The Preterist-Idealist View of Eschatology: Some Threshold Reflections

by Charles Meek and Bruce Thevenot

The preterist view of eschatology is that most, if not all, biblical prophecy was fulfilled in the past. The idealist view is that prophecy contains timeless promises of hope, equally applicable to all generations. Thus, the idealist does not see specific one-time fulfillments in history as particularly determinative, but rather sees or assumes multiple fulfillments (and possible divine appearances) throughout the ages as God delivers his people and judges his enemies from time to time. Put another way, the overt fulfillment of prophecy of which the first generation of Christians were witnesses and participants was, according to the idealist view, merely the visible shadow portending covert fulfillments in subsequent generations.

There are now preterists who have endeavored to connect an idealist cart to the preterist horse in order to sustain a theory that eschatological prophecies which were specifically fulfilled in the past with the events surrounding AD 70 contain seeds of multiple fulfillment, or at least over-tones of fulfillment and implications for the future.  In this respect, preterist-idealists employ assumptions of future fulfillment not unlike those commonly relied on by partial-preterists to deny the validity of a full preterist analysis of biblical eschatology.

Two well-known men who have abandoned the full preterist label and adopted the preterist-idealist label are John Noe and Todd Dennis. Both of these men are outstanding scholars. John has written several books on eschatology, while Todd is the creator of the acclaimed Preterist Archive website. The perspectives of these men differ, and we will attempt to highlight how each sees eschatology. Both of us have benefitted over the years from the insightful contributions of these men.

John Noe correctly points out that the book of Revelation itself proclaims its timeless and universal relevance (Revelation 3:20; 5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 13:7; 14:6; 22:17). He stated:

“The relevance of Revelation’s prophecy (its realities, principles, and portrayals) is not limited to a one-time, historic, and static eschatological fulfillment for its own day. This revelation goes beyond AD 70—but with its AD 70 fulfillment serving in a typological manner. . . .Therefore, in the prophecy of the book of Revelation, we moderns have real, ongoing blessings, warnings, comings, judgments, and interactions of Christ with which to be personally involved and concerned (Revelation 1:3; 22:7, 14-19). . . . the Apocalypse is thus a theological poem setting forth the ageless struggle between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness.” [1]

It is hard to conceive that any reader of Revelation would miss the fact that it portends major developments with ongoing significance, so we are at some loss to fully understand what problem John is attempting to remedy beyond reacting to some who, in our view, really do deserve to be called “hyper-preterists.” Also, while it is surely possible to infer from the apocalyptic imagery the continuing occurrence of events and phenomena that bear some similarity to those described, we would hesitate to use the term “typological” in such an open-ended sense.  Old Testament typology was anything but open-ended, but pointed to specific fulfillments which preterists commonly agree have occurred with the arrival of the age to come in the 1st century.

Noe’s analysis also exposes him to the familiar criticism of “idealism” as a hermeneutical method, i.e., that it deemphasizes the importance of actual events and breeds a tendency to impute subjective meaning into the understanding of virtually any phenomenon, with no controlling intellectual or other hermeneutical principles commonly agreed upon.  More troubling is that John’s adversion to “the ageless struggle between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness” evokes a philosophical dualism that is more Greek and pagan than Christian. Is the struggle between good and evil to be perpetual, or does the good God triumph?

John also cites as relevant to his thesis those divine appearances (“Christophanies” or “theophanies”) in the Bible other than those of his physical appearance as the incarnate Son of God (”First Coming”) and his eschatological presence in judgment in AD 70 (“Second Coming”)—though John rejects the terms First and Second Comings. For example, Jesus appeared to Stephen in Acts 7 and to Paul in Acts 9. In the Old Testament Jesus may have been the figure in the fiery furnace in Daniel 3:25, etc. Indeed, John believes he has found as many as 40 appearances of Jesus in the Bible. Jesus himself said that He will “manifest” Himself to whoever loves Him (John 14:21, 23). John assumes that Jesus’s appearances continue after the close of the biblical record.  Whether his assumption his valid or not, and what would constitute such an appearance, does not seem to us to detract from the central importance to redemptive history of the specific Parousia promised by Jesus to his disciples.

            Todd’s characterization is somewhat different. Here are his thoughts presented on his website:

“The quickest and most revealing way to describe this preterist/idealist hybrid is to consider which is the true nation of Israel.  “Preterist Israel”— aka “Israel after the flesh” — found its beginning and end in the process of time.  “Idealist Israel” — aka “the Israel of God” — was always that eternal nation in Christ for which the temporal nation only served as a representative.  All elements associated with “Preterist Israel” in history are tools, given for revelation in our hearts of the everlasting fullness found in Jesus Christ alone, both now and forever. . .

Accordingly, the differences between Preterism and Idealism are actually quite fundamental, resulting in a countless number of divergences.  The key difference. . . is in where one sees the ultimate destination of prophetic fulfillment — whether seeing prophecy referring exclusively to natural events (with perhaps consequential spiritual application) fulfilled once-for-all in history, or in seeing Israel’s prophecies and natural events as pictures signifying the greater realities fulfilled in Jesus Christ, as is the case with modern forms of Idealism. . . as the problem is not about any one particular view, but rather the entire hermeneutical approach to scripture which sees the substance of prophetic fulfillment in natural things. . . .

The fundamental approach of this particular form of Idealism may be best encapsulated in an axiom taken from 2 Corinthians 4:18:  That which is seen in Israel’s history is only the temporal shadow of the eternal substance.   The natural nation of Israel (“after the flesh”) was given as a shadow of the eternal nation of Israel (“of God”), who is Jesus Christ.  The temporal nation was not the substance of the kingdom in itself.”

            We are sympathetic to the preterist-idealist model as an experiment in progress. We simply see little benefit that is added by the label “idealist.” Certainly, while the visible fabric of the Old Covenant was washed away in AD 70 with the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the initiation of the New Covenant by Jesus in the 1st century was just a beginning, not an end. For example, while eschatology was completely fulfilled in AD 70 soteriological application has no end. Man’s sinful nature did not end in AD 70, thus our ongoing need for salvation, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. Indeed, God continues to judge nations and individuals (Psalm 2:8-12; 110; Daniel 7:27; Acts 10:42-43; Romans 1:18; 2:2-16; 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:27; 13:4; Revelation 2:10; 11:15; 14:13; etc.).

Todd has noticed, no doubt, that there is a strain of preterist adherents who reject what we have just written. However, in our judgment, he is mistaken to conclude so broadly that “the differences between Preterism and Idealism are actually quite fundamental.” Both John and Todd appear to have been moved to separate themselves from the full-preterist label, given the distortions some self-identified “full preterists” have overlaid on non-eschatological, but classical Christian doctrine. In that respect we are sympathetic. We are inclined to think, however, that the preterist-idealist label, while a sincere effort to re-categorize preterists, mixes and further confuses beliefs that differ among them, and is therefore an overreaction.  We also doubt that the “countless number of divergences” in the preterist camp is being driven by preterism per se, but rather by faulty hermeneutics along with doctrinal baggage brought into preterism from elsewhere in the Christian marketplace.

In our estimation, the label of “hyper-preterist” is indeed appropriate for anyone who holds that sin, salvation, the church, the gospel, as well as God’s eternal character, plan, and expectations came to end in AD 70. Conversely, “preterist-idealist” is confusing as a label for conventional preterists who merely believe that the Old Testament system came to an end at that time, along with the general resurrection of souls out of hades, all coinciding with the promised Parousia, and otherwise are orthodox in their Christian doctrine.

Labels can be very misleading. We prefer to classify ourselves as biblically authentic preterists, and rejoice in God’s continuing application of his work of redemption accomplished once for all times for all his people—past, present, and future—through his Son.


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