Some of these perceived time statements are actually just loose readings of texts that are taken out of context.
In John 21:18-23, we have the following scene described.
“I tell you the solemn truth, when you were young, you tied your clothes around you and went wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will tie you up and bring you where you do not want to go.” (Now Jesus said this to indicate clearly by what kind of death Peter was going to glorify God.) After he said this, Jesus told Peter, “Follow me.” Peter turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them. (This was the disciple who had leaned back against Jesus’ chest at the meal and asked, “Lord, who is the one who is going to betray you?”) So when Peter saw him, he asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain until I come back, what concern is that of yours? You follow me!” So the saying circulated among the brothers that this disciple was not going to die. But Jesus did not say to him that he was not going to die, but rather, “If I want him to remain until I come back, what concern is that of yours?”
Preterists often take this passage as a statement by Jesus that John would remain until Christ comes. What is really odd about this interpretation is that it is the same mistake made by “the brethren” that John is trying to correct. A rumor goes out among them that John is not going to die, but John must correct them by saying that Jesus did not say that he was not going to die, but only said “if I want him to live until I come . . .” The hypothetical is meant to convey to Peter that it is none of his business what Jesus does with another disciple.
The fact that Preterists ignore the hypothetical “if” is simply an oddity that I can only explain by a willingness to find proof texts in any place they can.
But what is even more fascinating about this verse is that, once placed back into its context, it ends up being a text that would reject the Preterist understanding of Christ’s second coming, as it ties the idea that once Christ comes back, physical death would be abolished.
Notice that the context here is that Jesus has just told Peter how he is going to physically die. Peter then asks Jesus how John is going to physically die. Jesus responds by saying, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” This is an important statement in that it basically has Jesus stating that if John were to remain until He comes, he wouldn’t die.
In fact, this is clearly the implication, as the brethren miss the hypothetical, as do the Preterists, and therefore conclude that John is not going to physically die.
John merely corrects them by pointing out that it was a hypothetical statement, and that those who think he will not die because Christ is coming back in his lifetime have simply missed the “if” in the statement.
There are strange ways that some try to get around this. For instance, the idea that Lazarus is the disciple whom Jesus loved here, and that the brethren think he won’t die because he was raised by Christ is not only nowhere in the text, but it ignores what is in the text, which is that the statement is directly linked to Peter’s question and the implication of Jesus’ response. This is not even to mention that the disciple whom Jesus loved is clearly one of the eleven, as the upper room is made up of Jesus and the twelve (Matt 26:20; Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14), and the disciple whom Jesus loved is one of the twelve (the one who leaned upon him at the supper and asked who would betray him—v. 20).
Either way, however, this interpretation has no merit, as it ignores the context of the statement in an attempt to create an alternative context, which can then be used to reinterpret the scene.
However, the implication of Jesus in the context is clear. If John were to have remained until His coming, he would not have died. This means that Jesus believed His own coming would mark the end of physical death itself. This also means that the early Christians understood the statement this way because they believed that the coming of Christ would mark the end of physical death.
Rather than a proof text for Preterism, therefore, this passage actually contradicts it.