Saturday, March 8, 2014

Behold, I am coming quickly

Defining our Terms

When approaching the subject of "Hyper-Preterism" it is essential to clarify our terms. There is an important distinction that needs to be made between Partial-Preterism and Hyper-Preterism. Partial-Preterism falls within the realm of Christian Orthodoxy, while Hyper-Preterism is heterodox (outside of Orthodoxy) and therefore a damnable heresy that true Christians cannot believe.

What Exactly is Hyper-Preterism?

Hyper-Preterism, also called "Full-Preterism," "Pantelism," and the "Hymenaen Heresy," is a combination of heresies that ultimately rejects key elements of the Christian faith that are essential to salvation. In a nut shell, Hyper-Preterism believes that all Biblical prophecy has been 100% fulfilled and completed. This means that the final return of Christ, final resurrection, final Day of Judgment, and the new heavens and new earth have already happened. When did this happen? They will argue in 70 AD, with the destruction of Jerusalem and the judgment upon the Jews.

Redefining Terms

You might be thinking to yourself: "Wait a minute, I look around me and see a Universe still under the curse of the Fall. I still get sick, and I will die some day ... I hope this isn't my resurrected body. How can the Hyper-Preterist honestly tell me all prophecy has already happened???" You would not be alone in thinking this. So how do they explain themselves? They argue that each of these 4 eschatalogical truths were utterly spiritualized and not physical events: (1) The final coming of Christ was the spiritual coming of judgment on the Jews in AD 70. (2) The resurrection of the dead was a spiritual resurrection. (3) The final judgment and (4) new heavens and earth happened in the past, and were also spiritual events.

A Combination of Heresies

The proto-Gnostics and the Gnostics of the first few centuries AD are the most comparable group to Hyper-Preterism. The Gnostics believed that the physical realm was evil, and that the spiritual was good. When the proto-Gnostic groups attempted to blend with Christianity, the result was to spiritualize certain Christian beliefs. For example, if Jesus was good, then he couldn't have a physical body since the physical realm is evil. Therefore, he was a spirit and did not have a physical body. Additionally, the Gnostics believed that man's spirit longed to be set free from the prison of the physical Universe.

It is worth noting that Hyper-Preterists detest being compared with the Gnostics, nevertheless, the similarities are striking. It is true that they don't agree with everything the Gnostics believed, however, they have strong Gnostic tendencies about their beliefs. For instance, that the final resurrection is solely spiritual, and that some believe Christ doesn't have his physical body now, while a minority believe Christ never physically rose from the dead to begin with but only spiritually arose.

Damnable Heresy?

Is it, perhaps, too harsh to say that this is a damnable heresy? I don't think so. At least part of this heresy is not new, and Paul addressed one aspect of it in 2 Timothy 2:14-19. Hymenaeus and Philetus were caught up in "worldly and empty chatter" whose talk "will spread like gangrene." What were they saying that was so terrible? They had "gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place." Clearly this was not acceptable for practicing Christians to continue on believing. The clever Hyper-Preterist will respond: "Well ... Hymenaeus and Philetus believed in a damnable heresy because they were wrong about the timing of the resurrection, as this was prior to 70 AD. We just happen to have gotten it right, therefore, we don't believe in a damnable heresy." They make my point for me: that getting the timing wrong for the final resurrection of the dead is a damnable heresy.

To make this even more clear, if you continue on in the immediate context, Paul declares:

"The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will." (2 Timothy 2:24-26, NASB).

By claiming the resurrection had already taken place they were denying the faith. Paul's instruction to Timothy was to correct them in hopes that God might "grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth."

The author of Hebrews speaks about the second coming of Christ in Hebrews 9:28. He will come "a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him." This coming is not in reference to sin, but will be at the consummation of the ages. I would also point out that Christians are eagerly awaiting for the return of Christ. This will usher in the resurrection of the dead, the new heavens and new earth, and the final Day of Judgment. Earlier in his letter, the author also makes mention of the "elementary teaching" about Christ in which he refers to "the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment" (Hebrews 6:2). Subjects about the resurrection and the final judgment are of the most basic elements of the Christian faith, and to deny them is to step outside of Orthodoxy.

Spiritualizing Everything

How could the resurrection have happened in AD 70? Nobody saw dead corpses being regenerated across the globe. Integral to Hyper-Preterism is the belief that the resurrection of the dead is a spiritual resurrection. This is quite disturbing considering that for this to be true a complete redefinition of the term "resurrection" is required. "Resurrection" simply means: that which is dead coming to life again; to be regenerated. Examples include when Lazarus was resurrected from the grave, which was not a spiritual occurrence: "The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth" (John 11:44, NASB). When Jesus died on the cross, many saints were raised from their tombs and were wandering through Jerusalem (Matthew 27:52-53)!

But the single most important example is this: Jesus rose from the grave, and this was a physical resurrection. Why is this so important? Paul explains for us in 1 Corinthians 15:

"Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, NASB). 

There is a direct parallel between the nature of Christ's resurrection and that of the resurrection of the dead. Therefore the nature of one will be the nature of the other. Paul asks the question: If Christ was raised from the dead, how are some saying that there is no resurrection of the dead? Or asked in a way more relevant to the Hyper-Preterist: if Christ rose physically, how can you say that the resurrection of the dead is spiritual? The importance of this cannot be overstated, and I think Paul expressed the significance of this when he said: "For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins."

Our Lord made reference to the nature of the resurrection very plainly:  
"Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28-29, NASB). 
I ask the Hyper-Preterist: what are in the tombs that will be resurrected? We know it can't have reference to the souls of men because to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8), as Paul stated prior to 70 AD. The only alternative could be the dead bodies buried in the tombs, which makes sense since this would incorporate the normative meaning of "resurrection."

Here is another example of the comparison between Christ's resurrection and our own ... 
"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself" (Philippians 3:20-21, NASB). 

How Much of the Human Being Did Christ Come to Save?

A key question to ask the Hyper-Preterist is: since the resurrection was spiritual and happened in AD 70, what exactly did the resurrection accomplish? Obviously, from their perspective, the resurrection of the dead was a spiritual event. But my question is specific: what spiritual benefits did this spiritual resurrection produce? Because prior to when they allege that the resurrection took place, the New Testament describes believers as having been "raised up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6). Earlier in the same letter, Paul describes Christians as having been blessed "with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). Prior to AD 70, believers were raised up with Christ, seated in the heavenly places positionally, and were given every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. I'm missing what an alleged spiritual resurrection in the first century actually accomplished. 

This raises an important point: Christ came to save the whole man, body and soul. This stands in stark contrast to the Hyper-Preterist who believes that Christ will ultimately only save the spiritual aspect of human beings. They believe that no redemption was intended to ultimately restore man's physical nature. Once more I point out: this is Gnostic.

The Apostle Paul takes the time to address the resurrection in his letter to the Romans: 

"But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. ... The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him" (Romans 8:11, 16-17, NASB).
I am compelled to point out that the comparison between Christ's resurrection and the resurrection of the dead is plainly made in this section of Scripture. Christ was raised from the dead, and He will also give life to ... what? He will give life to "your mortal bodies." This is the context of the glorification He goes on to discuss in verse 17.

Time Proof-Texts

I made a decision when writing this outline to postpone addressing Hyper-Preterism's most common argument: the so-called "time-texts." They will argue that there are dozens upon dozens of verses that indicate that all of these eschatalogical things would happen "soon" and "quickly." For example, Christ said that He is coming quickly three different times in Revelation 22. The Hyper-Preterist would argue: "Jesus said that he was coming quickly, therefore it doesn't make sense for the Lord to have taken 2000 years for Him to reappear." As if the 2000 year life-span of the church is beyond what could have been the intention of the Lord. I ask in turn to the Hyper-Preterist: is Christ coming within 40 years a quick return? It really boils down to context, and the authorial intent.

I would add that the entire hermeneutic of the Hyper-Preterist tends to be greatly flawed. What do I mean? They claim to interpret the so-called "time-texts" in a literal way: soon means soon, quickly means quickly, and so on. The problem with this hermeneutic is that it falls short with numerous Scriptural examples. Consider this Messianic Psalm:

"“I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,

Today I have begotten You." (Psalm 2:7, NASB)

If we are going to interpret the time aspect "today" in the most literal way possible, was the ultimate fulfillment of this the day this was written? Of course not, this was ultimately referring to Christ, as Luke (Acts 13:33) and Hebrews (Hebrews 1:5) recognizes. Another example is a prophecy of the Messiah:

"For yet in a very little while,
He who is coming will come,
and will not delay
." (Hebrews 10:37, NASB)

If "a very little while" and "will not delay" was interpreted using the Hyper-Preterist hermeneutic, how could they possibly make sense of it? The author of Hebrews is citing from Habakkuk, which was written hundreds and hundreds of years before Christ! And yet, the Holy Spirit has no problem using language like this for events far in the future. I would suggest to you that with prophetic literature in the Bible, we cannot put unrealistic and unBiblical restraints upon the text that the authors themselves never would have intended for us to have. 

The Olivet Discourse

You will want to become familiar with the Olivet Discourse found in Matthew 24, and its parallel passages, Luke 21 and Mark 13. Central to their whole argument is Matthew 24:34, "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place" (NASB). Like much of their interpretive hermeneutic, they interpret this text in an absolutist way so that, for them, "all these things" becomes the fulfillment of all prophecy, fulfilled within the generation that heard these words. As a partial-preterist myself, I believe that part of Matthew 24 was fulfilled in the first century AD, namely, the coming of Christ in the form of judgment upon the Jewish nation, destroying the temple and Jerusalem. But I do not see the requirement to include all of Matthew 24 and a good deal of Matthew 25 to be included in "all these things." In fact, considering the nature of the final prophetic events, I am forced to believe that they cannot have happened in the past.

The other prominent error made routinely by Hyper-Preterists is the assumption that the same language always refers to the same event. For example, "a coming" of the Lord in Judgment must be "the final coming" of Christ because of the same or similar terminology. The big problem with this kind of interpretation is that they attempt to make connections between unrelated texts to try to prove their arguments. I believe AD 70 was  *a*  coming of Judgment, but this was not  *the*  final day of judgment because AD 70 doesn't fit the bill for the nature of this event. Matthew 25:32 says that "All the nations will be gathered before Him," and also in Revelation 20:11-12, "And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds." Are we expected to believe that this took place in AD 70? We can answer with certainty that it did not happen because all the nations were not gathered before the throne.

The New Heavens and New Earth

The new heavens and new earth did not come about in the first century. How do we know this? Because Peter describes this event for us:

"Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (2 Peter 3:3-7, NASB).

If the former judgment of Noah's day was with water, and this is being compared to the final judgment, why would the final judgment be something other than a physical event? In other words, was it actual water or spiritual water that Noah escaped from? Similarly, is it actual fire or spiritual fire that will destroy the Universe at the final judgment? Peter goes on in his explanation about the final destruction of the Universe:

"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:10-13, NASB).

We see then that the heavens and the earth will be destroyed with fire and will pass away with a roar. Even the elements will be destroyed, and the earth will be burned up. Twice we are told this will be the result of intense heat. Is all this a spiritual event? You would have to turn the passage on its head to interpret it that way. God destroyed the world through the flood; and He will again destroy the world with intense heat, melting the building blocks of the Universe!

Bodily Return of Christ

Our Lord provided overwhelming evidence that He continued to have a physical body after His resurrection (John 20:26-29). When the appointed time came for Christ to ascend into Heaven, He did so physically. The angels that suddenly appeared to the disciples declared: "This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11, NASB). Hyper-Preterists try to make a connection between the angelic statement of how Christ was received by a cloud, with Jesus' statement at his trial that He would come on the clouds of heaven: "You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of Heaven" (Matthew 26:64, NASB). This brings me back to an earlier point: simply because Christ was received by a "cloud" at His ascension, and "coming on the clouds" are mentioned in Matthew 26 ... this does not mean there is a necessary connection between these two statements.

If we are going to believe the angelic declaration that Christ's return will be a bodily return, then 70 AD was not what the angel was talking about. The destruction of Jerusalem was important for many reasons: (1) God expressed His displeasure with the Jewish people for rejecting the Messiah. (2) It helped the newly established churches to understand that the temple played no part in the New Covenant. (3) And it was the fulfillment of prophecy in Scripture ... but not the fulfillment of all prophecy.

How Should Christians Respond?

Our foremost concern as Christians should be to defend the truth, and to protect the flock against false teachers. Hyper-Preterists are similar to recent converts to Calvinism in that they want the whole world to know about their new-found beliefs. I have personally seen these folks (Hyper-Preterists) deceive Christians, including church elders, so that they might continue on a facade long enough to spread their heresies.

The Apostle Paul used enormously strong language towards a position considerably more accurate than Hyper-Preterism, but shared at least one similarity: saying the resurrection had already taken place. He called the message of Hymenaeus and Philetus gangrene (2 Timothy 2). And what do you do when your foot gets gangrene? You cut it off.

The initial concern should be to stop the spread of this damnable heresy, which means they cannot be allowed to further discuss the issue with Christians in the church. If they agree to this, I believe we ought to correct and rebuke with gentleness. I find it enlightening that Paul offered relevant thoughts about how to approach men like this within the immediate context of those who share the same heresy:

"But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels ... with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy,  unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also." (2 Timothy 2:23-3:9, Bold Mine, NASB)

If Hyper-Preterists are members of a church, I believe that the Biblical approach to correction and church discipline ought to be followed to the letter. However, if a visitor or other non-member is "upsett[ing] the faith of some," (2 Timothy 2:18) then they should quickly be contained, addressed, corrected, and if they refuse correction ... removed from the congregation.

Paul said elsewhere in Scripture:

"This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:8-11, NASB). 

The Apostle offers a contrast between how we can identify what is good and who has believed God, with those who engage in foolishness and are unwilling to accept Biblical warnings. We must have a proper understanding of what is good and true in order that we can identify falsehood and rebuke it in a correct way.

When first encountering someone espousing the damning heresies of Hyper-Preterism, I would urge you to warn the one bringing the false message. If they refuse the warning, bring another brother to also correct him. If they continue on in their ungodly heresies, bring it to the elders of your church. Do not delay in this. This is the Biblical mandate found in Matthew 18.

Hyper-Preterism is not just another eschatalogical perspective. There are many things one can believe about the last days: one can be a Dispensational Pre-Millenialist, or an A-Millenialist, or a Post-Millenialist, or even a Historic Pre-Millenialist! What each of these positions have in common are the essential doctrines all being future and physical events.

Hyper-Preterism, as a movement started and failed prior to 70 AD. The movement started again in the late 1800's and failed. A slight resurgence started again recently more than 10 years ago and failed. It is a movement devoid of hope, because Christ has already come. What do they have to hope for other than death so that their souls may be free from their bodies - bodies which will never be redeemed or glorified?

The glorious and future return of Christ is described by the New Testament as the "hope" for the Christian: "looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:13, NASB). We long for that glorious day because it will usher in eternity where we will enter into the presence of our Lord. It is a day in which the fallen Universe is utterly destroyed, and a new one is put in its place - one that is filled with righteousness and fully reverses the effects of the Fall of Adam. We will also have resurrected and glorified bodies - bodies that cannot and will not ever sin against the God whom we love and worship! The Final Day of Judgment will also be the day where every wrong is righted, where justice is ultimately done. We will be with the saints for all eternity, and we will be with the triune Lord that has delivered us from the consequences of sin, the lifestyle of sin, and has redeemed the whole man: body and soul.

In the midst of dealing with the damning heresy of Hymenaeus and Philetus, Paul said these great words:

"Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands..." 

There was no doubt in his mind that the kingdom of God will never be overthrown, not even by heresies such as this. For the Lord of Heaven and Earth is ruling from His throne. May we be faithful witnesses as we continue to battle against the forces of darkness, and the heresies employed by the Devil, always defending the gospel of truth in a world that desperately needs the light of salvation.

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