And he shall come again, with glory, to judge the the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end....
and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
-- Nicene Creed
With the scourge of hyperpreterism making a reappearance recently, I dredged up an old email on the topic. Back in 2007, we had a hyperpreterist visit our congregation for a few weeks. It was obvious he was looking for a place where he could proselytize. He had listened to some of my sermons and Sunday school classes online and knew I was a “partial preterist.” We had a few in person discussions and an email exchange before it became clear we were not going to budge on orthodoxy and he was not going to submit. So he moved on. While he attended our congregation, he generally participated in the worship service, but he would not recite the Nicene Creed (we include the creed in the liturgy every week). When I explained to him that he needed to join in confessing the faith of the church or he could never belong to the church, he was disappointed. He had hoped I would be sympathetic and even expected to convince me of his position. But after my discussions with him, I was more convinced of the historic orthodox position than ever. The email below is not the whole of our discussion, but gets at some of the basic problems with the hyperpreterist position. I have removed a bit of personal information and a made a few edits such as updating links, but otherwise this is my email to him. I hope it will be helpful in light of current controversies.
I enjoyed our lunch conversation the other day. I'd like to continue it sometime. In the meantime, I thought I'd email a few follow up comments and questions to help me better understand your position and to clarify the major problems with the "full preterism” or “hyper preterism” you're advocating. I’m going to use this email to try to capture the big picture because I believe there is a great deal at stake in these discussions. To be blunt, whether or not you can be considered a Christian in any meaningful or historic sense is at issue here.
First, you are right that I am what many would call a "partial preterist" -- that is, I believe there are a lot of prophecies in the NT that point to 70 AD. But I would also argue that many prophecies are unfulfilled, including a final coming of Jesus to (bodily) resurrect his people, administer final judgment, and establish the "new and heavens and earth" in the final, consummated form. It is a grievous error to believe that all biblical prophecy is fulfilled in or by 70 AD. It destroys the entire system of theology taught in the Bible and the entire story of Scripture. Interestingly, while the church has been divided on many aspects of eschatology, the church has been agreed on these four great future certainties: Christ’s return, the general resurrection, the universal judgment, and the final destination of the new creation for believers and the lake of fire for unbelievers.
Just to give you some sense of my commitment to a form of orthodox preterism, you can listen to a sermon I preached on Mark 13 from March, 2001, on this page. This was to a congregation that for the most part was not yet initiated into a "preterist" reading of the Olivet Discourse, so of course, I couldn't say everything. But it's a start. I did a full study of Mt. 24 at that same church that lasted about 3 months. Also, see my sermons from January-March, 2006, from Rev. 21-22. In at least one of those sermons, I go into the meaning of Isa. 51 and 65 as background to the Revelation text and the meaning of "new heavens and new earth." Several years ago, I spent about a year and a half teaching a group through the entire book of Revelation from a bascially preterist viewpoint. I'm familiar with all the preterist authors you mentioned (Jordan, Chilton, Wright, Preston), as well writers like Terry, Russell, Campbell, etc. I give you this background just to show you I am familiar with the debates over how much NT prophecy has been fulfilled. I believe that virtually all respectable teachers in the history of the church (scholars as diverse as Athanasius and Jonathan Edwards) have believed that 70 AD is of at least some prophetic significance in Scripture. But there are no orthodox teachers who argue ALL prophecy has been fulfilled by 70 AD. This is not the faith of the historic Christian church. It has been deemed universally heretical by all branches of the church. It is held by no teacher of great prominence over the last 2000 years. While we are not slaves to tradition, properly sifted and properly interpreted tradition (as the heritage of the Spirit's work among his people) is crucial and should not be ignored. It is incredibly arrogant to dismiss such a united tradition among God's people.
There are several thelogical problems I see with the hyperpreterist position, but perhaps the largest is that I think it inevitably tends towards gnosticism. Gnosticism is an ancient heresy that afflicted the church even in the days of the apostles. (Note: hyperpreterism is an old heresy; see 2 Tim. 2:18). Basically, the hyperpreterist view means that "this world" is never fully redeemed and death -- which Paul identifies as our greatest enemy -- is never finally defeated. Ironically, this converges with the dispensational "rapture" view in which the creation cannot be healed/redeemed and so our only hope is to escape it altogether. It's hard for me to distinguish your view of the afterlife from platonism (and, frankly, that has huge worldview ramifications). While many Christians today may veer towards gnosticism of some sort today, hyperterism is “officially” gnostic in that it explicitly rejects a biblical view of redemption, which clearly includes the body and the physical world.
To put this another way, I think Scripture presents history as a story. But in your view, the story has no denouement, no ending, no plot resolution. I simply cannot believe that's the kind of story God is telling. God is concerned with the creation as a whole, not merely with saving individual souls. He is concerned with defeating death, completely and finally, not just giving individual believers life after death.
Exegetically, I would offer the following questions/challenges as a starting point (this list is not exhaustive, but focuses on the passages we began discussing at lunch):
1. Paul says death is the last enemy to be defeated in 1 Cor. 15:26. But on your view, death is never defeated. The "coming" in view in 1 Cor. 15:23 cannot have happened yet since there is still death (15:26). If there is still death there is still a final "coming of Christ" to defeat it. Remember, even if orthodox preterists differ amongst themselves as to which passages belong to 70 AD and which belong to Christ’s final coming, all it takes is one indisputable “final coming” text that is not yet fulfilled to defeat hyperpreterism. I believe 1 Corinthians 15 is just such a text. There is no way to read the passage coherently and cram its fulfillment into 70 AD.
2. Paul says "then comes the end" in 1 Cor. 15:24. But on your view, there is no "end" still to come. Paul is clearly envisioning a time when all of God's enemies have been defeated. But on your view, there is no such final defeat of evil because history (and death) just goes on and on. See also 15:54ff. Again, the point is: How does the story end?
3. In 1 Cor. 15:20, Paul says that Christ's bodily resurrection is the "firstfruits" of those who have fallen asleep. There is absolutely no way Paul can call the resurrected Christ the "firstfruits" if only a corporate/social resurrection is in view. Paul goes back to the fundamental analogy between Christ's (past) bodily resurrection and our (future) bodily resurrection again and again, e.g., 1 Cor. 15:15, 16. It is simply absurd and impossible to say the resurrection in view in 1 Cor. 15 has already happened. It is a future bodily resurrection.
4. 1 Cor. 15:35ff discusses the resurrection in terms of embodiment, not a social/corporate event. The whole question is "What manner and quality of body will we have when we are raised up?" (e.g., the discussion of "flesh" in verse 39). There is nothing about the kind of "resurrected" social order we will see in a text like Isa. 65-66. The whole point of the debate is flesh.
5. There is no way the resurrection in view in 1 Cor. 15:50ff can be a corporate/social resurrection, and there is no way that it could have happened already. After all, Paul says we will all be "changed" at the same time (a general bodily resurrection -- a resurrection event) and he says that the new body will be incorruptible. The social body of the church has most certainly proven to be "corruptible" since 70 AD. On my view, the church as the body of Christ struggles with ongoing sin/corruption up until Christ’s final return and our resurrection. On your view, most of the church has been corrupted by a false eschatology (summarized in the catholic creeds) that has duped most of the church (not to mention all the other sins that have plagued the church, and will continue to until Christ’s final coming). On your view, we do not "look for the resurrection of the dead," we look for corruption and death to go on and on forever.
6. In John 5:28-29, Jesus speaks of the dead coming forth from their "graves." This is a general bodily resurrection and a final judgment. Jesus said "all" will come forth from the grave. That is clearly not something has happened, nor is it a metaphor for a corporate/social resurrection.
7. You said the other day that the only outstanding prophecies have to do with the growth of the kingdom (e.g., the mustard tree in Mt. 13). But I don't understand why you don't shoehorn those prophecies into a 70 AD fulfillment as well. After all, the church/kingdom did grow between 30 and 70 AD. What warrant do you have for expecting the kingdom to continue to grow after 70 AD? Or for the Bible to even address the course of history after 70 AD? Wasn't that "the end" on your view? Furthermore, the "kingdom" that has grown since 70 AD is one that rejects the hyperpreterist position -- so is it really the "kingdom" that has grown, or a counterfeit, since virtually everyone in the whole history of the church has been misled on this incredibly important point of eschatology (even to the point of making the "full-preterist" position unorthodox, according to the test of the ecumenical creeds)?
8. I simply do not see any way to squeeze the millennium of Rev. 20 into the 40 year time block of 30-70 AD ("mini-millennialism" as it has been called!). And I say that as one who takes an early date for the book, takes the time-texts seriously ("the time is at hand"), and reads the book as a whole preteristically. If Rev. 20 has already happened in full, then Satan has already been completely (not just provisionally) destroyed. Is that your position? Have death and hades already given up the dead to the lake of fire?
It seems much better to me to see 30-70 AD as a "type" of post-70 AD history. And just as the transitional period of 30-70 ends with a "coming" of Christ and judgment, so post-70 history ends the same way -- though obviously, it is "the end of the end," an ending on a much grander, cosmic (as opposed to Judaic) scale. There is the last days (30-70 AD) and there is the Last Day (Christ’s final coming).
9. You claimed the OT knows nothing of a bodily resurrection -- only a "metaphorical" resurrection of the corporate nation of Israel. I would beg to differ. The OT is shot through with resurrection hope. It is a corrollary of the doctrine of creation and an implication of the promise of Genesis 3:15. God's ultimate purpose is not to save us out of this creation, but to restore us to perfected dominion within the creation, world without end. That's what the resurrection is all about. It is the life of the world to come, as the Creed puts it. God's final purpose is to join heaven and earth into one realm in which the resurrected Christ will live and rule with his resurrected people. (See, e.g., Jim Jordan's Creation in 6 Days, especially his material on day 2 of the creation week, which shows that the firmament-barrier between God's heaven and our earth was not meant to last forever.)
Abraham had resurrection faith. Had he gone through with the sacrifice of Isaac, he expected God to raise him up bodily -- Heb. 11:19. Clearly, this would have been a bodily resurrection, not a metaphorical corporate resurrection. Was Abraham's hope misplaced? If Abraham expected God to reverse death, shouldn't Abraham's children have the same hope?
Further, a resurrection hope is expressed in Psalm 16:10. The "corruption" of death and Sheol will not last forever; there will be a resotration to bodily, earthly existence, albeit in perfected form. Peter applies this to Jesus' bodily resurrection in Acts 2 -- but remember, Jesus is only the firstfruits. David is still in his grave, which means a resurrection of the body is still to come.
See also Job 19:25-27. There is simply no way to fit this hope of a bodily resurrection on the earth into a full pret scheme. Job was expecting this body to be raised and to behind God on this earth — a new body dwelling in a renewed creation. That is the biblical hope. That’s biblical eschatology.
10. I think my question about the Lord's Supper is more significant than you admitted the other day. If we are to do the Supper "until he comes" then we are not authorized to do the Supper after 70 AD on your view. You should not be partaking. That's what consistency would require. Again, on your view, you have to posit that the whole church has been misled on this point for the last 2000 years. Why would God let the whole mass of his people be so misled for so long on such a crucial point of theology and practice? Why would you want to partake after 70 AD?
In addition to all those questions, I would suggest you read N. T. Wright's Resurrection of the Son of God. I do not agree with all of his exegesis, especially of the OT. I also do not agree with his doctrine of Scripture, his view of women, his view of economics, and so on. But in his massive tome, he makes a very compelling case for the bodily resurrection of Jesus in the past and (as a result) our bodily resurrection still to come. Wright is sensitive to what happened in 70 AD and does a good job reading the NT (especially Jesus’ parables) contextually. He understands the importance of the temple and its fall. But he also demonstrates there is no way that 70 AD fulfills all NT prophecy. He shows that the metaphorical, corporate uses of resurrection language (e.g., as return from exile -- Ezek. 36-37) is based upon and presupposes the "literal," bodily use of resurrection. He shows that the NT absolutely and unequivocally promises a future bodily resurrection to believers. I do not think you will be able to answer his arguments.
I would also suggest reading some of the "new earth" theology of the Dutch Reformed theologians. They generally aren't preterists, or postmillennialists. But they do have some good insights into the way "creation" relates to "eschatology." A good book to start with would be Anthony Hoekema's The Bible and the Future or Al Wolters' Creation Regained. You and I would both disagree with a lot of their exegesis since it ignores 70 AD, but they do a lot of good theological work, reflecting on how redemption is a recreation and restoration of this world. They get the Bible’s “grace restores nature” paradigm correct.
The final problem I want to point out concerns linguistics. I already touched on this above, but I want to revisit it and expand on it because it seems like a crucial piece of confusion. Orthodox preterism and heretical hyperpreterism might look like they have a lot in common in terms of how they read the Bible, but they really do not. You seem to think that "coming" and "heavens and earth" language must always mean the same thing. If 70 AD is a "coming" of Christ (which it is), then there must be no further comings. If the new social/covenantal "heavens and earth" began in 30-70 AD (which it did -- Isa. 65), there must be no further renewed "heavens and earth" still to come. But this is simply false. Biblical language is always layered and fluid. Take for example the phrase "son of God." This name is given to Israel in several places, e.g., Ex. 4 and Hosea 11. What if I argued that Jesus is not the eternal divine Son of the Father on the basis of this language? What if I claimed that Jesus can be God's "son" only in the same sense that the nation was the "son"? That's the way Jehovah's Witnesses treat biblical language. And note — they are appealing to Scripture, and pitting Scripture against the creeds (just like you!) But, obviously, we don't have the right to insist that the Bible always use the same terms in exactly the same way. Terms accumulate meaning, and have to be read in their wider context. When Jesus is called the "Son of God," it certainly identifies him as a new Israel -- but it also means much more than that, including his eternal sonship with the Father.
If you know of something I can read that addresses all these exgetical concerns from your point of view let me know. My purpose here is not merely to win an argument with you, but to call you back to the apostolic faith, as taught in the Scriptures and summarized in the ecumenical creeds of the church. I think you have some things right regarding the way biblical language and eschatology should be understood -- but I also think you're offbase on some important points. I think you have a lot of good ideas -- but you're not holding them in tension with other important biblical truths.