1999 by Robert L. Garringer
insist that the prophets never spoke of events that were distant as if
they were near. So, for preterists, it is an open and shut case that Jesus
must have come in the first century because the New Testament was written
then, and it stated repeatedly that He was coming soon.
that He came invisibly as a Judge of Israel and a Deliverer of the Church
when Jerusalem and the Temple fell in A. D. 70.
of Saints, the Eternal Salvation, and the Kingdom were all expected to
be imminent as well. So preterists have worked out an elaborate system
in which the Resurrection, Judgment Throne, etc. are all figurative ways
to describe the implications of Jerusalem's first-century destruction.
The New Testament is loaded with references to these eschatological events.
are left clinging to the idea that first century Christians consistently
spoke and wrote in figures of speech that were rarely if ever given any
concrete explanation. In the back of their minds, those early believers
are supposed to have registered "when Jerusalem falls" every time they
heard "He is coming in the clouds," "The dead in Christ shall rise first,"
"He will sit on His throne...All the nations will be gathered before Him,"
of this understanding of New Testament eschatology is highly questionable
in itself, but the appeal to the more plausible literalness of imminent
time-frame references in Scripture lends some strength to the preterist
position. So the preterist case stands or falls on the prophetic-time issue.
is this belief that the imminent tone of biblical prophecy must correspond
to an imminent fulfillment? We will turn to Isaiah for an answer to this
place, I have argued that Isaiah wrote of the fall of Babylon in radically
urgent and clearly imminent terms even though the prophesied event would
not happen for at least another two hundred years. [A
Response to John Noe and
A Reply to His Measured
Now we will
see that the prophet wrote with even more urgent language of the deliverance
of Israel from bondage. This deliverance can be taken as a description
of the end of bondage in ancient Babylon accomplished after Babylon's fall
to Persia, two centuries after Isaiah.
The more likely
meaning, however, is that the prophet was anticipating a Messianic Deliverance,
not yet accomplished in futurist theology but seven hundred years away
even in the preterist system. In any of these scenarios, it
is clear that the prophet spoke of a very distant event as if it were imminent.
Hope in Times of Distress
at a time when Judah's most recent antagonist was Assyria. (52:4) He told
the people that the episode of Assyria's threat would soon end, (10:12,
16) but because of their persistent sin, Isaiah gave them no hope of escaping
the coming Babylonian conquest. (39:5-7) This fall to the Babylonians would
come about two hundred years later.
As all the
prophets, however, Isaiah promised an eventual glorious deliverance for
God's chosen people. The promise is heralded in language that applies to
the restoration of Israel in historical times under Ezra and Nehemiah.
(44:28) Yet, consistently, a more wonderful deliverance by the coming Messiah
is in view. (4:2-6; 9:6-7; 11:1-11)
have indicated, Israel's salvation from her enemies was at least two centuries
away at the time Isaiah announced it. This gap must be expanded even more
when the Messianic element is included--over seven centuries to a preterist
who believes that all prophecy was fulfilled at the time Jerusalem fell--more
than twenty-seven centuries in the view of prophetic futurists. Yet look
at how the prophet speaks of the time element involved:
draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way...The ransomed of the Lord
will return. They will enter Zion with singing...The cowering prisoners
will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon...for a brief
moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back...I
hid my face from you for a moment." (51:5, 11, 14; 54:7,8)
We can say
here what preterists say of the contemporaries of Christ and the apostles:
That generation, upon encountering these prophecies, would have expected
that all would be accomplished within their lifetime, especially when they
heard or read "they will not die in their dungeon..." (51:14)
Isaiah's promise implies much more than the historical restoration of Israel.
1. The Context
of Isaiah 51:5, 11, and l4
4 reads, "Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: The Law will go
out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations."
In full, verse
5 reads, "My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the
way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will
look to me and wait in hope for my arm."
Verse 6 ends
with the statement, "My righteousness will never fail."
This is followed
a few lines later, in verse 8 with, "But my righteousness will last forever,
my salvation through all generations."
After a brief
recitation of God's acts of deliverance in the past, the passage continues
with the joyous words of verse 11, "The ransomed of the Lord will return.
They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away."
scorns Judah for its lack of faith and ends with the promise of verse 14,
"The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their
dungeon, nor will they lack bread."
Isaiah is speaking
of a salvation that is to come to all nations, not Israel only. The promised
deliverance will result in a state of eternal contentment.
In the next
section, we will see exactly what Isaiah means by a righteousness that
lasts forever and a salvation that endures through the generations.
The Context of Isaiah 54:7, 8
Evidence of the Messianic Nature of the Promise
read in full, "For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion
I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a
moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you, says
the Lord your redeemer."
A certain and
immediate relief is implied in the prophet's words. Yet as he goes on to
explain the phrase, "everlasting kindness," used in verse 8, the reader
cannot avoid the clear Messianic nature of the promise:
"To me this
is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never
again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never
to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken, nor my covenant of peace
be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you. O afflicted city,
lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise,
your foundations with sapphires." (54:9-11)
He is promising
never to destroy Jerusalem again. He goes on to say:
does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender
to you...no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute
every tongue that accuses you." (54:15, 17) (See also Isaiah 52:1.)
It is logically
impossible to fit this promise from God into the period between the fall
of Jerusalem in 590 B. C. and the fall of Jerusalem in A. D. 70. Otherwise,
God's promise will not have been kept.
The next chapter
confirms that Isaiah was speaking of Messianic conditions:
will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will
hasten to you...This will be for the Lord's renown, for an everlasting
sign, which will not be destroyed." (55:5, 13)
imminent time reference in this Messianic context is given in chapter 56,
"...my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed...I
will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off...And foreigners
who bind themselves to the Lord to serve Him...these will I bring to my
holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer...I will gather still
others to them besides those already gathered." (56:1, 5, 8)
a prophet speaks as if an event is about to happen, we need not expect
an immediate result. In another place, I have suggested reasons, some of
them obvious, for God using non-literal imminent language in prophetic
predictions. [Response to Noe] But whatever the reasons may be, the existence
of this practice is clearly evident in the writings of Isaiah.
He spoke of
events that were most likely Messianic and therefore at least seven centuries
away. Yet he said that they were drawing near speedily, on the way, coming
very soon, being accomplished in a brief moment, and being close at hand
and soon to be revealed.
Even if one
were to doubt or deny, the Messianic aspect of fulfillment, nearly two
centuries would be a minimum lapse of time between prediction and the actual
accomplishment of the prophesied deliverance.
It is imperative,
in light of this evidence, that preterists stop insisting that imminent
language implies imminent fulfillment in either the Old or New Testament.
Just as imperative
is their recognition that this evidence leaves the whole preterist tower
teetering toward what I believe is an inevitable collapse.