Preterism is an eschatological position that believes all or most Bible prophecy was fulfilled by the end of the first century. A couple of years ago some friends from our church spent a week at Bethel Church in Redding, CA, bought a book on partial-preterism from the Bethel bookstore, and recommended I read it since I’m into Bible prophecy and end-times events. From the very first, I took copious notes in my reading and pretty much disagreed with everything the author conveyed. I gave the book back to my friends, saying it wasn’t something I could swallow.
I haven’t done a whole lot with preterism since then, other than to generally link the preterist position with NAR, since Bethel is one of the leading proponents of the New Apostolic Reformation. If Bethel is carrying a book on preterism, there’s a good likelihood they favor that position.
In my daily exercise time, I often watch teachings on YouTube. One came up that I thought I’d try, as I had listened to something else this pastor preached on, and it was quite instructive. This particular message was instructive as well, but in a much different way.
The pastor prefaced his church sermon with a message to the video audience. One thing he mentioned was that he hoped people would go to a good reformed church. Well, that raised my spiritual antennae.
Lately I’ve seen that there is often an affinity between reformed theology and the embracing of Calvinist thought that says everything is predestined and caused by God. In this thinking, there is no free will. Thus, all things that happen are the result of God’s sovereign will and declaration. When this idea is examined and taken to its logical conclusion, this means that God has even caused evil in the world. It completely discounts and negates free will. Those who are saved are the elect and are able to be that way only through the sovereign hand of God. Likewise, since there is no choice in Calvinism, people who aren’t saved are predetermined by God that they will go to hell. Sorry, can’t swallow that one either.
So, my feelers were out in listening to this message. Sure enough, as this pastor preached on Matthew 24 and the Olivet Discourse, he placed all events back in the time of Jesus. It was in his speaking on verses 38-44 that his reasoning flummoxed me:
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Now I guess there may be disagreement among pre-Tribulation believers as to whether the event, where men and women taken from the field or grinding, represents the Rapture or the final harvest by the angels at the end of the age (Matthew 13:39). I tend to believe it’s the Rapture, since Jesus is comparing the incident to the time of Noah. It’s sudden. No one knows when it will occur. That’s more representative of the Rapture to me than the final harvest, since that time will be generally known given everything else that’s happening in the Tribulation timeline.
But here’s the thing that got me in this pastor’s explanation. First, he equates Jesus’ description of these taken away with the destruction that occurs during Noah’s time in the flood and with Lot at Sodom and Gomorrah. So far, so good. However, in this pastor’s view, the people killed are those snatched away. In Noah’s instance, those destroyed by the flood were the ones taken. According to this man’s thinking, Noah wasn’t delivered out of judgment in the ark, which pre-Tribbers would normally associate with the Rapture.
Similarly, with Lot we see in Luke 17:28-30:
Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.
According to this pastor, Lot’s deliverance wasn’t a result of him being saved by the angels and delivered from annihilation. His rationale was that the unbelievers in those cities were overcome with destruction, and thus snatched away. What pre-Trib adherents see as Lot being kept from harm by a symbolic Rapture, is completely turned on its head.
In these examples, the ones saved were left behind to continue God’s work on the earth. Now, that’s true as far as it goes; the problem is exactly that however, i.e. where it goes. I believe it’s this thinking that leads to NAR anti-eschatological beliefs.
NAR is Dominionist, Kingdom Now thinking. In this theology, there can be no imminent Rapture because Christians have much work to do on the earth. We are to completely take back the culture by ascending to the top of its Seven Mountains:
Christians are to take back these seven sectors of society in order to transform and take dominion over the earth. The kingdom of God will be realized now and only through the efforts of those following this belief. Ultimately, the intent is to deliver a world to Jesus that wholly follows Him when He returns; in fact, He can’t return until we have accomplished this task.
(As an aside, this concept is similar to the Islamic eschatological position with the Twelfth Imam. Shia Muslims believe they must create the chaotic conditions in the world in order for this salvific figure to emerge onto the world scene. With the Christian Dominionist thinking, the opposite occurs. The world must be won to peace for Jesus before He can return. This mirror image contrast is intriguing.)
There cannot be a Rapture in this Christian NAR approach. As a result, the earth is our home. We are not strangers in this alien land, but residents who should want to remain in order to do the good work God has ordained for us. Being left behind is good; it’s what we should aspire to since those snatched away are the evildoers.
(Here’s another aside: Consider the position outlined above by this pastor who doesn’t believe in the Rapture, who thinks that those snatched away are evil. Once the Rapture occurs, what will be the prevailing explanation? A prominent theory is that those left behind, i.e. the good guys, will declare that aliens took them for the benefit of the earth because of the harmonious distortions they caused. Those pesky Rapture-believing Christians! The virtuous aliens helped Mother Gaia in order to bring stability back to the planet. Isn’t it amazing how all these aberrant ideas come together in the final days?)
There are a lot of connections in this story, even in my parenthetical rabbit-trails. This was a comment left on YouTube attached to this particular teaching I watched:
“The whole story of the pre-tribulation rapture is a direct contradiction of the doctrines of grace!!!!!! It is an Arminian narrative!!!!”
The commenter obviously comes from a Calvinist viewpoint. He’s agreeing with the teaching that comes from a reformed pastor. Preterism is on display; clearly it is anti-pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching. Now I don’t know that this equation always holds, but in this instance here it is: Reformed theology = Calvinism = Preterism. In some cases, we also may add “= NAR.” I guess you can do with this what you wish.
Out of all this comes another very interesting point. In my listening to this pastor, I have no doubt that he loves the Lord and believes with all his heart that he is completely faithful to the Biblical text. I’d like to think of myself as having that same love for God and His Word. Yet, look at how what we believe is 180 degrees out of phase with each other. I believe in free will (basically, the Arminian position) and a pre-Tribulation, pre-Millennial eschatology. It points to the fact that anyone of us, despite our love of God, can interpret certain Scriptures differently and incorrectly. I happen to believe it’s this pastor on YouTube in this instance who is wrong, but here’s the thing: Not a one of us living on the earth can possibly get all of God’s Word correct. There are mysteries. It’s why He is God, and we are not. Although any of us may be absolutely convinced that we’ve been Bereans, searched the Scriptures, and thus interpreted the Word correctly, in one aspect or another, we’re going to misinterpret what God has conveyed.
It’s one more reason for us to look forward to being with Him very soon. At that time, we’ll no longer see through a glass darkly.