Partial Preterism

Preterism is the belief that all the prophetic warnings and foretellings in the New Testament have been fulfilled already.  Partial Preterism holds that not all but many prophetic warnings and foretelling in the N.T. have been fulfilled.  For instance, I believe that most of the warnings in the N.T. concerning a coming Divine judgement relate, not to the fate of all individuals who have ever lived, but specifically to the defeat of the ancient nation of Israel in the Roman-Judeo war of AD 67-73 and to Israel’s subsequent exile and dispersion (until 1948).  Such a devastating and severe discipline upon His people Israel required an extensive period of warning including by a high-ranking, miracle-working prophet such as Jesus, the Son of God.

Consider for example, Jesus statements in Luke 12:4,5:

“..stop being afraid of the ones killing the body, and after these things not having anything more they can do.  But I will warn you whom you should fear; fear the one who after the killing has authority to cast into Gehenna; yea, I say to you, Fear that one!

I take the Greek word “Gehenna” (usually translated “hell”) at face value in the New Testament.  “Gehenna” literally referred to the dump outside Jerusalem’s walls, where the rubbish, including I suppose the abundance of offal from the sacrifices were dumped, burnt or left to rot (cf Ex 29:13, 14; Lev 16:27; Heb 13:11).   Even if Jesus’ contemporaries used “Gehenna” as a metaphor for the ancient Egyptian concept of Hell as a place of torturous punishment, as some have suggested, it still was the town dump, where to paraphrase Jesus, “fire was ever burning and maggots were ever present.”

Not to have a proper burial was a sign of God’s (temporal) condemnation (e.g. Deut 28:26, Jer 7:33). To have your body “thrown into Gehenna” would mean God had forsaken you because of your great wickedness.

Human bodies were never normally disposed of in Gehenna but what about when Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans in 70 AD? Josephus says a million Jews died defending Jerusalem – a figure disbelieved by modern scholars.  So lets just say tens of thousands died.  To my knowledge, there is no historical eye-witness account of how the bodies were disposed of but I think it highly probable their bodies would have been too numerous to bury with solemn procedure and dignity. Most of those bodies, I suggest, would have had to be dumped in the dump i.e. in Gehenna (“hell”).  More and more modern translations of the Bible are choosing to use “Gehenna” (a place name) rather than “hell” which is an old English translation with terrible doctrinal associations.

Given this historical context,  there is no reason to suppose that Jesus is presenting us with a fearsome picture of God in the above (or other related) text/s.   Jesus’ whole message was that God is love – and it is the ‘world’ of human systems – particularly the rich and the rulers of nations – who don’t want to hear or conform to Jesus message of ‘love thy neighbour and thy enemy’.  Our Heavenly Father is not a two-faced God with a very dark side – but pure light (1 John 1:5) with no shadow (James 1:17).  He still loves even rebellious children and knows that when these prodigals “come to their senses” (cf. Luke 15:17) they will realise they have a loving Father waiting to welcome them with kisses.

Sure God has the power to throw us all into Gehenna – of course!  Jesus would not need to make special mention of God’s power to throw us into Gehenna.  And why veil His identity by not mentioning His Name, if Jesus meant God? I suggest Jesus is speaking of a personage who has acquired this authority from God to a) kill the people Jesus was addressing and b) throw their bodies into the town dump.

History testifies that the one who proved in AD 70 to have the power to do at least part a) and in all probability part b) as well (to “this generation”) was the Roman General who was under orders to retake Jerusalem after the Jewish revolt.

It was Divine discipline upon the nation of Israel whose leaders egotistically chose nationhood rather than the truth of God brought by God Himself.   It was therefore fitting that God’s severe discipline on Israel came upon those who lived during the execution of Jesus (and during the following period of persecution of Christians & rejection of the Jesus call to repent) and caused those people to personally experience the terrible victimhood of war – cf Luke 11:50,51).  (History attests that those who did repent and believe fled Jerusalem before its destruction.)

Another reason this warning doesn’t apply to all unbelievers of all ages is that Jesus was “sent to only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.”  When He is speaking during His earthly ministry, He is speaking to His Jewish fellow citizens, and they are the only ones in line to experience another “Day of the Lord” for forsaking Him (as happened previously in OT times).  Jesus reached out to the rest of the World only through His disciples.  His final instructions were to

  • to “teach them all I have commanded you” (Gospel of Matthew),
  • to “preach the Gospel” (Gospel of Mark),
  • “(preach) repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His name” (Gospel of Luke),
  • to “feed My sheep” (Gospel of John) and
  • to “be My witnesses” (Book of Acts)

–  but no mention in these final instructions to instruct people of all nations of the purported risk of enormous, eternal, post-mortem damnation, as maintained by most of the Constantinian Church to this day.

The Jews in Jesus’ day, living in the cross-over time between Old and New Covenants either had to reject Moses Law in favour of Jesus or (more accurately) needed to at least distinguish between Moses’ teaching and the false orthodoxy that preferred human traditions above the Law (see Mark 7:9-13). They could worship Jesus or suffer the coming judgement of God about to be implemented by the Roman Army.  If they chose to worship Jesus they would be persecuted by the Judaists leaders.  Jesus describes these Judaists in the text as “the one’s killing the body, and afterwards there’s nothing more they can do.”  The Judaists allowed proper burials even of the prophets they killed (Luke 11:48), including of course Jesus Himself.

Thus Jesus fellow Jews were faced with a forced choice between two dangerous options. Truly, He brought not outward peace but conflict to the land (Matt 10:34) (along with inner peace to the souls of believers).  So Jesus instructs them both who to fear and not to fear. He says, “I will warn you whom you should fear; fear the one who after the killing has authority to cast into Gehenna; yea, I say to you, Fear that one!”  When the Roman Army destroyed Jerusalem, there would have been no consoling presence of the Comforter but despair in the knowledge that God had again forsaken Israel, and in death, the ignominy of a mass grave in with the garbage, burned for hygiene’s sake. Then, for those who believe in His Father, “Do not fear, you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7).

For the 40 or so years after Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Gospel was preached in practically every town in Israel because all Israel needed the opportunity to get their heads around the startling change in God’s dealings with Israel – including that the Temple sacrificial system was no longer acceptable, because of the personal revelation by God via the Cross that death really is the gateway to resurrection and paradise and need not be feared; and God really does want us to practice mercy, not sacrifice.  And the sacrificing and scapegoating of animals and of our own flesh and blood must stop!

Solomon’s Temple was destroyed in 587 BC by  Nebuchadnezzar II on a “Day of the Lord.” (eg. Ezek 13)  God sent prophets (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah) to warn His people to repent or else be destroyed by another nation and swept away into captivity.  Israel’s first exile as a nation lasted 70 years.  But the exile after the destruction of the second Temple in AD 70 was to last, as we now know, 1875 years, measured from the fall of Masada in 73AD until the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948.  The second exile was almost 27 times longer than the first!  It culminated with the holocaust in WWII.

Did God spring this more terrible second exile upon His people with no Biblical witness?  After warning His people extensively for the first much shorter exile, would not God have more earnestly escalated His warnings to Israel for the much more devastating second exile? If so, where was the warning for the second exile?

It was first John the Baptist, then Jesus then the Christians who warned the Jewish nation of a overwhelming “Day of the Lord” coming upon “this generation.” For example, Jesus’ Parable of the Vineyard in Mark 12:1-12.  God’s warning was repeated by the Apostles in their letters which form much of the New Testament.

History records that the Jews who believed in Pacifist Jesus were pacifist in regard to defending even Jerusalem:  they left for neighbouring Roman-controlled provinces and were saved/spared the wrath of God upon His son Israel.  The 40 years until “the end of the Age” (the end of the Age of the Old Covenant) would have seemed unending and even confusing to the faithful being persecuted for Jesus’ Name, but they were exhorted to endure until the end (Matthew 24:13) since God was patient and not willing that any (of the Jews) fail to escape (2 Peter 3:9,10).

The partial preterist position is that the warnings and prophecies contained in the New Testament were partially fulfilled (in fact mostly fulfilled) in the historical judgement of the nation of Israel.  I believe we can learn much from these warnings but they are severely distorted when made to be about hell forever for every individual non-believer.  That heinous doctrine of Eternal Torment came to be dominant in the aptly named Dark Ages when corrupt influences dominated the church and subjugated the masses with this fearful and pagan (possibly Egyptian) doctrine.

Given the above, I conclude that most of the New Testament, with perhaps the notable exception of Revelation, must have been written before AD 70, after which the Jewish persecution of Christians ended.  I note later dates are assigned for various New Testament writings by modern scholars but, to the best of my knowledge, my position is not particularly improbable.  [The most notable exception is the Book of Revelation, which I believe is probably a general warning against tyrants plus direction about how to live as a pacifist in a world that wants us to take the side of our own nation against others.  e.g. see Ted Grimsrud’s commentary on Revelation.]

An excellent site on fulfilled prophecy and Biblical universalism is www.tentmaker.org.

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