Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Blogging Break

The blogging has been reduced to a trickle these days--so I have decided to take an official break. I'll return June 1, Lord willing.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Poor Little Rich Young Ruler

I would like to expand upon some comments from a previous post.

The question arose as to whether the so-called “Rich Young Ruler” was saved. We read in Mark’s gospel:
17And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" 20And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." 21And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 22Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)
Conventional wisdom, it is fair to say, is that the man walked away unsaved.

I’ll give you my opinion. I think he was saved. (Or would inevitably be saved.)

Of course, we can not say for certain whether someone we know intimately is saved, let alone a person who lived two millennia ago. But we can speculate. (And we are supposed to speculate to a certain degree—there is all manner of instruction in scripture as to how we deal with fellow believers, presupposing that we, at the very least, take people at their word.)

To begin, I’d ask you to think about all the people you believe to be saved. Now, one by one, insert them into the rich young ruler’s position. Would each and everyone sell all his possessions? Do you think it’s possible that at least a few would falter? And if so, does that necessarily mean that they were not saved? Could it not simply mean that at that particular moment they chose poorly?

If you agree that it is possible that at a given moment a saved man could make a wrong choice, choosing the world over following Christ—then you must at least allow for the possibility that the rich young ruler was saved.

Or do you hold him to a higher standard? An unbiblical higher standard? Are you legalistic in regards to the rich young ruler? Was it for him, and for him alone (apart from Christ) that perfect obedience is demanded? Was it for him alone that the litmus test was whether or not he sold all his possessions?

Peter didn’t sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. He returned to his fishing boat after the resurrection.

So that’s my first point—which to summarize is this: whether or not the man was saved is not to be answered by whether or not he made the right choice at that moment. An unsaved person, overcome by a false zeal, might have sold everything—it happens all the time with cults.

The second point I want to make stems from Jesus’ feelings toward the man: And Jesus, looking at him, loved him

I suppose, broadly speaking, that there are four possible comments one could make concerning the fact that Jesus loved the rich young ruler:
  1. Jesus loves everyone, so of course He loved the rich young ruler.

  2. Jesus loved him at that moment, but not necessarily a few seconds later, when the man turned away.

  3. Jesus’ love for people is not correlated with whether or not they are elect. He loves some who are not elect, and not necessarily all who are.

  4. Jesus, at least in a certain sense, loves only the elect.
The first possibility, that Jesus loves everyone including the rich young ruler, is susceptible to the follow-on question: why then did scripture go out of its way to tell us that Jesus loved this particular man? It’s quite redundant. And if it was just to emphasize that Jesus loves everyone, why not use better examples, such as the Pharisees? You brood of vipers! How I love all of you!

The second possibility points to a fickle Jesus, and brings into question his immutability. It is a Jesus that only open theists could embrace.

The third possibility fits the data—but I know of no theology teaching both: that God’s love for people is not universal and it is not correlated with salvation.

The fourth possibility is what I believe. That Jesus has a special love, a salvific love, that goes well beyond a general benevolence toward all humanity. A love for the elect (or, for my Arminian friends, those he foresaw as believers.) To me, the only reason for scripture to go out of its way to tell us that Jesus loved the rich young ruler was to place him in that category.

The final point I’ll make is that when the man turned away, he was sad, not angry. As a believer, when you sin, even as you are sinning, what is you overall emotion? Does it not include a heavy dose of sadness? Don’t we all feel exactly like this man when we choose to follow the world instead of Christ?

I think the rich young ruler gets mistreated. If he was saved, it was by grace not by works. If he was saved, he was still quite capable of, at times, choosing the world. If he was saved, Jesus would certainly love him. And if he was saved, he would feel remorse at his sin.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Lesson 7: Roman Catholicism (Part 10)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Roman Catholicism from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. For this lesson, I will also draw from James R. White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy, (Bethany House, 1996).There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.


Intimately related to purgatory is the Catholic doctrine on indulgences. Indulgences grew out of the system of penance developed by the Catholic Church. In an indulgence, the Catholic Church allowed the penitent to substitute a cash payment for other forms of satisfaction. The Church would even issue an official statement saying that one had been released from other penalties. It was this official document that was called an indulgence. In a sense, the indulgence amounted to a receipt for payment of a fine.

An indulgence, according to the Roman Catholic Church, is a means of remission of the temporal punishment for sins which have already been forgiven. This punishment is most often in purgatory but can also be suffered in this life. An indulgence removes time needed to be spent in purgatory. There are two kinds of indulgences: partial and plenary. A partial indulgence removes part of the punishment of sins. A plenary indulgence removes all of the punishment of sins. Granting an indulgence of a certain number of days or years means that is how many days or years is removed from the time of punishment a person must undergo in purgatory.

On the inside of the cover of the New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism published in 1969 there is a prayer. After the prayer, it reads as follows: "An indulgence of five years. A plenary indulgence on the usual conditions, provided this prayer has been recited daily for a month." By saying the prayer properly, the catechist is promised that five years is removed from time in purgatory.

On the same page of the Baltimore Catechism it reads, "The faithful who devote 20 minutes to a half hour to teaching or studying Christian doctrine, may gain: an indulgence of three years. A plenary indulgence on the usual conditions twice a month, if the above practice is carried out at least twice a month."

So, according to the Baltimore catechism, if you say the prayer properly you can have five years removed from your time in purgatory. And, if you devote twenty minutes to a half hour to teaching or studying Christian doctrine, you can have three years removed from purgatory.

Additionally, one could purchase indulgences for the dead, to reduce their time in purgatory. This was based on the Catholic doctrine of supererogatory merit.

Catholicism and Merit

Catholics speak of three types of merit, each of which plays a role in salvation:
  1. Condign Merit. This is merit attributed to our works for which God is obligated to give reward. This is like paying a laborer his due wages.

  2. Congruous Merit. This is merit that is “reasonable”, but not obligated. In secular terms, it is something like a waiter’s tip. It is attained through works and penance.

  3. Supererogatory Merit. This is the stuff of saints. It is their “excess” merit and it is deposited in a treasury of supererogatory merits. It can then be drawn upon to free people from purgatory. Attaining supererogatory merit is also possible for a priest living a life of celibacy in devotion to Christ. A layman can accrue supererogatory merit through regular church attendance and constant attention to the sacraments.
The merit in the treasury comes from Christ, who contributed an infinite amount, then from Mary, and then from the Saints.

The Catholic doctrine of supererogatory merit is based on an interpretation of the story of the rich young ruler.

17And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" 20And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." 21And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 22Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)
According to Catholic teaching, the ruler was obviously saved, so the fact that he could do more means that there would have been further reward. That reward would have come in the form of supererogatory merit.

(As an aside, I also believe that the rich young ruler was saved.)

Returning once again to Indulgentarium Doctrina:
Thus is explained the "treasury of the Church" which should certainly not be imagined as the sum total of material goods accumulated in the course of the centuries, but the infinite and inexhaustible value the expiation and the merits of Christ Our Lord have before God, offered as they were so that all of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. It is Christ the Redeemer Himself in whom the satisfactions and merits of His redemption exist and find their force. This treasury also includes the truly immense, unfathomable and ever pristine value before God of the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, who following in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by His grace have sanctified their lives and fulfilled the mission entrusted to them by the Father. Thus while attaining their own salvation, they have also cooperated in the salvation of their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.
So this treasury of merit is quite strange: it co-mingles the merit of Jesus, Mary, and the Saints. In indulgence is, then, similar to a withdrawal from this treasury. The loan officer is, naturally, the pope. Indulgentarium Doctrina tells us:
For "the only-begotten son of God… has won a treasure for the militant Church… and has entrusted it to blessed Peter, the keybearer of heaven, and to his successors, Christ's vicars on earth, that they may distribute it to the faithful for their salvation, applying it mercifully for reasonable causes to all who are repentant and have confessed their sins, at times remitting completely and at times partially the temporal punishment due sin in a general as well as in special ways insofar as they judge it to be fitting in the eyes of the Lord. It is known that the merits of the Blessed Mother of God and of all the elect… add further to this treasure."
This document adds, a few paragraphs later:
In addition, it should not be forgotten that by acquiring indulgences the faithful submit docilely to the legitimate pastors of the Church and above all to the successor of Blessed Peter, the keybearer of heaven, to whom the Savior Himself entrusted the task of feeding His flock and governing His Church.
In then goes on to explain the benefit of indulgences:
The salutary institution of indulgences therefore contributes in its own way to bringing it about that the Church appear before Christ without blemish or defect, but holy and immaculate, admirably united with Christ in the supernatural bond of charity. Since in fact by means of indulgences members of the Church who are undergoing purification are united more speedily to those of the Church in heaven, the kingdom of Christ is through these same indulgences established more extensively and more speedily…
So indulges, we are told, contribute to creating a church without blemish. Scripture has something to say in this regard:
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:25-27)
Here Paul is describing how the church will attain a blemish-free status with which to be presented to Christ. It says nothing about indulgences. It says less than nothing about contributions of merit from anyone other than Christ, including Mary or the Saints. It’s all Christ. It teaches that Christ will present the church to himself, sanctified by His own sacrifice.

Indulgences, according the official teaching presented in Indulgentarium Doctrina, have a purpose beyond releasing someone from temporal punishment. They are also helpful, according to Rome, for building our confidence in reconciliation with God:
In an indulgence in fact, the Church, making use of its power as minister of the Redemption of Christ, not only prays but by an authoritative intervention dispenses to the faithful suitably disposed the treasury of satisfaction which Christ and the saints won for the remission of temporal punishment… Likewise, the religious practice of indulgences reawakens trust and hope in a full reconciliation with God the Father…
Once again we see indulgences taking partial credit for something that scripture teaches in an entirely different manner:
10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Rom. 5:10-11)
Our confidence in reconciliation, according to the Apostle Paul, is through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Once again, nothing resembling indulgences is mentioned.

Finally, from a list of twenty “norms” or rules about the proper use of indulgences, we read in Indulgentarium Doctrina:
Norm 5. The faithful who at least with a contrite heart perform an action to which a partial indulgence is attached obtain, in addition to the remission of temporal punishment acquired by the action itself, an equal remission of punishment through the intervention of the Church.
That is, the Church matches your contribution—like a retirement fund.
Norm 6. A plenary indulgence can be acquired only once a day, except for the provisions contained in n. 18 for those who are on the point of death. A partial indulgence can be acquired more than once a day, unless there is an explicit indication to the contrary.

Norm 7. To acquire a plenary indulgence it is necessary to perform the work to which the indulgence is attached and to fulfill three conditions: sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion and prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. It is further required that all attachment to sin, even to venial sin, be absent.

If this disposition is in any way less than complete, or if the prescribed three conditions are not fulfilled, the indulgence will be only partial, except for the provisions contained in n. 11 for those who are "impeded."

Norm 8. The three conditions may be fulfilled several days before or after the performance of the prescribed work; nevertheless it is fitting that Communion be received and the prayers for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff be said the same day the work is performed.

Norm 10. The condition of praying for the Supreme Pontiff's intentions is fully satisfied by reciting one "Our Father" and one "Hail Mary"; nevertheless the individual faithful are free to recite any other prayer according to their own piety and devotion toward the Supreme Pontiff.

Norm 15. A plenary indulgence applicable only to the dead can be acquired in all churches and public oratories--and in semipublic oratories by those who have the right to use them--on November 2.
Norm 15 is my personal favorite. By the works of man and the approval of the Church, God’s grace will be allotted on a specific day.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Lesson 7: Roman Catholicism (Part 9)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Roman Catholicism from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. For this lesson, I will also draw from James R. White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy, (Bethany House, 1996).There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.


As usual, we begin a study of a Catholic doctrine by referring to official pronouncements. From the Council of Florence (1439):
It has likewise defined, that, if those truly penitent have departed in the love of God, before they have made satisfaction by worthy fruits of penance for sins of commission and omission, the souls of these are cleansed after death by purgatorial punishments; and so that they may be released from punishments of this kind, the suffrages of the living faithful are of advantage to them, namely, the sacrifices of Masses, prayers, and almsgiving, and other works of piety, which are customarily performed by the faithful for other faithful according to the institutions of the Church.
From the Council of Trent (1563):
Since the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Spirit, in conformity with the sacred writings and the ancient tradition of the Fathers in sacred councils, and very recently in this ecumenical Synod, has taught that there is a purgatory, and that the souls detained there are assisted by the suffrages of the faithful, and especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar, the holy Synod commands the bishops that they insist that the sound doctrine of purgatory, which has been transmitted by the holy Fathers and holy Councils, be believed by the faithful of Christ, be maintained, taught, and everywhere preached.

If anyone shall say that after the reception of the grace of justification, to every penitent sinner the guilt is so remitted and the penalty of eternal punishment so blotted out that no penalty of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in the world to come in purgatory before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened: let him be anathema.
Fr. John Hardon, author of the respected work The Catholic Catechism (1981), explains:
The reason of faith is that nothing defiled can enter heaven, and therefore anyone less than perfect must first be purified before he can be admitted to the vision of God. In more concrete terms, which have been carved out of centuries of the Church's reflection on revelation, there exists purgatory, in which the souls of the just who die with the stains of sins are cleansed by expiation before they are admitted to heaven. They can be helped, however, by the intercession of the faithful on earth.

“Who are the souls of the just? They are those that leave the body in the state of sanctifying grace and are therefore destined by right to enter heavenly glory. Their particular judgment was favorable, although conditional. They must first be cleansed before they can see the face of God. The condition is always fulfilled.

“When we speak of "stains of sins," the expression is consciously ambivalent. It first means the temporal punishment due to venial or mortal sins already forgiven as to guilt but not fully remitted as to penalty when a person dies. It may also mean the venial sins themselves, not forgiven either as to guilt or punishment before death.
Fr. Hardon is attempting to explain one of the complexities of the doctrine. It has to do with the distinction between mortal and venial sin, and the distinction between forgiven and “paid for” (expiated) through temporal punishment.

Venial sin is a sin which meets at least one of the following criteria:
  1. it does not concern a "grave matter",
  2. it is not committed with full knowledge, or
  3. it is not committed with both deliberate and complete consent.
Mortal sin, then, is a sin that meets none of the three criteria. Some sins that Rome considers to be mortal include adultery, murder, lust, missing mass on Sunday, perjury, unbelief, and the use of contraceptives. All of these are subject to the to mitigating circumstances above. The Church does not provide a precise list of sins, subdivided into the mortal and venial categories. Rather, it is generally considered a matter for a well-formed conscience to decide. It should not be said that missing Mass on Sunday is considered equal in gravity to murder: the Catholic belief holds that mortal sins can vary in their seriousness, although the "mortal" effect remains present for all sins in this category.

In short, mortal sins are very serious-- a mortal sin is a sin that results in a loss of one’s salvation if it goes unrepented. It is called "mortal" because it kills the eternal life in a soul that is first given in baptism. A less serious venial sin adds to one's time in purgatory. So what Fr. Hardon is telling us is:
  1. Sins must be forgiven in order to be saved.
  2. Sins that are forgiven must also be paid for by temporal punishment.
  3. Mortal sins must be forgiven in this life, but some or all of their punishment can be exacted in purgatory.
  4. Similarly for venial sins, except it may be possible that some venial sins are actually forgiven in purgatory (as opposed to just “paid for.”)
In the Roman Catholic Catechism, we read:
1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire: As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.
We note that a scripture passage used to support purgatory is the unpardonable sin:
And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matt. 12:32)
The idea being that this passage obliquely proves that there is the possibility of some sin being forgiven in an age to come—which is identified with purgatory.

John Calvin wrote, regarding Matt. 12:32:
With regard to the inference drawn by the Papists, that the sins of men are forgiven after death, there is no difficulty in refuting their slander. First, they act foolishly in torturing the expression, future life, to mean an intermediate period, while any one may perceive that it denotes "the last judgment." But it is likewise a proof of their dishonesty; for the objection which they sophistically urge is inconsistent with their own doctrine. Who knows not their distinction, that sins are freely pardoned in respect of guilt, but that punishment and satisfaction are demanded? This is an acknowledgment, that there is no hope of salvation to any one whose guilt is not pardoned before death. To the dead, therefore, there remains no forgiveness, except as regards punishment; and surely they will not venture to deny that the subject of this discourse is guilt. Let them now go and light their fire of purgatory with these cold materials, if ice can kindle a flame.
Calvin’s criticism is a subtle but deadly one: Catholic doctrine teaches that all mortal sin must be forgiven (via penance) in this life. Clearly the unpardonable sin is a mortal sin. In order for Matt. 12:32 to speak of purgatory, it must be allowed that this mortal sin is an exception—and so the implication is that some mortal sin can be forgiven in purgatory. Calvin takes the simpler view: blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will neither be forgiven in this age nor at the final judgment—stated to emphasize the serious of the transgression. Other Protestant commentators suggest that this sin is neither forgivable in under the Old Covenant (still in effect as Jesus spoke these words) or the New Covenant (the age to come) initiated at Calvary.

The Catholic Catechism goes on to speak of prayer for the dead:
1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture:

"Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin." (2 Maccabees 12:46)

From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.
We see that some of their scriptural support comes from the Apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees. We see also that indulgences are explicitly mentioned in the Catechism.

This may come as a surprise to those who thought indulgences were an “ancient” doctrine. Not so—here are some excerpts from the post-Vatican II document: Indulgentarium Doctrina (Paul VI, 1967):
It is a divinely revealed truth that sins bring punishments inflicted by God's sanctity and justice. These must be expiated either on this earth through the sorrows, miseries and calamities of this life and above all through death, or else in the life beyond through fire and torments or "purifying" punishments…The reasons for their imposition are that our souls need to be purified.

That punishment or the vestiges of sin may remain to be expiated or cleansed and that they in fact frequently do even after the remission of guilt is clearly demonstrated by the doctrine on purgatory. In purgatory, in fact, the souls of those "who died in the charity of God and truly repentant, but before satisfying with worthy fruits of penance for sins committed and for omissions" are cleansed after death with purgatorial punishments.
What we see is that there are three Catholic doctrines that are closely related: Purgatory, indulgences, and the “treasury of merit.”

Next time we will look at indulgences and the complex Catholic view of merit.

Monday, May 01, 2006

End Times Date Prediction

Tribulation to start in -1940 Years!

NOTE: This is a slight variation of a post from a couple years ago. I gave it as a Sunday School lesson yesterday, so I thought I might as well repost.

The Olivet Discourse: Preterist View of Matthew 24.

Preterism refers to the view that many of Jesus’ prophecies found the gospels as well as in the apocalyptic books such as Daniel and Revelation, including what is commonly referred to as the Great Tribulation, have already been fulfilled. In a nutshell:
  • Unlike Dispensationalism (the futurist view with the rapture, the seven year tribulation, the rise of the antichrist, and the 1000 year earthly kingdom), preterism does not view the "Kingdom of God" as something occurring in the future, but as something that has already been initiated. The Gospel references to the Kingdom of Heaven, (or Kingdom of God), when given with an accompanying time frame, teach of the imminence of the Kingdom (c.f., Matt 3:2, 4:17, 10:7, 12:28; Mark 1:15, 9:1, 12:34; Luke 9:27, 10:9-11, 17:20-22).

  • Preterism attaches great prophetic and redemptive significance to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

  • Preterism presents a harmonious explanation of the Olivet discourse, taking the time references at their plain meaning and references to cosmic cataclysm as prophetic poetry. This is both its greatest success (for all other explanations of the Olivet discourse suffer from some sort of difficulty in the time-related aspects) and its greatest provocation, for the preterist must acknowledge that the Parousia (second coming, or more accurately the Coming of the Son of Man) has already happened. The "sense" in which it has happened, and whether or not there is still a future glorious return of Christ in the clouds and a resurrection of the saints, separates hyper-preterism from partial or moderate preterism.

  • The Olivet discourse contains timelines, apocalyptic prophesy, and descriptions of the fulfilling of prophesy. In some sense, preterists and dispensationalists (futurists, left-behinders) choose opposite hermeneutics: The preterists take the time references literally and the apocalyptic descriptions as imagery, while the dispensationalists do the reverse.

  • The preterist views the Olivet discourse as a continuous exposition on a single time period: from the time Christ spoke the words to about one generation (40 years) later (when some of those present would still be alive). The terminus of the discourse’s prophesy is AD 70 when the Temple was destroyed.

  • The most important thing to keep in mind is that to the preterist, everything discussed in the Olivet discourse happened within about forty years after Christ delivers the prophecy.

  • Because the preterist sees the great tribulation as something in the past, he tends to be more optimistic about the future. Thus you see a strong correlation between preterism and post-millennialism—the eschatology that teaches the world will be dominated by Christianity before Christ’s return.
The Olivet Discourse

Now, on to the scripture (Taken here from Matthew 24):
1 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down."
There is universal agreement that this refers to the destruction of the temple in AD 70. This is such an amazing prophesy that biblical critics argue that it "proves" that either the gospels were written after the event or that its description was a later redaction designed to give Christ more credibility.
3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"
According to preterism, The disciples are asking about closely related events, or different aspects of the same event: these things refers to what was just discussed, the destruction of the temple, your coming refers to the Parousia, and the end of the age refers to the end of the Jewish dispensation. (note: the word at the end of v. 3 [aion] is more properly translated as age, rather than world [kosmos].) Calvin (who was neither a preterist or a dispensationalist, but a historicist) taught that the disciples, finding the destruction of the temple to be utterly inconceivable, erroneously assumed that it would not happen until the end of the world. Preterists disagree, pointing out that Jesus took no steps to correct the false assumption, and indeed He answers as if these events occur in a single time frame.
What age is being discussed? Scholars know that Jewish apocalyptic literature of this era divided history into two great ages—the age of the law and the age of the Messiah. What is ending is the age of the law—or the Jewish age. N. T. Wright comments:
The present age was a time when the creator god seemed to be hiding his face; the age to come would see the renewal of the created world. The present age was the time of Israel's misery; in the age to come she would be restored. In the present age wicked men seemed to be flourishing; in the age to come they would receive their just reward. In the present age even Israel was not really keeping the Torah perfectly, was not really being YHWH's true humanity; in the age to come all Israel would keep Torah from the heart. (N. T Wright, New Testament and the People of God, 299-300.)
Let’s move on to Jesus’ answer.
4 And Jesus answered and said to them: "Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, "I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Preterists point to historic accounts from the 1st century historian Josephus and other contemporary writers affirming that all these things occurred in the vicinity of Palestine during the period in question. For example, Josephus writes,
Now, as for the affairs of the Jews, they grew worse and worse continually; for the country was again filled with robbers and impostors, who deluded the multitude. (Josephus, Antiquities 20.8.5)
Calvin agrees that all these events happened in the approximately 40 years from the time Christ spoke these words until the destruction of Jerusalem, but points out that they all would happen to some degree in virtually any 40 year period. I think what Calvin was really saying is that for the Lord to give a specific warning about such matters, they must not be, for example, your garden variety false Christ but deceivers extraordinaire. The preterist response (in regards to the false prophets) is that while in its infancy, the church was extremely vulnerable to false prophets and so a specific warning is in order, whereas today the maturity of the church makes it less susceptible to such an attack.

Preterists also point out that Christ says Take heed that no one deceives you. The plain reading is that "you" refers to the disciples, not some far future group of believers. This is further evidence that Jesus is talking about something imminent, and has not segued into a discussion of far distant prophesy.
9 "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. 15 "Therefore when you see the "abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened. 23 "Then if anyone says to you, "Look, here is the Christ!' or "There!' do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 "Therefore if they say to you, "Look, He is in the desert!' do not go out; or "Look, He is in the inner rooms!' do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.
There is more in this part of the discourse about false prophets, to which the previous comments once again apply. More importantly, this passage talks about what is usually believed to be the great (and future) Tribulation with a capital 'T'. However, to the preterist, this tribulation refers to the persecution endured prior to the "coming of the Son of Man" (again: about 40 years hence, to the preterist). Verses 9-11 offer no problem; surely a case can be made that such things happened during this period.

It is useful to remind ourselves just how horrific was the Roman response to the Jewish Rebellion. Jack Van Deventer lists some of the atrocities committed by the Romans in a “dateline” manner, most of the information gleaned from the writings of Josephus:
  • 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 field (Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. (Matt. 24:40).), 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.

When the food ran out, civil war broke out among three Jewish factions. Murder and starvation were rampant. Josephus wrote that civil war inside the walls of Jerusalem wrought more carnage 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.

Josephus also described a scene of horror concerning a starving mother (remindful, once again, of the warnings in Matthew 24). 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 the horrified bystanders.

It is interesting to read Josephus’ accounts of the events leading up to the war. In addition to "rumors of wars", Josephus records that there was a rise of false Christs and prophets.
There was also another body of wicked men gotten together, not so impure in their actions, but more wicked in their intentions, which laid waste the happy state of the city no less than did these murderers. These were such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretense of Divine inspiration…. But there was an Egyptian false prophet that did the Jews more mischief than the former; for he was a cheat, and pretended to be a prophet also, and got together thirty thousand men that were deluded by him; these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount which was called the Mount of Olives…( Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 2.13.)
Note that the Egyptian false prophet appears to be corroborated by the bible, Recall that Paul was arrested in his last trip to Jerusalem. The commander mistakes Paul for the false prophet Josephus described: "Do you speak Greek?" he replied. "Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?" (Acts 21:38).

Vespasian arrived to lead the Roman response in the spring of A.D. 67. Nero was emperor (he dispatched Vespasian to squelch the revolt). In A.D. 68, Nero died at his own hand. The following year was a bad one for Rome, the "year of the four emperors" viz. Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and finally stability with Vespasian. When Vespasian returned to Rome, his son Titus took over the military campaign. It was Titus who led the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. The siege began in April A.D. 70 and by the end of August the Temple was first occupied then destroyed. Josephus describes the actual attack on the temple:
WHILE the holy house was on fire, every thing was plundered that came to hand, and ten thousand of those that were caught were slain; nor was there a commiseration of any age, or any reverence of gravity, but children, and old men, and profane persons, and priests were all slain in the same manner;

AND now the Romans, upon the flight of the seditious into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings round about it, brought their ensigns to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator with the greatest acclamations of joy. And now all the soldiers had such vast quantities of the spoils which they had gotten by plunder, that in Syria a pound weight of gold was sold for half its former value.
The preterists argue that the advice provided in Matthew 24—flee to the mountains, leave your belongings, etc., is more appropriate as instructions for refugees fleeing the conquering Romans—that what the dispensationalist believes—that it is for those caught by surprise by the trumpet announcing the second coming.

How does the preterist claim a fulfillment of verse 14, that the gospel will be preached in all the world? He claims it is substantiated by none other than the Apostle Paul:
5 because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; (Col 1:5-6)
if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Col 1:23)
Whatever Paul meant by “all the world” and “every creature under heaven” used in the past tense, indicates that Paul taught that Matthew 24:14 was already fulfilled.

As for the tribulation, preterism draws this conclusion from verses 14-27: it is localized in the region of Judea (culminating with Roman invasion). References to those who are in Judea and the holy place (the temple) and the overall description bespeaks of a localized, imminent event, not a far-off world-wide cataclysm.
The parallel passage in Luke strengthens this view:
They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:24)
Luke anticipated a fulfillment in terms of Jerusalem only -- the final Diaspora, and the trampling down of Jerusalem by the Gentiles.
In v. 22, the argument given by dispensationalists is that no flesh would be saved means “no flesh in the world”, and hence this points to a world-wide tribulation. But biblical analysis shows that this needn’t be the case, we read in Jeremiah:
Upon all the bare heights in the desert destroyers have come, for the sword of the LORD devours from one end of the land to the other; no flesh has peace. (Jer. 12:12)
This similar passage, it is agreed by all, refers to the Jews only.

As for the coming of the Son of Man, the preterist view varies, but I think the most common view is that the destruction of Jerusalem is in some sense the result of "the coming of the Son of Man". Whether there is a future, literal return in-the-clouds is part of what separates hyper from moderate preterism. In any case, preterists of all stripes agree that for preterism to be the self-consistent exposition it claims, then everything in the Olivet discourse including "the coming of the Son of Man" had to have occurred within a generation. For support, they turn to some other scripture:
When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matt 10:23).
This verse states that the Son of Man will come when the disciples had visited the cities of Israel. That would seem to be a task that would fit nicely into the timeframe of a generation and not require thousands of years.

Another relevant passage is:
27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. 28 Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." (Matt. 16:27-28)
Here the preterist can again assume a plain reading: some of the disciples would still be alive when they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom, which is in fact the end of the Jewish age and the onset of "The age of the gentiles" (Matt. 21:43).

Non-preterist views of this passage sometimes border on (in my opinion) the absurd. For example, many argue that in this context the "Son of Man coming in His kingdom" refers to the transfiguration, which occurs about six days later. (Some bibles inject, between verses 16:27 and 16:28, a heading: The Transfiguration.) But this interpretation implies that verse 16:28 can be paraphrased: "Some of you will still be alive six days from now" which hardly seems worthy of divine mentioning.

The preterists claim that the carcass of verse 28 is the Jewish dispensation which is about to end, and the eagles refer to the agent of destruction, specifically the standard of the invading Roman legions.

The end that will come is not the end of history resulting in the eternal state, but the end of the Jewish age.
29 "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
This is assumed to be the biggest problem for the preterist. While historians of antiquity have given accounts of false prophets, earthquakes, famines, and wars, no one has described what would seem to be an unraveling of the space-time fabric of the universe. Josephus has no description of the cosmological upheaval alluded to in verses 29-31.

Here is where the preterist appeals to poetic language. The destruction of Jerusalem, according to preterists, is so "big" that it requires, in the tradition of the East, apocalyptic symbolism. As proof, they site strikingly similar passages from the old testament, for example regarding the destruction of Babylon:
9 Behold, the day of the LORD comes, Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, To lay the land desolate; And He will destroy its sinners from it. 10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not give their light; The sun will be darkened in its going forth, And the moon will not cause its light to shine. (Isa. 13:9-10)
Therefore I will shake the heavens, And the earth will move out of her place, (Isa. 9:13).
Add to this, the destruction of Bozrah:
3 Also their slain shall be thrown out; Their stench shall rise from their corpses, And the mountains shall be melted with their blood. 4 All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down As the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree. (Isa. 34:3-4)
If the destruction of Bozrah warrants such language, then even more so, says the preterist, the destruction of Jerusalem.

We will conclude with the next passage from the Matthew 24:
32 "Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near--at the doors! 34 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
The preterist is on the highest of his high ground here, for he accepts the phrase this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place as having its simple meaning: generation means generation, not race or type of people as some viewpoints require. Preterists point out that wherever else Christ used the word generation, he meant it in the plain sense of those living at that time. (c.f., Matt. 11:16, 12:39, 12:41, 12:42, 12:45, 16:4, 17:17). The fig tree analogy also implies near term fulfillment.