Previous article in this series: November 1, 2012, p. 56.
In the preceding article in this series on postmillennialism, I began a critical examination of one of the texts of Scripture that are most important to the postmillennial doctrine of the last things. This text is Matthew 24:34: “Verily I [Jesus Christ] say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” Many postmillennialists explain the text as teaching that all the events prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24:4-31 would be fulfilled, completely and finally, in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. Nothing of these things remains to be fulfilled in the future at the second coming of Jesus. On the basis of this explanation of Matthew 24:34, the postmillennialists explain all the prophecies of the New Testament concerning lawlessness, heresies, apostasy, and, especially, tribulation for the church under Antichrist as having reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in the past and, therefore, of no application to the church in AD 2012.
Postmillennialism’s clever interpretation of Matthew 24:34, thus, enables that movement to forecast an earthly victory of the New Testament church sometime in the future, prior to the second coming of Christ. Future history is bright with promise of earthly power, earthly prosperity, and earthly peace for the church. It should be noted here that there is no biblical basis for this dream in the New Testament. Even if we grant (as we do not) that all the prophecy of the New Testament of suffering and struggle was fulfilled, completely, in AD 70, upon the Jews, there is no prophecy in the New Testament of the earthly victory of the church as a carnal kingdom of Christ. Postmillennialism sucks this out of its thumb.
But according to postmillennialism, in light of its interpretation of Matthew 24, Jesus will not return to deliver a church that has undergone tribulation at the hands of an Antichrist. Rather, He will return to congratulate a church that has conquered the wicked world and is enjoying and exercising earthly dominion over all the nations of the world.
Postmillennialism’s interpretation of Matthew 24:34 is erroneous. By the happening (and this is the meaning of the word that the AV translates as “fulfilled”) of all the things He had foretold in Matthew 24:4-31 before “this generation shall pass away,” Jesus did indeed refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and the ruin of the temple in AD 70. That significant event in the history of the church was the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, inasmuch as it was a historical type of the destruction of the world and redemption of the church at the very end, when Jesus returns.
The meaning of Matthew 24:34 is: This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled, that is, happen, typically, or, in the historical type.
But the meaning is not that the destruction of Jerusalem would be the complete, final fulfillment of the prophecy of verses 4-31.
The evidence is that the destruction of Jerusalem would not answer the disciples’ question of verse 3. The disciples did not ask only about the destruction of the temple, but also about “thy coming, and . . . the end of the world.” The destruction of Jerusalem was Christ’s coming in judgment upon the nation of Israel; His coming to put an end to the old, largely Jewish dispensation; and His coming to deliver His New Testament church from both the persecution by unbelieving Jews and the danger of entangling Jewish thinking, laws, and ways. But it was not Christ’s coming in the full sense—the sense intended by the question of the disciples. The destruction of Jerusalem was not the bodily, visible coming of Christ.
Nor was the destruction of Jerusalem the full reality of the “end of the world,” about which the disciples had asked. AD 70 was not the “end” in the sense in which verse 14 speaks of “the end.” It was not the end of the present creation and of history.
In addition, certain of the signs mentioned in verses 4-31 obviously did not, in fact, occur before or at AD 70. The gospel of the kingdom was not then yet preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations. Nor were the heavenly bodies darkened and shaken in AD 70, as verse 29 prophesies will take place before the coming of Christ and the end of the world. Neither did the sign of the Son of man appear (v. 30).
That Jesus had the reality of His coming and of the end of the world, of which the destruction of Jerusalem was only a historical type, in mind in Matthew 24 is especially evident in verses 30, 31. All the tribes of the earth “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.” This is yet future after AD 70, describing the reality of the coming of Christ and of the end of the world.
Verse 36 speaks of “that day and hour,” indicating that throughout His instruction concerning the last things in all of Matthew 24 Jesus had before His mind, and purposed that His disciples have before their minds, one, particular day and a certain, definite hour. This day and hour are the day and hour of His bodily return to conduct the final judgment and to glorify the saints. This day and hour are the world’s last day and hour.
The right explanation of Matthew 24:4-51 is that Jesus answered the question of His disciples in verse 3 by foretelling both the historical type of His coming and the reality of His coming. He foretold the reality by means of the type. Therefore, throughout the instruction references to the type and to the reality are interwoven. Certain statements belong peculiarly to the historical type, for example, that those who are in Judea should flee into the mountains (v. 16), although even these have their application to the reality of Christ’s bodily coming. The historical type would occur in the time of the generation alive when Jesus spoke the eschatological prophecy. The reality would happen in the distant future, after AD 70.
The implication of this right explanation of Matthew 24 is that the earthly future for the church, especially as the day and hour of Christ’s return draw nearer, consists of struggle with false teachers and heresies, of the danger of apostasy, of living antithetically in a world of abounding lawlessness, and of enduring the great tribulation inflicted by the culmination of false Christs, that is, the man of sin of II Thessalonians 2 and the beast of Revelation 13, the personal Antichrist and his antichristian world-power.
Christ Himself ruled out the dream of a millennium of earthly power, earthly peace, and earthly prosperity for the church as His carnal kingdom.
Matthew 24, rightly understood, is in harmony with the history of the church on earth after AD 70. The church’s history, after AD 70, has been conflict, struggle, and tribulation.
Matthew 24, rightly understood, is in harmony with the church’s experience everywhere on earth at the present time. Many false prophets arise, and deceive many. Iniquity, that is, lawlessness, abounds. The love of many for the truth of the word of God, both with regard to sound doctrine and with regard to godly behavior, becomes cold. Both among the nations of the Christian West and among the nations on which the Christian faith has had little or no influence is increasingly evident hatred for the Christian faith and way of life—a hatred that soon will produce the great tribulation. Of the prospect of earthly dominion, peace, prosperity, and ease for the true church in the world, there is not so much as a hint in AD 2012.
Most importantly, Matthew 24, rightly understood, is in harmony with all the rest of the New Testament, which uniformly warns the church of evil days, especially as the coming of Christ and the end of the world draw nigh.
It is, on the very face of it, a heavy-handed assault on the Bible, as also a stripping from the church of instruction and warning that belong to her, that postmillennialism relegates so much, and so important a part, of the New Testament, including almost the entirety of the book of Revelation, to the distant past, denying that this large portion of Scripture applies to the church after AD 70.
Postmillennialism is grievous doctrinal error, with dire practical implications for its adherents.
It has no basis in Scripture.