Is Partial Preterism a Better Vision of Bible Eschatology?
by Mark Mountjoy
Comparisons between the familiar claims of Partial Preterism and the unfamiliar allegations of Atavist eschatology could lead Christians to think what is familiar is what is best and true. But we need to ask: Is Partial Preterism (which seems to imply the wisdom of moderation and the balance of a middle position) better or even superior to claims represented in the Atavist model?
Admittedly, the Atavist world-view could appear to be threatening to everything Christians long for and hold near and dear: It claims the Second Coming, end of the world, resurrection and judgment day have to do with the final seven decades of the Second Jewish Commonwealth (A.D.66-136), and the foundation of the basis of an everlasting Christianity from that time forward, world without end (Ephesians 3:21 cf. Revelation 11:15).
If the apocalypse happened already, does that not deprive Christians of their lively hope in the future? Does it not negate the reason why we should be alert and on the lookout for the return of our Lord in the clouds of heaven? Where is the comfort of knowing that the sorrows of this old world could soon be over and what is the basis of claims that the traditional formulation of the coming of the Lord is invalid if set next to New Testament claims about the eschaton, the end of all things (1 Peter 4:7)?
To begin with, Partial Preterism has the advantage of being somewhat familiar by virtue of what it is willing to allege about the so-called futurity of what it calls "the final coming of Christ." Furthermore, it has the added advantage of ostensible Scriptural orthodoxy by its staunch insistence that only some of the things the Bible demanded actually did happen in antiquity. When people see these claims they falsely jump to the conclusion that Partial Preterism has a clear and legitimate grasp on what the Bible said would happen, but we want to demonstrate (going only as far as Revelation chapter 11) that that is not the case at all!
First, the Book of Revelation states what it is about, but the Partial Preterist exegetical strategy seeks to deflect and undermine what that is in its attack on the meaning of the entire first chapter of John's book. Just the first seven verses have to be sidestepped in order for the Partial Preterist apologist to gain any composure and set off to work a sort of "charm" of rampant denial in the succeeding chapters of this enigmatic book.
Second, Partial Preterism treads lightly on the idea that the churches in Asia Minor actually faced Jewish (not Roman) opposition to their Christian faith in the Son of God (see Revelation 2:9 and 3:9). One should note that Jesus does not say, "I will make them of Caesar's Temple which say they are Romans come and worship and admit I have loved you," he says, "I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews. . . "
So far into the first and second and third chapter of the Book of Revelation there is no hint or suggestion that Nero or Domitian or Roman citizens or soldiers are the source of any problems. So when Partial Preterists overlook this, they are missing glaring clues which tells one and all where the source of pain and suffering was coming from in those early days of the Christian church.
Third, Revelation chapters 4 and 5, if understood against the backdrop of Daniel's Night Vision that he had in 553 B.C. (see Daniel 7:7-10) set the context and circumstances of the Deity and the heavenly court in the days leading up to fateful historic decisions on what to do about the aggressive and belligerent fourth kingdom of Bible prophecy (Daniel 7:10-11 and 7:26-27). Now, even if Partial Preterists want to say the fourth kingdom was the Roman Empire, they cannot have it both ways and claim that the jury is still out about the termination of that empire in antiquity. But the problems they face in their predilection that the fourth kingdom was the Romans is that John has this assize happening directly adjacent, historically, to the conundrums Christians had to face in first century Asia Minor.1
Fourth, the Book of Revelation (again) is not apparently or even remotely about events very far removed from the generation of Jesus' day: see a direct example of this in Revelation 6:12-17. So when Partial Preterists elucidate what Revelation supposedly means they have to deliberately ignore what is in plain sight: What did Christ say would happen to women of Jerusalem? What did he say would happen to their children in days they would live long enough to see (Luke 23:27-31)?
Fifth, Partial Preterists may or may not be willing to interpret statements John makes that imply universal destruction according to known Jewish idioms or, according to Gentile assumptions that demand slavish literalism. We see, for example, in Revelation 6:12-17 direct allusions to Jewish reversals of fortunes, but should the language used there imply unilateral oblivion, as our Gentile minds might easily assume? Or should we rather find in John's description something socially explosive, but not literally true (in the same spirit as found in Jeremiah 4:23-27)?
If we go against our Gentile lights towards a Jewish interpretation of events in Revelation 6:12ff it could land one in Gessius Florus' April A.D.66 surprise attack on three thousand six hundred Equestrian officials and their families in an unexpected (and illegal) flogging and mass crucifixion massacre (Wars 2.14.8:306-308).
What Gessius Florus did that day cannot be overstated: Suddenly the Jewish world lost almost four thousand of its leaders and their entire families, too! These actions, which, by the way were against Roman juridical policies, would have sent shockwaves through the Jewish world and made people think the Great Day of the Lamb was exactly upon them (Revelation 6:15-17). And these actions, it should be remembered, came from the Roman procurator against the Jews and not some higher authority against Roman leadership (which is how Partial Preterist might want to read the events in Revelation).
And so, we will find this tension of Roman actions directed against Jewish interests and survival to be true, again and again as we travel through the Book of Revelation, however the conventional trajectory (which assumes the Romans are the people of interest) cuts completely contrary to this, on every hand.
Sixth, as we encounter Revelation chapter 7 we must ask ourselves if it is about God shielding or sparing anyone 25 years after a fact? In other words, if it is true that the Book of Revelation was written in A.D.95 during the relative peaceful reign of the Emperor Domitian what is the point of God sealing and saving one hundred and forty-four thousand Israelites a full 25 years after the fall of Jerusalem—how does that make any sense?
In fact, Revelation chapter 7 only makes sense in light of a contemporary episode of Divine judgment (see Ezekiel 9:1-11), but if we deny this, it will be another chance we pass by where we could say something directly about what Revelation is telling us without succumbing to the reflex to deflect and equivocate. The plain meaning of Revelation chapter 7 is that God is sparing a limited number of Israelites from an upcoming disaster that will otherwise effect the lives of others of that same nation who have violated his will for their lives, however God does not have to spare a remnant a quarter of a century into the Judaea Capta period2 when the city, Temple and priesthood (not to mention multitudes from every Israelite tribe) has already seen and suffered the wrath of Almighty God in the forty-two month civil sedition which has given the Jewish State what amounted to two black eyes.
Seven, Revelation chapter 9 speaks of specters, but we must bear in mind these are not necessarily anything anyone could see—but at the very same time we must not lose sight of the point of the chapter: THAT IT IS NOT ABOUT DANGERS OR ULTIMATUMS IN WHICH IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO REPENT (Revelation 9:20-21). In fact, in this chapter we see the grace, mercy and kindness of Almighty God where he, obviously angry, unleashes mythical creatures against people to torment them, but he does so all in the name of edging them toward repentance (see Romans 2:4). But the fact that the strategy fails to bear fruit does not reflect badly on God so much as it shows the fatal determination of the Zealots to refuse to yield to God's demand of them, at all costs.
But we cannot pretend that the Romans faced any similar circumstances or vicissitudes in Roman imperial fortunes anywhere near or parallel to the challenges that beset the Jewish State, not only in the late first century, but also for the remainder of the country's existence till the spring of A.D.136.
Partial Preterism is Attractive,
But Unfeasible on Other Grounds
Partial Preterism can insist on reading the New Testament a certain way that deflects from the exact truth, towards a preferred narrative:
Partial Preterism is attractive because it preserves the thought that our Lord of glory might come tonight, tomorrow or very soon and save us from the experience of mortality. If Jesus came tonight we would not have to die. If Jesus came in a few years most of the world would never know what it feels like to grow old. If Jesus came today all wars would end and all earthly suffering would come to an end.
It can and it will object to Realized Eschatology, but it should be clear to everyone that the question that is important is whether or not the last, seventh trumpet can be sounded completely out of turn at the end of time, or if that instrument of sound and herald has its place in a string of events that came to fruition in Jewish antiquity? For Revelation 11:15, since it is part and parcel of the events, story and totality of Revelation chapter 11 cannot be willy-nilly assigned to a place at the end of all history just because we resent where it is in the text.
By reassigning the last trumpet to days just ahead of us, or to a time completely remote we do not increase the probability that something will eventually happen because "Quod factum est, factum est,"—What has happened, has happened, and we can see salvation history for what it is if we settle down and notice the nature of the Semitic enviroment that is so very evident in the Book of Revelation, from start to finish.
The truth of the matter is this: Nobody's hope is stolen if you are born again and have Jesus as your Lord and Savior and you walk out of this life directly into the Holy City without even missing a beat! There is no reason to rewind time and replay the apocalypse in order for God's creation to receive what it now already has. We only have to believe what God has said and trust that everything is as it should be, just like the early Christians trusted when the visible symbols of the Levitical world lay in smoking ruins. God did not take away valid symbols (which the Jewish effects indeed were) in order to give Christians an empty bag. It just isn't so (and no one should believe for one minute that emptiness awaits)!
Partial Preterist Interpretive Anachronisms
A number of things about Partial Preterism amount to glaring anachronisms and deserve our attention as we head toward the close of this essay. For, as we press for the case for a timely fulfillment of the Book of Revelation that is consistent with what it keeps announcing about itself, Partial Preterists will search for every possible reason to offset this and insert the suggestion that we are entitled to see Jesus come in the clouds of heaven more than twenty entire centuries after he said he would come back soon.
Quickly, then, notice that Revelation 11:1-2 will certainly support that the theatre of activities in that chapter transpired when the Second Temple still stood tall and proud in the center of an unhappy city. Revelation 11:8, likewise reinforces in our minds that the Great City, which was spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, was not Rome "where our Lord was crucified," but Jerusalem (Luke 9:30-31).
Now, every Christian knows full well that Jesus was crucified on Calvary just outside Jerusalem, but do you see how a tradition that insinuates the Romans can overshadow and crowd out a verse as plain as this?
The war that Revelation 11:1-2 speaks about is not also concerning anythings that has to do with business as usual, either. The destruction of Jerusalem in the A.D.66-70 sedition and civil war was anything but that!3 However, the Partial Preterist savant will be eager to portray the Fall of Jerusalem as a relatively minor event compared to the "real" end of the world that is supposedly coming up. But the point of Revelation 11:3-18 is completely wasted if we insist on considering the Destruction of Jerusalem as a typical, if unfortunate, national event. The Bible does not represent what happened as a typical incident, and neither should we; we do not have that as a Scriptural option or a rational obligation.
Revelation chapters 6 and 11 also expresses the crisis in the Jewish world where unusual events are said to have taken place and where sadistic and cruel human tendencies came to the fore:
In Revelation 6:9-11 the Book of Revelation suggests that those Christians who had been murdered because of their belief in the Gospel of the Son of God were housed in the Second Temple awaiting their liberation upon the requital of their enemies by the decree of God. But Josephus attests that the priests heard the voices of a multitude saying in the Temple, "We are leaving this Place."4
In Revelation 11:9 the people refuse to let the righteous be buried, but let their bodies lie on the ground to rot. This state of moral decay and absence of civility is abundantly attested, again and again in Josephus' Wars of the Jews.5
In Revelation 11:6 it states that there would be no rain during the days of the witness of God to the people of Jerusalem, but rain would come after their testimony was finished. But in Revelation 11:11-13 after they were killed and assumed into heaven there was a great earthquake that killed a tenth part of the city: seven thousand people.
Several facts can be gained from this: the thunderstorm and earthquake happen after these two individuals ascended to heaven, but we do have this thunderstorm and earthquake attested in Josephus.6 The deaths of a tenth of the city and that number being seven thousand strongly suggests that this city cannot possibly be Rome, for first century Rome had over 450,000 citizens, not only 70,000.7
Revelation 11:14 claims that the seventh trumpet would be sounded quickly from the sixth trumpet, so how can this last trumpet, for the past 21 centuries, still be something being held in reserve and still waitng to happen? It appears that Revelation chapter 11, if scrutinized carefully, presents impossible staights that cannot be easily evaded.
Revelation chapter 11:15-18 defines the sounding of the last trumpet as heralding the time of the dead. Now, this is something that strikes at the heart of the Partial Preterist aversion to the exact and precise claims of the New Testament; they can't get around these developments and some try very hard to villify and condemn [as heretical] any efforts to recover this understanding of the New Testament and Jewish salvation history.
And this is where we need to be clear about what we see in the Scriptures and how we go about discussing what we believe in surroundings and environments where what we believe and say may not resonate. At all events our job is not to make people believe anything, but we can plant seeds of trust (suggesting that the New Testament can be fully relied upon). And we can firmly suggest that the New Testament is not made truer by breaking the events apart and rearranging them, arbitrarily in history to suit our own fancy (which invites embarrassment and disappointments).
In this essay we have only come to the half-way mark in the Book of Revelation, and thus far there is no evidence or reason to believe that what God did in the past was related in any way, shape or form to acts, fully or partially, directed at Rome, the Roman Empire or the Roman military.
The remainder of the Book of Revelation (chapters 12-22, shown in the Bible study chart below) does not deviate into a tangent at all).
Now, if we can disabuse and dissuade Partial Preterists of even the implications of the first eleven chapters of Revelation we are directly paving the way for them to finally see that key planks in the Partial Preterist floor-board are completely unreliable and unacceptable (and the direct internal evidence also corrects the outrageous idea that the Book of Revelation was written 25 years after the pertinent facts the book settles on in the body of its narrative).
If the vision of Partial Preterism is really a distortion and consists of unwarranted notions of God's calling the Romans to give an account to him anywhere from the A.D.90s to 1453 that is something that can very easily be disproved and the onus is on Partial Preterists to explain why the Holy Spirit chose to describe the unfolding of end-time prophecy using the foil of Second Jewish Commonwealth realities and not the wardrobe of the Roman realm instead?
Who is confused and where is the menace when one claim runs in the same direction, corollary and parallel to what the Word of God advocates and the other claim cuts contrary to it at almost every opportunity possible? There comes a time when a person's objection emerges, not from reasonable reflection, but from unfamiliarity and from trepidation at the sheer learning curve that demonstrates the real and breath-taking differences between existential realities as Christians genuinely understand (or falsely assume) it to be today and that mysterious and vanished Semitic world that our dear Jewish Christian brothers and sisters lived and directly experienced it to be over 1,884 years ago.
1 We must also ponder this question: If the enemies of the early Christians was the Roman Empire, why does the Book of Revelation posit the seat of Satan (Revelation 2:13) in Asia Minor and not Rome, the seat of the Roman government? The same question could be asked of us by Partial Preterists: Why do Atavist have the seat of Satan in Asia Minor instead of Jerusalem where the seat of the Jewish government was? Taking what the New Testament says about Asia Minor it seems that that land was where the sorest threat of Jewish hostility and opposition against the earliest Christians was fiercest (Acts 16:6; 2 Corinthians 1:8 and 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 2:24). An examination of the evidence will show that the attack of Satan came from the direction of questions about the Law, the Temple and the legitimacy of circumcision vs. Christ, the cross and the legitimacy of the Gospel of the grace of God (Acts 6:9-15 cf. Galatians 3:1-5; Colossians 2:16-23 and 2 Corinthians 11:3-22).
2 Judaea Capta period officially began in A.D.71 and ended when Simon Bar Kokhba regained political authority over the Jewish State in A.D.132.
3"At the beginning of the First Roman-Jewish War, the Sicarii, and (possibly) Zealot helpers (Josephus differentiated between the two but did not explain the main differences in depth), gained access to Jerusalem and committed a series of atrocities in an attempt to incite the population into war against Rome. In one account, given in the Talmud, they destroyed the city's food supply, using starvation to force the people to fight against the Roman siege, instead of negotiating peace. Their leaders, including Menahem ben Yehuda and Eleazar ben Ya'ir, were notable figures in the war, and the group fought in many battles against the Romans as soldiers. Together with a small group of followers, Menahem made his way to the fortress of Masada, took over a Roman garrison and slaughtered all 700 soldiers there. They also took over another fortress called Antonia and overpowered the troops of Agrippa II. He also trained them to conduct various guerrilla operations on Roman convoys and legions stationed around Judea.
Josephus also wrote that the Sicarii raided nearby Hebrew villages including Ein Gedi, where they massacred 700 women and children.
The Zealots, Sicarii and other prominent rebels finally joined forces to attack and temporarily take Jerusalem from Rome in 66 AD, where they took control of the Temple in Jerusalem, executing anyone who tried to oppose their power. The local populace resisted their control and launched a series of sieges and raids to remove the rebel factions. The rebels eventually silenced the uprising and Jerusalem stayed in their hands for the duration of the war. The Romans finally came to take back the city, and they led counter-attacks and sieges to starve the rebels inside. The rebels held for some time, but the constant bickering and the lack of leadership led the groups to disintegrate. The leader of the Sicarii, Menahem, was killed by rival factions during an altercation. Soon, the Romans regained control, and finally destroyed the whole city in 70 AD." Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sicarii
4 On the commotion of spirit voices in the Second Temple, see Wars of the Jews 6.5.3:299-300; on the departure of those spirits from the Second Temple into the clouds, see Josephus' Appendix, Dissertation 3, Book 5, Chapter 13.
5 Examples of the Zealots carefulness not to let the dead be buried can be found in Wars of the Jews 4.5.4:341-344; 4.6.381 and 385 and in Wars of the Jews 5.13.1:531.
6 "For there broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continual lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were the manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and anyone could guess that these wonders foreshadowed some grand calamities that were coming" (The Wars of the Jews 4.4.5:286-287).
7 "And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven" (Revelation 11:13 KJV).
Captions: 1 Snellen eye chart. Source: precisionvision.com. 2 Dead Sea cave. During the Great War and the Bar Kokhba Revolt many Judeans sought refuge in hopes of returning to normalcy after the cessation of hostilities, unfortunately those same caves became death-traps of starvation and disease for thousands. Source: biblicalarchaeology.org.
3 Atavist Bible study chart depicting the logic of the last twelve chapters of the Book of Revelation. The Second Temple, which was first built by Zerubbabel (Ezra 3:8) in the province the Medes and Persians called Yehud Medinata between the years 537 and 516 B.C., however, later on, around the time of the birth of the Virgin Mary (circa 20 B.C.),
King Herod the Great greatly expanded and beautified the homely structure (Ezra 3:10-13 cf. John 2:20 and Mark 13:1). This magnificent Herodian remodel was once considered one of the Wonders of the World, but it became the scene of the Zealots and Sicarii abomination of desolation that began in the autumn of A.D.66 and continued, without interruption, to the summer of A.D.70 when the Romans were able to finally breach Jerusalem's walls and bring the guilty actors to justice.
There is no Jewish Temple anywhere on earth in Revelation chapter 19 because the Destruction of Jerusalem is an established fact by then; neither is there a Jewish Temple from Revelation 20:1 to 7, because the Jews awaited the seventh decade to enact their plans to build a third facility according to a Bible prophecy typology framed around what happened to Solomon's Temple and the historic pause that came between the Destruction of Nebuchadnezzar and the renewal under Zerubbabel.
Revelation 20:1-7 respresents Judaea Capta, the period of Satan's expulsion from the Holy Land. At that time the Jerusalem church returned from its stay in Pella and built a small Christian church in the same location where the Upper Room used to be, nevertheless, in A.D.132 Rabbi Joseph Akiva declared Bar Kokhba to be Israel's promised Messiah and a final fantastic conflict between the Jews and the Romans led, for the very first time, to the erasure of the Jewish State from the stage of world history.
The final state of Jewish salvation history is the established kingdom of heaven (the Church and the new Jerusalem) which latter abode consists of tangible realities that transcend mundane perceptions on this side of the veil.