Most Conservative Evangelicals I know are deeply convinced that the prophecies contained within the Book of Revelation relate to future events which have yet to come.
In what follows, I interviewed Chris Date who is himself a Conservative Evangelical for presenting an alternative view called preterism. I often don’t agree with his theology but find he’s a great and kind man as well as a careful exegete of the Bible.
I previously interviewed him about the topic of hell.
Lothar’s Son: So Chris thank you very much for having accepted this new interview 🙂 Today we’re about to talk about the end time and what the Bible has to say about this.
Chris Date: It’s my pleasure.
Lothar’s Son: So, could you please summarize the current Evangelical views on this important theme?
Chris Date: Most evangelicals in America today are what are called futurists: they believe that the bulk of eschatological events foretold in the Bible are yet to be fulfilled in our future, such as the beast/antichrist, the great tribulation, and the millennium of Revelation. Regarding the millennium, most evangelicals in America today are premillennialists, meaning that they think Jesus will return at the beginning of the millennium at some point in our future, and reign over an earthly kingdom for precisely a thousand years, after which will occur the final judgment, general resurrection, and eternal state.
Chris Date: Dispensationalists furthermore believe in a rapture and tribulation period at the beginning of that millennium, and they comprise a large percentage of those premillennial futurists I just described. I might say a majority of them, but I’m not confident about that.
Lothar’s Son: Okay. And are there futurists who are not premillennialist?
Chris Date: Yes, it’s possible to be an amillennialist or postmillennialist and be a futurist. Amillennialists and postmillennialists believe the thousand years talked about in the book of Revelation refer to the present Church age, and a futurist who falls into this camp would probably say that the vision recorded in Revelation is not linear in terms of time, and so although the beast, for example, features earlier in the vision, nevertheless he will appear in our future toward the end of the millennium. That’s my understanding of amillennial/postmillennial futurism, anyway. I could be wrong, as I’m not one of them 🙂
Lothar’s Son: Ok 🙂 What is your own position?
Chris Date: Well I am an amillennialist, but I’m what’s called a preterist. Whereas futurists believe the bulk of biblical, eschatological prophecy awaits fulfillment in our future, we preterists beleive the bulk of it (not all of it) was fulfilled in our past. This includes the beast, the great tribulation, and more.
Chris Date: What we preterists do believe awaits fulfillment in our future is the return of Christ, the resurrection from the dead, final judgment, consummation of all things, and eternal state.
Lothar’s Son: Could you please describe key proof texts for each side?
Chris Date: Well I can point you to some key texts for preterism. In his Olivet Discourse, Jesus foretells some eschatological events in Matthew 24, ones futurists believe await fulfillment in our future, but then he says inv erse 34 that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” John says in the prologue of Revelation that the things he was shown “must soon take place” (v. 1) and that “the time is near” (v. 3). Daniel is told to seal up the mystery of his vision “until the time of the end” because, apparently, the time of its fulfillment is in the distant future (Dan. 12:4), but John is told, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (Rev. 22:10). This sampling of what we preterists call the “time texts” demonstrates that much of the things many Christians have been told awaits fulfillment in our future must, in fact, have been fulfilled in our past.
Chris Date: As for futurism, it’s more difficult to offer you key texts because, frankly, I don’t think they have any. I think all futurists can argue is that the texts I just listed cannot mean what they appear to mean because if they did, then we could not read much of the prophecies in Scripture literally. But of course, that’s part of the question being begged. We preterists don’t think the authors of Scripture ever intended for their eschatological, apocalyptic prophecy to be interpreted literally. The genre is one of highly symbolic dreams and visions, and so one shouldn’t be afraid of letting the texts I listed earlier speak for themselves and being forced to interpret prophecies as symbolic; that’s how they’re supposed to be itnerpreted.
Lothar’s Son: Many people Skeptical of Christianity would say that Jesus and the writers of the NT really awaited the end to be at hand but were wrong. They’d say that preterism is an attempt to escape the obvious meaning of these texts. What would be your response to that?
Chris Date: My response would be that in fact what I’ve argued is the obvious meaning of those texts. Take, for example, the beast of Revelation. It’s described as having seven heads and ten horns, but an angel interprets it for John saying that the heads represent hills or mountains on which a city sits. So the text itself tells us that the vision is intended to be interpreted as symbols; we preterists aren’t dodging anything at all. The angel also tells John, incidentally, that the king represented by the fifth head is alive and reigning at the time John was given his vision, some 2,000 years ago. Again, we preterists aren’t dodging the obvious meanings of texts; we’re letting the text speak for itself. I can’t help that when one correctly interprets Scripture, it defeats skepticism 🙂
Lothar’s Son: Okay 🙂 But when Jesus foretold that this generation would not pass without having seen the return of the Son of Man, what did He mean according to preterism? How do futurists interpret this statement?
Chris Date: Before I answer that question, may I ask you where Jesus said they would see “the return of the Son of Man”? I see that nowhere.
Chris Date: I think what you’re referring to is Matt 24:30, but “return” is nowhere in that text.
Lothar’s Son: “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” You’ll see the son of man on a cloud
Chris Date: Right, what Jesus says is that “they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Note no “return”. We preterists recall that in the Old Testament, the Lord, YHVH, comes on clouds in judgment when he destroys cities. The language isn’t intended to be taken literally, as if the God of Israel saddles up a cloud and floats down from the sky on it, throwing handfulls of brimstone upon the cities he’s judging. No, it’s apocalyptic symbolism communicating God’s destructive judgment upon cities. And indeed, what happened within the generation of those to whom Jesus is here speaking? Jerusalem is judged, the temple destroyed.
Lothar’s Son: Thanks for the explanation. When I read things such as “9“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
it’s really hard for me to believe this refers to future events because this clearly happens ALL THE TIME.
How can futurists make sense of this fact? Can they really do that? 🙂
Chris Date: Hmm, well, I suppose they might respond in one or both of two ways:
Chris Date: First, some futurists will acknowledge that some of this passage talks about events that were coming within the generation of those to whom Jesus was speaking, and that they might include the events you just referred to. But, they would say, the more cataclysmic events must be awaiting fulfillment in our future. Second, some futurists might argue that just because things have happened since Jesus delivered this prophecy that bear some resemblance to what he prophecied, it doesn’t mean they fulfilled it. If, for example, I predicted shortly before the year 1,800 that America would go to war, a dozen years later the war of 1,812 might be thought to be the fulfillment of my prediction, but if what I was prohpecying was, in fact, the much bloodier civil war that was coming a half a century later, well then the war of 1,812 would not have fulfilled my prophecy. Make sense? So futurists might argue regarding Matthew 24; many events may have tranpired, and my transpire all the time, which bear some resemblance to what he predicted, but it doesn’t mean they fulfilled it.
Lothar’s Son: Okay. What are to your mind fatal objections to futurism? Is post-millenarism in that respect superior to pre-millenarism?
Chris Date: Well I’m not a postmillennialist; I’m an amillennialist. But both views, recognizing that the thousand years of Revelation symbolizes an indefinitely long period of time that began in our past, are certainly superior to premillennialism. And I’ve already offered what I think are the fatal objections to futurism. It’s simply not possible, in my opinion, to take those texts seriously as a futurist. The answers I’ve seen them give are woefully inadequate. But I will offer one more.
Chris Date: In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says that when the resurrection of believers happens–which premillennialists, amillennialists, and postmillennialists agree happens concurrent with the return of Christ–it will bring the defeat of death (vv. 50-55). But look what he says: he says death is the last enemy to be destroyed (v. 26). If premillennialists are right, then believers are resurrected a thousand years before death and others of God’s enemies (like Satan) are destroyed. In amillennialism and postmillennialism, on the other hand, the resurrection and return of Christ happen after “he has put all enmies under his feet,” and so, indeed, “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” It all fits, but doesn’t in premillennialism.
Lothar’s Son: Ok thanks! Do you think that these views can have huge consequences for the way one’s Christian life is lead? Or for Evangelism?
Chris Date: Huge consequences? I don’t know about that. Perhaps. Postmillennialists seem committed, for example, to improving the world in ways some premillennialists are not, since postmillennialists think the world will be nearly 100% Christianized by the time Christ returns, whereas premillennialists think he could return at any moment. More dangerous, I think, is the unbiblical literalism with which many premillennialists read prophetic texts. Take the mark of the beast, for example; many premillennialists, reading this literally and as awaiting fulfillment in our future, think the day is coming when we’ll be forced to accept a tattoo on our hands, or an electronic implant, and they think that Christians will refuse it. Imagine if such a technology became popular that would allow shoppers to more quickly and easily check out at the grocery store, by just swiping our hand over a scanner. We amillennialists and postmillennialists wouldn’t be afraid to take advantage of such a helpful technology, but a premillennialist very likely might, and may even judge us other Christians for what they think constitutes accepting the mark of the beast.
Chris Date: Perhaps there are other “huge” consequences but none come to my mind at the moment. I’m always leary of suggesting that when Christians disagree on the non-essentials, there are “huge” consequences. Often I don’t think there are.
Lothar’s Son: Okay, I think I mostly agree as far as moderate people in each camp are concerned 🙂 . But can some of these literal interpretations make Christianity look much more foolish that it needs to be? I’m thinking about popular movies or books from premilleniarists I can only view as utterly ridiculous, despite my best attempts to be charitable.
Chris Date: Yes I think there may be some truth to that, but being a Calvinist–the topic of another interview I suppose–I think apart from the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit people are going to easily find excuses to reject the gospel. If presented less laughably than in Left Behind, unbelievers still hostile to God will just find some other reason to reject it.
Lothar’s Son: Okay! While you don’t know how this is going to happen, how do you imagine the return of Christ as a preterist? I’m not asking for a prophecy 🙂 just about some mental pictures you might have.
Chris Date: Well, I do share some things in common with Dispensationalists, particularly with regards to the nation of Israel. Based on my interpretation of the symbolism in Revelation 20 and Romans 9-11, I think that toward the end of this period of time, the Gentile world will become decreasingly Christian and Jews, particularly in Israel, will increasingly and corporately accept her Messiah. I think with the world increasingly hating Israel, it will one day attack her, at which point Christ will return and protect her, and that will usher in the resurrection, final judgment, etc.
Chris Date: But “how” will that happen? I don’t know.
Lothar’s Son: Okay. So are you in that particular respect “partially futurist”? Would that be a correct phrase?
Chris Date: No, it wouldn’t. All orthodox Christians believe some things await fulfillment in our future. What differentiates a futurist from a preterist is what things one thinks awaits fulfillment in one’s future, or has already been fulfilled. The beast; the great tribulation; the mark of the beast; the onset of the millennium; etc.
Lothar’s Son: Is there a connection between belief in preterism and belief in conditional immortality?
Chris Date: It depends on what you mean by that. Are most preterists conditionalists? I don’t think so. I think most preterists are traditionalists, since traditionalism is still, well, traditional 🙂 But I do think they’re being inconsistent, as I explain in this article at Rethinking Hell .
Chris Date: I’ll let your readers check that out.
Lothar’s Son: Thanks! Do you believe that we’ll usher into a brand new universe or realm? Or will simply the universe and earth in which we live be renewed?
Chris Date: I think it will be renewed or restored, not obliterated and replaced.
Lothar’s Son: Thanks for everything! To conclude, could you perhaps give relevant links towards your blog or elsewhere?
Chris Date: Your readers can find my personal blog and podcast at http://www.theopologetics.com. I’ve done a few shows on preterism that they may find interesting. I also blog and podcast at http://www.rethinkinghell.com, if your readers want to learn more about conditionalism. I’m less actively lately at both sites, however, as I’m currently going to school. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com if anyone would like to hear from me.
Lothar’s Son: Okay! What are you up to for the coming months?
Chris Date: Sadly I was laid off last week so #1 will be finding a new job 🙂 But aside from that, I’m also taking a class in Greek, another in Philosophy, and I’m raising 4 kids with my wife. So I’ll be up to a lot for the coming months!
Lothar’s Son: Oh yeah I truly wish you good lucks for finding a new position and all your other endeavors. Thank you very much for the time you granted me!
Chris Date: You’re very welcome. God bless, and take care.