Friday, October 8, 2010

The Last Days According to Jesus by RC Sproul

Growing up in a culture of dispensationalism, I often jokingly told my students that they did not even need to read the book of Revelation, they should simply read the Left Behind series. While it was said in jest, the mindset of most I knew was essentially eschatology of Lahayism: Pre-Trib, Pre-Mil and the mark of the beast is 666 and his name is Nicolae. Then God blessed me with this gem by Dr. Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus.

Dr. Sproul introduces the main text with a brief examination of the belief that Christ was a false prophet, a view trumpeted most aptly by Bertrand Russell. Based on the Olivet Discourse and Christ’s prediction of His return within a generation, Russell argued that Christ had to be a false prophet. Sproul then examines Albert Schweitzer’s “consistent eschatology” including his concept of “parousia-delay”. C.H. Dodd’s “realized eschatology” is then addressed. With all of this background Dr. Sproul introduces J. Stuart Russell’s book The Parousia. This book is examined throughout the remainder of Last Days as Dr. Sproul exposes the fallacies in hyper-preterism and makes a rather convincing argument for the case of partial-preterism.

In chapter 1, Sproul expounds upon the teaching so Christ in the Olivet Discourse, comparing it in all 3 synoptic gospels and comparing the classical reformed view of Calvin on this text and the preterism of Russell. Chapter 2 is a lengthy discussion of the meaning of “generation”, specifically as it is used by Christ in reference to “all things” being fulfilled (Matthew 24:34).

Chapter 3 deals with a discussion of the biblical meaning of “the end of the age”, whether it is dealing with the end of time as a whole or the end of a particular economy of God, possibly the end of the Jewish age. “Fundamental to preterism is the contention that the phrase “the end of the age” refers specifically to the end of the Jewish age and the beginning of the age of the Gentiles, or the church age.” Along with the discussion on “the end of the age” is the discussion on “the day of the Lord”. All of this terminology is critical in understanding the argument of the full/hyper preterism Russell eschews and the partial/moderate preterism for which Sproul begins to make a case.

Chapter 4 deals with Paul’s teachings on the issue and chapter 5 is devoted to the destruction of Jerusalem, a critical junction in biblical prophecy—especially to a preterist. Texts from Josephus’ account of the destruction are matched to Old Testament prophecy. Chapter 6 begins to study what the Apostle John wrote down in the book of Revelation. The time frame of the writing is introduced. When was Revelation written? This is a key question that must be answered by preterists. In this section, Dr. Sproul cites heavily from Ken Gentry and his works on this subject (which are worthy of a reading themselves). Gentry argues for an early dating of Revelation (before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70). The evidence of Irenaeus and Clement for a late dating is addressed and a fair argument is made to the ambiguity of what is oftentimes presented as concrete for a late dating of the book of Revelation.

Chapter 7 is entitled “When is the Resurrection?” and this is the area where orthodox partial-preterism is distinguished from the hyper/full preterism of Russell. In regards to the historic creeds and confessions of Christianity, hyper/full preterism is not orthodox, specifically in regards to the resurrection of the dead.

Chapter 8 and 9 are immensely enjoyable reads. Chapter 8 deals with “Who is the Antichrist,” and gives a first century candidate. Chapter 9 discusses the views of the millennium, giving fair representations of the four main views: amillennialism, pre-millennialism, dispensational pre-millennialism, and postmillennialism, dealing briefly even with nuances within each view. This chapter is by no means an exhaustive survey of millennial views, but it is quite informative and pleasurable to read.

The Last Days According to Jesus, makes a solid historical and biblical case for preterism and postmillennialism while never resorting to attacks on other orthodox views. It is deep enough for an eschatology buff to get his or her fill but simple enough for a novice to get through and feel they have been adequately presented with the case for partial-preterism and postmillennialism.