The nature of final punishment is a topic which falls under the theological category of eschatology, the study of last things. Also discussed as part of that category is the timing of the fulfillment of certain biblical prophecies, such as the coming of the Son of Man foretold by Jesus in his Olivet discourse, the nature and activity of the beast of Revelation, and so forth. Perhaps constituting the majority view of the church in America today, futurists believe that most of these prophecies will be fulfilled in our future; preterists like me, on the other hand, believe most of these prophecies—but not all of them1—were fulfilled in our past, specifically in the first century surrounding the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70.For the rest, and it is worth reading, click HERE.
As I mentioned in a previous article, there’s a strong argument to be made in favor of conditionalism from the apocalyptic imagery of death and Hades in Revelation chapter 20. This argument carries force regardless of one’s eschatological position concerning the timing of prophetic events, and I will make that argument in the future here at Rethinking Hell. In the meantime, however, because of my interest in this particular eschatological persuasion, I want to reach out to my fellow preterists and make a bold, provocative and controversial statement: You can’t be a consistent preterist unless you’re also a conditionalist. That’s right, I said it.
If your understanding of the book of Revelation is preteristic but you believe that it supports the traditional view of hell as eternal conscious torment in immortal bodies and souls, you are being inconsistent. I was, too. I have been a preterist for years but I didn’t realize how inconsistent I had been until I was already nearly convinced of conditionalism roughly six months ago. If you are reading this and you are likewise a preterist, my hope is that the camaraderie I share with you will allow me to challenge you to think more deeply about this issue than you may have in the past.
You likely point to Revelation 20:10 as evidence supporting the traditional view of final punishment, since a few verses later the risen wicked are seen thrown into this lake of fire in which the devil, beast and false prophet are tormented eternally. Chances are that you view the millennium depicted in this chapter as being the present church age, and that you believe the beast is a symbol representing imperial Rome generally, and perhaps Nero Caesar specifically. Yet despite the fact that this beast is seen thrown into the lake of fire at the onset of the millennium, corresponding to events which took place in the first century, I seriously doubt that you believe Nero (or anybody else associated with imperial Rome) is suffering torment right now in resurrected, immortal bodies. If you do not, then you are being inconsistent in your interpretation of the lake of fire imagery. If you do, then you are being inconsistent in other ways, but either way your doctrine is fraught with problems.