I just finished Peter Leithart’s excellent commentary on 2 Peter where he argues for a partial preterist reading of the epistle. If you don’t know what means, it’s simple. The prophecies concerning the imminent judgment / arrival of Jesus were fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. And lest you think that Leithart has veered off into heresy, he still affirms the visible return of Christ at the end of history. He just doesn’t think that’s what 2 Peter is talking about. And he’s not alone. Reformed great, John Owen, argued that 2 Peter 3 was linked with Isaiah 65. For Owen, 2 Peter 3 was talking about the end of the old covenant order, not the end of the world.
Here are his five ‘knock-down’ arguments for partial preterism:
- Peter wrote his second letter on the theme of the coming of Jesus, which he says was also a theme of his first letter, which is 1 Peter. Since 1 Peter’s teaching about the ‘coming’ of Jesus highlights its imminence, 2 Peter must be dealing with the same looming event.
- Peter defends the reliability of the promised coming of Jesus by reference to the transfiguration. In each of the synoptics, this event is connected immediately with a prophecy of Jesus’ ‘coming’ within the lifetime of some of His disciples, a prophecy filled out in the Olivet discourse. Peter’s argument from the transfiguration makes best sense if he is using it to support this prophecy. Thus the ‘coming’ that Peter insists will happen is an event that Jesus said would take place in the first century.
- Peter says explicitly that the destruction of false teachers is coming ‘soon.’ Their destruction is the same event as the destruction of the present heaven and earth, the ‘day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men’ (3:7). If the destruction of false teachers was near when Peter wrote, so also was the destruction of the heavens and earth and the coming of a new heavens and earth.
- Peter responds to mockers who doubt the promise of Jesus’ coming because time has passed without any sign of the Parousia. If there were no time limit on the original prophecy, then the mockers would have no grounds for their mockery and no way to attract converts to their skeptical views. Therefore, the original prophecy must have included a time limit, a terminus ad quem , and that time limit must have been the lifetime of the apostles.
- For the mockers, the passing of the ‘fathers,’ the apostles and their associates, casts doubt on the truth of Jesus’ promise to come in power. This objection has weight only if Jesus had in fact promised to come before the ‘fathers’ passed from the scene. Thus the prophecy in dispute in 2 Peter 3 promised a ‘coming’ within the apostolic generation. The prophecy Peter says will be fulfilled is a prophecy about Jesus’ coming within the generation.