Postmillennialism: The New Testament and into the Future
Gustave Doré, Christus Victor or The Triumph of Christianity over Paganism
We continue in our survey of the promises of God in the Bible, bringing forth the light of the New Testament to illuminate and amplify the stories of the Old Testament. Here we will look at the many passages of Scripture that support the idea that Jesus’ reign and the binding of Satan began at the cross. Furthermore, from His position of enthronement as the supreme Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus has extended the scepter of His righteousness over His bride, the Church, and is calling us to rule over His enemies.
The Greatness of the Great Commission
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).
The Church needs to recover the idea that “all authority” is given to Christ at the resurrection. This authority is both “in heaven and on earth.” The Greek word exousia means full power to do as one wills. In exposition of these verses, R.C.H. Lenski writes:
Never did a human army have such resources behind it. All the earth is also subject to him, its inhabitants, both friend and foe, and all the powers that are in the earth (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel).
This idea is sometimes known as the greatness of the Great Commission. Gordon-Conwell professor John Jefferson Davis writes in his book, Christ’s Victorious Kingdom.
It is precisely in the light of this unlimited authority that Christ sends his disciples into the world as agents of the kingdom, not in the strength of their own human resources, but energized with a divine authority that is his alone (John Jefferson Davis, Christ’s Victorious Kingdom).
The greatness of the power of God is referred to in Ephesians 1:18-23.
… that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:18-23).
What is clear from this passage is that Jesus, the Son of God, came as the Messianic and Mediatorial King to establish His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Citing Philippians 2, Acts 2, Ephesians 1, Hebrews 1, and a host of other Biblical texts, William Symington wrote these words in his study, Messiah the Prince, or, The Mediatorial Dominion of Jesus Christ.
Christ’s appointment [to the kingly office] was still farther intimated by his actual investiture with regal power at and after his resurrection…. Christ’s appointment gives him rightful claim to the implicit and conscientious obedience of every moral creature…. This appointment affords ample security for the overthrow of all Christ’s enemies, and the ultimate establishment of his kingdom in the world (William Symington, Messiah the Prince).
The one great event that must precede the Second Coming of Christ is the universal proclamation of the Gospel. The conversion of the world is the work assigned to the Church by Christ himself. While the scriptures are rife with triumphant and even militant language concerning the advance of Christ’s kingdom against the gates of hell, the importance of understanding the nature of this effort cannot be overstated. The Apostle Paul was careful to denote the spiritual aspect of the warfare we are to engage in.
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
The result of spiritual warfare, according to Paul, is far greater than warring according to the flesh in that it brings about conversion – the transformation of hearts and minds. Thus the reformation of the world is to occur at the grassroots level. And that is why Jesus was careful to teach His disciples that the Kingdom of God would not come suddenly; it would not be the result of a military conquest or political victory; nor would the King actually reign on an earthly throne while the kingdom was being established on earth.
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.”
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 13:31-33).
The Apocalyptic Nature of the Great Commission
If we were to boil down everything we’ve said thus far concerning the doctrine of postmillennialism to two key elements, we should emphasis the following.
- Throughout Scripture, Christ is portrayed as a mighty king ruling the nations with a rod of iron from His throne in heaven and nowhere is this throne depicted as an earthly throne in Jerusalem during a future millennial kingdom.
- There is still a truly apocalyptic nature to Christ’s reign in that as the kingdom of God advances in the earth, the Great Commission is fulfilled. Yet this fulfillment will be much more vast than the majority of today’s Christians realize affecting not just the salvation of individuals, but also salvation in it’s fullest sense – victory over the works the flesh and the devil in creation itself.
So what is yet to come after the evangelization of the world, the reformation of nations and the renewal of the creation? The Apostle Paul describes the consummation of the kingdom in 1 Corinthians 15.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 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. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:22-26).
Consider for a moment the significance of this verse: “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.”
What does this mean practically?
With the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Church’s preaching of the Gospel, in gradual stages of growth, a great number of individual, families, communities, and even cities and nations, will eventually submit to Christ. The important thing to remember here is that this great harvest is not the result of a ministry campaign or man’s effort to “usher in the kingdom” or to subjugate people to the Christian religion by force or coercion — but it comes gradually in history even in times when the Gospel seems on the decline – and most importantly it comes because the people will “volunteer” freely in the day of the Lord.
Your people shall be volunteers
In the day of Your power;
In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning,
You have the dew of Your youth (Psalms 110:3).
B.B. Warfield wrote concerning this verse:
If you wish, as you lift your eyes to the far horizon of the future, to see looming on the edge of time the glory of a saved world, you can find warrant for so great a vision only in the high principles that it is God and God alone who saves men, that all their salvation is from him, and that in his own good time and way he will bring the world in its entirety to the feet of him whom he has not hesitated to present to our adoring love not merely as Savior of our souls, but as the Savior of the world…. The redemption of the world is similarly a process. It, too, has stages; it, too, advances only gradually to its completion.
The New Testament’s call for the Church to be active in a great harvest of souls is the same promise we saw earlier in this presentation explained in the Abrahamic covenant.
“Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5).
We see the prophecy given to Abraham fulfilled in John’s vision in Revelation:
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).
In light of these scriptures which proclaim the magnificent calling we have in Christ to be participants in the Great Commission, it is both remarkable and sad that so many Christians today have a bleak view of the number of people who will be eventually saved. They simply do not understand the universal scope of the Gospel in all areas of life. But if we are to take John’s vision at face value, there will be a “great multitude, which no man could number” made up of people from every nation of the earth. This is a vision of victory surpassing man’s best efforts to measure it.
In the words of the Apostle Paul, the Gospel is “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.”
The Gospel Preached to the Jews
Another misunderstood aspect of the postmillennial worldview is God’s plan for ethnic Israel, the modern day Jews. According to some dispensationalists, the postmillennial view of the Kingdom of God must be incredibly anti-Jewish, since it denies a literal thousand year rule of Jesus from an earthly throne at Jerusalem with the converted Jews the center of the millennial society.
The dispensationalist view has the Church in effect failing at the Great Commission. Only after the rapture occurs are the Jews converted. Then it becomes the job of the Jews to convert the world during the “Great Tribulation.” When Jesus returns to inaugurate the millennium, the center of the world’s civil government literally becomes David’s throne with Jesus ruling from an earthly Jerusalem.
Postmillennialism does not deny the importance of the Jewish people in God’s end-time purposes. The main difference is the timing of the Jews conversion. Dispensationalists have taught that the conversion of the Jews will occur after the Second Coming of Jesus.
Just a brief survey of postmillennialists (and indeed most amillennialists and historical premillennialists) throughout history shows that God’s plan for the conversion of the Jews is an event occurring prior to the Second Coming – and in the postmillennial view this mass conversion of the Jewish people adds greater glory to a unified Church throughout the world.
The Apostle Paul explained this matter in terms of the following equation, since the first century Jews had rejected their Messiah, the Gospel would then go to the Gentiles and finally the Jews would be converted.
For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
“The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins” (Romans 11:25-27).
Thus the equation is: Gentiles first, then the Jews. The incredible promise of Romans 11 is: “And so all Israel will be saved.”
The controversy that has ensued over just this one verse is more than we can cover here! Just for starters, what is meant here by “all”? And who or what is “Israel”? Sparks fly at the mere mention of these questions. However, the Reformed consensus of the past 500 years has been that Paul was indeed speaking of God’s plan for the conversion for the Jews. The resistance of ethnic Israel to be thoroughly converted to Christ in Paul’s day is described in Romans chapters 9 through 11.
Paul’s explanation to this “mystery” is that in the “fullness of time” after the majority of the Gentile nations will converted, the majority of ethnic Jews in the world will become saved, added to the Church – now made up of Jews and Gentiles – and thus “all Israel will be saved.” For example, B.B. Warfield made this generalization:
[T]he nature of the whole dispensation in which we are living, and which stretches from the First to the Second Advent, [is] a period of advancing conquest on the part of Christ … The prophecy [of Romans 11] promises the universal Christianization of the world.
To make a complicated controversy simple, just as New Covenant “Israel” refers to the Church – and not the geo-political state of Israel — so the “Church” is made up of Jews and Gentiles. So Christians throughout the last 2000 years have looked forward to a time when Israel would be converted to a saving faith in the Messiah, King Jesus.
But what does “All Israel will be saved” – mean? This is another controversy. Does this mean all Jews? The majority of Jews? The nation-state of Israel?
The future conversion of the Jews was taught in a marginal note for Romans 1:26 in the 1560 Geneva Bible.
He sheweth that the time shall come that the whole nation of the Jews, though not every one particularly, shall be joined to the church of Christ (1560 Geneva Bible).
As F.F. Bruce has also pointed out, Israel is clearly ethnic Israel. In verse 25, the Apostle Paul refers to the ethnic Jews of Jesus’ day: “blindness in part has happened to Israel.” Therefore it would be unlikely for “Israel” in the next sentence – “And so all Israel will be saved” – to mean something other than ethnic Israel.
“All Israel” is a recurring expression in Jewish Literature, it does not mean “every Jew without a single exception” but “Israel as a whole” (F.F. Bruce The Epistle of Paul to the Romans).
In Hebrew biblical literature, the term “all Israel” usually refers to the vast majority of Israel in contrast with a “remnant” which denotes a minority.
Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace (Romans 11:5).
And so all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25).
John Calvin understood this verse to mean ethnic Jews.
I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning — when the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both; and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place, being as it were the first born in God’s family (John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans).
The leader of America’s First Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards, also held this view.
Nothing is more certainly foretold than this national conversion of the Jews in Romans 11. Besides the prophecies of the calling of the Jews, we have a remarkable providential seal of the fulfillment of this great event, by a kind of continual miracle , their being preserved a distinct nation, the world affords nothing else like it. There is undoubtedly a remarkable hand of providence in it. When they shall be called, that ancient people, who alone were so long God’s people for so long a time, shall be his people again, never to be rejected more. They shall be gathered together into one fold, together with the Gentiles.
Princeton scholar, Charles Hodge, wrote:
The second great event, which, according to the common faith of the Church, is to precede the second advent of Christ, is the national conversion of the Jews…. As the rejection of the Jews was not total, so neither is it final…. As the restoration of the Jews is not only a most desirable event, but one which God has determined to accomplish, Christians should keep it constantly in view even in their labors for the conversion of the Gentiles (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology).
This promise of God to ethnic Israel – the flesh and blood descendants of Abraham – comes not because the Jewish people are in some way superior, but the promise of God comes because of God’s calling of Abraham and the covenant that He made with his descendants.
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
God’s covenant with Abraham, and Abraham’s response, not only blessed the great patriarch — it is spilled over to his descendants as well. God’s supernatural work in Israel to bring ethnic Jews to himself will be one aspect of God’s demonstrating himself to the nations. It will be an aid to the Church in her witness. And so we should seek the support of all believers to pray for the conversion of Israel in the “last days.”
The Final Greatness of the Kingdom
Finally, it’s important to note once more that God’s promises to the Covenant people of God, both Jew and Gentile, are beyond measure. The Apostle John wrote in Revelation 21:15,16:
And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal (Revelation 21:15,16).
The Church, the New Jerusalem, is depicted as a cube of equal lengths – a symbol of spiritual perfection in the Bible. But note that each side is 12,000 furlongs or 1500 miles in length. Just the surface area of 2,250,000 miles would dwarf what the Jews of John’s day thought of as “Israel.” The image is given here to demonstrate that the proportions of God’s heavenly city, the Church, are incredibly vast. The end result to the Church’s missionary efforts will far surpass our mere human expectations because God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20).«- Of two evils, choose neither. ~ C.H. Spurgeon
-» Postmillennialism: Into the 20th and 21st Centuries
- Postmillennialism: Answering Contrary Texts
- Postmillennialism: A Brief Exposition of Revelation 20:1-6
- I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
- Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25th?
- Postmillennialism: Into the 20th and 21st Centuries
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