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Thread: Why I am no longer a futurist

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    Why I am no longer a futurist

    I used to take a consistently futurist approach to biblical prophecy. Whether I was looking at Jeremiah’s lengthy word of judgment against Babylon in Jeremiah 50-51, Ezekiel’s panoramic vision of a rebuilt temple in Ezekiel 40-48, Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in each of the Synoptic Gospels, or John’s vision of the “Beast” and the “Harlot” in Revelation 17-19, I would always assume a literal interpretation of the text, and, because of my commitment to its inspiration, I would always assume that it must have referred to events still to come in the future, thousands of years after it was given, since it obviously hadn’t yet been fulfilled. A futurist reading, I thought, was the only faithful approach to such passages.

    It took me several years to realize that my commitment to futurism was ironically based in the same underlying prejudice as the allegorical school. As different as those two approaches are in their outworking interpretations, the same controlling agenda which caused Origen and Augustine to spiritualize whole books of the Old Testament causes today’s student of Scripture to project every seemingly unfulfilled prophecy into the future. That underlying prejudice, that controlling agenda, arises from the psychological need to erase discrepancies when our perceptions conflict with our strongly held beliefs. This is what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, the exegetical equivalent to what we witnessed just last year in the interpretive gymnastics of Harold Camping and his followers. The “perception” in this case is the apparent non-fulfillment of prophecies with explicitly time-sensitive content; the “belief” is our faith in the authority of Scripture. The problem, though, is that if we really believe in the authority of Scripture, then we are warned not to change the meaning of the text into something it never intended to say.

    The primary question for the interpreter of biblical prophecy must be centered on the authorial intent and the public meaning which the prophetic word would have carried in the period in which it was given. To put it otherwise: Our first duty with biblical prophecy, no less than with any other genre of Scripture, is to interpret it with reference to its own time. This doesn’t mean that all biblical prophecy must of necessity refer to past events, but that the language of all biblical prophecy must have been readily understandable to the people of its own time. Otherwise it could be liberally reinterpreted according to the changing paradigms of every successive generation. Thus, the true interpretation is not necessarily the one which carries the most perceived value or spiritual application in the twenty-first century, but rather the one which best explains the prophetic language as it would have been understood by its original audience. But again, if we really believe in the authority of Scripture, then we should always assume that the interpretation arrived at through the inductive process will be the one with the most Spirit-filled application for our own time, regardless of our expectations.

    As simple and as self-evident as this is, it’s remarkable how often it is either forgotten or ignored. The besetting sin of futurist interpreters, in their approach to prophetic passages throughout Scripture, is their deeply felt need to liberate the text from the embarrassing constraints of its own time. Such interpreters are not really interested in understanding what the text would have meant in its original historical context, but only in what it can be seen to mean for our own time. Thus, where Jeremiah pronounces a retributive judgment on Babylon and its king for their treatment of Judea, or where Ezekiel foresees a rebuilt temple after the regathering of his people from exile, or where Jesus predicts the son of man’s coming within the generation of his listeners, or where John predicts the sudden destruction of the great city which reigned over all the kings of the earth in his own day—in all of these cases futurists feel the need to lift the fulfillment of the prophetic text out of the immediate future of the original audience and into our future, in order to thereby save the text from the reproach which, upon the assumption of a literalist reading, would undoubtedly come upon it. Where was the bloody, violent, and absolute destruction which Jeremiah pronounced on Babylon? Where was “the coming of the son of man” in the lifetime of Jesus’ listeners? Where, indeed, was the fulfillment of all of the cataclysmic events foreseen by John in the book of Revelation?

    When confronted with such unpleasant difficulties, futurists see two basic options: either (a) we admit that the text was uninspired, unathoritative, and glaringly wrong in its predictions about the future, or (b) we project it into the future and thereby protect its inspired status. So like Peter in Gethsemane, we unsheathe our swords and cut away! But like Peter in Gethsemane, futurists fail to consider that there might be more alternatives than the two extremes of denying our master or plugging our ears and fighting to save face. Are we sure we understand what the prophecies are all about? As a true post-Enlightenment Westerner, I used to be committed to a literalist reading of all biblical prophecy, giving very little room for metaphorical, symbolic or hyperbolic modes of speech; but I have since come to realize that such a commitment rarely does justice to the intention of the biblical prophets themselves.

    Before we can even contemplate the possibility of other alternatives, however, we must face the music; we must learn to take the text on its own terms, whatever the outcome. When prophecies with historical detail and context such as Jeremiah 50-51 aren’t “fulfilled” in a rigidly literal, meticulous sort of way, the futurist assumption is that we should simply lift the prophecy from its stated context and postulate a future one-to-one fulfillment. But if our primary aim is to handle such passages with exegetical integrity, as indeed it should be, then we simply cannot ignore the specific indicators of historical context and authorial intent. Jeremiah was not speaking against a nation that did not exist at that time or a king who had not yet been born. No, he speaks against a contemporary nation and its king for the evil which they had committed against Judah in the years 599-586BC, which Jeremiah himself witnessed and documented at length. Exegesis demands this conclusion.

    To claim, on the other hand, that this passage must speak of a future period, because several details of the prophecy did not play out exactly as described, is a decidedly eisegetical move. Instead of reading the text inductively and asking the appropriate questions of authorial intent and public meaning, the futurist view relies entirely on a deductive process of elimination, looking outside of the prophecy and imposing one’s own set of criteria for what it can and can’t mean based entirely on what did and what did not in fact occur thereafter. Such an abstract a priori has absolutely nothing to do with what the text itself would have meant in the world in which it was written, but has everything to do with maintaining a particular theological construct despite all the evidence to the contrary. If it didn’t happen, just project it into the future. It must not have meant what it said. The original audience probably didn’t get it. The prophet himself probably didn’t get it. But we get it.

    By thus lifting the passage out of its own world of meaning and supplying another we lose all anchorage with the only context in which the text itself makes sense. This is not exegesis. Genuine exegesis is committed to listening to the text on its own terms, whatever the outcome. And if history does not play out exactly like the passage said it would, then we should ask the question why. Perhaps we’ve misunderstood the content of the prophecy, or perhaps something transpired afterwards which altered the terms of the prophecies’ fulfillment. In the case of Jeremiah 50-51, I suspect that Nebuchadnezzar’s apparent change of heart may have had something to do with it (cf. Dan 2:47; 3:29; 4:2-3, 34-37; 7:4). Remember, the God of the prophets regularly speaks about what will happen if humans presently respond in such and such a way; he does not speak in an abstract vacuum of time and space about what will happen regardless of the present human response. The whole point of prophecy is to produce a response, a change; and if all men responded then no prophecy of judgment would ever come to pass (cf. Jer. 18:7-11).

    In other words, we are not bound to reject the truth of biblical prophecy by remaining faithful to the text. But then, even if we can’t find a solution to every text in which this problem appears, it’s a much more honest display of faith in the authority of Scripture to first take the text at its own terms, and then to say “I don’t know” in reply to the question of fulfillment, than to try to save face by suggesting the text actually refers to something else, something easier to get our hands around. That’s not true faith; it’s doubt in disguise. And that is why I am no longer a futurist.

    - Hitman


    "Test all things; hold fast what is good." - Advice from the Apostle Paul


  2. #2
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    Re: Why I am no longer a futurist

    Quote Originally Posted by Matthehitmanhart View Post

    The primary question for the interpreter of biblical prophecy must be centered on the authorial intent and the public meaning which the prophetic word would have carried in the period in which it was given. To put it otherwise: Our first duty with biblical prophecy, no less than with any other genre of Scripture, is to interpret it with reference to its own time. This doesn’t mean that all biblical prophecy must of necessity refer to past events, but that the language of all biblical prophecy must have been readily understandable to the people of its own time.
    1) What you say here is obvious common sense, the text should be understood according to its original meaning.

    2) However I also feel that given the nature of prophecy to have exact literal fulfilments, the principle that if a prophecy is not yet exactly fulfilled , then it is still to be fulfilled is absolute.

    The two concepts are not mutually exclusive at all, but the first one leads to the second one. According to how the original listeners first understood the language, has the prophecy yet been fulfilled.

    However we have to add in a third point here, did the original listeners have the full facts at their disposal?

    For example a Jew during the events surrounding 70AD could very well have thought that they are in the tribulation period, because the events seemed so dramatic. Yet the wording of Matthew 24 is so clear, that if they were in our times and looking back they would have to admit, by their own understanding of Jesus words, that 70AD just was not the greatest ever tribulation:

    24:21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

    Additionally never before in the bible has the second coming wording been so strong as this:
    24:29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
    24:30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

    Sure, sometimes God was in the clouds, or in a burning bush, but this emphasis on every eye seeing him, and all the tribes of earth being simultaneously aware of him is something associated only with the second coming and the OT day of the Lord. Even Jews do not believe the day of the Lord has occurred yet, despite them experiencing 70AD.

    Some of the original listeners may have misunderstood Jesus' words and applied it to Rome of the time, but not all did so, a future second coming has always been the anticipation of the wider church. Look what error the Christians made during the burning of Rome, they publicly celebrated it as the second coming, how shocked they must have been when Jesus did not appear and instead persecution broke out because of their apparent disloyalty to Rome. So those close to the very hearers of the original word, the first century Christians, were very fallible when interpreting their own scriptures, I do not see the need to rely on their fallible interpretations.

    Additionally the translators do take the understanding and culture of the time into account. Thus when we read the bible in English, it is more often than not, a true reflection of the original meaning and in most cases can be taken at simple face value. ie a non-intellectual reader of Matthew 24, with very little understanding of eschatology and hermeneutics and no preconceived pre-trib rapture teaching will quickly come to the conclusion that there will come a generation in time that will see great earthquakes and rumours of war and also see an abomination followed by the greatest ever time of trouble. He knows that the generation that sees these events will also be around when Jesus comes again, all the tribes mourn , and the rapture occurs. In fact, his understanding, based on Matthew 24 alone, will be better than your understanding of prophecy.

  3. #3

    Re: Why I am no longer a futurist

    What you say is certainly not true of the moderate futurist school of thought. Let us remember that it took over 800 years for the destruction of Sidon and Tyre to be finalized from there first destruction. We have been in the last days since the resurrection of Christ and as such prophesies such as the desecration that causes abomination has occurred and will occur again until His appearing. Every prophesy must have an immediate application but there is no bases in scripture or prophetic history to support the "snap shot" approach of the preterist school of thought. The "its happened and therefore its done, once and done thing" is itself, rife with error.

  4. #4

    Re: Why I am no longer a futurist

    Quote Originally Posted by DurbanDude
    1) What you say here is obvious common sense, the text should be understood according to its original meaning.

    2) However I also feel that given the nature of prophecy to have exact literal fulfilments, the principle that if a prophecy is not yet exactly fulfilled , then it is still to be fulfilled is absolute.

    The two concepts are not mutually exclusive at all, but the first one leads to the second one. According to how the original listeners first understood the language, has the prophecy yet been fulfilled.
    The fulfillment of Isaiah 19 is recorded in Isaiah 20. The fall of Egypt to Sargon of Assyria. According to your requirement of 'exact literal fulfillment' (where is that approach demanded by Scripture?), did God literally 'ride on a swift cloud' so that the inanimate idols literally trembled in fear, and the hearts of the Egyptians literally liquefied in their chests? Or do you then simply say that the whole of Isaiah 19 (or part of it, despite no chronological breaks indicated by the text) was not fulfilled?

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    Re: Why I am no longer a futurist

    Quote Originally Posted by markedward View Post
    The fulfillment of Isaiah 19 is recorded in Isaiah 20. The fall of Egypt to Sargon of Assyria. According to your requirement of 'exact literal fulfillment' (where is that approach demanded by Scripture?), did God literally 'ride on a swift cloud' so that the inanimate idols literally trembled in fear, and the hearts of the Egyptians literally liquefied in their chests? Or do you then simply say that the whole of Isaiah 19 (or part of it, despite no chronological breaks indicated by the text) was not fulfilled?
    When I say there should be exact literal fulfilment I do mean within reason, taking into account the descriptive nature of the bible. So I do agree with your point here. There is no fine line between figurative and literal, which does make interpreting the bible subjective, hence all these debates. I personally think its pretty obvious when the language is figurative or not.

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    Re: Why I am no longer a futurist

    Quote Originally Posted by DurbanDude View Post
    1) What you say here is obvious common sense, the text should be understood according to its original meaning.

    2) However I also feel that given the nature of prophecy to have exact literal fulfilments, the principle that if a prophecy is not yet exactly fulfilled , then it is still to be fulfilled is absolute.
    From where do you derive the conviction that all prophecy should have "exact literal fulfillments"? If, according to the original authorial intent, a prophecy was not meant to be taken literally, then why should we take it so? Jeremiah had a vision in which he saw the whole earth return to primeval chaos:

    "I saw the earth―there it lay, waste and void, The sky, and its light was gone.
    I saw the mountains totter before my eyes, And all the hills rocking to and fro.
    I saw―and not a man was there, The very birds of the air had fled."
    (4:23-25)

    But as the passage goes on to tell us, this vision has nothing to do with the end of the world, but rather with the invasion and desolation of Judah by foreign armies. Thus, if the primary question is one of authorial intent, then we cannot presuppose whether the author intended us to take his prophecy literally or non-literally. Rather, each case has to be decided on its own merits.

    The two concepts are not mutually exclusive at all, but the first one leads to the second one. According to how the original listeners first understood the language, has the prophecy yet been fulfilled.
    Again, this presupposes that the "original listeners" would have understood all prophetic language literally, as you do. But this is far from the truth.
    However we have to add in a third point here, did the original listeners have the full facts at their disposal?
    It's not a question of whether they had all the facts at their disposal, but of whether the prophets spoke directly to them, in language they could understand, or above them, in esoteric language which they thought they understood but really couldn't (e.g. Jeremiah didn't really mean Babylon, Ezekiel didn't really mean sin offerings, Jesus didn't really mean this generation, etc, etc). Futurists tend to assume that prophecy only becomes clear centuries after it was given, whereas a proper hermeneutic should assume the exact opposite.

    For example a Jew during the events surrounding 70AD could very well have thought that they are in the tribulation period, because the events seemed so dramatic. Yet the wording of Matthew 24 is so clear, that if they were in our times and looking back they would have to admit, by their own understanding of Jesus words, that 70AD just was not the greatest ever tribulation:

    24:21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

    Additionally never before in the bible has the second coming wording been so strong as this:
    24:29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
    24:30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

    Sure, sometimes God was in the clouds, or in a burning bush, but this emphasis on every eye seeing him, and all the tribes of earth being simultaneously aware of him is something associated only with the second coming and the OT day of the Lord. Even Jews do not believe the day of the Lord has occurred yet, despite them experiencing 70AD.

    Some of the original listeners may have misunderstood Jesus' words and applied it to Rome of the time, but not all did so, a future second coming has always been the anticipation of the wider church. Look what error the Christians made during the burning of Rome, they publicly celebrated it as the second coming, how shocked they must have been when Jesus did not appear and instead persecution broke out because of their apparent disloyalty to Rome. So those close to the very hearers of the original word, the first century Christians, were very fallible when interpreting their own scriptures, I do not see the need to rely on their fallible interpretations.
    I don't think you've really grasped the nettle of the OP. We could debate about whether Jesus intended the "coming on the clouds" literally or non-literally all day, but that wasn't the main focus of the OP. The point I was making was that there is no valid exegetical reason for understanding "this generation" in any other sense than the generation to which Jesus was then speaking, i.e. his contemporaries. Thus, even if we do take all the language about coming on the clouds etc literally (which, of course, I don't think there is much support for, granted the OT background of such language), what we are left with is the conclusion Albert Schweitzer came to a century ago: Jesus believed his parousia would occur within the lifetime of his followers, but he was wrong. Futurism simply avoids this problem by surreptitiously reinterpreting Jesus' words to fit its own presuppositions.

    - Hitman


    "Test all things; hold fast what is good." - Advice from the Apostle Paul


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    Re: Why I am no longer a futurist

    Quote Originally Posted by Matthehitmanhart
    The primary question for the interpreter of biblical prophecy must be centered on the authorial intent and the public meaning which the prophetic word would have carried in the period in which it was given ... Otherwise it could be liberally reinterpreted according to the changing paradigms of every successive generation. Thus, the true interpretation is not necessarily the one which carries the most perceived value or spiritual application in the twenty-first century, but rather the one which best explains the prophetic language as it would have been understood by its original audience.
    Generally true, but Im not sure that we can always make this claim. There are examples in Old Testament prophesy where an initial fulfillment was not the primary fulfillment. It came centuries later, and in a manner the original audience might not have expected.

    Quote Originally Posted by Matthehitmanhart
    In other words, we are not bound to reject the truth of biblical prophecy by remaining faithful to the text.
    OK, but by the same token we are not bound to apply a strictly preterist interpretation either.
    If one is broken on this road of gravel,
    That we travel:
    He can fix him. Nothing licks Him.
    It was never a mistake to trust the Lord.

  8. #8

    Re: Why I am no longer a futurist

    I would agree Ben and your thesis was well written. Futurist force the time statement of 'shorty come to pass, soon and at hand' to mean something in the twenty first century. Overlooking the fact that John had counted himself among his brother's in tribulation and the soon coming end.

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    Re: Why I am no longer a futurist

    Quote Originally Posted by Beckrl View Post
    I would agree Ben and your thesis was well written.
    Though I (Ben) agree with his thesis, I think you mean "Matt".
    analyze. synthesize. repeat.

    *It is the next chapter of my life, whether I'm ready or not. My time here in these forums has come to its close. I bless you as I go!*

  10. #10

    Re: Why I am no longer a futurist

    Quote Originally Posted by Nihil Obstat View Post
    Though I (Ben) agree with his thesis, I think you mean "Matt".
    I don't know how I got that wrong, sorry guys, but really good thread.

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    Re: Why I am no longer a futurist

    Quote Originally Posted by Beckrl View Post
    I don't know how I got that wrong, sorry guys, but really good thread.
    I don't mind a bit: it's not everyday I get mixed up with someone as awesome as Matt!
    analyze. synthesize. repeat.

    *It is the next chapter of my life, whether I'm ready or not. My time here in these forums has come to its close. I bless you as I go!*

  12. #12

    Re: Why I am no longer a futurist

    Quote Originally Posted by Nihil Obstat View Post
    I don't mind a bit: it's not everyday I get mixed up with someone as awesome as Matt!
    You must been on my mind...Yeah that would be a good thing

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    Re: Why I am no longer a futurist

    Quote Originally Posted by Nihil Obstat View Post
    I don't mind a bit: it's not everyday I get mixed up with someone as awesome as Matt!
    Haha, thanks guys! It was a mutually flattering mix-up!

    - Hitman


    "Test all things; hold fast what is good." - Advice from the Apostle Paul


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    Re: Why I am no longer a futurist

    Quote Originally Posted by Cyberseeker View Post
    Generally true, but Im not sure that we can always make this claim. There are examples in Old Testament prophesy where an initial fulfillment was not the primary fulfillment. It came centuries later, and in a manner the original audience might not have expected.
    Oh, don't get me wrong, I absolutely believe that prophecy can be "fulfilled" in ways the original audience might not have expected. I think John's vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22 is explicitly intended to communicate an expanded fulfillment of Ezekiel 40-48, for instance. By his repeated allusions to the passage, John seems to be saying simultaneously that this is the future which Ezekiel saw, but it is also so much greater than anything Ezekiel could have imagined. Recognizing that the passage is fulfilled in a manner which neither Ezekiel nor his original audience could have imagined does not give us the license to change the original referent of the passage, however. It's one thing to admit that history did not play out exactly as the passage envisioned and then to seek a systematic answer to that problem, an answer which does not conflict with what the passage means on its own terms; but it's an entirely thing to conclude that the passage must not mean what a strictly exegetical method demands it to mean.

    - Hitman


    "Test all things; hold fast what is good." - Advice from the Apostle Paul


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    Re: Why I am no longer a futurist

    Quote Originally Posted by Matthehitmanhart View Post
    From where do you derive the conviction that all prophecy should have "exact literal fulfillments"? If, according to the original authorial intent, a prophecy was not meant to be taken literally, then why should we take it so? Jeremiah had a vision in which he saw the whole earth return to primeval chaos:

    "I saw the earth―there it lay, waste and void, The sky, and its light was gone.
    I saw the mountains totter before my eyes, And all the hills rocking to and fro.
    I saw―and not a man was there, The very birds of the air had fled."
    (4:23-25)


    But as the passage goes on to tell us, this vision has nothing to do with the end of the world, but rather with the invasion and desolation of Judah by foreign armies. Thus, if the primary question is one of authorial intent, then we cannot presuppose whether the author intended us to take his prophecy literally or non-literally. Rather, each case has to be decided on its own merits..
    I do agree with you here, I should rather have said that a prophecy requires a well-fitting fulfilment, rather than a "precise literal fulfilment".

    Again, this presupposes that the "original listeners" would have understood all prophetic language literally, as you do. But this is far from the truth.
    See comment above, it doesn't have to have a literal fit, just a well fitting fulfilment to the prophecy.

    It's not a question of whether they had all the facts at their disposal, but of whether the prophets spoke directly to them, in language they could understand, or above them, in esoteric language which they thought they understood but really couldn't (e.g. Jeremiah didn't really mean Babylon, Ezekiel didn't really mean sin offerings, Jesus didn't really mean this generation, etc, etc). Futurists tend to assume that prophecy only becomes clear centuries after it was given, whereas a proper hermeneutic should assume the exact opposite.
    Sometimes a prophecy is not understood by the listeners. A good example of this is all the OT prophecies about the first coming of Jesus. Some prophecies, NOT ALL, but some, do become clearer when they unfold or centuries later, just like the prophecies about Jesus were not understood by the original hearers. they were expecting a warrior, not a gentle healer and preacher.

    As for "this generation", Jesus meant the generation He was talking about. He definitely did mean "this generation".



    I don't think you've really grasped the nettle of the OP. We could debate about whether Jesus intended the "coming on the clouds" literally or non-literally all day, but that wasn't the main focus of the OP. The point I was making was that there is no valid exegetical reason for understanding "this generation" in any other sense than the generation to which Jesus was then speaking, i.e. his contemporaries.
    I didn't notice any focus at all on the phrase "this generation" in the opening post. I just saw a number of reasons why you have abandoned the futurist position, and am therefore responding to them. The main point being that futurists are correct to expect a well-fitting fulfilment to each prophecy, and if the historical fulfilment is not well-fitting enough, then a future fulfilment becomes more likely. This is an obviously correct approach to prophecy and I don't see how it can be contradicted. If a prophecy was not satisfactorily fulfilled, it is still to be fulfilled. Obviously taking into account all factors, historical context, historical usage of those phrases, etc etc.

    Thus, even if we do take all the language about coming on the clouds etc literally (which, of course, I don't think there is much support for, granted the OT background of such language), what we are left with is the conclusion Albert Schweitzer came to a century ago: Jesus believed his parousia would occur within the lifetime of his followers, but he was wrong. Futurism simply avoids this problem by surreptitiously reinterpreting Jesus' words to fit its own presuppositions
    Your whole point seems to be based on the phrase "this generation"

    It can easily mean "this generation that I'm now talking about", rather than "this generation that is in front of me".
    Jesus is saying there will be a time when there are forewarning signs of the second coming. He then says that this generation which sees the signs, will also see the second coming. Simple as that. Its definitely a possible way of looking at it if you are honest with the text.

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