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Why the Partial Preterist Approach Fails to Understand Futurist Premillennialism


A recent online discussion with a partial preterist (and a polite, respectful individual) brought out something rather interesting (though really not surprising):  the preterist’s tendency to zoom in on one particular passage as being the “key” to what proves a doctrine, rather than a systematic, holistic approach that examines the many passages and puts all the pieces together.  In this case, the passage was a popular one for preterists: Matthew 24, with emphasis on verses 5-7 and their time reference meaning as signs and what “this generation” means.  Basically, this person was focused on the “signs” described there – nations rising up against each other, wars and rumors of war, and earthquakes — and whether or not these “signs” are included in the group of “this generation” referred to in Matt. 24:34. Coming from this rather narrow textual perspective, he classified three variations of pre-trib belief, reasoning that none of those views made sense:

i) The pre- tribs such as Hagee (who say we are the last generation), although brave enough to stand on their convictions – are in danger of time running out on them – as I intimate in my original statement. ii) Pre tribs such as Walvoord (think these are general characteristics leading up to the end) seem to be stuck with signs carrying on over 2000 years that v34 says this generation will by no means pass. And, iii) Pretribs such as Ice (and yourself?) if, as he says, they are part of the tribulation 7 year period, are stuck with a verse that if that is the case, would be self-evident. In that, of course this generation will by no means pass away – the events are only over 7 years.

The way I am viewing it right now therefore, unless you show me I am misunderstanding the issues somewhere, that camp i) are in danger of running out of time. Camp ii) seem to have a problem of a generation running over 2000 years. And camp iii) not only have the problem of, a generation being spoken of as by no mean passing away over a period of 7 years, but also bringing in the idea that the signs we are now seeing are in fact not those signs at all – but that when those signs come we will know – this seems to bring in an ambiguity of some proportions. I hear something being said like, ‘they are not the signs, but they are like the signs, but we will know when the signs come that THEY are THE signs. And the young convert says, ‘how will we know? what will be the difference’ if it is just the intensity, then why aren’t these signs, THE signs?’

At this point in the dialogue, having answered his original questions, the real underlying issue became apparent: unlike partial preterism, the pre-trib view takes a holistic approach to scripture and does not hinge on or emphasize only one passage, Matthew 24, and “this generation” as the one (and only) thing to understand.  The Old Testament — especially passages in Deuteronomy plus the major and minor prophets – is replete with passages that speak of the time of Jacob’s trouble / the Day of the Lord / Daniel’s 70th week, that time which shortly precedes Christ’s Return, when the Jews will believe in Him and He will bring in the Kingdom. The Matthew 24 passage is simply one part out of many scriptures addressing the Day of the Lord, the Great Tribulation, Daniel’s 70th week. Thus, the young convert studying premillennialism and the pre-trib rapture is not going to get too focused on only one passage, Matthew 24, but will take a holistic approach, what all of God’s word has to say regarding the Day of the Lord.

Given that, a better way to explain premillennial eschatology is that Matthew 24:5-7 is one of several passages that describe the characteristics of the future Day of the Lord aka the Great Tribulation, the time of Jacob’s trouble.  As with other prophetic passages, we also see a “both … and” aspect: future fulfillment plus a general application now.  In the case of Matthew 24:5-7, we have both the present day application in the general sense of wars, rumors of wars, false teachers in this age, earthquakes – and actual future fulfillment during the Great Tribulation.  We also understand that these are simply signs, and, as S. Lewis Johnson pointed out (in this exposition in his Matthew series):

 the reason that there are disturbances in the natural world is because this is God’s way of showing us that there is disturbance in the spiritual and moral world, so that these signs reflect heaven’s view of the rebellion of men against God.  So we shall expect to see greater and greater natural disturbances as the age continues, to reach their climax in that future day just preceding the Lord’s Second Advent.

Premillennial teachers, likewise, teach from the systematic approach, beginning with the basic concepts such as the meaning of the “Day of the Lord” and the biblical covenants. I note that S. Lewis Johnson’s 37 part eschatology series never once taught a full message specifically on Matthew 24. (Other teachers likewise approach eschatology in a systematic manner.)  A few times he mentioned verses from it, along with parallel passages elsewhere which also speak of the future Great Tribulation.  The following, from message 28 “Tribulation, General View,” is especially helpful as it relates to the Great Tribulation and Matthew 24:

The four outstanding things that characterize this last week of Daniel’s prophecy or the time of the tribulation period.

1)      An ecclesiastical thing or an ecclesiastical fact, the rise of the beast.  – reference passages in Daniel and Revelation

2)      Political features:  There will be the rise of national disturbances.  Kingdom against kingdom.  World government will be the aim of the great kingdoms of the earth.  And that period of time shall be characterized as a period of national disturbance.

3)      The rise of natural disturbances.  For example, in Matthew chapter 24 in verse 7 when the Lord Jesus speaks of this period of time, He says nations shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be famines and pestilences and earthquakes in various places.  There shall rise up natural disturbances which are beyond the ordinary.

4)      A great period of spiritual salvation through the preaching of the evangelists of that period. – reference Revelation 7.

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  1. December 5, 2012 at 1:12 am

    I use to be stumbled in the past with the Partial Preterist’s emphasis on the near demonstrative pronoun “this,” when I first heard of it from Gary DeMar, only threes ago or so did I finally saw how the totality of Scripture leans more towards a Dispensational Premillennial position.

    • December 5, 2012 at 9:10 am

      Yes, if we focus on one particular verse and argument it’s easy to stumble, not sure how to answer it — until we step back and look at the whole picture.

  2. December 5, 2012 at 7:22 am

    I admire the fact that your blogs do not merely consist of a few short paragraphs and a set of provoking questions! I admit that ‘partial preterist’ does not bring any set of views to my mind…but then I have not made eschatology a primary study. I have been surrounded by teachers who “discern’ the signs of the times, but the older I get…67 now…the more I can personally remember the prophetic crises of the past…the birth of the country of Israel in the late ’40s, the ’67 war, the formation of a European union (the return of the Roman Empire). I am more and more convinced that each generation likes to think THEY are the one and there never was a set of circumstances like the present one. I wonder if God lines up 23 out of 24 signs just to have the pleasure of zooming off and waiting another 1000 years for the signs to again converge! If ‘in such an hour as ye think not…’ is the measure, we should be quite safe since so many people do think He is coming today…or this week…or this month…or this next year…or this next decade!

    Our only clear directive is to live, as always, as though it could be today!

    • December 5, 2012 at 9:19 am

      Yes, Tom, it is true that every generation has thought they were the last ones. It seems to be a natural tendency among believers — desiring to be with the Lord and seeing how rotten and evil the world is, longing for Christ to return and put an end to it and bring in righteousness. One of the most important things to learn from study of eschatology is the readiness, to be prepared and desiring His return; and the effect that that has on our sanctification, how we live our lives.

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