One of the strange inconsistencies of “orthodox Preterists” is seen in regard to the doctrine of the Resurrection. Preterists tenaciously hold to belief in a future resurrection of the body. Naturally, this is part and parcel of New Testament theology. And we’re glad that Preterists maintain their position against the outright denial of the Hyper-Preterist cult.
But at the same time Preterists err in denying that there will be a future literal restoration of Israel to the land of promise. When Pre-Millennialists ask Preterists to give a reason for their denial of this future hope, we’re told that the land promises are now fulfilled “In Christ.” That is, somewhere along the line there was an abrogation of God’s promises made to Israel. Somehow, some way, the promise of a future physical reality was replaced by something entirely hypothetical. Do you see the inconsistency? If not, continue reading.
Because Preterists believe in a future resurrection, they admit that something of a profoundly physical nature will occur at Christ’s second coming. Very well. So orthodox Christians have believed for centuries. But when it comes to the doctrine of restoration of the land, they don’t believe it. Why not? It is ten times more incredible that God should raise dead bodies from the dust, than that He should restore to the Jews the land God promised their fathers. Furthermore, if Scripture is carefully studied, it will be seen that both doctrines (land restoration and resurrection of the body) are closely related. So, my question is: If God will accomplish the one, will He not accomplish the other?
Both promises are represented as having their fulfillment in connection with physical things. Why spiritualize the land promises, but maintain the literality of the resurrection? I am not quibbling. I am merely pointing out what seems a fatal anomaly in the Preterist theory. Orthodox Preterists believe that Christ will return in His own body, just as He ascended. And yet passages which describe this physical coming (like Zechariah 14) are understood as being entirely “spiritual.” Well, if this is the case, why can’t the resurrection be spiritualized as well?
According to the prevailing mode of allegorizing the Scriptures, it would be easy to insist that the resurrection of the body is fulfilled “In Christ,” in precisely the same manner that the land promises are. Just suppose that when Paul spoke of the resurrection, he used language descriptive of earthly things to symbolize higher spiritual truths. “Heresy!” you cry. And so it is. But if such a view is condemnable, how are we to react to the spiritualization of such passages as Daniel 12: 2: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Surely, any spiritualization of this verse is also worthy of condemnation.
But let us look at another passage that is often allegorized by Preterists. I speak of Ezekiel’s prophecy of the dry bones. “Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, and shall put My Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land” (Ezekiel 37: 12-14). How are we to interpret this passage, which ostensibly looks forward to a physical resurrection?
I hear you respond that this is a hypothetical resurrection of which the prophet was writing. You say that it was fulfilled in the return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity. Very well. So we are to understand the resurrection of the dry bones as being allegorical in nature. But what about the land? Was it allegorical land to which the Jews returned? Of course not. But if the “land” meant was really the land of Palestine, then what warrant do we have for spiritualizing the doctrine of the resurrection? For according to Ezekiel’s prophecy, the resurrection would place them back in the land.
Now do you admit that the land to which the dry bones would be restored was physical? Then move down to 37: 25. “And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob My servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever.”
Neither does this passage admit of any spiritualization. The very phrase “the land wherein your fathers have dwelt” reveals this prophecy as relating to Israel, and not to the church. A simple glance at the succeeding context tells us that the passage will be fulfilled when the everlasting covenant (i.e., New Covenant) is established, and the Divine sanctuary placed in the midst of the children of Israel forever (Ezek. 37: 26-27).
And this is not a mere isolated proof-text I am giving. Hearken to Ezekiel once more: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36: 26-27).
Again, the phrase “the land I gave to your fathers” (note the use of the personal pronoun “your“) identifies exactly what the prophet was talking about. It has nothing to do with spiritual promises to the church, but refers to the land of Palestine. The Christian church was not instituted until the first century A.D. Therefore, Ezekiel’s original audience could only have understood such promises as referring to themselves and to their children. However, if God made a promise to them, which was later abrogated, why may not promises made to church be set aside? If the land promises are fulfilled “in Christ,” then why may not the resurrection also be fulfilled “in Christ?”
However, God’s promise to give Israel the land of Palestine is entirely unconditional, and based on the original grant made to Abraham. Dispensational scholar Clarence Larkin writes: “God’s promises to Abraham were progressive. At Ur the promises were the ‘land,’ and that his seed should become ‘a great nation.’ Gen. 12: 1, 2. At Shechem the promise of the ‘ownership of the land to his descendants.’ Gen. 12: 7. At Bethel, a” the land ‘thou seest,’ and that his seed should be as the ‘dust of the earth for number.’ Gen. 13: 15, 16. At Mamre, that his seed should be for numbers as the ‘stars of the heavens,’ and that the land should extend from the ‘River of Egypt’ to the ‘River Euphrates.’ Gen. 15: 5, 18. And at Moriah the promise as to the number of his seed was repeated. Gen. 22: 16, 18. These promises were unconditionally confirmed to his son, Isaac (Gen. 26: 1-4), and to his grandson, Jacob. Gen. 28: 10-15.”
True, the law was added 430 years later, but this later addition cannot annul the original promise (Galatians 3: 15-17). The reason why the Jews have never gained permanent possession of the land, is because they sought it through the law. But the original promise was by grace. In Jeremiah 7: 5-7, the prophet lays down the conditions necessary for possessing the land: “For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever.”
Now because Israel could never meet these conditions, they never obtained permanent possession of the land. But once the conditions are met, what is to hinder God’s promises from being fulfilled? A bit of honest reflection will inform us that the land promises will be literally fulfilled when the New Covenant is established.
Listen to Jeremiah, as he delivers the words of Jehovah Himself: “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and will write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31: 33). Israel can only keep the law by being brought into the bonds of a new and better covenant. Once they receive the blessings of the Spirit, they will keep the law and be restored to the land forever.
But you say that the above passage has already been fulfilled, for it was quoted by Paul in Hebrews 10: 16. The mistake, however, is obvious. Paul nowhere said that Jeremiah’s prophecy was “fulfilled.” In fact, he had previously said that the Old Covenant was still in effect, and ready to give place to the New (Hebrews 8: 13). Moreover, Paul could not have understood Jeremiah 31: 33 as already fulfilled, for he cites it again in Romans 11: 27, as proof that “all Israel will be saved.” This was cited hand-in-hand with Isaiah 59: 20, which refers to the same permanant sanctification of Israel, at the second coming of Christ (Isaiah 59: 16-21—read entire passage). Therefore, the fulfillment of the New Covenant remains future.
If this be so, then it is clear that the resurrection and the land promises are intimately related, and both involve physical realities. For as the land was personally promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and as none of them ever lived to possess their inheritance, but wandered as strangers and pilgrims in the very land that God had given them (Acts 7: 5; Heb. 11: 9): then there must be a resurrection in order that God may keep His promise. Hence Christ’s quotation, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” was enough to put the Sadducees to silence (see Luke 20: 27-39). For God fully intends to keep His promises. And it is nonsense to claim that later promises can be used to upset and overthrow earlier ones.
Therefore, if one spiritualizes the land promises, insisting that they are hypothetically fulfilled “in Christ,” then one may just as well spiritualize the resurrection. But as orthodox Preterists believe in a future coming of Christ in His own body, and a resurrection of the dead upon His return, it should not be hard to accept the doctrine of a future restoration of Israel to the land that God promised them. And this is precisely what Pre-Millennialists believe. As you can see, our doctrines are not so irrational, after all.