Book Review: From the Resurrection to His Return by D.A. Carson

Depending on the circles you run in, the Last Days (or the End Times if you prefer) are a source of fairly regular discussion. What’s it going to be like when Christ returns? Should we be pre, post, or amillennial in our eschatology? And what do all those weird images in Revelation really mean, anyway?

If those are the questions that come to mind when you hear “Last Days,” be warned: This is not that kind of book. Instead, as the subtitle suggests, From The Resurrection to His Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days by D.A. Carson covers a much more practical subject: How we ought to live in the Last Days. Serving as a basic exposition of 2 Tim. 3:1-4:8 and built upon the lecture series delivered by Carson in 2010, each of this book’s five chapters is packed with wisdom and insight into how we ought to live while waiting for Christ to return.

Good Trees and Bad Trees, Good Fruit and Bad Fruit

Chapter one focuses on helping readers understand what the Scriptures speak of when the authors of the Bible use the term “the last days” and what we can expect during them. Carson suggests that this phrase refers to the entire time period between Christ’s first coming and His second and, as Paul reminds us in 2 Tim 3:1-5, there will be terrible times during this period. Indeed writes Carson, “There will be uncontrollable times, wild times, in these last days.”

Carson’s paints a picture that is appropriately grim as he examines the characteristics of the ungodly Paul gives us in verses 2-5. With eighteen individual items and “a clause that to give a nineteenth trait,” there’s much to take in. Carson describes the selfishness of the ungodly, their socially destructive behavior, their lack of self control and slanderous attitudes. They are “ungrateful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving.” They are brutal and “unloving of good;” they are treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. They have a form of godliness, but deny its power.

Strong words in a time that doesn’t much care for strong words. While all of these categories are worthy of our attention, Carson dwells most heavily on that of treachery:

The church is usually not too badly troubled by teachers who are, from the beginning, outside the framework of confessional Christianity, teachers who are saying all kinds of things that Christians view as foolish, dangerous, or simply false – because they’re recognised as moving in another circle, they’re bringing another set of assumptions. By contrast, if you find someone who has been a public teacher of Christianity for some time and who then gradually moves away from the centre of the faith, it sometimes takes a while to discern the nature of the drift. When the first people to notice begin to wave a red flag, others say, ‘Oh, come on, you’re being much too critical. After all, we trust this person; he’s been such a huge help to us.’ It might take a very long time before many people clearly see how serious this drift is.

Such teachers, then, are traitors. They have turned their backs on what they once taught and defended, and so they have become treacherous. It is not uncommon for such people to become rash. They become impetuous in the sense that they do not think through the long-term effects of the stances that they are now adopting. They become conceited, far too impressed by their own new-found opinions and deeply persuaded that the people whom they have left behind are narrow-minded and bigoted. With egos the size of small planets, they become unwilling to think through things out of a confessional heritage anymore; they are too busy telling everybody else how wrong they are. But where is God in such behaviour? It is tragic to find unambiguous examples of people who are ‘lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God’.

We ought to be careful to not miss the importance of this truth. How many times in recent years have we seen those who were apparently faithful teachers slide into apostasy? Far too many (and I’m sure you can think of numerous examples). It’s something that we must be watchful for not only in the lives of others, but especially in our own. “Sooner or later the truth comes out; sooner or later the falseness and corruption become clear,” writes Carson. “This exposure is not always instantaneous; indeed, it may not always be rapid. But sooner or later the truth will out and people will begin to discern what is going on.”

The implication is simple: You cannot hide who you are or what you’re becoming. “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit” (Matt. 7:18).

Regarding the Right Mentors

Chapter two focuses on the need to hold the right mentors in high regard. “The reality is that, consciously or unconsciously, all of us follow people whether we intend to or not,” Carson writes. Another simple, helpful and practical bit of instruction from Carson—to older readers, he says, “Do you ever say to a young Christian, ‘Do you want to know what Christianity is like? Watch me!’ If you never do, you are unbiblical.” Likewise to younger Christians, he writes, “Those of you who are younger ought to be seeking out mentors who have Paul’s characteristics. They know the apostle’s teaching; they display mature Christian fruit and conduct. Maybe they have been tested by suffering. They demonstrate love and endurance, patience and faith, joy and steadfastness, a hunger for holiness.”

This is a provocative call to discipleship that’s missing in so many of our churches today. I’ve been blessed to have a number of truly wonderful mentors in recent years whose character reflects these qualities; they’ve shaped my growth in more ways than they realize—particularly one who has dealt with a painful and debilitating illness for the last six years. While many in his position might despair, he is bearing much fruit and passing on what he’s learned to younger men like me. This is a tremendous gift from God.

But how many of us are actively seeking out opportunities to do likewise—even in the most obvious of places like in our families? I fear that too few of us are actively doing so. But if we fail to reach out to those coming up behind us, to take them alongside so they might learn what faithfulness looks like, we risk further damage and even treachery from among our number.

Hold Few Illusions, Hold onto the Bible, and Hold out the Bible to Others

The final chapters of the book offer three extremely brief but highly practical exhortations to readers. The first is that “Christians should never, ever, be surprised by evil,” even as we are horrified by it. “Christians will look at the rawness of history and the prevalence of evil people who become worse and worse, and they will hold few illusions. This is an essential element of faithful living in the last days.”

The second is that we must hold firmly to the Bible. Carson writes:

Some who go by the name of ‘Evangelical’ view the Bible in such scrappy atomistic bits that they can find moralising lessons here and there, but cannot see how the Bible gives us the gospel of Jesus Christ. But the Bible is not a magic book, as in: ‘A verse a day keeps the devil away’. It is a book that points us to Jesus, and this Jesus saves and transforms. This Jesus by his death and resurrection constitutes the good news that men and women may be reconciled to the living God. Here in this book there is instruction on what God has done in Christ Jesus; here there is the message of Christ dying for sinners, of whom I am chief; here there is the promise of the Holy Spirit given in down payment of the ultimate inheritance; here there is transformation. These Scriptures make you ‘wise for salvation’.

Finally, Carson reminds us of Paul’s charge to Timothy—to, in essence, hold out the Bible to others. This is the offensive position we can and must take in the last days. It’s not enough for us to simply be watchful lest we turn aside, to hold the right mentors in high regard, to be aware and honest about the sinful condition of humanity. We must—must—positively hold offer the truth of the gospel, the hope of salvation, to others. “In the light of Paul’s charge to Timothy, one begins to see one’s ministry not only in terms of teaching the Word right now, but as part of passing God’s truth along to another generation that comes along behind us and takes up the reins, proclaiming this same gospel to yet another generation, world without end, until Jesus himself comes back,” Carson writes.

While it can be read in the space of ninety minutes, don’t let this book’s brevity and relative simplicity fool you; From The Resurrection to His Return is a powerful and provocative call to maintain steadfast faithfulness in the Last Days. It’s a call that I pray that all readers will heed as we embrace the wisdom offered from those who have come before us and continue to pass it along faithfully to those following us.

Title: From The Resurrection to His Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days
Author: D.A. Carson
Publisher: Christian Focus (2010)

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