The Last Days According to Jesus, R. C. Sproul. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2015 (originally published in 1998).
Summary: R.C. Sproul takes on the time-frame issues of the New Testament that seem to reflect an expectation of an imminent return of Christ and gives serious consideration to the preterist position that all or most of the predictions concerning the Last Days were fulfilled by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Understanding the “Last Days” predictions made in the gospels by Jesus as well as in the epistles and in the Revelation to John is among the most challenging areas of Bible study for most Christians. Furthermore, skeptical scholars take the statements of Jesus and others about the nearness of his return at face value and contend that on this, Jesus and the New Testament writers were mistaken.
In this work, R. C. Sproul takes on this question and challenges both the skeptics and those who believe most of the Last Days prophecies concern the future by considering the work of J. Stuart Russell and Kenneth L. Gentry, preterist scholars. In fact, he gives these scholars such consideration that I thought at one point that he was going to announce that he had adopted their position, which would mean arguing that the rapture of the church, the resurrection of the dead and the return of Christ all occurred in the events of 70 AD, which requires spiritualizing these events. Sproul does not, but he does take up the cause of moderate preterism in arguing that much of what Jesus predicted in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24 and parallels) was fulfilled with the fall of Jerusalem. He also seems to endorse Gentry’s contentions that Revelation was written prior to 70 AD, a view that even most evangelical scholars would not accept.
What weighs heavily for Sproul are the time frame references that say such things as “Behold, I come quickly” or “the time is near”. These make the most sense if one takes at least a moderate preterist view. He, at the same time, refuses to take a full preterist view because he cannot accept the “spiritualized” versions of the rapture of the church, the resurrection and a return of Christ that was hidden, all of which go against the biblical evidence.
The last two chapters take on other questions often of concern in Last Days discussions. One is the identity of the Antichrist and the other concerns the different millenial views. Sproul does propose an identification for the Antichrist while not, in this volume, identifying his millenial views.
I particularly appreciated Sproul’s careful study of Matthew 24, to which he devotes several chapters. His study of both the epistles and Revelation seemed a bit more cursory but still dealt with the relevant texts. I felt he didn’t seriously engage the scholarship that argues for a later date for Revelation.
It did seem to me a curious choice that he devoted so much of the book to the views of Russell, a nineteenth century scholar who would not be familiar to most. Much of this had to do with his serious consideration of the preterist view for which Russell argued, perhaps at the very time when dispensationalism was gaining its initial head of steam.
What I think of greatest value in this book is Sproul’s serious consideration of the time-frame references of Jesus and also his arguments that we must understand much of the “last days” fulfillment to have occurred with the fall of the temple and of Jerusalem. Sproul also provides very clear explanations of the various millenial positions and the model of a scholar who takes the Bible seriously as the final authority in these discussions. Whether you agree with Sproul’s moderate preterism or not, you might, as did I, find that Sproul gives you some new things to consider.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”