This article was written for publication in the Preterist Voice Magazine for the March 2023 edition, a publication of fulfilledmedia.com.
I am relatively new to preterism – it wasn’t until 2012 (after having served in full-time ministry for over 30 years!) that I really had any understanding of preterism. Over the past ten years that understanding has increased and I have fully embraced preterism/fulfilled eschatology. What I have found in my journey toward truth is that there is as much diversity/disagreement/multiple “camps” within preterism as within any of the futurist groups. I have also observed as much unkindness, quickness to label as heretical those who hold differing views within preterism as within futurist groups.
I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on preterist eschatology, my understanding has expanded and developed over the past ten years and continues to adjust. I believe it is possible to be a fully devoted follower of Jesus, and, simultaneously, be mistaken on certain doctrinal aspects. As I write this series of articles, I felt it important to state some basic assumptions that are at the basis of my understanding.
- The Kingdom has come.
- The Presence of the Lord is available to all who seek Him.
- There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, rich or poor, slave or free, male or female. All have equal standing before God through faith in Jesus Christ as the Promised One, the Savior of the whole world.
- The Sermon on the Mount was Jesus’s Kingdom Manifesto. Becoming a Jesus follower is to embrace Him and His teachings as the way of life.
- If I must justify living my life contrary to the teachings of Jesus, I have completely missed what it is to be a Jesus follower.
- The greatest commandment is to love God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and body; and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, even loving one’s enemies (or, especially loving one’s enemies).
- Jesus said that wherever two or three are gathered in His name, there He is in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)
- God’s promise to His people in the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is that He would dwell among them, that He would be their God and they would be His people. (Exodus 25:8, Exodus 29:46, Ezekiel 43:9, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Revelation 21:3)
- The terms New Covenant, New Creation, Heavenly Jerusalem, Mt. Zion, Messianic Temple, New Heavens and Earth, the Age to Come, are synonymous.
- Apostate first-century Judaism was the terminal generation of the Old Covenant culminating in the 70 A.D. destruction of the Temple and “the Holy City”.
One of the major issues addressed throughout the New Testament, and mostly overlooked or ignored, is the transition from Old Covenant to New Covenant and the tensions that existed between Old Covenant Judaism followers and New Covenant Jesus/Messiah followers. To fully put this into perspective we have to understand the people that comprised the New Testament audience/subject matter. As I see and understand it, there were six groups of people written about or written to: 1) Jews who rejected Jesus as the Promised Messiah; 2) Jews who embraced Him as the Promised Messiah but believed that it was necessary to continue the practice of Judaism (Judaizers); 3) Jews who embraced Him as the Promised Messiah and followed the teachings of Paul that the practice of Judaism was not only unnecessary, but was in opposition to faith in Jesus; 4) Gentiles who recognized Jesus as the Promised Messiah and Savior of the world, and followed the teachings of Paul; 5) Gentiles who recognized Jesus as the Promised Messiah and Savior of the world, but were influenced by the Judaizers and believed that it was also necessary to follow the practice of Judaism (and they became Judaizers as well); 6) Gentiles who would not embrace the message of salvation through faith in Jesus as the Promised One, the Savior of the whole world.
The intense persecution that came against the first-century followers of Jesus was at the hands of the Jews who rejected Jesus and the Judaizers who believed that it was necessary to continue the practice of Judaism in addition to faith in Jesus. Jesus stated emphatically that His crucifixion would come at the hands of the Jews, that the future persecution of His first-century followers would come at the hands of the Jews, and that Jerusalem would be held accountable for the innocent blood of the saints shed from Abel through His first-century followers. It’s ultimate destruction, in 70 A.D. at the hands of the Roman army, would in fact be His coming in judgment and vindication for the martyrs throughout the entire history of the Israelites, all the way back to Adam! The vindication of the martyrs is a major theme of both the Old and New Testaments, yet a theme that is virtually ignored, or not even recognized, by most contemporary Christians!
Many contemporary Christians want to place the blame for the crucifixion of Jesus and the persecution of His first-century followers on Rome. But clearly, the testimony of the New Testament places blame on the apostate first-century Jews. In Acts chapter 3, Peter preaches to the Israelites gathered in the Temple complex, “…men of Israel…The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:12-15)
And in Acts chapter 7, in the message that got him stoned to death, Stephen stated to the leaders of the Jews, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers YOU HAVE NOW BECOME; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51-53)
Jesus Himself, on explaining to His disciples the need to return to Jerusalem, stated, “Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem.” (Luke 13:33) And in Matthew 16:21, “ From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and raised up on the third day.”
As the gospel began to expand its audience to include Gentiles, there arose an intense tension between the Jews who recognized Jesus as the Promised Messiah, and Gentiles who received Jesus as the Savior of the whole world. The Jews, for the most part, despised Gentiles, viewed them as dogs, less than human – and refused to accept them as equals, as brothers and sisters in Christ. It was for this reason that Peter had his vision in Acts chapter ten of the sheet coming down out of heaven with unclean animals on it, and the voice of the Lord saying, “Kill and eat.” Peter’s response was, “no way! I have never eaten anything unclean!” God responded to him, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unclean.” It was a difficult lesson for Peter – a lesson that took decades to be fully embraced.
The Gentile followers of Jesus, experienced first-hand the anti-Gentile discrimination against them and were suspicious of Jewish followers of Jesus, especially those who required Gentiles to embrace the practice of ritual Judaism in order to be accepted, even reluctantly, as brothers and sisters in Christ. It is into this tension filled environment that the Apostle Paul arose as the apostle to the Gentiles. His challenge was to forge these disparate groups into one new man, one body.
His message condemned the Judaizers as following “another Jesus” (Galatians 1). Yet his message to the Gentile followers of Jesus was to walk in love toward their oppressors and never take their own revenge. In a key passage in Romans 12, he wrote, “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge…” (Romans 12:16-19) We would do well to embrace this message today! So far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men…NOT just the ones you agree with!
This theme, this transition from Old Covenant to New Covenant, this merging together as one the disparate groups of Jew and Gentile, was a focus of Paul’s writings, especially in Ephesians. “Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision,’ which is performed in the flesh by human hands – remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:11-22)
Paul was continually challenging the views of Judaizers and challenging Gentiles to walk in love toward their oppressors – especially toward those Jews who embraced Jesus as Messiah yet continued to believe it was necessary to practice ritual Judaism. In Ephesians 4:1-6, he wrote, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
I’m convinced that it is possible to hold correct doctrine and be wrong, and to hold incorrect doctrine and be right. How? The most important, the defining characteristic of a true Jesus follower is that we walk in love toward all people, toward those who like us, toward those who are not like us, and even toward those who don’t like us! In Luke 6:35-36, Jesus gives what I believe to be the true mark of a genuine Jesus follower: “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; FOR HE HIMSELF IS KIND TO UNGRATEFUL AND EVIL MEN. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” If God Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men, what right do I have to be anything less? What right does anyone who claims to be a Jesus follower have to attempt to justify unkindness, even hate?
In this age of social media and the ability to respond emotionally to perceived opponents online, one of the challenges we all face is to walk in love, even toward our perceived enemies. For the sake of the Kingdom, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men. Just because someone doesn’t believe exactly as I believe doesn’t give me the right to be unkind, demeaning, or disrespectful. Paul told the Romans to “respect what is right in the sight of all men” (Romans 12:17) and he demonstrated what that looked like in his life and ministry, whether it was going into a synagogue and attempting to persuade Jews concerning Jesus, or going to the Areopagus in Athens and attempting to persuade the Greek philosophers and idol worshippers concerning Jesus. He didn’t condemn them, instead, he complimented them. “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.” (Acts 17:22)
Those of us who have embraced Jesus as the Promised One, the Savior of the whole world, and embrace His ways, have been reconciled to God through Christ and have been given the ministry of reconciliation. What does that look like? “…namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, NOT COUNTING THEIR TRESPASSES AGAINST THEM. And He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20) Contemporary evangelicalism has seemingly embraced the opposite! We are quick to judge, quick to condemn, quick to point out the sins of others and to count it against them. We divide, separate, and condemn as heretics those we disagree with! And, sadly, we equate that with godliness and standing for truth! Instead, the way of Jesus is humility, gentleness, kindness, peace, and love!