Robert Anderson: Detective of Prophecy
You may or may not have heard of Robert Anderson, but his name appears in the bibliography of books that you probably have, like Grant Jeffrey’s Appointment with Destiny. If you were a Victorian, you would also have seen his name in newspapers associated with the Jack the Ripper case, which he investigated as chief inspector with Scotland Yard.
Writing at a time when liberal scholarship was just making headway in the seminaries, Anderson defended the faith in The Gospel and Its Ministry and Redemption Truths and fought for the literal interpretation of prophecy in books like Daniel in the Critics’ Den and The Coming Prince (Wiersbe 315).
Everything I have read by Anderson has been thought provoking and grounded in scripture, but if I had to choose just one of his books for a desert island collection, it would definitely be The Coming Prince. Although the book focuses on the career of the Antichrist—the “coming Prince” of Daniel 9—the book is essentially a crash course in prophecy. You get an outline of the seventy weeks prophecy, an explanation of the pretrib rapture, and a defense of the book of Daniel. In fact, the book provides such lucid commentary on the prophecies of Daniel that I would count it as part of the “unsealing” of Daniel that was predicted for the end times: “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Daniel 12:4).
Anderson emphatically believed in a pretrib rapture of the church. His argument for pretrib does not lend itself well to a quick sound-byte summary, but it is logical, methodical, and easy to follow. Anderson starts by looking at the Old Testament prophesies of Christ’s return and imagines how they would have been understood by a reader of that time. He explains how incredible it must have seemed to imagine a literal fulfillment of the scriptures of Christ’s return—and in fact, some didn’t believe prophecy could ever be fulfilled literally (197). Anderson also points out how challenging it would be to see that the Old Testament scriptures were writing about two different comings—only the careful reader could discern two advents from the prophecies (156). Now, with our 20/20 hindsight, we can easily see that the scriptures were fulfilled literally and to the letter, and that the “suffering Messiah” and “ruling Messiah” descriptions referred to two different comings. Applying this kind of discernment to the New Testament scriptures, we deduce that 1) there will be a literal fulfillment of the second coming and 2) the second coming is not a single event. I know of no clearer description of the second coming than the following one, in which Anderson’s logical prose is a bit reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes:“These difficulties admit of only one solution, a solution as satisfactory as it is simple; namely, that what we term the second advent of Christ is not a single event…At the first of these He will call up to Himself the righteous dead, together with His own people then living upon earth. With this event this special “day of grace” will cease, and God will again revert to ‘the covenants’ and ‘the promises,’ and that people to whom the covenants and promises belong will once more become the center of Divine action toward mankind” (155).It’s a difficult thing to summarize the dispensational changes that will occur after the pretrib rapture in a sentence or two, but Anderson manages to do it.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the book is the confidence with which its author expected Israel to come back into the land. I hasten to add here that what’s exciting about this is not so much Anderson’s brilliant insight as the confirmation of Bible prophecy. It is important to realize that Anderson is writing before the world wars, at a time when the birth of the nation of Israel was still decades off. Yet he writes with complete faith that “Israel’s history has yet to be completed; and when that nation comes again upon the scene, the element of miraculous interpositions will mark once more the course of events on earth” (167). Pondering how this could possibly happen, Anderson speculates that Israel might become annexed by a European state (167). He reasons that the end times could begin with “a religious revival among the Jews, to prepare the way for the fulfillment of prophecies” (169). Of course, we know now that it was not “religious revival” but the Holocaust that paved the way for the Jewish repossession of Israel.
Anderson did err in seeing Jerusalem as remaining totally under Gentile control until the end—he did not understand how it could remain “trodden down of the Gentiles” otherwise (168). But that he saw the rebirth of Jerusalem at all affirms the truth of scripture, and the value of faith in Bible prophecy. Israel’s existence is by now such an obvious fact that it is hard to see how very improbable it would seem to the average citizen at the turn of the nineteenth century. Anderson admits as much: “The prophecies of a restored Israel seem to many as incredible as predictions of the present triumphs of electricity and steam would have appeared to our ancestors a century ago” (150)—and we might add, as incredible as television, nuclear power, or satellites would appear to Anderson himself, all of which help our understanding of how the events of Revelation will be possible. How many prophesies—and there are increasingly fewer—that boggle the mind now will soon become commonplace? For instance, some even now doubt that a temple will ever be built in Israel. But Anderson believed solidly in a rebuilt temple: “Judah shall again become a nation, Jerusalem shall be restored, and that temple shall be built in which the ‘abomination of desolation’ is to stand” (170). Today, with the cornerstone prepared and the Temple Mount Faithful actively working towards rebuilding, we can be accused of simply reading the headlines into the scriptures. The Coming Prince therefore provides a wonderful answer to those skeptics who see prophecy scholars as simply practicing newspaper exegesis.
Anderson’s style is sometimes dense and difficult, partially because his writing is a product of his time, and partly because he is so drawn to detail and the most complex problems of scripture. For this reason, I am not going to summarize here his explanation of Daniel’s seventy weeks prophecy, with its crucial but intricate separation of the different judgments upon Israel. But for those who want to understand why the tribulation will be seven years long, and why it is focused on Israel, it is virtually required reading. Of course, it is also possible to believe in the pretrib rapture and the literal interpretation of prophecies without diving into these depths. In its double nature, scripture resembles the natural world: for instance, we can appreciate the surface beauty of a flower, without knowing science, but for those who are so inclined, deeper study reveals hidden levels of wonder.
In some ways, The Coming Prince seems surprisingly up-to-date. For instance, the scholars who “fritter…away the meaning of plain words” (viii) can be found in every seminary and every denomination today. The book’s concerns—Israel’s future, the Antichrist, and the rapture—are the same ones that get discussed on internet message boards every day. That it was possible for the author to anticipate all of this without the support that we get every day from the world news is an important affirmation of the truth of Bible prophecy. Before the advent of World War I, when Israel was still under Turkish control and Europe had no plans of forming a union, Anderson was convinced of the literal fulfillment of Bible prophecy. I can’t help but think of Jesus’s reply to doubting Thomas: “Blessed is he who has not seen, and yet believes”—which is a good reminder to all of us that until the last prophecy unfolds, we have the opportunity to do the same.
Works Cited Anderson, Robert. The Coming Prince. Sir Robert Anderson. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel, 1984.
Jeffrey, Grant. “Selected Bibliography.” Appointment With Destiny. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.
Wiersbe, Warren W. “A Biographical Sketch.” The Coming Prince. Sir Robert Anderson. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel, 1984. 315-317.