This Generation Lived A Long Time Ago

eschatology-kidsWithin the discussion around eschatology (the topic of last things), there are a few different perspectives one will find amongst Christians. First off, one could approach the topic by discussing the millennium – the thousand year reign of Christ mentioned in Rev 20:4-5. One might hold to:

  1. Premillenialism – Christ’s second coming will take place before this thousand year reign. Hence, the prefix ‘pre’.
  2. Postmillenialism – Christ’s second coming will take place after this thousand year reign. Hence, the prefix ‘post’.
  3. Amillenialism – We are currently in the midst of this thousand year reign, with Christ’s second coming to take place in the future. The prefix ‘a’ means ‘without’, but that is a bit of a misnomer, as amillenialism typically sees the thousand year reign of Christ as representative of a very long time with it beginning quite a long time ago.

I find myself leaning more towards an amillenial view. I can only see Christ as reigning now, since he as much said that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to him (Matt 28:18). And, within Jewish apocalyptic literature, under which Revelation falls, the number 1,000 is representative of a long, long time. Kind of like we’d say today – A billion years! We don’t always see the reality of Christ’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. In some form and fashion, he will finalise it one day. But, by faith, I am settled on the fact that God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah. Reigning at the Father’s right hand stands as a proclamation that Christ is truly reigning, though one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess.

Still, the millennial discussion not withstanding, there is another perspective one could look at in regards to eschatology. This falls into mainly 3 categories

  1. Futurism – Most of the prophetic statements/visions of Scripture are still future.
  2. Historicism – The prophetic statements/visions of Scripture (especially those of Revelation) are unfolding throughout all of history.
  3. Preterism – Many of the prophetic statements/visions of Scripture were future to the hearers, but they took place in the past from our perspective.

Most popular theology is focused on a futurist perspective, but I lean more towards a preterist perspective. I think if one understands the Scripture from its historical narrative framework – within an ancient, Jewish perspective – you’d be surprised at how different our worldview is from theirs, including their approach to the prophetic. Things were a lot more focused in on their time, not our time.

One major passage within the discussion of ‘last things’ is what theologians call the Olivet Discourse. Though this speech of Jesus can be found in the 3 synoptic gospels, most focus in on Matt 24-25 (the parallel accounts are 13 and Luke 21).

It’s very easy to read the record of Jesus’ words in a place like Matt 24 and think this is simply future, way down the line. This is also made easy when one works from a futurist, premillinneal perspective – where just about every prophetic statement refers to something future, even for us today.

But there is a very strong case that Jesus’ words in Matt 24 speak of something that took place within a few decades of his own death and resurrection. The fulfilment of Jesus’ words came about through the Jewish-Roman War of AD 66-73, culminating in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. This was an act of judgment within history upon apostate Jews.

And, so, last week, I came across this interesting quote in regards to a particular characteristic of Matt 24. The quote supports a more preterist perspective.

“Notice how many times Jesus uses the word you (second person plural) in Matthew 24… Now, if you heard Jesus say that all these things would happen to ‘this generation,’ and in every other instance of its use ‘this generation’ meant the present generation, and you also heard Him speak of when ‘you’ see these things, what would you conclude?”

Personally, I think it’s hard to get away from the perspective that Jesus’ words in Matt 24 happened quite a while ago. Has everything been completed in regards to the prophetic perspective of Scripture (i.e. what is known as full preterism)? No. But, if we get back into understanding passages like Matt 24-25 within its first century, Jewish context, I think it’s not too complicated in noting that Jesus was speaking of a generation within his own death and resurrection.

‘This generation’ lived a long time ago.

10 thoughts on “This Generation Lived A Long Time Ago

    • I’ve been there for quite some time. I’m a little wary of being locked into any ‘ism’. But, yes, I’d probably be identified as a partial preterist (or ‘mostly’ preterist, since I think the prophetic projections of the Scripture have mostly been fulfilled). I like the thoughts of Andrew Perriman, who doesn’t subscribe to a normal eschatological viewpoint (preterist, futurist, etc). But he advocates a narrative historical hermeneutic – these words were speaking mainly into their time of long ago.

  1. I think nearly ALL OT prophecy had both a near-term or “present day” for them meaning and then a secondary “way in the future” meaning for US, or those seeking for glimpses of how God will wrap up things. It’s defining what’s what that’s a challenge, and one we should never “learn” and then dogmatically hold to. It only makes sense that Jesus would have held to this pattern, speaking to them about something that would happen in THEIR future, but also speaking BEYOND them to events that will ALSO happen, though perhaps more figuratively, during the last days.

    I suppose by your definitions I am traditionally a Premillenialist Historicist (wow, that’s a mouthful), but I still have issues with those views. I don’t see them as “the truth”, but a theory I loosely hold to based on limited evidence. Since these things are secondary to issues of salvation and redemption, I’m OK leaving them up to God and just seeing what happens. My desire is to serve him with all my being through His strength, no matter what “age” I find myself in.

    Thanks for the fresh perspective.

    • Ken –

      The interesting thing to note is that the ‘last days’ began a long, long time ago. Peter said as much in Acts 2 – the words Joel had spoken would come about in the ‘last days’, and Peter says those words were coming to pass then and there. Hence, the last days beginning then. The discussion has to be whether things were generally finalised then or at a later date or a very later date. As I noted, I tend to see them mostly coming to pass way back then. It makes sense within a Jewish, first century, apocalyptic perspective. But I have no doubt a final resurrection & judgment is to come, as John attests to in his visionary words.

  2. Interesting – I agree with the comment above that a lot of this stuff isn’t central to salvation and redemption and therefore not worth getting too dogmatic about, whatever you believe. But I too find a futurist perspective very hard to entertain because (a) as you say above, I don’t think that’s how 1st century middle-eastern readers would have looked at things (this also makes a historicist reading unlikely to me too), and (b) Scripture is both of immediate and longer-lasting relevance: I think it was speaking powerfully to the circumstances of 1st century Christians in their circumstances, but I also think it has to be speaking to us all down through every age since and yet to come (which is why I don’t fully subscribe to a preterist view either without some qualification). On this latter point, I personally think it inconceivable that Revelation is mostly a book of specific time-based predictions yet to come true. Of course it does have a longer-term future perspective and, like much OT prophecy, looks forward to the bigger picture of salvation in history (including the bits yet to come!). But the kind of future-gazing and speculation that certain perspectives on Revelation can engender strikes me as exactly the kind of thing that Jesus was keen to discourage in Matt 24 (where of course it’s worth noting his disciples have asked him not simply about the end of the age but also about the signs of when the temple will be destroyed): to my mind he sets out an understanding of his return (at some unpredictable time in the future) to reassure his disciples (then and now), but wants them (and us) to focus on the central and important task of proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom in the here and now.

    • Matt –

      Thanks for the comment. I like what one person remarked about Scripture: Scripture was not written to us (since it was written to them). But we may still benefit from its teaching.

      I wouldn’t say I am a full preterist. The term usually used to classify my beliefs is partial preterism. But I’d argue for mostly preterism, as I think most things were to come to pass within the particular first century framework. I think certain terms will become irrelevant as we re-engage Scripture from a more historical narrative framework – what was being communicated in an ancient, Jewish, second temple period.

      It’s interesting to consider that the disciples considered the destruction of the temple and the end of the age as coinciding. And, I’d argue in one sense that the old age has finished. The new covenant has come, the Spirit has been poured out on all flesh, the old covenant has been made obsolete, etc. One might even argue we are in the age to come – but it’s not the present age of Messiah’s reign. I know that sounds weird to many, since we imagine the age to come as a pristine and perfect paradise, something we call ‘heaven’. But I’m starting to think this term – age to come – used in differing ways in Scripture spoke of the old covenant order ending and the establishing of the new covenant order in Messiah. Now it’s time to see this new covenant life and order worked out in varying ways.

  3. Here’s a new quote I read today:

    “Christ specifically promised His hearers ‘there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power’ (Mark 9:1). Some of those very persons standing before him would not die before the event! Which one of them is still alive today?”

    • He COULD have been talking about the spiritual kingdom that “officially” started with the coming of the Spirit. At least, that’s one interpretation, though it does have holes since nearly ALL of them would have been around for that.

      Scott, what do you do with the “70th week” of Daniel, which is kind of the “wrap up” of the Jewish nation and how that likely refers to the 7 year time of tribulation spoken of by John? Has all of that happened yet, will it happen, or both, or do you think it’s more figurative that literal?

      • Ken –

        I’m fine to say he was talking about the ‘spiritual kingdom’, but there is only one kingdom. The rule of God is ‘spiritual’, but that simply means it is of God, of the Spirit of God, of heaven. It’s not something referring to an ethereal reality up in the clouds. The kingdom of God is the kingdom of God and the kingdom of God has come in Messiah. The huge evidence is the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh, promised for the ‘last days’ – and this has already taken place.

        I think the 70th week of Daniel was fulfilled not too long after Christ’s death & resurrection. I cannot see anywhere mentioned that there was to be a gap between week 69 and week 70. It was all consecutive. And the ‘tribulation’, at least referred to in Rev 7, happened long ago. It’s not unlike what Jesus said in places like Matt 24, which I believe has taken place.

      • Scott,

        While I agree that God’s kingdom IS a spiritual kingdom, there is still a physical aspect to it. God (while being spiritually omnipresent) does not make His home here on the earth because the earth is corrupted. When it is remade it will be a physical part of God’s kingdom.because God will come down and reside directly, “physically” (I know He is Spirit, but the full glory of His presence has a physicality to it) on it, at least part of the time. That event is ALSO referred to in scripture as God’s kingdom coming to earth. So, there ARE two events that can have that same description, and therefore there is a great deal of room for interpretation when said phrase is used.

        And speaking of that event, where does Rev 21 fit in for the preterist? I haven’t seen any cities descending from heaven. So then it MUST be figurative (which just seems really unlikely to me given the level of detail in the description John gives) or future. And when in history did the tribulation occur? What historic events do you correlate with the seal, bowl and trumpet events? And what about the Antichrist? Where does (did?) he go?

        I just don’t see how you can fit all these things into history. I just can’t get there. While I agree that many prophetic words HAVE come to pass, I still believe there is a great deal yet to come. So, at least for now, I’ll have to differ with you on this issue.

        But, as always, I love the fresh ideas and discussion.

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