Preterism is the belief that many or most of biblical prophecy has already been fulfilled. Prophecies that haven’t been fulfilled include Christ’s second coming, the resurrection of all peoples and the final judgment at the end of the age. Like many theological doctrines, there is a wide spectrum of beliefs in the preterist camp. Historical (orthodox) preterists are sometimes referred to as partial-preterists. At the far heretical end are the full-preterists, those who contend that all prophecy has been fulfilled.

The opposing view to preterism is futurism (which has its own spectrum). Futurists believe that there are still prophecies to be fulfilled specific to national Israel distinct from the church. They are premillennialists, holding that Christ will come before a millennial reign that is yet to come. In contrast, preterism is often rooted in postmillennialism.

I’m an amillennialist. I believe that the current age is the millennium, that we live in the “already and not yet.” Since the amillennial position holds that some things refer to this age and some to the age yet to come, it seems to me that preterism (to some degree) fits well within the amillenial model. Some people may want to bring up a number of possible conflicts (such as the dating of Revelation), but since the preterism I’m advocating is partial, I need only to defend the fulfillment of one prophecy.

I am a preterist because I interpret Matthew 24 literally in that the prophecies were fulfilled before “this generation” passed away, specifically by A.D. 70 in the destruction of the temple. I don’t believe the events of the first century exhaust the meaning of the text, but I also don’t see any good reason to avoid the common sense reading of the text. Adam Parker at Bring the Books… summed up the passage quite nicely:

These predictions include:
a) False messiahs (v. 4-5)
b) Wars and rumors of war (v. 6-7)
c) Famines and Earthquakes (v. 7)
d) Times of unmatched persecution (v. 9-14)
e) Lawlessness (v. 12)
f) Gospel preached to the whole world (v. 14)
g) The Abomination of Desolation (Predicted in Daniel 9:24-27; Reiterated in v. 15)
h) The Great Tribulation (v. 21-22)
i) Jesus comes with judgement, on the clouds (v. 29-30)

Now, the short version of it is that in verse 34, Jesus says something very important regarding the timetable for the things he is predicting. "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." This really is the clenching idea; did Jesus' predictions come true within the lifetime of those listening to His words, or not? (The Geneva Institute for Reformed Studies has done a nice little study demonstrating how each of these predictions of Jesus have, historically speaking, been fulfilled.)

If the predictions of Jesus did not occur within the lifetime of His audience, then he was incorrect when He said they would occur before that generation passed away.