Preterism is the view that prophecy was fulfilled in the past, primarily in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Preterists argue that if the Book of Revelation mainly describes events that are about to take place in the 21st century, it would be largely irrelevant to first-century Christians. What’s your response to that?
The assumption that for something to be relevant and meaningful it has to be very close at hand is an erroneous assumption. The prophet Isaiah spoke of a time of worldwide peace, a time when nations would beat their swords into plowshares (Isaiah 2:1–4). For 2,700 years this has not yet taken place. There have been hundreds of wars that have taken place in the ensuing years. If anything, the situation is now becoming more perilous. Several nations, including fanatical terrorists, now have access to weapons of mass destruction. Are we to conclude, therefore, that this prophecy was wrong, or totally irrelevant?
The relevance of a prophecy has nothing to do with the time of its fulfillment. The prophecy is relevant not because fulfillment is very near, but because its fulfillment is very certain.
Second Peter 3:10 says:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
This is clearly a future prophecy. The heavens have not yet passed away with a great noise, nor have the elements melted with fervent heat. The earth is still here. It hasn’t burned up. But the very next verse, verse 11, shows that this far distant event is very relevant because Peter says: “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness.”
Peter wrote those words some 2,000 years ago. Twenty centuries have passed and yet the world has not yet burned up; but Peter says that this teaching about the elements being dissolved should motivate us to be holy.
In 2 Peter 3:8–9 Peter shows that we are not to be impatient.
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
This makes it clear that there is no time limit on prophecy. It doesn’t have to be prophecy about the immediate future, or the near future. Prophecy is about the future, and we always have to be ready for its fulfillment.