For many, the subject of “eschatology” is like ice cream. It’s delightfully sweet and you always crave more of it. For others (to use a phrase from my friend Lindsay), it might as well be a root canal. It’s painful to listen through, there’s a lot of screaming and tears, and it pretty much is the end of the world. Jonathan Menn has done what many have not been able to do. Menn made a career as an attorney, but in his 50s he went to TEDS and received his M.Div in 2007. Growing up, “eschatology” to me was just a big word that meant Jesus was coming back at the sound of a trumpet, and, according to the movies, I’m leaving my clothes behind. In college, I knew it as “that section” in the back of big theology books that didn’t apply to my every day life and was probably too complicated to understand so I’d better just let the smart guys deal with it. I’ll just wait for the trumpet. What’s so great about this book?
Having been an attorney, Menn knows how to form a good argument, and he knows how to write. He uses plenty of quotes to back up his arguments (his bibliography consists of two Pseudepigraphal works, three Greco-Roman writings, 31 early Christian/patristic writings, and over 500 contemporary works, ranging from amillennial to classical dispensational theology and everywhere in between).
The book is structured under 12 chapters and 7 appendices. I’d suggest you look here to view the Table of Contents. After the introduction, Menn briefly covers how to interpret prophecy and apocalyptic literature, saying that it’s not as “literal” as some say it is. The prophets “forth-told” God’s word more than they “foretold” future events, declaring that God’s people were to follow God, as he was the fulfillment of prophecy. Here Menn quotes Stephen Travis saying,
It was the literalists of Jesus’s day who found it hard to recognize in him the fulfillment of their expectations. Those who looked for a military and political Messiah, the natural counterpart to David, failed to see that Jesus had more, not less, to offer. Those who accused him at his trial could not get beyond a literal understanding of his prediction that within three days he would rebuild the ruined Temple…” (7)
Menn looks at the difference between ‘literal,’ ‘metaphorical,’ ‘physical,’ and ‘spiritual’ meanings. “We must ‘train ourselves to think in pictures'” (18). In chapter 3 Menn looks at the OT end time expectations (e.g., new covenant, promise of land, Davidic king(dom), the “day of the Lord,” etc), and states that these aren’t synthesized in the OT, but are spread out in the various books. Yet the significance of Christ’s first coming is that he collects all of these prophecies together. In chapter 4 Menn uses the “two-age” model (Mk 10.30; Lk 18.30; 1 Cor 3.18-19; 13.12; 1 Tim 4.8; Heb 1.6; 2.5; ) as the overall structure to the Bible’s eschatology, and then shows the significance of Christ’s second coming in chapter 5.
In chapter 6 Menn covers the history of eschatological thought, showing that views on both historical premillennialism (‘Premill’) and amillennialism (‘Amill’) were held since the time of the early church fathers. He also looks at the rise and fall of postmillennialism (‘PM’) and dispensational premillennialism (‘DP’). Chapter 7 outlines the different views of the millennium, along with the strengths and weaknesses of each system. Chapter 8 follows suit by showing each system’s conception of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, but here Menn gives his own interpretation. Jesus is talking about the destruction of the Jewish Temple in vv 4-28, but the prophecies here are also connected (though not in a literal fashion on every, single detail) to his second coming. Vv 27-31 covers Christ’s future second coming (which was not 70 AD). Vv 32-35 refer back to the time before 70 AD (vv4-28), and vv 36 refers to Christ’s second coming. I can’t explain all the details, but Menn gives a lengthy explanation, similar to Stein’s, but I think Menn may be more correct here. Christ’s coming is totally unpredictable. The emphasis isn’t on his imminent return as many say it is, because Jesus tells them repeatedly (in Mk 13) to ‘keep watch’ because there will be a delay.
Chapter 9 covers the timing of the rapture. Is it before (‘pre-‘) or after (‘post-‘) the millennium? Chapter 10 looks at the Antichrist in Paul and John’s writings, along with the beast and the number 666. Chapter 11 is the real kicker. It’s huge! At a whopping 130 pages this chapter on revelation is the longest chapter in the book, and for good reason. Menn covers the genre, prophecy, symbolism, interpretive guidelines, different end-time approaches, the themes and structure (progressive or parallel?), and more. Menn argues that the entire book of Revelation concerns the church and speaks of the church with symbols, ‘bond-servants,’ ‘saints,’ ‘martyrs,’ the ‘144,000,’ the ‘great multitude,’ the ‘temple’ and ‘holy city,’ the ‘two witnesses,’ the bride,’ and more. Menn covers the major ideas of the historical situation, the great tribulation, the seals, trumpets, and bowls, the woman, the dragon, and the beast, Babylon, the binding of Satan, Christ’s second coming, the reign and resurrection of the saints, and the New Jerusalem. “Revelation ties together and completes the entire Bible” (308).
Chapter 12 shows us the importance of eschatology. We need to be aware of and know eschatology because it pervades the NT. It ties “together our overall theology… [it] is a source of hope and expectation… [it] strengthens the teaching ministry… [and] life of the church” (311-13). Menn finishes by showing how our eschatology motivates (or de-motivates) us to working to change our culture.
Finally, there are 7 Appendices: the four basic millennial Views, an ‘Amill’ synthesis of the Biblical data, the rapture and second coming (the only appendix I didn’t enjoy reading, but it’s actually a transcript from another author), Ezekiel 40-48 and his vision of the new temple, Daniel 9.24-27 and the seventy weeks prophecy, Zechariah 14 and it’s relation to Christ’s two advents, and Romans 11.25-26, (“and so all Israel will be saved”).
The Chocolate Milk
This book is long. I mean really long. It’s a tall book, and Menn packs a punch. He holds to Amillennial eschatology, and he argues it well. Many will be challenged by this book, and they should be challenged. Some parts are dense, yes, but I was surprised at the clarity (mentioned above) in which Menn writes. There were some issues I had to read a number of times (especially the bit about the “‘first’ resurrection” and the “‘second’ death”), but I can say that I have a clearer view of the Bible’s overall structure. One of the most important ways to know how to read the Bible is to know the overall structure. Now, many will disagree with Menn’s points (even in the Amill camp), and there are a few parts I need to read over again to see what I actually believe about those passages.
But nonetheless, this is a book for Bible students, teachers, and pastors. Whether you agree or not, Menn’s book will strengthen your end-time position. Whether small points or major issues (DP’s will have their work cut out for them), Menn will challenge you. But at the same time he shows why we need to be challenged. We are to know God. This isn’t a system for system’s sake, as if we’re just making up random systematics here. We are to understand what God’s word has to say about our world today and what it says about God’s dealing with the world and his people today. When we understand what God is doing, then we understand what we are to be doing.
This is a book that you will come back to for a long time. It’s long. There is a lot to read. There are more Bible references than you can shake a stick at. Menn has done his work, and this book will require a lot of prayer. Highly recommended.
- Paperback: 602 pages
- Publisher: Resource Publications (September 4, 2013)
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[Special thanks to James at Wipf & Stock for allowing me to review this book. I was not required to give a positive review in exchange for this book].