J. Stuart Russell on the Single Fulfillment of Jesus’ Words


It’s a fairly popular idea today to say that Jesus’ predictions in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) pointed to a dual fulfillment. In other words, some say, Jesus foretold events that took place before or during the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD, but that this was only a precursor to an ultimate fulfillment of those same predictions in the far distant future. There are plenty of indications within the text of the Olivet Discourse which show that this is not possible, and Michael Fenemore points out a number of these indications in this 2004 article.

J. Stuart Russell, in his 1878 book, “Parousia,” offered yet another proof that Jesus didn’t promote a dual fulfillment: the complete absence of any such interpretation in the words of Luke, Paul, James, Peter, John, or any inspired author of the New Testament. Russell’s book was endorsed by Charles Spurgeon, who said that it “throws so much new light upon obscure portions of the Scriptures, and is accompanied with so much critical research and close reasoning, that it can be injurious to none and may be profitable for all.” This is what Russell said concerning the idea of dual fulfillment in the Olivet Discourse, particularly Matthew 24:34/Mark 13:30/Luke 21:32.

“There is not a scintilla of evidence that the apostles and primitive Christians had any suspicion of a twofold reference in the predictions of Jesus concerning the end. No hint is anywhere dropped that a primary and a partial fulfillment of His sayings was to take place in that generation, but that the complete and exhaustive fulfillment was reserved for a future and far distant period. The very contrary is the fact. What can be more comprehensive and conclusive than our Lord’s words, ‘Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till ALL these things be fulfilled’? What critical torture has been applied to these words to exhort from them some other meaning than their obvious and natural one!

How has γενεά [the Greek word for “generation”] been hunted through all its lineage and genealogy to discover that it may not mean the persons then living on the earth! But all such efforts are wholly futile. While the words remain in the text their plain and obvious sense will prevail over all the glosses and perversions of ingenious criticism. The hypothesis of a twofold fulfillment receives no countenance from the Scriptures. We have only to read the language in which the apostles speak of the approaching consummation, to be convinced that they had one, and only one, great event in view, and they thought and spoke of it as just at hand.”

(“The Parousia: The New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming,” J. Stuart Russell, 1878, page 545)

Indeed, the New Testament is riddled with statements of a fast-approaching consummation of “the end-times.” Peter said that the day of Pentecost was a fulfillment of the last days prophesied by Joel (Acts 2:16-17). Hebrews 9:26 says that Jesus put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (i.e. His work on the cross) at the end of the age. James talked about greedy people already storing up earthly treasure “in the last days” (James 5:1-3). Peter said that “the end of all things” was at hand in his own day (I Peter 4:7). John said that it was “the last hour” when he wrote one of his epistles (I John 2:18). Etc. Etc. Etc.

David Green has compiled a thought-provoking list of 101 “time-indicator” passages clearly showing that the authors of the New Testament believed this consummation was just around the corner in their own time, and that they were united in holding to this idea. Where did they get this idea? They got it from the words of Jesus.

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This post was first published on Yahoo Voices on May 1, 2013.

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17 thoughts on “J. Stuart Russell on the Single Fulfillment of Jesus’ Words

  1. I’m a partial preterist. I still believe in a fiery coming (Rev 20) at the end of the ‘thousand years’. So then, are there three comings? I KNOW the pre-mil folks are dead wrong, but the full preterists are as well, because there has been no general resurrection of the dead.

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    • Ed, thanks for your comment. After I became a partial preterist in 2009, for quite a while I believed the same as you do about Revelation 20 showing a future fiery coming. I still find Revelation 20 to be the most difficult chapter to understand, let alone explain, but I no longer believe that this fiery coming is future. Yes, to believe that way would suggest three major comings of the Lord, not two. I couldn’t (and can’t) find any indication in the New Testament that Jesus or the apostles spoke of one coming that was soon to take place, and another coming that was very far off.

      I disagree that there has been no general resurrection of the dead. Paul declared in Acts 24:15 that there was “about to be” a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. I would ask you to consider the following argument by Vernon C. Klingman III in comparing Daniel 12 and Matthew 24. I believe he does a good job articulating why Daniel 12 (which predicts the resurrection) can’t be future, especially if a person believes that Matthew 24:1-34 has been fulfilled:

      “Perhaps the clearest Biblical preclusion of the partial preterist view rests in a comparison between Christ’s teaching in the Olivet Discourse and Daniel 12. In these passages, we find both Jesus and Daniel foretelling of the time of the end (Dan. 12:4; Mat. 24:3), the great tribulation (Dan. 12:1; Mat. 24:21), the abomination of desolation (Dan. 12:1; Mat. 24:15), and the gathering of the elect (Dan. 12:2-3; Mat. 24:31). These parallels demonstrate that Jesus and Daniel were speaking of the same time and events. In fact, Jesus stated directly that He was discussing the things that Daniel had predicted (Mat. 24:15).

      Now, Jesus taught that all these things, along with His coming in glory and the destruction of the temple, would occur before His generation would pass away (Mat. 24:1-34), and the partial preterist believes this was fulfilled. However, Daniel recorded that all these things, along with the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked, would occur by the time the power of the Jews would be shattered (Dan. 12:2-7). Clearly, both of these prophecies were delimited by the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This means that all these things, including the coming of Christ to resurrect the righteous and the wicked, would occur by this time.”

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      • Dear Adam, It becomes alot clearer when we keep this key in mind; There are 2 resurrections! One that happened at the close of the Old testament (66-73AD) when Jesus returned, and the future resurrection of the lost which is mentioned in Revelation 20.
        Remember the Old testament believers couldn’t enter into God’s precense before the death of Jesus, but for us the new covenant Christians, we don’t have to wait (2 Cor 5:6-8)!

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    • Dear Ed, Jesus taught that the resurrection of the dead Israelites and the raptured living ones under the Old Covenant, was to happen at His coming back. (Matt 25:31-46, Eze 34:17, Psalm 50:3-7). We error in that we think everything Jesus predicted was for us. It certainly was NOT! We are all under the NEW covenant, not the Old which only His chosen people, The Israelites, were! He was just wrapping up that Old covenant which had nothing to do with us! Everything predicted by Jesus in the Olivet discourse has been completely fulfilled (Luke 21:22), in the last 7 year period (66-73AD) predicted by the Prophet Daniel (Matt 24:15, Dan 9:26-27, Luke 21:20).

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      • Jaime, did the heavens explode with fire in that time period? (II Peter 3:10) If so, then this is a pretty lousy example of a New Heaven and New Earth with all the sin here. Sorry my friend, regard the resurrection, it sounds like you’ve missed it. Hymaneus and Alexander also believed the resurrection had already occurred, they were regarded by Paul as heretics and excommunicated. Yes, the Days of Vengeance have been fulfilled, but not the resurrection. It can only occur on the Last Day.

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      • Who said anything about exploding?
        The text doesn’t say that but the Bible does predict that when God was going to show up he was surrounded by fire as mentioned in the following. Scriptures;
        Psalm 50:3-6, Daniel 7:9-10.

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      • 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. [Seeing] then [that] all these things shall be dissolved, what manner [of persons] ought ye to be in [all] holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?

        The heavens pass away with a GREAT NOISE (rhoizedon), the elements melt (lyo: to dissolve that which is bound together) with fervent heat (kausoo: to set fire to something) Sounds like an explosion to me. In fact, it sounds like a NUCLEAR explosion. Are you telling me this happened in 70 AD? Because if you are, we should not even BE here. Peter is describing the last day. John describes it in Revelation 20 as well, he calls it fire falling from heaven. I guess if the heavens melt, they’d drip on the earth. And then John describe the last judgment with its resurrection of the dead, and then the Church comes out of heaven.

        There is too much sin in the world for me to buy into what you’re telling me. The Church is a Land of Unwalled Villages and a released Satan is having his little time; he’s surrounding us and deceiving the nations. But it won’t last.

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    • Hi John. I’m not sure what the correct answer is to your question. The term “full-preterist” was coined later in history, as far as I know. And church leaders and scholars have been all over the map throughout church history, when it comes to eschatology. Eusebius (263-339 AD) was a full preterist with regard to Matthew 24, but I haven’t read enough of his material to know how close he was to being a full preterist with regard to all Biblical prophecy. Here’s a summary quote from him on Matthew 24:

      “And when those that believed in Christ had come thither [out] from Jerusalem [in obedience to Matthew 24:15-16], then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men (Proof of the Gospel, Book III, Ch. 5)… [When] the lamentation and wailing that was predicted for the Jews, and the burning of the Temple and its utter desolation, can also be seen even now to have occurred according to the prediction, surely we must also agree that the King who was prophesied, the Christ of God, has come, since the signs of His coming have been shewn in each instance I have treated to have been clearly fulfilled” (Proof of the Gospel, Book VIII).

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      • Of course, I wouldn’t expect them to actually be called full-preterist. But, if this statement is true:

        “There is not a scintilla of evidence that the apostles and primitive Christians had any suspicion of a twofold reference in the predictions of Jesus concerning the end. No hint is anywhere dropped that a primary and a partial fulfillment of His sayings was to take place in that generation, but that the complete and exhaustive fulfillment was reserved for a future and far distant period.”

        I would expect to find some ancient commentator to state explicitly that all prophecies are fulfilled and we are now living in the new heavens and earth. To your knowledge, who is the earliest person to clearly make this sort of statement? Do any of the “Apostolic Fathers” say this?

        Thanks.

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      • John,

        When J. Stuart Russell referred to “the apostles and primitive Christians,” I understand him to mean the immediate disciples of Jesus, the authors of the New Testament, and the very first generation of believers living in the first century. When he says, “No hint is dropped anywhere…,” I understand him to be speaking of the text within the New Testament. This is my interpretation at least.

        I’m really not sure who would have been the first commentator (let’s say after 70 AD) to say that they were living in the new heavens and new earth, that all prophecies were fulfilled, or any equivalent statements. I’m not sure which database I could turn to in an attempt to locate the very earliest of statements to that effect, or which search terms in any online database could uncover that type of statement belonging to the first or second century AD. I wish I did better know how to do that.

        What I have seen, though, at least by the 2nd – 3rd centuries AD, is quite a bit of disunity when it came to the field of eschatology. There were Chiliasts (premillennialists), and there were those who denounced Chiliasm as heresy. There were those who declared Daniel’s 70 Weeks prophecy to be completely fulfilled, and there were those who said otherwise. There were those who declared the Olivet Discourse to be completely fulfilled, including the promise of Jesus’ coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and there were those who said they were still looking for that coming to take place. Some said “the antichrist” and/or many antichrists had already come, and others speculated that a future antichrist was yet to come in fulfillment of Bible prophecy. They were simply all over the place on these things, as far as I’ve been able to see at this point.

        Here are some interesting quotes I came across from the period between 90 AD – 150 AD, with some statements being clearer than others as to what the writers meant:

        90 AD: Clement of Rome (On the Last Days) “the Books and the Apostles teach that the church is not of the present, but from the beginning. For it was spiritual, as was also our Jesus, and was made manifest at the end of the days in order to save us. (Chap. XIV.– The Second Epistle to the Corinthians)

        130 AD: Barnabus (On the demise of the Temple in the last days) “Moreover I will tell you likewise concerning the temple, how these wretched men being led astray set their hope on the building, and not on their God that made them, as being a house of God. . . . So it cometh to pass; for because they went to war it was pulled down by their enemies. . . . Again, it was revealed how the city and the temple and the people of Israel should be betrayed. For the scripture saith; and it shall be in the last days, that the Lord shall deliver up the sheep of the pasture and the fold and the tower thereof to destruction. And it so happened as the Lord had spoken. ” Epistle of Barnabus16:1 ff.)

        130 AD: Barnabus (On the fulfillment of prophecy) “Moreover understand this also, my brothers. When ye see that after so many signs and wonders wrought in Israel, even then they were abandoned, let us give heed, lest haply we be found, as the scripture saith, many called but few chosen. . .” (4:14, Epistle of Barnabus)

        130 AD: Barnabus (On the fulfillment of prophecy) “Therefore the Son of God came in the flesh to this end, that He might sum up the complete tale of their sins against those who persecuted and slew His prophets.” (5:11, Epistle of Barnabus)

        150 AD: Justin Martyr (On the fulfillment of Isaiah 2:4) CHAP. XXXIX.–Direct Predictions By The Spirit. “And when the Spirit of prophecy speaks as predicting things that are to come to pass, He speaks in this way: “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” And that it did so come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ.” (First Apology of Justin Martyr, ch. 39)

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      • “When J. Stuart Russell referred to “the apostles and primitive Christians,” I understand him to mean the immediate disciples of Jesus, the authors of the New Testament, and the very first generation of believers living in the first century. When he says, “No hint is dropped anywhere…,” I understand him to be speaking of the text within the New Testament. This is my interpretation at least.

        Yes, I think that is what he means as well. But, my thought is that if they believed it, then that is what they would have taught their followers and the next generation of believers. In that case there should be writings, perhaps numerous writings, suggesting all prophecy has been fulfilled.

        I haven’t had a chance to do a lot of my own research, but just from searching on the internet I have found these quotes:

        “But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there WILL BE a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare” (Justin Martyr, 100-165 A.D., Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter LXXX.-The Opinion of Justin with Regard to the Reign of a Thousand Years. Several Catholics Reject It).

        “And on this account we believe that THERE WILL BE a resurrection of bodies after the consummation of all things….” (Tatian’s Address To The Greeks, circa 150 A.D., Chapter VI.-Christians’ Belief in the Resurrection).

        Polycarp-Pupil of John the Apostle (AD. 70-156)

        CHAPTER II.–AN EXHORTATION TO VIRTUE

        “But He who raised Him up from the dead WILL raise up us also”

        PAPIAS-Pupil of John the Apostle (AD. 70-155)

        FRAGMENTS OF PAPIAS FROM THE EXPOSITION OF THE ORACLES OF THE LORD. V.

        “those who are deemed worthy of an abode in heaven SHALL go there, others SHALL enjoy the delights of Paradise, and others SHALL possess the splendour of the city; for everywhere the Saviour WILL BE seen, according as they SHALL BE worthy who see Him.”

        VI.

        “there WILL BE a millennium AFTER the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ WILL BE established on this earth”

        There is more here if you want to look at it:
        http://www.velocity.net/~edju70/Preterism.htm

        My point is that full-preterism would be more convincing if we could find evidence that those closest to the disciples were teaching that the new heavens and earth have arrived.

        Do you think this is a fair assumption?

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  2. Actually, I have found Rev 20 rather SIMPLE. Satan gets bound, the Gospel goes out to the nations during the 1000 years, which is a long period of time and not exactly 1000 years, as some demand. The martyrs of the Neronian persecution (the only persecution which could possibly be meant here, since these martyrs do NOT take the mark of the beast swearing allegiance to Nero/Rome) reign with Christ during the 1000 years. We will know when the 1000 years is completed by: apostasy worldwide in the Church, the rise of Gog (Satan) leading Magog against the people of God and increasing wickedness, including violence and open Sodomy. When the Church is nearly surrounded and defeated, Christ will come and destroy the wicked and raise the living and dead Believers. What’s so hard about that?

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  3. First thing to consider is that Dispensationalists do not recognize the prophetic language of Revelation and therefore greatly err when trying to understand it. When we read prophetic language elsewhere, we understand the symbolic verbiage. God coming in judgment in the skies in some way is always representative and never literal when reading the Prophets. It would be useful for all Dispensationalists to read the Prophets over and then compare the language to Revelation. Revelation does echo Daniel in many places if you are looking for it, and other passages from the OT as well. When reading Jeremiah or Ezekiel the reader understands that the language is often prophetic and not literal. If only people would consider this, so much error concerning Revelation would be eliminated and people would then quit thinking God is coming at any second with impossible anti-miracles to inflict punishment on the Earth. Can a star actually fall on the Earth? No, the Earth would be burned up before it even hit us, assuming it navigated past all the planets and asteroids and other objects at the fringe of the Solar System. In chapter 13 the number six hundred three-score and six would be a numeric code that the believers would understand. The Jews of the 1st Century AD put some importance into numerology and, as it happens, that number could represent Nero Caesar to the Jews, but the Romans would not likely recognize the significance. Revelation is a warning to believers to flee Jerusalem when the signs of a Roman invasion are nigh.

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  4. […] In a previous post, I shared J. Stuart Russell’s argument against the idea of a dual fulfillment in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21). Russell argued (well, in my opinion) that neither in Jesus’ own words, nor in the words of any other New Testament author, does any teaching appear which supports “a twofold reference in the predictions of Jesus concerning the end.” […]

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