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 2 – The Latter/Last Days
Michael J. Sullivan
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In this chapter, I will answer objections that Dr. Keith Mathison raised against preterism in his chapter in WSTTB. Mathison’s chapter was entitled, “The Eschatological Time Texts of the New Testament.” His objections included:
• Prophetic imminence in the Old Testament (see part 1)
• The futurity of the last days (part 2)
• Prophetic double fulfillment
• Prophetic “telescoping”
• Jesus’ “in-like-manner” return
• “The Rapture”
• The creation groaning
• The abolition of death, pain, mourning, and Satan
• The salvation of “all Israel” in Romans 11
• The “thousand years” of Revelation 20
Mathison raised other objections in his chapter but they are addressed elsewhere in this book. At the conclusion of this chapter, I will offer a critique of Mathison’s tenuous and fragmented approach to the eschatological time texts of the New Testament.
The Latter/Last Days
Isaiah 2:2–4 speaks of “the latter days.” Mathison says that this passage “seems to point to something that even now has not been completely fulfilled. There are still wars, for example, and all nations have not yet bowed the knee to the Lord” (167). Mathison adds that although it is true that “in some sense” the last days “were already present immediately after the first coming of Christ,” some New Testament texts such as 2 Timothy 3:1 and 2 Peter 3:3 imply that the last days “are still future [to us]” (189–190).
In Isaiah 2:2–4 the prophet spoke of the time when Messiah would come and establish His mountain (Mount Zion), house, and city among Jews and Gentiles. As the New Testament reveals, this prophecy speaks of the spiritual peace that comes through the gospel, wherein Jew and Gentile are united in Christ into one spiritual nation and kingdom. Jesus said that His kingdom was “not of this world,” and the New Testament writers confirmed His teaching, telling believers that the kingdom they were receiving was not physical-literal, but spiritual (2 Cor. 6:16; Gal. 4; Heb. 9:24–27; 12:18ff.; 1 Peter 1:4–13).
In Luke 23:30, Jesus quoted Isaiah 2:10, 19 as prophesying the judgment that was to befall Jerusalem in AD 70. Virtually every futurist commentator agrees with this interpretation. The Apostle John referred to the same prophecy in reference to the same event (Rev. 6:15–17). Isaiah chapter 2 is intimately connected to the last days of old covenant Israel, not to the end of the planet or an alleged “end of time.”
Many within the Reformed community understand “the last days” in the New Testament to be referring to the end of the old covenant economy in AD 70. For instance, Gary DeMar:
The last days are not way off in the distant future. The end came to an obsolete covenant in the first century. In A.D. 70 the “last days” ended with the dissolution of the temple and the sacrificial system.
David Chilton, before he converted to (full) preterism:
The Biblical expression Last Days properly refers to the period from the Advent of Christ until the destruction of Jerusalem inA.D. 70, the “last days” of Israel during the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant (Heb. 1:1–2; 8:13; James 5:1–9; 1 Pet. 2:20; 1 John 2:18).
And John Owen in his exposition of Hebrews 1:2:
It is the last days of the Judaical church and state, which were then drawing to their period and abolition, that are here and elsewhere called “The last days,” or “The latter days,” or “The last hour,” 2 Peter 3:3; 1 John 2:18; Jude 1:18. . . . This phrase of speech is signally used in the Old Testament to denote the last days of the Judaical church.
Mathison says that 2 Timothy 3:1 and 2 Peter 3:3 imply that the last days are still future. Let us see if that interpretation holds water.
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come (2 Tim. 3:1).
In his book, Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope, Mathison writes to futurists concerning this verse and its context:
The . . . “last days” . . . and similar phrases are often used to refer to the last days of the Jewish age (e.g., Heb. 1:2; 1Pet.1:20; 1John 2:18). . . . [This passage] speaks to a pastoral situation that Timothy was dealing with in his own day. It is not a prophecyof conditions at the end of the world.
But five years later, in WSTTB, when debating “hyper preterists,” Mathison says that the very same last days prophecy (2 Tim. 3:1) will be fulfilled in our future:
. . . [Some] New Testament texts . . . seem to refer to “the last days” as something yet to come. Paul, for example, warns Timothy that “In the last days perilous times will come” (2 Tim. 3:1; cf. 1 Tim. 4:1). Peter warns his readers “that scoffers will come in the last days” (2 Peter 3:3). [Paul and Peter] say . . . that “the last days” will be the time in which something that is future will happen. The coming of “perilous times” and of “scoffers” is explicitly said to be future. The future times during which these things will come is called “the last days.” The implication is that “the last days” referred to in these texts are still future.
So while we are already in the last days, there is still some sense in which the last days can be considered future.
But then yet another five years later, in his new book, From Age to Age, Mathison reverts to the biblical-preterist view that the last days in 2 Timothy 3:1 refer to the first century.
According to some, these verses refer to an apostasy to occur in the time immediately preceding the second coming of Jesus. There are at least three reasons, however, to doubt this conclusion.
Who do we believe? The 1999 preterist Mathison (Postmillennialism) or the 2004 futurist Mathison (WSTTB) or the 2009 preterist Mathison (From Age to Age)? Are the last days in 2 Timothy 3:1 the last days of the “Jewish age,” as Mathison implies while defending partial preterist postmillennialism against other futurists? Or are the last days in 2 Timothy 3:1 the last days of a future end of world history, as Mathison implies while attempting to refute biblical preterism?
Mathison says “the last days” are past when he is refuting other futurists because he knows that if “the last days” are still future, then the growing and increasing apostasy which characterizes those “perilous times” are still present and future for us as well; and if this is the case, then there is nothing left to his “optimistic” and “successful” postmillennial “golden age” that will gradually blossom before Jesus allegedly comes back peacefully for His Second (Third) Coming in our future.
But Mathison does not concern himself with this implication of making “the last days” future when he refutes “hyper-preterists.” His only concern when dealing with us is to counter “hyper-preterism” at any cost, even, apparently, at the cost of his own doctrinal integrity.
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts. (2 Peter 3:3)
The majority of futurist commentators, men such as Mathison’s coauthor Simon Kistemaker, are certain (as are we) that Peter’s “last days” involves at least one or two signs that Jesus spoke of in the Olivet Discourse, namely, false prophets and the apostasy (2 Peter 1:16; 2:1ff; cf. Matt. 24:3–5, 11, 23–26; 27–34). This fact leads us to an AD 70 fulfillment, not a future-to-us fulfillment.
The “mockers” and “ungodly men” of 2 Peter 3:3–7 are the “false teachers” of 2 Peter 2:1–3, whose destruction was imminent in Peter’s day. Partial preterist Peter Leithart writes of these false teachers and mockers:
Peter says explicitly that the destruction of false teachers is coming “soon.” Their destruction is the same event as the destruction of the present heavens and earth, the “day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (3:7). If the destruction of false teachers was near when Peter wrote, so also was the destruction of the heavens and earth and the coming of a new heavens and earth.
Peter responds to mockers who doubt the promise of Jesus’ coming because time has passed without any sign of the Parousia.
If there were no time limit on the original prophecy, then the mockers would have no grounds for their mockery and no way to attract converts to their skeptical views. Therefore, the original prophecy must have included a time limit, a terminus ad quem, and that time limit must have been the lifetime of the apostles.16
Since these mockers were already present, it is illogical for Mathison to say that the perilous times of the last days will take place in our future (190). There is not one scintilla of evidence, whether explicit or implicit, for Mathison’s contention that “the future” for Peter and his audience is still “the future” for us.
According to Isaiah, the coming of the Lord and His righteous judgment of these scoffers would be likened to the Lord’s return in judgment upon the Philistines and the Amorites at Mount Perazim and the Valley of Gibeon (Isa. 28:21). These were not global judgments that burned the face of the planet or that disintegrated the elements of the periodic table.
Isaiah repeatedly tells us that there were to be “survivors” of this “Day of the Lord” even after the “earth”/“land” is burned with fire and the new creation takes its place (Isa. 1–5; 24–25; 65–66). This precludes the notion that Isaiah was speaking of a fiery destruction of the face of planet Earth and of the stars and planets.
The Law and the Prophets never predicted a literal torching of the planet. “The last days” were the last days before the judgment of apostate, old covenant Judah/Jerusalem and the “elements” (rudiments) of her world, and cannot be applied to an alleged ending of the eternal, new covenant age/world. There can be no “last days” of an age that has “no end” (Isa. 9:7; Eph. 3:21). There is therefore no 2000+ year extension or expansion of the “last days” into our future, as Mathison and other futurists theorize.
Vision on 2 Timothy 2–3; Hebrews 9:6; 1 Peter 1:20; Acts 2:16–17 and Jude
17–18, (Joel McDurmon, Jesus v. Jerusalem A Commentary on Luke 9:51–20:26,
JESUS’ LAWSUIT AGAINST ISRAEL, (Powder Springs, GA: The American
Vision, Inc., 2011), 198–200.
Revelation (Ft. Worth: Dominion Press, 1987), 16, n35; 51.
Ages, AGES Software Albany, OR, USA Version 1.0 © 2000.
(Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009), 609
Peter, (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2004), 67–68.