One of the inventors that my children have read about is Robert Fulton. He invented the steam boat, but he was utterly discouraged because of the constant jeering and ridicule that he got from the public. But one day a man went on board the boat, and said,
"Mr Fulton, I presume?"
"Do you return to New York with this boat?"
We shall try to get back sir."
"Can I have passage down?"
"You can take your chance with us, sir."
"How much is the passage money?"
Fulton had never thought about that. After a moment's hesitation he said "Six dollars." The man became the first person to pay for a steamboat passage in history.
Four years later, Fulton met this man and told him, "The vivid emotions caused by your paying me that first passage money will always be remembered. That sir, seemed the turning point in my destiny – the dividing line between light and darkness – the first actual recognition of my usefulness from my fellowmen."
My heart melted when I heard that because I know so many who have been put down at work or at church or in the family so often that they have lost all confidence in themselves, have lost all hope in the future and are no longer willing to dream big or take risks. You don't take risks when you feel hopeless. Hope and confidence are essentials for world transformation. And over the next few three weeks I want to go over some of the foundational doctrines that drive our church and give us hope to dream big. I also want to later address some of the personal issues that can either fill our sails and make life seem worth living, or which (when absent) can take the wind out of our sails and suck the life and joy out of us.
But today I want to look at the broader worldview hope that much of the church has been robbed of. If we don't have hope for history, it will affect what we do right now. If I had foreknowledge that the house I was building would burn down one week after I built it, I doubt that I would build the house – or at least I would take out an insurance policy that was worth twice its value. But our view of the future does affect our enthusiasm in the present.
And since I couldn't find a single sermon that I have preached on the doctrine of eschatology itself, I thought I should address this area of hope for culture and hope for the world. Actually, eschatology oozes out of me, so I'm sure it comes out in a lot of my messages, but I wanted to devote an entire sermon to the biblical doctrine known as postmillennialism. I didn't always believe this doctrine, and there are many good men and women who are either amillennialists or who are premillennialists. I do not in any way want to insult them or imply that they are lesser Chrsitians because they hold to a different view. But I think you will recognize that it makes a huge difference for hope whether you are postmillennial or not.
Definition of three systems: Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillenialism
Let me first of all familiarize you with the handout. And by the way, I won't be covering all of this handout in the sermon. I have given it so that I won't have to cover everything, OK? On pages 1-3 you have an overview of some of the key themes in postmillennialism. On page 4 you have two views of the timing of the resurrection. On page 5 you have three views of the timing of the Great Tribulation. This sermon is only going to be a Cliff Notes version of postmillennialism. There are many, many other fabulous parts to it, but these are the critical dividing lines. And I would encourage you to resist the temptation to read through the outline now. I will be alluding to it through the sermon, but you are going to need to concentrate to benefit fully from this sermon.
I'm just going to assume that you are like I was back in 1977 and that you have never heard of postmillennialism. So the first thing we need to do is define the three main systems of thought. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, so as I define the three systems, I'll use this diagram (which is also on the last page of your notes).
To orient you, on each of these diagrams, the cross here represents 30 AD when Christ was crucified. The next line over is 70 AD which was the date that Jerusalem was destroyed. That is a very, very important date. And the end of each chart represents the end of history when we enter into the new heavens and new earth.
The word millennium means 1000 and it refers to the 1000 years of victory and peace and righteousness that are mentioned in Revelation 20. Each of the three systems of thought that evangelicals hold to has a different view of how and when and where the 1000 years will occur. For example, amils say the 1000 years is not on earth, but is in heaven. And they resent the suggestion that they do not believe in victory for the church. They say, "Everyone in heaven has joined the church triumphant." And there are elements of truth in all three systems. But I will try to sort through what the key issues are.
Postmillennialism believes that Christ will return physically and resurrect His people after the millennium (over here). That's what the prefix "post" means - that His physical coming is post or after the 1000 years mentioned in Revelation 20. Some postmillennialists see the 1000 years as symbolic of this whole period of time. Others, like the Puritans, saw it as a literal 1000 years that represents only this last period of Christ's kingdom. But whether literal or symbolic, all postmillennialists see Christ's kingdom as starting with His first coming, gradually Christianizing the world, and then having a long period of extended righteousness in history, represented by this part of the chart here. Not all postmillennialists see a falling away at the end of the millennium like I do, but all of us believe that the Great Apostasy and the Great Tribulation happened back here in the first century. The contemporary historians Josephus, Tacitus and others give great descriptions of things like the waters being poisoned, the moon turning red, the sun being darkened in midday, seeing fiery chariots all throughout the sky, fire and blood falling from the heavens (that was a Roman historican who mentioned that), the earthquakes striking down just what Revelation said they would, the cost of barley and wheat during the famine, the abundance of only oil and wine during the famine and many other details including the whole length of the Jordan river being red with blood. We'll come back to that, but let's go on to define Premillennialism.
The prefix "Pre" means they believe Christ will come back and resurrect His people pre or before the millennium. So if you want to make a mark on your charts of where Christ's second coming occurs (with maybe a downward arrow or something like that), let me show you where to put the mark. On the postmil and amil views, the second coming happens at the very end of the chart, just before the eternal state is ushered in. So this would be the second coming for postmils, right here. This would be the Second coming for amils, right here. But notice the difference with premils. Premillennialists see Christ as coming back right here – before the millennium or premillennium. Does that make sense?
Now each of these systems share some things in common with one other view. I want you to notice that just like postmillennialists see Christ's victory in history, premils see a period of 1000 years when Christ's victory will be tangibly seen and felt. The difference is that they do not see this victory as coming through the Gospel, but rather coming suddenly by force or through the visible appearance of Christ. So, instead of a gradual uphill progress like here, you see a sudden ushering in of the kingdom over here. As we will be seeing, Isaiah 9 and many other passages predict a gradual growth of the kingdom from the time that Jesus is born until He comes again. Of the Christ child it says that the government will be upon His shoulders and of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end. In contrast, the Premillennialists see the kingdom coming in and having its effect virtually overnight, and thus the straight up line here. On this system, the Great Tribulation and the Great falling away is not in the first century, but is still future to us, right before the millennium. Some of these differences may be a bit confusing, but if you can keep the main features in mind, everything else will fall into place.
Let's look at Amillennialism. What is unique to amillennialism is not that they believe Christ will physically come back at the end of history and resurrect all people. We postmillennialists believe that too. Nor is it that they see a tribulation in the future. Premillennialists do too. Many teach that the "a" in Amillennialism means that they do not believe in a literal 1000 year period. But there are many postmillennialists who don't believe it is literal either. So that is not the essence of this system. The essence of what distinguishes amils from postmils and premils is that they do not see the millennium victory promised as occurring in history. Though there are many amillennialists who disagree (and they should just call themselves postmils), the typical amillennialist sees the 1000 years as representing Christ's victory in heaven and in eternity, but not in history. On this overhead I have represented it with a bar. Whether this bar should be longer or a literal 1000 years on postmillennialism, you can see that the 1000 years relates to history on the earth. It affects the social structures of civilization. In contrast, the amillenialist sees the 1000 years as relating only to ruling in heaven. Thus the term amillennialism in practical terms means an ahistorical millennium, or a millennium that is above history.
Now for each of these systems, there are some exceptions, but I don't want to confuse you by looking at all of the slight variations of difference. If you can see the highlights, it will really help you to understand what is going on. I have given in this handout five main proofs that postmillennialism is true, but all you really need are two. Premillennialism can be ruled out by looking at the timing of the resurrection, and amillennialism can be ruled out by looking at the victory of God in history.
Let's start at the end of the postmillennial chart and look at the resurrection. I think the Biblical doctrine of the resurrection clearly rules out premillennialism. To see this more clearly, turn to the second to last page (labeled page 4). Actually, Bear is probably chuckling when I say, "to see this more clearly," because the font size on the top of this page is anything but clear. It's point 5 font, and Bear is probably right that I need to use 14 point font more often. But even if you can't read the words at the tope of the page, each arrow represents a resurrection that is said to happen. On the left hand diagram you can see that premils hold to anywhere from three to five resurrections. The right hand chart shows a common area of agreement between postmils and amils – that there are only two resurrections: one in the first century and one at the end of history.
If you can settle in your minds when the resurrection of believers occurs, then you will have settled most of the other differences that occur in this discussion. On the left hand side of page 4 is a chart that shows all the resurrections that occur on a premillennial view. You have the resurrection of Christ and the Old Testament saints mentioned in Matthew 27:53-54. The next arrow points to the time when most premils say we will be raptured and dead saints will be resurrected. They also believe that martyred Jewish witnesses during the tribulation will be resurrected along with any other believers who have died. Some say there will be a third resurrection stuck in there. Then after the 1000 years they say that there will be a resurrection of all unbelievers from the foundation of the world. And so you have a minimum of three, but most premils believe in four to five resurrections.
On the right hand side is my view, and the view of most Christians until the 20th century. It is that there are two, and only two resurrections. A resurrection in 30 AD and a resurrection at the end of time. Because this is such a critical issue, I have typed the Scriptures out in full for you to see. Look at the Scriptures under Roman numeral I where it says, Scripture indicates that believers will be raised on the last day of history. John 6:39 says, "This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day." Notice that this verse says that all believers will be raised on the last day of history. But notice where premils place the resurrection. They have believers raised seven years before the millennium starts, and on the last day of history they teach that the damned are raised. Can you see the contradiction? Jesus said that believers would be raised on the last day.
And if you read through those Scriptures on page 4 you will see that this phrase is repeated four more times. I will raise him up at the last day. Not a 1000 years before the last day as historic premils say. Not 1003 years before the last day as midtribbers say. Not 1007 years before the last day of history as pretribulational premils say.
But the second thing to notice is that it isn't just Christians who are raised at that time. John 5:28-29 says, "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth - those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. In one hour, those two groups will be raised. That does not fit onto the premillennial chart. All who are in the graves, both righteous and unrighteous will be raised in the same hour.
Roman numeral III. In Acts 24:15 Paul only knows of one resurrection that is still future to us. He doesn't speak of two resurrections (plural), but he says, "I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust." Both raised in a resurrection. And by the way, Paul says that he held to the same view that the Pharisees did. And that completely rules out the Premil view because the Pharisees taught a general resurrection of believer and unbeliever.
But Premils are bound to object, then what do you do with Revelation 20? And my answer is, "What do I do with it??! It's one of my strongest passages to disprove premillennialism." Many books have written that Revelation 20 is the premils strongest proof text. In fact, Geroge Eldon Ladd wrote in one of his books that he wouldn't be a premil if it wasn't for the presence of Revelation 20. I have a lengthy handout that shows all the views on this passage, and there are many things that could be said. But this morning I only want you to notice one thing. Revelation 20 only speaks of two resurrections. It doesn't have the three to five that premils speak of. Verse 4 speaks of a resurrection. But lest people think that no one else will be raised, he says in verse 5: But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousands years were finished. There will be another resurrection; a second resurrection in the future. But that is not the one that I am talking about in verse 4 John says. This is the first resurrection. Premils say this first resurrection is either this one, or this one or this one. Or some say that all three of these are so close together in time that they consistute one resurrection – that the first resurrection is this whole group. But every other passage in the bible that references a first resurrection says that it is of Jesus and the Old Testament martyrs in 30 AD. And points IV and V give some Scriptures to show that. So for me, the premil's most important proof text deals a death blow to the whole system. There are only two resurrections according to Scripture. One is here in 30 AD and Revelation 20 makes clear that the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years was finished (over hear). There's no place for anything in between.
Actually, on this chart I am being very generous with the amils. In the hundreds of articles and books that I have read by amillennials, I don't know of any that say the first resurrection is a literal resurrection in 30 AD. So this passage speaks against them as well. They say the first resurrection is spiritual – it is our regeneration. The second resurrection is literal – at the end of history. But that's sure not what the text seems to say. In any case, there is no reason why amils can't interpret this the way that I do.
I know this seems like overkill, but this is such a crucial point, I want you to look at one more passage. 1 Corinthians 15:22-24 which is listed as the second to last bullet under Roman numeral IV. It says, 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. Notice that he only lists two resurrections. He says that one is already past, and the next one is at the end of history when He hands the kingdom back to the Father.
If you adopt this two resurrection view, there is no way you can be a premillennial. And they recognize that. Their whole system hinges on this timing sequence. When you are evaluating a system, you don't have to argue with every detail of the system like I have done in other papers. All you have to do is remove the foundations and the whole structure crumbles.
You see, if the premils are wrong on the timing of the resurrection, then the whole order of New Covenant history has been reversed.. If the first resurrection of Revelation 20 has already happened, then it means that the Great Tribulation has already happened, the Great Apostasy has already happened, and it means that Christ has already received His kingdom. They are all tied up together.
Turn with me if you would to Daniel 7. This chapter talks about the four beasts representing the four world empires. There was Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. And during the time of the fourth empire, Rome, Christ comes to set up His kingdom. Verse 13 says, I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. There are two times in history when Jesus is said to come visibly on the clouds of heaven. This is not describing the end of time when He comes on the clouds of heaven from God's throne room to earth. This is His ascension on the clouds of heaven to His throne. Notice that little word "to." It doesn't say "He came from the Ancient of Days to earth." Instead it speaks of Him coming from the earth to the ancient of Days. I had an amil professor who was teaching that this was a reference to the second coming and why the church will be almost extinguished before the second coming. And I raised my hand and asked him, "Sir. Can you explain something that puzzles me? If this is talking about the Second Coming, why does he use the preposition "to." And I will never forget his anwer. He said, "Don't get hung up on prepositions and every word. Get the general drift." Well, the problem is, if you don't live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, the general drift will be such a deep snow bank that you won't be able to see what it means. Every word of Scripture is important. So anyway, contrary to what my professor said, this refers to Christ's ascension to heaven. And notice what happens in 30 AD when Jesus ascends.
Verse 14 explains. Then [Not 2000 years after His ascension, but "then."] to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.
Didn't Jesus say exactly that on ascension day? All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Christ has been given His kingdom, and according to verse 22 we have inherited it. But it takes work to take it just like it took work for Joshua to take Canaan. People sometimes facetiously say, "If this is the kingdom, I don't like it." But keep in mind the chart on the last page that shows gradual growth. Scripture promises, little by little to grow His kingdom.
The Israelites under Joshua were given the land, but it took many generations to enter into the total peace that was their heritage. And the same gradual victory is promised to the church. Does Matthew 28 say that Christ has to wait till His Second Coming to receive all authority in heaven and on earth? No, at the time of His ascension He said, All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. That includes all the authority mentioned in Daniel 7 and in 1 Corinthians 15. There are many who fear that things will get worse and worse until the church is destroyed sometime in the future. You can see on both of these charts this dotted line with question marks showing that throughout the church age things are supposed to be getting worse and worse. But worse from what? I can't imagine the church being smaller than the 120 disciples in the upper room in the first chapter of Acts. And I can't imagine things being worse than under Nero. Daniel 7 denies that is possible for the kingdom to be growing smaller and smaller. It says that pagan nations would continue to remain pagan for a season and a time, but that Christ's kingdom would grow. Daniel 2:35 pictures a stone cut without hands smiting Rome and gradually replacing it, and the stone growing into a large mountain and eventually filling the whole earth. Christ said in the Gospels, I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. He didn't say that there are no gates that are trying to prevail. They try, but they can't prevail. What do these two systems say? Things are getting worse and worse. The gates of hell are prevailing.
Turn with me to Isaiah 9. This is a passage which speaks of Christ's first coming as the time when He sets up His kingdom. And there are many passages like this in the Old Testament. This is why the consistent message of John the Baptist and of Christ was, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." - not 2000 years away, but at hand. In Isaiah 9:6 it says, For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given… You would agree that that is first century, right? But what does the next phrase say? And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end… Notice that the kingdom doesn't come in all at one with a bang like on the Premil scheme. It grows gradually. It keeps increasing. It says, "Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom [which Acts 2 says Christ is presently sitting on], to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. Which of these pictures looks most like that description?
Sure there is persecution and opposition, but because God promises to gradually increase His kingdom, it will be accomplished just as surely as the Conquest of Canaan was accomplished. Isaiah 42 implies that Jesus will be resisted after He is anointed by the Spirit. The whole passage is said to be fulfilled in the Gospels. But as a result of that anointing Isaiah 42 promises, He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles… He will bring forth justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law. "He will not be discouraged…" implies that there is a long period of process like you have on this top chart. There is plenty of time to be discouraged, but Jesus refuses to be discouraged. Instead, he guarantees that He will bring His law to bear in all the world. It will triumph in history.
Hundreds of Scriptures promise the total Christianization of the world. And sometime you can look at a few of those Scriptures on pages 1 and 3. Premils correctly say that this can't happen until after a resurrection has occurred and until a great tribulation has occurred. But they got the wrong resurrection and the wrong tribulation. It's the cross, not the second coming, which reverses history.
And this is a hugely practical doctrine. It revolutionized my life when I finally understood it. I have a handout that discussed all of the practical results (the devastatingly practical results) of believing the wrong doctrine about the future. But I think lack of faith is very practical. Since faith lays hold of Biblical promises and there cannot be faith without those promises, we cannot have the faith to expect great things from God and to attempt great things for God unless we understand the promises of total conquest. And I give some samples on pages 1 and 3. We are too much like the ten spies who went into Canaan and said, "We can't do it. There are giants in the land and we are like grasshoppers in their sight." Evangelicals spend too much time looking at the giants and not enough time looking at the promises for victory. We must not have fatalistic, grasshopper theology. The Bible promises that "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (Is. 11:9). Many other verses echo the same theme: "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You" (Ps. 22:27). "All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name" (Ps. 86:9). "He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth" (Zech 9:10; cf. Psalm 72:8).
If you look at this chart again, you will see that the First Coming is the turning point in history for Postmillennialism, but it is the Second Coming which is the turning point for the other two systems. And so without meaning to, they deny the centrality and the power and the significance of the cross. And I could give you countless quotes to illustrate. For example, Walvoord, who for many years has been a champion of the premillenial camp said this: "Christians have no immediate solutions to the problems of our day. A solution to this unrest and turmoil is provided in the Bible, and there is no other. That solution is that Jesus Christ Himself is coming back to bring peace and rest to the world." (Walvoord) Notice where the focus is. He says that the only solution is to look toward the Second Coming. That is when Satan's impact will be reversed. In complete contrast Christ said, "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself. The cross was the point in time when the casting out of demons would begin to happen until at some time in the future Satan and all demons will be confined to the pit. You can read Zechariah 13 to prove that, and it starts the process at the first coming and says, I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to depart from the earth." And Christ said that the cross is not only the time when demons would be bound, but it starts the process of all peoples being drawn to Christ.
But amillenials, even though they are more centered on the cross, keep falling into the same error since they too put the tribulation immediately before the Second Coming. Things are getting worse and worse for them too. They do not see Christ's victory in history. For example, Herman Hanko, a major defender of amillenialism says, "The world [is] filled with sin and getting worse, a hopeless situation beyond repair and impossible to salvage" " This is not a mere quibbling over words; this strikes at the heart of the millennial question. Forgotten is the fact that sin and the curse made it forever impossible for the cultural mandate to be fulfilled in this present world." So in both of these systems there is a lack of faith in the power of the cross, and in the presence of Christ to achieve the Great Commission. They will often object that they speak of Christ's victory. But it is an empty victory. When Christ says, lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age, that is not enough. They believe we need His physical presence before any change can be made. And I believe that Christ's answer is, "Get back to work. Stop waiting for Me to come back. I have already laid out the church's mandate in Matthew 28, and until that mandate is fulfilled, you have no right to ask to get bailed out."
Those who discount Christ's dominion over the nations must realize that "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17). That's His goal! It's to save the world! We believe He will succeed in His goal. It is a recurring New Testament theme that the world is the object of Christ's redemption: "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). He will be successful in that. It is being progressively realized in history and at the end of history all unrighteous and all sin will be case out and there will be a world in which dwells righteousness. God will not let Satan have the world that He created. He is redeeming back this world for the Second Adam, Christ. John 4:42 says, "And we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world" (John 4:42). As Charles Spurgeon said, since salvation of the world was Christ's object, and the Father's promise, "The Holy Spirit would never suffer the imputation to rest upon His holy name that He was not able to convert the world." Christ said, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Cor. 5:19). "And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world" (1 John 2:2). "And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world" (1 John 4:14). Having been given all authority in heaven and on earth, Christ commanded that all nations be made His disciples through the preaching of the gospel (Matt. 28:18,19). The expansion of Christ's kingdom is a progressive redemptive act likened both to a tiny mustard seed that grows and grows until it becomes a large tree (Luke 13:19) and to leaven which permeates the whole loaf (Luke 13:21). No one can question that there has been progress from the 120 disciples in the upper room in Acts 1 to the hundreds of millions of Christians around the world today. The increase of Christ's kingdom has been sure and steady. And the successful evangelism of the world will continue to the end of history "for He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet" (1 Cor. 15:25). Amen. Did you get that? He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. What a hope! What a promise! What a gripping vision! May it be a vision that puts fire in your belly and determination in your heart to press His kingdom forward; to take every thought captive for King Jesus. And to Him be the glory. Amen. Let's pray.
John F. Walvoord, in Charles Lee Feinberg, Prophecy and the Seventies (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1971), p. 212. ↩
Hanko, "The Illusory Hope of Postmillennialism," p. 159. ↩
Hanko, "An Exegetical Refutation of Postmillennialism," p. 10. ↩
As quoted in David Chilton, Paradise Restored (Fort Worth: Dominion Press, 1987), pp. 129-130. ↩