According to preterism, all prophecy in the Bible is really history. The preterist interpretation of Scripture regards the book of Revelation as a symbolic picture of first-century conflicts, not a description of what will occur in the end times. The term preterism comes from the Latin praeter, meaning “past.” Thus, preterism is the view that the biblical prophecies concerning the “end times” have already been fulfilled—in the past. Preterism is directly opposed to futurism, which sees the end-times prophecies as having a still-future fulfillment.
Preterism is divided into two types: full (or consistent) preterism and partial preterism. This article will confine the discussion to full preterism (or hyper-preterism, as some call it).
Preterism denies the future prophetic quality of the book of Revelation. The preterist movement essentially teaches that all the end-times prophecies of the New Testament were fulfilled in AD 70 when the Romans attacked and destroyed Jerusalem. Preterism teaches that every event normally associated with the end times—Christ’s second coming, the tribulation, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment—has already happened. (In the case of the final judgment, it still is in the process of being fulfilled.) Jesus’ return to earth was a “spiritual” return, not a physical one.
Preterism teaches that the Law was fulfilled in AD 70 and God’s covenant with Israel was ended. The “new heavens and new earth” spoken of in Revelation 21:1 is, to the preterist, a description of the world under the New Covenant. Just as a Christian is made a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17), so the world under the New Covenant is a “new earth.” This aspect of preterism can easily lead to a belief in replacement theology.
Preterists usually point to a passage in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse to bolster their argument. After Jesus describes some of the end-times happenings, He says, “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:34). The preterist takes this to mean that everything Jesus speaks of in Matthew 24 had to have occurred within one generation of His speaking—the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was therefore “Judgment Day.”
The problems with preterism are many. For one thing, God’s covenant with Israel is everlasting (Jeremiah 31:33–36), and there will be a future restoration of Israel (Isaiah 11:12). The apostle Paul warned against those who, like Hymenaeus and Philetus, teach falsely “that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:17–18). And Jesus’ mention of “this generation” should be taken to mean the generation that is alive to see the beginning of the events described in Matthew 24.
Eschatology is a complex subject, and the Bible’s use of apocalyptic imagery to relate many prophecies has led to a variety of interpretations of end-time events. There is room for some disagreement within Christianity regarding these things. However, full preterism has some serious flaws in that it denies the physical reality of Christ’s second coming and downplays the dreadful nature of the tribulation by restricting that event to the fall of Jerusalem.