A Book Review from Books at a Glace
by Ryan M. McGraw
Christians are saved to wait for God’s Son to return from heaven (1 Thess. 1:10). Though this is a description of believers rather than a prescription for us, we often need some help to restore a Christ-centered heavenly-minded focus. John Piper wrote this book precisely to provide such help. Through his characteristic careful engagement with biblical texts and Christ-exalting superlatives, his single focus is to teach us why and how we should love Christ’s appearing and live in light of it. While this book is not a full-orbed eschatology or an exhaustive study of the last things, his targeted approach offers solid food for the soul.
Three divisions organize the twenty-two chapters in this work: reasons to love Christ’s appearing, the time of his appearing, and how we should live anticipating his appearing. In many respects, the first four chapters represent the core of the book, in which Piper’s concern is to present objective reasons for loving Christ’s return as loving Christ himself so that the Spirit would work subjective love for Christ in our hearts through faith in him. Through careful meditation and reflection on key biblical texts, Piper also presses his readers to common themes marking his ministry, especially “Christian Hedonism,” in which he urges readers to maximize their pleasure and delight in the Triune God (54, 87). Ultimately, he sets Christ forth as the object of our affections, the primary joy of heaven, and the goal towards which we live.
Some useful outstanding features in the book are Piper’s realism about the Christian life, his theological balance, and his robust interaction with key Scripture texts. Being realistic about suffering in this world, he notes that believers will experience end-time judgments while escaping their effects (68-69). This point is helpful in that he helps promote realistic expectations as we strive towards the resurrection. As an example of both theological balance and robust engagement with Scripture, he draws from three texts from Paul about perseverance to the end (72), stressing the vital importance of both our justification and our sanctification to stand blameless before Christ at the judgment day (72-73; 102). Appealing to Colossians 1:21-23, he harmonizes these ideas by showing that being justified by Christ’s imputed righteousness is the ground of our blamelessness at the last day (76), which we enjoy through persevering faith for final salvation (77). Love, being the fruit of faith, is inseparable from a permanent genuine faith in Christ. We are thus counted blameless at Christ’s return through justification, but love confirms our faith in Christ through sanctification (79). Faith works through love (Gal. 5:6). Such examples only give hints at how full of Scripture Piper’s work is, highlighting what kinds of things readers should expect to find in these pages.
Regarding controversial eschatological questions, now and then Piper’s premillennial views surface (e.g., 93, fn. 2) without detracting from his overarching aim. He rejects a “two-stage” second coming involving a secret rapture of the elect prior to the Great Tribulation (119; see ch. 15). Most directly, chapters 13-17 incorporate controverted issues enveloping events needing to transpire before Christ’s return. Interestingly, Piper makes one addition/correction to his book, Let the Nations be Glad, by adding that we must extend missions within all people groups rather than merely to all people groups (240). In step with such humility, the author is also unafraid to list many things that he does not know (e.g., 242), which is a good trait in a book about the last things. We know enough in Scripture to teach us to love Christ and long for his return, without satisfying our curiosity about peripheral things or answering every question we may have. A humble approach like this ought to characterize any sound presentation of the last things.
In this reviewer’s opinion, sometimes the author nevertheless oversteps these bounds on occasion. For example, he argues that Jesus’s return is at least “five to six years” away (243). Though noting that the time of Christ’s return “could be much shorter” (244), in this reviewer’s opinion, Piper skates up to the edge of implying that while we cannot know the day or hour of Christ’s return, we can get the general idea of when he might arrive. While giving reasons for a general idea of when Christ will return, primarily in light of coming widespread apostasy and the emergence of the man of lawlessness (233), perhaps this is yet another area in which we are better off conceding inability to answer such questions about timing. His attempts to harmonize texts appearing to stress Christ’s imminent and unexpected return with the idea that certain events always push the event a few years out seem a bit weak and forced at times (e.g., 257). Yet readers should note that Piper by no means blunts the need for living daily in light of Christ’s return, which is the primary thrust of section three of the book. His work remains edifying even when some readers will disagree with him.
A couple of omissions stand out. Piper says nothing about the Lord’s Supper or the Lord’s Day as means of fostering love for Christ’s return. If we use the means Christ himself gave us in the New Testament, then his glorious return will remain rhythmically before our eyes. In the Lord’s Supper, we remember the Lord’s death “until he comes,” and we should use the Lord’s Day to look forward to the Day of the Lord. Piper likely rejects the latter category by believing that the Sabbath has passed away, but he simply neglects the former (though he notes the omission on pg. 280). However, Christians should be thankful that the Spirit has created patterns in Christian life and worship directing us constantly to Christ’s return and the resurrection of the dead, especially via the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Supper. How should anyone loving Christ be content to be without such blessed means and helps?
Piper summarizes succinctly where believers are presently: “Salvation has come. And salvation is coming” (250). If we are Christians, then at least two things are true: we know and love Christ already, and we want to know and love him more. Christ’s return marks the time when we will know and love him as fully and as well as we can. His second coming needs to be part of the regular pattern of Christian meditation, living, prayer, and worship. As Piper notes well in his introductory chapters, a book can only point us in the right direction; the Holy Spirit must drive the teaching home. Yet reading this book prayerfully may be precisely one of the means we need to foster in us heavenly-minded habits of thought and affection.
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Buy the books
COME, LORD JESUS: MEDITATIONS ON THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST, by John Piper