Preterism Proof Texts
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Preterists use Hebrews 12:28 to prove that the Kingdom was currently being received by believers in the first century, and did not await a future establishment on earth. "Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear." Preterists appeal to the present tense participle, "receiving," as proof that the Kingdom of God was a present reality rather than a future hope. But, the context proves the preterist interpretation greatly wanting. It defies both the grammar and the historical context.
The book of Haggai was written after the Babylonian captivity, when the Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, as recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah. Nebuchadnezzar had sacked Jerusalem in 586BC, destroying Solomon's Temple. Some of the elder Jews, those who were alive seventy years earlier and seen Solomon's Temple, were very dissapointed with the much more humble structure being built by Zerubabel and the workman under his command on the former site of Solomon's Temple. The foundation for the rebuilt Temple was much smaller. And the materials at their disposal to complete the Temple were much more mundane than the huge amounts of gold, silver, and other precious materials Solomon used. This led to great discouragement among the Jewish people, particularly the older men, and all those working on the massive project.
This is the historical setting for
the prophecy in chapter two. In order to encourage the workmen, and Zerubabbel
their leader and chief builder, God spoke to Israel through Haggai the
prophet about the future plans God had for His Temple in Jerusalem. That
is, one day that Temple in Jerusalem would far excel even Solomon's
Temple. This would occur when God shakes the heaven and earth, and brings
judgment upon all the heathen nations. This is the passage that Paul chose
to cite in Hebrews 12, in referrence to the future hope of his Jewish Christian
It was the custom of the Jews when teaching to quote short phrases or sentences from the Old Testament. The student was expected to know the passage quoted, and its entire context and significance. The purpose of citing the brief quote was to bring that entire passage to bear on his subject. Unfortunately, Christians are usually ignorant of the contexts of such Old Testament quotations in the New Testament, and frequently miss the importance of the quote. That is certainly the case here.
The prophecy of Haggai focussed on the Temple in Jerusalem, and its glorious future. It also focussed on the judgment that would befall the heathen nations, and the "peace" that would follow in "this place," Jerusalem. Many years before the destruction of Solomon's Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, Isaiah was the first to describe the coming Kingdom in detail, making specific mention of the Temple. "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more," (Isa. 2:2-4 KJV).
Notice also in Haggai's prophecy that all this was to occur in "a little while." Preterists insist that these kinds of "time" statements demand a very quick fulfillment when dealing with New Testament passages. Yet, even if we grant that when Paul cited this passage, he was referring to his day and possibly AD70, that is hardly "a little while" by preterist standards. The prophecy that in "a little while" God would shake heaven and earth was made by Haggai in 520BC, almost 600 years before Paul quoted him. Similarly, other Old Testament prophets used similar language when referring to the coming "Day of the Lord." For example, Joel wrote that the Day of the Lord, when he would judge all the heathen nations, was "near" (Joel 3:14). Zephaniah wrote that "The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly" (Zeph. 1:14). Why then should New Testament passages that make similar statements demand fulfillment in that generation? These time statements are relative terms, not specific terms.
There are many passages of Scripture that use the present tense in prophetic passages in order to stress the certainness of the thing being predicted. For example, when Jesus sent out the Apostles the first time, he predicted that certain things would occur, but used present participles.
Matt 10:19-20, 40-41
Each of the above participles are in the present tense in Greek. Yet, the context is very clear that the entire passage is prophetic. It is the certainty of these things that is the reason for the use of the prophetic present, not the current activity. The prophetic context lets us know when such prophetic present tense verbs and participles are used. Hebrews 12:28 is clearly a prophetic context, because Paul had just referrenced what was "promised," quoting Haggai. The "kingdom" we are receiving is the one prophesied by Haggai, when God shakes the heaven and earth.
Even in English the use of the prophetic present in these kinds of contexts are common. Notice in my last sentence in the above paragraph, I used present tense participles. Yet, you understand me to be referring to the future because of context. Here is another hypothetical example: Suppose that all the heirs named in the will of a wealthy old man are discussing the future inheritance they will receive when he dies at some point in the future. It is perfectly acceptable in English to use present tense participles in referrence to the future inheritance, when certainty is being stressed. "Since we all are receiving an equal share of the inheritance, we should not envy one another." Does my use of the present tense participle, "receiving," in this sentence demand that all the heirs were at that time enjoying the inheritance? No, of course not. The present participle points to the certainty of the fact, and not a current happening. The context of the discussion indicates it is future. And that is in English, where tenses are far more weighty regarding time than they are in Greek! When Paul wrote, "wherefore, we receiving a Kingdom that cannot be moved...," he was emphasizing precisely the same kind of certainty as my hypothetical statement above. This is very common in the Greek New Testament in prophetic passages. Preterists simply have no grammatical basis for the claim that this passage proves a current "receiving" of the Kingdom by Paul's audience.
Here is another clear example of the present participle used prophetically. I have included the four preceeding verses for context.
1 Pet 1:5-9,13
The situation here is precisely the same as in Hebrews 12:28. The context clearly indicates a prophecy -- the realization of the promise. In Heb. 12:28, it is our receiving the Kingdom, when the promise in Haggai of God's once more shaking the heaven and earth is realized. Here, it is our receiving the ultimate reward of our faith, at the parousia of Jesus Christ. Both passages use the present participle to describe the ultimate (future) realization. The context indicates the realization (receiving) when we see Christ. The certainty of ultimately receiving the end of our faith is stressed by the use of the present tense participle.
For those seeking more cases to compare, where a present participle is used in a future context, here are a few examples. There are many more. There are also literally hundreds of cases where the present participle is used in a historical context.