With the words, “Behold, He cometh,” the last book of the Bible begins and ends.
Since these words fix the hope of the church in these last days, and since the church is especially mindful of her one hope at the beginning of the new year, they are fitting for a January 1 editorial.
These words are also the title of Herman Hoeksema’s 726-page commentary on the book of Revelation. The work appeared first as articles in the Standard Bearer, beginning with the issue of May 15, 1956. The Reformed Free Publishing Association published the commentary in book form in 1969. It has been reprinted several times. For some time the book has been out-of-print. Our readers are hereby informed that the Reformed Free Publishing Association has again reprinted the book. It is now available with a new, attractive cover. More importantly, the new edition contains both a subject and a textual index. The extensive index of subjects includes all of the symbolical numbers that occur in the book of Revelation and that are treated in the commentary. Some who have one of the earlier editions will want this new edition because of these helpful indices.
It is puzzling that the book is not more widely known and loudly heralded. Behold, He Cometh is one of only very few commentaries on Revelation in English by a Reformed theologian. It is thorough. It is written in a clear style, so that every believer can understand the explanation. The exposition and application of the revelation of the last things are moving. The book reflects Hoeksema’s careful study of Revelation over many years. He preached through the book twice during his long ministry in First Church, Grand Rapids. He taught it to adult catechism classes. The book is full of the theological insights of the gifted Reformed theologian. There are brilliant analyses of the development of history and of contemporary events. It may well be Hoeksema’s finest work. I regard it as the commentary on Revelation that Calvin never wrote.
The form is not verse-by-verse exposition. Hoeksema explains whole sections. This still allows him to comment on particular verses, as well as to interpret difficult or important words and phrases. The method of exposition that Hoeksema uses in the book has its advantages. It brings out the Word of God in a passage. It indicates the relations within a passage. And it permits the writer to teach and apply the passage in a spiritual and practical manner.
Hoeksema finds the eschatology in the book of Revelation to be amillennial. The commentary is a presentation, defense, and development of the historic, confessional, Reformed amillennial doctrine of the last things. At the same time, Hoeksema exposes the two main errors in eschatology, premillennialism and postmillennialism. He does mot merely condemn these false teachings. He demonstrates their falsehood both from the passage under consideration and from the testimony of other, related passages of Scripture.
It is one of the outstanding virtues of the book that it is the Reformed amillennial interpretation of the book of Revelation. There are bookshelves of premillennial commentaries. Increasingly, postmillennial writers are issuing commentaries that explain the entire book, with the exception of chapter 20, as having been fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem or in the collapse of the Roman empire in the distant past (preterism). These millennial commentaries, whether premillennial or preterist postmillennial, are false and, therefore, virtually worthless. They are worse than worthless. They deceive professing Christians regarding the “revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass” (Rev. 1:1). They deceive professing Christians particularly regarding the persecution of the true church by Antichrist. Both premillennialism and postmillennialism agree that the church does not suffer the great tribulation. Therein lies their appeal. But this is deception.
The deception is deserved by those who are deceived. More than any other book of the Bible, Revelation warns the church of coming conflict with the dragon and his beast. It is full of dreadful enemies of Christ and His kingdom, war, blood, suffering, and death. That the message of this book should be pleasant assurance of the people of God that they will escape the tribulation prophesied in the book is false, if not ludicrous, on the face of it.
The theme of the book, Hoeksema points out, is stated in 1:7: “Behold, he cometh.”
The Word of God here would have the church conceive of this coming as a present fact: always the church must have the eyes of hope fixed upon that final event. Constantly she must stand in the attitude of expectancy and longing, the attitude of the bride looking for the coming of the Bridegroom, with the prayer on her lips: “Come, Lord Jesus!” …The words refer to the final coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, His literal and personal and visible return, the parousia, which will mark the end of all history and usher in the eternal state of heavenly glory in the new creation (p. 27).
This coming of Christ, which controls all of history, involves the warfare of the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan.
The book of Revelation is prophecy of the events connected with Jesus’ coming in symbolic (figurative) language.
Of vital importance is one’s grasp of the structure of the book. Following the presentation in chapter 1 of the risen Jesus Christ as almighty Lord over all things on behalf of His church, there are the letters to the seven churches. Hoeksema regards these churches as actual churches at the time of John’s writing. They also represent the visible church in all ages, showing the spiritual condition of the church both positively and negatively. Hoeksema’s analysis of each of the churches is masterful.
The rest of the book, from chapter 4 to the end, is prophecy of the victory of the glorious kingdom of Christ over the dark kingdom of the beast in a great conflict. This war was typified by the attack on the church by the Roman Empire of John’s day, which attack was also itself one phase of the war. The key to chapters 4-22, both as regards structure and content, is the book of chapter 5 with its seven seals.
Hoeksema shows that the book of Revelation is not chronological. The events prophesied in later chapters must not be thought to follow the events of earlier chapters in history. Rather, the later chapters cover the same period of time that was treated in earlier chapters. But now the viewpoint is different. Regarding God’s judgments on a wicked world, later chapters not only repeat the prophecy of wrathful punishment but also indicate the increase of judgment as history nears its goal.
Let us hear Hoeksema himself in his commentary on several important and interesting passages of Revelation.
In explanation of the statement in 1:1, that the things prophesied in Revelation must come to pass “shortly,” Hoeksema says:
The Lord comes quickly. He does not tarry. He is not slack concerning the promise. And this implies that the things which must come to pass before that final coming and in the process of that coming must also come to pass shortly, or quickly. This may not appear so to us…. But we must remember not only that God’s measure of time differs from ours, but also that tremendous things must come to pass before the end shall be…. If we consider the nature of the things that must come to pass, we begin to see that they do, indeed, occur with astounding rapidity, especially in our own day. However this may be, the Scriptures teach that all things come to pass quickly. There is no delay, so that also the view that God restrains the progress of sin is contrary to this Scriptural teaching. All things hasten unto the end! (p. 9)
Hoeksema’s analysis of the church in Thyatira (2:18-29) sees it as a church with a “mystic tendency.” This is the occasion for him to praise the “mystic element” in the life of a true church:
In any form of true Christian religion there is a mystic element, resulting from our spiritual communion with Christ our head. And any true child of God will be able to speak of the fact that he experiences moments of sweet communion with the Savior that transcend all analysis and expression in human language. To speak in terms often employed by children of God, there are moments when they have “good times” with the Lord, moments in which we experience the mystical feeling of the bride who is near the bridegroom. Such moments are perfectly normal, and they should constitute an element of our life with God. There is no danger in such mystical communion, if only it is continually subjected to the objective test of the Word of God. And if such a condition is peculiar of an entire church, that church enjoys what may be called a state of healthy mysticism (p. 97).
His exposition of the four horsemen of Revelation 6:1-8sketches the Christian world-view (which Hoeksema calls “life-view”):
The people of God have their own life-view with regard to every sphere of life and every institution of the world. The home is an institution existing primarily for the perpetuation of God’s covenant in the world. The school is an institution for the purpose of instructing the covenant children according to the principles of Holy Writ for every sphere of life. Society, with business and industry, art and science, and all things that exist, must, according to them, be controlled by the principles of the Word of God and be made subservient to the idea of God’s kingdom in the world. In a word, they have a new life-view. They are members of God’s covenant, His friends in the world, subjects of His kingdom. And, in principle at least, they want to live the life of that kingdom also in the present world (p. 211).
Although Hoeksema has some sympathy for the view that the Antichrist is the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church, he rejects this interpretation. Commenting on the persecution of the two witnesses by the beast from the abyss (11:1-10), he writes:
It is not true that the pope is the only manifestation of the Antichrist. Nor is it true that he finds his power only in the Roman Catholic Church. This is indeed a dangerous view to maintain…. We would deceive ourselves and please the devil if, to find it, we would merely look at the Romish Church (p. 376).
His subsequent interpretation of chapter 13 identifies Antichrist as a universal, political world-power aided by the false church.
In a lovely—but challenging—description of the singers at the sea of glass (15:2ff.), Hoeksema declares:
They have been in the thickest of the battle. It was for them to live at the time of Antichrist in all his power and fullness. The honor and privilege to live at that time was in store for them. For thus it is in reality: it will be a time of special privilege for the people of God to live at the time of Antichrist. It is much rather a cause of longing and yearning, than of fear and trembling, for the people of God to live at that time. Is not a soldier in the battle honored by being in the thickest of the battle? And shall not the soldier of the kingdom of Christ by faith deem it an honor to be in the thickest of the fight against the power of Antichrist and to show that he fears nothing even though he be hated of all men and of all nations? And, therefore, it is a special honor to be deemed worthy to live at that time. God shall have His strongest children, His best forces, in the world at that last period. And, therefore, to belong to those picked forces of Christ in the world at the time of Antichrist shall be the greatest honor conceivable (p. 522).
One need not agree with Hoeksema’s commentary, or eschatology, in every detail. The strangest, and most objectionable, theory is his notion, repeated again and again in the commentary, that the remaining saints will be taken out of the world shortly before Christ’s coming and the end (see pp. 397; 509ff.; 535; 551; 600; 603; 605). The reason for this “Reformed rapture” is not that the saints must escape the great tribulation under Antichrist, for Hoeksema correctly teaches that the full fury of Antichrist will fall upon the true church and her faithful members. Rather, the reason is that the few remaining saints must escape the terrible judgments of God that will fall upon the world-kingdom of the beast immediately before the end.
Nevertheless, this notion of God’s taking the church into heaven prior to the coming of Christ and the end is wrong and dangerous. I Corinthians 15:51ff. teaches that some elect believers will be in the world when Christ comes. The notion is dangerous because it compromises the Reformed repudiation of the bizarre fiction of premillennial dispensationalism. This danger is especially pronounced in that Hoeksema’s “rapture” includes the resurrection of the dead saints before the resurrection of the wicked some days, or months, later (p. 397).
The Reformed student of Scripture might also differ with Hoeksema’s exegesis ofDaniel 9, specifically the cutting off of Messiah according to verse 26. Hoeksema explains the 70 weeks as extending to the reign of Antichrist. The cutting off of Messiah is then the killing of the two witnesses of Revelation 11 (p. 396). But Daniel 9:24 has the 70 weeks terminating upon Messiah Himself, that is, the ministry on earth of Jesus Christ. Verse 26 does not refer to the persecution of the church under Antichrist, but to the death of Messiah on the cross.
Hoeksema has not spoken the last word on eschatology. In this aspect of biblical truth more than any other, there can and should be development today. This duty rests squarely and exclusively upon Reformed amillennialists.
But Hoeksema has spoken a sound, urgent, and rare word. He has spoken it in this commentary on Revelation, once again made available by the Reformed Free Publishing Association.
In this editorial, he will have the last word. The quotation is his explanation of the words, “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come,” inRevelation 22:17. What he says is timely at the beginning of a new year.
This [is] … the spontaneous response of the bride. For the bride receives a picture of the glory of the Bridegroom and of the time when she shall always be with Him. She is conscious all the more, through the prophecy of this book, of her present misery, of her tribulation which she must and does suffer in the midst of the world. She is conscious of her present separation. She is conscious of her sinfulness. And when, through the words of the book of this prophecy, she looks at the glory which shall be revealed to her, she calls out, under the influence of the Spirit of the Bridegroom, “Come; yea, come, Lord Jesus!”