The dividing line between Classical Preterists and Full Preterists is how the Biblical references to the New Jerusalem are understood. Full Preterists, who argue that all of the Book of Revelation is fulfilled, contend that the New Jerusalem has already (spiritually) come ‘down’. Classical Preterists, who argue that only Revelation chapters 1-19 are fulfilled, on the other hand contend that the expression New or Heavenly Jerusalem while indeed alludes to the New Covenant, will one day have its full expression after the Second Resurrection.
Full Preterists approach the Book of Revelation as if it is all fulfilled. Naturally then, the reference to the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven described in Revelation 21 is considered fulfilled. A supporting reference for this Full Preterist approach is allegedly found in Hebrews 12:22.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,
The writer to the Hebrews seems to be referring to the same New Jerusalem in Revelation 21. In this Hebrews reference, the writer is clearly stating this as a present (therefore, a past) event. This would then seem to be cased closed for the Full Preterist. But there are some serious problems with this interpretation.
Before we examine the particular texts, it is important to state clearly the hermeneutical principles employed for approaching the Scriptures. There are some negative principles (what we don’t do to Scripture) and there are positive principles.
– DO NOT…
Assume that a Bible fulfilled prophecy must have another future fulfilment (how many future virgins will conceive and bear a Son?)
Take words or concepts in the Bible as uniquivocal (as only having one meaning). Biblical words and concepts in the Bible are equivocal. It is the intent of the passage which guides the way we understand them. For example,
What can the word “father” mean in Scripture?
What can “stars” mean in Scripture?
What can “earth” refer to in Scripture?
Depending on the context, ‘father’ could mean the man who sired a particular child, or a grandfather, or even a great great great great great great great great great great great (you get the idea) father. A “star” could refer to an astronomical object or it could refer to a tribe of Israel, or it could refer to a local church. “Earth” as it’s used in Scripture could refer to the planet we’re on, the territory of Israel, or dirt. Just because a word is used one way in one Biblical passage does not necessitate that it must be understood that way in every other passage. For example, “leaven” is depicted as either: moral corruption, a Gentile, or a growth agent.
Interpret a verse of Scripture to contradict the overall message of Scripture
Lightly dispense with how the original and near original audience understood the passage as they were often in a better light to understand the text.
On the other hand, we should-
Assume Biblical Prophecy only needs to be fulfilled once
Use Scripture to interpret Scripture
Draw on the context of a passage (textually, culturally, historically) to guide in it’s interpretation
With controversial passages do negative exegesis (determine what a text can not be sayingin the light of the overall message of the Bible even though it may superficially appear to do so)
Seek to discover the intent of the author in a passage (helped by uderstanding who the author was and who the audience was)
When we approach references in Scripture refering to the New or Heavenly Jerusalem we are guided by these principles of hermeneutics (The Method of Bible Interpretation). Added to this, we are also guided by our system of Eschatology. Our Eschatological system will give us certain presuppositions which heavily influence our understanding of the Bible. If for example, we have a Futurist Eschatological system, we will regard references in Jeremiah and Ezekiel of Israel being returned to their land after exile as pertaining to a last days regathering of Israel to the Promised Land which we would claim is being fulfilled today. But if we have a Historicist Eschatological system, we would regard the exact same references as predicting the return of Judah from exile in Babylon when the conquering Emperor, Cyrus, issued the decree allowing them to return (as chronicled in the Biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah). Eschatological systems matter. Here are some of the features that a sound eschatological system should possess-
a means to accommodates all eschatological references
the ability to identify whether a prophecy is fulfilled or not
the capability to make certain testable predictions based on the Biblical text
It is for these reasons that I consider the Classical (Partial) Preterist Eschatological system the most Biblically sound. But perhaps the greatest challenge to this system is how it can consistently account for the references to the New/Heavenly Jerusalem. Has it come? Or is it yet to come?
AN OVERVIEW OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION
Futurists regard Revelation chapters 1-3 as letters to seven Asian (Turkish) churches that existed sometime around 95AD. Historicists regard the same chapters as foretelling the unfolding history of the Church down through the ages. Preterists regard these 3 chapters as letters written to 7 real churches around 65AD which sets the scene for the remainder of the Book.
Futurists regard Revelation chapter 4 as marking the point of “the Rapture” which they say is yet to come. Historicists regard this chapter as the point where world history is now prophetically revealed. Preterists regard this chapter as a glimpse for the seven churches into the dimension of heaven where, despite the turmoil on earth, they can begin to see that Christ is seated on the Throne and is ruling as Lord.
From this point Futurists and Historicists speculate, whereas Preterists appeal to first century history to show that the Four Horsemen were actually the first four emperors of Rome (Augustus was the first Roman Emperor) and the fifth seal was Emperor Nero who was a martyring Emperor. The sixth seal marks the deepening of Israel’s apostasy and the seventh seal marks the judgments of God beginning (identified as 7 trumpets). These seven trumpets culminate in the 7th trumpet announcing the completion of the Old Covenant and Israel’s time to repent. The seven bowls are then the next stage of God’s judgment upon apostate Israel which culminates in the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and in particular the Temple. This is where Christ comes in the clouds riding as it were a white horse of judgment. With the close of the Old Covenant system of ceremonies and sacrifices the Kingdom of Christ (achieved at the Cross and the Resurrection) is now inaugurated. Thus begins the reign of Christ through His Church on earth (“a thousand years”) which can only be entered into through the New Birth (the First Resurrection). At a point in the future, God will allow the Devil to muster global persecution against the Church (“the camp of the saints”). But Christ will ‘descend’ from heaven as “fire” (Rev. 20:9) and deliver the victorious Church and eternally punish the Devil. He will summon all of the living and the dead to be eternally judged. It is then that what was birthed at the Cross, the New Jerusalem, the place of the New Covenant Redeemed, will be fully realised because there will be no more to redeem.
In this sense the writer to the Hebrew in chapter 12 verse 22 could say that we had already come to the Heavenly Jerusalem in much the same way that the Apostle Paul said that we were already seated in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). Thus, the believer is already spiritually positioned in the Heavenly Jerusalem even though God is right now still admitting people to it. What the Patmos Apostle saw was the Heavenly Jerusalem (in existence) but not yet here. When the day comes that is has fully ‘descended’ there will be no further possibility of redemption for anyone.
Read another comparison between Classic Preterism and Hyper Preterism. [Read]
I have written a fuller explanation of the book of Revelation in my eBook- THE MOST EMBARRASSING BOOK IN THE BIBLE (click here to read a preview). The application from the Book of Revelation is that despite what appears to be an impotent Church struggling to serve an apparently impotent Christ, the Church is in reality made up of overcomers who lay down their lives gladly to promote Christ and His Gospel. In so doing, the Kingdom of Christ is extended, prayers are offered and heard, miracles are graced, and the believer can die with infinite hope that their Lord will keep them for eternity and clothe them with a new body which can not be subject to pain, injury, sorrow, or sin. With this knowledge we can endure momentary hardship during the brevity of this life on earth. We can be assured that our greatest delights and deepest moments of fulfilment are yet to come in the life to come.
John 5:25 ¶ “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.
Dr. Andrew Corbett, Legana, Tasmania, Australia June 19th 2010