A Response to
the False Witness of Keith Mathison:
as Found in His Presentation Named
Playing With Fire
by Kenneth J. Davies
At the Ligonier Conference held February 1999 in Orlando,
Florida, Keith Mathison presented a critique of the Preterist
viewpoint entitled, "Playing With Fire." 1
In this presentation, he attempted to answer the question:
"Are there any eschatological positions which are not,
or should not be considered valid options by conservative,
evangelical Christians, and if so, why not?"
It is not the intention of this author to deal with Mr. Mathison’s
brief statements regarding universalism and annihilationism,
as these were Biblically sound. It is his presentation of
the Preterist viewpoint that is at issue.
Mr. Mathison began with a definition of Preterism, stating
that there are basically three types:
1. Partial Preterism, in which many, but not all, prophecies
of the New Testament are fulfilled. Mentioned as adherents
of this view were Mathison himself, R.C. Sproul, and Kenneth
Gentry. This view looks forward to "the second coming
of Christ in glory at the end of the age, the bodily resurrection
of all mankind and the final judgment."
2. "Full" Preterism, 2
which holds that all Biblical prophecy has been fulfilled.
According to Mathison, "proponents of this position [believe]
we now live in the eternal state. Some proponents are adamant
that while the events themselves were completely fulfilled
in the first century, they do have ongoing applications to
3. Hyper-Preterism, which also holds that all prophecy has
been fulfilled, but that it has no continuing significance
for the believer.
After making this brief introduction, Mathison immediately
grouped the "Full" Preterists and Hyper-preterists
together, under the name of "comprehensive preterists."
With the nominal disclaimer that "some things" would
not apply to the "Full" Preterists, he began his
Note that many (if not most) in attendance had only recently
heard of the Preterist view, and were therefore ill-equipped
to discern which comments would apply to whom, and virtually
no hint was given by Mr. Mathison to indicate what should
be applied only to Hyper-preterism and what would apply to
Mathison’s Definitions of Orthodoxy and Heresy
Mathison was very precise in his defining of orthodoxy
and heresy in order to be able to include eschatology
in the category of "essential Christian doctrine,"
something that has not historically been considered "essential."
According to Mathison:
Heresy is "any teaching which conflicts with
the essential doctrines of Christianity to the degree that
the one teaching this doctrine may no longer be considered
Orthodoxy is "that body of essential doctrines
which must be believed by all who desire to be accepted and
identified as Christian."
What may be used as objective criteria for judging orthodoxy,
according to Mathison? Scripture, yes, but, "Who decides
what the standard says?" His "tentative answer":
The authoritative interpreter of Scripture is Scripture’s
Author, the Holy Spirit, working corporately in the entire
communion of saints, past and present, especially, but not
exclusively in those with the ruling and teaching gifts, and
when the entire communion of saints testifies to the same
interpretation of Scripture, we can have some confidence that
this interpretation is the meaning intended by the Holy Spirit,
Who has been working in them.
What Keith was actually saying here, in a round-about way,
was that we must allow the historic Creeds of Christianity
determine our interpretation of Scripture. In an email response
to David Green’s article, "Preterism and the Ecumenical
Creeds," 3 Mathison
I would obviously disagree with Mr. Green’s assertion that
the only way the debate will ever be resolved is through Scriptural
exegesis and reasoning. This would be the case if we shared
the same creedal presuppositions, the framework for orthodoxy.
….This means we "creedalists" view this debate as
a debate between Christians and heretics. That is why we have
been forced to approach it in the same way the early Christians
combated early heresies. The Scriptures simply do not belong
to heretics, and any use of the Scriptures by heretics is
a misuse of Scripture.4
Is there a time in history that we can point to when this
type of agreement may be found? If we consider the Trinitarian
debates, there was a time in Church history when Arianism
was considered normative! 5
Notice that in Mathison’s definition of heresy above,
he says it involves a conflict with the "essential
doctrines of Christianity." Obviously, Mathison includes
eschatology among the essential doctrines of
Christianity. What does that mean? An "essential doctrine"
would seem in Mathison’s definition to be one that requires
belief in it, and without which one cannot be saved. Certainly,
there can be no question that Preterists believe in,
and hold to the essentials of the Faith. And we believe strongly
in and hold to Biblical eschatology. The question remains:
Is eschatology essential to salvation—to being a Christian?
Historically-speaking, there developed four schools of thought
regarding the interpretation of Biblical prophecy: the Idealist,
the Historicist, the Futurist, and the Preterist. It is a
sad fact that today most people have only heard of the Futurist
views: premillennialism (with its associated divisions of
pretribulational, midtribulational, and posttribulational),
amillennialism, and postmillennialism. This is quite unfortunate,
since it allows the mistaken notion to exist that only a Futurist
eschatology may be considered to be "orthodox,"
an impression Mathison was more than willing to cultivate
Under this heading, Mathison said that in the early history
of the Church, there was little agreement regarding eschatology,
except that Christ would "return visibly in glory at
the end of the present age," that all would be raised
bodily, and that this would be followed by a general judgment.
"Every early orthodox Christian creed includes a statement
of these basic eschatological doctrines." While this
may sound convincing on the surface, Mathison neglected to
mention that there was an essential disagreement between the
creeds of the East and those of the West regarding the nature
of the resurrection. The Eastern creeds stated that there
would be a "resurrection of the dead," while those
of the West opted for a "resurrection of the flesh,"
or "body." As Mathison himself said:
[H]istorically, in many cases, it has required the Holy Spirit
working in the whole community of believers over a long period
of time for us to filter out multitudes of incorrect interpretations
and determine what the text of Scripture actually says.
How much time should we expect for this "filtering"
process to take? For the doctrine of the Trinity, this took
hundreds of years. The Reformation did not take place for
1500 years! Since the subject of eschatology has never
been debated in Church history, we should expect the "filtering"
to yet be in process. Preterists are at the forefront of the
call for eschatological debate today, especially in light
of the false accusations of men such as Mathison, and the
anathemas of hostile creedalists such as the Reformed Church
in the United States.6
What Mathison also failed to mention was that the councils
that wrote these creedal statements were too busy defending
and defining the Nature of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)
to have time to debate eschatology. The statements
included in the early creeds simply quote Scripture regarding
the coming of Christ, etc. Since the language of the New Testament
was future tense, they made their confessional language the
We know that as far back as Justin Martyr, there were chiliastic
(premillennial) interpretations being offered that insisted
on a purely physical manifestation of the kingdom of God.
Writings such as the Shepherd of Hermas began to attempt
to redefine the time statements of Scripture, based on this
literalistic hermeneutic and the assumption that Christ had
not yet fulfilled His promises to return. Rather than uphold
the integrity of our Lord and His inspired Word by admitting
error regarding their ideas of the nature of Christ’s
return, they began a subtle attack on the time elements
Had any of the ecumenical councils had time to debate
eschatology, we may not be having these problems today. Because
this author is not tainted with futurist pessimism, we have
the hope that men of integrity, whose desire it is to defend
the integrity of Christ and the inspiration and veracity of
His Word, will in due time come to agreement regarding the
meaning of Scripture.
The dual charges of hypocrisy and heresy were leveled against
"comprehensive preterists" because of their celebration
of the Lord’s Supper, an eschatological sacrament. Obviously,
this was aimed not at hyper-preterists, but at true Preterists,
since the hyper-preterist would not partake of the
Eucharist. Mr. Mathison alleged that since the text of I Cor.
11:26 says, "you declare the Lord’s death until
He comes," it is not only hypocritical, but even heretical
that we observe Communion:
If "comprehensive preterism" is true, then I believe
not only have all of Christ’s Spirit-indwelt people been bearing
false witness about Him in His redemptive acts for 2,000 years,
but all of Christ’s people have also borne false witness in
the central and most sacred part of our historic Christian
worship for 2,000 years. In other words, if "comprehensive
preterism" is the truth, then not only has all historic
Christian doctrine been false doctrine, all historic Christian
worship has been false worship. …[T]he fact that some "comprehensive
preterists" continue to observe the Lord’s Supper, I
believe, is a huge inconsistency in practice. To do something
in remembrance of One who is now present with you, I believe,
is simply an abuse of common language and common sense. I
also believe that if Christ has already returned, it is as
inconsistent for a "comprehensive preterist" to
observe the Lord’s Supper as it is for a Christian today to
observe Old Testament sacrifices. Paul said these were to
be observed "till He comes."
Isn’t this overstating things just a bit, Keith? The
pre-creedal Christians of the first century did not have a
fully-developed Trinitarian worship or doctrine, yet were
they inconsistent, even heretical in their practices? The
Christian Church has applied the knowledge and understanding
it has at the time to its doctrinal formulas and worship practices.
If we can extend grace to the Bereans of the past, why can
we not extend that same grace to Christians (and true Preterists
are certainly Christians!) today? Have any of
us become so complete in our knowledge and understanding of
God’s Word to say we "know all things," and that
no further reformation is necessary or possible in our doctrinal
statements or worship practices? To claim such a position
should be considered not only unwise, but the height
In the words of our Lord to the Saducees, "You do err,
not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God!" (Mt.
22:29). Examine the texts dealing with the Last Supper. After
Jesus had blessed and passed the cup to His disciples, He
said, "I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the
vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in
My Father’s kingdom" (Mt. 26:29). During His absence,8
the disciples of Jesus would proclaim His death in their celebration
of the Supper, but at His return and afterwards, they
would partake in a new way (Strong #2537: kainoV).
To what was Jesus referring here? In Lk. 22:29-30, He said,
"I appoint unto you a kingdom, as My Father has appointed
unto Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom
and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel"
(cp. Rev. 20:4). Is this not the marriage supper of the Lamb
spoken of in Rev. 19:7-9? The presence of an "until"
does not necessarily imply the cessation of the Lord’s
Supper, merely a change in the manner in which
it is to be celebrated! Certainly, we still remember with
thanksgiving the great sacrifice that made our participation
in God’s kingdom possible, but more than that, we rejoice
in His glorious return that fully established that
kingdom and made complete our redemption (Lk. 21:28;
Heb. 9:28; 10:9; Rev. 19:7)!
The charge of heresy was once again leveled (again, without
distinction between true Preterists and hyper-preterists)
under the heading of Christology. Mathison said that in speaking
to a true Preterist, he was told that one result of the Second
Coming was that Christ was present with His followers more
fully than prior to His return.
[A]ccording to "comprehensive preterists," Christ
returned in AD 70 to dwell in all men, or at least all Christians.
Apparently, they’re not referring to the return of His divine
Nature, which is omnipresent anyway, and therefore was with
the Church always, even immediately after the Ascension. But
if they are referring to His human nature, then it is necessary
to impute attributes of divinity such as omnipresence to His
human nature in order for it to dwell in all men simultaneously.
[This would] require the confusion of divine and human attributes,
a doctrine historically known as Eutychianism, and a doctrine
which was explicitly condemned at the Council of Chalcedon
in AD 451.
Whereas this may or may not be the understanding of the hyper-preterist,
it is not so for the true Preterist! We agree entirely
with the confession of Chalcedon, which states that Christ
had two natures, human and divine, separate and not co-mingled.
However, Scripture is clear that, in some sense, Christ
left His disciples, stating He would return
shortly (see: Jn. 14:2-3, 18-28; 16:7). He assured them He
would send the Holy Spirit to be with them in His absence
(Jn. 14:16-17). If Christ was fully-present (spiritually—in
His divine Nature) with the disciples, why does Rev. 21:3
say, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and
He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and
God Himself shall be with them, and be their God"? It
sounds as if Mathison is making a Modalist error (Sabellianism
9), saying that Christ and the Holy
Spirit are one Person! It would, however, be as irresponsible
of us to make this charge of heresy against Mr. Mathison as
it was for him to accuse us of holding to Eutychianism.
2. Bodily Resurrection
According to Mathison, "To deny that our resurrection
is, like Christ’s, a ‘flesh and bone’ resurrection would be
to repeat the fatal heresy of the Gnostics in the early Church,
and the Socinians at the time of the Reformation." He
then quoted Francis Turretin: "If this same body that
dies is not resurrected, then what has occurred is not a resurrection
of the body, but a replacement of the body."
We know that the earliest creeds affirmed simply the "resurrection
of the dead," but were changed in the West to "resurrection
of the body" or "resurrection of the flesh"
in order to expose Gnostics. This language is nowhere
found in Scripture. Manifestly, this reflects an interpretation
of the Scriptures.
It is assumed that since Jesus was raised physically from
the tomb, and "we shall be like Him" (I Jn. 3:2),
our physical bodies will be raised in like manner.
If it is so obvious that our physical bodies will be raised
just as Jesus’ was, why does John say, "it has not
yet been revealed what we shall be…"? 10
No promise is given in Scripture of the raising of our physical
bodies. On the contrary, the corruptibility of our
bodies is emphasized: "Dust you are, and to dust you
will return" (Gen. 3:19). Only Christ was given the assurance
that His body would never decay: "For You will not leave
My soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see
corruption" (Acts 2:27, quoting from Ps. 16:10). In fact,
Paul makes it abundantly clear that the bodies we shall have
in the eternal state 11 will
not be the same as that which we now have:
Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies.
And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be,
but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God
gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body
[I Cor. 15:36-38].
Paul continues: "There are also celestial bodies and
terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one,
and the glory of the terrestrial is another. So also is the
resurrection of the dead." Note that he does not
say, "resurrection of the body," or "resurrection
of the flesh."
The body is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is
sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural
body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body,
and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, "The
first man Adam became a living being." The last Adam
became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not
first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first
man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the
Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those
who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also
are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image
of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly
Man. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot
inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.12
Why is it insisted, contrary to the Scriptures, that "the
same body that is sown is the same body that shall be raised"?
If death has not been "swallowed up in victory"
(I Cor. 15:54), the Law must yet be in force, since "the
sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law
(I Cor. 15:56).
As far as the Preterist view being one of "replacement
rather than resurrection," so also is Mathison’s view!
Let us consider for a moment Mathison’s (creedally) "orthodox"
view. If all those that have died since the creation are raised
in their "self-same bodies," some form of
replacement will be essential. Where is Adam’s body
now? Surely, in the 6,000 or more years that have passed since
his formation have spread his molecules far and wide. Certainly,
it would be no difficulty for our Lord to reconstitute his
body in its original terrestrial glory. The problem is somewhat
different. Let us imagine a body that was buried even as little
as 100 years ago. Plants have grown up over the plot and been
eaten by animals. These animals may have been become food
for a human being at some time. Even the plants themselves
may have been eaten by humans, as in the case of a fruit tree
growing up on top of some long-forgotten grave. The tree gains
nutrients from the decaying body and produces fruit. The fruit
is eaten by a man and becomes part of his body. Surely,
in the time that has elapsed since the time of Adam, this
sort of thing has happened on more than one occasion! Now,
at the time of this resurrection "at the end of time"
(another phrase never used in the Bible), whose restored
body receives those commonly-shared atoms and molecules? Is
not some sort of replacement necessary?
What of those who were born without a limb? Will they not
have a new one given to them by our merciful God? It becomes
clear rather quickly that Mathison’s view of the resurrection
is as much one of replacement as is the Preterist’s!
If the resurrection of the body/flesh was indeed the original
doctrine taught by the apostles, how is it that some Christians
were able to be convinced it had already come to pass? (See:
II Thess. 2:2; II Tim. 2:17-18). Why does Paul bother to reiterate
the events that were necessarily to happen first, rather than
simply telling his audience to examine the nearest graveyard?
If the Day of the Lord was not to come until the "end
of history" (another phrase never used in Scripture),
and the resurrection was to coincide with it, it seems unlikely
that anyone would have been able to convince the first
century Christians it had already taken place!
Of course, declaring that the Day of the Lord and the resurrection
had taken place before the destruction of the temple
and ending of the Mosaic economy was a grave error
(no pun intended). If true, it would mean that the Law and
temple had a place in God’s eternal kingdom. No wonder the
faith of some was overthrown! If the temple system was to
be part of the kingdom, it would be necessary to be a participant
again! It is understandable why Paul was upset.
Note that Paul makes no distinction between the Day of the
Lord that was to transpire shortly and an alleged "final"
coming of Christ. (Again, this terminology is nowhere
found in Scripture). If his converts were confusing a "metaphorical"
coming of Christ with a future "final" return/parousia,
why didn’t he simply clarify things by delineating them more
precisely? It is apparent that the reason confusion was possible
was that there would be no obvious (physical) signs
of the resurrection having taken place.13
3. The Doctrine of Sin
Mathison charges that the Preterist view has no "final
conquest of sin" in the physical realm. "According
to ‘comprehensive preterism,’ sin was decisively defeated
and destroyed at the cross, [and] this defeat is progressively
worked out in the present age." As with many of his other
accusations, he presented no Scripture to support his
claims for such a conquest taking place. (He later cited Ezk.
47; Dan. 2; Mt. 13:31-32; I Cor. 15:25 under his "Scriptural
Objections"). Mathison’s lack of understanding of the
true Preterist viewpoint is manifest when he says, "[The
problem] arises because in the ‘comprehensive preterist’ view,
the present age never ends, because it is the eternal state."
Perhaps he had been speaking to an annihilationist when he
came to the conclusion that this is the "eternal state."
This writer has no personal knowledge of any Preterist
who holds this view.
Jesus explained to His disciples that at the end of the age
in which they were living, that is, the Mosaic age (they were
still living under the dictates of the Old Covenant),
the angels would "gather out of His kingdom all things
that offend, and all those who practice wickedness" (Mt.
13:41). We know that under the Mosaic covenant, God’s kingdom
was manifest on earth in the physical covenant-nation of Israel.
However, with the coming of the Messiah, that covenant was
made obsolete (Heb. 8:13), and would soon pass away (at the
"end of the age"). Jesus Christ paid the price of
redemption and ascended to His Father in order to receive
His promised kingdom. The manifestation of this kingdom
was to be spiritual. The land was a heavenly
one (Heb. 11:16), the people determined by a birth in the
Spirit, not after the flesh (Jn. 1:12-13; 3:3-6). It
is a kingdom "not of this world" (Jn. 18:36).
What this means is that the progressive conquest of sin and
evil never ends. In the "comprehensive preterist"
system, rebellion against God…continues into all eternity.
….[T]he Bible nowhere teaches that God is going to allow blatant
rebellion against His sovereign authority to continue forever.
It everywhere points to a consummation of history in which
all rebellion, all sin, and all evil is going to be conclusively
punished and subdued.
The Bible is not a history of the Earth, but the history
of redemption. The Scriptures record world events only
insofar as they relate to the history of redemption. Since
our redemption has been "signed, sealed, and delivered,"
why should we expect to find the "end of human history"
recorded for us in the pages of the Bible? We know from God’s
Word that His physical creation is still very young, and may
be expected to last for many more millennia. Whether at some
time in that distant future God will renew the universe or
not, is not revealed to us in Scripture. What is far more
important is that we are now living in the "new heavens
and earth" promised long ago!
Many make the mistake of taking this language in a literalistic
fashion, expecting a new physical creation. This is,
however, covenantal language! In Mt. 5:17-18, Jesus
said, "Until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot
or tittle will pass from the law until all is fulfilled."
Notice there are two "untils" in that statement.
Very few Christians would claim that we are still living under
the Old Covenant law today, yet if both conditions have not
been met—the passing away of "heaven and earth,"
as well as the fulfilling of the law—we are still under obligation
to follow every "jot and tittle" of the Old Testament
law! If, however, we understand that the "heaven and
earth" that existed then represented the Old Covenant,
we will see that the "new heavens and new
earth" represent the New Covenant, "in which
righteousness dwells" (II Pet. 3:13, cp. II Pet. 3:5-7;
also: Isa. 43:19; 51:15-16; 65:17-25; Rev. 21:5). Our God
is a covenant God and deals with mankind on that basis.
Mr. Mathison accuses Preterists of giving the time statements
found in Scripture a "technical meaning," and of
"reading them into all eschatological texts." Unfortunately,
Mr. Mathison presented no "eschatological texts"
with which to prove his point. Nor did he define what sort
of "technical meaning" we allegedly apply to the
time statements of the Bible.
Perhaps Mr. Mathison would prefer it if we gave words like
"shortly" and "soon" a non-technical
meaning, such as "after the space of two (or more) millennia
have passed." Ad hominem, straw men arguments
are easily concocted, though they are just as easily burned
up when exposed to the blazing fire of truth. Whereas false
and slanderous statements may cause the ignorant to recoil
in horror, the Berean will search the Scriptures to see who
it is that speaks the truth. If and when Mr. Mathison is willing
to show us which eschatological texts he is referring to,
we will be glad to present our side (something we were not
allowed to do following his seminar presentation—he took no
questions or comments before dismissing the "class").
2. The Millennium
The period from AD 30-70 is too short a time period to fit
the symbol of "1,000 years" found in Rev. 20, according
to Mr. Mathison. It seems that to more than double
the number of years this symbol represents is perfectly acceptable
to Mathison, but not to "shorten" it!
Whether literal or figurative, "a thousand years"
denotes a vast period of time. To suggest that "a thousand
years" is symbolic of one generation of 40 years or less,
I believe, stretches credulity to its breaking point. …I would
suggest that "comprehensive preterists," with their
doctrine of the millennium, are not taking seriously enough
Biblical language which clearly indicates a long period of
time. I believe this is nothing but hermeneutical arbitrariness.
We must take all time frame indicators seriously, those that
point to short periods of time and those that point to long
periods of time.
In order to understand the meaning behind a symbolic number,
we must observe how it is used in Scripture (the Reformers
called this the "analogy of faith"). When used in
a non-literal (symbolic) manner in Scripture, the number 1,000
represents a perfect whole, or "all." One example
is to be found in Ps. 50:10—"For every beast of the forest
is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills." The emphasis
is not on the number of hills being great, but as can be seen
in this example of Hebrew parallelism, on the totality
of God’s rule over and ownership of His creation. He owns
the whole number of the beasts of the forest and field.
If the book of Revelation had meant to communicate simply
a large number, the phraseology of Rev. 5:11 could easily
have been employed: "Then I looked, and I heard the voice
of many angels around the throne…and the number of them was
ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands…."
It should be noted that Scripture elsewhere refers to 40 years
as "a long time" (Josh. 24:7; Mt. 25:19).
The use of 1,000 is also demonstrated elsewhere in Revelation,
for example, the number of the redeemed in Israel is given
as "144,000." This is 12 x 12 x 1,000, representing
the full number of the redeemed. The number of persons
saved in Israel in the first century was small enough to be
called a "remnant" elsewhere in Scripture, yet the
number 1,000 is still used to represent them (see: Rom. 11:5;
Rev. 12:17; cp. Zech. 8:6, 12). If "1,000" truly
represents a "huge number," then 144 x 1,000 must
be incredibly large! And if a 40-year time span could
not possibly be represented by the number 1,000, then neither
could 144 times that same number represent a "remnant."
Again, we must abide by the temporal delimiters given
quite clearly in the opening and closing verses of the book!
If the things contained in it were not really going
to be fulfilled shortly, then we may ignore or reinterpret
all the other parts of the book freely also. If, however,
we honor and uphold the integrity and inspiration of the Bible,
we will be able to interpret it properly. With this clearly
in mind, then, let us examine what the text says:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key
to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid
hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the devil
and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and cast him
into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on
him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the
thousand years were finished. But after these things he must
be released for a little while.
We see his release and its purpose a few verses later:
Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released
from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which
are in the four corners of the earth [or land], Gog
and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number
is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of
the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved
city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured
The symbol of Gog and Magog is use to depict apostate (physical)
Israel, "whose number is as the sand of the sea"
(see: Gen. 22:16-17), and the same judgment as that which
came upon Sodom was poured out on them (cp. Rev. 11:8—"where
also our Lord was crucified").
According to E. W. Bullinger, the number 10 "signifies
the perfection of Divine order":15
"Completeness of order, marking the entire round of
anything, is, therefore, the ever-present signification of
the number ten. It implies that nothing is wanting;
that the number and order are perfect; that the whole cycle
The squaring of a number (e.g., 102 or 10 x 10)
indicates completeness as well.17
Examples of tens in Scripture: 10 commandments, the
tithe (a tenth), 10 plagues on Egypt, 10 nations (Gen.
15:19), "unto the tenth generation" (Dt.
23:3), number of silver sockets in the tabernacle (10 x 10—Ex.
3. Progressive Victory in the Present Age
Texts such as Ezekiel 47, Daniel 2, Matthew 13, and I Corinthians
15 were cited by Mathison as "pictures of ongoing, victorious
conquest of the kingdom [of God] over all cultures and nations
during the present age." According to Mr. Mathison, "All
of these texts speak of the gradual growth and victory of
the kingdom, but they explicitly or implicitly speak of a
point in time, a point in history when the goal of that conquest
has been achieved."
"Full" or "comprehensive preterists"
claim to believe in Christ’s completed victory, but their
teaching implies an eternally-incomplete application of that
victory. Scripture does speak of the progressive growth and
victory of Christ’s kingdom during the present age, but it
also speaks of a consummation to that growth and a victorious
end to the fight. A battle of conquest that continues forever
is not a victory, it is a stalemate.
If we are now living in the "kingdom age," which
both Preterists and Mathison himself affirm, how can it be
alleged (by Mathison) that the present age has an "end"?
Scripture clearly states that the kingdom has no end!
18 The consummation spoken of in Scripture
is the end of the age, in which the New Testament writers
were living—the Old Covenant age. The reason the Preterist
affirms that this consummation is past is that all things
promised regarding it have taken place! The kingdom of God
was taken from the Old Covenant-breaking nation of (physical)
Israel and given to the New Covenant-keeping (spiritual) nation
of Israel—the Church.19 The "harvest"
at the end of that age 20
took place in AD 70, and the kingdom was transferred from
the physical realm to the spiritual. "All things
that offend" 21 were removed,
since citizenship in Israel is now determined by spiritual
birth (faith in Christ, Israel’s Messiah), and the sinless
righteousness of Christ has been imputed to those citizens.
Truly, "all Israel" has been saved! 22
Sin and death no longer have dominion in God’s kingdom!
The fact that there are still sinners 23
here in the physical realm has no bearing on the victory and
consummated effects of God’s kingdom. Yes, we still have the
"mopping-up" to do here on Earth, but this does
not change the fact that our Lord and His kingdom have obtained
victory for us! Only the spiritually blind and deaf would
Although Ezk. 47 speaks of God’s kingdom advancing throughout
the land like a mighty river, there are still areas that remain
unaffected by it. "But its swamps and marshes will not
be healed; they will be given over to salt" 24
According to Isa. 11:9, "the earth shall be full of the
knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." Certainly,
we may expect great victories of the gospel over evil in this
physical realm, but it is not in this earthly dimension that
we are promised "final victory." It is in the eternal
state (heaven) that we fully realize what we have positionally
and covenantally now.
The dream of Nebuchadnezzar of what would take place in the
"latter days" (Dan. 2:28) revealed that in the days
of the fourth kingdom (the Roman Empire), "the God of
heaven" would "set up a kingdom which shall never
be destroyed" (v. 44). This kingdom, we are told, "will
stand forever" and "break in pieces and consume
all these [other] kingdoms." It would become a "great
mountain" and fill the "whole earth" (Dan.
2:35). Whereas some read into this chapter an end to
human history and the world, no such thing is mentioned in
the text! The time of the establishment of this eternal
kingdom is given as the time when the Son of Man would come:
"And behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the
clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they
brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one
which shall not be destroyed" (Dan. 7:14—see also v.27
and 12:1-3). Since the kingdom of Christ was established during
the Roman Empire of the first century, and this kingdom is
an everlasting kingdom, we are not in the Last
Days, we are in the First Days! 25
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…which is indeed
the least of all seeds; but when it is grown it is greater
than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the
air come and nest in its branches.
As with many of the parables of the kingdom that Jesus told,
this one shows the great influence the kingdom of God would
have in the world. It does not, however, state that
the world/physical realm will end once the seed is fully grown!
It would have been a simple matter for Jesus to add, "And
once the tree is grown up to its full stature, and it is filled
with the nests of the birds of the air, the tree and the ground
and the sky will all burn up," or something to that effect.
I Corinthians 15:25
"For He must reign till He has put all enemies under
His feet." Let us keep this verse in its context:
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made
alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits,
afterwards those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes
the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when
He puts and end to all rule and authority and power. For He
must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The
last enemy that will be destroyed is death.26
In many ways, this is simply a restatement of Dan. 2—the
kingdoms of the world will be conquered by Christ! Is this
not happening even today? The Preterist does not deny that
the fulfillment of prophecy has ongoing (even eternal)
consequences or results. A rock thrown into a pond may disappear
from sight, but the ripples emanating from its impact point
continue on for some time. The ripples that began to emanate
when our Rock hit the surface of our earthly pond are still
being seen today, and will continue to affect the complacency
of our world as long as it exists!
The question is: What is the "end" spoken of in
this passage, and in what sense was "the last enemy,"
death, conquered? Jesus Himself tells us what "the end"
is in the Olivet Discourse. After telling His disciples about
the coming destruction of the temple and persecution they
would endure, He said, "But he who endures to the
end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will
be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations,
and then the end will come" (Mt. 24:13-14). Should
the disciples have expected salvation only at the end of
Many will say, "Obviously, this has not yet taken place!"
If it has not, Jesus is indeed a false prophet, as the skeptics
are so fond of alleging, for He also declared emphatically,
"[T]his generation shall by no means pass away till all
these things take place." 27
We know from the declaration of the Master Himself that "the
end" would come before that generation (a 40-year period
according to Num. 32:13; Heb. 3:9-10) would expire. Was the
gospel indeed preached in "all the world" as He
said? If we believe that Jesus is truly God, and the Bible
really is His inspired Word, then we must declare it to be
true, without equivocation! We have not only the sure Word
of our Lord’s prophecy, but the record of its fulfillment
in the God-breathed statements of the apostle Paul. He testifies
in Rom. 10:18, "But I say, have they not heard [the gospel]?
Yes indeed: ‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and
their words to the ends of the world.’" He writes elsewhere:
We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ
Jesus…because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven,
of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the
gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the
And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind
by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of
His flesh through death…if indeed you continue in the faith…
and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you
heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven,
of which I, Paul, became a minister.29
The temple was still standing when Paul wrote these words.
The Old Covenant system was still operating as it had for
the past two millennia. But "the end" was soon to
come. "This generation" was almost over! As Paul
said in another epistle, "[T]he God of peace will crush
Satan under your feet shortly" (Rom. 16:20).
The 70 "Weeks" of Daniel
One of the promised results of the fulfillment of Daniel’s
vision was that there would be "an end of sins."
30 This was to take place "in
the latter days," 31 when
[T]here shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since
there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your
people shall be delivered, every one who is found written
in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the
earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame
and everlasting contempt.32
These things were to be fulfilled at "the time of the
end." 33 When Daniel asked,
"How long shall the fulfillment of these wonders be?",
the answer was, "it shall be for a time, times, and half
a time; and when the power of the holy people has been completely
shattered, all these things shall be finished."
Was there a time of trouble during which the power of Israel
was shattered? A war lasting 3½ years ("a time, times,
and half a time")? We know there was, having a record
of the fulfillment of these things in Josephus’ Antiquities
of the Jews and The Wars of the Jews. As predicted,
these things took place in the days of the 4th
kingdom during the Roman-Jewish War of AD 66-70. The temple
was destroyed so that sacrifice and oblation ceased, and everlasting
righteousness was brought in.35
An "end to sins" was not only fully accomplished,
it was at that time fully applied.
Is it only the partial preterist that remains "confessionally
orthodox," while the true Preterist and the hyper-preterist
are heterodox or heretical? The true Preterist agrees
with the Creeds and Confessions as far as the number
of parousias ("final" comings of Christ).
Although partial Preterists may try to claim, as Kenneth Gentry
does, that the coming of Matthew 24 "isn’t a parousia,
it’s a metaphorical coming," 36
neither the language of Scripture, nor the language of the
Creeds allows for this alleged distinction. The Bible makes
no delineation between a coming/parousia of Christ in AD 70
and another (a third coming of Christ?) at a supposed
"end of history," and neither do any of the
Creeds or Confessions! In spite of this, Gentry has begun
to call his inconsistent viewpoint "orthodox preterism."
He may want to call himself a car, too, but just hanging
around in the parking lot doesn’t make it so! Mathison, too,
considers himself to be "orthodox," as do other
partial Preterists—confessionally orthodox, that is.
Just claiming it, however, doesn’t make it so. The fact
is, the partial Preterist is no more orthodox confessionally
than the true Preterist! And when it comes to Scriptural
orthodoxy, they are far less so! The partial Preterist
reads multiple comings of Christ into Scripture. The true
Preterist affirms only one, as do the Word of God, the Creeds,
and the Reformed Confessions. The burden of proof lies with
the partial Preterist to demonstrate otherwise.
It is understandable that those within the Reformed community
are reluctant to take a stand that contradicts the historic
Creeds and Confessions of the Church. Many true Preterists
have suffered the loss of friends, church, and even family
because of their adherence to what the Scriptures teach. Yet
they continue to steadfastly hold to the truths of God’s inspired,
inerrant Word, even at great personal cost. May God vindicate
their good names and history record their heroic sacrifices
on His behalf with the admiration they so richly deserve.
The Value and Authority of Creeds
A Creed, or Rule of Faith, or Symbol, is a confession of
faith for public use, or a form of words setting forth with
authority certain articles of belief, which are regarded by
the framers as necessary for salvation, or at least for the
well-being of the Christian Church.37
As such, a confession of faith is always the result of dogmatic
controversy, and more or less directly or indirectly polemical
against opposing error. Each symbol [creed] bears the impress
of its age, and the historical situation out of which it arose.
…. They embody the faith of generations, and the most valuable
results of religious controversies.38
The great debates that produced the historic Creeds of the
Christian Church revolved around the Nature of God (Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit), not eschatology! The Creeds
"contain chiefly the orthodox doctrine of God and of
Christ, or the fundamental dogmas of the Holy Trinity and
the Incarnation." 39 Eschatology
was never the subject of debate! "When controversies
arose concerning the true meaning of the Scriptures, it became
necessary to give formal expression of their true sense, to
regulate the public teaching of the Church, and to guard it
against error." 40 Yet,
the Creeds were developed more fully and altered to fit the
increased knowledge and learning of the Church. "A progressive
growth of theology in different directions can be traced in
Both confessions and creeds were formed to exclude erroneous
beliefs; both were historically conditioned by the heresies
they refuted. The creeds’ limitations (e.g. none mentions
the Lord’s Supper; they together contribute little on the
atonement) and obscurities (cf. ‘descended into hell’
in the Apostles’ Creed, to say nothing of the technical terms
of Nicea and Chalcedon) are far more obvious than those of
the confessions, which are normally more balanced and thorough.42
"They embody the results of the great doctrinal controversies
of the Nicene and post-Nicene ages." 43
Compare the hostility of Reformed Christians to the idea of
Sheol being a "place of waiting" for the dead. This
is due to the controversies taking place during the Reformation
with the Roman Catholic church, which held to a doctrine of
purgatory. The Biblical teaching of Sheol was rejected in
favor of the idea of the Old Testament saints going immediately
into the presence of God at death.
This being the case, we would do well to heed the words of
Philip Schaff: "The value of creeds depends upon the
measure of their agreement with the Scriptures. In the best
case, a human creed is only an approximate and relatively
correct exposition of revealed truth, and may be improved
by the progressive knowledge of the Church, while the Bible
remains perfect and infallible." 44
Conservative Christians may in response be found defending
confessions undiscriminately, and forgetting that for Protestants
they (like creeds) can only be secondary to Scripture, and
are subject to the judgment and revision of Scripture, as
many of them explicitly state.45
"Any higher view of the authority of symbols [creeds]
is unprotestant and essentially Romanizing. Symbololatry is
a species of idolatry, and substitutes the tyranny of a printed
book for that of a living pope." 46
Confessions, in due subordination to the Bible, are of great
value and use. They are summaries of the doctrines of the
Bible, aids to its sound understanding, bonds of union among
their professors, public standards and guards against false
doctrine and practice. In the form of Catechisms they are
of especial use in the instruction of children, and facilitate
a solid and substantial religious education…. The first object
of creeds was to distinguish the Church from the world, from
Jews and heathen, afterwards orthodoxy from heresy, and finally
denomination from denomination. In all these respects they
are still valuable and indispensable in the present order
In terms of the historic definition of the word, heresy,
"comprehensive preterism" would fall under the same
category as Arianism, Gnosticism, or Unitarianism, and even
if there were no explicit eschatological statements in the
Christian Creeds, the doctrine of ‘comprehensive preterism’
would face significant problems because of its implications
for the orthodox doctrine of Christ, and the orthodox doctrine
of the resurrection. If it is preaching a different Christ,
and a different resurrection, it is preaching a different
That’s a big "if"! What are the "essentials
of the faith"? Is it necessary to believe in a future,
fleshly resurrection in order to be saved? According to Mathison,
if a person does not believe in a future, physical
resurrection, he cannot be considered a Christian. In the
Mathison stated, "…[F]ull-preterism necessarily requires
a serious damnable error involving the doctrine of our resurrection."
As true Preterists, we do not disagree with Mr. Mathison that
the resurrection is "a doctrine which is essential to
the Gospel.49 Our disagreement
is with the interpretation of this event as recorded
in the Creeds. Preterists do not deny the resurrection!
The statements of the Creeds, however, involve the interpretation
of Scripture, in that they assume the event to be future
and physical in nature. Essential to this viewpoint
is the redefining of the time statements of the New Testament
associated with the Second Coming and the resurrection of
the believer. If, on the other hand, we take seriously the
time restraints of the Scriptural contexts of these verses,
our assumptions regarding the nature of these events
will necessarily change.
The Preterist affirms the statements of the Creeds that were
debated (e.g., the deity of Christ). We question only
those points that were not debated (e.g., eschatology).
If salvation is dependent on one’s view of eschatology, which
view must one hold to in order to be saved? It is just as
possible that futurism is the damnable heresy, for
it teaches that our salvation is not yet complete!
The presentations of Keith Mathison at the Ligonier Conference
of 1999 were clearly deceptive. He gave his listeners, most
of whom had never heard of the Preterist view, the
impression that anyone who applies the Protestant hermeneutic
to the Scriptures in a consistent manner (i.e., is
no longer a futurist) is either a Gnostic, an Arian,
a Unitarian, or a Socinian (he called "comprehensive"
Preterists all these names). Whereas it is possible to err
on the side of placing too much in the past, e.g., the everlasting,
present kingdom of God, and thus become a "hyper-preterist,"
the true Preterist knows from God’s Word that the kingdom
of God and its celebrations (e.g., the Lord’s Supper, baptism)
are a continuing, present reality. The same is true of Calvinists.
There are various divisions of Calvinism, distinguished by
how many "points" they hold to, or how extremely
they apply the doctrines of grace. Though all these would
claim the title of "Calvinist," we know the only
true Calvinists are the "five-pointers."
Those who hold to less than this are Arminians (they may just
as well call themselves "partial Calvinists" or
"partial Arminians"), while those who deny man’s
responsibility and the necessity of spreading the gospel are
"hyper-Calvinists." The same type of distinctions
are found within the Preterist view of eschatology. Those
who pick and choose which prophecies of Christ’s return they
wish to apply to AD 70 and those they want to put off till
an alleged "end of time/history" (most often, this
is an attempt to remain "confessionally" or "creedally
orthodox") are futurists (or "partial futurists/partial
preterists"). Those who deny any continuing, present
significance to those fulfilled prophecies are "hyper-preterists."
The true Preterist acknowledges that all Bible
prophecy was fulfilled by the end of the first century (AD
70), and that the results of that fulfillment are ongoing
and everlasting. Just as the 4-point Calvinist is fond
of labeling the true Calvinist with the epithet "hyper-Calvinist,"
the inconsistent ("partial") preterist attempts
to impugn the Biblical orthodoxy of true Preterists
by labeling them "hyper-preterists." Their standard
of "orthodoxy," however, is not the Word of God,
but the word of man—a collection of man-made, uninspired documents
known collectively as "the Creeds."
As Preterists, we hold the Creeds and Confessions of the
Church in high regard, and certainly would not advocate their
overthrow. We would, however, remind our detractors of a motto
of the Reformation: "The Church is Reformed, and always
reforming." This means that the Scriptures are our only
inspired guide (sola Scriptura), and any man-made
interpretations of them are fallible,50
and that periodic refinements will be necessary as our understanding
of the Scriptures becomes more clear. Martin Luther had to
endure the accusation of "heresy" in his desire
to reform the traditions of men that had been elevated above
the Word of God. He did not take this accusation lightly,
but was compelled to stand on the authority of Scripture alone.
As true Preterists, we face the same type of opposition from
those who use the Creeds and Confessions in order to hurl
at us the accusation of "heresy." Our cry is that
of Isaiah, "To the law and to the testimony!" (Sola
Scriptura) "If they do not speak according to this
Word, it is because there is no light in them!" (Isa.
Where the Creeds and Confessions reflect the debates of the
Church, statements regarding the Nature of God (Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit), we have no disagreement. On the other
hand, we are calling for debate in those areas in which little
or none took place, e.g., eschatology. The Word of God is
the only unchanging set of documents we have (Ps. 33:11).
All others are "works in progress."
Quotations taken from a
tape of the seminar presentation, "Playing With Fire"
(Ligonier Ministries: Orlando, 1996). Although the tape
was made in 1999, the copyright listed is 1996.
- This is the true Preterist
view. Of course, the term "Full" is unnecessary,
being redundant. A Preterist is, by definition, "a theologian
who believes that the prophecies of the Apocalypse have already
been fulfilled" (Webster's Unabridged Dictionary).
- A copy of this article may
be found on the Internet at The Preterist Archive:
- Email dated April 14, 1999,
- See: J. N. D. Kelly’s Early
Christian Doctrines (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1978),
pp. 237 ff. Hereafter referred to as Doctrines.
- To view a copy of this cursing
of Preterists, see the Internet site of Rev. Todd Dennis,
The Preterist Archive (http://www.preteristarchive.com/CriticalArticles/anathema_reformed-usa_01.html).
- As pointed out admirably
by Walt Hibbard in his, “What
About the Creeds?” presented at the Warming up
to the Preterist View conference (Orlando, Feb. 20, 1999).
A tape of the proceedings may be obtained from the International
Preterist Association’s website: http://preterist.org/booklist.htm,
or by writing: International Preterist Association, 122 Seaward
Ave., Bradford, PA 16701, USA.
- Note that Jesus said He was
about to depart from them (cp. Jn. 14:16-17).
- Cf. Doctrines, pp.
- I Jn. 3:2.
- Note that Preterists do
not claim to have "already attained" this
- I Cor. 15:40-50.
- For a fuller study of this
subject, see: Murray Harris, From Grave to Glory: Resurrection
in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Academie-Zondervan,
1990). For Mathison to accuse Preterists of being Gnostics,
Arians, Unitarians, or Socinians is like calling an apple
a Cadillac, since some Cadillacs come in red! The differences
are obviously tremendous, and to characterize one as similar
to the other is a gross misrepresentation, to say the least.
- Rev. 20:7-9.
- Number in Scripture
(Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1979 [Reprint of 1894 ed.]), p. 243
- Ibid., emphasis his.
- Ibid., p. 124.
- See: Ps. 145:13; Isa. 9:7;
- Mt. 21:41.
- Mt. 13:39; cp. Rev. 14:15.
- Mt. 13:41, e.g. sin.
- Rom. 11:26.
- The "seed of the serpent"
- Ezk. 47:11, emphasis added.
- If these are indeed the
"last days," as Mathison and other futurists allege,
the Charismatics/Pentecostals are right to assume the perpetuity
of spiritual gifts. Nowhere does Scripture teach that the
"sign gifts" of tongues, miracles, wisdom, healing,
etc. would cease after the first few years of the "last
days" had elapsed.
- I Cor. 15:22-26.
- Mt. 24:34, emphasis added.
- Col. 1:3-6.
- Col. 1:21-23.
- Dan. 9:24.
- Dan. 10:14.
- Dan. 12:1-2.
- Dan. 12:6—not "the
end of time"!
- Dan. 12:6-7. Compare this
to Rev. 11:2-3; 12:6; 13:5, a book the contents of which were
to be fulfilled shortly after John wrote it (Rev. 1:1,
3; 22:6-7, 10, 12, 20).
- Cf. Dan. 9:24; Heb. 9:8.
- From a short conversation
with Mr. Gentry at the Ligonier Conference (Orlando, 1999).
- Philip Schaff, The Creeds
of Christendom, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990 [Reprint
of 1931 ed.]), I:3-4. Hereafter referred to as Creeds.
- Ibid., p. 4.
- Ibid., pp. 9-10.
- Ibid., p. 6.
- Ibid., p. 9.
- "Confessions of Faith,"
D. F. Wright. New Dictionary of Theology. Eds. Sinclair
Ferguson and David F. Wright (Leicester, Eng.: InterVarsity
Press, 1988), p. 154. Hereafter referred to as "Confessions."
- Creeds, p. 13.
- Ibid., p. 7.
- Creeds, p. 13.
- Ibid., p. 8.
- April 14, 1999.
- "All synods or councils,
since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular,
may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be
made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help
in both." Westminster Confession of Faith (31:4).