We’ve sometimes dealt with those who place the fulfillment of Christ’s Olivet Discourse in the time frame of the Jewish war (A.D. 67-70). These folks, most of whom stand in the Reformed/non-evangelical lists, teach that there was a ‘coming of Christ’ at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction by Titus. This makes a sharp distinction between two schools of theology, respectively known as Preterism and Futurism.
An in-depth study of the Olivet Discourse, however, really makes us wonder how this “past fulfillment” theory can be held by serious students of Scripture. It is no surprise that Preterism is mainly a product of Reformation theology. As most of us have learned, the Reformers were excellent in the field of soteriology, but very poor students of prophecy. It was reserved for later generations to clear the board of historicist errors and continue where early church fathers like Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Lactantius left off.
As my studies progress, I find that the main reason Protestant commentators sometimes placed the greater part of Matthew 24 and Mark 13 in the past was because of their failure to properly interpret the visions of Daniel. Because of their historicist leanings, they were unable to see that the visions of Revelation are tied to those of the Old Testament, and that Christ, in speaking of “things to come,” often alluded to O.T. prophecies whose sense John later revealed in the Apocalypse.
Here’s a case in point. When Christ mentions the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place (Matt. 24: 15), He is pointing His finger to a series of inter-related prophecies in the Book of Daniel, which correspond to key passages in the Apocalypse. Any correct interpretation of Christ’s discourse must take these prophecies into account.
What is the problem with Preterism? It blithely ignores the correlation of the prophetic texts, and so loses the true meaning of Christ’s words. John Lightfoot (1602-1675), for instance, in his Talmudic commentary on Matthew, sees in the “abomination of desolation” nothing more than Roman armies.
Matt. 24: 15: ‘The abomination of desolation.’ These words relate to that passage of Daniel (chap. ix. 27), which I would render thus; ‘In the middle of that week,’ namely, the last of the seventy, ‘he shall cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease, even until the wing or army of abomination shall make desolate,’ &c.; or, even by the wing of abominations making desolate.”
‘Let him that readeth understand.’ This is not spoken so much for the obscurity, as for the certainty of the prophecy: as if he should say, ‘He that reads these words in Daniel, let him mind well that when the army of the prince which is to come, that army of abominations, shall compass Jerusalem with a siege, then most certain destruction hangs over it; for saith Daniel, ‘the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city, and the sanctuary,’ &c. ver. 26. And the army of abominations shall make desolate even until the consummation, and that which is determined shall be poured out upon the desolate.’ Flatter not yourselves, therefore, with vain hopes, either of future victory, or of the retreating of that army, but provide for yourselves; and he that is in Judea, let him fly to the hills and places of most difficult access, not into the city.”
Such is an early sample of Preterist interpretation, which seeks, in a half-hearted way, to explain the meaning of Christ’s words. But it is not typical of the Preterism espoused today. In his book, The Parousia, J. Stuart Russell (1816-1895) gives us a more common example of how Preterists deal with Matt. 24: 15.
“Most expositors find an allusion to the standards of the Roman legions in the expression, ‘the abomination of desolation,’ and the explanation is highly probable. The eagles were the objects of religious worship to the soldiers; and the parallel passage in St. Luke is all but conclusive evidence that this is the true meaning. We know from Josephus that the attempt of a Roman general (Vitellius), in the reign of Tiberius, to march his troops through Judea was resisted by the Jewish authorities, on the ground that the idolatrous images on their esigns would be a profanation of the law. How much greater the profanation when those idolatrous emblems were displayed in full view of the temple and the Holy City! This was the last token which portended that the hour of doom for Jerusalem had come. Its appearance was to be the signal to all in Judea to escape beyond the mountains, for then would ensue a period of misery and horror without a parallel in the annals of time.” (pg. 73).
Notice how Russell fails to reference a single passage in the Bible; but after making a vague remark about what “most expositors” think, he claims the evidence is “all but conclusive” that the Roman ensigns were the true fulfillment of the “abomination of desolation.” And then he cites Josephus!
Such interpreters obviously have their minds made up, and would see the Jewish War in every eschatological passage in the Bible. Unlike Russell, Lightfoot went so far as to provide his own translation of a difficult passage. But both of them completely disregard and pass over the following Scriptures:
(Daniel 11: 31) “And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.”
(Daniel 12: 11) “And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.”
As Christ warned of the very “abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet,” these Scriptures provide a vital clue to the correct meaning of Matthew 24: 15, and stand parallel with Daniel 9: 27: “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abomination he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined, shall be poured upon the desolate.”
A prophetical week equals seven years. Thus, whatever your interpretation of the “70 weeks,” it is clear that the “midst of the week” will leave exactly three-and-a-half years until the consummation. This remaining period is found elsewhere in the Book of Daniel, being referred to as a “time, and times, and the dividing of time” (Dan. 7: 25) and a “time, times, and a half” (Dan. 12: 7).
The context of these Scriptures speaks of a persecution of the saints by Antichrist. Read also the connected passage of Daniel 8: 9-14, which speaks of the time when the “daily sacrifice” is taken away, and the “place of His sanctuary cast down.” The oppressor is a “little horn” who magnifies himself even to the Prince of the host, casting the truth to the ground. During his tyranny, the sanctuary and the host is trodden under foot. Compare with the above, and then read Revelation 11: 2, which speaks of the same 42 months–the remaining half of Daniel’s 70th week.
It is this final 42 month period to which our Lord is referring. “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand): Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24: 15: 21).
According to Christ, the tribulation begins when the abomination of desolation is seen standing in the holy place. This has nothing to do with Roman emblems “being displayed in full view of the temple and holy city.” The abomination of desolation in the midst of the week sets off the Great Tribulation of which Christ speaks in His Olivet Discourse.
This same tribulation is spoken of in Daniel 12: 1, where the prophet writes: “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time.”
At what time? Obviously, the time mentioned in the preceding part of the prophetic discourse (Daniel 11: 31-45). The period begins when Antichrist takes away the daily sacrifice and places the abomination that maketh desolate (11: 31), ending when he “plants the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain” (11: 45; cf. 2 Thess. 2: 4). The time of trouble occupies the remainder of Daniel’s 70th week, when Antichrist, the “beast” of Revelation 13, shall afflict the people of God. Notice that John again mentions the period of 42 months (Rev. 13: 5).
By making the Roman siege of Jerusalem the fulfillment of the “Great Tribulation” mentioned by Christ and the prophet Daniel, Preterists have little choice but to make Titus the Antichrist. But Titus was not declared emperor until Vespasian’s death in 79 A.D. Nor does he fit the descriptions of Daniel’s Antichrist, whether it be the “little horn,” the “prince that shall come” or the “vile person” who deals treacherously against the holy covenant.
Preterists try to sidestep this discrepancy by claiming that the Antichrist was actually Nero. But Nero committed suicide in June of A.D. 68, two years before the temple fell! Therefore, neither does Nero match the description of Daniel’s Antichrist, who would begin his tyranny in the “midst of the week” and function for 42 months until the “time of the end.” Who, then, can this 1st century Antichrist have been?
Without identifying this individual, and placing him amidst the events of the Roman occupation, one cannot prove that there was any “abomination of desolation” set up or “daily sacrifice” taken away; and consequently, no evidence that the Great Tribulation occurred during the siege of Jerusalem!
Also, placing the “time of the end” in A.D. 70 would make the “midst of the week” fall out in A.D. 67, an impossibility according to any Preterist scheme, as modern Preterists (unlike Lightfoot) hold that “the midst of the week” occurred in A.D. 30, when Christ was crucified!
What Preterists are dealing with is a complex riddle that can only be solved by conceding that the main events spoken of in Christ’s Olivet Discourse are yet future. If this position be taken, the 70th week of Daniel must be relegated to the future, as well as the whole of the Apocalypse. This is a large leap for Preterists to make. However, all the Scriptural evidence insists on a fulfillment of the above visions of Daniel 7, 8, 9, 11, & 12 during the period known as “the time of trouble” or “Great Tribulation.” Unless Preterists can prove that these visions were fulfilled during the Roman siege, they are erroneous in affirming that there was any “coming of Christ” in A.D. 70. And that’s the milk in the cocoanut.
Note: To see how the predictions of Daniel correspond and synchronize so that they cannot be broken up, please consult the following charts prepared by noted Bible scholar and theologian E.W. Bullinger: