House Divided Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology A Preterist Response to
When Shall These Things Be?
The Eschatological Madness of Mathison or How Can These Things Be?
Part 1 – Prophetic Imminence in the Old Testament
Michael J. Sullivan
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Old Testament Imminence
On page 165 of WSTTB, Mathison makes the following observations:
Isaiah said that the fall of Babylon was “near” about 170 years
before it fell (Isa. 13:22). Habakkuk spoke of the fall of Babylon
in terms of imminence (“it will not tarry”) about 70 years before
it fell (Hab. 2:3). And Haggai said that the coming of Christ
would happen in “a little while,” more than 520 years before it
happened. (Hag. 2:6–7; cf. Heb. 12:26–28)
Mathison infers from these observations that “the Old Testament
prophets regularly used terms implying ‘nearness’ to describe events
that did not occur for centuries” (202) and that it is therefore possible
that the New Testament prophets used terms of imminence to predict
events (such as “the coming of the Lord”) that will be fulfilled potentially
millions of years from now (201–202).
Let us look at the first verse that Mathison cited:
Her fateful time also will soon come and her days will not be
prolonged. (Isa. 13:22b; cf. 13:6)
As we noted above, Mathison implied that the fulfillment of this
prophecy against Babylon was not literally “near”; that it would not
literally come “soon” after Isaiah wrote. However, three pages earlier,
Mathison had this to say about verse 10 of the same prophecy of Isaiah
Isaiah . . . describes the judgment that will soon come upon
Babylon in very dramatic language: For the stars of heaven
and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will
be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its
The Eschatological Madness of Mathison 77
light to shine. (Isa. 13:10) (162, emphasis added)
When partial preterist Mathison is teaching other futurists that the
prophets used non-literal, de-creation language to describe nations being
judged, he says that the judgment of Babylon in Isaiah 13 was literally
near when Isaiah wrote. But when Mathison is arguing against
“hyper-preterists,” the literalness of the imminence in Isaiah 13 curiously
vanishes—and this in the space of three pages.
Mathison’s postmillennial partial preterist colleagues such as Gary
DeMar unequivocally teach that the imminence in Isaiah 13 was literal
Isaiah 13:6 states that ‘the day of the Lord is near!,’ near for
those who first read the prophecy more than twenty-five hundred
years ago! Isaiah predicted that Babylon would be overthrown
by the Medes (13:17). Since the Medes did overthrow
Babylon, the use of “near” makes perfect literal sense.
The commentators elaborate:
. . . her time . . . near—though one hundred seventy-four years
distant, yet Isaiah, who is supposed to be speaking to the Jews
as if now captives in Babylon. (Is. 14:1, 2)
This was spoken about 174 years before the destruction of
Babylon. But we are to bear in mind that the prophet is to be
supposed to be speaking to the captive Jews “in” Babylon, and
speaking to them respecting their release (see Isaiah 14:1–2;
compare remarks on the Analysis of this chapter). Thus considered,
supposing the prophet to be addressing the Jews in captivity,
or ministering consolation to them, the time was near. Or
if we suppose him speaking as in his own time, the period when
78 House Divided
Babylon was to be destroyed was at no great distance.
Whether we consider about 174 years (from Isaiah to the fall of
Babylon) to be a short period in the lifetime of a nation or we regard
the imminence to be projected into the timeframe of those who would
be taken captive into Babylon, the time texts in Isaiah 13 give a literal,
imminent meaning. Now let us look at the second verse Mathison
For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall
speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will
surely come, it will not tarry. (Hab. 2:3)
The imminence in this verse is qualified imminence at best. The
portion that Mathison quoted, “it will not tarry,” simply means that
the event would come at the “appointed time.” Nevertheless, the fall of
Babylon came 70 years later. Again, in the lifetime of a nation 70 years
is a relatively short time.
Regarding Mathison’s reference to Haggai 2:6–7, I refer the reader
to Edward Hassertt’s response in this book to Richard Pratt’s chapter in
WSTTB. Edward demonstrates that Haggai’s prophecy was fulfilled, at
least typically, within Haggai’s own generation.
Mathison himself seems to have some sense of the weakness of his argument.
As we saw above, he has no use for his soon-could-mean-2000-
years argument when he is interacting with futurists. Here is another example
of this. When Mathison defends his preterist interpretation of Luke
18:8 against futurists, he uses the biblical, “hyper-preterist” argument:
In [Luke] 18:7, Christ assures His listeners that God will not delay
long in bringing about justice for His elect. It could reasonably
be argued that two thousand years is a long delay. In verse
8, Christ assures us that God will bring about justice speedily.
Again, this would seem to indicate a fulfillment within a short
amount of time.
Interestingly, the Greek word that Jesus used for “speedily” in Luke
The Eschatological Madness of Mathison 79
18:8 is the same word that Paul used for “soon” in Romans 16:20: “And
the God of peace will soon [shortly, speedily] crush Satan under your
feet.” To use Mathison’s argument, “This would seem to indicate a fulfillment
within a short amount of time.”
It comes as no surprise that Mathison, in his first three eschatological
books (including WSTTB), avoided dealing with the crushing
(breaking in pieces) of Satan in Romans 16:20—even in his “impressively
thorough” book on the millennium. It was not until Mathison
wrote his fourth book on eschatology (another supposedly “meticulously
comprehensive” work), that he finally broke his silence on the verse.
But even there he only brushed past the verse ambiguously. In that
812-page book, Mathison has these words on Romans 16:20:
He tells those whom he is greeting that God “will soon crush Satan
under your feet” (v. 20). The destruction of Satan has begun,
but it will not be completed until the final judgment.
As we know, Paul did not say that the process of crushing Satan
would soon begin. He said that Satan would soon be crushed. Mathison’s
error here is like that of Strimple’s, who says that Adam and Eve
did not actually die in the day that they ate of the fruit, but that they only
began to die in that day (WSTTB, 317). Such doctrines bear little resemblance
to Scripture, but are merely mechanisms employed to prop
up and maintain the erroneous tradition of futurism. But I digress.
As we are beginning to see and shall see even more clearly below,
it is not altogether rare for Mathison to offer two contradictory interpretations
of one Scripture, depending on who he is refuting. He is a
preterist (near means near) when interpreting a Scripture passage with
futurists, and a futurist (near means far) when interpreting the very
same Scripture passage with preterists. To our chagrin, we often find
ourselves confronted with two Keith Mathisons.
As for Mathison’s anti-preterist argument that near “regularly” or
80 House Divided
“sometimes” means far in the Bible, and that the Second Coming could
therefore be a million years away—it is a non sequitur. The fact that
the Old Testament prophets used language of imminence in reference
to timeframes that were short in comparison to the lifetime of a nation
in no way implies or suggests that the prophets used language of
imminence to predict events that will take place potentially a million
years from now. There is no reasonable connection between Mathison’s
premise and his extra-biblical conclusion.
the word “regularly” to “sometimes”: “ . . . [T]he Old Testament prophets do
sometimes speak of an event as ‘near’ that we now know to have been fulfilled
many centuries later. . . ” (204). But even in this claim Mathison exaggerates.
According to the examples he gave, when he says “many centuries,” he means,
at most, two centuries.
GA: American Vision, 2009), 118–120.
David: A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments
(Oak Harbor, WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), S. Is 13:22
An Eschatology of Hope
From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology
(Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009), 585