Revelation 20: Post-millennial Viewpoint


Revelation 20: Post-millennial Viewpoint

Dave: January 27, 2010

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 20:1-15

Introduction (by Adam)

On January 27th, our Bible study group met as we usually do on a weekly basis, and studied Revelation 20, the classic text on “the Millennium.” That night three of us took a limited amount of time to present three different views of the Millennium: [1] premillennialism (Rod), [2] postmillennialism (Dave), and amillennialism (myself). This subject of the Millennium requires more coverage than we were able to give it in just one meeting, so we have turned this into a project of sorts, as I wrote in our Introduction and Outline of Revelation 20. That outline provides links to all of our (completed and pending) posts on the subject of the Millennium and Revelation 20. Neither Dave nor I hold to the post-millennial position, but this material is being presented in order to give coverage to multiple viewpoints. Both Dave and I lean toward the amillennial viewpoint. Following Dave’s information below, I will be adding some additional details from Sam Storms, the founder of Desiring God Ministries. Dave’s information will be in black font, and mine in maroon font.

Adam

Postmillennialism

Some helpful definitions:
“Postmillennialism expects the proclaiming of the Spirit-blessed gospel of Jesus Christ to win the vast majority of human beings to salvation in the present age. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history [which they identify with the “millennium”] prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of people and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions the Lord will return visibly, bodily, and in great glory, ending history with the general resurrection and the great judgment of all humankind. Hence, our system is postmillennial in that the Lord’s glorious return occurs after an era of ‘millennial’ conditions” (Kenneth Gentry, “Postmillennialism,” in Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, pp. 13-14).

“The postmillennial conception of victory is of a progressive cultural victory and expansive influence of Christianity in history. . . . The personal status of the believer and the corporate standing of the Church in salvation is . . . one of present victory – in principle. . . . The distinctive postmillennial view of Christianity’s progressive victory, in time and history, into all of human life and culture, is postmillennialism’s application of the doctrine of Christ’s definitively completed salvation” (“Whose Victory in History?” in Gary North, ed., Theonomy: An Informed Response [Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991], p. 215).

Key Points:
• Christ will return after the Millennium
• The return of Christ is followed by the final judgment, the ultimate defeat of Satan, and the introduction of the eternal state
• Might be much longer than a literal 1000 years

Some characteristics of the coming Millennium:
• The effectiveness of the gospel will increase
• the vast majority of humanity will be won to Christ
• The world at large will experience a state of righteousness and peace, as will be reflected in economics, culture, politics, and world affairs
• Christian principles will be the rule in the world, rather than the exception
• Evil will be minimal
• Christ will return to a “Christianized” world

Key concept: The Kingdom of God
• The Kingdom is advancing and arriving on earth in degrees
• The advancement of the Kingdom is accomplished by the spread of the gospel
• After the great progress of the gospel, there will be a short time of Satanic activity and apostasy (Rev. 20:3 and 20:7)
Post-Millennium is distinctive in that it is optimistic about the current age.
Some Post-Millennialists believe that the Millennium began with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; others believe it is on its way.

Key Texts:

[1] Matthew 13:31-33

[Jesus] put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

[2] Matthew 28:18-20

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

[3] John 12:31-32 (Note: “all people” = “all”; see John 11:50-52)

Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.

[4] John 16:33

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

[5] Acts 2:32-36, 41

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified… So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

[6] 1 Corinthians 15:20-26

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a Man has come also the resurrection of the dead.For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

[7] Revelation 11:15

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,”The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.”

Well-known Post-Millennialists:
• John Calvin
• George Whitefield
• Matthew Henry
• Jonathan Edwards
• John Owen

What aspects of Post-Millennialism are difficult to accept?

What about the Scripture passages above most supports the position of Post-Millennialism?

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The following information comes from Sam Storms, in an article titled “The Postmillennial Viewpoint of the Kingdom of God,” written on November 7, 2006. Sam Storms is an amillennialist who maintains a Historicist viewpoint on most of the book of Revelation, but shares a preterist (past fulfillment) view of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). He presents the postmillennialist viewpoint here fairly and quite thoroughly. At the end, he lists some of the weaknesses of the postmillennialist viewpoint, which I believe are important to note:

1. The Kingdom of God – The Kingdom of God, according to Postmillennialism (hereafter cited as PostM), is primarily the rule or reign of God spiritually in/over the hearts of men. Thus the kingdom is truly present in this age and is visibly represented by the church of Jesus Christ. In other words, the kingdom “arrives” and is “present” wherever and whenever men believe the gospel and commit themselves to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ as Lord. Several important features of the kingdom in PostM thought are:

a. The kingdom is not to be thought of as arriving instantaneously or wholly via some cataclysmic event at the end of the age (an event such as the second coming of Christ). Indeed, the very name POSTmillennialism indicates that Christ will return only after the kingdom has come in its fullness…

b. The means by which the kingdom extends itself is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The continuing spread and influence of the gospel will increasingly, and in direct proportion thereto, introduce the kingdom. This gradual (but constantly growing) success of the gospel will be brought about by the power of the [Holy Spirit] working through the Church. Eventually the greater part, but not necessarily all, of the world’s population will be converted to Christ. As Greg Bahnsen explains, “the essential distinctive of postmillennialism is its scripturally derived, sure expectation of gospel prosperity for the church during the present age,” (“The Prima Facie Acceptability of Postmillennialism,” in The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, III, Winter 1976-77, p. 66). This point is best seen in the PostM interpretation of Revelation 19, a chapter which Amillennialists and Premillennialists understand to be a description of Christ’s coming at the end of the age. B. B. Warfield, a PostM, writes as follows:

“The section opens with a vision of the victory of the Word of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords over all His enemies. We see Him come forth from heaven girt for war, followed by the armies of heaven. . . . The thing symbolized is obviously the complete victory of the Son of God over all the hosts of wickedness. . . . The conquest is wrought by the spoken word—in short, by the preaching of the gospel. . . . What we have here, in effect, is a picture of the whole period between the first and second advents, seen from the point of view of heaven. It is the period of advancing victory of the Son of God over the world. . . . A progressively advancing conquest of the earth by Christ’s gospel implies a coming age deserving at least the relative name of ‘golden,’” (B.B. Warfield, “The Millennium and the Apocalypse,” in Biblical Doctrines, pp. 647-648, 662).

c. At what point, then, does the “millennium” begin? Postmillennialists differ: some say the millennium covers the entire inter-advent age (i.e., the whole period of time between Christ’s first and second comings), whereas others conceive of the present age as in some sense blending or merging into the millennium. In other words, some PostMs see the millennial kingdom as present throughout the whole of the current age whereas others reserve the word millennium for the latter day, publicly discernible, prosperity of the Christian Church.

d. This ever-increasing success of the gospel will bring in its wake a reduction (although not a total elimination) of the influence and presence of sin. Righteousness, peace, and prosperity will flourish. Thus, writes Bahnsen, “over thelong range the world will experience a period of extraordinary righteousness and prosperity as the church triumphs in the preaching of the gospel and discipling the nations through the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit,” (Ibid., p. 63).

Davis adds this important point: “It should be understood that the postmillennial perspective provides a forecast for the global and long-term prospects of Christianity, but not for the local, short-term prospects of denominations or churches in the nation. . . . [Thus] the merits of the argument for the postmillennial perspective are not to be tied to the judgments about the present or near-term prospects of the Christian church in America.”

e. The gospel will also sustain a positive influence in every sphere of society: the economic, political, and cultural life of mankind will be vastly improved. Therefore, this triumph or victory of the Church in the present age is not simply the spiritual/invisible victories in the Christian’s heart or the internal blessings privately experienced by the Church. The prosperity is such as will be visibly and publicly acknowledged. Every domain of human activity will be renewed according to Christian principles and thus brought into service for the glory of Jesus Christ. As Boettner expressed it above, “Christ will return to a truly Christianized world.”

f. At the end of the present age, that is, after the kingdom has spread visibly and powerfully throughout the world but just before Christ returns, there will be a brief time of increased Satanic activity and apostasy. This final rebellion will be crushed by the glorious return of Jesus Christ to the earth, at which time there will immediately follow the general resurrection, final judgment, and eternal state.

g. “In short, postmillennialism is set apart from the other two schools of thought [premillennialism and amillennialism] by its essential optimism for the kingdom in the present age,” (Bahnsen, Ibid., p. 66).

(NOTE: it should also be mentioned that many PostMs believe as do most Premillennialists that a mass conversion will occur among ethnic Israelites. Of course, unlike the Dispensational Premillennialists the PostM denies that this salvation of physical Israel has for its purpose a restoration of the nation in a future earthly millennium.)

2. Biblical Texts cited in support of Postmillennialism

(1) In the OT – Num. 14:21; Psalms 2:6-9; 22:27-28; 47; 72:8-11; 110:1-2; 138:4-5 (cf. 102:15); Isa. 2:2-4; 9:6-7; 11:6-10; 45:22-25; 65; 66; Jer. 31:31-34; Daniel 2:31-35; Zech. 9:9f.; 13:1; 14:9.

(2) In the NT – Matt. 13:31-33; 28:18-20; John 12:31-32; 16:33; I John 2:13-14; 3:8; 4:4,14; 5:4-5; Acts 2:32-36,41;Rom. 11:25-32; I Cor. 15:20-26, 57-58; Hebrews 1:8-9,13; 2:5-9; Rev. 2:25-27; 3:7-9; 7:9-10; 11:15; 19:11-21.

Storms, in his “Summary of Postmillennialism,” then includes this partial quote from Greg Bahnsen (underlined emphasis added):

The postmillennialist is in this day marked out by his belief that the commission and resources are with the kingdom of Christ to accomplish the discipling of the nations to Jesus Christ prior to His second advent; whatever historical decline is seen in the missionary enterprise of the church and its task of edifying or sanctifying the nations in the word of truth must be attributed, not to anything inherent in the present course of human history, but to the unfaithfulness of the church,” (Bahnsen, Ibid., p. 68).

Storms continues a bit later by naming advocates of postmillennialism in earlier and modern church history:

C. The Advocates of Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism, according to its modern advocates, was far more widespread in centuries preceding our own. Among those whom they say were postmillennialists include, in no particular order, the following: John Calvin(?), Theodore Beza, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Martin Bucer, John Owen, Thomas Boston, William Perkins, Thomas Manton, John Flavel, Richard Sibbes, Samuel Rutherford, William Gouge, Jonathan Edwards(?), Matthew Henry, John Cotton, George Whitefield, Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, Joseph A. Alexander, A. A. Hodge, C. W. Hodge, Robert L. Dabney, William G. T. Shedd, Augustus H. Strong, Benjamin B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, James Henley Thornwell, Patrick Fairbairn, Robert Baillie, Stephen Charnock, Samuel Hopkins, Robert Haldane, David Brown, E. W. Hengstenberg, John Murray(?), Greg Bahnsen, Rousas John Rushdoony, Gary North, and Kenneth Gentry.

D. Varieties of Postmillennialism

1. Classical Postmillennialism – See John Jefferson Davis,Christ’s Victorious Kingdom: Postmillennialism Reconsidered (Baker, 1986); Lorraine Boettner, The Millennium (P&R, 1957); J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (P&R, 1971); and Jonathan Edwards, Apocalyptic Writings, Vol. 5 (Yale University Press, 1977).

2. Reconstructionist or Theonomic Postmillennialism – See the article (Democracy as Heresy)as well as the books in the Bibliography by Bahnsen, Chilton, Rushdoony, North, and Demar [Adam’s note: I’m not sure what bibliography Storms is referring to, as there is none in this post].

E. Misconceptions of Postmillennialism

Why has PostM received such bad reviews? Why has it, at least in the twentieth-century, been so casually dismissed by most conservative evangelicals? The answer is found in taking note of several misconceptions and misrepresentations of PostM.

1. Postmillennialism has been mistakenly linked and often identified with belief in the inherent goodness of man. This has occurred despite the fact that the vast majority of postmillennialists of today (and perhaps even in the past) are Calvinists [Adam’s note: who believe in the doctrine of total depravity]. The result is that postmillennialism has been perceived as teaching that the kingdom of God would be ushered in by human effort alone, independently of the Holy Spirit. Even a scholar as astute as Kenneth Kantzer has recently fallen prey to this error. In his concluding observations to the debate in the Christianity Today Institute, he writes: “The greatest weakness of postmillennialism is its failure to take seriously the biblical pessimism regarding man’s efforts apart from God.” But not one evangelical postmillennial scholar has ever suggested that the kingdom of God can be advanced by “man’s efforts apart from God.” This sort of misrepresentation must end. What postmillennialists do affirm is what they see as “the biblical optimism regarding man’s efforts through God.”

2. Related to the above is the fact that postmillennialism has been mistakenly identified with the notion of evolutionary optimism and other secular notions of historical progress. This view, writes Boettner, “presents a spurious or pseudo Postmillennialism, and regards the Kingdom of God as the product of natural laws in an evolutionary process, whereas orthodox Postmillennialism regards the Kingdom of God as the product of the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit in connection with the preaching of the Gospel.”

3. Postmillennialism has been mistakenly identified with theological liberalism and the so-called “social gospel”. Thus the kingdom it espoused came to be perceived as some sort of secular utopia that replaced the return of Jesus as the true hope of the church… Hope for this earth that is inspired by belief in the power of the Holy Spirit fulfilling the redemptive purposes of God through His church must never be confused with a hope inspired by belief in the power of human legislation, education and moral reform. Not all Christians, though, have been able to distinguish between the two…

4. Postmillennialism has been mistakenly charged with teaching salvific universalism. Whereas postmillennialists do indeed look forward to a day in which vast numbers shall turn to faith in Jesus Christ, at no time do they expect that all will be converted or that sin will be entirely eliminated prior to the eternal state. Evangelical postmillennialists believe no less fervently than premillennialists and amillennialists in the doctrine of hell and the irreversible damnation of those who die without Christ. Let us not forget that Jonathan Edwards, author of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” was himself a postmillennialist of the highest order…

F. Weaknesses of Postmillennialism

1. Postmillennialism minimizes one of the primary experiences that will characterize the church and all Christians throughout this present age: suffering with Christ.

E.g., consider 2 Corinthians 4:7-12. Here Paul “effectively distances himself from the (postmil-like) view that the (eschatological) life of (the risen and ascended) Jesus embodies a power/victory principle that progressively ameliorates and reduces the suffering of the church. . . . Until the resurrection of the body at his return Christ’s resurrection-life finds expression in the church’s sufferings (and . . . nowhere else–so far as the existence and calling of the church are concerned); the locus of Christ’s ascension-power is the suffering church” (Richard Gaffin, “Theonomy and Eschatology: Reflections on Postmillennialism,” in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique [Zondervan, 1990], 212).

See also Romans 8:17-18. How long will this experience of suffering with Christ last? How long will the groaning under the weight of weakness last? According to vv. 19,21,23, it will last until the day of our redemption, the return of Christ. Says Gaffin: “Until then, at Christ’s return, the suffering/futility/decay principle in creation remains in force, undiminished (but sure to be overcome); it is an enervating factor that cuts across the church’s existence, including its mission, in its entirety. The notion that this frustration factor will be demonstrable reduced, and the church’s suffering service noticeably alleviated and even compensated, in a future era before Christ’s return is not merely foreign to this passage; it trivializes as well as blurs both the present suffering and future hope/glory in view. Until his return, the church remains one step behind its exalted Lord; his exaltation means its (privileged) humiliation, his return (and not before), its exaltation” (214-15)… “as Paul reminds the church just a few verses after the Romans 8 passage considered above (v. 37), not ‘beyond’ or ‘[only] after’ but ‘in all these things’ (‘trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword,’ v. 35), ‘we are more than conquerors.’ Until Jesus comes again, the church ‘wins’ by ‘losing’” (216).

Gaffin concludes: “Any outlook that tends to remove or obscure the (constitutive) dimension of suffering for the Gospel from the present triumph of the church is an illusion. The misplaced expectation, before Christ’s return, of a ‘golden age’ in which, in contrast to the present, opposition to the church will have been reduced to a minimum and suffering will have receded to the periphery for an (at last) ‘victorious’ Christendom — that misconception can only distort the church’s understanding of its mission in the world. According to Jesus, the church will not have drained the shared cup of his sufffering until he returns. The church cannot afford to evade that point. It does so at the risk of jeopardizing its own identity” (217-18).

Kenneth Gentry responds to Gaffin by insisting that the “suffering” in view in these texts need not be generalized beyond the experience of the apostles and the first century church. He does not argue that suffering connected with indwelling sin and creaturely mortality will be eradicated, but he does insist that, as external opposition to the gospel progressively diminishes, suffering for the faith (i.e., persecution) will be reduced to negligible proportions.

2. Postmillennialism undermines the NT emphasis on the church’s imminent expectation of Christ’s return. That is to say, PostM undermines the element of watchfulness that is essential to the NT church. See 1 Cor. 16:22; Rom. 13:11-12; Phil. 4:5; Js. 5:8; 1 Pt. 4:7; 1 Jn. 2:18; Rev. 1:3; 22:20.

3. The OT identifies the “golden” age of consummate success and triumph with the New Heavens and New Earth which come only after the millennium of Rev. 20 (Rev. 21-22). [Adam’s note: Storms’ objection in this case is a classic Historicist viewpoint. My view on this particular viewpoint is different, which will be seen in our study of Revelation 21 (pending).]

4. The NT seems to anticipate that the number of those saved when Christ returns will not be as great as the PostM suggests, and that conditions will be decidedly bad, not good. See Mt. 7:13-14; Lk. 18:8; 2 Thess. 2:3-4; 2 Tim. 3:1-5,12-13; 4:3-4. In the parable of the Tares in Mt. 13:36-43 “Jesus taught that evil people will continue to exist alongside of God’s redeemed people until the time of harvest. The clear implication of this parable is that Satan’s kingdom, if we may call it that, will continue to exist and grow as long as God’s kingdom grows, until Christ comes again” (Hoekema).

5. PostM’s interpretation of Rev. 19-20 seems forced and artificial. See the later lesson for an exegesis of these texts.

6. Scripture (esp. the NT) nowhere explicitly teaches the progressive and eventual wholesale reconstruction of society (arts, economics, politics, courts, education, etc.) according to Christian principles prior to Christ’s return. Of course, there may be relative success in this regard in isolated instances…

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All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

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4 thoughts on “Revelation 20: Post-millennial Viewpoint

  1. Dave,

    Thanks again for putting this post up. It’s concise and to the point. I have a small question regarding one of your key texts, John 12:31-32. I’m curious why you made the note that “all people = all.” If you don’t mind the question, what was in your mind at the time? I’ve hyperlinked the passage (John 11:50-52) you noted as a parallel passage.

    On another note, I’m not quite sure why postmillennialists would take John 16:33 to be a key text for their position. Jesus has “overcome the world”; that was true even during His earthly ministry, as the present perfect grammatical tense indicates. At no time since then has the world been dominantly Christian. This fact doesn’t change the truth of this passage, of course. But even while true believers have been in the minority for the last 2000 years (cf. Matthew 7:13-14), it’s always remained true that Jesus has overcome the world. I just don’t see how this text is any more key for postmillennialists than it is for amillennialists or premillennialists. Just a thought…

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    • Hi Ryan,
      Thanks for your questions. I’m not sure if they were directed to Dave (the author of this post) or to me, but I’ll go ahead and try to answer them.

      The simplest way I know to answer your first question is to say that a postmillennialist’s viewpoint on the Great Tribulation would depend on whether he or she is a Historicist or a preterist. A Historicist, as I understand the position, would view the events of the Great Tribulation as taking place continuously or at various times and places throughout the present Church Age. The Preterist typically believes that the Great Tribulation took place during the 3.5 year period of the Roman-Jewish War leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD. Kenneth Gentry is one author/pastor who is both a partial-preterist and a postmillennialist.

      Regarding a future spike in Satanic activity, those who have both preterist and amillennialist or postmillennialist thinking would not see this as “the Great Tribulation,” but would probably view such a future period as something like a time of tribulation for believers worldwide.

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  2. This article charges the PostM belief with having supplemental, errant doctrines which have nothing to do with its stated focus on Revelation 20. In fact, the author spends most of his research on the extra-biblical heresies and fails to explain how and why the post-millennial view is derived from this pivotal passage.
    From Revelation 20, I see the chronology of end- time events placing the rapture after the millennium, but believe nothing of the doctrines stated concerning the additional teachings of so-called post-millennials.

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