The prophetic Scriptures are among the greatest glories of our Bible. It is a remarkable thing that the God of Eternity, Who weaves the fabric of time, condescends to share with us His pattern, and allows us to understand something about His plan for the future of this universe, and humanity. That we should have such a revelation and fail to make every possible effort to understand it, should be almost unthinkable. And yet, the complexities of Biblical prophecy do cause us to shy away from the enjoyment of large sections of our Bible.
But a grasp of prophetic truth not only enhances our enjoyment of Scripture, it also protects us from error. Through the centuries of Church history, error has clustered around the interpretation of Biblical prophecy. The Thessalonians were “shaken in mind” and “troubled” by erroneous teaching regarding the progress of the prophetic program, and from their day to the present there has been no shortage of those who have distorted or denied the teaching of prophecy. The danger of such error is not merely academic – as the Thessalonians prove, doctrinal error about prophecy has serious implications for our practical Christian life. Getting prophecy right matters.
To a believer who is just beginning to study his Bible, the challenge of getting prophecy right can seem very daunting. There is so much Scripture to be considered, the language used is so often figurative, and the questions involved are so far-reaching in their implications, that it can be tempting to shelve the study of prophecy in favor of other subjects. That these difficulties exist cannot be denied, but our response should not be to abandon our efforts to understand what God has told us. Rather, we should seek His help to understand His revelation, and we should make use of every help that He, through His servants, has provided for us.
J. Dwight Pentecost’s Things to Come is one of these helps. It is not the most readable of books and no one would ever describe it as a gripping, page-turner. But for the student of Scripture who is serious about understanding the prophetic word, this comprehensive survey of Biblical prophecy is an invaluable tool. Pentecost covers an enormous amount of material in a systematic and logical progression. Beginning with fundamental questions of Biblical interpretation and the relationship between prophecy and the Biblical covenants, he surveys the whole panorama of God’s prophetic purpose. As he encounters areas that have been the object of controversy, he outlines the different viewpoints that have been taken, and presents a clear defense of his preferred understanding. This seldom makes for enthralling prose, but it allows the reader to arrive at a much more informed understanding of prophetic questions. Inevitably, given the scale of this book and the range of issues it covers, not everyone will agree with Pentecost on every issue. But, in many ways, that is the point of the book. In general, Pentecost is a judicious scholar and a reliable guide, and his work provides an overview of prophecy that gives the Bible student an excellent basis which he or she can then develop in his own study of Scripture.
Things to Come was originally written as a doctoral thesis, and it betrays its origins in its layout and its prose. Pentecost’s writing is fairly dry and academic, and some readers may find this a put-off. The subdivision of the material into sections, sub-sections, and sub-sub-sections also makes it a bit more of a challenge to engage with this book. But rather than being faults, these features are, arguably, the book’s greatest strengths. In the first place, the structure of this book provides an ease of access that is of use to all its readers. The division of the book into titled sections and paragraphs may make for a disjointed read, but they also point towards the way in which this book is most effectively used. When in the study of prophecy, a specific question arises, a quick glance at the table of contents directs the reader to the pages where that subject is discussed, the different viewpoints outlined and evaluated, and a judicious conclusion reached. The layout of Things to Come, then, makes it a very valuable reference work.
But the complexities of the contents pages also pay off in another way. They provide the reader with an insight into the “nuts and bolts” of Pentecost’s study. Rather than simply presenting us with the finished product, the book allows us to understand how that product was arrived at. Looking at the structure of Pentecost’s argument, we begin to appreciate his method: the orderly and systematic gathering of material, the weighing up of different expositions, and the choice of the most convincing. This feature of Pentecost’s book makes it especially valuable for those who are beginning to seriously study Scripture for the first time. It illustrates, very clearly, the value of a systematic approach to God’s Word, and the importance of comparing Scripture with Scripture as we try to understand the truth of divine revelation.
This is an important contribution. Oftentimes, our ministry focuses on the end product of our study of Scripture and not on the method by which we arrived at that product. We can take it for granted that those who listen are familiar with the methods that we use in the study of Scripture. But very often, and especially for younger believers, those methods are not self-explanatory, and a work like this that demonstrates how its conclusions were reached, can contribute to an understanding of how we most usefully study the inspired Word of God.
There is ample evidence on the shelves of our bookshops, both Christian and secular, that we increasingly like books that do all the work for us, and that are not only simple, but simplistic. In many subject areas, we happily purchase books that not only treat us like dummies, but actually call us that. Things to Comeis not Prophecy for Dummies: it requires an engaged mind and demands effort from its reader. But then, the study of Scripture is not a subject for dummies, and if the prophetic revelation of the eternal God does not deserve our diligent efforts and careful study, what does?