The Last Days according to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return? By

    Robert Charles Sproul provides a useful review of the Preterist case for understanding eschatology, or the doctrine of last things (the second coming, the judgement, the resurrection, the anti Christ, the millennium and the age to come). Much of the time he seems content to describe and summarise rather than engage deeply himself with the view being presented. This can be a little frustrating the reader wants to ask him but what do you think? yet at the same time is informative and provides space for the reader to make up their own mind. Although the title of the book is about what Jesus taught about the last things in particular the Olivet Discourse of Matt 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 the book also covers the other relevant writings in the New Testament (e.g. Paul writing on the resurrection in 1 Cor 15, the coming of the Lord in 1 Thess 4, the man of sin in 2 Thess 2, John writing on the anti Christ in 1 John and also the beast in Revelation). There is some discussion in the book of the different Preterist views, and what the correct name for the different views should be. Essentially there are the full Preterists, also called hyper Preterists (a term they themselves don't like), and partial Preterists (also called Orthodox Preterists, as they are able to subscribe with the classic Christian creeds). The full Preterists hold that all eschatology was fulfilled in AD 70 at the destruction of Jerusalem, while the partial Preterists believe there still remain some future fulfilment of prophecy. Much of the book provides Sproul's commentary on The Parousia: The New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord's Second Coming by J. Stuart Russell, which although written in the 19c appears to be the classic presentation of the full Preterist position (it is a long book nearly 600 pages). The problem of eschatology in the Bible can be presented as follows. The New Testament speaks of the soon coming of Christ (in the first century, when the New Testament was written), and links certainly on the Olivet discourse and possibly in other places it with the destruction of Jerusalem. How are we to explain the fact the Jesus did not return in AD 70 at the destruction of Jerusalem? Explanation #1. The Bible writers got it wrong. This is the view Sproul discusses at the start of the book. Bertrand Russell in Why I am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects (Routledge Classics) identifies this as a flaw in Jesus' teaching, and many Higher Criticism New Testament scholars (e.g. Life of Jesus Critically Examined (Lives of Jesus) by David Strauss) have similarly given this as an example of errors and mistakes that appear in the Bible. This of course is a problem for any Christian who wants to say the Bible is the inspired word of God, because why would he allow it to contain clear errors, and in particular such a big error? Even if some Christians might accept that some minor details may not be correct, they would still want to insist that the Bible contains the word of God and is substantially true regarding what it says about God. Explanation #2. When the New Testament speaks of the soon coming of Christ it is because he could come at any time, and therefore it was reasonable for the writers to expect him to come in their time. The writers didn't know when he would come (no man knows the day or the hour) so what they were doing was expressing the hope that he would come soon. The problem with this is that the writers appear to speak with great confidence and knowledge about the soon coming if they actually didn't know or were simply hopeful of his soon return why didn't they say so? Also the link with the Second Coming and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 is not clearly dealt with why was there a gap between the two events? Explanation #3. When Bible writers speak of end events they always speak of them happening soon this is true in Old Testament prophecy which uses such language to speak of events that actually didn't occur for many years later, therefore this imminent style is simply the Biblical idiom when speaking of future events. The problem with this is that the disciples specifically ask Jesus when will these things be so he is answering a question about time. It would not make sense to do so using an idiom in which time is unimportant. Explanation #4. The Bible writers were correct in what they said, Jesus did come in AD 70, the dead were raised, judgement happened but these things occurred spiritually, they were not visible. Jesus said my kingdom is not of this world and if we correctly understood the language used we would know terms such as coming in the clouds simply denotes the majesty of Christ, and the stars will fall from the sky denotes a change in political structures. The problem with this view is that it requires a significant re understanding of the Biblical language. This is particularly evident when spiritualising the resurrection, which appears to fall into some heresies warned of in the New Testament, that the resurrection has already happened or that Jesus was not physically raised from the dead. Sproul feels that some mixture of options 2 and 4, what is known as partial Preterism, is the right one. This leaves the events that didn't happen in AD 70 (the resurrection, the visible return, the judgement of the world and the millennium) still in the future, while explaining all the Bible talk of the soon return to be referring to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. He is certainly not very forthright with his conclusions however possibly because this sort of solution still has the problems associated with option 2, why didn't the New Testament writers separate out the two events rather than appear to combine them into one? Partial Preterists claim in Matt 24 and 25 that Jesus is answering three questions when will these things be (Jesus answers with reference to the fall of Jerusalem), what will be the signs (Jesus answers with reference to the fall of Jerusalem) and when will you come again (Jesus answers with reference to the second coming), yet the text makes no such clear distinction, and reads as if Jesus is talking about one event. At one point Sproul seems to wistfully hope that the full Preterists can come up with a better explanation for the resurrection, as otherwise their solution is the neatest of the four alternatives however he also says their teaching on the resurrection is a fatal flaw to their argument. So this book presents a good summary of Preterism and the issues it deals with, and really leaves the reader to make up their own mind about the issues raised. One last thought. One writer who I enjoy but at the same time struggle to really understand what he is actually saying is NT Wright, and I get the feeling that perhaps a key to understanding where Wright is coming from is to see what he writes as trying to answer exactly this question. The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins & the Question of God) English

    Speculation and theories abound about what the last days have in store for us. But what did Jesus believe and teach about the end times and the timing of his return? R. C. Sproul points believers back to the words of Christ, offering them a solid footing amid ever shifting opinion about the age to come. The Last Days according to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return?


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