When it comes to the study of Biblical prophecy and when events will be fulfilled in history, four distinct approaches have been prevalent. The four views are simple in the sense they reflect the only four possible ways one can relate to time: past, present, future and timeless. When speaking of the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, these four timing approaches are:
1. Preterist, Latin for past: Preterism is divided into at least two kinds. Moderate preterists see the Tribulation and the bulk of prophetic occurrences as fulfilled in events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. They still hold to a future second coming of Christ, a physical resurrection of the dead, an end to temporal history and the establishment of the consummate new heavens and earth. Extreme preterists hold all Bible prophecy has been fulfilled and we are currently in the new heavens and new earth. Since extreme preterists deny a future Second Coming and the resurrection of believers in conjunction with a future return, their views place them outside the realm of orthodox Christianity.
2. The historicist, present, sees much of the current Church Age as equal to the Tribulation period and claims prophecy has been and will continue to be fulfilled during the Church Age, with few events remaining for the future. Historicism, once the dominant view of Protestants from the Reformation until the nineteenth century, appears to exert little attraction outside Seventh-Day Adventists circles today. It is a system of prophetic interpretation known for date-setting, equating the Roman Catholic pope with the antiChrist, and identifying the seal, trumpet and vial judgments of Revelation with the last two thousand years of European history.
3. The idealist, timeless, does not believe either the Bible indicates the timing of events nor that we can determine their timing in advance. Idealism is the belief certain prophetic passages serve only as a teacher of great ideas or truths about God to be applied to our present lives. This opinion is rarely followed outside of scholarly and liberal circles.
4. Futurists usually believe almost no prophetic events are occurring in the Church Age, but will take place in the following future episodes: the Tribulation, the Second Coming, the Millennium and the eternal state. Futurism is the only approach which can consistently apply literal interpretation. The other three approaches must spiritually allegorize the text at key points. The prophecies of Christ’s first coming were fulfilled literally; therefore, prophecy related to His return will be fulfilled in the same way. Since prophecy related to the Tribulation, the Second Coming, the Millennium and the eternal state have not yet been fulfilled historically, then these prophecies are still future in our time. Such a literal approach to prophecy maintains a distinction between God’s prophetic plan for Israel and the Church. Futurism harmonizes a literal fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel in a future millennial glory, where God’s chosen people will reign with Jesus the Messiah over all the nations. But futurists also literally interpret the Scriptural promises for the Church. The futurist understanding of different historical ages maintains consistent literal interpretation.