To skip to the chase, scroll to the Wrap Up at the end.
Quick Background on Terms
There are 4 major “schools” of interpreting the book of Revelation in the church today:
- Futurist – probably the most popular among evangelicals today, this viewpoint sees the majority of Revelation as fulfilled in events that take place shortly before Jesus returns
- Spiritualist (Idealist) – sees Revelation as dealing with general concepts and ideas, but not corresponding to any specific time-space events that have taken place.
- Preterist – most everything in Revelation was fulfilled in the AD 70 Jerusalem temple destruction
- Historicist – Revelation speaks to the entirety of church history from the time it was written until Jesus’ future bodily return
I am of the historicist persuasion (see FREE – Revelation Unveiled (2006) Videos). But this post addresses the problems I see with preteristism.
Before exposing problems with “full preterism” (that is, seeing most/all of Revelation as fulfilled in the AD 70 Jerusalem temple destruction), I should say that I am a partial preterist.
Meaning, I do think parts of the Bible (such as Matthew 24; Mark 13; and Luke 21) point very specifically to Jerusalem’s AD 70 destruction.
I disagree, however, that Revelation focuses on that AD 70 event. Here’s why…
Reasons To Reject Full Preterism
- The preterist viewpoint on Revelation originated in 1614 from Luis de Alcasar, a Jesuit (Catholic) priest. This was during the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation (see “Preterism,” Wikipedia). It was a Catholic attempt to squelch the Protestants’ overwhelming belief that the Pope was the Antichrist. Such an anti-protestant origin does not prove preterism wrong (God can even speak truth through donkeys!–Num. 22), but it should make Bible-believing protestants at least cautious.
- The book of Revelation has traditionally been dated around AD 90-95, during Domitian’s reign as Roman emperor. Though it is possible, as some preterists point out, for Revelation to have been written earlier, the AD 90-95 dating has been the most consistent conclusion throughout church history, for multiple, independent reasons (see Donald Guthrie’s, New Testament Introduction, 1970, 3rd Ed.). And if Revelation was written any time after AD 70, the Preterist viewpoint falls apart.
- In many ways, the books of Daniel and Revelation parallel each other. Both are apocalyptic writings that point to future events. Where Daniel highlights Jesus’ 1st coming, Revelation highlights His 2nd coming. Both share similar symbolism to describe similar things (compare Rev. 13 with Dan. 2 and 7). And where Daniel ends with a sealed book to be opened later (Dan. 12:4ff), Revelation begins with seals of a scroll being removed (Rev. 5:1ff). Considering all these parallels, it would be remarkably inconsistent if Revelation took 22 chapters to foretell only 4 years of future events (as the Preterist position demands), while Daniel sweeps through ~500 years in only 12 chapters.
- This dissimilarity between Daniel’s 500 years / 12 chapters and Revelation’s 4 years / 22 chapters seems even odder when considering that the AD 70 temple destruction is foretold elsewhere in Scripture with far greater clarity (cf. Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). Thus, if the Preterist position is correct, God takes 22 chapters to very cryptically (and, compared to Daniel, very slowly) describe an event He explains elsewhere with great precision and detail (and at a pace much more akin to Daniel’s).
- Further, as the book of Daniel (and many other Bible books) demonstrate, God consistently foretells–in writing–seemingly all future significant events that would happen to his people (at least into the early apostolic age, cf. Acts 1:16, all the way to AD 70, cf. Matt. 24). In fact, we are told: “the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets,” (Amos 3:7). In light of this, are we to say that He stops prophesying (at least in writing) concerning His people from AD 70 on? Would He leave his bride (the church) completely blind in terms of written communication of all the major events she would go through from AD 70 to the present day? On the other hand, if He has foretold such things, it seems Revelation is the best place to find this (and thus it must foretell events far beyond AD 70, in contrast to the preterist viewpoint).
- Finally, the book of Revelation begins with a vision of Jesus. And though this vision has many components (His eyes of fire, sword in his mouth, etc.), only 2 are specifically revealed for the reader: (1) lampstands = churches, (2) stars = angels of churches (Rev 1:20). In other words, the 1 subject He chooses to reveal and focus on from the very beginning of Revelation is His church. There are 2 implications: (1) of everything that could be revealed of Jesus, this prophecy begins with a focus specifically on the church; (2) this prophecy uses overtly Jewish symbolism (in this case, the temple lampstands) to now apply to the church (it also uses creation [i.e. stars] to speak of church phenomena, but that is a separate, though related, subject). We see this pattern continue where the temple incense = prayers of the church (Rev. 5:8), and Jerusalem = the Bride of Christ (Rev. 21:2). Thus, using distinctly Jewish emblems to point to facets of the church continues to be the focal point through the end of the book (see Rev 21-22). Such a pattern suggests that Revelation will focus chiefly on the church, and use Jewish symbolism to do so. This would agree with the historicist interpretation, but casts doubt on a preterist approach that makes the literal Jerusalem temple (and it’s destruction) the focus of Revelation.
Now consider all of these evidences from the opposite perspective. Consider what it would mean for preterism to be true:
- it was “discovered” by an anti-Protestant to defy the reformation
- though the majority of dating evidences have led the majority of scholars to date Revelation later than AD 70, they are all mistaken
- though Revelation parallels Daniel in virtually every other way, it radically departs in spending so much ink on such a short period of time
- Revelation takes 22 chapters to explain cryptically what other Bible passages detail with much more clarity
- God must have effectively stopped predicting in writing major events concerning his people after AD 70
- Revelation must actually focus on a literal Israel with a literal temple, though the book begins and ends with Jewish symbolism that represent the church
Perhaps there are rebuttals to each of these points, but considered in total, I find a historicist approach to Revelation far more compelling than preterism.