you are happy in life, knowing that it will end and that there is nothing more. If I came to the same conclusions as you I think I would like to check out of here immediately and save myself a whole lot of pain. It would not be worth the fleeting moments of happiness that do come. However, I have a daughter and I love her very much. I guess that's just instinct. Tommorrow I should take you advice on what to conclude and then tell her that she is meaningless because she will not continue on pst this life, and because anything she does or feels will not be remembered anyway. I guess I should kill her and myself together huh? Ahh...but that would be against the natural instinct that is programed within which supercedes my wishes as a "person" and only wishes to sustain the corporate
Are you an atheist or an agnostic?
Thanks for the courage to step out and be true to yourself and others about how you feel and what you think.
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