Previous article in this series: April 15, 2013, p. 325.
In our critical examination of the biblical proof put forward by postmillennialism for its erroneous understanding of the last things, one passage remains to be considered. We have already considered three passages of Scripture to which postmillennialism appeals in support of its doctrine of the end. One waswith its prophecy of the coming of a glorious kingdom of the Christ. The other two were and . The passage that remains is .
I have commented on this passage earlier in this series, but a critical look specifically at the biblical proof adduced by postmillennialism must take Revelation 20 into account.
The importance of the passage for postmillennialism is that Revelation 20 is the one passage in all of Scripture that mentions the millennium, that is, a period of one thousand years.
Satan will be “bound” for “a thousand years” (v. 2).
This binding of the devil prevents him from “deceiving the nations…till the thousand years should be fulfilled” (v. 3).
During the thousand years, or millennium, the saints “reign with [Christ]” (v. 6).
All of these references to the millennium, the postmillennialists, zealous for the carnal triumph of an earthly kingdom of Christ, gladly claim, and press into the service of their eschatology.
But Revelation 20 goes on to teach that “when the thousand years are expired,” “Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,” in order to gather a huge army of ungodly enemies of the kingdom of Jesus Christ and the saints and to make war on the kingdom of Christ and its citizens (vv. 7-9).
Only after this last, great battle of the seed of the old serpent against the seed of the woman does the world end, the final judgment sit, and eternity set in (vv. 10-15;).
The Postmillennial Interpretation
The postmillennial interpretation of the thousand years of Revelation 20 is that it is a very long period of time in the future before the second coming of Jesus and the end of the world and its history.
Not all postmillennial theologians, however, understand the thousand years as literally one thousand years. Douglas Wilson writes that “most postmillennialists today hold that…the millennium is not literally one thousand years.”1 Many explain the period as much longer. The New England theologian with the memorable name Eliphalet Nott theorized that the millennium would last 360,000 years. His argument was that Christ’s reign on earth ought to outstrip by far Satan’s reign of 6,000 years.2 Christian Reconstructionist David Chilton explains “that the ‘1,000 years’ of Revelation 20 represent a vast, undefined period of time.”3 Chilton adds that “this world has…perhaps hundreds of thousands of years of increasing godliness ahead of it, before the Second Coming of Christ.”4 In his purported commentary on the book of Revelation, Chilton expands the millennium of Revelation 20 still further. He quotes with approval Milton Terry, who stretched the millennium to “a million years.”5
Two troublesome characteristics of postmillennialism are evident from this elongating of the millennium. One is that postmillennialism virtually ascribes to the earthly kingdom of the millennium one of the attributes that Scripture gives to the heavenly kingdom that Christ will establish in the new creation at His second coming. For all practical purposes, hundreds of thousands, or even a million, years is in the thinking of humans everlasting.
The practical effect of investing the earthly, temporal Messianic kingdom of the postmillennial dream with the attributes of the heavenly, everlasting kingdom taught by Scripture is that the postmillennial teachers and their disciples put their hope on the millennial kingdom, rather than on the heavenly kingdom that Jesus Christ will perfect at His coming. Although postmillennialist Iain Murray allows that Christ’s second coming is the “best hope,” the “Puritan hope” that he promotes in his book of this title is mainly the hope of the millennium. It is this hope that grounds piety and stimulates missions.
Not only does Murray, as is characteristic of postmillennialism, direct the hope of Christians to a will-o-the-wisp, but he also draws off the hope of the church and of the Christian from the one, biblical object of hope: the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the body.6
That postmillennialism directs the hope of Christians to the millennium instead of heaven was bluntly expressed by the Puritan Thomas Goodwin: “The kingdom of Christ on earth to come is a far more glorious condition for the saints than what their souls have now in heaven.”7
The second disturbing characteristic of the virtually everlasting earthly kingdom of postmillennialism is that it reveals that postmillennialists have no ardent desire for the second coming of Christ, for His personal glorification, for His personal reign in all the creation, and for our life and reign with Him, that is, with Him on the scene, and on the scene, front and center. Gladly, the postmillennialists shove His coming into the distant future—so far into the future as to make that remote coming an unreality. Without a qualm, postmillennialists have themselves reigning gloriously virtually forever, while King Jesus is off in heaven, invisible. Theirs is a kingdom without the king.
Adding to the oddity, to say nothing of the dishonoring of the king, of this conception of the Messianic kingdom of postmillennialism is that according to the postmillennialists this earthly kingdom of Christ will be the supreme and final form of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. After the millennium, upon the second coming of Christ, the kingdom of Christ ends, giving way to the kingdom of the triune God. Hence, according to the postmillennialists, Jesus Christ never personally reigns, never personally is glorified before and by all, never sits on His throne throughout all the climax of His kingdom.
No self-respecting earthly king would put up with such an incongruous state of royal affairs. One can only imagine what would have been the response of Henry VIII to the suggestion by his underlings that he betake himself to some distant shore, far removed from England, and that they would show themselves rulers of Great Britain to the people on his behalf.
Evidently the Jesus Christ of postmillennialism is content with this peculiar veiling of His kingship.
Quite different from the postmillennialists is the Reformed believer. With the saints of all ages, he lives in the eager anticipation of the second coming of King Jesus. Rather than contentedly to shove the second coming into the far distant future—perhaps “a million years”—he prays daily, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (). And this prayer is his response to Jesus’ assurance to the church, “Surely I come quickly. Amen” ( ).
Radically different from the will of the postmillennialists that desires the glory of the reigning saints during the fulfillment of the Messianic kingdom is the will of God. God wills the glory of the personally ruling Messiah. During the “days” that Messiah has “dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth,” it will be He Himself who has this dominion. All will “fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.” “To him shall be given of the gold of Sheba” ().
In the coming kingdom that Scripture proclaims, not the saints, much less the saints in the absence of Jesus, but Jesus Christ Himself will be the powerful, glorious king. And the saints would have it so. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory…then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory” (). “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed…[in] the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe” ( ).
During this long period, or in the last stages of this long period, according to the postmillennial interpretation of Revelation 20, Satan is virtually impotent and inactive. The power of wickedness in the world, therefore, is tremendously weakened, if not removed altogether.
This enables the church to convert a vast majority of humans to Jesus Christ, beginning with a majority of the Jews. The notion that a vast majority of Jews will be converted is based on a mistaken understanding of, as we have already seen. Indeed, some postmillennialists have recently contended that all humans then living will one day be converted and saved during the millennium. This is the contention of Christian Reconstructionist Martin G. Selbrede. Following B. B. Warfield, Selbrede advocates “eschatological universalism.” The significance of this postmillennial salvation of every living human is that “[the millennium] is the period in which the world is conquered to Christ in its totality.”8
Since the majority of humans in all nations, if not all humans, will be converted, Christians will rule the world. Earthly life will continue, but all of it will be subject to the law of God. All will be Christian. The result will be a “golden age” of earthly peace and earthly prosperity.
The millennium of Revelation 20, thus conceived, will be the victory of the kingdom of Christ. The kingdom will conquer within history, prior to the second coming of Jesus and the end of all things. In fact, the return of Jesus Christ will spell the end of His victorious, Messianic kingdom. Misconstruing the apostle’s teaching inthat Christ “must reign, till he hath put all things under his feet,” postmillennialists suppose that at Christ’s return the Messianic kingdom will fade away, to be replaced by a kingdom of the triune God. On this view, Christ the king will one day be dethroned.
1 Douglas Wilson, Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom on Earth (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2008), 134.
2 J. A. De Jong, As the Waters Cover the Sea: Millennial Expectations in the Rise of Anglo-American Missions 1640-1810 (Kampen: Kok, 1970), 221.
3 David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Tyler, Texas: Reconstruction Press, 1985), 199.
4 Ibid., 221, 222.
5 David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Ft. Worth, Texas: Dominion Press, 1987), 507. I dismiss the book as a commentary on Revelation by calling it a “purported” commentary in view of the fact that a book that explains virtually all of the book of Revelation as applying to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and the woes of the Jews at that time, is no commentary on the book of Revelation, but the imposition upon an important part of inspired Scripture of Chilton’s—and postmillennialism’s—hermeneutical and theological agenda. As a commentary, the book is worthless, although Gordon Wenham calls it “valuable” and publisher Gary North, a “masterpiece.”
6 Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1971).
7 Quoted in Crawford Gribben, The Puritan Millennium: Literature & Theology 1550-1682 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000), 46.
8 Martin G. Selbrede, “Reconstructing Postmillennialism,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction: Symposium on Eschatology 15 (Winter, 1998): 146-224.