IF Jesus’ Parousia Was in AD 70, Why is There No Written Record of It?
This is an excerpt from my book CHRISTIAN HOPE THROUGH FULFILLED PROPHECY: IS YOUR CHURCH TEACHING ERROR ABOUT THE LAST DAYS AND SECOND COMING? AN EXPOSITION OF EVANGELICAL PRETERISM
It is a significant question. If Jesus returned in AD 70, why didn’t the early church record this event? First of all, when this question is asked, there is usually an assumption that the Second Coming would be a bodily physical coming. So, the question is something of an exercise in question begging. In the earlier chapters of my book, I labored to show that the Second Coming was a non-physical coming. Rather, it was the Effectual Divine Presence of Jesus in judgment.
If you wish, you are invited to view my articles “What Does the Bible Say about the Nature of the Second Coming” and “What Does the Bible Say about the Timing of the Second Coming” in Section A at:
However, the question of why the early church did not speak more about the preterist perspective of the Parousia remains a valid question. We discussed this question briefly in Chapters 1 and 8, but here are some other considerations, summarized from author Don K. Preston’s and others’ writings: [i]
- There were really very few writers in the early church. The works of many of the early Christian writers have been lost. The limited number of available writers does not necessarily represent the views of the church. Preston quotes Charles Hodge: “Ten or twenty writers scattered over such a period cannot reasonably be assumed to speak the mind of the whole church.” Thus, there were so few writers and such a limited expression of eschatology among those few writers that we really do not know, based on documentation, what the “church” believed about eschatology in the decades after AD 70.
- Expanding on the above, James B. Jordan wrote, “We have to remember that we only have a few Church Fathers to draw on. Often Christian scholars have strained mightily to build on evidence from these writings, writings of men clearly not familiar with the facts in other instances. Many of the Fathers were new converts to the faith who wrote apologetics, and who did not know much about Christianity (as can be seen when we compare them with the teachings of the New Testament). What we don’t have are reams of sermons preached by pastors in local churches during the first two centuries, and that is the kind of material that would give us an accurate picture of the early church. Finally, though the Church Fathers are ‘fathers’ in a sense, and are of real value to us,they are also the ‘Church Babies’ in another sense. All this should be born in mind when it comes to their haphazard testimony. . . .” [ii]
- The so-called Great Apostasy spoken of by Jesus and the apostles (Matthew 24:10-12; Luke 18:18; Acts 20:29-30; Romans 16:17-18; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 2 Peter 2:1; etc.) had a greater influence on the early Christian church than most people might suspect. Matthew 24:12 indicates that a majority (New American Standard Bible) of Christians turned away from their faith. This apostasy was a result of false prophets, immorality, and persecution. So the faith became distorted and confused in the decades after AD 70.
- The Hellenization of the church had a great influence. In Romans 11 Paul explained that, contrary to what was being said at the time, God had not cut off the Jews, but the make-up of God’s people was in transition. It could well be that because of the Gentile influence in the church, an understanding of Old Testament Hebraic apocalyptic language was lost.
- Silence does not prove anything.
- At least one very important early church father, Eusebius of Caesarea (c. AD 260/263-339/341) expressed clear preterist views in multiple places in his books. While his works lack a comprehensive, systematic theology on eschatology, he did indicate a belief that the Second Coming (or at least a Second Coming per the Olivet Discourse) occurred in AD 70. As we mentioned in Chapter 1, Eusebius is an important witness because he is considered the Father of Church History. As a church historian, it is likely that Eusebius reflected the views of other early Christians for whom we have no written record. Among several citations from Eusebius that could be presented are these two:
“You have then in this prophecy of the Descent of the Lord among men from heaven, many other things foretold at the same time, the rejection of the Jews, the judgment on their impiety, the destruction of their royal city, the abolition of the worship practiced by them of old, according to the Law of Moses; and on the other hand, promises of good for the nations, the knowledge of God, a new ideal of holiness, a new law and teaching coming forth from the land of the Jews. I leave you to see, how wonderful a fulfillment, how wonderful a completion; the prophecy has reached after the Coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.”
“When, then, we see what was of old foretold for the nations fulfilled in our own day, and when the lamentation and wailing that was predicted for the Jews, and the burning of the Temple and its utter desolation, can also be seen even now to have occurred, according to the prediction, surely we must also agree that the King, who was prophesied, the Christ of God, has come, since the signs of His coming have been shown in each instance I have treated to have been clearly fulfilled.” [iii]
By tracking the thread of eschatological comments throughout his writings, we can reasonably conclude that Eusebius believed that at least all of the following things were fulfilled by AD 70:
- the Second Coming of Christ (at least in some sense)
- the Great Tribulation
- the Abomination of Desolation
- the Day of the Lord
- the Days of Vengeance and judgment upon Israel
- the “time of the end”/end of the “world”
- the ushering in of the new covenant/kingdom of heaven
- the Great Commission (gospel having been preached to the whole world)
- Other writers in the early church expressed beliefs that certain events associated with the Second Coming were fulfilled by AD 70, such as the abomination of desolation, the great tribulation, the last days, the end of the age, Daniel’s seventieth week, the arrival of the kingdom, the arrival of the new heaven and new earth, the arrival of the New Jerusalem, the preaching of the gospel to the whole world, the general resurrection of the dead, the destruction of death, and the cessation of charismatic gifts. So, the basics of full preterism are found in many writings of the apostolic fathers.[iv]
In addition to the above, I would add some other considerations:
- Christians easily accept, based on faith, much of what the Bible says happened in the past. For example, Christians never doubt that God created the universe out of nothing. Even though modern big bang science offers confirmation of the biblical account of creation, most Christians do not rely on science to believe in Genesis. They believe it because the Bible says it. Likewise, the Bible teaches that Jesus would come in his first-century generation to gather his own and to judge the living and the dead. The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 is visible evidence of the invisible events the Bible teaches would happen at the same time—resurrection, rapture, judgment, redemption, and the Parousia. Oh ye of little faith, do you not believe? As Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
- How do you know that the Parousia was not confirmed or documented by those present? Just because we do not have documentation does not mean that documentation did not exist.
- The book of Revelation itself, to some degree, is a written testimony to the fulfillment of prophecy. We noted in Chapter 9 that John stated in Revelation that he was writing during the tribulation.
- Josephus, Tacitus, Eusebius, as well as the Jewish Talmud all record the fact that God’s presence was perceived at the destruction of Jerusalem. They even record that angelic armies were seen in the clouds.[v]
- It should not be too surprising that the early church fathers may have misunderstood the nature of the Second Coming, just as the Jews misunderstood the nature of the First Coming. It was right there in front of them, but they still missed it!
- There are other doctrinal issues for which we have no written record. For example, today’s raging debate between believer’s baptism versus infant baptism is virtually absent from the ancient record. So, the absence of a coherent explanation of eschatology in the record is not unique.
- Doctrinal issues can be misunderstood by a large majority and such misinterpretations often get stuck in the church’s psyche. Just consider the questionable views of Roman Catholicism, including the veneration of an ever-virgin Mary, purgatory, infallibility of the Pope, transubstantiation, and so forth.
- Persecution would have made it very easy for the first Christians to hope for some sort of earthly relief. This would easily explain why they would have read this hope into the Bible. The human mind, being what it is, can turn desire into an illusion of truth. Take an unrelated issue—abortion. It is scientifically and theologically proven that an unborn child is a human being. Yet, incredibly, by force of will, combined with the force of cultural normalcy, even many professing Christians convince themselves that the child is only “a glob of tissue.” They will take the life of a baby in the very place that should be the safest sanctuary—his or her mother’s womb. Indeed, statistics show that the rate of abortion is just as high among professing Christians as it is in the population at large.
So people ask, “Why isn’t there more agreement among Christians today about preterism?” Our response is: Are you kidding? While Christians are in broad agreement on central doctrines, they are, and historically have been, in disagreement over many things! Confusion and disagreement on issues tracks from the early church. A study of the theological views of the early church shows various beliefs that demonstrate gross misunderstandings of the faith. There was disagreement among the early church fathers on crucially important issues such as the nature of God as well as justification.
For example, the doctrines of grace were almost unknown in the writing of the early church fathers. The early church fathers were, at least according to available writings, either semi-Pelagian (salvation by works plus grace) or even full Pelagian (salvation by works alone). There is precious little glimmer of any understanding that salvation (regeneration) is by grace through faith (belief) alone and not by any works or actions—as most modern Protestants understand justification. But even today, Christians, from sect to sect, are all over the map on justification. Other important topics on which Christians have misinterpreted (or disingenuously twisted) the Bible include slavery, abortion, homosexuality, evolution and other aspects of science such as geocentricity.[vi]
Some other examples that reveal interesting beliefs of the early church fathers include: Origen believed in the pre-existence of souls and castrated himself due to a literal reading of Matthew 19:12. Tertullian succumbed to Montanism, a prophetic movement with Gnostic overtones that was declared a heresy. Ignatius, writing around AD 100 made the same mistake as countless other Christians after AD 70, thinking that the time of the end was imminent. (He said, “The last times are come upon us.”) Over-literalizing Scripture, Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) expected a literal temple to come down from heaven and set itself up in Jerusalem. These men were great contributors to the faith but were clearly wrong on some pretty major issues. Even today, there are wide-ranging and virulent disagreements among Christians on many, many issues.
Ultimately, it does not matter what the early Christian writers said. What matters is what the Bible says.
Here are helpful articles by Riley O’Brien Powell, a contributor to my book:
You are invited to see reviews and details of my book at Amazon.com. Also, to learn more about apologetics, theology, and eschatology, check out my website below (and “like” it if you can)!
Eusebius of Caesarea
[i] Don K. Preston, We Shall Meet Him in The Air: The Wedding of the King of Kings (Ardmore, Oklahoma: JaDon Management Inc., 2010), pages 274ff.
[ii] James B. Jordan, Biblical Chronology, “Problems with New Testament History, “Vol. 5, No. 1, Jan. 1993, p. 1. Quoted by Edward E. Stevens in this article “What if the Creeds Are Wrong”: http://preterist.org/articles-old/what_if_the_creeds_are_wrong.htm.
[iii] First quote from: Proof of the Gospel, Book VI, Chapter 13, paragraph 18. Second quote from: Proof of the Gospel, Book VIII, Chapter 4, paragraph 147). Eusebius’ works are laborious. He may have been lumping Jesus’ first and second advents together to affirm fulfillment, in particular, of the events of the Olivet Discourse. Eusebius did affirm the Nicene Creed, but was apparently concerned primarily with the Divinity of Christ aspect of the Creed rather than the Parousia. (See http://www.earlychurchtexts.com/public/eusebius_letter_to_his_church_about_nicaea.htm). But we can confidently conclude that his numerous statements throughout his writings about a first century fulfillment of prophesied events confirm his preterist orientation. The reader is also referred back to Chapter 1, endnote number 25 for more places in Eusebius’ writings that confirm his preterist views.
[iv] Don K. Preston, We Shall Meet Him in The Air: The Wedding of the King of Kings (Ardmore, Oklahoma: JaDon Management Inc., 2010), pages 286-295. See also these various references: (1) David Green, Michael Sullivan, Edward Hassertt, Samuel Frost, House Divided: Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology, A Response to When Shall These Things Be? (Romana, CA: Vision Publishing, 2009), pages 38-43. (2) Gary DeMar and Francis X. Gumerlock, The Early Church and the End of the World (Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision, 2006). (3) Samuel M. Frost, Misplaced Hope: The Origins of First and Second Century Eschatology (Colorado Springs, CO: Bimillennial Press, 2006), page 151. (4) Living the Question website article “Historic Preterist Quotes”: http://livingthequestion.org/historic-quotes/. The Bible teaches that speaking in tongues would cease when “completion” came (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).
[v] See Edward E. Stevens http://www.preterist.org/preteristQA.asp#question7. Josephus Wars (18.104.22.1686 to 300), Tacitus Histories (Book 5), Eusebius Ecclesiastics History (Book 3 Chapter 8 Sections 1-6), Sepher Yosippon A Mediaeval History of Ancient Israel (Chapter 87, “Burning of the Temple”).
[vi] See Covenant Theological Seminary online course “Ancient and Medieval Church History” at this link: http://www.worldwide-classroom.com/. Another source is David Green, Michael Sullivan, Edward Hassertt, Samuel Frost, House Divided: Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology, A Response to When Shall These Things Be? (Romana, CA: Vision Publishing, 2009), pages 45-47.