Many times those who are listening to the debates over hyper-preterism concentrate too much on the debaters and what they are saying, when they really ought to take a look at the universe in which the debate is occurring. This is a lesson that we should all have taken from presuppositionalism—we should not simply listen to what the debaters on the stage are saying, as helpful and as edifying as that might be. We also need to ask questions about the stage itself, the structure they are sitting on, and how it was all constructed. We could also ask a question or two about the chairs.
The debate over hyper-preterism tends to focus on whether the prophecies of Scripture, traditionally taken as referring to the end of the world, should not rather be taken as predicting the end of the Judaic aeon, which happened with the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. This approach was made more plausible in part by the rise of what is called partial preterism, the position I hold, which is the view that many of the passages that some have assigned to the end of the world are in fact predictions of the fall of Jerusalem. The key there is “many, but not all.” The hyper-preterists look at this and ask, “if one’s good, two must be better, right?” To which the partial preterists reply learnedly, “Gakkk!”
The downstream ramifications of hyper-preterism are where the real problems are manifested. If all the passages that we thought were about the end of the world are not about the end of the world, then how do we even know there is going to be an end of the world? This would mean that sin is never finally defeated, that death is never ultimately conquered, and that Heaven and earth remain forever divided. This is why the partial-preterists stand together with the rest of the Christian world in maintaining that this world will in fact come to an end—and that Scripture describes it.
And this is where my illustration about asking about the construction of the stage becomes intelligible. The partial-preterist and the hyper-preterist are debating their respective views about Matthew 24 and 25, certainly . . . but what is the nature of the universe in which they are debating? Is that universe one that is going to go on forever?
The answer is no, and this answer comes from passages that don’ t usually come up in eschatological debates. What this amounts to is that hyper-preterism is not simply an eschatological error; it is also a significant cosmological error. The question about the end of the world cannot be separated from the question about the shape of the world, and the arc of world history.
Fair warning: as this installment contains some unusual stuff, it will not make complete sense unless you read all the way to the end. Correction: it will not make as much sense as it is ever going to make unless you read all the way to the end.
Scripture teaches us that the cosmos around us—as it is currently configured—is not a forever kind of thing. It does not go on and on. Actually, to be more accurate, it does go on and on, but only after its transformation at the end of history. More about this in a few moments.
“Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed.”
Psalm 102:25–26 (NKJV)
And this portion of the psalm is quoted in the first chapter of Hebrews. The point of that citation was to show how much greater than the angels the Son of God is, and in pursuit of this point, His everlasting kingdom is contrasted with this world, which is not everlasting. This is set up when the supremacy of the Lord’s throne is predicted by Psalm 45, as quoted in that chapter of Hebrews.
“But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.”
Hebrews 1:8 (KJV)
And right after this citation of Psalm 45, the words of the psalmist in 102 are brought in, and the point is to show that the realm of Christ will remain even after this world has worn completely out.
“And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?”
Hebrews 1:10–13 (KJV)
So the Lord’s kingdom remains. It stands fast. It will last forever. Unlike these clothes we are wearing now.
Setting the Stage
Before turning some glorious promises found in Romans 8, I need to set the stage. By this I mean that I wish to compress my understanding of the narrative arc that God established for this material world, and to fit it into just one—perhaps longish—paragraph.
In the beginning God created the Heavens and earth, and created mankind in His own image, male and female, in order that they might exercise dominion over all that He had created. From the start, it was intended that this dominion would eventually result in a great transformation of all things, such that they might conform to the heavenly archetype, the pattern that Moses later saw on the mountain. But Adam veered from his assignment, and fell into sin. When he rebelled against his vocation, everything that was under the authority of his vicegerency fell into a bondage to decay as well, right along with him. This meant that if the great planned transformation were to be accomplished, the change would also need to be from corrupted to forgiven and glorified, and not just from earthly to heavenly. Even before he fell, Adam was a man of dust, and even without the fall there would have been a man from Heaven—in a manner we cannot comprehend. The world as it was created, fresh and new, was still going to be transformed in a great consummation. The fall added another great challenge to how God was going to glorify His name, but He was always going to do marvelous wonders. But because of the entry of sin, the whole world crashed. Not just Adam and his progeny, but the whole world around Adam was subjected to futility and bondage to decay. The whole created order is keenly aware of this futility, and is therefore yearning for the final revelation of the sons of God. And when these sons of God are manifested for who they are, the entire creation will be liberated as well, and we will finally arrive at the place where God has all along purposed to bring us.
The Great Remarriage
When the Heavens and the earth were first created, even though the final transformation was not yet, there was true unity between Heaven and earth. God created the Heavens and the earth, and the Lord walked with man in the cool of the day. When we rebelled against Him, there was a great rupture. Heaven was now distant, and we were left down here, under the sun, shepherding wind.
So when Scripture speaks of Heaven, this distance is often emphasized. He dwells in the highest heaven, and His habitation cannot be comprehended.
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!”
1 Kings 8:27 (NKJV)
But at the same time, there are flickers of the old unity. There are places where Heaven is described as being right there, just above us. We see this in the baptism of Jesus, for example, when heaven opens and the dove descends (Matt. 3:16). We see it when Stephen at his death sees the Lord right there (Acts 7:55-56), and when Paul is converted the same thing happens again (Acts 9:3). Right around the corner almost. Just up one flight.
And all this helps us answer the question about where we shall be after the resurrection. After the last trump has sounded, and after all the dead are raised, and after the sea gives up her dead, where will we all be? Where will we live? Will we be in Heaven or on earth? The answer is yes. Everything will be united again. Christ came in order to heal the rupture, and to heal it completely.
“. . . having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.”
Ephesians 1:9–10 (NKJV)
But in the hyper-preterist view, that breach is never healed. Not only does this fallen world go on forever, not only does sin go on forever, but this means that the entire created order is forever marred, and forever fragmented. Adam fell just like Humpty Dumpty did, and all the King’s horses and all the King’s men are every bit as hapless as the ones in the nursery rhyme. Things never get restored. The fall is forever.
Entropy and Futility
Just as a quick side note, I need to make a distinction between “entropy” and “bondage to decay.” It is not necessary to assume that the perfection of the Garden of Eden consisted of a complete absence of entropy. Could Adam have shuffled a deck of cards before the fall? Would every hand dealt come out perfect? Four aces again. A royal flush again. Of course not. Increased randomization could and did obviously occur. Leaves could fall from the trees in the Garden and rot on the forest floor. Adam could eat from any tree before the fall, and the enzymes in his stomach would have broken down that fruit. The perfection of the Garden did not mean everything was made from a hyper-permanent stainless steel. And so if Adam had ever invented a pair of jeans to help him not get so scraped up as he worked in the Garden, those jeans would have worn out. The passage from Ps. 102 quoted above stated that the original pre-fall creation was perishable—a good indication that there was always going to be a coming consummation.
So I take the bondage to decay that was introduced by the fall as the introduction of suffering and death, an accelerated entropy, as entropy overflowing the banks, as weeds growing out of control, and as anguish in childbirth. Controlled entropy was part of the created order that was pronounced “good” and “very good.” Out-of-control entropy is nobody’s idea of a good time.
The Promise of Romans 8
And so then we come to the glorious promise found in Romans 8. Here we find the whole thing in a cosmological nutshell.
“For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”
Romans 8:19–23 (NKJV)
According to hyper-preterism, we die and go to Heaven, and receive our new bodies there. Our bodies that go in the ground will not be raised, and what happens to us in the afterlife has nothing to do with anything down here in the created order. This creation cares not for what is happening up there on the next level. But compare this to what Paul teaches us here. The contrast is stark.
Here it is in paraphrase:
This material creation is eagerly and earnestly waiting for the time when the sons of God are revealed to be in fact the sons of God (v. 19), a revelation accomplished when their adoption as sons is completed, and they receive the redemption of their bodies (v. 23), that is, at the resurrection of the last day. For the created order was subjected to an entropic futility when Adam fell (v. 20), and was subjected to that frustration unwillingly. But God had a greater purpose in mind, and He subjected the created order to this futility in hope—because the created order will have a full share in the deliverance into the glorious liberty that the children of God will enjoy (v. 21). This will be liberation from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. To change the metaphor, this created order is suffering the pangs of childbirth. The whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now (v. 22). Not only so, but we also participate fully in this labor. We have the first fruits of the Spirit, and so as the Spirit groans, as the creation groans, so we too also groan (vv. 22-23, 26). We are laboring under these birth pangs, longing for the time when this created order gives birth to the adopted and resurrected sons of men, and when our mother, our fellow creature—creation—immediately after joins us in this transformed eternal state. The mother gives birth to the child, and then the mother is also born.
There is simply no way to reconcile this glorious cosmological vision with a hyper-preterist view of the future history of the world. The future of this lower created order is eternally bleak. Always winter, and never Christmas. Always in labor, and never a baby.
“As a woman with child is in pain and cries out in her pangs, when she draws near the time of her delivery, so have we been in Your sight, O Lord. We have been with child, we have been in pain; We have, as it were, brought forth wind; We have not accomplished any deliverance in the earth, nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen.”
Isaiah 26:17–18 (NKJV)
But God has better things in store for us. He has plans of good, and not evil. Just look to the next verse.
“Your dead shall live; Together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; For your dew is like the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.”
Isaiah 26:19 (NKJV)