On Biblical Vs. Preteristic Meanings Of “Heaven And Earth”

One of the first things a Bible student must do, when approaching the doctrines of Preterism, is distinguish between types that are purely Genetic in origin, and those that are Mosaic. This will allow him/her to separate the layers of fulfillment and discern what was fulfilled and what wasn’t. When we refer to the “omega fulfillment” of a type or a prophecy, we are referring to its final and exhaustive fulfillment: its eschatological one. We do admit that precursive fulfillments may span a large time period, and are often cyclic, progressive, and recapitulative. But we are chiefly trying to find out whether a prophecy is adumbrative or final. To do that, we must take a closer look at language and usage than is commonly done.

In Christ’s Olivet Discourse, we learn that the destruction of the temple and signs in the heavens–both to take place at the coming of the Son of Man–are “packaged together,” as it were (Matt. 24: 29; Mark 13: 24-25). But were they necessarily connected? If not, then there was no requirement for them to be fulfilled at the same time. This is what I mean by ‘layers of prophecy.’ In Luke 4:18-19, Christ cites Isaiah 61: 1-2, but carefully avoids packaging the ‘acceptable year of the Lord’ with the yet-future ‘day of vengeance of our God’ because a large space of time was to intervene between the day of salvation and the day of the Lord. Isaiah packaged them together. But Christ was carefully to ‘unpack’ them and keep them separate.

When the temple passed away in A.D. 70, it is clear that something important happened. But did the temple have anything to do with the heavens and earth? To find out the original meaning of any term, we must go back to its first Scriptural usage. It is clear that the phrase “heaven and earth” in its primary and original sense refers to the Genetic ordinances (Genesis 1:1). That is the “Alpha meaning.” It may have attained a different signification in later ages. But even if so, that wouldn’t have changed its original meaning. It would only have added another possible meaning to the word. For instance, if an old-timer told you “there’s plenty of cokes in the icebox,” you would rightly understand “icebox” to mean “refrigerator.” However, you would also be aware that the current usage of the word does not preclude that same word from being used in its original sense. So, if someone without electricity informed you that the icebox was keeping things cold, you would naturally infer that he was talking about an old-fashioned, non-electric unit.

By failing to apply this principle to the study of prophecy, Preterists make a serious blunder. According to Paul’s teaching in Galatians, subsequent revelations do not negate earlier ones (Galatians 3: 17). True, he was talking about covenants. But the Genetic ordinances were by way of covenant. “If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, then will I cast away the seed of Jacob, and David my servant,” etc. (Jeremiah 33: 25-26). Moreover, they were appointed for “signs” (Genesis 1: 14), as well as for seasons, days, and years. To apply Paul’s argument: the Mosaic Covenant was instituted 2,500 years after the Genetic covenant, and cannot disannul that covenant or make it of none effect. Even with the ratification of the Mosaic economy in 1491 B.C., the terms and conditions of the Genetic remain the same. Earlier covenants do not get absorbed into, or superseded by, later ones, unless they fulfill its terms and conditions (e.g., the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New).

Of course, before the great DAY of the Lord comes, it is reasonable to anticipate some signs in the heavens. Pre-Millennialists believe that is just what Christ was talking about in His Olivet Discourse. During the crucifixion, the literal sun was darkened for three hours (Matt. 27: 45; Luke 23: 44-45). No Preterist I know of has ever argued that this meant a mere figurative darkening. But they deny any correlative fulfillment as applying to the parousia, even though “second coming” passages contain similar or identical language. Obviously, we realize that words are sometimes used in figurative senses. But let’s not beg the question. Even if Christ was using the terms “sun” and “moon” and “stars” in a figurative sense to presage the destruction of the temple, it would only mean that those elements of the prophecy were figuratively fulfilled in A.D. 70. It wouldn’t make a future literal fulfillment any less certain; because “fulfillment” can only mean “filled full” if a passage’s full scope of meaning has been met.

“Polemic Preterism” (J. Stuart Russell, Gary DeMar, Kenneth Gentry, etc.) misses the boat in failing to identify the meta-context that rules whether a prophetic passage should be understood in a Genetic or a more localized sense. True, this meta-context can be determined in part by lexical and grammatical usage, as well as by immediate context. But there is still need to examine these within a larger frame of reference. The spiritual (or shall we say intellectual) myopia of Preterism creates all kinds of interpretive errors, ultimately leading (in extreme cases) to the view that there is no more law, no more condemnation, and consequently, no ongoing need for Christ’s salvation. A Scripturally-measured eschatology thus becomes helpful in re-adjusting one’s hermeneutical bearings and bringing the proper contextual perspective back into prophetic passages that speak of the “heavens and earth.”

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