My friend Ken and I have had some discussion about Preterism and the interpretation of Matthew 24.
Since becoming Reformed, I've never had any strong eschatological convictions, other than: Dispensationalism is wrong. Since that time, I've more or less parked myself in amillenialism, but not in any sort of dogmatic way.
Like many of my Reformed friends, I picked up R.C. Sproul's The Last Days According to Jesus when it came out. At the time, I was very intrigued and almost persuaded by the argumentation. Unfortunately, I was a bit uneasy about committing to partial-preterism because at the time, the majority of those who were spokesmen for this view were post-millennial. Now I know that's not a valid reason to not embrace something... simply because it may lead to something else. I read some of the books by DeMar and Gentry as well. I always found their views interesting, but I never could commit to it.
I think I've mentioned this here on the blog before: an old friend of mine recently lost his fairly well-paid senior pastor gig at a Dispensational church because he went full-Preterist. If I recall the story correctly, during the Harold Camping May 21 controversy, the elders of his church asked him to preach some messages on end-times. He hadn't studied end times in a while. A few months later, he was a convinced hyper-Preterist. He was then abruptly fired. I keep tabs on him through his websites, watching him move up the ranks in the hyper-Preterist community.
I read this comment from Ken Gentry some time ago that hyper-Preterists were best described as people without jobs with access to the Internet. When I read that, I thought it was fairly accurate. What I didn't realize at the time is that the only thing hyper-Preterism really needs to gain momentum is a few gifted speakers. The views they espouse are not as easy to refute as one may think. Sure, some of the hyper-Preterists are wacky. But some of them are good communicators and good at defending their views. I'm not as quick to write off the impact these folks may eventually have on the church. Their targets are typically Dispensationalists. I've heard a few debates between Dispensationalists and Preterists. In each case, the Dispensationalists did poorly. The more people become disenchanted with Dispensationalism, I think the more opportunity for such people to become some sort of Preterist.
As I've been looking into hyper-Preterism, the entire key to their theology is Matthew 24 (as it is in partial Preterism). That is, if they've got ten minutes to convince you of their view, the first passage of the Bible they will turn to is Matthew 24. The entire world of the Bible seems to rest on Matthew 24 for these folks. It's like that as well sometimes with the partial-Preterists. Here's where I think one of the problems is. The partial-Preterists appear to me to be very arbitrary in how they divide up the chapter to some verses being past and others being future. I'm leaning towards saying that the partial crowd simply isn't being consistent with their hermeneutic, while the hyper folks are. So, I'm even a bit more hesitant now about partial-Preterism.
But I think I may have had a breakthrough on interpreting Matthew 24. Ken asked me if I thought any of it applied to A.D. 70. I took some time to go through Kim Riddelbarger's chapter on Matthew 24 tonight in his book, A Case for Amillennialism. Frankly, I got lost in it a few times, attempting to follow what was supposed to be A.D. 70, what's supposed to be future, what may have double fulfillment, etc. I think what I'll actually have to do is map out exactly what Riddelbarger is saying precisely in the chapter (certain books require that sort of work). I think the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 must be in view- although I was out with Alan Kurschner the other night, and he's convinced the entire chapter is future (by the way, he'll be debating partial-preterist Dee Dee Warren on Matthew 24).
Here's though where I had some sort of Matthew 24 breakthrough tonight. I read Matthew 24 a few times, keeping in mind something Riddlebarger pointed out. Kim mentioned something that I took for granted. After Jesus shockingly predicts the destruction of the temple, His disciples ask him three questions: "Tell us" they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age"?
I went back and read Matthew 24 keeping these three questions in mind. Now, let's remember that there were times when the disciples asked the wrong question, or didn't understand the answer they were given. I'm tempted to say in Matthew 24, Jesus answered the three questions posed to him in Mt. 24:3. He answered their wrong questions that didn't distinguish the different time periods of the events Himself by not distinguishing the events of AD 70 to those at the end of history. In other words, he answered the imprecise questions they asked him. Suppose He simply described both events, not clearly distinguishing one from the other? If the three questions are understood to be referring to two (or perhaps three) different periods of time (and the disciples of course, didn't realize this), Jesus simply described all the events at the same time, mixed together. It's not the fault of Jesus that He answered all three questions at the same time not distinguishing one time period from the other. That's the way they asked the questions! It's the fault of the disciples for assuming all the events were to occur at the same time. I don't claim to be able to read the mind of the Lord. But it is possible he did most certainly answer their three questions by answering them all at once.
Now I'm not any sort of rocket scientist when it comes to exegesis. Matthew 24 is a very difficult passage. But based on previous answers the Lord gave to His disciples, it wouldn't surprise me at all that He answered their questions in a way that they didn't expect or completely understand. In this case, if one rules out hyper-Preterism, I think it's at least a possibility that He did indeed answer their imprecise questions leaving out many of the same distinctions about the timing of the events that they did. What concerns me about all those who try to say of Matthew 24, "This is A.D. 70... this part is future... this part is both..." etc., is that they may have missed exactly why the answers Jesus gave were in the form they were in.
I don't normally speculate on the Biblical text like this. I certainly don't hold any of this dogmatically. I'm simply speculating on the text. In other words, I don't at all have any sort of problem with being wrong or way off on this.