The Church and the Last Things
Wheaton: Crossway, 1998, 248 pages, which is the third volume of a series entitled “Great Doctrines of the Bible.”
As the title indicates, this volume (which actually consists of a sermon series) concerns two doctrines, the doctrine of the church and the doctrine of the last things. Regarding the subject of Biblical teaching about the last things (or eschatology), Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) said:
Start with the Scriptures. Then go to those books that will help you. And above all, read both-or all- sides of the matter, for there are many sides. Do not be content with reading one side only. I find it tragic that people should read one side only. Often they have never heard of another side, or if they have, they are not prepared to even consider it (page 88).
And he warns:
But may I add this word of warning: this lecture is largely introductory, but I regard it as (highly) important. Beware of losing your balance with respect to the doctrine. Beware of becoming an exclusivist. There are some people who take it up as a study and it almost becomes an obsession to them so that they see nothing else in the Scriptures (page 88).
Both of these quotes contain very good advice. We here in Dallas are very well instructed in the dispensational, premillennial understanding of eschatology and Biblical prophecy, due to the influence of Dallas Theological Seminary. However, it’s very easy to become “unbalanced,” as MLJ warned, and to reject out of hand other viewpoints that are equally based on a belief in the authority and inerrancy of holy Scripture.
As if happens, this is one of several good books recently published which can help us to gain or retain a good balance and appreciation of other views, even if after careful consideration, we still retain our own. The first five chapters deal with the church (including chapters on baptism and the Lord’s Supper), while the final 18 chapters deal with eschatology. Chapters 6 through 13 include individual chapters on such topics as death and immortality, the second coming, the time of His coming, God’s plan for the Jews, the antichrist, and two chapters on Daniel 9. In the chapter on the time of His coming, MLJ deals with the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24. He begins by reminding us that whenever the doctrine of the second coming is introduced in the Scriptures, it is always as part of an appeal to holiness.
These chapters are followed by eight chapters (14-20) on the book of Revelation. In chapter 14, he gives a general introduction, and then in chapter 15, sets forth two of the major schools of interpretation: 1) the preterist view, which says that everything in Revelation has already happened; in particular, describing everything that was going to happen to the church until Constantine became a Christian and Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire; and 2) the futurist view, which teaches that everything after Revelation 4 is yet to happen. He subdivides the futurist view into those who believe in a preliminary rapture of the saints before the end-time events (tribulation) begin, and those who believe that Christians will have to go through the tribulation and the events described in the subsequent chapters of Revelation.
Then in chapter 16, MLJ sets forth the third major view: 3) the historicist view, which can be subdivided into three schools. First is the church historicist view which says that Revelation is nothing but a kind of prcis (or concise summary) of church history; this view was held by most of the Protestant reformers. It says that Revelation is not a detailed history but a kind of prcis of the phases of church history between our Lord’s first and second comings. Second, there is the continuous historicist view, which says that the things recorded here, the visions, symbolize things that would actually happen, following each other in chronological order until the end. It is a prophecy of the detailed history of the Christian Church. This view claims to be able to identify all of the symbols in Revelation with particular events.
Finally, in the third subdivision, MLJ sets forth the view he holds: the spiritual historicist view which says that Revelation is not meant to teach us some detailed continuous historical process, nor a detailed map of future end-time events, but rather is an account of the principles which govern the life and history of the Church between the two advents. It is an unfolding of the history of the kingdom of God to its ultimate climax. It presents the spiritual principles concerning the life and conflict and final triumph of the Church of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is not so much a description of particular things that have happened, or will happen, as a picture of the forces and powers that oppose the kingdom, and are fighting against it. For example, the beast in Revelation is not to be identified with any particular government or country. Rather, it stands for the principle. Revelation sets forth principles, preparing us for whatever may be actually happening, enabling us to understand and to be comforted and encouraged.
Then, in successive chapters, MLJ goes through Revelation with individual chapters on the suffering and safety of the redeemed (Rev 1-7), the trumpets (Rev 8-11), the final judgment (Rev 12-19), the premillenial view (Rev 20), and the postmillennial and the spiritual views (Rev 20). Therefore, the subject of the millennium (Rev 20) occupies two chapters, with MLJ describing the pre-mill and post-mill views, setting forth the arguments pro and con, and giving the reasons for the spiritual view which he holds.
The final two chapters of MLJ’s book deal with bodily resurrection and the final destiny. I would highly recommend this book for anyone seeking a balanced understanding of the various approaches to last times and Biblical prophecy, and the book of Revelation.