Additional Thoughts on 70 A.D., Preterism, The Olivet Discourse, and Gap Theories.
During the last decade or so, preterism has become all the rage among the young, Reformed crowd who have renounced their former, Dispensational, Fundamentalist ways. There are websites dedicated to the promotion of preterism, and bloggers, apologists, and authors who have given a considerable amount of time speaking and writing on the subject.
A lot of the proponents I have personally encountered come across to me as smug, chest-thumpers. Granted, much of the strident zeal they exude in defense of their hermeneutic can be chalked up to the excitement of immature, cage-stage devotees; but it gets tiresome being called a heretic, racist, and any number of other ad hominem’s. It also becomes old real quick having to interact all the time with strawman arguments that misrepresent my position as a dispensational oriented premillennialist.
The immediate difficulty I have with preterism is the constant need for its proponents to defend their orthodoxy. That’s because the nuances are such between the orthodox and heterodox preterists that it is hard to tell them apart. I see this as a problem.
The orthodox preterists call themselves “partial preterists,” and earnestly insist on being distinguished from the “hyper-preterists” or “neo-hymenaeanism” heretical variety, who teach the second coming happened in 70 A.D., among other things. In fact, the “partials” expend so much effort clarifying their own views in distinction from the heretical strain that it is almost impossible to find any treatment of the “good” preterism without having to wade through a disclaimer setting forth their hermeneutic against that of the “evil” hypers’.
To be fair and charitable, there are always imbalanced, “hyper” positions within theological systems, hyper-Calvinism being one of the more familiar examples. But the difference, I believe, is that when I talk about Calvinism with a person, I as a Calvinist rarely, if ever, have had to set aside any time contrasting my views against the hyper variety. Now some may say the friendly chiding I gave my Reformed Covenant friends as to their general mishandling of Dispensationalism is a similar example to the partial/hyper distinctive. But there is a clear difference with distinguishing between sensationalists who happen to be Dispensational adherents, and hyper-Dispensationalists, who certainly teach gross, theological error.
At any rate, I’ll lay aside exploring the particulars of preterism until a later time. It’s my goal to eventually blog on preterism as a subject sometime in the future. But in the mean time I wanted to expand upon one of my points outlined in my last Daniel post, that being a gap existing between the 69th and 70th week in Daniel’s prophecy.
As I pointed out, preterists ridicule any idea of a gap existing between the 69th and 70th week. I don’t recall how many times I heard or read Gary DeMar, or Kim Riddlebarger, or Gene Cook, or Dee Dee Warren, or any other number of preterist popularizers explaining to their audience how ridiculous the notion of a gap of time between the 69th and 70th week is. DeMar devotes an entire chapter in his book, Last Days Madness, to debunking the notion.
But is the idea of an extended gap of time between the 69th and 70th week just absurd eisegetical gymnastics? A phantom of “silly putty exegesis” as Demar claims? I don’t think so.
I say that because of a couple of reasons found in Daniel and the Olivet Discourse.
First, the last clause of Daniel 9:26 states And till the end of the war desolations are determined.
That word desolations is significant in its descriptions of God’s dealings with Israel. The word speaks of being made waste, or desolate in the sense of being made empty, and it is meant to describe a terrible horror, or something that is spectacularly appalling.
In its usage within the OT, the word is connected with God bringing the terms of His covenant upon the people of Israel, particularly the cursings against a disobedient people. One of the major points of those covenant cursings is that God will remove the people from the Promised Land.
For example, in Leviticus 26:31-35, the Bible says,
31 I will lay your cities waste and bring your sanctuaries to desolation, and I will not smell the fragrance of your sweet aromas.
32 I will bring the land to desolation, and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it.
33 I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste.
34 Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies' land; then the land shall rest and enjoy its sabbaths.
35 As long as it lies desolate it shall rest-- for the time it did not rest on your sabbaths when you dwelt in it.
The desolation described here in Leviticus is Israel having its land made waste, or emptied of people, if they refuse to obey the Lord. Desolation was fulfilled when Israel went into captivity for 70 years. This is noted in Jeremiah 25:11; 34:22; 42:2, 22, and other similar passages in the OT.
So what are exactly these “desolations are determined” that Daniel mentions? They have to be some future desolations beyond the 70 years of captivity Israel had just experienced. Luke’s version of Christ’s Olivet Discourse, I believe, supplies a clue. Luke 21:20 records Jesus saying, But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Here, Luke mentions a specific sign of “armies and desolation,” which would match closely to Daniel’s “war and desolations” in 9:26.
I believe this desolation began when Rome came to Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in 70 A.D. Here we have clear historical fulfillment of Christ’s words. In this instance the preterists are correct. But there is more.
Luke 21:24 goes on to record Jesus saying, And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. What Jesus predicts happened: Jerusalem was surrounded by armies, the people were killed and led away captive into all the nations, and, according to Jesus, this desolation was to continue until the times of gentiles are fulfilled. The desolation begins with a sign, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded…” This event signals the desolation and “the time of the gentiles.”
Jesus predicted in Matthew 24:34 that the generation he was speaking to would not pass away until these things begin to take place. Preterists understand that a good portion of the prophetic events outlined by Jesus in his Olivet Discourse were completely fulfilled in 70 A.D. Though I think they are correct in that the generation did not pass away, they are mistaken as to the fulfillment of the prophetic events spoken. The “fulfillment” Jesus is talking about, I believe, is that that generation would be alive to see the beginning of the desolation and the start of the “time of the gentiles.” That desolation included the destruction of the temple, the giving over of the nation to captivity, and the ultimate dispersion of a good bulk of the Jewish population.
Second, one additional grammatical highlight is the phrase in Matthew 24:34, “until all these things take place.” Without reproducing all of the lexical and syntactical details, the word genetai that is translated as “until all these take place,” has the more concise idea of “when these thing begin to take place.” Barry Horner provides a good analysis of this point in his article, The Olivet Discourse – Matthew 24, starting at page 31 and following. The first appendix attached to Horner’s article, written by Presbyterian minister C.E. Stowe, is an even more detailed study of this passage in Matthew. In short, rather than being a comment from our Lord that these events will be completely fulfilled, He is saying to His audience to be alert to when these events start.
The beginning of events, then, is the desolation of Jerusalem and the ushering in of the time of the gentiles. This is why there is a gap. We are now in that time of the gentiles, which has yet to be fulfilled. Paul explains in Romans 11:25 that blindness on the part of Israel has happened because the fullness of the gentiles is not complete. God is actively bring gentiles believers to salvation in Christ, and until the time of the gentiles ends according to God’s divine purpose, the 70th week is yet to take place.