Thursday, December 04, 2003

Lesson 7: Bringing in the Kingdom: Postmillennialism from a partial-preterist perspective (part 1)

What is partial preterism?

Before looking at postmillennialism from partial-preterist perspective, we want to define preterism and contrast the partial and the full-preterist (sometimes called hyper-preterist) positions.

It is helpful in defining preterism to say what its opposite is: futurism. The premillennial views, especially dispensationalism, are inherently futuristic. They teach that virtually all the prophecy in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) and the book of Revelation (and elsewhere) has yet to transpire. Preterism takes the opposite view, and holds that most or all of the prophecy, including the tribulation, already happened in A.D. 70.

That is actually a good enough working definition for our purposes. However, it is helpful to say something about full-preterism versus partial-preterism. The following table comes courtesy of R. C. Sproul: 135

     Full Preterists     Partial Preterists
A.D. 70 End Times A.D. 70 End Times
Coming (Parousia) of Christ    yes no yes yes
Resurrection and rapture yes no no yes
Day of the Lord yes no yes yes
Judgment yes no yes yes

Full preterists believe that nothing remains requiring a future fulfillment. They teach that "the" Second Coming has already occurred as well as a (representative) resurrection, judgment and rapture. This view is in violent disagreement with, among other things, the historic creeds that define orthodoxy. The creeds, for example, teach of an actual bodily resurrection for all believers at the end of history.

Partial preterism teaches that Christ did return in judgment in A.D. 70, but the resurrection and final judgment await His coming in glory (the "real" Second Coming or Second Appearance) at the end of time.

From this point forward, we drop the "partial" when discussing preterism. The heterodox full-preterist view will never be part of this discussion.

Before discussing postmillennialism, I want to tackle two important precursor topics: the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and dating the book of Revelation. In order for the preterist position to be sensible, the destruction of Jerusalem must be understood as an event of enormous magnitude and redemptive significance. And in order for preterism to exist as a viable theology, the book of Revelation must have been written prior to the events preterists say it foretells. John must have written Revelation before A.D. 70. It will not do to have John prophesying about something that already happened. Today, many scholars date Revelation at around A.D. 90. However, the early versus late date for Revelation is an ancient debate. We will look at some of the evidence.

The Destruction of Jerusalem

Today, most people do not recognize the magnitude and importance of the destruction of Jerusalem. For now, we will concentrate on the magnitude. Later we will discuss its significance in terms of redemptive history. When we discuss some of the particulars, ask yourself if the events that are described could fairly be called a time of great tribulation. To help you along, I will insert some passages from the Great Tribulation description in the Olivet Discourse, to help you make a connection.136

The date itself inspires little more than a Jeopardy-like reflexive association:

   The answer is: 1066      (Bzzt) When was the Battle of Hastings?
   The answer is: A.D. 70    (Bzzt) When did the Romans destroy Jerusalem?

We significantly underestimate the magnitude and horror of the Roman response to the Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70). I think most people view it as something similar to the British torching the White House (after enjoying a complementary dinner for 40 that had been prepared for Dolly Madison and friends, but abandoned as the canon neared) in the war of 1812.

Prior to its destruction, Jerusalem was a large and formidable walled city. As the Romans began responding to Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70) throughout the land, the population of Jerusalem swelled as many sought safety within her walls.

An important contributor to this discussion is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37-101).137 Josephus was captured by the future Roman Emperor Vespasian who, early in the Jewish Revolt, led the assault on city of Jotapata. Josephus was the General in charge of defending Jotapata. Some accounts state that Josephus survived the ensuing slaughter (following a 45 day siege) by hiding in a deep pit. Josephus claimed that Vespasian spared him because of his incredible valor.

Much of what we quote below comes from Josephus' book The Jewish War.

Gentry points out that Josephus uses the Greek word apostasia to describe the Jewish revolt.138 This word is translated into English as "rebellion" or "apostasy" or "falling away". It can mean revolt when used in a political context or falling away (from the true faith) when used in a religious context. It is used in the New Testament only twice, in Acts 21:21 and here:
1Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, 2not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. 3Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. (2 Th. 2:1-3, NIV)

In verse 3, the NIV translates apostasia as "rebellion". The NASB uses "apostasy". And the NKJV uses "falling away".

Generally people view this passage as referring to a large scale apostasy against the true God in the end-times. Preterists view it as referring to the rebellion that led to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Jack Van Deventer139 lists some of the atrocities committed by the Romans (as described by Josephus) in a "dateline" manner.

Jerusalem (June 3, 66 A.D.)--"So the [Roman] soldiers did not only plunder the place they were sent to, but forcing themselves into every house, they slew its [Jewish] inhabitants; so the citizens fled along the narrow lanes, and the soldiers slew those that they caught, and no method of plunder was omitted; they also caught many of the quiet people, and brought them before Florus, whom he first chastised with stripes, and then crucified. Accordingly, the whole number of those that were destroyed that day, with their wives and children (for they did not spare even the infants themselves), was about 3,600."

Cesarea (66 A.D.)--"Now the people of Cesarea had slain the Jews that were among them. . . . [I]n one hour's time above 20,000 Jews were killed, and all Cesarea was emptied of its Jewish inhabitants; for Florus caught such as ran away, and sent them to the galleys."

Scythopolis and other cities (66 A.D.)--"The people of Scythopolis watched their opportunity, and cut all [the Jews'] throats, some of them as they lay unguarded, and some as they lay asleep. The number that was slain was above 13,000, and then they plundered them of all they had." "Besides this murder at Scythopolis, the other cities rose up against the Jews that were among them: those of Askelon slew 2,500, and those of Ptolemais 2,000, and put not a few in bonds; those of Tyre also put a great number to death, but kept a greater number in prison."

Alexandria (66 A.D.)--"These [Roman] soldiers rushed violently into that part of the city which was called Delta, where the Jewish people lived together [The Jews were] destroyed unmercifully; and this their destruction was complete, some being caught in the open field140, and others forced into their houses, which houses were first plundered of what was in them, and then set on fire by the Romans; wherein no mercy was shown to the infants, and no regard had to the aged; but they went on in the slaughter of persons of every age, till all the place was overflowed with blood, and 50,000 of them lay dead upon heaps. . . ."

Jotapata (July, 67 A.D.)--"[T]he Romans slew all the multitude that appeared openly; but on the following days they searched the hiding places, and fell upon those that were underground, and in the caverns, and went thus through every age, excepting the infants and the women, and of these there were gathered together as captives twelve hundred; and as for those that were slain at the taking of the city, and in the former fights, they were numbered to be 40,000.

The widespread slaughter of the Jews continued for several years. Many of the Jews fled to Jerusalem for safety.
24When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!" 25All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" (Matt. 27:24-25)

The Jews asked that the blood be upon their hands. And so it was. In Jerusalem alone, Josephus records that 100,000 were captured, and 1.1 million killed. This does not include the Jews killed in other cities (as described above) as the Roman Juggernaut pushed forward.

After the Roman armies reached Jerusalem a lengthy siege ensued. The Romans bombarded the city with 90 pound stones hurled as far as 1200 feet by catapult. Josephus wrote that the tower watchmen would see the stones flying toward the city and warn the citizens with shouts of "The Son Cometh!".141

When the food began to run out within the walls, civil war broke out among three Jewish factions. Murder and starvation (There will be famines.. Matt. 24:7) were rampant.

Josephus wrote that this Jewish civil war inside the walls of a Jerusalem under siege wrought more carnage (if that can be imagined) than the conquering Romans. People who were thought to have consumed food were sometimes killed and disemboweled in search of food within their stomachs. There were many reports of cannibalism. Many tried to escape starvation by sneaking out of the city. Most were captured by the Romans, killed on the spot and disemboweled: the Romans believed that the Jews hid their valuables by swallowing them. If a father was killed searching for food, his wife and children became targets within the city.
"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. (From Jesus' Olivet Discourse, Mark 13:12)

Josephus also described a scene of horror concerning a starving mother. In the midst of the famine she suddenly withdrew her nursing infant from her breast. She killed, roasted and ate half the child, and offered the rest to astonished and horrified bystanders.
How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! (From Jesus' Olivet Discourse, Matt. 24:19)

Interestingly, Josephus also castigated his fellow Jews as being "more wicked than any generation before it". That is reminiscent of how Jesus described the same generation. (That is how it will be with this wicked generation (Matt. 12:45) O unbelieving and perverse generation (Matt 17:17)).

It is also interesting to read Josephus' accounts of the events leading up to the war. In addition to many wars and rumors of wars, Josephus records that there was a rise of false prophets.
and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. (From Jesus' Olivet Discourse, Matt. 24:11)

What happened to the Christians?

According to the historian Eusebius (A.D. 260-340) Christians escaped from Jerusalem either before the siege or during a lull in the fighting. We can only believe that they knew and heeded the words of Christ:
16then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. 18Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. (From Jesus' Olivet Discourse, Matt. 24:16-18)

Preterists have this understanding of the passage above: If you are not in Jerusalem when war breaks out, do not return there for any reason. If you are there, get out.

More to come...

135 Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus, p. 157.
136 Admittedly, the connection I want you to make.
137 Josephus was give, at birth, a proper Jewish name: Joseph ben Matthias. After being captured and then currying favor with his captor Vespasian (who later became emperor) Josephus became a Roman citizen and Romanized his name. Flavius was Vespasian’s family name. All this did not make him popular with his own people.
138 Kenneth L. Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, (Institute for Christian Economics), 2nd ed. (revised), 1997, pp. 401-402. I should have included this book in the list of references at the beginning of the course. It is probably the best book on postmillennialism ever written.
139 I only have an on-line reference, here.
140 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. (Matt. 24:40).
141 It is tempting to make much of the shout "the son cometh!", but the translation is not beyond dispute. Some argue the Josephus wrote "the stone cometh!".

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