There are 3 main schools of thought that people fall into when they interpret end time prophecy. I’m going to try to present this without bias, but I definitely know which of these I believe in, so bias might creep in. Nonetheless I think it’s important when you study prophecy to know that there are frameworks for which popular interpretations come from. Not only does it make studying prophecy easier, it also teaches us a lot about how the interpretation of scripture varies.
Preterists believe that every prophecy made in the Bible has already been fulfilled. The main crux of this view can be found in Matthew 24:34, where Messiah tells the disciples their generation will see the fulfillment of “these things.” As such, Preterists believe the fulfillment of the prophecies describing the end were fulfilled in 70 AD when Rome sacked the city and destroyed the second Temple. This was only 40ish years from Messiah’s ministry which means many from His generation were still alive to see it come to pass.
There are two major questions to be asked when studying prophecy from a Preterist view:
- Are the signs spoken of in Matthew 24 meant to coincide with the end spoken of in Revelation?
- If everything has already been fulfilled, why is there still death, suffering, war, famine, etc.?
Historicism is kind of a blend between Preterism and Futurism. This framework acknowledges that some—maybe even most—of the prophecy given in the Bible has already come to pass. They also admit that some of it has not yet happened and will happen at some unknown time in the future. Historicism views the end of time as an era that began essentially with Messiah’s ministry and lasts until Judgment Day. The point of contention between historicists and futurists is in Daniel 9:24-27, also known as the 70 weeks prophecy.
24 Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. 25 Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. 26 And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. 27 And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
📚 Daniel 9:24-27 KJV
According to historicists the final week discussed in verse 27 immediately follows the 69 weeks spoken of in the preceding verses. This beens the 70 weeks for Israel to “finish the transgression” and “anoint the most Holy” have already passed and judgment already begun.
The important question when studying from the Historicist view is how do you know if a historical event fits the prophecy? Many people propose different events for the same prophecies, who is right?
Futurism is the most common belief among the average Christian today—I personally believe that was heavily influenced by The Left Behind series as I was never taught this view in church and most churches don’t talk or teach about the end times. This is the belief that there will be a 7 year period at some point in the future and this is the time designated as the end when all of these prophecies will come true. Many (though not all) who subscribe to futurism also believe in a pre-tribulation rapture (meaning before the 7 year period begins God’s people will be taken from the Earth, thus avoiding the end times all together).
Futurists disagree with Historicists about the placement of the final week in Daniel 9:24-27. They believe that week is detached from the preceding 69 weeks. The seventh week, described in verse 27, is the basis for the 7 year tribulation they believe will occur in the future.
There are two important questions when studying the Futurist point of view:
- Imagine you are given 70 minutes to take a test and you complete 69 minutes but choose to reserve the final minute for the future. If you are allowed to work on the test between when the clock resumes and when you finished the 69th minute, you had more than 70 minutes to work on the test. If the 70th week is separate from the 69 weeks, does that mean there is a moratorium on the items listed in verse 24 (re: making reconciliation for iniquity)? If so, what is the purpose of right now and can people born between the crucifixion and the end reconcile? Also, if the vision hasn’t been sealed, why is Messiah breaking seals in Revelation?
- The sacrifice already ceased. From a Christian standpoint, Messiah caused the sacrifice to cease when He became our perfect Passover Lamb—none of us believe we are required to carry out the sacrificial rituals and requirements outlined in the Old Testament. From an Israelite or Jewish perceptive, the sacrifice ended in 70 AD when the temple was destroyed. So how can that be in the future?
While I’ve encountered people that are clearly Preterist, Historicist or Furturist, I have never met anyone who believes in the Idealist school of throught. Nonetheless, I see it discussed in some sources when I look for information on this topic. Idealist believe its not literal. The others will also tell you that much of Revelation is not literal and argue that most elements are symbolic of other things (some of which are actually defined in Revelation). However, Idealists take it a step further believe there is no end of the world. Instead, the prophecies are symbolic of our own personal journey.
References and Footnotes
- Right Response Ministries. “An Explanation of Preterism”. YouTube. 2021; visited November 2023
- Dr. Richard J. Krejcir. “The Four Main Views of Revelation”. ChurchLeadership.org. 2005; visited November 2023
- HC Martin. “The Origin of Dispensational Futurism and its Entrance into Protestant Christianity by H. C. Martin”. Lutheran Library Publishing Ministry. May 2020; visited December 2023
- Reimar Vetne. “A Definition and Short History of Historicism as a Method for Interpreting Daniel and Revelation”. Journal of the Adventist Theological Society. 2003; visited December 2023
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