Preterism, the Rapture, and the Last Days

cemetery of fallen soldiers and veterans

When studying the prophesies found in the New Testament, special attention must be paid to the events in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. History indicates that many of the predictions given by Jesus occurred by AD 70. The contemporary name given to the belief that the future prophesies have now been fulfilled in the past is Preterism (Latin, praeter, “past”, or, “beyond”). 

There are two forms of Preterism.

There is the Full Preterist View. This position teaches that all the future promises of the New Testament have been fulfilled, including the destruction of the Temple, the resurrection and the second coming of Christ.

There is the Partial Preterist View. This position argues that while many New Testament predictions have been made, not all have been realized. While the return of Jesus in AD 70 was a return of Jesus in judgment upon national Israel for crucifying Christ, it was not the return of Christ as He went away and is to come again. Study Matthew 27:25; Acts 1:11

            “Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

The parousia, or final coming of Christ at the end of history has not yet occurred, neither has there been a general resurrection of the dead whereby all who are the graves shall come forth.

            “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29).

When God came in judgment upon Israel in AD 70, it was a Day of the Lord, but not the final, Great Day the Lord.

Against the Full Preterist View, the Church must defend the historic faith. In 1 Corinthians 15:50-57, the Apostle Paul sets forth in detail those who shall share in the bodily transformation of the living, and the bodily resurrection from among the dead.

The transformation of the living, and the resurrection of the dead, will change the material makeup of the body.

The transformation of the living, and the resurrection of the dead, will happen suddenly.

The transformation of the living, and the resurrection of the dead, will be accompanied by the sounding of the last trumpet.

The transformation of the living, and the resurrection of the dead, will lead to a shout of victory.

“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Prior to writing this word, Paul spoke about Christians being raised with glorified bodies, after the likeness of the resurrection of Jesus. Study 1 Corinthians 15:35-49

There is a time element associated with the fulfillment of these prophesies, and it is the Last Day of Human History.

There is a physical element to the resurrection which the Church has always affirmed. The Apostle’s Creed says,

“I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic [universal] church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.”

There is a personal element to the resurrection. It is not just that Christ arose from among the dead, but we as Christians affirm our own resurrection from the dead. Christ is the first-fruit in the resurrection to demonstrate that those who follow Him shall one day be raised from the dead.

There is a glorification aspect to the resurrection.  The body we now possess is wonderfully made, as the Psalmist noted.

            “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well” (Psalms 139:14).

The new body will be united without our soul and spirit, and we shall be immortal. Therein is glory.

While the Full Preterist View teaches that all of this has already been fulfilled, the objective evidence states otherwise.

The reason why the Full Preterist View has emerged, is because 1 Corinthians 15, when Paul says, “we shall all be changed,” there is no specific time frame references.

Paul does not say, “This generation will not pass away.”

Paul does not say, “These things will happen shortly.”

Paul does not say, “The time is at hand.”

What Paul does say is that, “we”, shall be changed (1 Cor. 15:51).

Since Paul included himself in the process, it is argued that whatever is being discussed necessitates his involvement. Paul says, “we shall not all sleep”; “we shall all be changed”; “and “we shall be changed” into a state of incorruption.

Elsewhere, Paul speaks about, “we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds” (1 Thess. 4:17).

While Paul does not say concretely, “I will be alive when these events take place,” there is that inference, for the Full Preterist.

One response to the inclusiveness of Paul’s language, is to note that while he might have included himself in the narrative when writing to the Church in Thessalonica (c. AD 51), and when writing to the Church in Corinth (c. AD 53 – 55), by the year AD 67 Paul was writing, “

            “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought     a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8 Henceforth there is laid up     for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-9).

Paul finally understood that the parousia, and the general resurrection of the dead, would not take place during his lifetime, but it would take place. Therein is the blessed hope. Every Christian, in every generation can continue, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

In order to maintain their position, the Full Preterist brethren spiritualize those Scriptures which teach about the resurrection, and the Second Advent of Christ.

While much of the New Testament does deal with spiritual truths, those passages which speak of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the bodily resurrection of the saints, and the bodily return of Jesus Christ the second time for all who believe cannot, indeed, must not be spiritualized.

Nor does it do any good for the Full Preterist to argue that the bodily resurrection of the saints took place in AD 70, but it was a spiritual resurrection. Or, the Second Advent of Christ was a bodily return of the Lord in AD 70, but it was a spiritual return. Such language is absurd, and is reminiscent of Gnosticism, which denied the full reality of the humanity of Jesus. There is no record in the early Church to support what the Full Preterist View advocates.

Turning to 1 Thessalonians 4, attention is given to the subject of the rapture of the saints.

            “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that      ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be       with the Lord.  18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

The design of this passage was to comfort the people of God who had lost loved ones to death. The question arose whether or not those who have died in the Lord would miss out on the great eschatological events such as the return of Jesus, and the bodily resurrection. The answer Paul gave to the Church was, “No. Those who have fallen asleep in Jesus will return with Him and will receive a resurrected body at the same time that others on earth will be changed. In fact,” Paul said, “the returning saints will receive their resurrected bodies first.” The dead in Christ shall rise first, and be taken up into the air, and then we who are alive at His coming will also be changed and rise to “meet’, or, to greet the coming King.

The Full Preterist View unites itself with the current Dispensational View of a secret, silent, coming of Christ, a teaching which Jesus has condemned.

            “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not” (Matt. 24:23).

            “And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him     not” (Mark 13:21).

 The idea of a secret, silent, coming of Christ with all His saints leaving people unaware, is without Biblical foundation. Study 1 Thessalonians 3:13

The language of 1 Thessalonians 4 hardly allows for a silent event. All of heaven is engaged in the parousia.

Another argument employed in the Full Preterist View is to note that Scriptural symbolism does not necessitate literalism.

There is must truth to this observation for Scripture does use many symbols to speak of spiritual truths.

“Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7).

“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26).

“And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; 28 For this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:27-28).

There is much symbolism in Scripture. However, the words of Paul regarding the resurrection, and the rapture of the Church, meaning its going forth to meet Jesus at His Second Advent, does not allow for symbolism. These are no secret, silent events.

Concerning the timing of the rapture, there are different views.

The Dispensational View advance the idea for the rapture to take place before a great tribulation, which is said to last for seven years. This is called the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Theory—and it is only a theory, on the level as the theory of Evolution, and not settled dogma of Christian theology.

The System of Dispensationalism teaches that Jesus does not come all the way to earth, but draws near, seizes only the Church Age saints, departs, and makes a final return seven years later.

So there are two returns of Jesus, one for His saints, and one to establish an earthly kingdom that will last for a thousand years.

In light of Hebrews 9:28, the idea of a Second and Third Coming of Christ is not possible. Christ will only come the second time for all who believe.

            “So, Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9:28).

The Reformed View of 1 Thessalonians 4 the imagery of the saints going forth to meet Jesus, that is, to greet Christ, as He turns in glory. The word for meet is apantesis (ap-an’-tay-sis); a friendly encounter.

In the Reformed View, Christians participate in the glorious return of Jesus, not in secret, but with sound of a trumpet, and the voice of the archangel. The world sees and hears the victorious return of Jesus.

For support, the Reformed View appeals to the Creeds of Christendom, the Testimony of Time, the Simplicity of Scripture, comparative texts, and the ancient cultural practice of greeting conquering kings with trumpets, and an escort, to the place of his return.

On the side of the Dispensational View, there is loud, and repetitive, dogmatism rooted in the fertile imaginations of individuals such as Margret McDonald, John N. Darby, C. I. Scofield, John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, and Hal Lindsey, all of whom have made erroneous predictions in the name of the Lord.

Both positions are worthy of careful study.

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