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Views of the End Times: Postmillennialism

Various Passages.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 15, 2019.

Over the last two weeks we have asked questions that have filtered out two different views on the end times.

  1. Full Preterism denies that Jesus will come back literally and physically to the earth.
  2. Amillennialism denies that Jesus will reign physically on this earth for 1,000 years of peace after his Second Coming.

Today, we will ask another question and will focus on a view that is called Postmillennialism.

Does Jesus come back before the Millennium?

Of those who believe that there is a real Millennium upon this earth, there are two broad views with many variations within them.  Premillennialism says that Jesus returns before the Millennium.  After his Second Coming, he sets up a kingdom and rules over this earth for 1,000 years.  Postmillennialism says that Jesus comes after the Millennium and then leads us into the New Heavens and the New Earth.  At this point, the view may sound a lot like Amillennialism, but the differences will soon make sense. 

So, what exactly does Postmillennialism teach?  First, they teach that the Church will have a powerful witness that eventually converts most of the world to Christ.  The nations of the world will operate based upon the Bible and God’s truth.  This will create at least a thousand years of peace on this earth in which Christ rules spiritually from heaven over all the earth through the Church.  Thus, they believe in a literal millennium, but not with Jesus ruling over it physically on the earth.

The view is similar to Amillennialism, but they differ on their perspective of the nations of the world.  Postmillennialism has a very positive view that things will increasingly become better and better.  Some believe there will be an event or drastic change in which the nations of the world embrace Christ’s rule, whereas others see a gradual change.

They teach that the Church has a cultural mandate to disciples the nations in all its spheres of influence:  Religion, Family, Education, Government, Media, Arts & Entertainment, and Business.  Thus, they seek to take dominion over these areas and reconstruct them to be operating from the mind of Christ.

When Jesus returns, he is basically congratulating the earth for a job well done.  Here is an image to picture this view.

They do not emphasize that the Millennium must be 1,000 years.  In fact, they typically state that it may be longer.  The key is to recognize that they expect the world to become better and better until we enter a long period of peace one earth.  This view was popular before the two World Wars of the 1900’s.  However, it is seeing a resurgence of followers lately.  They often teach that Christ won’t come back until Christians get their act together and convert the world.  They work to Christianize society on every level.

Postmillennialism employs the same allegorical or symbolic approach to prophecy that the previous views did.  So, let’s deal with this first.

I believe that it is better to approach prophecy with a literal, or historical-grammatical, method than to use an allegorical method as your primary method.  Why do I believe this?  Here are some reasons.

First, it is the normal approach to communication.  It is clear from Scripture that God is trying to communicate to and through a particular culture.  When he states, “Come, let us reason together…though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow…,”it is clear that he is trying to get Israel and other readers to understand God’s heart and plan.  The literal interpretive method allows us to determine what God was saying to that culture at that time, and thereby what it may mean for us today.

Second, the literal approach allows us to deal with symbols, metaphors, and allegories when they are indicated in the text.  The literal approach pays attention to clues in the text and the context to recognize and decode such symbolic language.  Basically, it takes the passage literally until there are indications of symbolism in the text.  Even these symbols are intended to give a particular and literal meaning.  They are not given in a vague way so that brilliant scholars, who need to turn in a dissertation in order to receive honors, can exhaust the manifold ways that their imagination can interpret them.  Symbols are not meant to confuse, but rather to give texture to literal truths.  Let’s look at a couple of examples.

In Exodus 19:4 it states, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to Myself.” (NKJV).  In this verse, God is speaking to Moses on Mt. Sinai with all of Israel camped out below.  Does this literally mean God sent gargantuan eagles to pick up each of the Israelites in Egypt and fly them to Mt. Sinai where He was, like a Tolkien fiction novel?  Of course, it doesn’t.  The reader knows this is not literally true because the book has already told us quite literally how God helped Israel to make it from Egypt to Mt. Sinai, and there were no eagles involved.  The literal method recognizes that a metaphor is being employed and determines how the symbol matches up with the literal things that happened in their escape from Egypt.  It would interpret this to symbolize God’s help from above, lifting Israel up out of the reach of Pharaoh and bringing them next to God’s presence at the mountain.  God literally helped them, but it is likened to eagles lifting us up to God.

Another example is Psalm 42:9. “I will say to God my Rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me?  Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?’”  (NKJV).  We know immediately that the Psalmist is not looking at a rock in his hands and calling it his God.  It is our literal understanding of the countless passages, that explain what is meant by “God,” that informs us that a metaphor is involved.  Thus, the literal method recognizes the metaphor and asks how it correlates with the literal reality of God.  We would basically recognize that a rock represents a solid foundation that will hold up what is built on it, and it is also a protective place that thwarts our enemies, like Samson in the Rock of Etam (Judges 15).

Of course, there are countless other examples in the Bible where wisdom is personified as a woman, the Devil is depicted as a dragon with 7 heads and ten horns, and Jesus is called a door and a gate.  All of these are symbols that can be connected with clear literal truths because of the context of Scripture.  As you can see, the literal method recognizes when the allegorical or symbolic approach to a part of Scripture is valid.

A third reason the literal method is better than an allegorical approach to prophecy is because the Bible itself uses this method.  Though there are a multitude of examples, Matthew 8:16-17 speaks of Jesus healing the people of Israel and casting out demons.  Matthew sees this as a fulfillment of Isaiah 53.  If we are interpreting this passage rightly, we will come to see that God’s Suffering Servant would take our infirmities and our sicknesses.  This is a literal interpretation.  The same is true of Isaiah 7 where it talks about a virgin giving birth to a son and naming him Immanuel.  Sure, the prophecy has an immediate relevance to Isaiah’s days, but the disciples say (and most likely were taught by Jesus) that when it is rightly understood it points to Christ, who was literally born of a woman who had never been with a man before.

How about Jesus himself?  In Matthew 22:29-33, the Sadducees are trying to trip Jesus up regarding the resurrection.  They do not believe in the resurrection because they are too sophisticated to believe such a thing.  They posit to Jesus a scenario where a woman has been legally married to seven different men.  Who is her husband in the resurrection?  They are trying a “reduction to absurdity” argument against the resurrection.  Notice that Jesus tells them where their problem is.  They don’t know, or understand, the Scriptures, nor do they understand the power of God.  If they understood the power of God then they wouldn’t have a problem with the idea of a physical resurrection.  When I know that God can do anything, I will be careful in trying to place limits on what He may or may not do.  God can resurrect the dead if he wants to.  He is God and is able to do that, period.

As for understanding the Scriptures, Jesus quotes a familiar line from Scripture, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  Jesus uses an extremely literal interpretation of this verse.  God is speaking to Moses long after the deaths of each of these men.  However, God doesn’t use the past tense, “I was the God…”  Instead God states the present tense, “I am [presently] the God of…”  He challenges them with this statement.  God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.  No Israelite in his right mind would think to call God the God of the dead.  That would be tantamount to calling him Hades or Pluto, the god of the underworld.  In some sense (spiritually) Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive.  God was even then, even now, still their God.  And, if they are still alive spiritually, and if God has the power to make bodies and put spirits in them, then what is the problem with the resurrection.  This is not a sermon on the resurrection, but it is clear that Jesus himself uses a literal approach to interpreting Scripture.

Lastly, we could list countless places where the promises regarding the Messiah that would save Israel were literally fulfilled in Jesus.  Why wouldn’t the promises that point to his Second Coming also be taken literally?

The fourth reason that the literal method is better than the allegorical approach is because it allows the text to tell us what God says, instead of putting our ideas and sensibilities in the driver’s seat of interpretation.  If we primarily use the allegorical method then we have little restraint or guardrails in our interpretation.  However, if we use the literal, historical-grammatical, approach, the Bible can speak for itself.  When we run into metaphors, we connect them with the literal meaning to which they point.  I would rather listen to what God has to say then be enamored with the countless, imaginative interpretations of those who treat prophecy as an allegorical communication.  Even then, they tend to accept as literal the things that they want to accept as literal and treat as allegorical the things they want to treat allegorical.

What other problems are found with Postmillennialism?  Their rosy picture of the future of humanity sounds nice, but is society really getting better and headed towards Utopia?  Yes, as technology increases and our knowledge increases, there are some things that are better today.  However, few people have a real sense that humanity is actually getting better.  For every advance in technology, we are faced with a tension that exists between what we will do with it.  It presents an increased power for good, and yet also an increased power for evil. 

The Utopian Vision exists everywhere in our world.  Communism promises a worker’s paradise, but oppresses those same workers.  Capitalism promises to lift the world out of poverty and yet leaves many behind in despair.  All the different religions of the world promise peace to those who follow their principles and yet the places where their world view rules are not the picture of Utopia.  Even the Church demonstrates the tendency to be corrupt as its institutions grow larger, more prosperous, and more powerful.  So, what would happen if the Church controlled the whole earth without Jesus physically here?  I shudder to think of it.  Do we not remember the lessons of Europe and the struggle for freedom of conscience and association?  No, the Church was not intended to rule over the earth in these fleshly bodies.  Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, only glorified believers who have been made fit for such duties can do so.  Only Jesus can properly bring peace to this earth and until he shows up, I see no other hope.

Another problem with the Postmillennial view is that it doesn’t deal with passages that warn of apostasy in the end times.  The word apostasy means to walk away from the faith and to stop believing in Jesus for salvation.  In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 we are told that the Second Coming of Christ will not occur until “the falling away” happens and the “Man of Sin” is revealed (who is also called “the Lawless One whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” in verse 8).  Some versions translate it as the rebellion and others as the apostasy.  The noun has the definite article, which means that Paul has a particular apostasy in mind and it goes along with The Man of Sin, The Lawless One, aka The Antichrist being revealed.  It is The Apostasy of the end times.

In 1 Timothy 4:1-2, Paul writes tells the young pastor that the Spirit expressly warns of people departing from the faith in the latter times, or end times.  Notice that they are going towards the teaching of demons.  Also, in his second letter to Timothy, Paul states in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 that the last days will be very perilous.  His description of the people of the last days sounds suspiciously close to a description of our generation.  In the next chapter, 2 Timothy 4:3-4, Paul says that they will not endure sound teaching, but heap up teachers that itch their ears, i.e. tell them what they want to hear.  As we approach the end times, people will not draw nearer to Christ, but farther away.  Notice that it doesn’t say that they will quit calling themselves Christians.  Rather, they amass teachers who tell them that they are okay as they follow the doctrines of demons mentioned earlier.

I believe this view especially contradicts our Lord’s words in Matthew 24.   Up to verse 14, Jesus is describing a period called “The Beginning of Sorrows.”  This period is always referred to as not being the end, but rather leading up to the end.  This period is completed in verse 14 when the Gospel is preached in all the world, that is when the end begins.  During the period before the end times, Jesus states that the love of many will grow cold and lawlessness will abound.  This seems to speak of the overall tenor of the earth coming to the end of the time of sorrows.  It also states that the true believer will need endurance to be saved.  Are the end times that lead up to the Second Coming any different?

If you skip down to verses 37-39, you can see that the answer is “Nope!”  It looks about the same.  People are carrying on with life as if the warnings of God are irrelevant, and God’s people are removed.  At his Second Coming, Christ is not coming back to a world that has been Christianized by the Church, or if it has, it is not a form that reflects Christ, but rather Antichrist.  His Coming is compared to The Great Flood, which was good for the few who were righteous and horrible for the many who were not.

My points are not intended to make us depressed about living for Jesus and reaching the lost.  There are people getting saved every day, and we can have the joy of participating in it, if we will be faithful to plant seeds of the Gospel, water them, and help to harvest those who respond.  Yet, we delude ourselves if we think that the Church in its current condition can fix the world by taking over the governance of the earth.  Such dominionism and reconstructionist ideas will only cause the world to hate the Church even more, and lead to corruption in those places where there is success. 

Prophecy is clear.  The kings of the earth are not destined to surrender their power to Jesus Christ, but rather to Antichrist.  At his Second Coming, they will double down on their bet and try to attack the Lord Himself as he comes from the heavens (see the end of Revelation 19).  This makes plain sense of the many passages, in both the Old and New Testaments, that declare judgment upon all the nations.

When we choose to allegorize Scripture that makes perfect, literal sense rather than listening to what God has to say, we lose a lot of the value that Christ is giving us in these truths.  This is not a matter of salvation.  A person who believes in Premillennialism or Amillennialism can be saved.  However, we set ourselves up for grand delusion when we try to do in the flesh what only Christ can do through the Spirit.

Jesus will come before the Millennium because it is he who will personally set up the Kingdom of God on this earth.  It is he who will rule, not through mortals in earthly bodies, but through glorified saints of God in heavenly bodies.  O, the world may enter a period where it thinks that it has fixed things, but the Bible tells us, “When they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman.  And they shall not escape!” 1 Thessalonians 5:3 (NKJV)

Postmillennialism audio