Samuel Whitefield: Why Partial Preterism Leads to a Full Heresy (2013)

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Partial preterism, if applied consistently to Matthew 24, will result in full preterism which the church has long defined as a heretical view. 


Why Partial Preterism Leads to a Full Heresy

By Samuel Whitefield
November 4, 2013


If you listen to partial preterists present their position it will not take long until they return to Matthew 24:34 as a foundation stone of their position.

34Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. (Matthew 24:34 NKJV)

Partial preterists spend a lot of effort to explain how “this generation” can only mean the generation Jesus was speaking to and therefore means the predictions of Matthew 24 were fulfilled in the first century. While partial preterists present a convincing argument that this is a settled issue, it is also very important to see that the partial preterists’ view of the passage is not nearly as clean cut as it is claimed to be because in order to be consistent with their view of “this generation” they must also be committed to the fact that “all these things” must occur before “this generation” passes away.

Jesus is very clear that “all these things” must happen until “this generation” can pass away. What are “all these things?” They are the specific predictions of Matthew 24:15-33. Verses 15-33 show a clear progression of events and Matthew sets it forward as a single literary unit by beginning and ending the passage with the phrase “when you see.” “All these things” are the things seen between verses 15 and 33.

When we survey the list of events considered within “all these things” we have to especially wrestle with verses 27-31. In order to interpret Matthew 24 consistently there is simply no way around the fact that verses 27-31 describe the return of Jesus in an apocalyptic scenario. The text clearly describes a globally visible return of Jesus to resolve a Jerusalem-centric crisis that begins with unparalleled tribulation and an abomination (Matthew 24:15-26).1  This is abundantly clear when we examine a few of the passages Jesus quotes in this section. In Matthew 24:30, Jesus quotes Zechariah 12:10-11 from the Septuagint prophesying a day when the eyes of Israel will be opened and they will recognize who He is and begin mourning in pain because of their rejection of Him. It will be a time when Israel will receive both grace and a spirit of supplication to cry out to Jesus.

10“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. 11In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. (Zechariah 12:10–11 NKJV)

Of course, it is clear that this did not happen in 70 AD. The mourning in Israel in 70 AD was of a completely different time. The people were in mourning, but not mourning related to the recognition of Jesus as God’s own Son, their rejection of Him, and their ultimate reconciliation to Him. The mourning of 70 AD was the opposite. The nation did not recognize Jesus and instead became more and more resistant to Him. Jesus also summarizes Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 27:13 of a final trumpet blast and a final regathering of Israel unto the worship of YHWH in Jerusalem. Therefore if “all these things” happened in 70 AD, then that means the final great trumpet and regathering of Isaiah 27 also occurred in this time.

13So it shall be in that day: The great trumpet will be blown; They will come, who are about to perish in the land of Assyria, And they who are outcasts in the land of Egypt, And shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem. (Isaiah 27:13 NKJV)

Paul goes one step further than Isaiah and tells us that this trumpet also results in the resurrection of the dead.

52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:52 NKJV)

16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thessalonians 4:16 NKJV)

So we know, at the least, “all these things” has to include the globally visible return of Jesus, the final regathering of the Jews from the nations (Assyria and Egypt specifically), YHWH receiving pure worship from the Jews in Jerusalem, and the resurrection of the dead. In other words, because Jesus is building on a consistent eschatology, all the eschatological events that are implicated in His summarization of Old Testament eschatology in Matthew 24 must have their fulfillment before “this generation” passes away.

We also have to consider Matthew 23:39 which has the exact same predicament within it that we find in Matthew 24:34.

39for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ ” (Matthew 23:39 NKJV)

Just as partial preterists point out that “this generation” has to mean “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 we must also recognize that “you” in Matthew 23:39 must mean “you.” In other words, if Jesus’ language limits His address to the people standing in front of Him in Matthew 24:34 than it does the same thing in Matthew 23:39 which clearly says that the people of Matthew 23 will not see Him again until they welcome Him in the name of the Lord. Applying the preterist view to this verse requires that the specific Jewish religious leaders Jesus was addressing must welcome Him so that He can return. Obviously this did not happen and it is extremely problematic for the preterist position on Matthew 24:34.

Many also forget that Matthew 25:31-46 is within the storyline of Matthew 24:15-33. The judgment of Matthew 25 is simply Jesus’ reaffirmation of the prophecy of Joel 3 and Zechariah 14. The judgment of Joel 3 that Jesus summarizes in Matthew 25 is inseparably bound to the crisis in Jerusalem that is predicted in Matthew 24:15-22 so if “this generation” refers only to the individuals who heard Jesus’ predictions then it means the judgment of Matthew 25 also has to occur in that generation. Of course, it is clear that Joel 3, Zechariah 14, or Matthew 25:31-46 did not occur in the first century.

It is important to understand that Matthew 24-25 is not a new teaching by Jesus. Instead it is a summary and affirmation of Israel’s established eschatology. It is a beautiful summary of what is prophesied and is, in a very real way, the intersection of all biblical prophecy about the return of Jesus. What is at stake in Matthew 24-25 is not just a simple teaching by Jesus, it is rather the entire eschatology of Scripture. All that the prophets prophesied comes together in Matthew 24 and all of it must be fulfilled before “this generation” passes away.

Because partial preterists build their case on Matthew 24:34, then they must build their case consistently and this is exactly why I titled this article the way I did. The title is inflammatory, but it also points out a critical issue that is being overlooked by many who are prematurely adopting a partial preterist position – you cannot divide up the eschatology Jesus summarizes. “All these things” means “all these things.” Therefore taking a preterist view of “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 requires, if you are consistent in your interoperation, that you take a full or “hyper” preterist position regarding “all these things” predicted by Jesus before verse 34. The final trumpet, the resurrection, and the return of Jesus must all have happened before the first century ended if you consistently interpret Matthew 24:34 according to a preterist view.

The vast majority of the church has always held that any view of the return of Jesus other than a future, bodily return is a heretical view and this is why I say that partial preterism leads to a full heresy. Partial preterism, if applied consistently to Matthew 24, will result in full preterism which the church has long defined as a heretical view. This is not simply a matter of getting the interpretation of a biblical passage correct, which is important in and of itself, it is also critical for the future of the church. A preterist view of Matthew 24 actually positions the church for failure primarily on two devastating issues.

First, the preterist position holds to the view that the “unequaled trouble” that Jesus predicts has already occurred, and therefore the church does not need to prepare for unequaled trouble. However, the reality is that unequaled trouble remains in front of us. God will release great power on the church in that season, but the Bible is consistent that it is a time of unequaled trouble. The preterist view leaves the church completely unprepared for this season and positions believers to become offended and fall away as persecution increases in many parts of the earth because it steals the apostolic hope from the hearts of the people. The apostolic hope realizes that trouble will come, but in the midst of trouble we are anchored to the promise of Jesus’ bodily return. Preterism says that trouble is not coming and Jesus has already returned. Therefore there is no preparation for trouble, nor any vibrant hope in the midst of it when it comes. Even partial-preterism separates people from this biblical hope.

Secondly, the preterist view completely disconnects the church from the crisis that is coming to Jerusalem. Scripture is consistent that the age ends with trouble in Jerusalem and the national salvation of all of Israel. This is why we must understand this trouble and what God’s plan is for it (Matthew 24:15). Preterism tells us all these prophesies have already been fulfilled and therefore the trouble in the Middle East has no biblical significance. This leaves the church completely disconnected from the primary thing that God will emphasize at the end of the age and lacking any understanding of what is happening right in front of us.

There are many other issues that need to be addressed with regard to the preterist view of Scripture, and it is important that we understand biblically what Jesus meant by “this generation.” Preterists will spend significant amount of time repeating that it can only mean the people that Jesus was speaking to, but we have already seen that this interoperation forces us to take a heretical view of biblical prophecy. Any time the interpretation of one phrase in Scripture forces you to take a heretical view of the second coming and to violate the witness of the majority of Scripture that interpretation must be questioned – especially because of the devastating consequences it has for the church in this generation.

1We must also remember that the Holocaust exceeded the trouble of 70 AD by 6 times making it impossible to put Matthew 24:21 in the past.