While I continue our series on preterism (i.e., the belief
that prophecy was fulfilled in the past) we will be
shifting gears from dealing with key passages from
Matthew’s Gospel to their interpretation of the Book of
Revelation. To those of you who have been following this
series, it will come as no surprise to learn that
preterists believe that John’s Revelation from Jesus
Christ has already been fulfilled, as far as preterists
are concerned. Why do they take such a strange view?
The Preterist Interpretation
"The closer we get to the year 2000, the farther we get
from the events of Revelation," says preterist Ken Gentry.
"‘Preterism’ holds that the bulk of John’s prophecies
occur in the first century, soon after his writing of
them. Though the prophecies were in the future when John
wrote and when his original audience read them, they are
now in our past."1
Dr. R. C. Sproul apparently agrees with Dr. Gentry’s basic
understanding of Revelation as fulfilled prophecy.2
In his commentary on Revelation, the late David Chilton, a
The Book of
Revelation is not about the Second Coming of Christ. It
is about the destruction of Israel and Christ’s victory
over His enemies in the establishment of the New
Covenant Temple. In fact, as we shall see, the word
coming as used in the Book of Revelation never
refers to the Second Coming. Revelation prophesies the
judgment of God on apostate Israel; and while it does
briefly point to events beyond its immediate concerns,
that is done merely as a "wrap-up," to show that the
ungodly will never prevail against Christ’s Kingdom. But
the main focus of Revelation is upon events which were
soon to take place."3
As with the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24; Mk. 14; Lk. 21),
the preterist view does not view Bible prophecy as "things
to come," but rather as "things that came." Why do they
come to such an errant conclusion?
Preterist "Timing" Argument
Preterists believe they are driven to a first century
fulfillment of Revelation because, like the Olivet
Discourse, they believe it says it will be fulfilled soon.
What arguments do preterists appeal to in an effort to
support their understanding of Revelation?
Dr. Gentry begins his argument for a first century
fulfillment of Revelation by noting its similarity to the
It is an interesting fact noted by a number of
commentators that John’s Gospel is the only Gospel that
does not contain the Olivet Discourse, and that it would
seem John’s Revelation served as His exposition of the
If, as seems likely, Revelation is indeed John’s
exposition of the Olivet Discourse, we must remember that
in the delivery of the Discourse the Lord emphasized that
it focused on Israel (Matt. 24:1,2, 15-16; cf. Matt.
23:32ff.) and was to occur in His generation (Matt.
Thus, since preterists believe that there is a parallel
between what is taught in the Olivet Discourse and
Revelation (I agree that both refer to the same events),
they naturally would have to believe that Revelation was
fulfilled in the first century (I disagree that either has
"One of the most helpful interpretive clues in Revelation
is . . . the contemporary expectation of the author
regarding the fulfillment of the prophecies. John clearly
expects the soon fulfillment of his prophecy,"6
says Dr. Gentry. Preterist Gary DeMar has collected what
he calls the "time texts" in Revelation, which lead him to
believe that the fulfillment of the Apocalypse had to
occur during the first century. These are:
1) The events "must shortly (táchos) take
2) "For the time is near." (eggús) (1:3).
3) "I am coming to you quickly (tachús)."
4) "I am coming quickly (tachús)." (3:11).
5) "The third woe is coming quickly (tachús)."
6) "The things which must shortly (táchos)
take place." (22:6).
7) "Behold, I am coming quickly (tachús)."
8) "For the time is near." (eggús) (22:10).
9) "Behold, I am coming quickly (tachús)."
10) "Yes, I am coming quickly (tachús)."
It appears presumptuous at the outset of the
interpretative process that these verses are labeled "time
texts" by DeMar. The timing of a passage is determined by
taking into account all factors in a given passage. I hope
to show that these terms are more properly interpreted as
qualitative indicators (not chronological
indicators) describing how Christ will return. How will He
return? It will be "quickly" or "suddenly."
Without a doubt, the exegetical survival of the preterist
position revolves around the meaning of these passages.
When they arrive at passages which do not appear to
harmonize with their view, if taken plainly, they commonly
revert to their "timing" passages and say, "What ever this
passage means, we have already established that it had to
be fulfilled within the first century." In accordance with
this belief, they search first century "newspapers" for an
event that comprises the closest fit to the passage and
usually cite it as a fulfillment of the biblical text in
Preterist Theme of Revelation
Revelation 1:7 says, "Behold, He is coming with the
clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced
Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.
Even so. Amen." This passage is often recognized as the
theme verse of Revelation. Preterists believe that
"Revelation’s main focus of attention (though not its only
point) is this: God will soon judge the first-century Jews
for rejecting and crucifying his Son, their Messiah,"8
notes Dr. Gentry. "John states his theme in his
introduction at Revelation 1:7," Dr. Gentry continues,
"just after he declares the nearness of the events
(1:1,3), a theme that is directly relevant to the
Not surprisingly, Dr. Gentry believes that "in its
contextual setting verse 7 points to the destruction of
Jerusalem and her temple in A.D. 70."10
Preterists do not believe that this verse speaks of Christ
Second Coming, instead they see it as another reference to
the A.D. 70 destruction. Thus, in usual fashion,
preterists turn the perspective of Revelation 1:7 from a
global to a local perspective, from a Gentile to a Jewish
outlook, and from a future to a past fulfillment. All
these are reversals of its actual meaning.
As with the Olivet Discourse, when one sifts through the
details of Revelation it is clear that preterism fails to
prove its claims when compared with the totality of
Scripture. Preterists attempt to work their exegetical
voodoo on the Book of Revelation as they have done with
the Olivet Discourse.
Rebuttal of Preterist Interpretation
Over the next few installments I will be dissecting the
above stated preterist approach to Revelation. After that
is completed, I will provide reasons why the Bible teaches
that the events of Revelation, which include the
tribulation, second coming, and millennium are yet future
events. But first, in the remainder of this article I will
deal with their false understanding of Revelation 1:7.
As noted above, Preterists believe that Revelation 1:7
speaks of only the land of Israel and was local. On the
other hand, if it refers to Gentiles and is global, then
their view is impossible and it has to be future. We can
analyze the passage by dividing it into the following four
interpretive elements: 1) Christ’s "coming," 2) "with the
clouds," 3) "every eye will see Him, even those who
pierced Him;" and 4) "all the tribes of the earth will
mourn over Him." Since I will be doing a whole article
next month on the meaning of Christ’s "coming with the
clouds," I will defer commenting on these first two
elements until then. However, I, like almost all
interpreters of Scripture before me believe it to be a
clear reference to the bodily, personal return of Christ
at a yet future time. This is supported by the final two
items in the passage. Items number three and four include
clear allusions to Zechariah 12:10-14.
3) "every eye will see Him, even those
who pierced Him:"
This element plays a key role in determining whether this
passage has a global or local intent. The first part of
this element "every eye will see Him" does not appear in
the Old Testament reference. The other element, "even
those who pierced Him" is the part from Zechariah. It is
clear that those who pierced Him in Zechariah are a
reference to the Jewish people. On this, both preterist
and futurist would agree. The debate arises over whether
"every eye" is a reference to just the Jewish nation (the
preterist contention) or to the people of the whole earth
(the futurist understanding). The way to resolve who is
intended in the scope of the reference can be seen by
comparing it to the subset "even those who pierced Him."
If the larger group of "every eye" refers to the Jewish
nation, then it does not make sense that the smaller group
"even those who pierced Him," would be a reference to the
same exact people, as preterists contend. Their reading of
the passage would be as follows: "every eye (Israel) will
see Him, even those who pierced Him (Israel)." There would
be no need of have a sub-group if both mean the same
thing. If "every eye" refers to all the peoples of the
world as the larger group, then the qualifying phrase
"even those who pierced Him" would be emphasizing the
Jewish element as the smaller sub-group. Thus, it is not
surprising that virtually everyone, other than preterists,
take this element of this passage in a global sense. It
appears that bias, not the clear meaning of the text is
the only reason the preterist takes this part of the
passage in a restricted manner.
4) "all the tribes of the earth will
mourn over Him:"
The Greek word for "earth" can refer to either the
"earth," as in "heavens and earth" (Gen. 1:1), or "land,"
as in the "land of Israel" (1 Sam. 13:19). The problem
with taking this to refer to the land of Israel is that
every other usage of the exact phrase "all the tribes of
the earth" in the original language always has a universal
nuance (Gen. 12:3; 28:14; Ps. 72:17; Zech. 14:17). This
supports our futurist interpretation.
Preterists have to restrict the meaning of clear universal
language in the Bible in order to make their system appear
to work. However, as we are demonstrating, they have to
time after time force the biblical text into such a
meaning. Revelation 1:7 is another example of a passage
that speaks of the global scope of God’s future judgment
upon mankind. I will continue dealing with these items in
1. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., "A Preterist
View of Revelation" in C. Marvin Pate, ed., Four
Views on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 1998), p. 37.
2. See R. C. Sproul, The Last Days
According To Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), pp.
131-49; 179-89; 200-03.
3. David Chilton, The Days of
Vengeance (Ft. Worth: Dominion Press, 1987), p. 43.
4. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Before
Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation
(Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989),
5. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell,
6. Ibid., p. 133.
7. Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness
(Atlanta: American Vision, 1997), pp. 344-45. Numbers
and Greek transliteration added.
8. Gentry, "A Preterist View of
Revelation," p. 46.