I Survived the Christian Right
Ten Lessons I Learned on My Journey Home
Lesson 4: Don't Be Deluded by the Last Days: As a brand-new believer in 1979 I tended to accept the pre-tribulation Rapture view that the Bible predicts Jesus would return a second time before a period of tribulation, to whisk believers up to heaven and leave unbelievers behind to face seven years of apocalyptic trials. After reading several critiques of this view,18 I realized it was farcical and unbiblical, not to mention highly manipulative the way preachers or authors—Hal Lindsey in the 70s and 80s and Tim LaHaye (Left Behind) today—use it to “persuade” people to come to Christ, or else. Despite this, like the majority of evangelicals, I still believed the return of Christ was in the future and possibly eminent, given the state of the world.
Then around 1999, the preterists 19 entered my life; the likes of R.C. Sproul, Gary DeMar, and Kenneth Gentry, ironically conservative evangelicals who introduced the notion that everything that Jesus predicted in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) was fulfilled between 64 and 70 AD.20 They also viewed the speculation around the return of Christ as madness 21 and the book of Revelation as written prior to 70 AD;22 hence its predictions were not speaking about thousands of years in the future.
Their reasoning was refreshing. They cried Bible abuse by dispensationalists and the bulk of evangelicals in the widespread unreasonable belief that Jesus spoke of two events in the Olivet Discourse: a coming calamity on Jerusalem within a generation, and then in the next breath about his return to earth 2000 years in the future. After reading the preterists, I reread all those prophetic verses and suddenly they made perfect sense. 23
What I didn’t expect was to come to believe these preterists weren’t going far enough. Considered “partial preterists,” they still believe in a future return of Christ at the time of the resurrection. But for this position to stand, there must be two second comings of Christ, one in 70 AD in judgment on Jewish Temple worship and one at a future resurrection. But this view is problematic because the New Testament does not speak of two second comings at all, or more accurately, a third coming. I found myself agreeing with the “consistent preterists,”24 who say that all the prophecies about Jesus returning occurred at or before 70 AD based on a rational reading of the New Testament and first century historical evidence. 25
Imagine that for a moment. Jesus has already returned. The drama is over. There is no need to unmask the mystery or fear the Antichrist, let alone shape American foreign policy around the return of Christ and the end of the world.
Get on with the business of saving the planet and promoting social justice in the world without secretly believing it will all be for naught in the end.
18 DeMar, Gary, Last Days Madness: The Obsession of the Modern Church
19 Preterists believe biblical events were fulfilled in the past as opposed to futurists, who believe they will be fulfilled in the future.
20 Sproul, R.C., The Last Days According to Jesus, and Josephus, The Jewish Wars
21 DeMar, Gary, Op. cit.
22 Gentry, Kenneth, Jr., Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation
23 e.g. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this generation shall certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Matthew 24:34 and “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.” Revelation 1:1
24 J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia, and www.preterist.org
25 Josephus, Tacitus, and Eusebius. They cite occurrences of false prophets, famines, earthquakes, wars, and astronomical signs leading up to 70 AD that match what Jesus predicted.