A. The Historicist position on the origins of the Preterist and Futurist positions as they subsequently developed.
Context: In the midst of the Protestant Reformation when the Roman Catholic Church was losing a lot of ground and was being identified as the “Antichrist”…
”papal Rome rose to its own defense in what became known as the Counter Reformation…During its many sessions (which continued until 1563), the leaders of the Vatican develop a highly sophisticated “game plan” to counteract the reformers. Up to this point, Rome’s main method of attack had been largely frontal – the open burning of Bibles and of heretics. Yet this type of warfare only confirmed Protestant convictions that papal Rome was indeed the very beast which would “make war with the saints” (Revelation 13:7). A new tactic was needed, something less obvious. This is where the Jesuits came in….
At the Council of Trent, papal leaders and Jesuits brainstormed about how to counteract Protestantism and bring defectors back to the mother church. Behind closed doors, they decide this was to be done, not only through the Inquisition and torture, but also through theology. What kind of theology? Here’s the answer: By reinterpreting the prophecies about “the man of sin,” “the little horn,” and “the beast”!
Two very intelligent Spanish Jesuits rose to the challenge, Luis de Alcasar (1554-1613) of Seville and Francisco Ribera (1537-1591) of Salamanca. Their strategy was, in a nutshell, one of reapplication and diversion, yet they went in opposite directions. …Alcasar decided to apply the Bible’s antichrist prophecies to the ancient past while Ribera applied them to the distant future…By reapplying these prophecies to the past and to the future instead of to the present, these two tricky Jesuit scholars sought to divert the prophetic finger light-years away from the Vatican. Their views quickly became official positions within the Roman Church – even though these two views contradicted each other!
….[George Eldon Ladd concurs saying] ‘towards the close of the century of the Reformation, tow of her [Rome’s] most learned doctors set themselves to the task, each endeavoring by different means to accomplish the same end, namely, that of diverting men’s minds from perceiving the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Antichrist in the Papal system. The Jesuit Alcasar devoted himself to bring into prominence the Preterist method of interpretation to show the prophecies of Antichrist were fulfilled before the Popes ever ruled at Rome, and therefore could no apply to the Papacy. On the other hand the Jesuit Ribera tried to set aside the application of the prophecies to Papal Power by bringing out the Futurist system,…
In 1590, Ribera published a commentary on the Revelation as a counter-interpretation to the prevailing view among Protestants which identified the Papacy with the Antichrist. Ribera applied all of Revelation but the earliest chapters to the end time rather than to the history of the Church’ [The Historicist understanding and interpretation] (quoting Ladd, pgs. 37-8, The Blessed Hope: A biblical Study of the Second Advent and the Rapture, Eerdmans, 1956)
Even the Catholic writer, G.S. Hitchcock, confirmed the origin of these anti-Protestan counter-theories:
‘The Futurist School, founded by the Jesuit Ribera in 1591, looks for Antichrist, Babylon, and a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, at the end of the Christian Dispensation.
The Praeterist School, founded by the Jesuit Alcasar in 1614, explains Revelation by the Fall of Jerusalem or by the fall of Pagan Rome in 410 A.D. (Hitchcock, pg. 488, The Beast and the Little Horn 7)
[summarizing Preterism/ the Preterist position]…Preterism sees the majority (or all) of the prophecies found in Matthew 24 and the Book of Revelation as having already been fulfilled in either the fall of Jerusalem in 70A.D. or in the fall of Rome. For preterists, “the end of the world” usually means “the end of the Jewish world.” Full-preterists believe even the second coming of Jesus Christ somehow mystically occurred in 70A.D., whereas partial-preterists still believe in a future, literal return of the Savior. Concerning the core issue – who is the antichrist? – preterists usually see the Roman Emperor Nero as the number-one candidate. Compared with futurism and historicism, preterism has always been a minority viewpoint within the church, yet it is now making increased inroads in 21st century Christianity.
[summarizing Futurism/the Futurist position]…futurism usually sees the majority of Revelation’s prophecies (from Chapter 4 onward) as yet on the horizon. Concerning the antichrist, instead of preterism’s application to Nero in the past, futurism generally applies the prophecies…to a single, yet-future Mr. Serpent…Compared to preterism and historicism, futurism has by far the most adherents in the 21st century as the majority report.
[summarizing Historicism/the Historicist position] In staunch opposition to both preterism and futurism is historicism, which is what the vast majority of Protestants used to teach. In essence, historicism teaches strait-forward, chronological progression by saying that the major prophecies of Daniel and Revelation find fulfillment throughout Christian history while pointing toward the climatctic, visible second coming of our Savior. Historicism also places special emphasis on the ongoing struggle between Jesus Christ and satan inside the Christian Church… [the author goes onto to list the following Protestants who held this view – Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, Zwingli, Wesley, Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, John Foxe, Matthew Henry, Spurgeon, and Martin Lloyd-Jones].
In the minds of true historicists, sincere preterists and futurists have had at least one of their eyes poke out concerning this unquestionable historical reality. [referring to the errors within Roman Catholicism, especially in the Middle Ages]. Futurism, which is by far the most popular school today, possesses the incredible ability to sweep 1,500 years of living prophetic history under the proverbial rug by inserting its infamous GAP into the visions of Daniel and Revelation. In a nutshell, the GAP or parenthesis theory teaches that when Jerusalem or Rome fell, prophecy stopped, only to continue again near the time of the rapture. As we have already seen, futurism also stops the clock between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel 9:24-27…According to most Futurists (and Preterists), how many prophecies were relevant fulfilled during the Dark Ages when literally millions of God’s people were burnt to ashes in wars against the saints? None. Zilch. Zero. Historicists see something terribly wrong with this picture!
At its best, historicism also recognizes that there were indeed prophecies fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem (thus preterists aren’t all wrong), yet it also stands for the reality of future events such as the mark of the beast (see Revelation 14:9-12), the seven last plagues (see Revelation 16), the battle of Armageddon (see Revelation 16:16), the return of Jesus Christ (see Revelation 14:14-16), a 1000-year period (see Revelation 20), the final judgment (see Revelation 20:11-13), the lake of fire (see Revelation 20:15) and the new earth (see Revelation 21:1). Thus futurists have some truth also. Yet again, the hallmark of historicism as a prophetic system is its ability to discern prophecy fulfilled in history…with NO GAPS!
…Think about it. Preterists say most (if not all) of God’s great prophecies came to a screeching halt almost two thousand years ago. Does this make sense? Why would God inspire such a wonderful Book as “Revelation” and then stop its application around 70 A.D. (or with the fall of Rome), when He knew time would continue much longer? In essence, preterism’s view is: From Nero until now there’s nothing! How about futurism? Is it any more reasonable? Why would God leave His Church “prophecyless” from John’s day until the end times? To futurists, there’s hardly anything from the resurrection to the rapture to be prophetically fulfilled. Futurism leaps over Rome’s demise, the great apostasy, Islamic origins, papal power, the Dark Ages, the Inquisition, and the Reformation almost entirely. [I would add the genocide by the Mongols, the Black Death, the Ottoman Empire, World War I and II, the Atomic Age and resurgent Islamic radicalism] Historicism responds, “Wait a minute! This makes no sense.” With Holy Ghost perception, historicists not only see mighty prophecies fulfilled through church history – in papal and Islamic scourges…the activity of antichrist.”
(End Time Delusions, pgs. 113-120)