What is the Kingdom of God? Part Nine

SERMON 04-15-23

       Today will be the ninth and final sermon in my series on the Kingdom of God.  Since full establishment of the Kingdom of God is seen in Scripture as tied to the return of Christ, I felt it prudent to discuss the two primary extant perspectives as to when this event takes place. 

       Last time I provided a brief overview of the preterist position as to eschatological fulfillment. As mentioned last week, eschatology is the study of last things. Today I will look at how futurists respond to the preterists and in so doing discuss the futurists eschatological position.

       As covered last time, The preterists look at the many timeframe statements in the NT that appear to indicate that the various events spoken of by Jesus, Paul, Peter, James and John were events that were seen as taking place during the life time of the first century generation of Christians. 

       We saw how Jesus, in the Olivet Discourse as seen in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, spoke of a series of events that would occur leading up to his return and seemingly saying that the generation he was addressing at the time would live to experience all these events, including His return. 

       We briefly looked at statements made by Paul and James that spoke of the return of Jesus being imminent to them.  We saw how the Revelation is addressed to seven first century churches and that what is written in the Revelation is seen as being about to take place and that the coming of Christ was soon to occur. 

        As I indicated last time, the NT narrative is full of statements that indicate fulfillment of eschatological events seen as imminent to not 2nd, 3rd, 4th or for that matter 21st century Christians but to 1st century Christians.  Remember, eschatology is the study of end time events. Jesus often spoke of the end of the age. Jesus tied his coming to the end of the age.

       Preterists believe the end of the age Jesus refers to throughout His ministry is the Old Covenant age that was coming to an end and being replaced by the New Covenant age facilitated by His death and resurrection. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus is asked by his disciples about when the temple would be destroyed, when His coming would be and when the end of the age would come.

       Matthew 24:3: As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,”They said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

       As covered last time, Jesus proceeds to give them a list of events that would take place leading up to his return and then says “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”  As covered last time, preterists believe the generation being referred to is the generation Jesus was addressing at the time He delivered the Olivet Discourse which was some 2000 years ago.  Here is where futurists and preterists part ways. 

       Futurists, by and large, see the events described in the Oliver Discourse, the Revelation and other Scriptural passages dealing with end time events as being fulfilled in our future and not in the past as do preterists.  While some futurists will admit to some of the Olivet Discourse being fulfilled in the destruction of the Temple and the City of Jerusalem in AD 70, most see what is described in the Olivet Discourse as pertaining to a future fulfillment.

       They see Jesus’ use of the word generation as pertaining to a generation that will be extant at the time the events he describes in the Olivet Discourse will occur and not during the generation He was addressing at the time he made His remarks.  Future to us fulfillment of the events seen in the Olivet Discourse and the Revelation is the majority view within the Christian community, especially among evangelical Christians. The futurist view was the position taken by the leadership of the Worldwide Church of God during the Armstrong years. However, as I pointed out last time, the preterist view is gaining ground in various segments of Christianity.

       The futurist position basically states that the return of Christ has yet to occur and consequently the full establishment of the Kingdom, resurrection of the dead and the judgement are all future to us.  Futurists believe the Scriptures clearly show establishment of the kingdom, the resurrection of the dead and the judgement all occur at the time of the second coming of Christ and that second of Christ hasn’t happened yet.

       As I mentioned last time, preterists have produced a great deal of theology which they believe provides undeniable evidence that the return of Christ and all related events occurred in the first century in conjunction with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. They see these events as facilitating transition from the Old to the New Covenant system. It would take many sermons to cover the theology provided by preterists to support their position.  It would also take many sermons to cover the theology of the Futurist position. I will not be doing either. 

       My purpose in this series on the Kingdom is to provide an overview of what the Scriptures have to say about the Kingdom of God and the dynamics that relate to the Kingdom.   One of those dynamics is the Kingdom being fully established.  The Scriptures show the full establishment of the kingdom is tied to the second coming of Christ.  That is why we are looking at what the Scriptures have to say as to when the second coming occurs. Scripture shows full establishment of the Kingdom occurring at the second coming of Jesus.

       Preterists see the second coming to have occurred in association with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in Ad 70. The second coming of Jesus is seen as a coming in judgement against first century Israel for their failure to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Preterists often refer to what Jesus said as recorded in Luke 19.  

       Luke 19:41-44: As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

       Futurists see events such as described in Luke 19 as being fulfilled in our future in association with the world experiencing the cataclysmic events described in the Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation. Many futurists have postulated that a new temple will be built in Jerusalem with the reinstitution of animal sacrifices so that the prophecies seen in the Olivet Discourse and the Revelation can be fulfilled.  

       Well, I’m not going to get into all of that.  What I will do in this final sermon in this series, is take just one of the dynamics that separate preterists from futurists and see where the evidence takes us. 

       What did Jesus mean when he, in the Olivet Discourse, gave a whole list of events that would proceed and include His return and then say “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened”.

       As I covered last time, Preterists have done a great deal of study into the meaning of the Greek word rendered generation. They have studied how it is used throughout the NT, how it is used in Greek literature and how it is used in the Septuagint. In doing so, preterists have come to what they believe is conclusive evidence that when Jesus said, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened, He was sayingthat the generation He was addressing at the time would live to see the events He had just described which included His return. 

       The word “generation” appears in the OT 121 times in the singular and 75 times in the plural. It is translated from the Hebrew word dor. In the NT the word generation appears 33 times in the singular and 5 times in the plural. It is translated from the Greek word genea. Greek Lexicons show genea to have the general meaning of the sum total of those born at the same time and includes all those living at a given time (See the Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich “A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). Hebrew Lexicons show the Hebrew dor has similar meaning (see Gesenius’ Hebrew–Chaldee Lexicon of the Old Testament). The Septuagint translators used genea to translate the Hebrew dor which shows genea and dor mean the same thing.

       Let’s now look at some examples of how Jesus used the word “generation” during His ministry.

       Mark 8:11-12: The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.”

       Mark 8:38:  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

      Mark 9:19: You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

       Luke 11:30: For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.

       Luke 17:25: But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

       As can be seen by context, Jesus is using the word generation in reference to those contemporary with Him, those that were alive at the same time Jesus was alive.

       Preterists look at these passages and argue that whenever Jesus is seen as using the word generation, it can be seen by context that He is referring to His contemporaries, He is referring to those alive at the same time Jesus was alive. This being the case, preterists ask what they consider a very simple question.

       They ask, how is it that when Jesus uses the word “generation” in various of his sayings He is plainly seen as addressing His contemporaries and then suddenly in the Olivet Discourse He is thought to be using the word generation to identify people living thousands of years into the future.

       Futurists respond to this by simply concluding that despite Jesus using the word generation a number of times during His ministry to refer to those contemporary with Him, He simply cannot mean that here in the Olivet Discourse because He hasn’t yet returned, the resurrection has not yet taken place and an end of the age judgement has not yet occurred.

       Futurists accuse preterists of having a serious documentation problem.  By the time of the destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem in the war with Rome, all evidence points to there being tens of thousands of both Jewish and Gentile Christians spread across the Roman Empire.  Yet nothing is written about Christians suddenly disappearing from their homes, jobs, schools, the marketplace or anywhere else.

       We don’t have written witness to either resurrection of the dead or transformation of the living actually taking place in the first century.  While first century historian Josephus records reports of several "supernatural" events occurring in association with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple, these reported events are not independently substantiated nor do they give evidence to a resurrection/rapture taking place.

       Some preterists argue that there is not written documentation of resurrection of the dead taking place because there were no Christians left to write about this event. The living Christians had all been raptured. However, there are no writings from secular historians of the time showing this event to have happened. Furthermore, when Christian writing does again appear early in the second century, there is no mention of a resurrection/rapture having occurred but instead we see writing that point to a yet future return of Christ and all associated events. 

       Futurists ask how could this possibly be? How could the Christian community that lived subsequent to the fall of Jerusalem seemly not know of a return of Christ and resurrection occurring in conjunction with the war with Rome?  Futurists point to Paul teaching that at the last trump the dead will be raised imperishable and the living will be changed from mortal to immortal (1st Corinthians 15: 51-54).  They point to Paul telling the Thessalonians that at the coming of Christ, the dead in Christ will rise first and those in Christ still alive will be caught up together with the resurrected dead to meet Jesus in the air (1st Thessalonians 4:15-17).  Futurists ask where the evidence is that this happened. This is the primary argument used by futurists against the preterist position.  

       1st Corinthians 15:51-53: Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

       1st Thessalonians 4:15-17: According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

        The teaching here is that not only will the dead in Christ be raised to immortality but the living in Christ will be changed from mortal to immortal. The living are seen as meeting the Lord in the air and forever being with the Lord.  Futurists ask the preterists where is the evidence that this happened in the first century?  Where is the documentation that Christians suddenly disappeared from their homes, schools, places of business and neighborhoods.  They are quick to point out that there is nothing in scriptural or secular history showing this happened.  They further point out that there is nothing in the writings of church leadership subsequent to the war with Rome that speaks of the return of Christ and resurrection having taken place. 

       Preterists will turn right around and quote from this same letter to the Thessalonians to support their position.  They will show how Paul sees the return of Christ within the context of a judgement that was soon to come upon Israel. This judgement is seen as the coming wrath that Jesus spoke of in the Olivet Discourse and that John the Baptist spoke of in addressing the religious leaders.

       1 Thessalonians 1:9b-10: They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.      

       Preterists see this wrath as a wrath that was about to be inflicted upon the Jews because of their rejection of Jesus and their persecution of the developing Christian church.  This wrath is seen as the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem in the war with Rome.  Preterists see God exercising judgement upon first century Israel through the vehicle of the Roman armies just as he had done in using Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel in 6th century BC.

       1 Thessalonians 5:1-4: Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.

       Preterists ask how could this day not surprise the Thessalonian Christians like a thief if they are all dead in their graves and this event was to first take place thousands of years into the future?  It is pointed out that these Thessalonian Christians are being told that because they live in the light of the truth, they will see the day of Christ approaching while others will not.  They would escape the coming destruction while others would not.

       1 Thessalonians 5:23:  May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

       The Thessalonians are told to not only have their spirit and soul but also their body kept blameless at the return of Christ.  Preterists point out that if the return of Christ was to be thousands of years into the future, the instruction to keep their bodies blameless at His return would have made no sense. Their bodies would have long ago died and decayed.

       Preterists continue to show how Paul, Silas and Timothy address the Thessalonians from the standpoint of how the return of Christ was going to deliver them from the persecution they were experiencing.         

       In 2nd Thessalonians 1:1-10: Paul, Silas and Timothy address the church at Thessalonica and speak of they having a growing faith, love, perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials they were facing.Then they are told the following:

       2 Thessalonians 5:7: All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.

       Paul, Silas and Timothy congratulate the Thessalonians for their perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials they were enduring.  Keep in mind it is first century Thessalonian Christians being addressed.  Paul is not addressing Christians living in the 21st century. First century Thessalonians were being promised relief from the trouble they were experiencing.  By having their enemies destroyed, it would bring relief to Paul, Silas and Timothy as well. 

       Preterists point out that this promise of retribution upon their enemies would have been meaningless to the Thessalonian Christians if it were meant to occur 2,000 years into the future after they would all have long been dead. Therefore, it is believed this retribution had to have taken place in their lifetime. Since this retribution is seen as associated with the return of Christ, Preterists believe this shows the return of Christ had to occur in the first century.      

       Finally, preterists point to 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 where the Thessalonians are told that the day of the Lord will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed.

      2nd Thessalonians 3-8: Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.

       Preterists point out that the context here clearly shows this to be a situation current to first century Christians.The subject is a rebellion that is about to occur and how the coming of Jesus will resolve the issue.  The writer reminds them how when he was with them in person, he had discussed these events with them.   He then says to them that they presently know what is holding back the man of lawlessnessand that the power of lawlessness is already at work but will be held back until the one holding it back is removed.  Preterists simply point out that the Thessalonians are dealing with a situation current to them and a situation that Christ will resolve at his coming. To conclude the Christ would resolve this situation with a coming 2000 years into the future is seen as ludicrous.

       So as can be seen, preterists provide strong scriptural evidence for their position.However, the preterist position becomes suspect when it comes to providing documentation as to the return of Christ and all related events having actually occurred 2000 years ago. So, the debate continues between preterists and futurists. 

       Over the years many theologians and students of Scripture have clearly identified that the first century church and its leadership believed and taught that the return of Christ was going to occur in their generation.  If you read the NT Scriptures and give heed to context and audience relevance, you will see multiple dozens of Scriptures that show this. 

       Some scholars, such as the renowned British philosopher and mathematician Bertram Russell and the prominent German theologian and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, recognized years ago that NT writers showed that both Jesus and His disciples believed and taught a first century return of Christ. Since Russell and Schweitzer couldn't identify such an event as occurring, they concluded the disciples of Jesus and Jesus Himself were false teachers.

       I remember back in my college days reading Bertram Russell’s book entitled “Why I Am Not a Christian." A reason he gave for rejecting Christianity was his identification of NT writers showing that both Jesus and His disciples believed and taught the return of Christ was imminent to first century Christians. Since he didn’t see this occurring, he rejected Christianity as a false religious system.   

      Preterists teach the return did occur and present strong arguments that thy believe show a first century fulfillment of the eschatological events presented in the NT.  Futurists counter with arguments they believe show a future fulfillment of these eschatological events.


       I have provided the narrative that I have today, and in the sermon last time, largely as food for thought. What position turns out to be the correct position only time will tell. What I have tried to show in this series on the kingdom is that the Kingdom of God is multifaceted in its nature.  We can and are expected to experience and practice its spiritual dynamics of righteous behavior in the here and now.

      The Kingdom appears to be both temporal and eternal. It is multi-dimensional.  It has both temporal and eternal dynamics.  It is a present reality as to its behavioral requirements for us humans living in the physical realm. It is an eternal reality and has eternal dynamics for us humans subsequent to biological death. 

       It is apparent that upon physical death we will enter a dimension of the Kingdom that far exceeds what we experience of the Kingdom at the physical level.  Very little is Scripturally revealed about this dimension except that it is a glorious dimension that is far superior to the physical/temporal dimension we live in at the present.  We should all  look forward to that new dimension of living.