Here is the dictionary definition of preterist.
PRETERIST: 1. One whose chief interest is in the past; one who regards the past with most pleasure or favor. 2. (Theology) One who believes the prophecies of the Apocalypse to have been already fulfilled. Farrar (Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, 1913).
Preterism means a belief in past fulfillment. Historicism means a belief in ongoing historical fulfillment. Futurism means a belief in a future fulfillment.
The terms futurist, preterist and historicist deal with how much prophecy has been fulfilled at our point in time. According to the definition above, these terms describe the approach of the interpreter, not the viewpoint of the biblical prophet.
If that were the case, however, all prophets would be futurists until they lived to see their prophecies fulfilled. Then they would become historicists. A year later, they would become preterists. Of course, such a way of understanding the terms is ridiculously unwieldy.
A partial preterist is one who believes that the prophecies of Daniel, Matthew 24 and Revelation are mostly fulfilled. The difference between a partial preterist and a historicist is that the historicist thinks that these prophecies are being fulfilled in a progressive ongoing manner in history. The partial preterist sees much past fulfillment. Those parts that are unfulfilled deal with eschatological events at the end of history, the Second Coming, the General Resurrection and the Final Judgment.
Of course, Daniel’s prophecy deals with events in history that came to pass during his own day and after he lived. It is not the prophet Daniel who is preterist, but the interpreter who believes that Daniel’s prophecies were completely fulfilled prior to the completion of the New Testament canon – around AD 70.
It is problematic to call the Reformers (and those who believed Pope Leo and Islam were foretold in Revelation) “historicists,” since they believed that prophecy was being fulfilled in their own day. Their view was similar to today’s futurists who place the fulfillment of nearly every biblical prophecy in the not too distant future. However, from our perspective, the view of the Reformers was historicist.
To avoid confusion, we might attach dates to the following definitions.
AD 70 — Preterist — One who believes that most of the so-called “apocalyptic” prophecies of Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Matthew 24 and Revelation were fulfilled by AD 70.
AD 1500 — Historicist — One who believes that most of the apocalyptic prophecies have an ongoing fulfillment throughout history – a view similar to many of the Reformers of the 1500s.
AD 2000 — Futurist — One who believes that most of the apocalyptic prophecies are yet to be fulfilled – a view held by many evangelical Christians in the 21st century.
According to many preterists, a few of these apocalyptic prophecies of the Bible are ongoing in history, especially Revelation 20 (the “thousand years”) and Matthew 24:36-25:46 (the last part of the Mount Olivet Discourse). Some fulfilled prophecies might have a general application beyond the specific kings, kingdoms and events mentioned in the text. But the specific prophetic symbolism could not have been directly fulfilled by historical figures after the time of the Apostles.