45. What is postmillennialism?
Postmillennialism believes that many of the signs of the times have been fulfilled, and that the thousand years is a figurative term for a future golden age of Christianity on earth, when the devil will be almost totally bound and the earth almost totally Christianized, followed by a brief period of Satanic loosing a nd the Lord’s return to earth for the final judgment.
Most postmillennialists believe there will be a final apostasy at the end of human history, although it does not tend to be as serious or significant as that envisaged by amillennialists before Christ’s second coming.
A minority of postmillennialists reject any possibility of a final apostasy and believe that the Gospel conquest will be so complete that not one unbeliever will be left in the world.
Postmillennialists who want to eliminate or minimize the final apostasy may teach that Matthew 24 describes the signs present during the great tribulation before and during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.117 They may also teach that Revelation was written before 70 AD and also refers to the imminent events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem118 – Nero’s persecutions and the Roman-Jewish war. The great apostasy119 and the rise of the antichrist are past.120
Some postmillenialists have modified their “past-tense” interpretation of Matthew 24 and Revelation. They say that although most of the signs have passed, there may be a few just before the very end of the 1000 years on earth.
…and that the thousand years is a figurative term for a future golden age of Christianity on earth…
Although some postmillennialists have held to a literal 1000 years, most now take it to be a very long period, but not an exact 1000 year period. Some say that the 1000 years will happen suddenly, while others see the present age gradually merging into the golden millennial age. During that long golden age, the Kingdom of God will be greatly extended. Social, economic, political and cultural life will be vastly improved. Prosperity and peace will abound.
Turning to Revelation 20, the “first resurrection” is a spiritual regeneration, a revival of the elect on earth. Like amillennialists, postmillennialists do not see the millennium involving a visible reign of Christ from an earthly throne.
…when the devil will be almost totally bound,
Although the devil is bound to a limited extent through the present age, so that Satan is not able to deceive and control all the nations, this is moving towards a total and perfect binding when all will be under Christ’s control. Evil will be subdued and reduced to negligible proportions
…and the earth almost totally Christianized…
Though not everyone will be converted, all will be “Christianized,” the world will be controlled by Christians, and many believe that there will be a large-scale conversion of the Jews. Some postmillennialists see this happening by the preaching of the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, while others see it as coming about through political and social change from the top down. This golden age is based on numerous Old Testament prophecies of the Messianic Kingdom bringing universal peace and spiritual prosperity (Gen. 15:1-5; Ps. 2: 7,8; Isa. 2, 11; Isa. 65:17-25). It is admitted that there are not many New Testament references, because the New Testament emphasis is not on peace, but warfare; not prosperity, but tribulation. However , there are the “mustard seed to great tree,” and “little leaven to whole lump” passages about Christ’s Kingdom (Matt. 13:31-33). The great commission is also appealed to for evidence of not just gospel announcement, but a promise that the nations will be successfully evangelized. Romans 11 describes the effect of the Jews’ conversion as being life from the dead. Other “majority success” texts are John 12:31-32 and Revelation 7:9-10. Postmillennialism, like premillennialism, sees a largely earthly realization of the Kingdom of God during present history.
…followed by a brief period of Satanic loosing…
Most postmillennialists do accept that golden though this future age will be, Satan will be unloosed for a short time against the church (Rev. 20:7-9). There will be a brief period of apostasy and terrible conflict between good and evil (Armageddon), though this will not really harm the church.
…and the Lord’s return to earth for the final judgment.
Like amillennialism, postmillennialism sees Christ returning after the 1000 years. Then Christ will appear to destroy the devil and to establish the eternal kingdom. He will return to a largely Christianized world, resurrect all the dead, conduct the final judgment and assign all people their permanent eternal destiny. At this point, Christ’s millennial kingdom will come to an end, and he will turn over the kingdom to His Father (1Cor. 15:22-28). Thus, postmillennialists see four ages: the past age, the present age, the golden age, and the eternal age. In this sense they are similar to premillennialists who believe the millennium is still future.
46. What are some of the weaknesses of postmillennialism?
Despite some attractions, Postmillennialists are overoptimistic about the future of the Gospel, underpessimistic about the future rise of evil, and unrealistic about the present reign of Christ.
Surely every Christian wishes that postmillennialism was true! We would all love to see Christ have visible and numerical victory on earth, and to see the vast majority of our fellow men and women converted. That is an extremely attractive prospect.
…postmillennialists are over-optimistic about the future of the Gospel…
The Bible depicts the end of the ages not as an increasing triumph of good over evil, but as an increasing battle between good and evil (Gen. 3:15; Matt. 13:36-43). We can expect the worldwide spread of the Gospel, but not the Christianizing of the world. We can expect the Gospel to bring many blessings to the world, but not the conversion of the world (Matt. 24:37-39; Luke 18:8). We can expect visible manifestations of Christ’s kingship in the world, but not a visible worldwide dominion. Christ’s kingdom is primarily spiritual, not earthly; in the individual and the church, rather than in the world (Jn. 18:36; Rom. 14:17). The church’s hope is to be focussed on the return of Christ (Titus 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:3-7), not on a “golden age” of Christianity (2 Pet. 3:11-13).
So where did postmillennialists get the idea of a future golden age? Herman Bavinck argued that much of the postmillennialist’s optimism comes from interpreting the New Testament in the light of the Old, instead of the Old Testament in the light of the New. It cannot be denied that the Old Testament contains many “golden age” prophecies of worldwide peace, prosperity, happiness, and victory. The question is how to interpret them. Are they to be taken literally or figuratively? Do they speak of a literal future golden age on earth before Christ’s second coming, or are they figurative descriptions of worldwide Gospel blessings following Christ’s first coming? It is surely significant that none of the eschatological passages of the New Testament (Matthew 24, 1 Corinthians 15, 2 Peter 3, Revelation) make mention of a golden earthly age before Christ’s return. None of the Old Testament psalms or prophetic passages are ever applied to a golden age by New Testament writers. This would lead us to think that the New Testament writers did not interpret these passages literally but rather figuratively of the blessings of the Gospel age.
The postmillennial appeal to New Testament passages such as the “great commission” to disciple the nations, and the also the mustard-seed and leaven metaphors are not convincing. The great commission does not guarantee the majority in any nation will be discipled, and we are not told that the mustard tree filled the earth.
…under-pessimistic about the future rise of evil…
Many postmillennialists see many if not most of the “signs of the times” as having been already fulfilled in the great tribulation surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. They lay great emphasis on Jesus’ words that “this generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled.” The same approach is often taken to the book of Revelation and other “tribulation” passages. They were written before the fall of Jerusalem and predicted it. Thus the worst outbreak of evil is in the past, and the future is one of increasing
There are difficulties with this interpretation of Matthew 24. It speaks of a tribulation such as has not been seen from the beginning of the world and never will be (v. 21). Awful though it was, it is difficult to fit the 70 AD Jerusalem tribulation into this box. Also, verses 29-30 link the great tribulation with the coming of the Son of Man. Postmillennialists make the link by arguing that the Son of man came in judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD. The angels going out to the four corners of the earth are interpreted as the preachers of the Gospel going out to the then-known world (v. 31), and the heavenly signs of are symbols of God’s judgment (v. 29-31). “All tribes of the earth will mourn” (v. 30), is taken as descriptive of the families scattered by Roman persecution through the then-known world. Christ’s coming on the clouds of heaven (v.30) is not His return but His coming to the Father in heaven to receive vindication and authority.
Rather than getting lost in detailed exegesis to rebut this interpretation of Matthew 24, it is better to focus on the main themes of the Bible, and then ask if our interpretation of individual passages such as Matthew 24 fit that.
First, Jesus and the Apostles teach a theology of the cross, rather than a theology of glory. The Christian life in this world is usually a life of Christ-like cross-bearing, suffering and humiliation, rather than earthly victory, triumph and glory.
Second, the New Testament focus is not on a future golden age but on the second coming of Christ (1 Thess. 1:9-10; Titus 2:12-13; Heb. 9:28; James 5:7; 1 Peter 1:13; 2 Peter 3:11-12). That is our blessed hope.
Third, the Bible presents the transition to the eternal age as catastrophic, not a barely perceptible move from a golden age on earth to a golden age in the new heavens and new earth. A special intervention of God will bring the rule of Satan on earth to an end and will usher in the Kingdom that cannot be shaken (Matt. 24:29-31; Heb. 12:26,27; 2 Pet. 3:10-13). The change will be so great that it is called the regeneration (Matt. 19:28).
Postmillennialism’s golden age does not fit these three major biblical themes. As a result, it has the potential to lull believers into a false sense of security. It does not warn believers about the coming conflict, leaving them unprepared. Though many postmillennialists do accept a future time of trouble for the church, just before the end, they minimize it so that it will not affect the general upward trend or result in an anticlimax.
…and unrealistic about the present reign of Christ.
Postmillennialism tends to minimize the present impact of Christ’s victory over the devil. It denies that we are seeing much of Christ’s victory on earth in the present time. However, Christ’s kingdom is coming, His reign is spreading, sinners are being saved, and churches are being established across the world. He is already the exalted King.133 1 Corinthians 15:22-26 teaches that after Christ’s resurrection he was installed as King and presently reigns until all his enemies will be brought under his feet There is no suggestion of a millennial age intervening between the present age and the eternal age.