If This Isn't Heaven, I Don't Know What Is

Biblical Reasons Why We Should
And Practical Suggestions on How We Can

Create Heaven on Earth

Introduction to Preterism

One of the fastest-growing trends in Christianity today is "preterism." This is because one of the fastest-dying trends in Christianity today is dispensational premillennialism. Dispensational premillennialism was hot during the 1970's. The best-selling book of that entire decade, even including secular titles, was by a dispensational premillennialist named Hal Lindsey. The Late, Great Planet Earth turned out to be false prophecy, and would have earned the author the death penalty had he lived 4,000 years earlier. Dispensational premillennialism is now dying.

Hal Lindsey represents "futurism," the view that most prophecies will be fulfilled in the future. "Preterism" -- from the Latin for "past" -- suggests that most or all prophecies have been fulfilled in the past, notably during the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 or during the lifetime of the generation that witnessed Christ on earth.

Preterists are obsessed with consistency. When Jesus says in Matthew 16

27 For the Son of man is about to come in the glory of his Father with His angels; and then shall He render unto every man according to his deeds. 28 Verily I say unto you, there are some of them that stand here, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom.

Preterists refuse to believe that Jesus was mistaken. Preterists also refuse to engage in hermeneutical gymnastics to make this passage mean something other than it obviously means.

Preterists are committed to believing that the Bible is trustworthy.

Many people, because they have been taught futurism rather than preterism, have concluded that the Bible is not trustworthy.

Atheist Bertrand Russell, in his book Why I Am Not A Christian, discredits the inspiration of the New Testament based on the failed prediction of Christ and the Apostles:

I am concerned with Christ as He appears in the Gospels . . . and there one does find some things that do not seem to be very wise. For one thing, He certainly thought that His second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at the time. There are a great many texts that prove that. He says, for instance, "Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come." Then He says, "There are some standing here which shall not taste death till the Son of Man comes into His kingdom"; and there are a lot of places where it is quite clear that He believed that His second coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living. That was the belief of his earlier followers, and it was the basis of a good deal of his moral teaching. [1] 

Russell is correct when he says that much of the New Testament was based on the belief that the Kingdom and end of the age were "at hand." Click here to read 101 verses that claim the end of the age is "at hand." If Christ and the Apostles were teaching the imminent destruction of planet earth and the inauguration of the "eternal state," then they were clearly mistaken.

This is a serious issue.

There have been various responses by Christians to this criticism of the Christian faith. Among these, one is particularly striking. We get a profound impression of just what a challenge this argument is to the integrity of the Christian faith when we realize that a great Christian thinker and apologist such as C.S. Lewis despaired at finding a solution to it. Lewis surrendered to the assertion of the skeptics that Jesus was wrong. He attributed this to the limited knowledge Jesus had in His incarnate human form. He correctly pointed out that Jesus himself said, in Matthew 24:36, that He did not know the exact time when He would return:

  “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”

Lewis despairingly wrote,

“He said in so many words, 'this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.' And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else. This is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible."[2]

To this, the skeptic may reply, “If Jesus incorrectly predicted His return within the contemporaneous generation, but actually did not know that He was going to return within that time frame, then why did He so confidently assert that all of the words He had just spoken would come to pass in Matthew 24:35? He said, ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.’ ”

Many people in those days expected the Messiah to come with spectacular displays of power, overthrow all oppressors in an overwhelming military victory of angels over empire, and establish the Kingdom of Heaven in Jerusalem. They expected to be passive in its creation and active in enjoying its benefits. They expected the work of Kingdom-building to be eye-catching and instantaneous.

But when Jesus said the end of the old and the beginning of the new was "at hand," was Jesus actually teaching what many expected?

And when He was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
Luke 17:20

Bertrand Russell must have missed that verse. So did Hal Lindsey.

The Geneva Bible of 1599 had these notes on this verse:

The kingdom of God is not discerned by many although it is most present before their eyes, because they foolishly persuade themselves that it is to come with outward pomp.
The kingdom of God cometh not

With any outward pomp and show of majesty to be known by: for there were still many plain and evident tokens by which men might have understood that Christ was the Messiah, whose kingdom had been so long looked for: but he speaks in this place of those signs which the Pharisees dreamed of, who looked for an earthly Messianic kingdom.

To those who look for an instant Kingdom, Jesus says:

Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
Luke 17:21

Again, the 1599 Geneva Bible paraphrases Jesus:

You look around for the Messiah as though he were absent, but he is amongst you in the midst of you.

Over and over, Jesus says the Kingdom doesn't just pop full-grown into existence:

The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.

Another parable spake He unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
Matthew 13:31-33

Bertrand Russell was wrong because he presumed that Jesus was a dispensational premillennialist.

People who have a wrong view of the nature of Christ's Kingdom are prevented from understanding what Jesus and the writers of the New Testament meant when they said "at hand," "this generation," "shortly," and "about to."

If you are not a preterist already, you might want to work through some exercises in preterist eschatology. Those exercises begin here.

If you are a partial preterist, or if you are longing to be raptured and go to heaven, click here.

[1] Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian (New York: A Touchtone Book by Simon & Schuster, 1957), 16.

2. Essay "The World's Last Night" (1960), found in The Essential C.S. Lewis, p. 385. Lewis' views were pointed out by Marshall "Rusty" Entrekin. http://www.thingstocome.org/whatgen.htm

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