Most thoughtful Bible students have probably struggled with the many, seemingly clear-cut, Biblical statements about the nearness of the parousia and resurrection in the NT. Many attempts to negate, mitigate, and otherwise blunt the force of these time statements have been made. The indisputable fact is that if we take those time statements seriously, then all futurist eschatologies are falsified. We will give here an objection lodged against proponents of Covenant Eschatology. The objector claims that preterists inappropriately appeal to the temporal statements and that, in the final analysis, when God spoke in time words, those time words essentially mean nothing. That is, unless God said something was far off, and then, we have to take those words seriously! The irony is apparent. With this said, be sure to read my response to the objection.
Objection Stated: “Preterists conveniently ignore O.T. timing verses. O.T. prophecies with so-called preterist timing expressions clearly require no imminency of fulfillment.”
Let me say initially that this objection springs, not from careful exegesis, but from a pre-suppositional theology. The objection is one of the most ill-informed, illogical, and exegetically flawed objections one will encounter. To speak bluntly, I am appalled at how little actual exegesis is to be found in either the objection or, in the verses that are offered to show that OT time statements supposedly negate the NT time statements. One of two things has happened in regard to the author of the article. First, they did not actually read the entire context of the verses they appealed to. Second, their pre-suppositional theology prevented them from accepting that the texts actually say.
What is ironic about the objection is that, if I am correct, it was written by a Dispensationalist who would otherwise tell us: “The Bible says what it means, and means what it says. We must take the Bible literally!” And yet, because, if taken literally, the time statements of scripture nullify futurism (of any kind) the objector seeks to mitigate an entire body of texts and a host of different time words! To say that this is disingenuous is a huge understatement.
The objector claims:
“If preterists would start at the end of the Bible God wants them to (by the order of books), instead of starting at the other end, they might learn something about Bible interpretation.
If preterists would compare the Spirit’s words as instructed (I Cor 2:13), they might learn that their timing texts are prophetic phrases without definite time limitations or meanings.”
Space considerations prevent an in-depth examination of each of the texts / objections offered by the objector. However, the texts that are offered can be broken down into two or three classifications or headings, and therefore, to respond to one is to respond to all. For further study of the time texts, and an in-depth response to virtually everyone of the texts offered by the objector– see my Can God Tell Time, as well as my Who Is This Babylon? In the Babylon book, I examine every major argument that I have encountered as objections to the objective nature of the Biblical time statements and respond to them.
For the present time, let me note that the majority of texts offered by the objector can be assigned to a heading of what I call “Projected Imminence.” What I mean by this is that the OT writers speak of the last days. They understood that the last days were not their days. In fact, they tell us, very clearly, that the events they speak of were far off. However, what the also say, and this is what the objector has misunderstood, is that when the last days finally arrived, the events they foretold would be near, at hand, and coming to fulfillment very soon! In other words, when properly understood, every text that objector offers actually teaches that “in the last days” when they would arrive, the consummation would be near. Let me give a few examples from those offered by the objector.
“Deut 4:26-27 threatened Israel’s soon destruction and scattering, warning that they would not prolong their days upon the land, though in round numbers the Assyrian dispersion was 800 years away, the Babylonian 1000 years away, and the Roman 1500 years away!”
Response: The objector failed to note that the text emphatically speak of Israel dwelling “a long in the land.” After they had been in the land a long time, when they sinned, it would be that then (not when Moses wrote) but then, they would be dispersed quickly! In other words, judgment would come on them quickly when they apostatized. So, Moses was not speaking of an imminent dispersion. He was speaking of a time far off, and events that would lead to an imminent judgment. Thus, this text speaks of objective imminence.
“Deut 32:35 used at hand and make haste, but His wrath in due time may take centuries! Paul in Heb 10:30-31 used it for the Jews’ judgment; see 32:36 also, 1500 years later! Deuteronomy 32 is a general prophecy of 70 A.D., but it came 1500 years earlier!”
Response: Just like chapter 4, the Song of Moses spoke of a time and events that were many generations to come later (32:5-8). Why did the objector ignore this qualifying aspect? Moses was clearly told that he was speaking of events that were a long time away! This totally nullifies the objection.
“Isaiah 60:22 described great growth of the church by the verses preceding it, which He will hasten, though many centuries in the distant future to the prophet and his audience.”
Response: Once again, the objector has simply ignored the actual wording of the text. Notice that the Lord predicted the New Jerusalem, and the attendant blessings. But notice also the actual wording of v. 22: A little one shall become a thousand, And a small one a strong nation. I, the Lord, will hasten it in its time.” (My emp).
Notice that YHVH said “in its time” He would hasten fulfillment. He did not say fulfillment was at hand, or even hastening when Isaiah wrote!
Historical Errors or Oversights
The objector overlooks, or ignores several historical realities behind some of the texts offered. He claims that Isaiah 13 predicted the fall of Babylon as near, when it was actually200 years away. He likewise claims that Isaiah 21 foretold the destruction of Babylon, as coming soon, when it was hundreds of years away.
First, Isaiah 21 does not say Babylon’s destruction was at hand. The language is proleptic, speaking of things in the future as if they were past, because they were so certain to occur. This is far different from saying those events were near.
Second, the objector ignores the fact that Babylon (in the not distant future) was destroyed under Sennacherib when he came against Merodach Baladon in 703-701 BC.
Third, likewise, even Dispensational authors, Walvoord and Zook admitted that Isaiah 13 spoke of an event that was objectively near. “Notice that in Isaiah’s day that judgment was coming because of the tremendous political turmoil of the next several decades that would culminate with the fall of Babylon at the hands of the Assyrians in 689 BC. …. the statements about the heavenly bodies no longer functioning may figuratively describe the total turnaround of the political structure of the Near East. The same would be true of the heavens trembling and the earth shaking, v. 13, figures of speech suggesting all-encompassing destruction.” (P. 1060)– “The word ‘them’ against whom the Medes were stirred up (v. 17) were the Assyrians referred to in v. 14-16, not the Babylonians. It seems better to understand this section as dealing with events pertaining to the Assyrian’s sack of Babylon in December 689 BC.” (Walvoord and Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary Vol. I, (Wheaton, Ill, Victor Books, 1985)1059f).
For more in-depth a
nalysis of God’s use of time words, see my Who Is This Babylon? That book contains one of the most extensive studies of how God communicated in time available anywhere.
More to come in the next installment.