The Bible and the Future is a Reformed eschatological masterpiece written by one of the greatest Reformed evangelical minds of the 20th century. Anthony Hoekema presents one of the most prominent evangelical works on eschatology in the first part of his three-volume journey through the major tenets of Reformed theology. His other two works, Created in God’s Image and Saved by Grace capture the doctrines of anthropology and soteriology, respectively. Hoekema served as both a pastor and professor throughout his life and his theological writings are considered some of the best Reformed theological works of the 20th century. His robust historical, theological, and biblical grasp of each doctrine he takes up to teach makes this work on eschatology one of the go-to works on the subject.
If one were to ask me what this book was about, I would simply point him or her to the title. The Bible and the Future is a book about just that—the Bible’s own claims about all things last things. Hoekema strives in this book to biblically and systematically understand and interpret what God has revealed to his people in his Word about last things.
The book is divided into two major sections. The first is a small section dealing with inaugurated eschatology in which Hoekema importantly proves that eschatology is not reserved for the apocalyptic literature of Daniel and Revelation. Rather, Hoekema scans the entire Bible and points out the eschatological direction of the Old Testament, the eschatological nature of the New Testament, along with a look at the meaning and purpose of all history, the kingdom of God, and the Holy Spirit’s role in inaugurated eschatology. This section closes with an ever-important look at the biblical eschatological theme of “already, not yet.” Hoekema shows that the new creation is already in progress, yet it has not been fully brought out. The primary purpose of this first section is to show the eschatological movement of redemptive history.
With this groundwork laid, the more familiar aspects of eschatology begin to make their way to the surface. Future eschatology is taken up in great detail in the second section of the book. This second section deals with four major eschatological themes: the death of believers, the second coming of Christ, the millennium, and the final judgment. With regard to the death of believers, Hoekema begins in chapter 7 by describing what the Bible says about physical death. Chapter 8 deals with the immortality of humans after death. Chapter 9 goes further to discuss the intermediate state in which Christians are in the presence of God, but without their resurrected bodies.
Chapters 10-13 involve discussions about the second coming of Christ. Step by step he goes through the elements of the second coming—our expectation of it, the general and particular signs of it, and its very nature.
Next, Hoekema discusses the biblical doctrine of the millennium. Consistent with traditional Reformed theology, he presents future eschatological events through an amillenial perspective. While positing the amillennial understanding of future eschatology, Hoekema very spends time in chapter 14 discussing the various views of the millennium. Chapter 15 serves as a sort of continuation of chapter 14 as it gives significant space to critique the popular dispensational premillennial position. Then in chapter 16, Hoekema goes directly to the text of Scripture that teaches the millennium in Revelation 20. While he previously described what the amillennial position taught in chapter 14, here he interprets Revelation 20 from an amillennial perspective. Chapter 16 serves as a solid representation of amillennial interpretation of the millennium by looking at the text itself.
Finally, chapters 17-20 deal with the final judgment. Hoekema begins in chapter 17 with a description and discussion of the resurrection of the body. He shows this doctrine’s centrality to the Bible’s overall eschatology (239). This thought flows directly into Hoekema’s biblical teaching on the final judgment. All aspects of the final judgment are discussed here from the time it occurs to who is judged. Appropriately, the doctrine of the final judgment is followed by Hoekema’s presentation and defense of the traditional evangelical position concerning eternal punishment. He engages those who deny eternal punishment (universalists and annihilationists) while arguing for eternal conscious suffering in hell for sinners who remain under God’s wrath.
The book closes with a glorious look at the new earth. The final state of those who are in Christ is looked at in chapter 20 (274). Where all history and this book is heading is summed up in these words, which also is a good summation of Hoekema’s eschatology: “At the beginning of history God created the heavens and the earth. At the end of history we see the new heavens and the new earth, which will far surpass in splendor all that we have seen before. At the center of history is the Lamb that was slain, the first-born from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Some day we shall cast all our crowns before him, ‘lost in wonder, love, and praise’” (287).
As expected, Hoekema’s work is biblically faithful, theologically reliable, and historically consistent. What makes The Bible and the Future so important and reliable for any serious study of eschatology is his dual fervent defense of amillennialism and honest and fair presentation of all other millennial views. It is rare to find a theologian who stays faithful to one theological position while remaining fair to other positions. The balance of chapter 14 is very appealing. By presenting these other views alongside his amillennial perspective, this makes his arguments more reliable and persuasive.
Hoekema’s presentation of eschatology is also comprehensive. While other books in this field primarily deal with elements of future eschatology, Hoekema shows that eschatology is not limited to all things future, even showing eschatological elements throughout the Old Testament. This is a very important way to view and understand the doctrine of last things. What usually surrounds this doctrine is controversy and unhelpful charts. Hoekema does not allow this kind of thinking after reading his book because he presents the entire Bible, all of redemptive history, and all of the Christian life as having an eschatological twang to them. And when the aspects of future eschatology are taken up, they are rooted firmly in Scripture and accurately represent the Reformed understanding of eschatology.
Hoekema’s Reformed perspective does not seem to function as a blinding bias. Per usual, Hoekema gives ample attention and critique of positions he disagrees with. This fair treatment of various eschatological views makes his book all the more effective and worthy of consideration from all Christians. An example of this is chapters 14-15. Hoekema not only provides us with multiple eschatological understandings of the millennium, but he also gives us an excellent example of how to engage positions that differ from your own. He is fair, yet faithful to and confident in his own perspective.
Another very important aspect of The Bible and the Future is Hoekema’s emphasis on the importance of the resurrection of the body. He shows that this is absolutely central to future eschatology. Though after physical death and we are in the intermediate state, Hoekema emphasizes that we are not meant to be spiritual beings (239). This is excellent perspective as many Christians focus on the intermediate state or only a spiritual state in heaven when Christ returns. Hoekema eliminates this kind of thinking, which is one of the more important contributions of this book.
There are many evangelical works on eschatology. However, very few of these works can compare with Hoekema’s candor and comprehensive nature. After the publication of this work, there can be no serious discussion of eschatology without consideration of The Bible and the Future. Hoekema’s faithful biblical exposition and theological-historical reliance makes this work an eschatological masterpiece and maybe the most influential Reformed eschatology of the 20th century.