A Book Review from Books At a Glance
By Timothy Harper
Anthony A. Hoekema’s book is a substantive contribution to the discipline of Christian eschatology. As a pastor, theologian, and academician, Hoekema articulates a concise study of the eschaton. Readers engaged in either practical theology of pastoral ministry or the academy will find this book instructive and informative. Hoekema argues for an amillennial view within a Reformed tradition. He is an accomplished author, having written The Four Major Cults: Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Seventh-Day Adventism; and, Holy Spirit Baptism.
Hoekema outlines his discussion under two major rubrics, viz., “Inaugurated Eschatology,” and “Future Eschatology.” He takes the reader on a twenty chapter journey of the eschaton, first by anchoring end time prophecies in the protoevangelium; secondly, by engaging in a robust dialog of subsequent Old Testament prophecies; and, finally by articulating a thematic two-stage eschatological focus of the New Testament, the Messianic age and the future age. Essentially, Hoekema postulates a theology of hope rooted within a decidedly amillennial eschatology. He systematically emphasizes the liminality of the kingdom of God by articulating the optimistic dynamic of the already but not yet kingdom aspect.
Additionally, Hoekema demonstrates that an atheistic existential view of history, along with a never-ending cyclical philosophy, is incompatible with a Christian view of history. Hoekema posits that the purposes of God, rooted within the sovereignty of God, are fulfilled both in the lives of individuals and the history of the nations of the world. Accordingly, the eschatological purpose is the realization of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God should be understood “as the reign of God dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ, the purpose of which is the redemption of God’s people from sin and from demonic powers, and the final establishment of the new heavens and the new earth.” (45)
Hoekema privileges the inauguration of the kingdom into the present age. The inaugurated kingdom occurs via the in-breaking of the deposit of the Holy Spirit, thereby guaranteeing the blessings and power of the future age, which shall be realized in the consummated kingdom. Consequently, he presents a cogent rationale on the kingdom tension of the already and not yet. He notes that during this period believers grapple with things like the “signs of the times,” a theology of suffering, and how to engage life both within the church and with the culture.
In the second part of his book, Hoekema elaborates the subject of “Future Eschatology.” He further divides this rubric by focusing initially on individual eschatology, and finally on cosmic eschatology. Concerning an individual eschatology Hoekema advances a helpful analysis of physical death, immortality, and the intermediate state between one’s death and the resurrection. In contrast to Greek philosophy, and ultimately Eastern thought of transmigration and/or rebirth, Hoekema proffers a robust biblical and Christian theological anthropology arguing that humankind is an embodied being. He articulates that “the body is not a tomb for the soul but a temple of the Holy Spirit; man is not complete apart from the body.” (91). Furthermore, he proffers a dialectic against soul-sleep. He does so by anchoring his conclusion upon the Pauline admission in Philippians 1:21-23.
Hoekema devotes the remaining twenty-one chapters of his treatise to cosmic eschatology. In four chapters, Hoekema explores the expectation and nature of the second coming, offering a discussion on the signs of the times and their particularity. He engages both historical and contemporaneous theologians as he constructs a case against a “consistent eschatology” approach. Additionally, he surveys the four major millennial views: amillennialism, post-millennialism, historic premillennialism, and dispensational millennialism. Hoekema espouses amillennialism. He applies a progressive parallelism to his interpretative matrix of the book of Revelation. He advocates that “the book of Revelation consists of seven sections which run parallel to each other, each of which depicts the church and the world from the time of Christ’s first coming to the time of his second coming.” (223)
In the last four chapters, Hoekema examines the resurrection of the body, the final judgment, eternal punishment, and the new earth. The author argues for a general resurrection of both believers and unbelievers. In his dialectic on the Day of Judgment, Hoekema buttresses his earlier statement in the opening chapters of his book. He stipulates that judgment proves that the history of the world is not simply a series of cycles occurring through meaningless time warps. Ultimately, the world and humanity are involved in a progressive march toward the goal of judgment. Judgment will herald the irresistible triumph of God, the realization of his kingdom, and the exultation of his redemptive work. These objectives will be revealed through the salvation of the elect and the redemption of a new heaven and new earth.
Consequently, in his survey of eternal punishment, Hoekema postulates a credible argument in contradistinction to the theological positions of universalism and annihilationism. Referencing Mark 9:43 and Isaiah 66:24, Hoekema concedes that if the references to the worm not dying and the fire not being quenched in these passages “do not mean unending suffering, they mean nothing at all.” (268) Finally, the author includes an appendix titled, “Recent Trends in Eschatology.” His initial inquiry is, “What will people say a hundred years from now about the chief theological trends of the twentieth century?” The tenor of his question is indicative that as long as humanity lives in the time of the in between, the study of the eschaton will be ever developing.
Anthony Hoekema’s book is saturated with exegesis of the biblical text, reflecting the title of the book. In the opening pages, Hoekema grounds his eschatology in the protoevangelium. In the concluding pages, he buttresses his eschatology in an exposition of the last two chapters of Revelation. From beginning to end, Hoekema appeals to the authority of Scripture to present a biblically grounded eschatology. His systematic approach of exegeting the Scriptures occasions this volume as an invaluable resource. This is true both for the inquiring nascent student and veteran scholar of eschatology exploring a biblical exposition of the eschaton.
Additionally, no matter one’s stance regarding the millennium, Hoekema’s high view of Scripture enables the reader to systematize a coherent eschatology rooted within a biblical construct. For instance, I am a premillennialist; however, for the most part, I did not find Hoekema’s biblical exposition to simply be a string of prooftexts in order to provide eschatological scaffolding for his amillennial stance. Make no mistake, Hoekema robustly argues for amillennialism. However, he does so in a way that is instructive of his position. While he understandably critiques dispensational premillennialism, articulating what he believes to be weaknesses, he begins by identifying common ground, methodically listing areas of agreement.
On the other hand, there are a couple of instances where Hoekema appears to try to squeeze the meaning of a passage into his amillennialist’s mold. For instance, he is consistent in criticizing premillennialists for their literal exposition of the biblical text, especially as it relates to Old Testament prophecy. He argues that fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy may either be literal, figurative, or antitypical. Hoekema, seems to prefer a figurative or symbolic fulfillment of many biblical passages. However, at times, his interpretation appears to be arbitrary because it bolsters an amillennial position.
His critique of a premillennial, especially dispensationalist, literal interpretation seems weakened as he attempts to shore up his argument for a general resurrection by appealing to a literal interpretation of John’s use of the term “hour.” Hoekema recognizes that dispensationalists interpret “hour” as extending throughout the entire gospel age. In an effort, however, to discredit the premillennialist’s symbolic/figurative interpretation of John’s use of the hour, and their consequent dialectic of two resurrections separated by the millennium, Hoekema claims that the hour should be interpreted literally. He goes to great length to make this argument of a literal hour. In doing so, his argument appears to be arbitrarily selective in an effort to lend credence to his position of a general resurrection.
An additional weakness of Hoekema’s eschatology is his position that the binding of Satan in Revelation 20 is a current reality, occurring between the first and second comings of Jesus Christ (174). Yet, he admits that the kingdom of evil and the kingdom of God will continue to coexist until the end of the world. The language of Revelation 20 indicates the binding of Satan in terms like, his being hurled into the abyss, sealed up for a thousand years, and unable to deceive the nations until the conclusion of the thousand years. Consequently, it becomes difficult to reconcile these restrictions imposed upon the evil one with the time between the first and second comings of Jesus. Additionally, Hoekema’s concludes that since a thousand years is only mentioned in Revelation 20, it should be interpreted symbolically. His rationale is unconvincing. Once again, this is especially true since he argued so intensely for a literal hour in John’s gospel.
Finally, Hoekema asserts that “the resurrection of the body, therefore, is a uniquely Christian doctrine.” I fully believe that the Bible teaches humankind to be embodied beings and the resurrection of the body is effectuated only because of the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, Hoekema’s assertion needs to be clarified. To be sure, the Christian’s hope of a bodily resurrection (1Cor 15; 1Thess 4:13-18) is juxtaposed to an Eastern philosophy of Hinduism and Buddhism, which espouses saṃsāra, transmigration, and the rebirth of endless cycles. However, Islam teaches the resurrection of the body at the Day of Judgment.
Islam proffers, like Christian amillennialism, a general resurrection. Admittedly, a convincing argument can be articulated that much of Islam’s eschatology is influenced by a Christian eschatology. Islam may have borrowed the doctrine of the resurrection of the body from a pre-Islamic Christian influence, while denouncing the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hoekema’s statement, however, implies that Christianity is the only faith tradition that teaches the resurrection of the body.
Ultimately, I found Hoekema’s book to be informative and instructive. His chapters are concise, yet thorough. His writing style and outline of material are cogent. The eschatology he proffers is pneumatologically vibrant. The book’s presentation is biblically focused. Hoekema’s repeated references to the liminality of the kingdom of God is refreshing.
Regardless of one’s millennial position, I recommend the reading of The Bible and the Future. Hoekema’s book is a valuable contribution to the ongoing dialog of millennial eschatology.
Timothy Harper is a PhD student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Buy the books
THE BIBLE AND THE FUTURE, by Anthony A. Hoekema