by Wade Burleson
I grew up being taught that one of the most important doctrines in the Bible was the future coming of Christ and His 1,000-year reign. Through attending countless prophecy conferences, hearing multiple messages on “The Signs of the Times,” and constantly charting current events, I began to teach the dispensational approach to eschatology made popular by Hal Lindsay‘s bestselling 1970 book The Late, Great Planet Earth.
Then, something happened.
My grandmother gave me a letter from A.W. Pink to my grandfather. My granddad, a well-known evangelist before his death, had previously written to Pink in Scotland asking for a copy of Pink‘s book Redeemer’s Return. Pink wrote back a letter, dated Feb. 7, 1948, and stated:
My Redeemer’s Return is quite unobtainable—out of print for many years. It was written 30 years ago, in the days of my spiritual infancy, when I received without question the teaching of older men. For 40 years I have studied Prophecy, and today it’s my firm conviction that most of what has been written thereon was guesswork. My advice is, leave Prophecy alone, and concentrate on the practical portions of the Word!!”
Pink‘s letter caused me to evaluate if what I believed about biblical prophecy was due to conclusions based upon my own study of Scripture, or due to my unquestioned acceptance of what others taught. I determined to examine biblical prophecy for myself. Over the next 20 years, through studying the prophecies of Daniel in Dan. 7—11, the Apostle John in the book of Revelation, and most of all, the prophecies of Jesus Christ in Matt. 24—a chapter often called “The Little Revelation”—I have come to see the power of fulfilled prophecy.
The Latin word preterit means “fulfilled.” A preterist is one who believes that the majority of biblical prophecies, if not all of them, have already been fulfilled. Not one religious book in the world, except the Bible, predicts future events and then sees those predictions fulfilled. The Bible has hundreds of fulfilled prophecies.
Biblical prophecies fall into one of three major categories:
1. There are prophecies that predict the ultimate judgment of God against the Hebrew system of worship and the Old Covenant.
The Hebrews violated the conditional covenant God made with them. The biblical prophets, including Jesus Christ, boldly and specifically predicted the end of the Hebrew Old Covenant age by God‘s judgment and the establishment of a New Covenant age (see Matt. 24:3) . All prophecies regarding the end of the Old Covenant age and the destruction of the Hebrew system of worship were fulfilled in A.D. 70, when God used the Romans to destroy the Temple and the city of Jerusalem.
2. There are prophecies that predict the incarnation, death and resurrection of God’s Son, who would by His actions, usher in the New Covenant.
All the types and shadows of the Old Covenant Scriptures point to Jesus of Nazareth. The Messiah’s exact time of birth (4 B.C.), His sinless life of 33 years, and His death and resurrection (A.D. 30) are all prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures. God waited 40 years after the resurrection of Christ, called “a generation” in Scripture (Matt. 24:34), before He destroyed the Old Covenant system of worship, the Temple and the city of Jerusalem (A.D. 70). In the New Covenant in which we now live (“the gospel age” or “the kingdom age”), God has a New People (“people who trust Him”), a New Temple (“believers are the Temple of the Living God”) and a New Law (“the Royal Law of love”). The sacrificial, ceremonial, judicial and covenantal laws of Old Covenant Israel are abolished (Heb. 7—10).
3. There are prophecies predicting the ushering in of the eternal age, or Heaven, where the curse is finally and ultimately reversed.
“All of creation is groaning” for this day (Rom. 8:22) when God‘s people “will inherit the Earth” (Matt. 5:5) and paradise is restored. How and when this happens remains a mystery, but we know that our last enemy is “death.” It seems that most of the questions we have about the eternal age can only be answered when crossing the threshold of death, an event that Scripture calls “precious” (i.e. valuable) for the saint. The day of a believer‘s death is a coronation and an inheritance, or as the Apostle Paul says, a day of “profit” (Phil. 1:21). Interestingly, the biblical prophecies that deal with this eternal age are few in number. These are the ONLY prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled.
Many modern Christians have taken the biblical prophecies that predict the end of the Old Covenant age (1 and 2 above)—prophecies that were fulfilled between 4 B.C. and 70 A.D.—and wrongly make them out to be unfulfilled prophecies regarding the end of the world we live in now (category 3). This mistake lessens the power of the Gospel.
For example, during the time that Christ walked the Earth, and for a generation after His resurrection, believers were told they were living in “the last days” (see Matt. 24:3). It is most natural and contextually appropriate to read “the last days” as a reference to the last days of the Old Covenant way of worship, including Hebrew sacrifices offered at the Temple, but not the last days of the world and the New Covenant age in which we live.
The catastrophic judgment of God upon the Hebrew people and their way of worship was predicted by Daniel (Dan. 7—12), Jesus (Matt. 24), and the apostle John (Rev. 4–21).
God used the Roman army to execute His judgment against the Hebrews, just as God used the Assyrians, the Babylonians and other nations to bring judgment on His people at various times in the Old Testament. This ultimate end of the Old Covenant way of worship, however, was permanent. It was also devastating for the Jews, even Jewish believers in Jesus Christ. The Romans delivered upon the Hebrews a “great tribulation” such as the world had never seen.
The detailed prophecies of Jesus in Matt. 24 were given in A.D. 30, toward the end of Jesus‘ public ministry. Jesus said at the time of His prophesy, “Truly I say unto you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Matt. 24:34). The fulfillment of Jesus‘ prophecies in Matt. 24 occurred in A.D. 70, within a Hebrew generation of 40 years. The prophecies of Daniel (Dan. 7—12) and the prophecies of John in Revelation (Rev. 4—21) correspond to Jesus‘ prophecies in Matt. 24 and were strong encouragements to early Jewish believers in Christ to “persevere to the end” of the Old Covenant age.
The internal textual evidence reveals that Revelation was written in A.D. 68, just “a short time” (Rev. 1:3) before the destruction of the Temple. For example, the Temple is mentioned three times in Revelation as still standing, something that would not have occurred had John written Revelation after the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. The Apostle John urged these early Christians, most of whom were Hebrews, to look to the resurrected and reigning King Jesus and not to any standing Temple or city for their strength and comfort.
A solid interpreter of the Bible always reads the Scriptures the way the original readers would have read them. The destruction of the Old Covenant system of worship and the launch of the New Covenant was an Earth- shattering change. The New Covenant of grace through faith in Christ is also good news to sinners and the very power of the Gospel. When one understands that the biblical prophets were pointing to the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New Covenant, then one begins to see the power of the Gospel in fulfilled prophecy.
I still believe in a future coming of Christ to transform the world by ending the New Covenant age and ushering in eternity. I just don‘t know the details. What I do know is that at my death, I will cross the threshold into eternity. I have incredible peace because the biblical message teaches me there is deliverance from the righteous judgment of God by His grace through my faith in Jesus Christ. This gospel message is confirmed through fulfilled prophecy. History has unfolded precisely as the biblical prophets, inspired by God, foretold us it would unfold.
No other religion can make a similar claim.
Likewise, no other religion has a message worth believing.
Wade Burleson is senior pastor of Enid, Emmanuel.
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