No. 1: The Eschaton was Essentially Local
St. Paul said, “If any man thinketh he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” (I Cor. 8:2) I have been a Preterist almost 26 years. I have learned a few things along the way; one of them is how much I don’t know and still have to learn. This last year, I have learned some new things; I have become aware of a couple areas that appear to me to need correction within the Preterist movement. The first of these has to do with the notion that the eschaton was essentially local; the second that it was essentially covenantal. In this article, I want to address the idea that the eschaton was essentially local.
It has been my observation that as Preterists we tend to focus on the fall of Jerusalem to the exclusion of other aspects of the eschaton presented in scripture. This has caused our perception of the eschaton to become out of “skew,” so that it no longer represents the actual picture represented in the scriptures, which shows it was world-wide. However, this mistake is easy to make. The scriptures treat of the fall of Jerusalem and end of the Jewish economy in almost every book of the Bible; its theme is so common and pervasive, that seeing the eschaton in terms of Jerusalem’s fall is natural.
The Jews were God’s chosen people to bring Christ into the world and accomplish his soteriological purpose to redeem mankind. It is therefore natural that the termination of the Jewish nation before God as a chosen people should receive special emphasis in the scripture; the desolation of the holy city and death of almost a million and a half Jews is not something that could be passed over in silence. Moreover, the destruction of Jerusalem was a sign of the end of “world” or “age.” Not the Mosaic age, as Preterists often mistakenly conclude (the phrase does not occur in the Bible), but the end of the “world-age” (ton aiona tou kosmou toutou, Eph. 2:2) – the course of the world that had obtained from the time of Adam’s fall; the world-epoch marked by the dominion of sin and death.
The Jerusalem temple stood as a grand object lesson to every race of people of mankind’s fallenness; its system of worship epitomized the sinful condition of the fallen race and its estrangement from God. Sequestered in the Holy of Holies, man’s Maker could not be approached except through his chosen Intermediary and the sprinkling of blood. The barrier of sin, represented by the great veil before the Holy of Holies, was rent in twain in Christ’s death showing the way back into God’s presence through the blood of Christ. (Matt. 27:51; cf. Heb. 10:19, 20) The blood offering Christ carried into the temple in heaven meant that the outward and visible temple in Jerusalem had fulfilled its purpose and needs be removed. This began at the cross when the veil was rent in twain, but was completed when the temple itself was fully and finally destroyed in the war with Rome. In destroying the temple in A.D. 70, God showed that he was now dealing with men on equal terms as the sons of Adam, not as separate nations, as he had beginning with Babel and the call of Abraham. The fall of the temple was a sign that a new epoch had come. The gospel call invited mankind to restored relationship with God.
Examples of Universal Judgment at the Eschaton
As we have seen, the pervasive treatment of Jerusalem’s fall in the Bible makes seeing the eschaton as consisting essentially in that event an easy mistake to make. Nevertheless, it is a mistake just the same, and one that must be corrected. As the following passages show, the eschaton was plainly world-wide.
This is one of the most important prophecies of the Bible and it does not even mention the Jews or Jerusalem. The famous dream of Nebuchadnezzar depicts four world empires until the coming of the kingdom and Messiah; it portrays Christ’s coming in terms of the world government and inhabited earth being reduced to rubble in the days of the fourth world empire and the mountain of the Lord’s kingdom growing up in its place. The rubble to which the image is reduced answer the “elements” of II Pet. 3 and point to the socio-political fabric of the pre-parousia world.
This Psalm is about the resurrected, glorified Christ and the kingdom given him of the Father. Christ’s kingdom is more than just the church; it includes all earth’s nations, which he rules with a rod of iron, dashing to pieces those that disobey. The dashing here corresponds to the dashing of the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and is eschatological.
This Psalm, like the one before, speaks to the eschatological day of wrath of Christ upon the heathen; the eschaton would entail the devastation of many countries.
This verse is important because it is quoted by the Hebrew writer as about to be fulfilled in his day. (Heb. 12:26) It’s first application is to the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple under Zerubbabel; its second and ultimate application was to the kingdom and church of Christ. Haggai foretold a time when the wealth and power of the nations would accrue to the benefit of the Jerusalem temple, by the fall of worldly powers. This became a type of the victory of the church at the eschaton. As Preterists, we have interpreted this passage as quoted by the Hebrew writer in terms of Jerusalem’s fall, but, as we see, its actual, original, and intended scope was universal – the eschaton would be a time when all nations were shaken and the throne of heathen kingdoms overthrown. We should also note that the heavens and earth in this context point to higher powers and earth’s governments; they have no covenantal significance themselves.
This last passage can be translated in more narrow terms to say “all the tribes of the land shall wail because of him.” But no translation in print does this, nor would it fit within the imagery of Revelation, which portrays the eschaton in universal terms, far surpassing Judaea and Jerusalem. Moreover, the word “also” – they also which pierced him – meaning the Jews, signifies that they too would see him in addition to earth’s other peoples.
This passage likely refers to the great white throne judgment in Rev. 20:11-15. If so, it is “other worldly.” But, no matter what side of eternity is portrayed, it is clear that the passage refers to more than merely Palestine.
The time for the appearing of Christ and his kingdom was within the lives of the apostles. (Matt. 16:27, 28) I confess that I do not know everything that is involved with judging the quick, but I do know that the living includes more than those residing in Palestine. The eschaton was a time when all men came under judgment.
Paul spoke these words in Athens. The time of judgment that was about to overtake the world (Gk. kosmos) entailed more than Jews; all men everywhere were about to feel the rod of Christ’s correction for rejecting his gospel and persecuting his church.
These are just a few of the passages holding out a universal coming. As Preterists, we are going to have a hard time meeting opponents in debate and persuading people of an AD 70 fulfillment if we make the argument the eschaton was purely localized in Judea, while ignoring passages showing Christ’s coming was world-wide in breadth and sweep. I would suggest that, not only do these and similar passages point to a world-wide coming of Christ, but that cosmic language used by the prophets carries a similar meaning and import.
The Day & Coming of the Lord in the Prophets
We should acknowledge at the outset that the coming of Christ in the events culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 were not completely unique in history. As Preterists, we have always made appeal to Old Testament examples of the coming and day of the Lord to show the non-literal nature of prophetic language. We have always argued that there have been many comings of the Lord and many days of the Lord down through the centuries. We point to these to show that the New Testament day of the Lord was not in that sense unique, and that Christ’s NT coming would therefore accord with Old Testament examples in that it would be providential, not bodily and visible; and that language of the earth’s being consumed was figurative not literal. A favorite example of prophetic language from the Old Testament is Isaiah 34:
As Preterists, we correctly point to the figurative nature of the language in this passage. A typical Preterist argument has it that notwithstanding the language of cosmic proportions, the judgment was merely local, involving only Edom. We then point to passages such as II Pet. 3:10-12 as proof that the judgment contemplated there was also local, encompassing only Palestine. But our proof text is defective. A closer reading will show that the judgment upon Edom was, in fact, world-wide. Here is how the whole passage reads:
Thus, not only is the passage in no way merely local; by its express terms it speaks to a time of wrath upon the whole world, upon all nations, and their armies. The same prophecy, stripped of the poetic imagery, was given by Jeremiah as follows:
Jeremiah speaks to the same historical period and events as Isaiah, even mentioning Edom specifically. However, what tends to get overlooked in the prophecy of Isaiah comes through loud and clear in Jeremiah: the armies of Nebuchadnezzar would visit judgment upon the whole earth; all nations were to suffer a time of divine wrath. Clearly, the language of cosmic proportions used by Isaiah cannot be understood in reference merely to Edom or any other single nation, but was indicative of the world-wide scope of divine judgment at the hands of the Babylonians. Let us look at yet another favorite proof text of Preterists, and then we are through:
Again, we note the language of cosmic proportions. As Preterists, we typically argue that only Babylon is involved with a view to arguing that II Pet. 3:10 and similar passages have only Judea is in view. However, again our text betrays us. Somehow we read past that part of the passage in which God indicates he would “punish the world” through the Medes and Persians as he had punished through the Assyrians and Babylonians before them.
The point: As Preterists, we have focused upon the figurative nature of prophetic language; we have correctly identified that the language of the prophets is not intended to be taken literally; that times of judgment are often couched in language which seems to say the physical creation was coming to an end, but in reality described times of divine judgment upon various nations. However, we have not always seen the big picture, but disconnected portions of the whole. We have not seen that cosmic language in which the heavens and earth are consumed is generally indicative of a time of over-all wrath, not the fall of a single nation. To my knowledge, not a single example can be shown where cosmic language of the sort we are discussing was used to describe the isolated judgment of a single nation. This language might occur in the description of a particular nation’s fall; a whole book of the minor prophets may even deal with one nation’s fall and use this sort of language; but when we step back and take in the larger picture, that one nation invariably was part of the larger, world-wide devastations being wrought at the same time.
World-wide nature of Eschaton in NT
This becomes important when dealing with the eschaton, because while we have recognized the figurative nature of prophetic language in the Old Testament, we have tended only to admit God’s judgment upon Jerusalem into our view, while neglecting to take account of passages that show that the eschaton involved other nations and peoples. For example, while Titus was besieging Jerusalem, his father was besieging Italy and Rome. Yet, we talk only of the siege of Jerusalem. Why? The actual picture that emerges from the New Testament, and Revelation in particular, is world-wide in scope and breath. There are four main characters in Revelation who are the eschatological enemies of Christ and the church:
The Dragon – This is Leviathan, imperial Rome, the world civil power opposing Christ and his church; the political embodiment of world evil; his ten horns are the ten provinces of Rome, his seven heads the ruling Caesars unto the eschaton.
The Beast – This is the persecuting power of the empire; the defining characteristic of a beast is that it devours men; the defining characteristic of this beast is that it makes war against the church and devours the saints. It is driven in Rome by Nero whose name it bore but elsewhere by the harlot.
The False prophet – This is the persecuting power in Palestine under the direction of the rulers of the Jews.
The Harlot - Jerusalem and international Jewry driving the persecution in Asia and throughout the world, where she is depicted in the spiritual wilderness of the Gentiles driving the beast in a surfeit of blood and gore, waging war against the church. She is said to sit upon many waters, which the angel interprets to mean peoples, nations, multitudes and tongues, signifying the presence of the Jews among the world’s nations, where they instigated persecution of the church. (Rev. 17:15)
Europe, Asia, Palestine. The same image emerges from the epistles which show there was a time of world-wide persecution that would end with Christ’s coming. For example, Thessalonians mentions specifically that their rest from persecution would come when Christ came:
Thessalonica is in the northern Achaia, near Macedonia. How could the fall of Jerusalem in the Middle East bring relief to the saints in Thessalonica unless the eschaton was world-wide? The epistles of I & II Peter are to the same effect. These were addressed to the saints in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia near Armenia and the southern coast of the Black Sea. Peter’s epistles show that the eschatological battle was occurring even here, and that the saints were under a time of persecution. Significantly, it is to these churches that Peter wrote the promise of a new heavens and earth. (II Pet. 3:13) If the eschaton was local and the heavens and earth of II Pet. 3:10 were symbols of things situated in Palestine, how could churches near the Black Sea receive new heavens and earth by the fall of Jerusalem? The short answer is that language of cosmic proportions was never intended to be interpreted locally or in reference to a single nation, but world-wide.
What follows is a catalogue of Roman Disasters; a survey of the cataclysmic events that overtook the world at the eschaton. We offer these to help demonstrate that Christ’s coming was world-wide and in no way confined to the fall of Jerusalem.
Catalogue of World Disasters
This survey, by no means exhaustive, shows that the whole Roman empire, from Britain, Spain, France and Germany, to Armenia, Palestine, and Egypt experienced times of unprecedented wrath as Christ avenged the quarrel of his covenant and the persecution of his church.
Did Christ come in the events marking the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70? Unquestionably, but it is equally clear that his coming was not limited to Palestine. The Psalms, Daniel, the prophets, Revelation, the epistles, language, and history all combine in one united voice to declare Christ’s coming was world wide. Admitting all this evidence into our paradigm is one of the chief challenges Preterism faces in coming years.
 Adapted from a speech made the The 1st Annual Carlsbad Eschatology Conference
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