Stephen Whitsett BA
Giving an orthodox apologetic answer for Preterism / Dispensationalism
Historicism is a method of interpretation in Christian eschatology which attempts to associate biblical prophecies with actual historical events and identify symbolic beings with historical persons or societies. The main texts of interest are apocalyptic literature, such as the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation.
One of the most influential aspects of the Protestant's historicist paradigm was the speculation that the Pope could be Antichrist; this view was popularized in the eighteenth century. In response to the historicist approach, Catholicism developed the
Preterist and futurist approaches to apocalyptic literature.
The historicist approach has been used in attempts to predict the date of the end of the world. An example of this is seen in post-Reformation Britain in the works of Charles Wesley who predicted that the end of the world would occur in 1794, based on his analysis of the Book of Revelation. In nineteenth century America, William Miller proposed that the end of the world would occur on the 22nd of October, 1844, based on a historicist model used with Daniel 8:14. Miller’s historicist approach to the Book of Daniel spawned a national movement in the United States known as Millerism. Some of the Millerites eventually organized the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This denomination continues to maintain a historicist reading of biblical prophecy as essential to its eschatology. Prophetic commentaries in the early church were often partial or incomplete, usually interpreting individual passages rather than entire books. The earliest complete commentary on the Book of Revelation, considered to be one of the earliest Historicist commentators, was carried out by Victorinus in 300 AD. An overview of the various prophetic expositions from the third century to the fifth centuries demonstrates that prophecies were uniformly interpreted within a Historicist framework by the Latin (later Catholic) writers.
Looking to the future fulfillment of certain prophetic passages, Christian theologians concluded that the events of Biblical prophecy (especially as contained in the books of Daniel and Revelation) encompassed the entire Church Age from the Ascension of Jesus to his Second Coming.
There are three basic problems associated with this view. The first being that Revelation judgments are a response to mans particular sin, in Revelation 14 it described God’s wrath filling a cup to be poured out. This is done through seven bowls or vials of judgment, and specifically it states, the tribulation that comes upon the saints by the world results in a series of Judgments against her for killing them.
“These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Rev 7:14
“If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath.”Rev 19:10
There are two things that can be understood quit clearly from Revelation, Because of the condition of the church in her falling away from truth and allowing error and false doctrine to creep in God allows persecution to happen to move people back toward repentance. We see this example through the book of Judges and up into the book of II Kings where people have wondered away from the faith and have worshipped Idols, God began to warn them of judgment coming and judgment came. The rejection of Jesus as the Messiah led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.
In Revelation those who persecuted the saints are judged. In a sense the “Church” is led into a captivity of its own with the beast exercising power over the saints for a period of 42 months, or 3 ½ years where testing and a refiners fire prepares a perfect spotless bride.
In a nut shell the book of Revelation is the result “of” actions by the church and the world over a long course of time. The tribulation is not a period of two thousand years where the seven seals and the seven trumpets are slowly completed but a possible seven year time span or at the least, 3 ½ years.
The first three chapters of Revelation are seven letters to the churches. Many have
interpreted these letters to be “Seasons” of the church through history. Therefore supplying the reason for Historicism, but the fault is trying to find events and history to fit the scripture, there by falling into the same trap as Preterism. There is no doubt that there are similarities from scripture to historical events, but in the end it is a theory, and ends up with a poor bottom line, in that followers believe they can pinpoint the year of his return by following where we are in timeline of Revelation. The problem of course is trying to prove events are fulfillment of the prophecies, there is too much ambiguity as there is in Preterism. What’s interesting to note, it was much easier to “see” all of the prophecies concerning Christ come to life as they actual saw the messiah lived in their day. For us we are waiting on the son of lawlessness to be revealed. To know we are in the last days. Until then it is but guess work.
There is one point that must be made very clear, while there are similarities between what happened in 70AD and the events predicted in Revelation, Revelation has no fulfillment in 70AD. It is entirely of future fulfillment based on one simple truth; Revelation was written after 70AD. The tribulation period is a perfect time frame of possible seven years, where God is pouring out judgment on the world for her sin, ending in wrath. Not something half completed in 70AD or even over two thousand years but it is the end result of two thousand years of pushing God out and a final rejection of Him in our cultures and society that leads to His ending of this “church age”, ushering in a millennium rule.