One thing I love about theologians who have a past fulfillment view of theology, or Preterists, is the way that they notice and pay attention to details and even entire portions of Scripture that have gone largely unnoticed. When I first began reading preterist exegesis I felt like a beginner again, even though I had been studying the Bible for many years! I realized that the traditional path of apologetics is a well-worn path that navigates around entire concepts, leaving them overlooked. Thus, many passages have been labeled enigmatic or obscure because they don’t make sense when read through a futurist lens. Preterists do a service to traditional Christian readings of Scripture by drawing attention to and making sense of overlooked, misunderstood and under-appreciated Scriptures and details. In this way, they are championing the ‘underdog’ passages and saying “Hey! Listen to me! You don’t have to be just sheep anymore! Understanding these passages will change your life!”
When studying Scripture through a fulfilled view, one begins to see how a futurist paradigm was obscuring their understanding. Wipe that lens clean and the enigmas become clear. Seemingly random details fall into place naturally and take on significance. Scripture opens up and biblical writers are saying relevant things. “Aha! I finally understand why he said this!” becomes common. And this is why shifting to a past fulfillment paradigm is experienced by many as a ‘second conversion.’ And it’s wonderful, like a big exhale.
When enough Scriptures are overlooked, mistranslated and misunderstood, they draw a picture of a different story from the text. Do we live in an evil age, doomed for worldwide disaster from which only a special few will escape at an hour unknown? Is that the ethos that God wants us to live under? Or did Jesus come and consummate the age of darkness at his 70AD Parousia and usher in an everlasting Kingdom whose citizens are lighting up a world -one that He is actively improving?
One’s world optimistic or pessimistic world view depends on how you read the dozens of Scriptures like Hebrews, “NOW once at the final consummation of the ages…” or Peter, “NOW in these Last Days…”, both before 70AD. Have we been in an inexplicably long final consummation and the Last Days of the physical world ever since the middle of the first century? Or were they in the final consummation and Last Days of the Old Covenant age of the Jewish sacrificial system that came to a close in 70AD?
Futurists ignore the imminence as having any real relevance. Preterists recognize the imminent timing statements as foundational to the controlling narrative. Before I studied the Preterist view, I had no idea how much the Old Testament had to say about concepts like ‘the end’ of the ages or the ‘last days’ of Old Covenant Israel. I had no idea that the Old Testament definition of concepts should be my controlling narrative when I read the New Testament. Perhaps I thought I was doing this, but I wasn’t.
I wasn’t defining my New Testament understanding of these concepts by the Old Testament, as a first century reader might (or as a good biblical exegete might). I was reading into those texts what I thought those words meant based on my pre-existing worldview, and by what I thought ‘has to happen first’ before those Scriptures could be fulfilled and by what I had been told to think by futurist theology. Because of course if so many notable people have been futurist, it must be true.
If you begin ignoring one central theme in Scripture, like audience relevance or imminence, then more ignoring is needed to perpetuate the ignoring of many other related Scriptures to keep supporting that selective line of thinking. But if one could step aside from a futuristic presupposition for a moment, and look closely at the message that those overlooked details and passages are conveying, you might be surprised about what you find.
When the dots are connected, often by way of original audience relevance – how was this passage originally understood by someone who knew the Old Testament? – if we could put ourselves in their place, what we begin to notice as being important to them takes on vital importance. For example, in Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, he tells them that THEIR persecution (thlipsis) will be given relief (anesis) AT the coming of Jesus, which Paul also expected to experience, “WE who are ALIVE and REMAIN…” in his lifetime. And elsewhere Paul writes, “May your BODY be preserved BLAMELESS until the coming of the Lord…” but how could their bodies be preserved blameless if they died? In other words, Paul expected his readers to be alive, not decaying in tombs, when Jesus came. This is why he told them to hope, to hold on a little longer, and even not to marry if they could help it, and for slaves he said don’t start a freedom campaign right now. It’s not that Paul gave sufferers false hope, or that he was against marriage, or that he approved of slavery. Paul’s entire teaching about how people should live was predicated upon an imminent arrival of Jesus TO THEM. Paul believed this precisely because Jesus taught this. One soon-coming, age consummating arrival was central to Jesus’, and hence, Paul’s, entire message.
But this kind of audience relevance and clear imminence is run over or explained away by most. Why? Because we’ve misunderstood the nature of the things that were coming. Therefore, we’ve practically canonized a message that blinds people from recognizing the time of our visitation. And the irony? It’s not the first time in history that the majority of the people who should have recognized the Messiah’s arrival, did just the opposite. It’s not the first time we’ve chosen to “hold out for something better” or something more tangible.
The overlooked concepts, when finally given their rightful place as indicative of the nature of the eschatological events about which they speak, become the basis of an entirely plausible view. And all of sudden Scripture fits together as portraying a simply past-oriented message of faith that manifested itself physically and temporally in the world and which is remarkably recorded in history. And it tells the Good News of a uniquely present Jesus. An earthy, relevant message pours out of painfully imminent Scriptures. This message of fulfillment, is sitting in Scripture as clear as the nose on Christianity’s face.
But how many people have the commitment and interest to do put in the time to seek to answers to all the questions and objections that come along with undoing the futurist paradigm? Well, the fact that it takes work to relearn is one of the reasons that a fulfilled view is largely overlooked by believers today. But, there are many who do learn. The hunger for more understanding strikes them and each one says it was worth every ounce of effort. See my “Testimonies” page for some examples.
A friend of mine who is an evangelist and writer says that, when he takes a group of committed people through a 12 week comparative study of a Fulfilled view, the acceptance rate is about 85%. That’s pretty high! Especially when you consider the emotional, psychological and social cost of stepping outside of the mainstream. This statistic fits the anecdotal experience of many other friends who share a fulfilled view with others. This says to me that anyone with a high “teachability index” – a willingness to learn something new to their way of thinking – will see a lot of merit in what a Fulfilled Gospel view has to offer.
Not questioning our paradigms and overlooking details that could shed light upon the larger picture of our redemption story leads many people to miss or dismiss Fulfilled view. But people who have the interest and patience to work through the details notice that the Fulfillment that emerges from the Biblical narrative is worth it. I love people who have a high teachability index! I have a world of respect for people who are open to ideas that challenge their paradigm – and those who seek and are willing to CHANGE in light of new information. There is a pot of gold at the end of the Preterist rainbow. Many have reported to feeling that coming to a Fulfilled view has put their study of the Bible “on steroids” and made much of the strange enigmas seem clear.
Nearly everyone I know who currently holds a past fulfillment view of Scripture began as a futurist. We’ve all adopted a kind of humility for all that’s probably staring us in the face that we still don’t know.
On a scale of 1-10, where do you fall on the teachability index? What would make it worth your while to study the preterist view?