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— A CRITIQUE OF ANTHONY HOEKEMA'S INTERPRETATION OF —
The Second Coming of Jesus Christ
 AS EXPOUNDED IN HIS 1978 BOOK — 'THE BIBLE AND THE FUTURE' 
CONTENTS
1.  Introduction 5.  The Nature of the Second Coming
2.  Expectation of the Second Coming       6.  The Effect of Christ's Coming
3.  The Signs of the Times 7.  Conclusion
4.  The Signs in Particular 8.  Bibliography
See also – Calvinism's Corruptions
1. Introduction  
Hoekema's
concept of inaugurated and future eschatology is a useful frame within which to deal with the various elements of his view of end-time events. However, the misdirecting of these teachings lies essentially in:
its view on Israel; and,
its handling of Holy Scripture in a way that violates its context rather than allow it to contradict the presuppositions of Reformed theology.
 
As
is often the case, there are differences of opinion on some Scriptures as to whether they refer to the kingdom inaugurated in Jesus' first coming or whether they pertain to the future fulfilment at His second coming. Hoekema also has this problem.

 
2. Expectation of the Second Coming  
The
Bible's teaching on the expectation of Christ's "second coming" is dealt with very constructively by Hoekema. He brings out the ethical effect upon the life of the believer and frees this from a particular time period by showing the indeterminate nature of the date of the Return. He does this by showing that the so-called imminence passages refer to the inaugurated eschaton of Christ's first coming, and that the New Testament teaches a "delay" and an "uncertainty of the time" of His Return (Hoekema 1978:112).
 
 
Hoekema's reasoning is not always well founded however. For instance, his exegesis of the apparent imminence passage in Mark 9:1 (compare Mat.16:28; Lk.9:27) which reads –
 
 
"And He said to them, 'Truly, I say to you,
there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God come with power'.
"
 
This
is presented  (and so understood) by all three of the synoptic gospels as leading to Peter, James and John witnessing Christ's Transfiguration with Elijah and Moses (Mk.9:2-13; Mat.17:1-13; Lk.9:28-36) – personages associated with the inauguration of the Kingdom (Mal.4:1-6).
 
 
Hoekema however, insists (following Ridderbos) on seeing this as a reference to the resurrection of Christ. He seems sometimes to be more faithful to his own theological perspective than to the text of holy Scripture.
 
 
His treatment of another imminence passage likewise does not sufficiently take into account the context of the passage.
 
 
"you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes".
Matthew 10:23;
cf. Luke 9:1-9.
 
Unlike the ministry of evangelism in the Christian Church, the twelve apostles are instructed to go only to the "house of Israel", to neither Samaritan or Gentile, and if rejected then to pronounce judgment.
 
In Luke (10:1-16) the mission of the seventy receives the same narrow instructions as they are sent to "every city and place where He Himself was going to come" (10:1).
 
 
It is thus evident that the final summing up of the ministry of Jesus to Israel has come and the Seventy, like the Twelve, are sent out to precede Christ. The reassurance of the Twelve, as the Seventy, concerning the persecution they will encounter is not the shortness of the time to a second coming (imminence), but immediate coming Christ who follows behind them and in whom they had such confidence on a previous occasion as to ask Him to bring fire down from heaven upon those who rejected their word, even if their attitude was wrong. 
 
It
is not necessary to plead "prophetic foreshortening", as Hoekema does, to avoid an apparent failed prophecy. The context gives a rational and immediate fulfillment.
 
  Hoekema's quote from Romans does not refer to the second coming either. The words –  
 
"the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet"
Romans 16:20.
 
are a clear allusion to Christ's promise previously given concerning their mission –
 
  "I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions,
and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall injure you
"
Luke 10:19.
This
is not the persecuting world that we are to tread underfoot. It is the undermining and poisonous discouragements of Satan through those whose words "deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting" (Rom.16:18). This is the "evil" (16:19) which God will soon crush as the believers "turn away from them" (16:17).
 
 
Nevertheless, Hoekema's treatment of the second coming expectation is well done but his exegesis lacks exactness. He leaves the impression that his interpretation of the biblical data is significantly influenced by his theological position and thus he works rather clumsily with the evidences.

 
3. The Signs of the Times  
In
considering the significance of the signs that Jesus and Paul gave concerning Christ's second coming, Hoekema argues against "wrong use" of the signs.
 
 
Firstly, he opposes the idea that the coming of Christ's kingdom is to be identified by "abnormal, spectacular, or catastrophic events (1978:130). To do this he uses Christ's words to the Pharisees –
 
 
"The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!'
for behold,the kingdom of God is in the midst of you"
Luke 17:20-21.
This
is a shocking misapplication of Scripture, for it was Christ Himself in the Pharisees "midst" who was the presence of the kingdom.
 
 
Equally inappropriate is Hoekema's association of the "abnormal" signs with satanic deception (2 Thes.2:9) (1978:131). That Satan uses the spectacular to promote the coming Antichrist does not in any way mean that God's signs are therefore the normal, non spectacular and non catastrophic. It is highly misleading and totally unwarranted by Scripture to imply, as Hoekema does, that anything abnormal is deceptive. 
 
 
He also argues (following Hodge) that just as the prophecies indicating Christ's first coming were not understood until the event actually occurred and even then these prophecies were only convincing to those who saw with faith, that therefore the signs of Christ's second coming are likewise indiscernible to unbelievers. 
 
But
there is a radical contrast between the first and second comings of Christ that makes this reasoning inapplicable. 
The first time:
Christ came to "His own" (Jn.1:11) –
The second time:
it is to "all the tribes of the earth" (Rev.1:7).
The first time:
Christ came in the "mystery of the kingdom of heaven"   
The second time:
He will be "revealed" (Lk.17:30).
 
 
Hoekema does however, leave the door ajar for the extraordinary by referring to the horrific war on Jerusalem in 70 AD as a partial fulfillment of signs given and a precursor of the end in a prophetic foreshortening (1978:130).
 
Anthony
Hoekema asserts five general principles of signs given by Jesus concerning His second coming:
 
    1. witnessing that God is in control;
  2. pointing to the future Return;

  3. expressing the conflict of the ages that will climax;

  4. challenging for a response; and,

  5. calling for spiritual alertness in our lifestyle.
 
 
In the first point he tries to make signs refer to the past or completed actions of God. This is true in Christ's rebuke of the Pharisees, which he quotes (Mat.16:3), but this concerns signs of the time of Christ's first coming which was then current. Thus, again, there is a tendency to read into the significance of the signs what is not naturally understood in Christ's teaching. Hoekema's theological perspective again seeks an opportunity to be heard rather than honest exegesis.
 
 
Hoekema also asserts that all signs are always evident in the history of the church. 
 
 
He says that –
"They were present at the time the New Testament was written, they have been present through the intervening centuries, and they are present now." (1978:135).
He asserts this as the basis for saying that the signs are relevant today.
 
  This is really confusing. Not all signs are of the same kind!  
 
For instance, in Christ's Olivet discourse the principal sign given is a geographic event (Daniel's abomination in the holy place, Mat.24:15). The earlier signs, we are told by Jesus, are necessary things that must first happen but the end is "not yet" (24:6). The sign requested in verse three is not answered by the description of world circumstances and the prophecy of the fulfillment of evangelistic witness. These are given to show that there will be an extended period before the "end". The sign of Christ's coming that was requested is then described as the Abomination set up in the holy place in Jerusalem. This most certainly is not a perpetual event of the church's history, except if it be so allegorised as to lose its biblical context and we begin to call the Pope names!
 
 
Hoekema again has conformed the evidences to his reasonable system of eschatological understanding. Yet, at least his ethical application gives joy.

 
4. The Signs in Particular  
Hoekema next endeavours to consider the specific signs "as set forth in the Scriptures" (1978:137)  
 
He well shows the importance of the gospel mission to "the nations" and that this is the primary meaning and purpose of this present age (1978:138). He neglects however, the negative value of this sign. As long as the church has not completed its gospel mission to all nations the end cannot come!
 
 
When he begins to deal with the "salvation of the fullness of Israel", as he terms it, he begins to loosen his relation to the text of Scripture with which he is dealing, even though he claims to interpret it in the light of "the Scriptural givens" (1978:141). These perhaps should rather be described as the doctrines-already-formulated. Unfortunately it is again theology determining exegesis instead of exegesis determining theology.
 
 
Of the three alternatives that he presents as an interpretation for "all Israel will be saved" (Rom.11:26), he espouses a median position between understanding "Israel" as the physical nation and as the universal elect (Calvin). His understanding of the context of this passage in the preceding chapters seems correct until he begins to explain chapter eleven. 
 
 
Hoekema describes "all Israel" as "the sum total of all the (believing) remnants throughout history" (1978:145). In other words, all Jews that will-be-saved will be saved. This says nothing! He simply fails at a fundamental level to distinguish between the election of the individual to salvation and the election of the nation to special privilege and responsibility. Paul had explained it. 
 
 
The "to the Jew first" (Rom.2:10) is not God's partiality in personal salvation, but God's strategy in history.
 
 
From his reformed theological perspective he seems to interpret the elect as meaning always those elect to salvation.
Whereas, the Apostle Paul writes for our understanding –
 "As regards the gospel 
they are enemies of God, for your sake; but,
as regards election 
they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers" 
Rom.11:28 RSV

 
These are not saved Jews (the total of the remnants of all the ages) but the Jewish "enemies of God" who are yet still nationally elect, for the sake of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
 
  Hoekema fails to take into account the great discontinuity contained in Christ's statement –  
 
"the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it"
Matt.21:43
 
The Church is not simply an elect Israel freed from nationality. It is a new creation. There is neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ. To think of two groups among the redeemed is utterly foreign to Paul's thought!
 
 
There is no eternal remnant of saved Jews! Neither is there any nationality beyond the grave. Jesus said that it is the "sons of the kingdom" (in this life) that shall be cast into outer darkness (Mat.8:12). From the living nation of Israel the "kingdom" was taken away!
 
 
He also fails to take into account the great continuity between the Israel who rejected Jesus and the Israel whose "fullness" of salvation brings "much greater riches" to the world.
 
 
The whole impact of Paul's teaching in Romans 11:12 is that it is the same nation who crucified Christ and so gave a Saviour to the world, that will be saved and so bring "greater riches" than this salvation, even "life from the dead".
 
 
"But if their [Israel's] transgression means riches for the [Gentile] world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles,
how much greater riches will their
[Israel's] fullness bring!" [Resurrection]
Rom.11:12 NIV
Not
seeing this continuity bedevils Hoekema's exegesis. Christ came to "His own" (elect nation, not elect remnant for salvation) and "His own received Him not". Yet, for their patriarchs' sake their nation will be restored to Him when the "until" time of the fullness of the Gentiles, the completed evangelistic mandate, is fulfilled (Rom.11:25).
 
 
However, Hoekema's examination of the other principal signs of Tribulation, Apostasy, Antichrist and various catastrophes is well laid out and effectively shown.

 
5. The Nature of the Second Coming  
Hoekema
states the case effectively for a single stage second coming of Christ. He spends almost a whole chapter on this topic in refuting the two stage theory which teaches a Rapture followed by a Revelation of Christ seven years later, with a Tribulation period bracketed between them.
 
 
The Apostle Paul clearly associates the "rest" with Christ (the Rapture), which He will bring to His people, with the retribution of judgment "fire" (the Revelation) at His second coming (2 Thes.1:7). This "rest" for the righteous comes only "when the Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed ...in flaming fire, dealing out retribution...".
 
 
He then shows the Return to be a personal coming, a visible coming, and a glorious coming!

 
6. The Effect of Christ's Coming  
Hoekema
prefers to title his next three chapters on a Millennial theme, which indicates his approach. Whereas he has often shown the Old Testament background to New Testament truths of Christ's second coming, he now focuses largely upon the issue of Rev.20:1-6: the Millennium, literal or figurative.
 
 
The highly symbolic nature of the book of Revelation makes it a glorious amplification and stirring development of truths already stated in lesser detail in earlier Scripture. The issue of a millennium literal or figurative, and if literal, "when does Christ return, before or after?", is really the issue: "did God promise an earthly fulfillment of His kingdom in which the geographic city of Jerusalem would play the leading role?".
 
 
Hoekema's scheme of eschatology has no place for a future spiritually restored national-covenant Israel of Abraham's physical descendants. All promises to them are regarded by Hoekema as having been already fulfilled or being purely figurative of God's plan for His Church out of all nations and ages.
 
 
There is much truth in Hoekema's assertions and he makes many valid points in his attempt to demolish premillennial dispensationalism. Unfortunately, he has chosen to focus his refutation upon a fairly extreme wing of premillennialists and the bulk of his arguments on individual issues would probably be agreed to by premillennialists quite happily without his answers being seen as in way a valid criticism.
 
 
He is unconvincing that Christ's second coming to the same geographic city has no significance to that place except to terminate its existence in final conflagration. The prophecies of the Old Testament, such as Zechariah 14, which Jesus treated as literal in choosing to specially take His disciples to the Mount of Olives for the Ascension rather than depart from the mountain in Galilee where He commissioned them, make a return of Christ to destroy the earth in order to recreate it impossible, unless we arbitrarily decide that parts are figurative and others literal as it suits the presuppositions of our theology, as Hoekema seems to have done.
 
 
It would not be denied that he speaks the truth when he says that Scripture often has multiple fulfilments, literally, figuratively, and antitypically (1978:209), but he goes too far when he makes this a means of avoiding objections that his alleged literal fulfillment does not do justice to the text; for instance, that the promises of a full restoration of Israel to the Land that exceeds the Exodus from Egypt (Isa.43 & 49) was fulfilled by Zerubabel's and Ezra's caravans to Palestine. 
 
 
Israel's dispersion in the early centuries of the Christian era has been greater and longer than the captivity from which Zerubabel's exodus was supposed to be the final fulfillment. But, of course, now that the Church is here God no longer need keep His word to the patriarchs concerning their physical descendants, for the Church substitutes for all. One cannot agree with Hoekema without laying the Church open to the old (often justified) accusation that she has hijacked Israel's Scriptures and twisted their meaning to suit herself.
 
When
Paul deals with the problem of the unbelief of the "elect nation" (Rom.9-11) he expounds the authority and wisdom of a divine strategy of history. He does not avoid accusations of injustice by denying the right of the objector to object, for injustice pertains only to just reward and not to the dispensing of special opportunities, as to Israel. Paul's climax in Chapter Eleven is praise to God for His wisdom in a strategy of history to use even Israel's sin (rejecting Messiah) as a means of blessing to others. It is noticeably not 'irresistible grace', 'unconditional election', or 'limited atonement' that occasions this praise. It is –
 
 
"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!"
Romans 11:33.
  – that has secured salvation equally for all! (Rom.11:32).  
 
Hoekema's argument against a true offer of the kingdom to national Israel is that if they had accepted 'how could Christ have been crucified for our sins?', therefore, there was no offer to Israel but only to the spiritually elect (1978:213). This reasoning is presumptuous for it ignores the reality that for God it was the "fullness of time" when Christ came. It was a time of deep spiritual decadence in which even the God-honoured separated ones (Mal.3:16-18) in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes had become the Pharisees in the time of Jesus. God chose to send HIs Son in the time of Israel's apostasy, as Hoekema acknowledges it will be in Christendom at His Return.
 
 
Hoekema alleges that the "millennium" is a symbol of the spiritual reign of the deceased believers now with Christ and of ongoing conquest of the Christian Church among the nations, because Satan is bound. The lamentation and plea for justice of the martyred dead of the fifth seal in Revelation does not quite accord with a sense of reigning in heaven, nor does the history of the Church present a picture of irreversible growth. Hoekema asserts that –
"the nations cannot conquer the church, but the church is conquering the nations" (1978:229).
 
  Perhaps the previously strong churches of North Africa and the Sudan should have known that!  
 
The "dead in Christ" return with Him to be raised on this earth! (1 Thes.4:14-16). They will no longer "marry or be given in marriage, but are as the angels", who need no earth on which to live. The existence of a new earth, which Hoekema seems to treat as literal, is surely not populated with those whom resurrection glory has made them heirs of the universe and concerning whom all creation rejoices (Rom.8:18-25).
 
 
To continue an examination of Hoekema's teachings on the second coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ would be to begin repeating the objections already raised for his basic misconceptions of the newness of the Church, the future significance of Israel's nationhood, and the literal base of even the figuratively fulfilled prophecies continues to affect most of his eschatological thinking.

 
7. Conclusion  
Anthony
Hoekema presents a very useful coverage of much data in the field of eschatology. His basic concept of the two-fold reality (inaugurated and future, or realized and 'not yet') is sound and an effective framework from which to develop a fuller understanding of this most important subject to the spiritual health of the Church.
 
 
However, as often noted above, he is heavily influenced by the general scheme of his own theological views to the extent of forcing interpretations of Scripture passages and omitting valid argument of premillennialism that his objections do not adequately deal with.

 
8. Bibliography  
 
Hoekema, AA 1978 The Bible and the Future, Exeter, UK: Paternoster Press.
Ladd, George Eldon 1977 The Gospel and the Kingdom, Grand Rapids, USA: Eerdmans.
Ridderbos, Herman 1969 The Coming of the Kingdom, Philadelphia, USA: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.
 

The Mystery of the Kingdom The Terminal Sequence The Elijah Sign


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