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POSTMILLENNIALISM AND THE KINGDOM’S PRESENCE

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by Rev. Greg L. Bahnsen, Ph.D. (Philosophy, University of California)

 We Believe

As we saw in our last study, postmillennalists believe that Jesus established the kingdom of God on earth during His first advent. “God has highly exalted Him to His right hand to be a Prince and Savior that He might give repentance and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). He is now “the only Potentate, the King of kings and the Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:13). He must reign until all opposition is defeated, and then He will deliver up the kingdom to the Father – at His second coming, which is “the end” of history (1 Corinthians 15:24-25).

Evangelical postmillennialists hold that it will be the preaching of the gospel and the powerful work of the Holy Spirit (in regenerating and sanctifying sinners) that produces the visible success of Christ’s kingdom in history. They also believe that toward the end of history there will be a final apostasy – a falling away from enjoying the blessed condition of success for the Great Commission. Satan, whose deceptive activity had previously been restricted (or “bound”), will be loosed again for a brief period in order to deceive the nations and make the them rebel against the Lord (Revelation 20:7.9) – at which point Christ will return from heaven in flaming fire and eternal judgment (vv. 9-15; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).

Postmillennialists believe, then, in the glorious, personal return of Jesus Christ at the end of history to raise the dead, judge the world, consummate the kingdom, and bring in the eternal state of the new creation (Revelation 20-22).

Examination

Question 1: I have been told that postmillennialism does not affirm the present reality of the kingdom of Christ, that it overlooks the fact that the kingdom was established years ago at the first advent. My teacher claimed that postmillennialists do not, therefore, hold to “realized” or “inaugurated” eschatology since they see the kingdom as yet future to Jesus and the Apostles.

Answer: Well, it should be very evident from what was said above that this is a misrepresentation of the facts. It is easy for a critic to set up a straw-man and then knock it down. But honesty requires that postmillennialism not be made into such an artificial straw-man for the charade of refutation. This is what critics do when they mistakenly and misleadingly claim that postmillennialism fails to maintain the presently established character of Christ’s kingdom.

William Symington, the nineteenth century Scottish theologian, was a well known postmillennialist, and in his famous book, Messiah the Prince, or, the Mediatorial Dominion of Jesus Christ (1884), he wrote: “Christ’s appointment [to the kingly office] was still farther intimated by his actual investiture with regal power at and after his resurrection. This might be called the inauguration solemnity of the mediatorial King…. This appointment affords ample security for the overthrow of all Christ’s enemies, and the ultimate establishment of his kingdom in the world.” This postmillennialist clearly held to a “realized” eschatology of the kingdom.

So did his fellow Scottish theologian, David Brown, who is another of the best known postmillennial writers from last century. Listen to his straightforward declaration of realized eschatology in the book, Christ’s Second Coming Will It Be Premillennial? (1882): “Christ’s proper kingdom is already in being; commencing formally on His ascension to the right hand of God, and continuing unchanged, both in character and form, till the final judgment.” For Brown and other postmillennialists, Christ’s kingdom was not wholly future during the days of the New Testament, but rather Christ at that point entered into the rule of His kingdom over earth.

The allegation that only amillennialism holds to the already established nature of Christ’s kingdom is pure propaganda without historical warrant.

Question 2: But how can postmillennialists believe that there is going to be a final apostasy, given the powerful working of the kingdom during the period between the two advents? Obviously the Bible teaches that Christ will return to a rebellious world in need of judgment. So how can postmillennialism be true?

Answer: Well, it may be difficult for the critic to understand why or how there will be falling away from the blessed conditions of a pervasively converted world, but that intellectual or emotional difficulty does not entail — much less substantiate — that postmillennialists actually deny such a final apostasy. (Many things in the Bible are believed, after all, even though not fully understood.)

In fact, only postmillennialism can make sense out of the claim that there will be a final apostasy. On the pessimistic outlook of amillennialism and premillennialism, there will be no visible or widespread advance for the church — no noteworthy success for the gospel in the world — from which to “fall” away. The wickedness of the end of human history is simply a continuation of the downward trend throughout history.

Postmillennialism does not hold that each and every person on earth will be saved at some time in the future. There will always be tares in the wheat field of Christ’s kingdom, right up until the time of the harvest – the final judgment (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). So Charles Hodge wrote that it should not be inferred from the Biblical promise of widespread Gentile and Jewish conversion that “either all the heathen or all the Jews are to become true Christians. In many cases the conversion may be merely nominal. There will probably enough remain unchanged in heart to be the germ of that persecuting power which shall bring about those days of tribulation which the Bible seems to teach are to immediately precede the coming of the Lord” (Systematic Theology, vol. 3. p.812).

Question 3: It seems that some postmillennialists interpret the Bible as saying that “the new heavens and earth” refers to the kingdom of God prior to Christ’s return. So don’t they deny the second coming and the consummation?

Answer: No, for they would also say that the Bible speaks of the new heavens and earth in terms of the consummation order after Christ returns. That is, the Biblical concept of a new heavens and earth is not exclusively present nor exclusively future. The new creation has already been inaugurated (Isaiah 65:17-25, where death still transpires; 2 Corinthians 5:17, where being in Christ means there is a new creation). Yet this new creation will not be fully developed, consummated and glorified until the return of Christ at the end of history (Revelation 21:lff.). The same kind of thing could be said about the “kingdom” of Christ. It has already been established (in the past), and yet the New Testament also speaks of it to come in the future.

Question 4: Some charge postmillennialism with being a form of theological liberalism by alleging that it denies the personal second coming of Jesus Christ.

Answer: Men like Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield were certainly not theological liberals! The fact is that Biblical postmillennialism does not at all repudiate the second coming. It is our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). When we get our facts straight about who believes what – and when we clearly distinguish between differing schools of thought – there is no justification for critics trying to impute guilt by association to postmillennialism.

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