In preparation for my SS class on the Revelation, I’m reading lots of books. One of them is Four Views on the Book of Revelation, edited by C. Marvin Pate who is also a contributor to the book. The first view presented in the Preterist view, written by Kenneth Gentry. Gentry represents a moderate or partial preterist view, not a full preterist view which is (in my opinion) a view outside the bounds of orthodoxy.
Gentry, who has written a few tomes on Revelation, is more than capable of writing on this subject. He was well chosen. He is thorough, knowledgeable and not prone to attacking those who disagree in the course of his presentation. One of the issues often raised against preterists, and particularly the post-millennial ones, is the ways they use excessive sarcasm in showing the weaknesses and faults of other systems (this is not a problem particular to them, however). Gentry does not fall into this trap. He makes a great spokesman so the case is evaluated on its own merits instead of excesses in presentation.
In looking at the structure of The Revelation, Gentry notes the progressive parallelism that is present. This is a common feature of apocalyptic literature, as the same events are viewed from different angles with increasing intensity. This is very different from the chronological approach which sees the different visions as referring to different events. In this aspect, Gentry’s argument is similar to that proposed by the Idealist perspective which will be examined next.
As apocalyptic literature, we must be careful not to approach it with straight forward literalism. He notes that in the Gospel of John, people often erred by taking Jesus too literally when he was using figures of speech. We see this problem in nearly every chapter of the Gospel.
The Revelation is heavily dependent on the earlier prophets. It is rooted in Exodus and Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel. Many of these prophecies lay the pattern for what we see in Revelation. In many cases, this is the ultimate fulfillment of particular prophecies. Here we learn something important about Scripture. God uses previous events to lay out patterns for future events. The initial fulfillment may have occurred earlier, and John draws on those events to help us understand what will happen.
“Exodus-like events occurring after the Mosaic Exodus do not remove the redemptive-historical significance of that original historical episode.”
One of the most important features of preterism is the temporal expectation of 1:1-3. This is intended to set up an expectation for the original audience similar to those used by Jesus in Matthew 23 and 24 when discussing the impending destruction of Jerusalem. It did occur within a generation, which helps us to trust Jesus when we speaks about the Parousia. The difficult question about Revelation is whether or not it refers primarily to the destruction of Jerusalem or the Parousia. Here is where many interpretations part ways. In preterism the focus is on the destruction of Jerusalem.
“A major thrust of Revelation is its emphasis on the shortness of time before fulfillment.”
Preterism, argues Gentry, is rooted in exegesis of the texts withing their grammatical and historical contexts. It is also assisted by what we know of the Fall of Jerusalem for Josephus (who was not a Christian, yet wrote about events in ways that indicate fulfillment) and others. Too often, this book is viewed from a theological system which distorts the exegesis. It shows up in how some key words are translated. The range of meaning for the Greek word ga is a good case in point. It can mean both “world” and “earth”. How this is translated in the context can influence how you view the events (in Judea or worldwide). What is interesting is that many of the things described in Revelation do find literal fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem (including the time frame of 42 months).
Preterism depends on an early date for its writing. John is writing prior to the Fall of Jerusalem, not after it. Gentry has a massive tome (book does not do it justice) on that subject (Before Jerusalem Fell). He presents a very powerful case for the early dating that is exegetical. The historical context, in my opinion as well, fits an earlier date better than a late date.
The theme of Revelation, according to Gentry, is primarily following the pattern of Ezekiel (which is heavily dependent on Exodus) which is judgment upon apostate Israel (for instance, the measuring of the temple prior to judgment). Israel was the first persecutor of the Church. The Fall of Jerusalem really changed that. The source of persecution shifted from Israel to Rome. This is not to ignore the persecution by Nero which put John on Patmos in the first place. The vindication of the martyrs is one of the driving forces behind this judgment. It is often seen in response to the prayers of the martyrs in heaven. 70 AD was not merely a historical blip, an ooops, but a significant redemptive-historical event as all that was obsolete from the Old Covenant was wiped away (temple worship, Jerusalem as the center of the faith, etc.) and justice poured out of Christ’s enemies.
“The events of A.D. 70 vindicated Christianity against Judaism- as many early church fathers proclaimed.”
The Revelation is not just about the destruction of Jerusalem for the partial preterist. The Beast, for them, is not Jerusalem but Rome. What we see follows the pattern in the first judgment on Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. The Babylonians, though the instrument of God’s judgment, were not innocent in that and eventually came under God’s judgment. Rome was God’s instrument, but was unrighteous and would also persecute the church drawing the wrath of God.
Using passages like Jeremiah 3, he identifies the Great Prostitute with Jerusalem. Her dress, he argues, also resembles that of the priests (Ex. 28). This is a complex issue, but one I don’t completely agree with Gentry on. I see a better case for Rome in light of the economic power and the incentive to emperor worship.
But in Revelation 20, Gentry notes, we have a quick summary of the end of the millennium. He is a post-millennialist. He sees the Parousia occurring after the millennium, as do amillennialists. What he misses, I think, is the connection with Revelation 19 and the end of the millennium in the latter portions of Revelation 20. They appear to talk about the same great battle, and the punishment of the Beast and False Prophet (as part of the counterfeit trinity) is identical to the punishment of the Dragon (the other part of the counterfeit trinity). Are we to think they are judged separately or together?
I agree with so much of the (partial) preterist understanding of Revelation. But I can’t go there 100%. In fact, I find I can’t go anywhere 100%. No one view, in my opinion, does complete justice to Revelation (though I could clearly be wrong as I have in my past: I journeyed from dispensational premillennialist to historical premillenialist to amillennialist). Perhaps I am just in a transitional phase, like my historic pre-mil phase was. Or I recognize this book is grander than our attempts to understand it.
I don’t want you to lose sight of the fact that Gentry’s arguments cannot be dismissed lightly. They have to be wrestled with. So much of what he says helps me understand the vast majority of the book far better than the other perspectives. I recognize that for most evangelicals this is a huge paradigm shift. But a case like this causes us to look at our presuppositions to see if they are correct. I suggest many of them are not.