Truth and error in J. Marcellus Kik’s preterism
Zechariah described a day that would be “neither light nor dark,” where light means the spiritual enlightenment in the church; there is error mixed with truth, in the teachings of leading scholars.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark: But it shall be one day which shall be known to the LORD, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.
Below is an example illustrating Zechariah’s prophecy; light on the nature of Christ’s kingdom shines in midst of darkness and gloominess, in a preterist exposition of Matthew 24.
In a 1995 editorial in the Standard Bearer, David J. Engelsma reviewed the preterist interpretation of Matthew 24 by J. Marcellus Kik, who had been an associate editor at Christianity Today. The review is in A Defense of (Reformed) Amillennialism (4). Engelsma wrote:
The exegetical basis of “Christian Reconstruction’s” grand vision of a “Christianized” world – the victory of the gospel in history – is largely the interpretation of Matthew 24 by J. Marcellus Kik. The Presbyterian’s interpretation of Jesus’ eschatological discourse has been reprinted in a book titled, An Eschatology of Victory (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1971), pp. 53-173.
Kik explains the chapter in such a way that verses 4-31 refer exclusively to the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in A. D. 70. Nothing in these verses refers at all to Jesus’ second coming and the events that immediately precede His coming. The abomination of desolation in verse 15 refers only to the desecration of the temple by the “idolatrous ensigns” of the invading Roman army (p.104). The “great tribulation” of verse 21 refers only to the suffering of the Jews at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. The false Christs and false prophets of verse 24 refer only to the pretender-Messiahs and false teachers among the Jews at that time.
The “coming of the Son of man” in verses 27 and 30 is not the visible, bodily return of Christ, but His revelation in the preaching of the gospel by the apostles. The gathering of the elect by the angels in verse 31 is the spiritual saving of the elect through the gospel. “Angels” are human preachers.
The preliminary signs in the heavens of verse 29 are not the literal darkening of the sun and moon, prior to Jesus’ second coming, but the going out of the figurative light of the Jews as a nation in A. D. 70. “The sun of Judaism has been darkened” (p. 128). The shaking of the powers of the heavens in verse 29 “refers to Satan and his angels” (p. 133).
The basis for this understanding of Matthew 24:4-31 according to Kik and his “Christian Reconstruction” disciples is Jesus’ word in verse 34: “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” Kik explains this word as meaning, very simply, that every single prophecy of Christ in verses 4-31 was fulfilled, exhaustively, in the lifetime of the generation that was alive at the time of Jesus’ instruction. All was exhaustively fulfilled in A. D. 70 in the destruction of Jerusalem. Nothing foretold in verses 4-31 pertains to the second coming.
The key to Matthew Twenty-four is verse 34…. Every thing mentioned in the previous verses were (sic) to be fulfilled before the contemporary generation would pass away…. The first thirty-four verses of Matthew 24, along with verse 35… deal with the destruction of Jerusalem (pp. 59, 60, 67).
Gary DeMar agrees:
The events rehearsed in the Olivet Discourse are signs leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70. These chapters have nothing to do with when Jesus will return at the final judgment. There are no observable signs leading up to His bodily return (Last Days, p. 151).
This interpretation of Matthew 24 is basic to the postmillennial denial of apostasy, Antichrist, and great tribulation for the church in the future. For in the light of this explanation of Matthew 24, the postmillennialist goes through the entire New Testament rigorously applying all prediction of such things to the destruction of Jerusalem.
Fundamental to this interpretation of Matthew 24 is Kik’s explanation of verse 34, the “key” to the chapter. If Kik is wrong here, his whole postmillennial conception of the earthly future collapses like a house of cards.
Kik admitted that his whole interpretation was based upon his view of Matthew 24:34, where Jesus says: “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” Kik wrote: “It is my contention that Matthew 24:34 gives the key to the understanding of the entire chapter. If we accept the ordinary sense of that verse the chapter becomes understandable.” (An Eschatology of Victory p. 30)
Kik claimed that the word generation referred to the generation then living, rather than a future one. “Thus the understanding common to all the passages in Matthew where the word generation appears is that of a contemporary race, people living at the same time of Christ, the generation then living. It is further emphasized by the demonstrative pronoun ‘this.’ It is THIS generation, not a generation or generations in the future.” (p. 63) In a subsequent editorial, Engelsma wrote:
As was pointed out in the previous editorial, the postmillennial Presbyterian J. Marcellus Kik limited the reference of “all these things” to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Implied is that verses 3-31 speak exclusively of the destruction of Jerusalem. There is nothing in these verses that applies to the days leading up to the second coming of Christ. There is nothing in these verses, therefore, that applies to the church at the end of the 20th century. All was exhaustively fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem. All is past. Kik is followed in this exegesis by the postmillennial Christian Reconstruction movement.
This explanation is obviously false inasmuch as it ignores that Jesus’ teaching answers the question of His disciples about His coming and the end of the world, not only about the destruction of Jerusalem (v. 3). Also, Jesus speaks in verses 3-31 of events that cannot by any stretch of the imagination be restricted to the destruction of Jerusalem. Such is the mention in verse 14 of the coming of “the end” (Greek: to telos) after the gospel of the kingdom has been preached “in all the world” (literally, ‘in the whole inhabited earth’) “for a witness unto all nations.” Such also are the events spoken of in verses 29-31: the catastrophic signs in the heavens; the sign of the Son of man; the visible coming of the Son of man in the clouds; and the gathering of the elect by the angels with the great sound of a trumpet.
Kik’s approach is flawed because when Jesus referred to this generation, he naturally would have included himself, knowing that he would rise from the grave; he represents his own generation to this day. It is a unique generation, because Jesus was part of it. Thus, the things he described in this prophecy span the whole of history from that time on. His words “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away,” in the next verse, signify a time period that is unending. His generation, in other words, will always exist. As a preterist, Kik was blind to this. Most of his exposition of Matthew 24 was erroneous.
Yet Kik’s view of the establishment of the kingdom of God in that age, is an enlightened one, compared to that of premillennialism; in his view, “Christ is actually seated now upon his Messianic throne.” This view of Christ’s present reign is described in his commentary on Matthew 24:30, where Jesus refers to his “coming in the clouds.” [An Eschatology of Victory pp. 140-143]
The third and final clause of verse 30 says, “and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” This clause has been thought to relate definitely to the second, visible, and personal coming of the Lord. But in the light of well-defined biblical language, the reference is rather to a coming in terms of the events of his providence in judgment against his enemies and in deliverance of his people.
It should be noted carefully that neither this verse nor this particular clause indicates a coming upon earth. Some have read into this clause that Jesus was actually descending to the earth for the purpose of taking up a reign in the city of Jerusalem. Nothing like that is indicated. As a matter of fact, there is not a single verse in the New Testament to indicate that Christ will reign upon a material throne in the material city of Jerusalem. This thought has been imported by a carnal interpretation of Old Testament passages. Christ is actually seated now upon his Messianic throne.
Many commentators have taken it for granted that the expression “coming in the clouds” refers to a visible coming of Christ. A careful study of the Scriptures, however, reveals that that is not a necessary interpretation. A similar expression occurs in Isaiah 19:1, “Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it.” Although this passage speaks of the Lord riding upon a cloud and of his presence, nevertheless we know that the Egyptians did not see the Lord in a personal, visible way. The Lord riding upon a swift cloud indicated a coming in judgment against the Egyptians.
A similar type of expression concerning judgment is found in Psalm 97:2,3: “Clouds and darkness are round him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about.” In speaking of the mighty power of God the Psalmist uses this expression: “Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters; who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind” (Ps. 104:3). The expression “who maketh the clouds his chariot,” is no different from “coming in the clouds of heaven.” In the Psalms there is no thought of a personal, visible coming of the Lord, but rather references to his judgment and power.
Following the well-defined biblical sense of such expression the last clause of verse 30 may well be interpreted then to indicate a coming in judgment and power: judgment against his enemies and power to the establishment of his kingdom.
This interpretation is borne out by the words of Christ in other passages when he indicated that he was coming before the contemporary generation would pass away. He said: “Verily I say unto you, there shall be some standing here, which shall not taste death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16:28). Christ was saying that some of the people actually standing before him and listening to him would not die until they saw the Son of man coming in his kingdom. This could hardly refer to a personal and visible coming in that generation.
The same thought in conveyed in Christ’s words to the High Priest: “Thou hast said: Nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64). This High Priest was to see Christ sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven. Can this possibly refer to Christ’s second coming when the description “sitting on the right hand of power” precludes such interpretation. It means rather that after the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus would ascend into heaven and take his place on the right hand of God, the Father, as described in Daniel 7:13,14: “I saw in the night vision, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” When Christ ascended into heaven he was seated upon his Messianic throne. This is in full accord with the declaration of Christ as he was about to ascend into heaven: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.”
Kik should have ended the paragraph there, but he did not. Jesus manifested his power by sending his Spirit to his disciples on Pentecost. Great signs were performed by them. Thousands of Jews repented. Later, the gospel was preached to the Gentiles too. New understanding of the Old Testament scriptures was given to the apostles. Scripture was written. All this demonstrated the reign of Christ in his heavenly kingdom. But Kik was more impressed by the “wars and rumours of wars” that occurred in the first century, chief of which was the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. Jesus had said “And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet;” Kik disregarded this saying of Jesus. He thought that Jesus wanted vengeance upon the Jews who had rejected and crucified him! As if that would be to his glory. Kik ended the paragraph with the following monumental blooper:
One of the first manifestation of the power and glory of Messiah was the destruction of the city that refused to accept him as King and Saviour. This act of judgment gave evidence that all power had indeed been given unto him. He did come in the clouds of heaven and rained destruction upon those who had rejected and crucified him. This caused the tribes of the earth to mourn. The sign of the reigning Christ was seen in the destruction of Jerusalem. The contemporary generation, indicated in verse 34, witnessed fulfillment of these things as Christ had prophesied.
Contrary to Kik’s statement, the tribes of the earth did not mourn when Jerusalem was destroyed. The victory of Titus was celebrated in Rome, and an arch of triumph was built by his brother, the Emperor Domitian.
Christ has reigned in heaven, and in his church, confirming his covenant with his saints, and because he represents the generation of which he spoke, it will never pass away.