An Overview and History of Preterism and Other Eschatologies
Preterism is an eschatological view that teaches that most biblical prophecy was fulfilled in the years immediately following Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection (30-70 AD). Preterism believes most of biblical prophecy was not fulfilled globally, but was completely fulfilled locally in Judea to the nation of Israel by 70 AD. A preterists is a person who holds to this eschatology. The word “preterism” is based on the Latin word “praeter” which means “past,” “gone by,” or “beyond”. Preterism is an English theological term that identifies the eschatological system that holds to the belief that the fulfillment of end time prophecy is “in the past” and that we live in the days that are “beyond” the events predicted in scripture. References to future Israel and unfulfilled promises to Israel are found in the church. The fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD was a final and permanent removal of Israel from God’s plan. Israel is then believed to be replaced in God’s plan by the church. The purpose of the book of Revelation is to describe the persecution the early church faced from the Judaizers and the Romans and, also, to describe the destruction of the Jewish temple and the end of Judaism.
Historicism is an eschatological view that teaches eschatological prophecies of Daniel and Revelation as being literally fulfilled through the history during the church age. Historicism looks for parallels between biblical prophecies and major people and events in history. The focus of the conflicts describe in Revelation is mainly between the true, faithful church and the compromised, unfaithful church in apostasy. This is the eschatology held by Martin Luther and John Calvin who saw prophecy playing itself out in their day between themselves (Reformers as the true church) and the kingdom of the beast (the catholic church in apostasy). This view is held to by the Seventh Day Adventists. In most cases the Anti-christ is believed to be the contemporary Pope.
Idealism is an eschatological view that interprets biblical prophecy as non-literal symbols. Idealism is a spiritual or symbolic approach to prophecy that is based in allegorical interpretation. The events in the book of Revelation are allegorical symbols of the ongoing struggle of the forces of evil resisting the reign of God. There is no need for the book of Revelation to neither be divinely inspired nor contain supernatural prophecies since there are really no detailed predictions made in the book. Instead, Revelation is a general description of life as we know it accompanied with a general promise that in the end good will triumph.
Futurism is an eschatological view that interprets much of biblical prophecy to be yet future. Futurism believes these prophecies will be fulfilled literally, physically and have global repercussions. The ancient church embraced futurism. Today’s dispensational premillennialism that believes Jesus will return to fulfill the rest of the Messianic prophecies is futurism.
History of These Eschatological Ideals
Ignatius of Antioch wrote about the second coming of Jesus in 107 AD. Justin Martyr wrote about eschatology around 150 AD, as did the great apologist, Tertullian around 200 AD. Origen, who relied heavy on allegorical interpretation, also wrote concerning eschatology between 210-254 AD. Commentaries on eschatological books by early church fathers usually focused on individual passages and not on interpreting the entire book. Victorinus wrote a complete commentary on Revelation in 300 AD.
Commentators up until 400 AD interpreted eschatological verses from the Historical position. They saw themselves in the midst of fulfilled prophecy that would occur between the ascension of Jesus until his second coming. Historicism with a premillennial return of Jesus is found in the works of Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Methodius, Commodianus, and Lactanitus. At the Council of Ephesus premillennialism was condemned as heresy. The Roman Catholic Church’s amillennial view became prevalent and premillennialism was suppressed.
The Historicist views continued to develop from 500-1300 AD. In the 900’s a Catholic bishop connected the “man of sin” (2 Thes. 2:3-9) to the pope. The same interpretation by a Catholic abbot in 1190 and Catholic archbishop in 1240 then followed this. Martin Luther and John Calvin wrote about eschatology. Some of the radical Reform groups quickly digressed into some strange end times teaching and lifestyles. The Protestant movement did not show interest in eschatology until the 1800’s. It wasn’t until the 1900’s that eschatology was universally recognized as a formal division of theology.
Those who support Preterism claim this was the eschatology of the early church. Historicists reject this claim by Preterists. Preterism is seen to have developed in the 1600’s by a Catholic Jesuit named Luis De Alcasar. This first systematic Preterist work was written during the Counter Reformation in reaction to the Historicist eschatology that identified the pope as the anti-christ or the beast of Revelation. It would appear that the Preterist view was identified and developed by the Catholic Church to resist the Reformers Historicism.
In an attempt to reunite the Catholic and Protestant Christians in 1640 a Dutch Protestant named Hugo Grotius wrote “Commentary on Certain Texts Which Deal with Antichrist.” In this work he argued that the biblical verses concerning the Antichrist had found their fulfillment between 30-70 AD. Protestants rejected this work but Grotius extended his Preterist views into Matthew 24-25 and the entire book of Revelation in his New Testament commentary written between 1641-1650. This was followed by the English commentator Thomas Hayne work “Christ’s Kingdom on Earth in 1645 which claimed Daniel’s prophecies had all been fulfilled between 30-70 AD. A few Protestant commentators followed but Preterism was not accepted for another 100 years. Two major systematic works by Protestant Preterists were produced: Firmin Abauzit (1730) and Robert Townley (1845). Both Abauzit and Robert later recanted and rejected their own works.