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Postmillennialism: Answering Contrary Texts

Here I will pose some counterarguments to the most commonly heard “contrary texts” that supposedly refute postmillennialism. I do not deny that there are difficulties in every eschatological system. The difficulty in reconciling our doctrine with all Scripture is the reason for our differences. However, there are the fewest difficulties with postmillennialism as the objections can be boiled down to a handful of categories. Of course, there are more scriptures than the ones I list here. However, other examples will be similar to the contrary texts I have listed below and a similar counterargument will be sufficient to answer each of these.

1. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be (Matthew 24:21).

First, this is not a question pertaining to the doctrine of postmillennialism per se, but rather a question of hermeneutics – our method of interpretation. It is beyond the scope of this book to delve into the many methods of eschatological hermeneutics. I have dealt here mainly with the broad differences between postmillennialism and premillennialism. I co-authored another book, The Four Keys to the Millennium, that goes into more detail presenting the four major millennial doctrines of postmillennialism, amillennialism classic premillennialism and dispensationalist premillennialism, as well as the various interpretive approaches to the Mount Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24-25, which are either preterist, idealist, historicist or futurist.

Second, nearly all eschatological views agree that at least some of Matthew 24 was fulfilled in the first century. Matthew 24-25 and the parallel passages in Mark 13 and Luke 21 are known as the Mount Olivet Discourse. Famines, pestilences and earthquakes are followed by persecutions, false prophets, apostasy and war (Matthew 24:4-35). At least in part, these refer to the Jewish-Roman War under Nero and Vespasian from AD 67 to 70. Preterists and historicists view the first section of Matthew 24:1-25 as fulfilled by events in the first century that accompanied the siege on Jerusalem.

The Roman Jewish War is chronicled by Flavius Josephus in his work, Wars of the Jews. A background in history is useful to understand the fulfillment of these prophecies. It is impossible in so short a space to describe fully the contribution that Josephus has made to the preterist interpretation of Daniel, the Mount Olivet Discourse and Revelation. Perhaps the best summary of this impact is the 50-page “Appendix B” to David Chilton’s Paradise Restored in which he alludes to the “signs” mentioned in Matthew 24 and Revelation, and follows those headings with lengthy quotations directly from Josephus. The format allows the reader to see firsthand the strong case for the preterist fulfillment of this prophecy without any persuasion other than the account of Josephus’ history.

Josephus’ Wars of the Jews provides an account of the numerous bad omens that appeared in Jerusalem in AD 66, which signified that the presence of God had left the Temple. Thus when the Roman armies entered the land of Galilee in the following year in the spring of AD 67, the Temple had already been made desolate and was awaiting the prophesied final abomination. The Roman Gentiles surrounded Jerusalem in April of AD 70. They literally trampled the Holy City underfoot and finally destroyed the Temple in September leaving not “one stone upon another” (Matthew 24:2). Josephus considered this to be the retribution of God for the internal strife and shedding of innocent blood by the Jews, including the unjust execution of John the Baptist by Herod Antipas around AD 27. Preterist Christians obviously think that it was judgment for the Jews’ rejection of Jesus and ongoing persecution of His disciples.

The irony here is that most futurist interpreters have understood at least part of Matthew 24’s treatment of the “abomination of desolation” as having had a first century fulfillment. Even Hal Lindsey indicated that the Book of Daniel’s “abomination of desolation” prophecies did in fact refer in part to Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 BC and the Romans in AD 70 (The Late Great Planet Earth, pp. 55-56). Lindsey hypothesizes that these events will have a dual fulfillment in the end times, which is further elucidated by Jesus in the Mount Olivet Discourse. Premillennialists then shift to futurist mode when interpreting similar passages in Revelation. This inconsistency ought to be striking, but it is often missed. Most commentaries on the Mount Olivet Discourse offer partial preterist interpretations of certain passages. However, once we accept preterism to any degree, we ought to consider this paradigm when interpreting similar passages of Scripture.

Futurists and even many preterists agree that at some point in the text, Jesus shifts from speaking of first century events to the parables of the kingdom, which chronicle all of history leading up to the Second Coming. For the futurist, the prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem are mixed in an allusion to a final destruction of a rebuilt Jerusalem in the end times. For the preterist, the transitional verse is Matthew 24:36. At this point, the parables of the kingdom speak of judgment on the wicked as the righteous are rewarded for their faithfulness. This leads up to the Final Judgment in the sheep and the goats parable, which is the end of the Mount Olivet Discourse (Matthew 25:31-46).

Note that a number of preterists think that all of Matthew 24 and 25 was fulfilled by first century events. I find this view to be untenable. This view treats preterism as a doctrine to be rigidly followed rather than as a hermeneutic that is useful in interpreting certain passages in context.

2. I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8).

Some take this to mean that the Son of Man will not find faith on the earth when He returns or that faith will be on the wane even in the Church. Obviously, postmillennialists do not interpret Luke 18:8 as a negative prediction about the end times. We see great victory for the Gospel in history. We read the whole context of this parable to see that Jesus wanted to demonstrate that we always ought to pray in unrelenting faith.

And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:1-8).

The question, “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” is a rhetorical device that concludes the parable. That is, the answer is not “yes” or “no.” The point is that we as Christians must pray in faith and never grow weary in our faith. It is an admonishment in the negative. We are commanded by our Lord to pray even if the answer to prayer is late in coming, even until the time when the Son of Man returns to the earth to judge the righteous and the wicked.

Another way of answering this is that Jesus was speaking in exasperation to an unbelieving generation of Jews. Many Jews were called to the banquet (Matthew 22:1-14), but relatively few responded. However, we know from other places in Scripture that in the fullness of time “all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:26) and that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed and the leaven that begins small, but eventually will fill the whole world bringing salvation to many (Mark 4:30-32).

3. But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come (2 Timothy 3:1).

There is much repetition of the expression the “last days” or the “latter days” in Scripture. This essentially meant after the lifetime of the prophet and his immediate audience.

And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days (Genesis 49:1).

For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands (Deuteronomy 31:29).

Now I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days (Daniel 10:14).

In the Old Testament, this usually meant the time when a prophecy would be fulfilled, most notably the prophecies about the Messiah. The New Testament writers then appropriated this phrase to speak of fulfilled messianic prophecy.

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds (Hebrews 1:1-2).

Peter preached that “the last days” were being fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.

And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams (Acts 2:17).

When premillennialists speak of “end times” prophecy, they often assume this includes any passage in the Bible that refers to the “last days.” But not all references to the “last days” speak of the end of history. There are at least two other senses of the term used in the New Testament.

Sometimes the “last days” refers to the time after the appearance of Christ in public ministry (AD 30) and before the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70) – “the last days of Israel as a nation-state.”

The “last days” may also refer to the entire time after Christ’s ministry and before the end of history. We were in the “last days” during the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17) and we are still in the “last days” now.

4. My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).

There is great consternation and controversy about what Christ’s Lordship actually means in the real world. Most Christians will not argue with the fact that He does rule our lives. He is the ruler, the Lord, the King of their families and their church. But much beyond that, the idea of Christ’s Lordship begins to fall on deaf ears.

The retort you often hear revolves around the time period when Christ is before Pilate’s inquisition and says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Let’s put this in context however. Christ was not saying that His kingdom was not manifest in the world. He was saying to Pilate, “My kingdom does not gain its authority from Rome or the Sanhedrin. My authority comes from on high.” Pilate understood this. The irony is that the pagan tyrant understood, but Christians don’t today! So the authority of Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, but nonetheless, the kingdom has invaded the civil realm, the family realm, “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). Every aspect of society is touched by the kingdom of God.

Now how does this work practically? If every time we will confess, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow … that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11) then monarchs, kings, state representatives, congressmen and presidents must bow their knee before God. By what standard will they bow the knee? Yes, it gets back to God’s Law. The kingdom has no place in terms of seeking approval or legitimacy here in the earth. It doesn’t need the president’s approval to exist. Its authority comes from the other world, and therefore it is superior and higher. But the kingdom is manifest in the world and Christ’s Lordship is manifest in the world in the civil realm, in the family, in every aspect of society, economics, science, etc. Christ’s Lordship has the claim.

We are to boldly assert the Crown Rights of Jesus Christ. By virtue of the finished work of Jesus Christ, He has the right to rule. He has the keys to the kingdom of heaven. He has reconciled all things in heaven and in earth, the visible and the invisible, the living and the dead. He rules over all. Christ’s kingdom is comprehensive in scope and absolute in its authority (Jeff Ziegler, God’s Law and Society).

It is true that the kingdom of God is not conceived in minds of earthly humans, smart as they might be. It comes down from heaven. But there is something that has changed since Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus.

When speaking of his kingdom being not of this world, Jesus made His point by saying that He had no servant around to defend him. He was not speaking of angels, for the Father could answer His prayer and send thousands of angels. Christ was talking about men – everybody had deserted Him, even his Apostles. It was quite logical since they could not stand for Jesus because He had yet to die for them on the cross. They had not yet experienced the power of the Holy Spirit filling them.

Since the Church has now received the Holy Spirit, this has changed. Now Jesus has his servants on the earth. Scripture even calls us His “Body” (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 5:30) to explain the close relationship. Thus the kingdom of God has reached the earth. Although not of this world, it is in the world. The people of God are called to overcome in the world and not escape this world (Roman Medvid, “Whose Kingdom Is Here?” Predvestnik).

6. The whole world is under control of the evil one (1 John 5:19).

This scripture is often misunderstood. According to a wrong interpretation, whatever we do in this world, whatever we handle – all such activity is sinful. The whole world is nearing its total collapse. The main task of Christians is to wait until it is all over, to be involved in the matters of this world as little as possible. Though such an opinion might seem very “spiritual,” it is not biblical at all. It much better fits the attitude of hermit monks.

The Bible many times declares God to be the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He always wins and never loses in history. There have been many tyrants, powerful God-haters, blood-shedding empires, and they are no more. God has destroyed them and has even erased the memory of some! His truth, on the other hand, stands up to this day shining brightly.

The Scriptures often describe the wicked and God-resisters as dust, chaff that is blown away in a flash by the wind (Psalms 1:4; 35:5; 37:10; 83:13). And it is the righteous who will inherit the earth. Even though the godless are prospering, they put their wealth in store for the righteous (Proverbs 13:22).

It would be also profitable to consider a similar scripture that is also used to defend Christian escapism.

Again, the devil took Him [Christ] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said (Matthew 4:8-9).

Some would argue that the devil had real power over all the world’s kingdoms and was at liberty to pass them on to Jesus. Therefore, if the devil is the ruler of all kingdoms, then there is only one thing left for Christians to do – to withdraw from involvement in these kingdoms.

Those who make this argument overlook the fact that Satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44) and his words can hardly be trusted. In the above-mentioned scripture (Matthew 4:8-9), he was actually claiming God’s prerogative. Many centuries before this, God – and certainly not his enemy – had been called “God over all the kingdoms of the earth” (2 Kings 19:15) and “the Ruler over the nations” (Psalms 22:28). It is God who has real power to treat the world’s kingdoms freely according to His good pleasure.

The devil has power over nations only in that these nations are ignorant of God’s truth. The responsibility to bring God’s truth – the Gospel – lies with Christ’s messengers (Acts 26:18). The Scriptures prophesy that finally all nations will turn to God (Isaiah 11:10; 60:3; Psalms 22:27; 47; 89:9) and thus the kingdom of darkness will be pressed out of the earth. “The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9) (Roman Medvid, “Whose Kingdom is Here,” Predvestnik).

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