Before we dig into the four views of the end times, a couple of things that I pray will help keep things in proper perspective.
1. Every system of theology is the product of man and will have error. No one description of any system will satisfy everyone. One author advises his readers to look for the system that “does the least violence to Scripture.”
2. Keep Christ clearly in view. The ultimate goal of all creation is the glorify God the Father and the Son. Jesus humiliated Himself once, came to earth to live among sinful people and redeem His sheep. He returned to the Father, with the glory that was His before He put on flesh. Does our view of the end times keep His glory in its rightful place?
Recall the definition of postmillennialism by Loraine Boettner: "..the kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individuals... the world eventually is to be Christianized and the return of Christ is to occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace, commonly called the millennium." This hermeneutic: Revelation either mostly figurative or mostly fulfilled in 70AD (Mt. 24:34). Context determines whether literal or figurative. Interpret the Old Testament by the New Testament.
Something dawned on me: of the 4 systems of eschatology we reviewed last week, there are two categories, Postmillennial and Premillennial, with two variants in each category. Both postmil and amil posit the return of Christ after the millennium; both historic premil and dispensationalism posit the return of Christ before the millennium. The differences within each category are very real and tangible, but the grouping should make them easier to keep organized in our minds.
Let us learn more from two well-known advocates of this system.
Kenneth Gentry (Postmillennialism Made Easy): "Undoubtedly, postmillennialism’s distinctive principle is its conviction that the vast majority of men will be saved." Since Gentry identifies that as the distinctive principle of postmillennialism, it ought to be easily and vigorously supported by Scripture. Here’s an example. With regard to Matt 7:13-14, he says: "he (Jesus) is urging his disciples to consider the present situation they currently live in. They must look around themselves and see that many souls are presently perishing and too few men are being saved. He is not giving them a prophecy regarding the future. He is pressing them: What will they do about this current situation? Do they love him enough to seek to reverse it?" Is this what the Scriptures indicate? (Read the passage.)
In another place, Gentry tell us, "Postmillennialism teaches that a time is coming in earth history, continuous with the present and resulting from currently operating, God-ordained spiritual forces, in which the overwhelming majority of men and nations will voluntarily bow in salvation to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Scripture’s glorious message — in both the Old and New Testaments — is that “every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Rom 14:11). This is the postmillennial hope."
In its original context, God is calling His people to repentance, promising salvation for them – and glory! In Romans 14, Paul uses it to remind the saints to look kindly on one another (verses 10 – 12): But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God. For it is written:
As I live, says the Lord,
every knee will bow to Me,
and every tongue will give praise to God.5
So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Brother Gentry confuses this age with the age to come, claiming something that YHWH has promised to do at the end of the age, when all who are true Israel will be redeemed and all who do not believe on the Son will be broken. On that great and terrible day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord; both, those who inherit eternal life and those who enter eternal doom. There is no place in Scripture that promises a virtually universal redemption of humankind. We see a glimpse of them at the closing of Rev 6 (summarize).
Loraine Boettner, in The Meaning of the Millennium, says postmillennials look forward to "a golden age of spiritual prosperity during this present dispensation, that is, during the Church Age." This is brought about, he says, "through forces now active in the world." A couple pages later, Boettner appears to clarify what he means by this last statement, in describing life in the millennium: "Christian principles of belief and conduct will be the accepted standards." He agrees with Gentry about the nature of the millennium but adds detail on how it will be brought about. Behavior modification can produce these changes, but the kingdom of God is not so; it is populated by God redeeming sinners and making them new creatures.
As did Gentry, Boettner assigns Scripture revealing the age-to-come to the millennium, which is in this age. This point, that EVERY system of eschatology places the millennium in this age is important to keep in mind. Otherwise we can incorrectly accept arguments that describe the eternal state when they are used to describe the temporal state. Zech 9:10 and Rev 7:9-10 are examples he uses. The context of each passage provides clear evidence that the Spirit was speaking of the age-to-come. Rev 7 is striking (page 2473). The scene is in heaven, not on earth. The saints in 9 & 10 are described in 11 – 17. These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night. How can anyone claim this scene describes a scene on earth?
In like fashion, Boettner uses Psalms 47:2 & 97:5 to claim specific validation of their glorious millennium, while these passages describe YHWH's sovereignty and power over all the earth even now - not only or peculiarly during this golden age.
Boettner writes several pages describing how he looks to current events as evidence of the "golden age" blossoming, citing foreign aid spending by the USA and reports in the London Times lauding our spending. He cites various forms of religious radio programs spreading what he calls "the Christian message" as more evidence. If you have spent any amount of time listening to "Christian radio" you know the gospel is a rare thing to be broadcast, there being as much error as truth in any given radio program. With scant discernment, Boettner would have us be impressed with size and scope: the 22 million listeners of the Lutheran Hour and other large scale programs. When Christians measure spiritual success by the numbers, they will end up being businessmen, with an eye for the numbers of this world rather than having a desire for faithfulness to the gospel.
He pushes this pragmatic perspective further touting "theological seminaries, Bible institutes and Christian colleges" which are "growing faster than the population" as well as statistics which show "nominal adherents" to the Christian faith to be the largest religious group in the world and declares "All the false religions are dying." He bases this assertion on the fact that false religions come and go. But there is nothing new under the sun and all false religions have the same substance and foundation, regardless of their name. And John tells us antichrist is coming and many have already come. False religions are not dying - they are putting on new clothes, spreading the same lies as always.
On this point, I cannot help but think of what Paul said in his second letter to Timothy. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (page 2329). Gentry noted this passage and declared that it does not say more and more people will grow in wickedness, so it doesn't work against their position. He agrees that some people will continue and grow worse - which flies in the face of Boettner's assertion that false religions are dying. Everyone who speaks against Christ serves doctrines of demons and is part of a false religion. These men and their work will not die off until Christ returns to destroy them.
In keeping with his focus on things temporal, Boettner next tells us, "The great material prosperity of which the Bible speaks of accompanying the millennial era will be, to a large extent, the natural result of the high moral and spiritual life of that that time. In numerous prophecies temporal blessings are expressly represented as following in the train of the new covenant blessings." He references Matt 6:33; Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you. Based on his statement, one would expect this passage to reveal “great material blessings” for those in the New Covenant. But the “other things” mentioned here are the basics of life, as the preceding verses make clear: Matthew 6:31-32; Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. We are not promised "great material prosperity" in this passage! We are told not to worry about food and drink and clothes; to trust God to provide.
In this same line of thought, he cites 1 Timothy 4:8; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. Does this communicate "great material prosperity" or spiritual value as a child of God? Which of these will be a part of the life to come? He lastly brings to our notice Isaiah 35:1; The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus. This verse is in the midst of a lengthy passage wherein the prophet is describing the age-to-come, when the judgment of God has set all things right.
Two great errors attend this line of thought: claiming spiritual promises and blessings as material, and seeing material blessings as the measure of godliness. This is the very same perspective of Job's friends and of the Jewish community in the say of our Lord. This is why His disciples were incredulous when He told them it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom. They were incredulous, having been taught material blessings were a sure sign of God’s favor. Who, then could be saved? In their cultural religion, if a rich man could enter the kingdom, who could? Further, Romans 14:17; the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Again - the Jewish culture of Jesus' day was based on this same error, thinking the kingdom was of eating and drinking and of silver and gold. Did not the Pharisees question Jesus about why His disciples did not wash before eating? Did they not question why He ate with tax collectors and sinners? Did His own disciples not think valuable perfume was better sold to feed the poor than to “waste” washing His feet?
To be concerned about temporal things, thinking they are of God’s kingdom is to fall into the same ditch as did the Jews of Jesus day. This is the ditch the postmillennial position puts people in.
David Engelsma noted, “The hope of postmillennialism, particularly in its "Christian Reconstruction" form, is a "Jewish dream." This was the express judgement of the early Reformed creed, the Second Helvetic Confession (A.D. 1566):
We further condemn Jewish dreams that there will be a golden age on earth before the Day of Judgement, and that the pious, having subdued all their godless enemies, will possess all the kingdoms of the earth. For evangelical truth in Matt. chs. 24 and 25, and Luke, ch. 18 and the apostolic teaching in II Thess., ch. 2, and II Tim., chs. 3 and 4, present something quite different (Chap. 11, in Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century, ed. Arthur C. Cochrane, Westminster Press, 1966).
He says, postmillennials “call the church to "Christianize" the world, a task that Holy Scripture nowhere assigns either to the church or to the believer. Christ calls His church to guard against becoming worldly; He does not call her to make the world Christian.”
Back to Boettner’s case for Postmillennialism. He says, “man’s proper management of the earth, the task assigned to him before the fall, will go far toward restoring a profitable plant and animal life. Remedy for the sin condition in man and a marvelous transformation will take place in nature.” Did you understand what he said? By “properly managing the earth” man can restore and transform nature – including remedying the sin condition in man! Boettner cites no Scripture for this extreme claim – how could he! How presumptuous of the man! He devotes a page to describing advances in transportation, medicine, communications; not one word about the work of the Spirit. Does this not sound exactly like the liberal who claims man is inherently good and simply needs a little education to make his righteous?
After all this, Boettner seems to try to get back on track, saying, “no matter how marvelous this material prosperity may become, it will ever remain but he by-product of the moral and spiritual prosperity that already to some extent characterizes the partially Christianized nations.” Not quite back on track, Boettner claims God pours out material blessings in response to what He sees in “partially Christianized nations.” There is a consistent theme here: the kingdom of God is about great material blessings. Pagan nations suffer poverty. What does Scripture say?
Psalm 37:1-2 & 7 Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!
Psalm 73 reveals the prosperity of the wicked, who seem to prosper and never face trouble like the common folk. They deny God’s existence, and yet: (verse12) Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. Despite all this, he has the right perspective: (Read 23 – 28, page 1028)
The Christian response to material prosperity is NOT to blindly assume it’s a blessing from God. He will be generous and take care not to fall in the various pits that await those who seek after riches. The foolish farmer who thought material prosperity was goodness met his maker that very evening. Better to treasure peace with God through faith in Christ than to trust in uncertain riches of this age. Rather than boasting in wealth, Paul tells us (2 Thess 1:5-7, page 2316). Some trust in horses and chariots, we trust God. That should be our stance.
These men who hold to a postmil view are not heretics, but the arguments put forth by these advocates are at odds with the express intent of Scripture in critical areas. I think we'll see another way of looking at the end times which does less violence to Scripture and points us more consistently to Christ.