70 A.D. — Christ's Parousia? 

Preterism is the teaching that all passages about the second coming of Christ (the parousia) occurred before or during 70 A.D. during the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. In this way the 70-plus passages about Jesus coming "soon" and "quickly" in "this generation" are literally fulfilled.

Preterism has some side-effects...

I recently became interested in the topic of Preterism (again) after reading Joseph Henry Thayer's book, The Parousia. He is the well-known author of the popular reference work, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament; but some of his views would shock most Protestants. (Refer to: The Change of Attitude Toward the Bible, by Joseph Henry Thayer.)


The only event which happens "soon" for everyone in every generation is their own death.

The apostle John received the visions of the book of Revelation within one generation of the time of Christ's Olivet discourse (Matthew 24). It is significant that the book of Revelation contains a vision of the second coming of Christ. In a very real sense, Jesus did come soon: in vision. The book of Revelation is a bridge between the physical and the heavenly; between the present and the future.

Olivet Discourse

One of the foundations of Preterists is that the Olive Discourse is a strictly chronological narrative. They claim: (1) this is the most natural reading of this text, and (2) Preterism is the only sensible interpretation when the text is read this way. But if you treat this passage as strictly chronological you get some very weird results as I shall show.

In a similar manner as in the book of Revelation, Jesus seems to be switching from topic to topic, emphasizing various aspects as he goes along.

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? (Matthew 23:33)

Preterists emphasize that the use of the phrase "this generation" in Matthew 24:34 means the events would occur in the lifetimes of those who are listening to Jesus' words. But in this verse (23:33) he uses the same word to refer to those who had lived hundreds of years before — those who had killed the prophets (23:31).

Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city. (Matthew 23:34)

Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:36)

Jesus is speaking specifically to the Scribes and Pharisees, to the Jewish religious leaders. He is not referring to Roman emperors or to Gentiles, nor is he referring to Jewish people at large. Notice the reference to synagogues; the Romans would not scourge people in a synagogue, only Jews would do this.

I don't know of any examples of Jews crucifying Christians. So when did Jewish religious leaders crucify Christian prophets and teachers? Perhaps this refers to their pointing out Christians to the Romans who then crucified them.

According to Preterism, these events would occur in the lifetime of those who were listening to Jesus' words, before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. Is there a time matching this? Why yes there is. In 66 A.D. Nero blamed the Christians for the fire in Rome and crucified many including Peter.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Matthew 23:37)

Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. (Matthew 23:38)

Jesus is referring to Jerusalem and the temple.

For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth [after this], till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. (Matthew 23:39)

Jesus is stating that the Jews (this generation) will not see Jesus until they recognize him as Messiah. (In the Preterist view) he is not referring to Jews after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. because there were no more Jews after that (in the Preterist view); once the temple was destroyed the first covenant ended (in the Preterist view).

This verse doesn't make any sense in the Preterist view because after 70 A.D. there are no longer any Jews left in Jerusalem to say "blessed is he etc."

And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to show him the buildings of the temple. (Matthew 24:1)

Apparently the disciples were stirred up in hearing the temple would be destroyed; they wanted to know more.

And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. (Matthew 24:2)

Jesus confirms his previous statements, that the temple would be destroyed. This did occur as he states in 70 A.D.

And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? (Matthew 24:3)

Preterists claim the disciples' questions are about the same topic, that is to say, the destruction of the temple. But this is awkward for the following reasons...

Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. (Matthew 28:20)

It is likely the disciples thought Jesus, as Messiah, would establish a political kingdom (that's what the Jews thought the Messiah would do) so they likely assumed this would occur at the same time as the destruction of the temple.

For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. (Matthew 24:5)

And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. (Matthew 24:11)

Before the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. there certainly were plenty of Jewish revolutionaries who proclaimed themselves as political saviors of the Jewish nation.

And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. (Matthew 24:6)

It is odd that Jesus would mention there would be wars (plural) before 70 A.D. The Jewish War began in 66 A.D. but it is hard to imagine what other wars and rumors of wars Jesus might be referring to.

For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers [diverse] places. (Matthew 24:7)

This verse is even more troublesome for the Preterist view than the previous. Certainly Israel rose up against Rome but this verse implies there were multiple wars between multiple nations.

There were famines during the seige of Jerusalem but this verse gives the impression that these famines would occur before the seige began, not as a result of the seige.

There probably were earthquakes. Perhaps the earthquakes in the forty years before the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D were signs. But if those earthquakes were signs why not earthquakes occurring after 70 A.D.?

Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. (Matthew 24:9)

The disciples certainly were persecuted and even killed by the Jews. Nero killed Christians in 66 A.D.

And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. (Matthew 24:10)

And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax [become] cold. (Matthew 24:12)

It is uncertain whether he is speaking of Christians or everyone. I don't see how this prophecy would have helped them recognize the temple would be destroyed soon.

But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. (Matthew 24:13)

Preterists must translate this as follows: "Those who endure the persecutions until 70 A.D. will be saved".

This is troubling. Does it mean that those after 70 A.D. are not saved? Or if we are saved, why is it significant that those before 70 A.D. were saved? Certainly it was just as important for those Christians living in the centuries of Roman persecution to endure.

It is verses like this that makes me think Jesus was referring to something other than the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. I suspect he was using the word "end" to refer to a person's death; if they endured the persecution for their entire life and remained faithful to the gospel, they would be saved upon their death.

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:14)

I suppose it is correct to say the gospel was preached in all the world by 70 A.D. Most of the apostles had died by that time so presumably the prophecy of Acts 1:8 was fulfilled...

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand). (Matthew 24:15)

Two verses in Daniel clearly refer to this event in conjunction with the destruction of the temple.

Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains. (Matthew 24:16)

The Christians did this and were saved. Therefore, they understood this verse in the context of the Jewish War which began in 66 A.D. and they understood the previous verse as referring to an unmistakable event during this war. There was a point after which no one could escape from Jerusalem; the Christians left before that.

For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. (Matthew 24:21)

Perhaps this refers to the Jewish War which began in 66 A.D. Or perhaps it refers specifically to the carnage in Jerusalem during the seige by the Romans.

And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened. (Matthew 24:22)

There were Jews who survived this war, but they were taken as slaves.

Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. (Matthew 24:23)

For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. (Matthew 24:24)

According to the Preterist view this verse goes back in time to verse 11 in violation of their overarching assumption that this chapter is strictly chronological.

If this verse refers to a time before 70 A.D. then presumably the word "elect" refers to those Jews who were not deceived by the Jewish revolutionaries who were advocating war with Rome.

Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. (Matthew 24:26)

Some of the Jewish revolutionaries hid in the desert or even the rooms of the temple.

For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. (Matthew 24:27)

For wheresoever the carcase [carcass] is, there will the eagles [vultures] be gathered together. (Matthew 24:28)

Everyone would see the destruction of the temple.

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. (Matthew 24:29)

Preterists interpret this verse figuratively and match it up with other prophetic verses using similar images. In their view it refers to the falling away of the old Jewish covenant.

Notice the tribulation occurs first, then these figurative natural phenomena. In verse 22 we have already had the destruction of Jerusalem (because it refers to those who were saved from it). To interpret this tribulation as referring to the time before this requires jumping back and forth in time, but doing this violates the very foundational premise of the Preterist view.

It seems arbitrary to me to suddenly switch from a literal interpretation to a figurative one. This is done because this verse doesn't actual match the Preterist view. It seems to me these images should be considered as literal.

And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30)

In the Preterist view this striking image which is seen by all is again considered to be figurative. But Josephus mentions such supernatural signs visible in the sky.

And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:31)

If this extraordinary event occurred in 70 A.D. it was unnoticed by the people of the day including the Christians who experienced it. There is no reference by any of the writers of the early church of such an event. The Preterist solution to this is to interpret it figuratively. Not a very honest way to interpret the Bible in my opinion.

Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: (Matthew 24:32)

So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. (Matthew 24:33)

These verses jump back in time again. After seeing the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple we now go back to the time before it has occurred.

Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. (Matthew 24:34)

This verse is the grand conclusion providing the timing of these events and giving them their meaning. Preterists consider the phrase "all these things" as referring to the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, as well as the final destruction itself.

The phrase "this generation" has a different meaning than when Jesus used it in Matthew 23:36.