Does Scripture indicate a Chronology for prophetic fulfillment?

by Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

Is it possible to know the time for fulfillment of prophetic events? There are four possible views concerning the timing of prophetic events: preterism (past), historicism (present), idealism (timeless), and futurism (future). Preterism is the view that the majority of prophetic events have already been fulfilled. Historicism equates the current church age with the time of the tribulation; therefore, prophetic events are being fulfilled throughout the church age. Recognizing that approximately 300 prophecies were fulfilled literally in regards to the first coming of Christ, futurism believes that the remaining prophecies of the second coming will also be fulfilled literally in an eschatological period. Idealism is the view that the Bible does not specify a time (chronology) for the fulfillment of prophetic events.

What Is Preterism?

Preterism is a term from the Latin praeter meaning “past.” The preterist view is that most, if not all, of prophetic fulfillment has already occurred. Preterists believe that they have already identified the beast of Revelation. The first beast of Revelation 13 is understood to be Nero and the second beast is understood to be Domitian. It is believed that everything in Revelation has been fulfilled centuries ago and has no meaning in the twenty-first century (apart from an apologetic purpose of proving the Bible is authentic). The preterist view limits the majority of eschatological references to salvation and judgment in the first century of the church.

What Is Historicism?

Historicists agree that Bible prophecy is a panorama of both church and secular history beginning with the apostolic church until the perfection of the age. It is typical that historicists will envision the history of the world as pre-written in apocalyptic language filled with symbols and visions. The majority of the Protestant Reformers were historicists. The majority of the cults appear to be historicists (there are reasons why this is true, which cannot/will not be addressed in this article), which are different than the reasons why most of the Protestant Reformers were historicists. The Reformers believed that major prophetic writings, such as the Book of Daniel, the Olivet Discourse, and the Book of Revelation revealed the rise of the Roman Catholic Church and God’s destruction of that entity. The major prophetic writings were also believed to give exhortation to the church that would be purified during the time of the Reformation.

Within historicism, majority agreement on the prophetic fulfillment of the beginning and ending of historical movements cannot be ascertained; rather, Bible prophecy provides the panorama of historical movements throughout the various ages. It equates the current church age with the tribulation based on the day-age theory. Historicists interpret literal numbers like 2,300 days (Dan 8:14) and 1,290 days (Dan 12:11) as years. They also view Bible prophecy as finding continual fulfillment in the present age. The minority view among historicists is that the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was consistent with the breaking of the seals of Revelation. The majority view is that the breaking of the first seal is consistent with the death of Domitian in AD 96. The other six seals are associated with the rise and fall of the Western Roman Empire, which would include the invasion by the German barbarians (Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and Vandals) around the middle of the fifth century.

What Is Idealism?

Idealism is a timeless view (non-chronological). Idealists interpret Bible prophecy not as an indication of eschatological events to be fulfilled (historicism and futurism) or that have been fulfilled (preterism); they interpret Bible prophecy as representative of the conflict, recorded in symbolic and metaphoric language, between good and evil. Therefore, Bible prophecy is not an actual record of historical events or future events. In other words, there is no single historical fulfillment. As it merely sets forth great principles that are common throughout the age of the world, Bible prophecy is applicable to believers in any age and history is almost completely separate from its fulfillment. Idealism stresses great ethical principles, hidden in symbols and metaphors, of world events that occur. The conflict between good and evil rages, but the triumph of the ages will be the victory of the good. In the idealist view, time and history for Bible prophecy are meaningless. Bible prophecy is an allegory of the spiritual conflict between good and evil. Idealism does not affirm belief in an eschatological rapture, tribulation, Antichrist, or literal one thousand year millennium. The period between the first coming and second coming of Christ are the “church age” or “latter days.”

What Is Futurism?

Futurists believe that prophetic fulfillment regarding the rapture, tribulation, second coming, and Millennium is in an eschatological period. Consistent futurism teaches that the tribulation, second coming, and millennium are all future events pertaining to national Israel. Consistent futurists should never fluctuate between historicism and futurism. Some futurists do interpret current events as fulfilling prophecy; however, when futurists interpret in this manner they are being inconsistent in their interpretation of Scripture. Current events cannot be claimed as the fulfillment of prophecy; neither can they be claimed as the sign of Christ’s coming, which is true no matter how many false christs, wars and rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes are present today. History is replete with those who thought they had identified the sign of Christ’s coming only to convey commiseration for their great disappointment. The reason is that the prophecies have specific relation to Israel. In the current age, the only prophecy for the church is the rapture.