Saturday, July 16, 2011
This is a testimony of how I came to the Preterist position of Eschatology, the study of 'Last Things'
I became a 'born-again Christian' Dec 10, 1984, after growing up in a staunch Roman Catholic family. It was a very super-natural, God-driven experience... not a case of a "god-shaped hole" in my heart being filled. I was a rotten sinner in need of a savior. As far as the Roman Catholic Church, it was a group where pretty much everyone believed the same way as far as the essentials. There weren't any doctrinal differences that I knew of. Virtually no one questioned the teachings of the preists, bishops, cardinals - the Pope even had this thing called "Papal infallability" ! There was no second-guessing of any teachings or doctrines going on in my religious world as a practicing Catholic.
It would be many years as a Christian before I even heard the fancy term "Eschatology," the study of last things. I was far more excited in those early years about my new-found salvation, and getting to know God. I didn't even know of the 'rapture' when I was a baby Christian, new in the faith, wet behind the ears.
My "One Size fits all" mentality that I carried over from the Catholic Church led me to believe that my new "group" (born-again Christians) were similarly like-minded, so there was no reason to question what I was hearing from the pulpit. That "papal infallability" mind-set for me . . . was just transferred over to the Protestant preacher in the pulpit or on the radio.
At some point, I found out about the "Rapture," this teaching that one day, in the time it takes to blink, we (true Christian believers) would go up literally, physically in the air, and meet our Lord Jesus Christ in the literal clouds. We would thusly have the awesome "bonus" of not having to taste death. All Christians, as far as I knew, believed that this event would precede His "2nd coming" by seven years. The 2nd coming as I was taught was an event where Jesus would touch town literally and set His literal, physical foot on the Mount of Olives and sit on a literal throne in a rebuilt Temple and rule and reign the world for a thousand years. In my mind's eye, I pictured Jesus with his long hair and beard, sitting in a big chair with about a hundred stairs rising up to the chair.
Finding out about this rapture was FANTASTIC ! I don't have to grow old, save for retirement, this was so awesome ! I closed out my 401K, thus instantly giving myself a bigger paycheck, and life was sweet. I remember seeing a T-Shirt in our local Christian book store depicting an outdoor basketball game, where SOME of the players and SOME of the fans were floating up in the air, the scriptural reference of I Thess. 4:17. Of course, that is the well-known verse which states that we will be caught up in the air.
During my first couple of decades as a Christian, I believed that all Christians believed in the rapture view as taught by the Church, as well as all teachings about the second coming. I had no idea there were all these differing views.
In 1998, I began taking seminary-level theology classes, including one on Hermenuetics, which is the art and science of Biblical interpretation. I learned quite a bit, including a principle called "Audience Relevance," which means we have to consider that the Bible was written to people in the first century and earlier. Doesn't mean it's irrelevant to everyone else, of course, but as I heard at least one person say years later: "We are reading someone elses mail ! " My professor at that time, who does NOT hold to the Preterist position by the way, said we have to "Bridge the gap," and get in the mind of the 1st century believer. We need to ask: "What did these words mean to THEM ?" This made perfect sense to me at the time, and still does today, as far as I'm concerned.
So one day I'm studying Matthew 24, where Jesus has been talking about his yet future return in judgment, commonly referred to by many as his "second coming." I get to verse 34, where I read: "This generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled." I stopped when I read that. I was uneasy, because he seemed to be addressing THEM - the PEOPLE ALIVE AT THAT time ! In fact, what I didn't realize at that time I was reading was that just a handful of verses prior, he was speaking of "this wicked and perverse generation." In that earlier passage, with no context change, chapter and verse breaks being added centuries later, everyone today agrees he was talking to the people alive at that time - back then. I literally became "quesy" when I would read verses like this where Jesus seemed to be speaking to the people alive at that time. That "first" passage was in Matthew Chapter 23, and the "this generation shall not pass" statement is found in Matthew's Gospel in Chapter 24.
For several months, I was very shaken, and my faith was really messed up - not like I no longer believed in God, or had "issues" with God, but I was so confused. I frequently read verses / passages where Jesus and his disciples seemed to be speaking of a soon return, and this really had me extremely perplexed !
Before, I hadn't been troubled by this, because I was taught as a new believer that, yes, Jesus and His diciples DID speak of a soon return, but the "Key" to understanding all this was that Jesus was supposedly referring to the fig tree in Matthew 24:32:"Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer [is] nigh:" (KJV)
I was taught that he (Jesus) was referring to Israel, and that whenever a Fig Tree is mentioned, it's talking about Israel. I was also taught that the tender leaves being put forth was the regathering of the Jews to their homeland, and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
I had been told the 'prophetic time clock' began ticking in 1948, and since a biblical generation was 40 years, that the rapture would happen at least by 1981, since the rapture would occur 7 years prior to the 2nd coming (pre-trib view), using the following formula: 1948+40=1988 minus seven, equals 1981. So Jesus, I was told, was actually referring (back then) to the event of Israel being regathered in the future at some point. The fact that it happened 2,000 years later is irrelevant, because Jesus is 'outside of time' as they often say - he is eternal - he knew it would happen, but didn't know when. That was explained by the verse that says "But of that day and hour knoweth no [man], no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. Implying that the Son (Jesus) did NOT know.
But it was WAY past 1981 or 1988 now - it was 1998 - anyway, I was pretty messed up as far as my Christian faith - very confused.
One Saturday, I was listening to a talk show on a Christian radio station, KBRT-AM 740 in the Southern California area. The host, Ken Davies, was speaking of this Preterist view - the show was called "Beyond the end times" Well, words at this point could not do justice to the cataclysmic shift from depression to elation, when I got the biggest "sanity check" ever, listening to this show !
Ken would later add a brother named Harley "H.L." James as his co-host, and I continued to listen to the show. I was able to contact H.L., and I had a lot of questions. He agreed to meet with me, and what ensued was the most amazing Bible study for me ever up to that point in my life !
What was great about my "study" with H.L. was that he didn't 'orchestrate' it by showing me this verse and then speaking some flowery words, then another verse, all to support his 'theories.' No - he just had me open MY Bible and read FOR MYSELF - he would say things like "Check out Joel 2:28," and I did - it read:"And it shall come to pass afterward, [that] I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: "
Then he said: "Now check out Acts 2:16-17'" - where I myself read out loud:
"But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams..."
What ? Last Days ? I thought we were in the "last days" now (in 1998) ! And this (the Acts passage) is obviously the fulfillment of the passage in Joel - like the saying goes: "Wump ! There it is !" The beginning of many light-bulb moments for me !
That day it was like Harley was 'magically' inserting pages in my Bible - I didn't know that was in there ! - and this went on and on and on... read a verse, and think: "I didn't know that was in there !!" read a verse, and think: "I didn't know that was in there !!" Over and over and over again.
Hearing Ken and HL talk about how the 1st Century believers were not looking for a literal, physical, bodily return of Christ, nor a literal physical resurrection of biological bodies, made everything fit - the Bible made sense to me now ! I read a story about these guys named Hymenaus and Philetus, who were teaching that the resurrection had ALREADY happened. Paul was concerned with this false teaching, and it was messing people up. I realized sane people would've never believed this teaching in the first place, because all they had to do was roll back the stones of the graves and see the bodies of the righteous believers were still there.
I would also pick up on so many things I'd missed before - like how when it talks about Jesus' Parousia, the event commonly referred to as the "2nd coming," that they asked Jesus for a SIGN of His return - I realized that if they were expecting this event where he appeared literally, physically, why would they need a SIGN that it had happened ? - that he was now with (spiritually speaking) his (New) covenant people, his bride, the true Church.
Coming to the Preterist position for me was like a Salmon swimming upstream (compared to my fellow Christians), but now that the 'futurist goggles' are off, the Bible makes sense now ! There are too many to list here, but so many portions of scripture that I used to put on a shelf, so to speak, and just gloss over, now make sense - they FIT.
I said 'futurist goggles' - what I mean by that is we look around and we don't see a physical representation of Jesus, we didn't see Him floating on clouds, and so we read the Bible from the perspective that His parousia, his presence with His bride, His Church, has not happened yet, and then we struggle to try and interpret the scriptures using that grid. It's like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole !
The Church is the Bride of Christ - before He was crucified, He said that He was going to prepare a place for us, His bride - and that He would return - His parousia, the word is in Greek - means His presence. He is with us now in Spirit - we (true believers) are one in Him. They asked Him for a sign when He would come in His kingdom, and one He gave was the destruction of the Jewish Temple, and it happened in AD70.
Good enough for me...