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Does Postmillennialism fit with Scripture and what’s happening in the world?

(Nero’s Torches, by Henryk Siemiradzki (1882, National Museum, Kraków) Christians are burned alive for the entertainment of Nero, as related by Tacitus, courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

In the 20th to 21st centuries, we have lived in a world of wars, the Holocaust, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Idi Amin’s Uganda, slaughter of people in Syria (and the Middle East), terrorism by extremist groups, crime and violence around the world.

However, there are Christians who promote the view that with the Gospel’s progress, the proportion of the world’s population will become more Christian and function according to biblical standards.

Is that consistent with God’s Word and do we see it in practice in our society?

1. What is the millennium?

The word, ‘millennium’, means ‘one thousand years’ and is found in the Book of Revelation 20:1-10 (ERV):

I saw an angel coming down out of heaven. The angel had the key to the bottomless pit. The angel also held a large chain in his hand. 2 The angel grabbed the dragon, that old snake, also known as the devil or Satan. The angel tied the dragon with the chain for 1000 years. 3 Then the angel threw the dragon into the bottomless pit and closed it. The angel locked it over the dragon. The angel did this so that the dragon could not trick the people of the earth until the 1000 years were ended. After 1000 years the dragon must be made free for a short time.

4 Then I saw some thrones and people sitting on them. These were the ones who had been given the power to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been killed because they were faithful to the truth of Jesus and the message from God. They did not worship the beast or its idol. They did not receive the mark of the beast on their foreheads or on their hands. They came back to life and ruled with Christ for 1000 years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not live again until the 1000 years were ended.)

This is the first resurrection. 6 Great blessings belong to those who share in this first resurrection. They are God’s holy people. The second death has no power over them. They will be priests for God and for Christ. They will rule with him for 1000 years.

The Defeat of Satan

7 When the 1000 years are ended, Satan will be made free from his prison. 8 He will go out to trick the nations in all the earth, the nations known as Gog and Magog. Satan will gather the people for battle. There will be more people than anyone can count, like sand on the seashore.

9 I saw Satan’s army march across the earth and gather around the camp of God’s people and the city that God loves. But fire came down from heaven and destroyed Satan’s army. 10 And he (the one who tricked these people) was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur with the beast and the false prophet. There they would be tortured day and night forever and ever.

Theologians have debated for centuries over whether the 1,000 years is literal or symbolic. Those who support a figurative view often appeal to 2 Peter 3:8 (ERV), ‘To the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day’.[1] That’s a possible interpretation, but I consider there’s a better alternative of literal interpretation because Rev 20:1-7 articulates the 1,000 year period on 4 occasions. The literal, exact time of the millennial kingdom seems to be preferred over the symbolic view.

There are biblical references in support of the Messiah being the ruling king in Jerusalem on the throne of David (Luke 1:32-33) to fulfil God’s covenant to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3). The OT prophets spoke of the millennial kingdom of peace, joy, prosperity and comfort (Micah 4:2-4; Isa 40:1-2; 61:7; Amos 9:13-15; Zech 8:3).

These prophecies regarding the future Messiah’s reign all require a period of time in order to find a literal fulfillment. The only alternatives would be to dismiss the many specific prophecies regarding the Messiah’s future reign or to accept an allegorical interpretation of numerous passages that appear to be presented as literal predictions. Based on these options, the most likely scenario is that the millennial kingdom is a literal 1,000-year period during which Jesus Christ will reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem.

2. Postmillennialism

I have two friends who are new Christians. They told me of attending their Presbyterian Bible study where two people were promoting three comings of Jesus: as a baby, to destroy Jerusalem in AD 70, and at the end of the world – known as postmillennialism. Is this true to Scripture and experience?

Theologian Wayne Grudem gave this helpful summary of the postmillennial view:[2]

“Postmillennialism” teaches that the progress of the church will gradually increase until a larger proportion of the world’s population becomes Christian. As a result, the Christian influence on society will gradually turn into a “millennial age” of peace. At the end of that period, Christ will return, all the dead will be resurrected, and judgment will happen.

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Figure 55.2: Postmillennialism from Systematic Theology, p. 1110.

2.1 Arguments for Postmillennialism

  • The Great Commission leads us to expect the gospel will go forth in power and result in a largely Christian world since Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19).
  • Parables of the gradual growth of the kingdom indicate it will grow until it fills the earth. See Matthew 13:31-32.
  • The “millennium” of postmillennialism is an indeterminate period of time where Christian influence increases until Jesus returns requiring a symbolic understanding of Revelation 20:1-6.

2.2 Holes in Postmillennialism

clip_image004Postmillennialism is easily accepted and promoted during times of prosperity and revival.

clip_image004[1]Try selling that doctrine to Christians in the Middle East in the 21st century and other parts of the world who have and are suffering horrific persecution. The Gospel proclamation often leads to death. That’s what happened to John Wycliffe whose teachings were regarded by the Roman Catholic Church as heretical and he died of a stroke. Early Christian martyrs included: James, son of Zebedee, apostle and brother of John, the apostle; Philip the apostle; the apostle Matthew; James the Just who was Jesus’ brother; the apostle Andrew; the apostle Thomas;

In Mosul, Iraq, the terrorist group, ISIS, has marked every known Christian house with the Arabic ‘N’ for Nazarenes (Acts 24:5).

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Christians Facing Islamic Extremists: ISIS

I urge those who promote postmillennialism to go to the Christians of Iraq and preach the message that their society is getting better and better through the Gospel, and then Jesus will return. They’ll be whistling in the anti-biblical wind.

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clip_image004[2]Postmillennialists should obtain the regular newsletters from Voice of the Martyrs, the Barnabas Fund, and Open Doors to see that our world is not heading towards utopia for Christians and the rest of the world. Christians are being persecuted in Nigeria, the Sudan, the Middle East, India, and in other countries. Society is not improving in these countries.

Neither is it heading for the best in the Western world, where materialism and secularism reign.

3. Their biggest problem is anti-biblical content

What does the Bible say will happen towards the end of the world and Christ’s return?

3.1 Matthew 24

What could be clearer than Matt 24:3-44 (ERV)? (Also in Mark 13 and Luke 21)

3 Later, Jesus was sitting at a place on the Mount of Olives. The followers came to be alone with him. They said, “Tell us when these things will happen. And what will happen to prepare us for your coming and the end of time?”

4 Jesus answered, “Be careful! Don’t let anyone fool you. 5 Many people will come and use my name. They will say, ‘I am the Messiah.’ And they will fool many people. 6 You will hear about wars that are being fought. And you will hear stories about other wars beginning. But don’t be afraid. These things must happen before the end comes. 7 Nations will fight against other nations. Kingdoms will fight against other kingdoms. There will be times when there is no food for people to eat. And there will be earthquakes in different places. 8 These things are only the beginning of troubles, like the first pains of a woman giving birth.

9 “Then you will be arrested and handed over to be punished and killed. People all over the world will hate you because you believe in me. 10 During that time many believers will lose their faith. They will turn against each other and hate each other. 11 Many false prophets will come and cause many people to believe things that are wrong. 12 There will be so much more evil in the world that the love of most believers will grow cold. 13 But the one who remains faithful to the end will be saved. 14 And the Good News I have shared about God’s kingdom will be told throughout the world. It will be spread to every nation. Then the end will come.

15 “Daniel the prophet spoke about ‘the terrible thing that causes destruction.’ You will see this terrible thing standing in the holy place.” (You who read this should understand what it means.) 16 “The people in Judea at that time should run away to the mountains. 17 They should run away without wasting time to stop for anything. If they are on the roof of their house, they must not go down to get anything out of the house. 18 If they are in the field, they must not go back to get a coat.

19 “During that time it will be hard for women who are pregnant or have small babies! 20 Pray that it will not be winter or a Sabbath day when these things happen and you have to run away, 21 because it will be a time of great trouble. There will be more trouble than has ever happened since the beginning of the world. And nothing as bad as that will ever happen again.

22 “But God has decided to make that terrible time short. If it were not made short, no one would continue living. But God will make that time short to help the people he has chosen.

23 “Someone might say to you at that time, ‘Look, there is the Messiah!’ Or someone else might say, ‘There he is!’ But don’t believe them. 24 False messiahs and false prophets will come and do great miracles and wonders, trying to fool the people God has chosen, if that is possible. 25 Now I have warned you about this before it happens.

26 “Someone might tell you, ‘The Messiah is there in the desert!’ But don’t go into the desert to look for him. Someone else might say, ‘There is the Messiah in that room!’ But don’t believe it. 27 When the Son of Man comes, everyone will see him. It will be like lightning flashing in the sky that can be seen everywhere. 28 It’s like looking for a dead body: You will find it where the vultures are gathering above.

29 “Right after the trouble of those days, this will happen:

‘The sun will become dark,
and the moon will not give light.
The stars will fall from the sky,
and everything in the sky will be changed.’

30 “Then there will be something in the sky that shows the Son of Man is coming. All the people of the world will cry. Everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds in the sky. He will come with power and great glory. 31 He will use a loud trumpet to send his angels all around the earth. They will gather his chosen people from every part of the earth.

32 “The fig tree teaches us a lesson: When its branches become green and soft, and new leaves begin to grow, then you know that summer is very near. 33 In the same way, when you see all these things happening, you will know that the time is very near, already present. 34 I assure you that all these things will happen while some of the people of this time are still living. 35 The whole world, earth and sky, will be destroyed, but my words will last forever.

Only God Knows When the Time Will Be

36 “No one knows when that day or time will be. The Son and the angels in heaven don’t know when it will be. Only the Father knows.

37 “When the Son of Man comes, it will be the same as what happened during Noah’s time. 38 In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving their children to be married right up to the day Noah entered the boat. 39 They knew nothing about what was happening until the flood came and destroyed them all.

“It will be the same when the Son of Man comes. 40 Two men will be working together in the field. One will be taken and the other will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding grain with a mill. One will be taken and the other will be left.

42 “So always be ready. You don’t know the day your Lord will come. 43 What would a homeowner do if he knew when a thief was coming? You know he would be ready and not let the thief break in. 44 So you also must be ready. The Son of Man will come at a time when you don’t expect him.

That reads nothing like love and peace coming across the world before Jesus returns. Instead, the world will be afflicted by:

clip_image010 False Messiahs;

clip_image010[1] Wars & rumours of war;

clip_image010[2]Nations fighting each other;

clip_image010[3] So much evil in the world that the love of most Christians will grow cold;

clip_image010[4] Earthquakes, etc, but they are only the beginning of worse trials.

clip_image010[5] Famines, believers arrested – but there is worse to come.

clip_image010[6] Christians handed over to be punished and killed by authorities,

clip_image010[7] Christians hated all over the world,

clip_image010[8] Many believers will lose their faith,

clip_image010[9] Such evil in the world believers’ love will grow cold,

clip_image010[10] The ones faithful to the end will be saved,

clip_image010[11] The Gospel preached all over the world,

clip_image010[12] You will see what Daniel prophesied, the destruction called desolation,

clip_image010[13] It would seem postmillennialists get their understanding of Jesus’ second coming at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem from vv. 16-20. However, the alleged 2nd coming at the Fall of Jerusalem is opposed by this language in v. 21, ‘It will be a time of great trouble. There will be more trouble than has ever happened since the beginning of the world. And nothing as bad as that will ever happen again‘. The ESV translation of Matt 24:21 is, ‘For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be’.

There have been many wars, etc in history that are worse than the fall of Jerusalem – Hitler’s slaughter of the Jews, World War I, World War II, Stalin’s Gestapo in the USSR, Mao’s Chinese extermination, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, etc. Postmillennialists need to talk to the families of Christians being annihilated in the Northern Sudan of Africa.

clip_image010[14] Back to Matt 24: The terrible time will be short (v. 22).

clip_image010[15] After those horrific troubles, there will be signs in the sky of the Son of Man’s coming. Everyone (alive) will see Him.

clip_image010[16] When you see the above horrors/incidents taking place, ‘you will know that the time is very near, already present’ (v. 33).

clip_image010[17] All of these things will happen when some people are still living.

clip_image010[18] ‘The whole world, earth and sky, will be destroyed, but my words will last forever’ (v. 35). That did not happen at the fall of Jerusalem.

clip_image010[19] Jesus and the angels don’t know when his second coming will be, but the signs are that it will be like the days of Noah (vv. 37-39).

3.2 So, always be ready (vv. 42-44).

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There are other biblical passages that teach us to expect terrible, extreme times before Jesus’ Second Coming.

These include:[3]

3.2.1 Corinthians 4:7-12 (ESV)

7 We have this treasure from God, but we are only like clay jars that hold the treasure. This is to show that the amazing power we have is from God, not from us. 8 We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We often don’t know what to do, but we don’t give up. 9 We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed. 10 So we constantly experience the death of Jesus in our own bodies, but this is so that the life of Jesus can also be seen in our bodies. 11 We are alive, but for Jesus we are always in danger of death, so that the life of Jesus can be seen in our bodies that die. 12 So death is working in us, but the result is that life is working in you.

To expect God to make conditions better and better for Christians deprives us of suffering with and being persecuted for Christ. Richard Gaffin wrote: ‘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’ (in Storms).

3.2.2 Jesus could return at any time

This refers to the imminent return of Jesus – I’m waiting for him now. That’s the biblical expectation in Scriptures such as 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; and 22:20. But postmillennialism ends that because it expects a golden age for Christianity and the university when the world is currently in a mess.

3.2.3 The ‘golden age’: The New Heavens and the New Earth

This will happen only after the millennium of Rev. 20 (Rev. 21-22).

3.3.4 Fewer people saved

The biblical indicators don’t confirm the utopian vision of a multitude of saved people by the time Jesus returns. See: Mt. 7:13-14; Lk. 18:8; 2 Thess. 2:3-4; 2 Tim. 3:1-5,12-13; 4:3-4.

Note particularly the words of Matt 7:13-14 (ERV):

You can enter true life only through the narrow gate. The gate to hell is very wide, and there is plenty of room on the road that leads there. Many people go that way. 14 But the gate that opens the way to true life is narrow. And the road that leads there is hard to follow. Only a few people find it’ (emphasis added).

3.3.5 Sam Storms summary

Storms (2020) excellent summary point was:

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.

4. Conclusion

There are two main problems with postmillennialism: (1) Scripture refutes it, and (2) What is happening in countries around the world, with deterioration in society and culture, demonstrates postmillennialism should be avoided – giving reasons for taking that position, especially from Matthew 24.

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5. Works consulted

Storms, S 2020. ‘The Postmillennial View of the Kingdom of God’, Sam Storms: Enjoying God (online). Available at: https://www.samstorms.org/all-articles/post/the-postmillennial-view-of-the-kingdom-of-god (Accessed 9 November 2020).

6.  Notes


[1] A number of these points came from Got Questions Ministries, ‘What is postmillennialism?’ (Accessed 9 November 2020).

[2] From Brandon Clay 2020. ‘The Millennium – Chapter 55’, Theolocast (online), 11 July. Available at: https://theolocast.org/blog/the-millennium-chapter-55/ (Accessed 9 November 2020).

[3] These points are made by Sam Storms (2020).

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 10 November 2020.