The Last Days According to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return? by R.C. SproulThis is a book about eschatology (the study of last things) from a well-known, respected, and loved pastor and theologian, RC Sproul (who is now with Christ himself). Sproul was a bulwark of the faith, standing up for the gospel, the inerrancy of Scripture, the supremacy of Christ, and the holiness of God. No one—no one—would say he would deal with any unbiblical view. Surely, many disagree with him on views such as baptism. But he was a biblical, Reformed, Bible-upholding man.
I preface with all that because of what he says in this book. He argues for things that would possibly surprise some—even anger some. He argues for a view of eschatology that is not as common in today’s evangelicalism, but as he shows, it is *not* because his view is whacky or unbiblical (per se).
In brief, Sproul in this book argues about the end times from a “partial preterist” standpoint. Before I explain what that is, first another disclaimer:
In our evangelical culture, because of the influx of Dispensational theology and a certain way of reading Revelation in the future, almost all Christian Americans assume a few things:
?- First, we assume that the majority of prophecy in the New Testament—specifically the Olivet Discourse (eg. Matthew 24) and the book of Revelation—all tell mainly about things in the future for us.
- Second, in connection with this, we assume that certain aspects of these, such as the tribulation from Matthew 24, or the Beast/Antichrist/Abomination of Desolation from various passages (Matthew 24; 2 Thess. 2; 1 John 3; etc.) all refer to future events for us.
- Third, in connection with both of these, we think this has always been the true, literal reading of all these texts.
- Fourth, we unfortunately think that the only difference in eschatology views comes from what one believes about the Millennium from Revelation 20.
In short, we assume a “futurist” perspective on all these texts. We assume they have to do with the final years of the world. We think the church has always been this way. Or worse, we assume that if people aren’t, then they must not care about the Bible.
But Sproul shows that all these assumptions are mistaken in this book by biblically expounds “partial preterism.”
Here I will list the main tenants he argues for in “partial preterism.” However, in this review, I will *not* take the time to defend all of these beliefs expounded in the book. But here is what I *do* want to emphasize: Sproul defends all these with strong biblical support. Nor will I say if I agree or disagree with each, because for many I haven’t decided yet. But I do love the Bible; I do not want to add to nor take away from anything written therein; and I will say that I certainly don’t think any of these are unbiblical views in themselves (maybe misinterpreted, but not ‘unbiblical’).
1. Preterism means ‘past fulfillment.’ Preterism is the idea that many of the prophecies in the Bible and New Testament, which were for the future at the time written, have now been fulfilled in our past.
2. Partial preterism asserts the the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21—about the great time of tribulation, earthquakes, false ‘christs’, abomination of desolation, and fleeing from the rooftop, and being taken into judgement—all occurred at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The biggest support of this is the fact that this is the immediate context: Jesus says the temple will be destroyed, and the apostles are asking when ‘these things’ will take place. Then at the end, Jesus says, “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
3. Partial preterism asserts that the ‘coming in power and glory’ in the Olivet Discourse is Jesus talking about him coming in judgement on the the Jewish nation, ending with the destruction of the temple. This has support from many OT texts where God comes, even on a cloud, in judgment. Jesus is predicting he’ll do that, and he did it 40 years later in 70 AD.
4. Partial preterism does still believe, however, in a physical second coming. What makes “partial preterism” different from “full preterism” is that full preterists go the unorthodox route of saying even the final second coming, resurrection of believers, and the new heavens and new earth have come. Partial preterits assert that these are still to come because of many other NT texts that show so. They just believe that the Olivet Discourse is about the coming of Christ in judgment on the Jewish people because of the context and the verse “this generation will not pass away until all these things are accomplished.”
5. Partial preterism also thinks that one of the ‘ages’ that was ending was the Jewish age, which ended in 70 AD. This is supported by the beginning of the Olivet Discourse, when Jesus says the temple will be overthrown, and the disciples ask when ‘these things’ and ‘the end of the age’ will take place. Partial preterits believe this happened in 70 AD. They also use 1 Corinthians 10:11, where Paul says that “the end of the ages” has come upon the Israelites.
6. Partial preterists also say that Revelation was mainly about the description of the the judgment on the Jews and the temple. (Many say it is about the destruction of Rome in 400s, but Sproul shows the Jerusalem view). In support, they argue that the great whore is evidently the Jewish people, and the judgment once again did come in 70 AD.
7. Partial preterits assert that the Antichrist and the Beast of Revelation 13 was a real person, but that he ‘was already in the world’ (1 John 3), as John says. It isn’t just his spirit that was in the world, but John was saying he already was in the world himself.
8. Partial preterits believe that Nero was clearly this Antichrist. The gematria of 666 proves this as Nero’s name in Hebrew adds up to 666 perfectly; he elevated the emperor worship more than anyone else (he exalted himself above every god); he was a crazy person in many, many ways; he persecuted the Christians violently; and some of his contemporaries even called him a ‘beast.’
9. Partial preterits also mostly postmillennialists, though some are amillenialists.
10. Partial preterits do not believe in a pretribulation rapture, nor a final 7 years of tribulation. They argue that Matthew 24 (and Mark 13, Luke 21) are clearly and explicitly about the future destruction of the temple in Jerusalem—future for them, past for us.
More could be said, and if you’re interested in this, I encourage you to read the book. I think the strongest argument is from the context of Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. As Sproul argues, many evangelicals—who love context and literal reading—do *not* read it literally, since Jesus is explicitly bringing up the destruction of the temple, and he is explicitly saying when ‘these things’ will take place. And Sproul shows that amazingly in history, when the temple was destroyed, there were false Christs, there were earthquakes, Josephus even records strange sky manifestations. And the Christians did flee to the mountains, leaving only mostly Jews to be destroyed by the Romans.
Finally, as Sproul shows in the introduction and last chapter, he wrote this book primarily because many critical scholars think Jesus was a false prophet because he, in their minds, clearly said he would return within that generation, especially in the destruction of the temple in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Sproul points out that we as evangelicals often have done terribly with interpreting that. We love ‘literal’, but then we twist and turn ‘generation’. Sproul instead shows there is a better argument which a) keeps the clear meaning of Jesus’ words; b) allows for OT connections as God often came in judgment; and c) makes Jesus not a liar, but an incredible prophet.
Again, I don’t know how much or what I agree with. But I do think we as evangelicals influenced by dispensationalism and Left Behind are quite blinded to the various views. The pretribulation rapture belief didn’t even exist before the 1800s, yet we often think that alone is biblical. Or we think “futurism”—reading Matthew 24 and Revelation as all in *our* future—is the only main belief. But I believe a respected godly man here in RC Sproul shows why there are many different, biblical, solid views. This is worth a read for sure.
Deeper Connections: The Last Days of Jesus Group Bible Study with Dr Matt Williams
What Jesus Said About the Last Day
Now it will come about that In the last days The mountain of the house of the LORD Will be established as the chief of the mountains, And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it. And He will judge between the nations, And will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war. And it will come about in the last days That the mountain of the house of the LORD Will be established as the chief of the mountains It will be raised above the hills, And the peoples will stream to it. And He will judge between many peoples And render decisions for mighty, distant nations Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they train for war. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.
Curious about the ways that Christianity connects to its roots in Jewish history and culture? Sign up for Holy Land Moments. They will have pride and tell of all the things they have done. They will speak against God. Children and young people will not obey their parents. People will not be thankful and they will not be holy.
What does the Bible say about? But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
End of World Sign - LOVERS OF PLEASURE MORE THAN GOD
In this wonderful land, everyone had enough work, the sick were adequately cared for, cities were perfectly planned and beautifully created, the people enjoyed complete religious freedom and the greatest pleasure for those who lived there was derived from doing good to others. Not that people haven't hoped for it, though. In the early years of the 20th century, for instance, many believed we were on the verge of Utopia. After all, the major powers were at peace, the economy was booming, knowledge was increasing, eugenics was showing great promise it worked fine with dogs , China was still open to Christian missionaries and trains were running on time. This cosmic harmony, however, was to be short lived.
The year is now and many people around the globe are wondering if the end of the world is near. I don't think there has ever been such a widespread interest in this topic like there is today. And who can blame people for wondering, when you see what is happening to our world. The signs of the end are prevalent. War, famine, natural disasters, incredible and rapid increase in knowledge. Poisoning of the air and water.
This will be their line of argument: 'So Jesus promised to come back, did He? Then where is He? He'll never come! Why, as far back as anyone can remember everything has remained exactly as it was since the first day of creation. Will Jesus come like a thief in the night? The coming of the Antichrist is a sign of the end. You have heard about the Antichrist who is coming—the one who is against Christ—and already many such persons have appeared.