Previous article in this series: September 1, 2011, p. 464.
In light of these basic elements of postmillennial eschatology, Reformed amillennialism renders its critique of postmillennialism. The critique applies to both the Puritan and the Christian Reconstruction forms of postmillennialism.
This critique does not merely fault postmillennialism for a few, minor mistakes. Rather, it judges postmillennialism to be grievous error concerning the important biblical doctrine of the last things. The practical consequences of the error both for the church and for the Christian are injurious.
The right Reformed critique of postmillennialism will certainly not recognize postmillennialism as a legitimate eschatological option in Reformed churches, as is the popular notion in Reformed circles today. If amillennialism is the truth concerning the last days (and it is, as has been demonstrated earlier in this series), postmillennialism is a lie. Its message of a coming “golden age” in history, prior to the return of Christ, is false. Because postmillennialism makes the “golden age” of the millennium, rather than the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the body, the blessed hope of the church, postmillennialism is guilty of nothing less than the subversion of the church’s hope.
But it is by hope—the expectation of the resurrection of our body—that we are saved (Rom. 8:24). It is by hope—the longing for the bodily coming of Christ—that we are motivated to live a holy life in the world (I John 3:3). It is hope—the anticipation of being glorified together with Christ at His coming—that enables us to endure the sufferings of this present age (Rom. 8:17).
Touch the hope of the church and Christian, as postmillennialism certainly does, and you touch our patience in suffering, our struggle to live godly and purely in a wicked world, and our salvation.
The Victory of the Messianic Kingdom
The basic criticism of postmillennialism by Reformed amillennialism is that postmillennialism misconstrues the victory of the Messianic kingdom in the present age—the age of the gospel, the time between the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost and the second coming of Christ.
The victory of the New Testament Messianic kingdom is a fundamental tenet of postmillennialism, if it is not the fundamental tenet. The postmillennial theologians insist that the issue between themselves and amillennialism is simply whether the kingdom of Jesus Christ will be victorious in history. They rail against amillennialism as defeatist and pessimistic.
The postmillennial error concerning the victory of the Messianic kingdom is twofold.
First, postmillennialism conceives the victory of Christ’s kingdom in this age as carnal. The victory will consist of superior numbers: the number of the converted must exceed the number of the ungodly. It will consist of earthly power: the saints will possess and exercise political authority and physical might over the nations. The victory will consist of earthly peace: no wars between nations, and no civil unrest within a nation. It will consist of earthly prosperity: crime, poverty, sickness, and death will be severely curtailed; all humans will enjoy physical health, material riches and comforts, security of home and property, and long life.
Postmillennialism’s shorthand for this carnal victory of the kingdom of Christ is “the Christianizing of society and of the world.” “Christianizing” means that the word of God—gospel and law—will so influence and even dominate all aspects of the life and culture of nations that they conform, at least outwardly, to the will of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture. Governments order national life according to the will of Christ; all the schools teach and discipline according to the will of Christ; the will of Christ regulates the media; if, during the millennium, there is still need for courts of law, the system of justice functions according to the Bible’s teachings of righteousness.
Postmillennialism does not deny that the power of this fleshly victory of Christ’s kingdom is the Holy Spirit working by the gospel. Indeed, postmillennialism in the Reformed tradition insists on this spiritual power, although the understanding of the spiritual power is not always sound. The Puritans and their disciples emphasize revivals. Christian Reconstruction stresses the civil laws of the Old Testament. But the victory is, and must be, earthly in nature. If the kingdom of Christ does not take this earthly form, it is not victorious in history, but defeated. Apart from this carnal triumph, King Jesus is a failure.
On this conception of the victory of the Messianic kingdom, hitherto the kingdom of Jesus Christ has been soundly defeated. It will be victorious yet in the future, according to postmillennialism. The “golden age” lies before us. But the past two thousand years have been a dismal history of defeat. The beginning of the twenty-first century is disastrous for Christ’s kingdom.
Never in new covenant history has the kingdom of Christ converted a majority of the human race. Never has it “Christianized” any nation, much less the world of nations. Always, heresies and schisms have troubled it. Always, the ungodly have persecuted its citizens, if not by torture and killing, then by mockery and reproach. With the rare exception, the rulers of nations have been, and are today, ungodly men and women. Not the Spirit of Christ, but the spirit of the age, which is the spirit of antichrist, has dominated the way of life of the nations. The culture of all earthly societies in which the saints find themselves, whether the Philippines, Northern Ireland, or North America, consists of “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16).
According to Scripture and the Reformed faith, however, Christ’s kingdom has always been, and is today, victorious in the world. From Pentecost to the present, the Messianic kingdom has conquered. For the victory of the Messianic kingdom is spiritual. Just as the weapons of the warfare of the kingdom—the preaching of the gospel of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ—are not carnal, but spiritual (II Cor. 10:4), so also is the victory of the kingdom spiritual.
The victory of the kingdom of Christ consists of the translating of the elect citizens out of the kingdom of darkness in all nations into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col. 1:13). It consists of Christ’s rule in these citizens by His “Word and Spirit, that we may submit ourselves more and more to [Him]” (Heid. Cat., Q&A 123). It consists of the confession by the citizens that Jesus Christ is Lord (I Cor. 12:3).
The victorious coming of the kingdom is Christ’s gathering, preservation, and increase of His church throughout New Testament history (Heid. Cat., Q&A 123).
The power of the victorious kingdom of Christ is the Holy Spirit working through the gospel of the cross of Christ (Zech. 4:6; Heid. Cat., LD 31).
The prosperity of the victorious Messianic kingdom is spiritual health, the treasures of salvation laid up for the citizens in heaven, and eternal life (Matt. 6:19-21).
Such is the victory of King Jesus and His kingdom throughout New Testament history that all things, including wars, natural calamities, and even the opposition to His kingdom, serve the interests and advance of His kingdom. When the risen and exalted Lamb opens the first of the seals of the book of the counsel of God concerning the titanic struggle of the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of the beast in New Testament history, the white horse runs. “He that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer” (Rev. 6:1, 2). The white horse with its rider is the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ, by which the kingdom is established and extended; by which the citizens of the kingdom are gathered and preserved (and restored when they fall); and by which the kingdom of the beast is withstood.
The white horse runs, invincibly, and, therefore, the kingdom of Christ comes victoriously. About this, there is no question.
To the running of the white horse, establishing the kingdom of Christ in the world, everything else in the counsel of God is subservient. First out of the counsel into New Testament history is the running of the white horse. The victory of the gospel and its kingdom in history is absolute.
That this victory of the kingdom of Christ in history is not earthly, however, the entire book of Revelation is the plainest proof, as the church has always understood. Other horses run with the white horse—the red horse of war; the black horse of economic disparity—great wealth and desperate poverty—with the inevitable social struggle between the haves and the have-nots; and the pale green horse of sickness and death (Rev. 6:3-8).
The book of Revelation forewarns the citizens of the kingdom of Christ that Christ establishes and extends His kingdom in a wicked world upon which the judgments of God are always falling.
Especially does Revelation impress upon believers and their children the truth that the kingdom of Christ is always opposed by the kingdom of the beast (Rev. 11:7, 12:12-17; Rev. 13; Rev. 16; Rev. 20:1-10). Throughout New Testament history, the citizens of the kingdom of Christ are “slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they [hold]” (Rev. 6:9-11). Rather than history’s concluding with a thousand years of the earthly dominion of the church, as postmillennialism dreams, towards the very end, shortly before the second coming of Christ, the beastly, antichristian kingdom will overcome the two witnesses to the truth of God in Jesus Christ and kill them (Rev. 11:7). Revelation 20:7-9represents this brief, merely earthly “overcoming” of the kingdom of Christ by the kingdom of Satan as the battle of Gog and Magog against the true church.
Everywhere, the New Testament Scriptures confirm the testimony of Revelation that the victory of the kingdom of Christ and its citizens is not carnal, but spiritual. Those men and women to whom the Father is pleased to give the kingdom are always a “little flock,” not the vast majority of the human race (Luke 12:32).
In the world, the disciples of Christ will always have tribulation, which does not, however, disturb, much less destroy, their peace and joy. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:35).
Even though the believers and their children—the citizens of the Messianic kingdom—are always killed for the sake of Christ, they are “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:36, 37). They are conquerors, indeed, more than conquerors, not in spite of tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword, notafter these severe afflictions, because the members of the church finally outnumber their adversaries and dominate them for a thousand years, but “in all these things” (Rom. 8:37).
Postmillennialism cannot understand, and refuses to receive, this plain, prominent, powerful testimony of Scripture to the victory of the Messianic kingdom in an ungodly, antichristian, hostile, persecuting, and seemingly triumphant world.
Because the biblical victory of the Messianic kingdom is spiritual.
Whereas for postmillennialism the victory is carnal.