Jun 10, 2011

Recommended Reading: Doctrine of the Last Things

10 Min Read

Apart from the sacraments, there is probably no division of systematic theology that is the source of more controversy than eschatology (the doctrine of the last things). Among believing Christians, one finds amillennialists, postmillennialists, and premillennialists. Among premillennialists, there are disputes over the relationship between the “rapture” and the “great tribulation.”

In order to find one’s way through the maze, it is helpful to know about some of the better books on the subject. The following works are some of those I have found most helpful (or have written myself in an attempt to be helpful).

General Eschatology

1. Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavnick

2. The Christian Faith by Michael Horton

All of the standard systematic theology texts have sections on eschatology. Some of the more thorough discussions are those in Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatic and in Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith. There are also specialized works focusing on eschatology. Among the best are the following:

3. The Promise of the Future by Cornelis Venema

Venema’s book is probably the best one-volume survey of eschatology from an orthodox Reformed perspective. Venema begins with a discussion of Old Testament eschatological expectations and their initial fulfillment in the first coming of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. He continues with chapters on the intermediate state, the second coming, and the signs of the times, before addressing the various millennial views. The final section of the book deals with the resurrection of the body, the final judgment, hell, and the new heavens and earth. An abridged version of this book has been published under the title Christ and the Future.

4. The Bible and the Future by Anthony Hoekema

Anthony Hoekema’s book has been a standard Reformed text on eschatology since its publication in 1979. Hoekema’s book is divided into two main sections. Part One covers “inaugurated eschatology” and includes chapters on Old and New Testament eschatology, the kingdom of God, and the tension between the Already and the Not Yet. Part Two covers “future eschatology” and includes chapters on all of the major subtopics of eschatology, including death, the intermediate state, the second coming, the millennium, the general resurrection, and final judgment. Although largely supplanted by Venema, this book is still a valuable resource.

5. The Return of Christ by G.C. Berkouwer

Dr. Berkouwer was Dr. Sproul’s professor in the Netherlands, and this work is his volume on eschatology. It covers most of the major topics.

Historical Works

1. The History of Christian Doctrines by Louis Berkhof

There are helpful discussions of the history of the church’s teaching on this subject in most historical theology textbooks. Although very brief, the discussion in Louis Berkhof’s The History of Christian Doctrines is worth reading.

2. Historical Theology by Gregg R. Allison

A much more thorough discussion may be found in Gregg R. Allison’s Historical Theology.

3. Early Christian Doctrines by J.N.D. Kelly

A helpful discussion of the early church’s eschatology may be found in J.N.D. Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines. A few specialized studies that are worth examining are:

4. Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity by Charles Hill

A groundbreaking in-depth study of early Christian views of the intermediate state and the millennium.

5. The Hope of the Early Church by Brian E. Daley

A survey of patristic eschatology up to the sixth century.

6. The Last Days are Here Again by Richard Kyle

Kyle surveys twenty centuries of eschatological thought with a focus on apocalyptic date-setters.

7. Calvin’s Doctrine of the Last Things Heinrich Quistorp

A full length study of Calvin’s eschatological views.

8. Puritans, the Millennium, and the Future of Israel Peter Toon

One of the more helpful studies of Puritan eschatology.

9. The Puritan Hope by Iain Murray

Murray examines the way in which an optimistic eschatology influenced European and American Christians with a particular focus on the way it influenced the rise of modern missions.

10. As the Waters Cover the Seas: Millennial Expectations in the Rise of Anglo American Missions, 1640–1810 by James A. DeJong

DeJong, Like Murray, looks at the influence of eschatology on the missionary movement.

Biblical Theology

1. From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology by Keith A. Mathison

This book is my attempt to trace the major eschatological themes of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

2. From Eden to the New Jerusalem T. Desmond Alexander

Dr. Alexander’s wonderful little book is a great introduction to the overarching story of Scripture with its focus on the coming of the Messiah and the creation of a new heavens and earth.


1. Prophecy and the Church by Oswald T. Allis

Allis’s book was one of the first full-length critiques of dispensationalism penned by a Reformed scholar. It is still worth reading.

2. Understanding Dispensationalists
Vern S. Poythress

Dr. Poythress’s book is an irenic, yet thorough, critique of the hermeneutics of dispensationalism.

3. This World is Not My Home: The Origins and Development of Dispensationalism by Michael Williams

Williams’s book is a very helpful history of the origins of dispensationalism.


1. When Shall These Things Be? edited by Keith A. Mathison

This book is a collection of essays addressing various aspects of hyper-preterism (a view of eschatology that argues all biblical prophecy was fulfilled in the first century).

The Book of Revelation

1. The Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard Bauckham

I have elsewhere listed my recommended commentaries on the book of Revelation. This little book is a very helpful supplement to such commentaries.

Individual Eschatology

1. If I Should Die Before I Wake by K. Scott Oliphint and Sinclair B. Ferguson

This is a great little book for those wanting a biblical understanding of death.

2. Fear Not! Death and the Afterlife from a Christian Perspective by Ligon Duncan with J. Nicholas Reid

This too is a helpful look at the biblical concept of death and what happens afterward.

General Eschatology: First Advent and the Kingdom of God

**1. Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation by Gerrit Scott Dawson

The first coming of Christ fulfilled Old Testament eschatological expectations. This book is a brilliant study of Christ’s ascension to the right hand of the Father and what it means for this present age.

2. The Coming of the Kingdom by Herman Ridderbos

Ridderbos’s work has become something of a classic among Reformed believers. It remains one of the most helpful studies of the New Testament teaching regarding the Kingdom of God.

3. The Presence of the Future by George Eldon Ladd

Ladd is a historic premillennialist, but his book has been widely influential as a study of inaugurated eschatology and the already, not-yet nature of the kingdom. It remains a must-read.

General Eschatology: The Millennium

The books by Venema and Hoekema mentioned above have chapters dealing with the millennium as do most systematic theology texts. The following books are devoted exclusively to this issue.

1. The Millennial Maze by
Stanley J. Grenz

This book is still the best introduction to the various millennial views. Very fair and even-handed.

**2. The Coming Millennial Kingdom edited by
Donald K. Campbell and Jeffrey Townsend

This is one of the better defenses of the premillennialist view in print. A recent book edited by Blomberg and Chung and titled A Case for Historic Premillennialism isn’t quite as helpful.

3. A Case for Amillennialism by Kim Riddlebarger

This work is the best single-volume defense of the amillennial view.

4. Postmillennialism by Keith A. Mathison

Although I agree with amillennialists regarding the time of the millennium (the entire present age), I take issue with some amillennial arguments concerning the nature and outcome of the present age.

General Eschatology: Final Judgment, Heaven and Hell

1. The Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell by Paul Helm

This small book is a good introduction to these topics.

2. Hell On Trial by Robert A. Peterson

Peterson’s book is a thorough defense of the traditional doctrine of eternal punishment. He critiques both universalism and annihilationism.

This article is part of the Recommended Reading collection.