When you boil it all down there are
only three schools of thought for interpreting prophecy.
There are idealists, who interpret prophecy symbolically
and don't expect any of it to be fulfilled in the
Then there are preterists, who see the complete
fulfillment of prophecy in past events culminating in
the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
And there are futurists who see the fulfillment
of prophecy in events still to come.
All the major views fit under one of these
In this study, I'm going to focus
on preterists and futurists because they both claim to
interpret prophecy in terms of a literal fulfillment,
whereas idealists treat it allegorically, symbolic of
the ongoing struggle between good and evil.
Because of that there are many opinions among
idealists as to what it all means, with about the only
areas of universal agreement being that none of it will
really happen as written, and the “good guys” will
eventually win. When you read an idealist's
interpretation of prophecy you're reading what someone
wishes the Bible did say, instead of what it does say.
For the most part preterists and
futurists both agree on the basics of the Gospel. But
when it comes to prophecy it's hard to imagine how any
two groups could be farther apart. Unlike idealists both
preterists and futurists look for the fulfillment of
prophecy in actual events, but as I said preterists see
its fulfillment in events long past, while futurists
look for it in events to come.
Preterist comes from
the Latin word praeter, a prefix that defines
something as being in the past.
Think of the “pre” in preterist as standing for
previous, as in previous to 71 AD.
As an example, let's take one of the Bible's most
important prophecies, Daniel's 70 Weeks (Daniel
Preterists believe the entire prophecy has been
According to the preterist interpretation, after Jesus
was crucified, the Romans desecrated the Temple, and the
Roman Emperor Nero fulfilled the prophecies of the
coming prince, also known as the anti-Christ.
Preterists believe the day of the
Lord took place in 68-70 AD with the Roman conquest of
Millennium was actually only 40 years long and took
place from 30-70 AD. The Earth will last forever and
there will be no coming judgment and no rapture of the
Church. Since there's no prophecy left to fulfill we'll
simply transition from time into eternity on a future
day of the Lord's choosing.
On the other hand, futurists
believe there is a gap of time between the 69th
weeks of Daniel
and all of Daniel's 70th week is yet
to be fulfilled.
According to the futurist view the rapture of the
Church, the rebuilt Temple in Israel, the Great
Tribulation, the 2nd Coming, the Millennium
and the Great White Throne judgment are still to come.
How Could This Be?
God knows the end from the
beginning so He always knew the Israelites would reject
the Messiah and open the door for the Gentile Church.
But in order to preserve Israel's first right of
refusal regarding God's Kingdom offer,
all end times prophecy had leave Israel's options
Isaiah or Daniel or any of the others had come right out
and said that Israel would reject the Messiah and
forfeit the Kingdom, the Lord's instructions for the
disciples to preach that “the Kingdom of Heaven is near”
(Matt. 10:7) would not have been legitimate.
But if the prophets had clearly
confirmed Israel's acceptance then there would have been
no place for the Church. The prophecies had to be given
in such a way that both possibilities could legitimately
exist in their fulfillment.
The way Daniel's 70 Weeks prophecy
reads allows both Preterists and Futurists to defend
Someone who has only heard the Preterist
interpretation can see how it fits the prophecy.
Every event Preterists use to support their claim
that the 70th week is in the past actually
happened. Jesus was crucified, the Romans did destroy
the city and the sanctuary and they did bring judgment
upon Israel. You can even come up with a form of
Nero's name that has a numerical equivalent of
Likewise someone who has only heard
the Futurist position can see how it fits, too. Every
event that Futurists use to support their claim that the
70th Week is yet to come has also happened.
In fact both camps use some of the same historical
events in support of their positions. Here's why.
I'm convinced that had the Jews
accepted Jesus as their Messiah so He could die for
their sins like Daniel 9:26 prophesied, there
would have been no gap in the 70 weeks prophecy.
The 70th Week would have begun
immediately after the resurrection and would have
culminated in the Risen Lord leading His armies against
Rome to restore the Kingdom to Israel and usher in the
time we know as the Millennium. All the 2nd
Coming prophecies would have been fulfilled at that
Acts 1:6 we know this is how the disciples
expected it to happen.)
By the way, the idea that that Jews
should be condemned as Christ killers for putting the
Messiah to death misses the point. Both the Old and New
Testaments clearly show that Jesus had to die for the
sins of the people.
He came for that reason, to be the Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
Everyone knew that lambs were sacrificed as an offering
Their problem with God is not that
they put the Messiah to death.
Their problem is that they refused to allow His
death to pay for their sins, and in so doing rendered
His perfect sacrifice as being of even less value to
them than the actual lambs that could only temporarily
set their sins aside.
It was an unbelievable insult to God that has
left them dead in their sins and out of fellowship with
Him for nearly 2000 years.
Because of this, James announced
that Israel was being set aside while the Lord took for
Himself a people from the gentiles.
When He has finished doing that, He'll turn His
focus again to Israel and fulfill the remaining 70th
Week (Acts 15:13-18). This was the first time on
earth that a gap between the 69th and 70th
weeks of Daniel's prophecy had been revealed.
This is what gave gave rise to the idea that God
is not finished with Israel and there's a lot of Bible
prophecy yet to be fulfilled.
Paul confirmed this in Romans 11:25.
But Wait There's More
There are other prophecies that
confirm the idea that Israel's options were open.
For example, 750 years before the fact, Isaiah
spoke of the coming Messiah.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the
government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful, Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his
government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his
kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and
righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of
Almighty will accomplish this (Isaiah 9:6-7)
There's no indication of a gap in
the middle of this prophecy's fulfillment. Absent any
other information a rational person would conclude that
the two paragraphs are connected, with the second
immediately following the first.
Likewise, when Gabriel announced
the Lord's coming to Mary,
he promised that her child would be called the
Son of God. He
would sit on David's throne and reign over the house of
Jacob forever (Luke
Gabriel didn't mention a 2,000 year gap between
the child's birth and His ascension to David's throne
Both of these prophecies have only
been fulfilled in part. The child was born, the son was
given and He is called the Son of God by many.
But because Israel rejected Him, He hasn't been
seated on David's throne, He is not Israel's King, and
the Earth is not experiencing everlasting peace. By
inserting a gap between the part that has been fulfilled
and the part that hasn't, you can see that what could
have been the past to us has become the future and the
meaning of the prophecy remains just as clear as it
would have been with out it.
Can You See It?
Only when we really dig into these
prophecies with supernatural insight can we see that
the Preterist view requires a departure from a
strict literal translation. I say we need the assistance
insight because as far as we can tell not one of
the Jewish scholars “saw” the gap between the 69th and
into which the Church Age so neatly fits.
The Apostle Paul was arguably the most
intellectually gifted of the New Testament writers, and
had been educated by Gamaliel, who was revered as a
pre-eminent Hebrew scholar (Acts 22:3). Yet even
Paul did not understand this until it was revealed to
him by God Himself. He said it was a mystery not made
known to men in other generations (Ephes. 3:2-6).
Futurists who adhere to a literal
interpretation of Scripture accuse Preterists of
spiritualizing some prophecies in order to give them a
For example, most Preterists cling to the opinion
that God is finished with Israel.
They say prophecies that Futurists see as
pertaining to Israel's future have been inherited
by and fulfilled in the Church. In this they are like
others who embrace replacement theology. (Replacement
Theology is the false teaching that the Church has
replaced Israel in God's plan.)
And to those who ask for evidence
that the 2nd Coming has already occurred,
preterists have several responses.
Some say that 2nd Coming prophecies
were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and the 2nd
Temple in 70 AD.
It's based on their belief that when Jesus said,
“I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly
not pass away until all these things have happened”
(Matt. 24:34) He was speaking of the people alive
at the time. Since the phrase “all these things”
includes the 2nd Coming, then it had to have
been fulfilled in the judgment that came upon Israel
through the Roman conquest.
But in the context of the passage
it's also possible to see a future fulfillment.
Matt. 24:34 can be interpreted to say,
“The generation that sees these things begin to happen
will not pass away until they have all happened.”
Believing the second coming has already happened,
preterists use the first interpretation of Matt.
24:34, and believing the second Coming has not
happened, futurists use the second one.
Some preterists say that while the
judgment part of the 2nd Coming was
fulfilled that that time, the Lord's actual appearance,
the resurrection that accompanies it, and the gathering
of His elect are still in our future.
(Those who hold this view
call themselves partial preterists.)
What Does It All Mean?
In essence then, while Futurists
look forward to the ultimate fulfillment of Biblical
prophecy, Preterists look back and find its fulfillment
in history. As you can imagine, while people are looking
in opposite directions it's almost impossible for them
to have the same view.
So which one is more consistent
with God's word?
If you adhere to a strict literal interpretation
of His word a careful study of prophecy will lead you to
the inescapable conclusion that there has to be a gap
between the 69th and 70th weeks of
Daniel 9:24-27 and the Church Age is filling that
gap. There's no
other way to make everything fit without having to
reinterpret parts of it.
For example, preterists have to
assume that what the Bible calls End Times judgments
involved only the Middle East and not the whole world.
That way they can see the fall of Jerusalem as
the fulfillment of Armageddon, the Roman legions as the
armies of Heaven, etc.
Likewise they see the
representation of the Roman Eagle that King Herod
affixed to the Temple wall as
“the abomination that causes desolation” of which
Daniel had spoken (Daniel 9:27), even though it
doesn't match the description of the only event in
history to be known by that name.
In 168 BC Syrian King Antiochus
Epiphanes invaded Israel and took over the Temple, using
it to worship the Greek god Zeus, and by extension
(The title epiphanes means manifestation, so
in effect Antiochus was claiming to be Zeus in
human form.) He set up a statue of Zeus in his own
which he required the Jews to worship on pain of death.
This rendered the Temple unfit for worshiping
God, so Jewish historians called it the Abomination that
Causes Desolation. (source: 1 Maccabees, Josephus, New
200 years later Jesus (Matt.
24:15) Paul (2 Thes 2:4) and John (Rev.
13:14-15) said that a coming
event that does fit the above description will be
a sign that the end of the age has come. Jesus even
referred to it as the abomination that causes
There has never been a repeat occurrence of the one
recorded in Jewish history.
Therefore it has to be still in our future.
And finally, in order to have it
apply to the fall of Jerusalem preterists have to date
the Book of Revelation prior to 70AD to fit the time of
Nero's reign, even though the most reliable estimates
around 95AD, 25 years after the fall of Jerusalem.
History Repeating Itself
Theologians often speak of a dual
fulfillment in end times prophecy.
They point to partial fulfillments in history as
God's way of validating that a complete fulfillment will
take place in the future. This has proven to be a
reliable tool for predicting how end times fulfillments
will take place, since they'll be a more complete
version of the earlier partial fulfillment.
The abomination that causes
desolation is a good example.
When Jesus said to look for another one to come
as a sign that the end of the age is upon us He was
giving His only specific answer to the disciples'
question, “What will be the sign of your coming and
of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3). It was
something people alive at the end of the age can
identify with confidence because it happened once
before, and Jewish historians recorded all the details.
I'm convinced another purpose of
this dual fulfillment concept was to keep Israel's
If they accepted the Messiah there would be an immediate
If not, there would only be a partial fulfillment
with the complete one coming in the future.
I believe the preterist position is
built on the belief that what turned out to be a partial
fulfillment in history, caused by Israel's rejection of
the Messiah, is the only fulfillment of end times
prophecy and there isn't a more complete fulfillment to
Holding this view requires that preterists mold events
to fit the prophecies in some cases and mold prophecies
to fit the events in others.
Only the futurist position
remains true to the complete, literal sense in
which the prophecies were written.
You can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah.