Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Preterism and Futurism: A Short Dialogue

Preterist: One significant problem with the futurist approach to the book of Revelation is that it renders most of the book irrelevant to its original first-century readers.

Futurist: How so?

Preterist: If most of Revelation’s prophecies pertain to events that are still awaiting a future fulfillment to this day, then what real need was there for the original first-century audience to pay much attention to them? Futurism seems to minimize the relevance of the book not only for its original readers, but also for all subsequent generations of Christians which have come and gone through history.

Futurist: That’s a fair point, but your own approach is subject to a similar criticism.

Preterist: How so?

Futurist: As a preterist, you believe most of Revelation’s prophecies were fulfilled during the first century. But could we not suggest, by your standard, that this would render most of the book irrelevant to every subsequent generation, including our own?

Preterist: I see your point, but I would argue that fulfilled prophecies still retain a retroactive sort of relevance to the readers who live after their fulfillment. Fulfilled prophecies reveal the character of God by showing us his faithfulness to do what he said he would do, thus continuing to inspire worship today. We still hear sermons from Isaiah 9 at Christmas time, and we celebrate how God kept his promise to his people through the person and work of Christ.

Futurist: I totally agree with all of that. But I believe we can legitimately utilize a similar kind of nuance to understand the relevance of unfulfilled prophecies. I’ll express it this way: If a fulfilled prophecy can have a retroactive relevance to readers who live after its fulfillment, then why can’t an unfulfilled prophecy have, shall we say, a proactive relevance to readers who live before its fulfillment?

After all, there were hundreds of years between Isaiah’s messianic prophecies and their ultimate fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus, which means the prophecy’s original hearers did not see its fulfillment with their own eyes. Are we therefore to think that the prophecy was not relevant to them? Of course not. They could still read Isaiah 9, and it was no less to them a worship-inspiring portrait of the character of God, and his purpose to provide salvation for his people. Yes, the ultimate fulfillment was still a future reality that they would not see in their lifetimes. But by no means did that make the prophecy irrelevant to them.

And I believe the same holds true within a futurist approach to Relevation. Even if most of the prophecies are awaiting fulfillment in the future, they are still worship-inspiring portraits of what God will bring to pass through Christ. And every generation of Christians can read them rejoicing in those realities, regardless of whether the fulfillments occur in their lifetime.

Preterist: But doesn’t Revelation say these things would happen soon?

Futurist: You’re changing the subject!

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