There is not much disagreement between amillennialists and postmillennialists concerning the chronological order of end-times events. In both views, the millennium is a metaphor for Christ’s kingdom on earth. First, the millennium will be completed. Then simultaneously, the second coming of Christ, the resurrection, and the final judgment will occur.
This was the unified, general view of the church for many centuries. This view was held by church fathers, such as Athanasius and Augustine and also by the reformers of the 1500s, such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox.
The premillennial view has also been around since the early centuries A.D. However, prior to modern times, it was the minority view. Premillennialism was called either chiliasm or millenarianism. Both phrases mean literally, “thousand” (from the Greek and Latin, kilo and mil).
It is important to remember that the pre-, a- and post- prefixes are fairly modern adaptations to describe millennial thinking. Postmillennialism is a phrase that came into being after centuries of Puritan and Calvinist influence in creating a Christian social theory from a biblical perspective. Prior to the 1600s, there was no distinction between postmillennialism and amillennialism. Postmillennialism was first called “progressive millennialism,” to distinguish it from both amillennial and chiliastic thinking.
There is no difference between the sequence of end-times events in the postmillennial and amillennial outlooks. The two views are akin. Even historical premillennialism can be seen as a distant cousin to postmillennialism. Postmillennialism, amillennialism and historical premillennialism form a continuum. However, dispensational premillennialism stands at the opposite end of the spectrum.
If we were to graph the views to show their similarity, they might fall along a line as follows:
Disp. premil. ————> Hist. premil. ————> Amil. —> Postmil.
Some may look at this line graph and ask: What then is the difference, if any, between amillennialism and postmillennialism?
The answer: Historical optimism.
Most amillennialists tend to spiritualize (or idealize) the events in Matthew 24 and Revelation or put them “sometime in history.” Meiring’s view is futurist, rather than being a traditional amillennialist view. That is another difference between amillennialism and postmillennialism. Virtually no postmillennialist is a futurist. Among postmillennialists, there are mainly historicists and preterists. Amillennialists tend to be historicists or idealists. The amillennial futurist view exists, but it is more rare. However, this underscores my main point of rebuttal. Amillennialism tends to be more pessimistic about the end-times. According to the amillennialist, the Gospel is preached to the nations and many people are converted. However, there is no transformation of whole political and social structures.
Premillennialism teaches that there will be a blissful state of Christian mankind in the millennium after the Second Coming.
Amillennialism places the millennium prior to the Second Coming, but there is no Golden Age of Christianity prior to Christ’s return. “There is really no millennium,” says the amillennialist. Amillennialism means literally, “no millennial reign.” There is no Golden Age in the amillennial view.
Postmillennialism stresses that there will be a Golden Age of Christianity in time and history prior to Christ’s return. Postmillennialism is sometimes called optimistic amillennialism for this reason. In reality, an amillennialist who is optimistic about the end-times is a postmillennialist.
The Common Church Doctrine
The common church doctrine on the end-times did not distinguish between amillennialism and postmillennialism for over 1500 years. In fact, until the time of the Protestant Reformation, there was only the term “millenarianism,” which was used to describe the minority view of premillennialism. Postmillennialism emerged as a term for a particular view among those who held the common doctrine. After a debate among the Puritans in the 1600s and 1700s, postmillennialism emerged as a common term. The contrasting views can be seen by looking at the writings of the Puritans. Many early Puritans, such as John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts, can be properly described as postmillennialists.
We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when He shall make us a praise and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantations, the Lord make it like that of New England. For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and byword throughout the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God and all professors for God’s sake, we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going. And to shut up this discourse with that exhortation of Moses, that faithful servant of the Lord in His last farewell to Israel, Deut. 30., Beloved there is now set before us life and good, death and evil, in that we are commanded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His ordinance, and His laws, and the articles of our covenant with Him that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God my bless us in the land whither we go to possess it. But if our hearts shall turn away so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced and worship other Gods, our pleasures, our profits, and serve them, it is propounded unto us this day we shall surely perish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea to possess it. Therefore let us choose life, that we, and our seed, may live, and by obeying His voice, and cleaving to Him, for He is our life and our prosperity.
— John Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity
Here we see that when the Puritans first came to America, they hoped to build a Christian society that would be copied the world over. They were not naive, however, and understood that a lessening of Christian influence over the years could lead them to be cursed rather than blessed of God. If they disobeyed, they would be cut off and God might raise up another Christian civilization in their place. They began the Puritan settlement with a postmillennial hope.
However, by the end of the 17th century, the Puritan hope began to quell. Seeing the trend of a waning Reformed Protestant influence, some began to foresee a pessimistic end to the world. They saw the antichrist looming on the horizon. Much like many of today’s premillennialists, they adopted an end-times view of gloom and doom. The “Jeremiad” was a sermon preached to nurture this gloomy view of the apostasy that had set in. Often the book of Revelation was cited to foster pessimistic expectations, especially the destruction of Babylon in Revelation 18.
Other Christians dissented and began to work for Revival and Reformation in colonial America. One view was forward-looking seeing a glorious revival of religion on the horizon if the people of God would just pray and obey. The other view was backward-looking lamenting that the glory of God had departed and chastising the sins of the people without giving much hope for redemption.
The optimists were found not just those among the Puritans, but also the Anglican church, the Scottish Presbyterians, Reformed churches, and later, Wesley’s Methodists. They believed that even in the darkest times, God could appear as a great light and restore His glory to both church and society. The so-called “Great Awakenings” that occurred in America and England during the 1700s and 1800s were fueled by this postmillennial optimism.
As I pointed out in my thesis, Jonathan Edwards, considered by many to be America’s greatest theologian, was an ardent postmillennialist. His writings fully developed the implications of a millennial “Golden Age.” Jonathan Edwards is best known for his role in the Great Awakening, which began as a revival in several churches along the Connecticut River Valley. Through his preaching, revivalistic fervor spread throughout the colonies. Evangelical zeal and postmillennial hope went hand and hand. Edwards’ preaching that the millennium would be realized in its fullest sense in America fueled societal reformation within the embryonic nation of America.
In his work, History of Redemption, Edwards saw all of human history as a progressive march towards victory for the kingdom of God. Edwards believed that revivals in the American colonies and England were but a forerunner of what would commence in centuries to come the ultimate glorious light of a Golden Age. He taught that history moves through a pulsation of seasons of revival and spiritual awakening; that there are times of retreat and advance; that the work of revival is carried out by “remarkable outpourings of the Spirit.”
Time after time, when religion seemed to be almost gone, and it was come to the last extremity, then God granted a revival, and sent some angel or prophet, or raised up some eminent person, to be an instrument of their reformation.
Edwards was to be the instrument of New England’s reformation in the 1730s and 1740s. He insisted that there would be times of conflict, remissions and lulls between the sovereign outpourings of the Spirit. A decline in the spiritual and moral character of a Christian nation, according to Edwards, is to be interpreted as a preparation for an even greater outpouring. Even secular historians agree that the postmillennial optimism of the First Great Awakening gave the American colonies the impetus to seek independence from England. Ingrained in the early American consciousness was the idea that our form of civil government would eventually mirror the Golden Age of Israel.
Futurism vs. Preterism
It would be difficult to write more in this critique simply repeating that I basically agree with Joseph Meiring’s chronological order of end-times events, the exception being that I am more optimistic. Here I will critique the futurist rendering of portions of the Mount Olivet Discourse.
Eschatology is the study of the last things (from the Greek: eskaton, or “last things”). The last things, according to the Bible, are the fulfillment of the Great Commission, the Resurrection of the Living and the Dead, the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Final Judgment. It is important o remember that eschatology is the study of last things not the end times.
According to Acts 1:6-8, Jesus Christ spoke to His disciples at very last specifically forbidding them to inquire into the study of the end times. They asked Him: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Jerusalem?” Jesus rebuked them saying: “It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” Instead, Christ commanded to be concerned with fulfilling the Great Commission: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
In our day, Christians seem more fascinated than ever with this forbidden study “end times.” Rather than helping to fulfill the Great Commission, one of the God-ordained “last things,” they concentrate instead on interpreting the daily news in light of scripture. Earthquakes, wars and rumors of wars, famines in Africa, pestilence in various places, the spread of false religions, signs in the heavens, growing tensions in the Middle East are thought to offer proof that the world has entered the end times. So many Christians interpret Matthew 24.
“See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these things are the beginning of sorrows” (Mat. 24:6-8 Emphasis mine).
Many Christians in our day look in the daily news for an increase of earthquakes, wars, famines, pestilence, false religions, signs in the heavens and tensions in the Middle East over the nation of Israel. They interpret Christ’s admonition to the disciples to mean exactly the opposite of what He literally says, that the end is “not yet,” and all these things are a sign of sorrows that are just “beginning.”
The fact that “all these things” are occurring in our day has nothing to do with Matthew 24. They have nothing to do with the end times. In fact, when Jesus said, “all these things must come to pass” he was speaking specifically of events in the first century.
Jesus implies in Matthew 24 that at least some of His disciples would live to see “these things” (v. 6). For example, He says, “You will hear …” (v. 6); “Then they will deliver you up …” (v. 9); “Therefore when you see …” (v. 15).
In context, we should understand that “you” refers to the audience to whom Jesus is speaking. “The disciples” to whom Jesus is speaking are likely more than only the Twelve. Some of these lived past the year 70 when the Jewish Temple was destroyed. The preterist looks carefully at the events in the immediate 40 years after the Mount Olivet Discourse to see if any of these prophecies were fulfilled. The preterist points to the Jewish historian Josephus who recorded providentially ordained earthquakes, natural calamities and wars which occurred around the time of the Roman wars against the Jews and the siege of Jerusalem (64-70).
The preterist looks at the context of the passage. In Matthew 24, the disciples were asking three questions of Jesus:
1. When will these things be? (“These things” refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and Herod’s Temple)
2. What will be the sign of your coming?
3. And the end of the age?
The disciples believed that they were asking one question, but Jesus treats all three separately and in order in Matthew 24. Many first century Jews (especially the Essenes and the Pharisees) held to a premillennial eschatology (condemned by the patristic church as the heresy of chiliasm) which taught that the Messiah would come to set up an earthly kingdom; He would destroy the Temple; and rule the nations with a rod of iron from Jerusalem. Jesus’ disciples erroneously believed that Jesus was referring to His coming to rule in Jerusalem when He referred to the destruction of the Temple in Matthew 24:2.
In the rest of Matthew 24, Jesus answers their three questions in order.
1. “When will these things be”
First, He tells the disciples point blank that there will be an increase of sorrows in the world just before the destruction of Jerusalem. He calls these events “great tribulation.” I will enumerate several points from my thesis once again:
- The tribulation is defined as something soon to come, “this generation shall not pass away until all these things are fulfilled” (v. 34).
- History will continue for some time after the great tribulation: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor shall ever be” (v. 21). That is, history is going to continue for some time after this.
- He also tells His disciples that the tribulation will be cut short “for the sake of the elect” (v. 22).
The Roman war against the Jews and the siege of Jerusalem (64-70 A.D.) was the “great tribulation.” It was the fulfillment of this prophecy. We have to interpret the text faithfully. If Jesus referred to this generation, then He meant His generation at the time He was speaking, not a generation 2000 years in the future.
This great tribulation does not come at the end of the kingdom age, but shortly after the beginning (64-70 AD).
2. “The sign of His coming”
In verses 29-31, Jesus refers to the “sign of His coming,” which is the rule of Christ and the gathering of the elect from the nations.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
Compare this verse with Matthew 28:18-20 and the other Great Commission passages, such as Mark 16:15-17. Jesus says in Matthew 24:29-31 that immediately after the tribulation of those days, the powers of heaven will be shaken, the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and there will be a time when the Gospel will go out to all nations (as it has been doing for 2000 years).
Some believe that verses 29-31 refer specifically to the Second Coming. But what is being explained is “the sign of His coming,” not the actual Second Coming itself. Compare the language with Acts 2:16-21:
“But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of 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: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Peter says, “this is that which is spoken of by the prophet Joel.” Peter is speaking of the “last days” in the present tense as being fulfilled in his own day, “this is that,” meaning the blood, fire, vapor of smoke, and signs in the heavens prophesied by Joel. According to Peter, this was already occurring on the day of Pentecost. This highly figurative and prophetic language denotes Christ’s rule from heaven over the nations. In the Old Testament prophetic books, similar language is used to denote the overthrow of one kingdom by another.
Peter also uses language similar to Jesus in the Great Commission in Mark 16:15-17: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe…”
In the Mount Olivet Discourse, there are signs that Christ has appeared as the ruler over heaven and earth. In the Great Commission, there are to be “signs” following the preaching of the Gospel. In Acts 2, Peter identifies these as signs of the “last days.” The rule of Christ over the nations has come. This was true on the day of Pentecost, it was occurring when Jerusalem was judged of God in 70 A.D., and it is going on today as well.
Therefore, “sign of His coming” is the rule of Christ over the nations, the ingathering of the elect, and the church being greatly enlarged and used of God to disciple the nations.
3. “The end of the age”
Third, continuing on in verses 34 through 51, and also through Chapter 25, Jesus speaks of “the end of the age.” Some consistent preterists believe that this refers to the end of the Jewish age which occurred with the destruction of the Temple and coming of a new Kingdom age which began after Christ’s resurrection. But the “end of the age” here does not refer to the end of the Jewish age, as some preterists teach. The word for “age” used here in Greek, aeon, can also be used to mean “world.” Therefore, I believe Jesus is now finally addressing the disciples intended question, that is, their concern over eschatology or the “last things” the fulfillment of the Great Commission, the Second Coming, the Resurrection, and the final judgment.
After warning in verse 36 that “of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” Christ gives several parables to describe what will be happening as we approach the end of time: the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants; the ten wise and foolish virgins; the talents; the sheep and the goats. Christ’s narrative throughout this passage (Mat. 24:34 through Mat. 25) describes how He will progressively remove unrighteous people out of the world slowly at first and more rapidly as the kingdom advances in the world. These parables are part of the Mount Olivet Discourse. They must be taken in context as if Christ is still addressing the disciples who asked him the question in Matthew 24:3.
In Matthew 24:34 throughout chapter 25, Christ does not refer to “all the evil things we see happening today,” but to judgment progressively falling on the wicked to remove them from the world as the kingdom of God advances prior to the Second Coming. Finally, He will sit in judgment over the nations at the last judgment referred to in the parable of the sheep and the goats. Compare these passages with Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
The sign of the end of the world is not great tribulation. This already occurred by 70 A.D. This is implicit in the text of Matthew 24:6-28 and 24:32-35. The “sign of the end of the world” is the victory of the Church in preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
Thus a sound interpretation of Matthew 24 includes elements of preterism or events happening before 70 AD pertaining to the disciples’ first question (vv. 4-28); historicism the gospel advancing in history as a sign of Christ’s coming pertaining to the disciples’ second question (v. 29-31); and both historicism and futurism pertaining to Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ third question (vv. 36-51 to the end of chapter 25).
Today’s futurists make the same mistake as the disciples by assuming that they were just asking one question, when these events, the destruction of the Temple, the sign of His coming, and the Second Coming, occur in a broader sequence from a historical viewpoint.
Revelation 19: An Area of Disagreement
Meiring also treats Revelation 19 in a futuristic manner a description of the Second Coming. Yet Revelation 19 is nothing more or less than the depiction of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Meiring places Revelation 19:11-21 in the future and treats it as a direct chronological precedent to Revelation 20 during the “end-times.” This creates a difficulty in that the Beast, and the false prophet are destroyed in Revelation 19, but then they are revived and are destroyed again at the end of the millennium. This interpretation fits a premillennial view, but contradicts both amillennialism and postmillennialism. If the millennium began at the time of Christ, then the events of Revelation 19 had to be first century events. My view is that these are first century events, not future events.
In my view of Revelation 17-19, the Beast is Nero; Babylon is the city of Jerusalem; the Harlot is the system of temple worship; the false prophet is the High Priest.
Here I will quote briefly from Kenneth Gentry’s outline to the video, The Beast of Revelation Identified, which I produced in 1999:
The “Great City” is called a harlot and named Babylon (17:5). Given the time-frame and theme of Revelation, this Great City must be Jerusalem.
The first mention is in 11:8, where “the great city” is the place where Jesus was crucified. She is “great” due to her covenantal status in biblical history (cf. Lam 1:1; Jer. 22:8).
The Old Testament backdrop to the prostitute designation is Jeremiah 3. There God calls Israel an adulterous prostitute and threatens her divorce (just as in Revelation). Jeremiah mentions Israel has the “forehead” of a prostitute (Jer. 3:3), just as John mentions the forehead of the harlot in Revelation is (17:5).
Revelation’s harlot is filled with the blood of the saints (Rev. 16:6; 17:6; 18:21, 24): “And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth” (Rev. 18:24). This perfectly parallels Jesus’ statement about Israel: “Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Mat. 23:34-35).
The prostitute’s array reflects the Jewish priestly colors of scarlet, purple, and gold (Ex. 28; Rev 17). Her inscription on her forehead reminds us of the high priest’s tiara on his head (Ex. 28:36-38).
The New Testament contrasts the “Jerusalem below” with the “Jerusalem above” (Gal. 4:24ff; Heb. 12:18ff), just as John does: when the “great city” collapses she is replaced by the “new Jerusalem from heaven” (Rev. 21). The new Jerusalem is apparently replacing the old. John parallels the Babylonian Harlot and the Heavenly Jerusalem to show that one is the negative image of the other: they must be related as old to new:
Revelation 17:1: “And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, ‘Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sits upon many waters.’
Revelation 21:9: “And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, ‘Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’”
Revelation 17:3: “So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet colored beast.”
Revelation 21:10: “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.”
In agreement with virtually all postmillennialists, I give little credence to futurist interpretations. The focus of Matthew 24 and most of the book of Revelation are first century events.
Revelation 20: An Area of Agreement
However, I agree with the view of Revelation chapter 20 offered by amillennialists such as Meiring. Like amillennialists, we postmillennialists believe that the one thousand year reign began at the time of the first coming of Jesus Christ. But unlike many amillennialists, we stress that the world is progressively coming under the reign of King Jesus as the Gospel is preached. We have yet to see the leaven work through the whole lump. The fullness of the millennium has not yet been realized. We believe that the church may still be in its infancy.
The two views, postmillennialism and amillennialism, interpret Revelation 20 in the same manner. The main difference is that postmillennialism looks forward to a greater earthly victory. The millennium is a metaphor John uses to describe the kingdom of God. This is not an earthly kingdom. It is a heavenly kingdom. However, the preaching of the Gospel brings the manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. While the kingdom of God is manifest in the world, the authority of the kingdom comes from on high where the throne of God is, where Christ is now ruling over the nations (Rev. 1:19). The millennium is ongoing throughout human history. We have seen the beginning, but our greatest victories still lie ahead in history before the Second Coming.
One of my favorite quotes to describe the spread of the kingdom from an optimistic view is the often quoted line used by the 18th century evangelist John Wesley:
Give me one hundred men who love only God with all their heart and hate only sin with all their heart, and we will shake the gates of hell and bring in the kingdom of God in one generation.
The reason I am a postmillennialist and not simply an amillennialist is the myriad of scriptures which indicate the overcoming power of the Gospel.
That is not to say that the kingdom of God will not suffer setbacks and struggles in history. While postmillennialism is not a “Pollyanna” view, we should not ever be discouraged or think that the Gospel faces limitations of any kind. The Christian’s passion should be for the glory of God, and for the kingdom to be advanced among the lost. When I have read histories of past ages, the most exciting thing has been to read of the kingdom of Christ being promoted with supernatural power and signs following. In understanding history, I see the fulfillment of scriptural promises and prophecies of the glorious advancement of Christ’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
The Bible gives us an eschatology of victory. Before the Second Coming of Christ, the Gospel will be preached and will take root, grow, and bear fruit throughout the world. For many, this is too incredible. It goes against the whole spirit of modern Christianity. For about 100 years, most Christians have been taught to expect defeat. However, the idea of postmillennialism is not new. In fact, until the 20th century, most Christians held to a hopeful eschatology. In fact, throughout the history of the Church, most regarded the eschatology of defeat as a strange idea.
We can see it in the words of St. Athanasius, the great Church Father of the fourth century whose classic book, On the Incarnation of the Word of God, reveals his eschatology of hope and victory. He summarized its thesis:
Since the Saviour came to dwell in our midst, not only does idolatry no longer increase, but it is getting less and gradually ceasing to be. Similarly, not only does the wisdom of the Greeks no longer make any progress, but that which used to be is disappearing. And daemons, so far from continuing to impose on people by their deceits and oracle-givings and sorceries, are routed by the sign of the cross if they so much as try. On the other hand, while idolatry and everything else that opposes the faith of Christ is daily dwindling and weakening and falling, the Saviour’s teaching is increasing everywhere! Worship, then, the Saviour “Who is above all” and mighty, even God the Word, and condemn those who are being defeated and made to disappear by Him. When the sun has come, darkness prevails no longer; any of it that may be left anywhere is driven away. So also, now that the Divine epiphany of the Word of God has taken place, the darkness of idols prevails no more, and all parts of the world in every direction are enlightened by His teaching.
Athanasius himself experienced great persecution from pagans and was banished from the Empire three times by the Arian heretics who held sway with civil authorities. The phrase “Athanasius against the world” (Athanasius contra mundum) was coined to describe a person who will stand for the truth no matter the prevailing popular opinion and no matter the cost. How could Athanasius be so optimistic about the state of affairs in the world? If he was like many Christians of today, he would have been formulating theories on which Roman authority was the Beast of Revelation and devising complex end-times prophecy charts. Athanasius believed that darkness was being driven from the world by the Light of lights simply because it is the very truth of the Word of God.
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isaiah 9:2).
“See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm” (Isaiah 60:2-4).
Both postmillennialists and amillennialists believe that these scriptures in Isaiah refer to the time in history prior to the Second Coming, the time we are now in, the millennium.
“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5).
Amillennialists tend to believe that darkness and light exist in the world contemporaneously until the end with no major victories for either side. In Meiring’s thesis, he puts a great emphasis on the antichrist and great tribulation as future events. In this amillennial view, the end of history is a downward spiral with the antichrist on the throne and evil men waxing worse and worse. But postmillennialists believe that Christ is on the throne and that light of the Gospel will supersede the darkness of men’s hearts. This will occur in history prior to Christ’s return.
Postmillennialists tend to be preterist in their interpretation of the Mount Olivet Discourse and Revelation (although many postmillennialists also hold to a historicist view of Revelation). Many of the references to the Beast and to the Antichrist, are first century events, contemporary with the Apostles and the intended audiences of their epistles.
Historicism vs. Preterism
Historicism is a view that is not represented in this “Four Views” book.
Historicists believe that Biblical prophesy has been unfolding throughout history. Most in this group have believed that the Papacy is the Anti-Christ and the Roman Catholic Church the “Whore of Babylon.”
Historicism has been a popular view among Protestants since the time of the Reformation. We find this method of interpretation among all three views of the millennium, among premillennialists, amillennialists and postmillennialists. Many of the great Protestant heroes of the Reformed faith were historicists. Martin Luther was a historical-amillennialist. Jonathan Edwards was a historical-postmillennialists. Yet I disagree with this view.
Central to the historical view is the idea that Roman Catholic Church, or specifically the pope, is the Beast of Revelation and the Anti-Christ. In my opinion, most historicists have been driven by anti-Catholic sentiment rather than by careful examination of scripture. The Westminster Confession and many Reformed documents hold to this historicist view. However, we should look at the temporal circumstances surrounding their belief that the Roman Catholic church was the Beast of Revelation. We ought to consider that if the pope had a death warrant on the Reformers’ heads, then they may well have been justified in thinking that the pope of the 16th century was “the man of sin.” However, we then ought to look at the fact that their prediction concerning the destruction this “Beast” did not come to pass. Finally, we ought to examine the preterist position as perhaps a better explanation of the intent of John. The destruction of Nero and the city of Jerusalem, things that “must shortly come to pass,” did come to pass in John’s day.
(I will explain more of the preterist position in my rebuttal to the two premillennial views.)
The Three Pillars of Postmillennial Optimism
There are three promises or signs of Christ’s return spoken of in the Bible which are undeniable biblical truths.
Promise #1 — The unity of the faith
“Till we all come into the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure and stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13).
We also see in the prior verse the mention of the Christian ministry gifts operating to accomplish this unity. So we are to expect, prior to the coming of Christ, a unity of the faith to occur within the church throughout the entire world.
How can such unity come to pass? Only the postmillennial view contains such optimism as to suggest that church unity within history will occur. Nearly all other eschatological views, see the church as a fragmented minority at the time of the second coming of Christ. To the contrary, although we seem at present to be very far from the unity that is foretold in the Scriptures; we have reason to believe, that these things will be fulfilled. As Joshua said to the children of Israel, “That not one thing hath failed of all the Lord our God hath spoken concerning his church” (Joshua 23:14).
We do not know exactly what form this unity will take. Will there still be a pope? Will the papacy be destroyed or become obsolete? Protestants, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics now disagree as to what this unity should be based upon. Yet it will occur in history. The Body of Christ will be built up into a mature man.
Promise #2 — A glorious church without spot or wrinkle
“That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).
The Apostles made the connection between a holy church and the Second Coming. “What manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet. 3:11-12 NKJV).
Only the postmillennial viewpoint contains this optimism concerning the holiness of the church. Nearly all premillennial and amillennial views emphasize rather the evil state of the world and the final apostasy to come.
While postmillennialists do not deny that, according to Rev. 20, there will be a final apostasy within the church, we do not think it to be nearly as prevalent or long lasting. Nor do we think that it will destroy the holiness of the Bride on earth who is prepared to meet her Bridegroom. In keeping with John’s warning that everyone who hopes to see Christ “purifies himself” (1 John 3:2-3), we also read, “the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7 NKJV).
Peter and John paint this picture of the church preparing herself prior to Christ’s return. Therefore, there will be a worldwide revival of holiness in the church preceding Christ’s return.
Promise #3 — The Gospel will be preached in the uttermost parts of the earth
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Mat. 28:18-20).
With amillennialists we believe that the Great Commission will be accomplished in history. However, unlike amillennialists, we postmillennialists place a great stress on discipleship: “Teaching them [the ethnic nations of the whole world] to obey all that I have commanded you.”
Which commandments are we to teach the nations to observe? We postmillennialists believe that these commandments are found in the whole Bible. These commandments deal with individuals, families, churches, businesses, schools, arts, sciences, civil governments, and all of society.
Not only do we believe that the Great Commission includes preaching the Gospel of salvation to all creation, but we also include the idea that this Gospel of the kingdom will take root and thrive in the whole world. There will be a resulting kingdom influence in all human institutions. There will be great victory for Christ and the church before He comes again.
- The Four Keys to the Millennium
- The Postmillennial View
- Rebuttal to Classic Premillennialism
- Rebuttal to Dispensational Premillennialism
- About the author
I wrote this series for a book that was published in the Republic of South Africa. The book is a compilation by four Christians (two in Africa and two in the USA) who have put the four major eschatological viewpoints into laymen’s terms.
Each author stated his view in response to a series of questions about eschatology (the end-times). Then each author responded to the three other views in a rebuttal. While I do not have permission to publish on the web the three other authors’ articles, I am able to offer here my own viewpoint and my rebuttals to the three other views. The positions held forth by the amillennial, historic premillennial and dispensational premillennial authors are implicit in my rebuttals. If you want to read the whole book, you can order it here.