Christ and the Future – A Review by Hugh Cartwright
In the year 2000 this author’s The Promise of the Future, a hardback volume of over 500 pages, was published by the Banner of Truth. The present book abridges the previous one, intending to whet the appetite for the more substantial volume. Setting out to pursue ‘a disciplined study of what God promises in the Bible’, Venema cautions us to keep four biblical themes in mind: ‘the need to stay within the boundaries of God’s Word; Christ is the Lord of history; “Paradise regained” will surpass “Paradise Lost”; and our hope is living and certain’ – ‘a hope nurtured by the Word and a lively expectation of the accomplishment of God’s purpose in Christ’.
Arguing that ‘what Old Testament believers anticipated on the furthest horizon of redemptive history has become a reality in the person and work of Jesus Christ’ – though ‘something further lies on the horizon of history’ – Venema affirms that ‘the promised future is already a reality in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the crucified, resurrected and ascended Lord, but it is not yet fully present to the believer, who must walk by faith not sight’.
After outlining the Biblical teaching on individual eschatology, the book moves on to general eschatology, the study of the last things in relation to the appearance of Christ in glory at the end of time. To put this study in true perspective the author begins with what he calls ‘the Future of Christ’ – his return being ‘the great centrepiece of biblical hope and expectation for the future’.
An interesting chapter identifying the preaching of the gospel to all nations and the conversion of the Jews as gracious signs of the times is followed by discussion of signs of judgement. The author considers that these signs of judgement characterise the whole current age but intensify as the coming of Christ draws nearer. It becomes clear that Dr Venema’s outlook is A-millennial, even before he discusses the various views of the millennium: Historic Pre-millennialism, Dispensational Pre-millennialism, Post-millennialism and A-millennialism. Before evaluating these views the author considers Revelation 20 and the relation between chapters 19 and 20, mainly giving reasons for repudiating the common Pre-millennial interpretation but also claiming the passage for the A-millennial view.
In evaluating the various millennial views Venema argues conclusively against the claims of Pre-millennialism and Dispensationalism to be biblical, examining their various defences in the light of the truth that the second coming of Christ ‘is a consummating event at the close of the age’. Identifying himself as an optimistic A- millennialist, Venema rejects what he calls golden-age Post-millennialism. He contends that to ‘golden-age Post-millennialism the kingship of Jesus Christ is not so much a present as a future reality’, but this is contradicted, for one thing, by the centuries-long struggle of the largely Post-millennial Scottish Church for the ‘Crown Rights of the Redeemer’ here and now and for the Establishment Principle.
His claim that Post-millennialism fails to take account of the fact that throughout history the Lord’s people will be partakers of the sufferings of Christ is not an argument against Post-millennialism – which anticipates that the nations will come under the influence of the truth in an unprecedented way – but against a view which transfers to earth what will only be experienced in heaven. The assumption that Post-millennialism ‘alters the focus of the believer’s hope for the future’ and ‘encourages an outlook that focuses on the millennium rather than the return of Christ’ may be based on the defect of some who have held this position but is not an implication of the position, as has been demonstrated in the lives and writings of many who maintained it and yet were obviously ‘looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God’ (2 Pet. 3:12), Samuel Rutherford being a notable Scottish example. The apostles themselves were ‘looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ’ (1 Thess. 2:13) though that day was not imminent and they expected to die before it came.
Three chapters deal, on the whole, in a clear biblical manner with the resurrection of the body, the final judgement and the doctrine of eternal punishment, described by Charles Hodge as ‘concomitants of the second advent’. Differing views may be taken of the author’s description of the resurrection body as ‘material and fleshly and of his contention for degrees of gracious reward for the redeemed in heaven. The ‘horror of hell as a place of unceasing, consciously-felt punishment’ is clearly, faithfully and persuasively asserted over against universalism, annihilationism and conditional immortality.
The final chapter deals with the new heavens and earth. This reviewer is not persuaded by arguments for the renovation of what already exists rather than a new creation. An alleged parallel with the identity of the Christian’s present body and the gloriously-transformed resurrection body may have some plausibility but is not derivable from the statements of Scripture regarding the destruction of the present creation and the inauguration of the new heavens and earth.
This is a clearly written and comprehensive treatment of its subject, and conclusions with which one disagrees provoke thought regarding one’s own position rather than resentment at misrepresentation. Unlike The Promise of the Future this book has no indices. The New American Standard Bible (1979) has regrettably been used rather than the Authorised Version.
In the year 2000 this author’s The Promise of the Future, a hardback volume of over 500 pages, was published by the Banner of Truth. The present book abridges the previous one, intending to whet the appetite for the more substantial volume. Setting out to pursue ‘a disciplined study of what God promises in the […]
Rev Hugh M Cartwright is pastor of the Edinburgh congregation of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. This review was first printed in the January 2010 edition of The Free Presbyterian Magazine and is reproduced here with kind permission.
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