Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Postmillennialism: Alive and Well on Planet Earth

How could anyone be a postmillennialist today? The world is obviously getting worse and worse and worse. All we are waiting for now is the final apostasy of the church so that God can rapture the faithful remnant out the world. It is a well-known fact that postmillennialism only gains in popularity before the turn of the century, when everyone is brimming with hope for a new century. Now that we are well into a new century and a new millennium, no one could possibly be optimistic about the future. Postmillennialism is dead.

Actually, postmillennialism is alive and well on planet earth, even in the 21st century, even with the dark clouds of economic disaster overhead.

I am an unabashed postmillennialist. I have many friends who are likewise eschatological optimists. Although the current majority report among Reformed folk is Amillennialism, it has not always been this way, not will it always be this way. Postmillennialism is on the rise!

God's word presents the Kingdom of God as triumphant. Premillennialists postpone this triumph until the second coming of Christ and are pessimistic about the Kingdom of God until then. Amillennialists relegate this triumph to heaven and are pessimistic about the Kingdom of God on earth. Thus, the triumph of the Kingdom of God is either for another era (Premillennialism) or for another realm (Amillennialism). Both of these are radically mistaken. The triumph of the Kingdom of God will happen in our current era and on the earth.

The preeminent theme of Daniel is the Kingdom of God. Daniel reveals some absolutely crucial details about the chronology of the Kingdom of God. If you miss these details, then you will completely misunderstand what Jesus and the apostles say about the Kingdom of God.

We are going to look briefly at the second and seventh chapters of Daniel. Each chapter contains some crucial information about the Kingdom of God. We will then examine a few other passages that illuminate our understanding of the Kingdom of God.

Daniel 2
In the second chapter of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a great image made of gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Daniel explains that these four materials represent four successive kingdoms that will rule the earth.

Daniel then tells Nebuchadnezzar that Babylon is the head of gold, which is the first kingdom. We can easily figure out what the other three kingdoms were.

1. Gold = Babylon
2. Silver = Persia
3. Bronze = Greece
4. Iron = Rome

However, Daniel also speaks of another kingdom.

"And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (Daniel 2:44).

From this statement, we learn a couple of important details about the Kingdom of God.

1) God will set up a kingdom “in the days of these kings.” During the reign of Babylon, Persia, Greece, or Rome, God will set up a kingdom. Initially, this means the kingdom of God began sometime between 604 BC (the date of the prophecy) and AD 476 (the fall of the Roman Empire).

2) The Kingdom of God will be indestructible, never-abandoned, triumphant, universal, and eternal.

We learn more about the Kingdom of God when we examine what happened to the image that Nebuchadnezzar saw.

"You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (Daniel 2:34-35).

From this, we learn a couple of more details about the Kingdom of God:

1) A stone shatters the image. What is this “stone cut without hands”? This is an obvious reference to the Kingdom of God that “breaks in pieces and consumes all these kingdoms.”

2) The stone becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth. The Kingdom of God starts as a stone, then becomes a mountain, filling the earth. Thus, the Kingdom of God begins small (a stone) and grows larger (a mountain) and eventually fills the whole earth.

Thus, from Daniel 2, we derive a globally triumphant expectation for the Kingdom of God.

Daniel 7
In the seventh chapter of Daniel, he sees a vision of four beasts: a lion, a bear, a leopard, and an unspecified beast. These symbols are explained to Daniel.

"Those great beasts, which are four, are four kings which arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever" (Daniel 7:17-18).

The four beasts represent four kingdoms, the same four kingdoms which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream.

1. The Lion = Babylon
2. The Bear = Persia
3. The Leopard = Greece
4. The Beast = Rome

However, the kingdom will be given to the saints of the Most High forever. This is described further at the end of the chapter.

"Then the kingdom and dominion,
And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven,
Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High.
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And all dominions shall serve and obey Him" (Daniel 7:27).

Again, the Kingdom of God will be everlasting and universal.

In the midst of his vision of the four beasts, Daniel also has a vision of the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man.

"I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed" (Daniel 7:13-14).

The Ancient of Days is God. The Son of Man is Jesus. Daniel saw a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ.

The Ancient of Days was sitting on his heavenly throne (Daniel 7:9-10). The Son of Man is “coming with the clouds of heaven.” Many think this is a description of Jesus coming to the earth. However, this is incorrect. The Son of Man does not come from the Ancient of Days. He comes to the Ancient of Days.

At this moment, the Ancient of Days gives the Son of Man a kingdom, which is described as universal, eternal, indestructible. This is the same Kingdom of God that has been described throughout the book of Daniel.

Daniel 7:13-14 provides the point in time of the establishment of the Kingdom of God: when the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days. This is a description of the ascension. When Jesus ascended to heaven, he ascended to the throne of the universe. He was placed at the right hand of God.

Psalm 110
The New Testament writers quote Psalm 110:1 more than any other Scripture. This is another key passage to understanding the Kingdom of God.

"The LORD said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool'" (Psalm 110:1).

Translators use small capitals in “LORD” to show that David is using God’s personal name, Yahweh. Thus, David wrote, “Yahweh said to my Lord.”

Who is David’s Lord? Does he have any Lord’s but God? No. This is a reference to a distinction among God. We understand that David’s Lord is Jesus. Yahweh is a reference to the Father.

Thus, David is writing that the Father will say to the Son, “Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool.”

What does it mean “till I make Your enemies Your footstool?” This is common battle language to describe the defeat of enemies. The defeated kings would be brought before the victor, and the victor would place his foot on their neck, signifying total victory.

Thus, Jesus will sit down at the Father’s right hand and stay there until the Father has defeated all of Jesus’ enemies.

We learn three significant things from this verse:

1) Jesus will sit at God’s right hand at a certain point in time. This is a reference to the ascension, as multiple passages make clear (Mark 16:19; Acts 23:32-36; Acts 5:30-31; Romans 8:34; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:1-3; 8:1; 10:12-13; 12:2).

2) When Jesus first sits at God’s right hand, not all of his enemies are defeated. This was true of Jesus’ ascension.

3) Jesus will sit at God’s right hand until a certain point in time – namely, until God defeats all of his enemies. Thus, Jesus is still at God’s right hand until his enemies are defeated.
This integrates well with what we learned from Daniel 2 and 7.

a) The Kingdom of God is established at the ascension of Jesus: when the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7) is also when David’s Lord sits at the right hand of Yahweh (Psalm 110).

b) The Kingdom of God grows: the stone becomes a mountain and fills the whole earth (Daniel 2) as all God’s enemies are subdued (Psalm 110).

This triumphal expectation carries forward into the gospels, yet Jesus adds to our understanding of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus and the Kingdom
Jesus and John came with the same message.

" In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!'" (Matthew 3:1-2).

"Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel'" (Mark 1:14-15).

Both said that the Kingdom of God was at hand. This meant that the Kingdom of God was near. It was close to being inaugurated.

In Matthew 13, Jesus told a series of parables about the Kingdom of God. We will look at two which particularly correspond with Daniel.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

"Another parable He put forth to them, saying: 'The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches'" (Matthew 13:31-32).

The idea here is that the Kingdom of God starts out small, in fact smaller than any other seeds, but once it is grown, it is greater than all other herbs and becomes a tree.

Jesus highlights the principle that the Kingdom starts inauspiciously, but it grows surprisingly large. This matches what Daniel said about the growth of the Kingdom. It starts as a stone but becomes a mountain, just as a mustard seed becomes a large tree.

The Parable of the Leaven

"Another parable He spoke to them: 'The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened'" (Matthew 13:33).

Jesus also compared the Kingdom of God to leaven or yeast. Leaven starts out as a proportionately small ingredient in a loaf of bread, but it effect the entire load, causing it to rise. This matches what Daniel said about the growth and the universality of the Kingdom of God. The stone becomes a mountain which fills the earth, just as a pinch of yeast spreads throughout the entire loaf.

Jesus’ Promise
Jesus gave a sterling promise regarding the Kingdom of God.

"And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).

Jesus promises to build his church. Jesus uses a play on words saying, “You are Peter (rock), and on this rock (stone), I will build my church.” Remember, that according to Daniel 2, the Kingdom of God begins with a stone. Again, we also encounter the indestructible nature of the Kingdom of God. Not even the gates of Hades, that is death, will prevail against it. The Kingdom of God will triumph over all of its enemies.

Building the Kingdom
How is Jesus building his Kingdom?

"And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen." (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus ascended to the right hand of God and is ruling and reigning over the universe through the church. The church’s mandate is to make disciples of all the nations. Become a mountain. Grow into a tree. Leaven the entire loaf.

The Second Advent of Jesus
When this is finished, then Jesus will return.

"For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25).

The return of Jesus marks the end of history.

"But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power" (1 Corinthians 15:23-24).

Here’s a summary of the major events in the Kingdom of God:

1) The first coming of Jesus Christ (death, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost).
2) The growth of the Kingdom of God and subduing of enemies.
3) The second coming of Jesus Christ.
4) Jesus delivers the Kingdom to God the Father.

We live in the time between the two advents of Jesus Christ. Until his second coming, Jesus Christ is ruling and reigning through the church.

Where’s the Triumphant Kingdom?
The problem for us today is that we do not see the triumphant kingdom. We do not see the stone becoming a mountain, or the mustard seed growing into a tree, or the yeast leavening the loaf.

We do not see the church conquering all the kingdoms of the world. We do not see the enemies of the church being crushed and turned into chaff.

We look at the world and wonder how we should interpret God’s promises. However, this is not how God’s people should think. This is how pagans think.

We need to look at God’s promises and wonder how we should interpret the world.

Many Christians have this exactly backwards. They look at the triumphant promises of God, then look at the decline of our society, and conclude that the triumphant promises must be for another age (Premillennialism) or another realm (Amillennialism).

We need to interpret history through the Bible, not the Bible through history. We need to trust that God got it right. We need the eyes of faith.

The decline of Western civilization is what it is. We have abandoned God, and now, we are paying the price. However, the church is flourishing in other parts of the world.

For example, in China, there are more Christians than there are people in the United States. More are converting each week than there are members in many of our evangelical denominations. Meanwhile, conservative Episcopalians in America are seeking help from the Anglican church in Africa. We are witnessing a shift in the global center of the church.

However, we must not mistake America for the church. God has blessed America like no other nation, but as we speed towards apostasy, we will likely be cursed like no other nation.

Things are getting worse in America and in the west, but things are not getting worse for the church. From the perspective of two millennia of history, we can see the triumph of the church. The church is now alive and well on every continent and in every country. There are relatively few people groups that have never heard the gospel. And, the best is yet to come.

We can be pessimistic about Europe, pessimistic about America, and pessimistic about Western culture. But, we cannot be pessimistic about the church. We are to be unapologetically optimistic about the future of the church.

Jesus Christ is building his church, and nothing will prevail against it. We expect the triumph of the Kingdom of God. This is the message of Daniel, the message of the Psalms, the message of Jesus and the Apostles. This is the message of the Scriptures.

The reports of the death of Postmillennialism have been greatly exaggerated. Postmillennialism is alive and well on planet earth.


john said...

This is truly inspirational. It's good to hear encouragement in sound biblical eschatology.

Thanks much.

Citizen Grim said...

That's the best way I've ever heard this presented.

Jsizzle said...

I found your blog a few weeks ago and am really enjoying it. I am an Amillenialist, but I am actually finding very little disagreement between your view of end times and what I have personally concluded. I am filling in a lot of the blanks about the nature of continuity and the role of the church that I have found sometimes lacking in some Amillenial studies I have researched, all based on your blog. God Bless you for your work and insight. 1 thing I do want to point out is your characterization of Amillenialism as pessimistic based on the view that it is only realized in the "heavenly realm", but this is not really a full characterization. Amillenialists like me do have optimism for the earthly realm. I just read an Amillenialist study by Anthony Hoekema, which I found also online, that emphasizes exactly the point that we are God's kingdom. From the Amillenialist perspective, when Jesus is the King of kings, WE, as Christians, are those kings. When we look at Revelation 20, we see the devil bound so that even though he fights us, he cannot stop the spread of the Gospel from gathering his people from the four corners of the earth. The only difference that I see is that we Amillenialists believe the thousand years started at Christs' ascension, and will continue for the fullness of time until his return, when Jesus gives the Kingdom back to the Father for his Glory in all eternity.(and for my two-cents this appears to be one of those things that should remain an "open question" of Doctrine, never to divide the Church). We see progressive parrallellism in the chronology of Revelation and so we see dark times for the very end and we see the world around us as getting worse, but we know that God is ruling above and have full encouragement that the outcome is Christ's victory and we share in that outcome. We know that the devil cannot stop us from spreading the gospel. I see that as optimistic, with a little bit of bible-centered realism.

Eric Adams said...

Jsizzle, thanks for your comments. Yes, there is very little difference between "Optimistic Amillennialism" and Postmillennialism. Technically, amills are also postmills in that they believe Christ returns after the millennium.

For the record, I do believe that the millennium started at the ascension.