Besides relying on a restricted meaning of the phrase “this generation,” another essential of Preterist theology involves what are called the “timing texts.” These are preterist proof-texts which contain an imminency factor, representing eschatological events as “near,” “soon,” and “at hand.” Treating the canonical New Testament writings as purely human documents, Preterists use these texts in an attempt to show that these events (the second advent, resurrection, and judgment) all occurred within the lifetime of the first-century saints.
In our last article, we showed that the Preterist interpretation of “this generation” is false. So in this article we are prepared to show that their view of the “timing texts” is likewise mistaken. In contrast, however, to the great majority of Pre-Millennialists, I do hold that the Scripture teaches an imminent first-century coming of Christ.
For instance, when the time came for John Baptist to accomplish his ministry and prepare the way for the coming King, he went out into the wilderness around Jordan, and cried: “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3: 2). We learn, then, that the kingdom of heaven (the same kingdom described in Daniel 7) was “at hand” in the first century. As in the parable of the marriage supper, all things were ready (Matt. 22: 4) when the invitation was first sent out. Yet merely because the kingdom was at hand then doesn’t mean that it was not subsequently postponed for reasons which God saw fit.
We must remember that John, in accordance with his role as Elijah, preached repentance to the Jewish nation. And in the Old Testament, the one abiding condition of national restoration is repentance (Isaiah 58: 6-14; Jer. 4: 1-2; 17: 24-26; 22: 3-4; etc.). When the Jews refused to repent, and in fact delivered the Lord Jesus Christ to the Romans to be crucified, the prophecies concerning Messiah’s sufferings and sacrifice were fulfilled, and all things held in abeyance until Christ had ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father, and the apostles received the promise of the Holy Ghost.
Then, after the Lord’s resurrection and ascension, the kingdom was re-proclaimed for forty years (A.D. 30-70), first by Peter and the twelve, and later by Paul, under the administration of the Holy Spirit. During the greater part of this period, at least until the first imprisonment of Paul (in A.D. 62) the Jews were given priority of hearing the message.
This new proclamation of the kingdom, which had for its subject the exaltation of Christ as a risen Messiah, was none other than the “sign of the prophet Jonah.” The burden of the apostolic message was that Christ was about to come and restore all things, on the condition of national repentance (Acts 3: 19-21). But when after the probationary period had almost expired, the Jews refused to meet the condition, Jerusalem was destroyed, and the then-imminent kingdom was postponed to a future time.
The present age is The Ecclesiastical Dispensation, or “Dispensation of the Mystery,” mentioned by Paul in Eph. 3: 9 (where the critical texts read “oikonomia,” and not “koinonia”). It is a “parenthesis” which comes between the Legal and the Messianic (Millennial) dispensations. The character of this dispensation is given by Paul, in which he reveals that blindness in part is happened unto Israel, UNTIL the fullness of the Gentiles be come in (Romans 11: 25). It will end when, under the Great Tribulation, the Jewish nation repents, and Jesus Christ returns to destroy all nations that come against Jerusalem (Zech. 12: 9-10; Zech. 14: 4; cf. Jer. 30: 15-16, 20; Micah 5: 15; Zeph. 3: 8). Then will the kingdom, which would have been established in the first century had the Jews repented and accepted Christ, have its perfect fulfillment.
This postponement factor, far from being an invention of man, is evidenced by the Old Testament Scriptures. To give an example, we’ll remember that God sent His prophet Isaiah to tell king Hezekiah, “Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live” (Isaiah 38: 1; 2 Kings 20: 1). But after Hezekiah prayed for mercy, his then-imminent demise was postponed, and his life prolonged by fifteen years (Isaiah 38: 5; 2 Kings 20: 5-6). To show Hezekiah (and ourselves) that He alone has power to defer judgment and lengthen days, God brought the shadow on the sundial of Ahaz ten degrees backward (Isaiah 38: 8; 2 Kings 20: 8-11).
As also witnessed in the history of Jonah and the repentance of the Ninevites, God can and does often postpone judgments that are declared to be imminent (Jonah 3: 10). In fact, it is no misstatement to say that often this very element of imminency plays a key part in the working of that repentance which postpones His wrath. Of course Preterists will probably not acknowledge this. But it seems incomprehensible why God would bring the nations of the world into judgment during a time when they, the very antitype of the repenting Ninevites, received the Gospel with joy, evidencing their faith with the fruits of the Spirit (Col. 1: 6).
Then, too, the apostles were called the “salt of the earth” (Matt. 5: 13). And what is the purpose of salt? Is it not to prevent moral putrefaction that brings on judgment? (see Amos 8: 1-2). The moral state of the world in the first century has been outlined by Paul in Romans ch. 1. And therein he reveals the purpose of the grace and apostleship which he received. It was “for obedience to the faith among all nations” (Romans 1: 5).
If the world was judged in A.D. 70, then the apostolic salt is proved to have been of no avail. But are we to believe this? On the contrary, we hold that the salt of the Gospel was spread so effectively during the first century, that Christ postponed the judgment that was then-imminent. And now we must await certain events to unfold; events which, in fact, will make the moral conditions of the world similar to those in the days of Noah and of Lot (Luke 17: 26-30). According to His own words, Christ will only return when the world is ripe for judgment.
But the Preterist theory of “Time texts” breaks down further, when we come to realize that many of these same expressions used by Preterist as proof-texts occur repeatedly throughout the Old Testament prophets. The established usage only demonstrates that phrases like “near,” “soon,” and “at hand,” while implying imminency at any time, do not enforce immediateness of fulfillment. We trust that after a closer study the discerning Bible student will give up the Preterist view. For the Old Testament time-texts show us that not only is fulfillment often delayed, but that, because so, all imminency must be referred to God’s standard of time, and not ours.
Let us take a look at some of these texts. After a diligent reading of the Old Testament prophets, I’ve discovered 19 verses that speak in terms of “near,” “soon,” and “at hand.” The expressions contained in these verses will be found to match those in the New Testament; and so we must grant that they have a uniform usage throughout the BIble. In most cases, it will be very difficult to make these statements match up with the Preterist point of view.
When the prophets said that something was “at hand,” did the Spirit of Christ which was in them (1 Peter 1: 11) signify that it would inevitably fall out within a few years? Or are the time-indicators Hebraistic expressions which denote imminency from God’s perspective? Let us see.
(Isaiah 10: 25) “For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and my anger in their destruction.”
(Isaiah 13: 6) “Howl ye; for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.”
(Isaiah 56: 1) “Thus saith the Lord, keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.”
(Jeremiah 51: 33) “For thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel; The daughter of Babylon is like threshing-floor, and it is time to thresh her: yet a little while, and the time of her harvest shall come.”
(Ezekiel 30: 3) “For the day is near, even the day of the Lord is near, a cloudy day; it shall be the time of the heathen.”
(Ezekiel 36: 8) “But ye, O mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Israel; for they are at hand to come.”
(Joel 1: 15) “Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.”
(Joel 2: 1) “Blow ye a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain; let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, it is nigh at hand.”
(Zephaniah 1: 14) “The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord: the mighty men shall cry there bitterly.”
(Haggai 2: 6) “For thus saith the Lord of Hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the Desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of Hosts.”
In my opinion, these verses effectively refute the Preterist interpretation of timing-texts. In the ten examples given above, terms such as”in a little while,” “soon,” and “at hand,” while certainly denoting imminency, do not in any case necessitate immediacy of fulfillment. In fact, Haggai 2: 6 was quoted by Paul in Hebrews 12: 26, some 580 years after Haggai had told the Jews that the ONCE “shaking of all nations” would occur “in a little while.” Since no such “shaking” occurred within a short compass of human years, it is evident that the imminency of the event must be referred to God’s standard of time, and not man’s. According to God, one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3: 8).
Those who wish to study the matter further will do well to investigate Deuteronomy 32: 35, which further strengethens our view of the timing-texts. “To me belongeth vengeance, and recompense; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.” It is no mistake to say that Moses himself was the originator of the Hebraistic expression at hand; and that in his concept of the term, delay is implied in the phrase in due time. In other words, while judgment is always impending, it may be, and often is, delayed through the Divine mercy. For “mercy rejoiceth against judgment” (James 2: 13).
Conclusion: So then, by way of authority, all imminency-texts are referable to God’s standard of time. By way of application, they may refer to any epoch of human history; albeit, removal of the application can never nullify the authority.
As we’ve shown above, the Preterist theory of imminency is erroneous– First, because it fails to adhere to the Old Testament standard of prophetic usage; Second, because it submits canonical writings to the interpretive standards of mere human documents. This latter tendency, in itself a product of the rationalistic school of exegesis, is to be deplored inasmuch as it logically limits the Christianity of the Bible to a forty-year period. And yet when we study the post-Apostolic writings, we never find the church fathers drawing any such inferences as Preterists do from the same texts. It is evident therefore that the Preterist method of interpretation constitutes spiritual and Satanic error, and is worthy of our strongest condemnation.