Realized Eschatology

By Dan Walters

There is a relatively new doctrine making the rounds among our brethren. Its advocates call it “realized eschatology;” others have dubbed it “the A.D. 70 Doctrine.” The paper which promotes this doctrine is Studies in Bible Prophecy, put out by Charles Geiser in Ashtabula, Ohio. It is my understanding that the doctrine was first taught by Max King of Warren, Ohio. If I were to summarize the doctrine in my own words, someone would be sure to accuse me of exaggerating. So I quote from Geiser: “The holy Scriptures teach that the second coming of Christ, including the establishment of the eternal kingdom, the day of judgment, the end of the world and the resurrection of the dead, occurred with the fall of Judaism in 70 A.D.”

That sounds so ridiculous to most of us that it might be thought foolish to even take notice of it. But that was Alexander Campbell’s reaction to Mormonism, and we see today how many people have been deceived by it. There is another reason why this doctrine ought to be dealt with carefully-that is because of the grain of truth it contains. In reacting to extreme doctrines we may dismiss some truth just because it is included in the false doctrine.

Almost every false doctrine is based on some truth which is then carried to an extreme. That is why one who is well grounded in the faith can often profit by reading the works of those who, considered on the whole, are false teachers. The truth that is found at the kernel of the extreme position is no less true because it has been enlarged with disregard of other truths and because many Scriptures have been perverted in order to accommodate the false theory.

The truth at the heart of “realized eschatology” is that the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 is a very significant event in New Testament teaching, and that many Scriptures which are commonly believed to refer to future events actually apply to that destruction. For instance, the 24th chapter of Matthew is speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem, though advocates of the 1000 year reign want to apply it to a future period. The “day approaching” in Hebrews 10:25 is most likely the destruction of Jerusalem. The miseries of the rich men in James 5 are probably connected with that great event. The “coming” of Christ in Revelation 1:7 and 22:7 is mostly likely spiritual and in reference to Christ’s coming in vengeance upon the Jewish state and later upon the Roman Empire. It is my opinion that the punishments of Revelation 6,8, and 9 were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem, and that the “mystery of God” that was “finished” (Rev. 10:7) was the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the end of the Jewish nation. There are other Scriptures which clearly apply to this event, and there are still others which may or may not apply.

The term “realized eschatology” simply means that the prophecies concerning the last things (the resurrection, the judgment, etc.) have already been realized, or fulfilled. And according to this doctrine they were all fulfilled in A.D. 70. Now it is one thing to say that a prophecy in a book of symbols such as Revelation is not to be taken literally. The context justifies this conclusion. It is another thing to say that the plain teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 concerning the resurrection is figurative, or symbolic. The context makes it clear that the resurrection of our bodies will be just as literal as the resurrection of Christ’s body. In 2 Timothy 2:17,18 we read of Hymenaeus and Philetus who were teaching “that the resurrection is past already” and had overthrown “the faith of some.” I have often wondered what sort of a complex theory they had cooked up to justify such a conclusion. Remember that they were making their claim before the destruction of Jerusalem. But it is no wonder that when some Christians believed their teaching it led to the overthrow of their faith. It will do the same today. Paul taught that if there is no resurrection, our “faith is vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

If the end of the world has already come to pass in the destruction of Judaism, then there will be no end to this physical world, and the church will exist for all eternity on this earth. If there is to be no end to this present order, such news will no doubt bring rejoicing among Satan and his angels. They may continue to remain free and to tempt man for all eternity, thus cheating the sentence of consignment to the lake of fire. If this doctrine be true, the last enemy (death) will never be destroyed and Christ will never “put down all rule and all authority and power.” “All things” will never be “put under his feet,” or “subdued unto him” (1 Cor. 15:24-28). Christ will never win the final victory.

If the Lord has already come, and will never come again, then why do we still take the Lord’s Supper? “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26). According to the doctrine under consideration, the Lord’s Supper should have ceased in A.D. 70. Yet those who believe this doctrine, for some reason, continue to take the supper. If the Lord has already come for the last time, then we have no hope of going to live with Him in His Father’s house. John 14:3 says, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” If Christ received some unto Himself in A.D. 70, then these are the only ones promised such a home with God.

Notice that this false system of doctrine ignores the fact that certain words can be literal in one passage and spiritual, or figurative, in another. The coming of Jesus in Acts 1:11 is literal; that in Matthew 24:30 is figurative. The context is the determining factor in both cases. The resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 is literal; that in Revelation 20:5 is figurative. Again, the context provides the answer. Just because the “end of all things” in 1 Peter 4:7 applies to A.D. 70 (see verse 12), does not mean that “the end” in 1 Corinthians 15:24 and other Scriptures does not literally apply to the end of time and of this earth. Never ignore the context.

Although the evil of false teaching is not mitigated thereby, there is a blessing that comes to faithful Bible students in the study and refutation of such doctrine. We never fail to learn more truth and to have a deeper understanding of God’s Word than when we search the Scriptures to see whether a certain teaching is so. See Acts 17:11.

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 21, pp. 659, 664
November 7, 1985