THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT
March 7, 1999
Why did a best-selling author say that no thinking person or theologian would ever believe in postmillennialism? Have the events prophesied by Christ concerning His second coming already taken place in history? Why is the postmillennial view of Eschatology an optimistic view? In the third message of this series, Ben will explain three main points that postmillennialists hold to regarding the advance of the gospel, the climax of the millennium, and the church – the new Israel. Ben will also discuss the importance of interpretation while studying the doctrine of Eschatology, how you interpret Scripture, literally or figuratively, will impact your view of Eschatology.
Question for the day: When did Jesus Christ say that He was going to return?
2,000 years ago, His disciples asked Him point-blank, “Lord, tell us what will be the sign of Your second coming? How will we know it is the end of the age?” Jesus sat down on the Mount of Olives and He said, “Listen, you are going to hear a lot of stuff. You are going to hear about a lot of wars and rumors of wars. You are going to hear about false Messiahs, and when someone says, ‘Hey, I’ve seen Jesus out in the wilderness,’ or, ‘Jesus appeared to me in this vision.’ Don’t buy it. But here are some signs that will precede My second coming. There will be a great international conflict – nation will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom. There will be great famine in the land; there will be earthquakes in many different countries. You will be brought before counsels, and kings, and governors because of Me. You will be persecuted and you will be killed because you proclaim the name of Jesus Christ. There will be a time of great tribulation, a time of apostasy when people will fall away and leave the faith. And before all that…you see this building, this temple? It will be totally destroyed.”
Now, I have a question for you. When do you think these signs will occur? Is it already happening? Did it already occur in 73 AD? What if I told you that most of these signs have already been fulfilled in history? This is the third message in a series called It’s the End of the World as We Know It. This is an in-depth look at the end of times. It is a study involving the doctrine of eschatology, the study of last things and of the end of times.
In the first message, we looked at why it is important to study eschatology and we also talked a lot about doctrine. We talked about how doctrines were formulated. Doctrines are critical because they determine who we are and what we believe as Christians. If we don’t have sound doctrine, we have nothing.
How do we get our doctrines? First of all, we took all the relevant data in Scripture on a particular issue. Then we transformed that Scripture into logical propositions, which are simply truth statements. We took passages on love, John 3:16 and I John 4, and came out with a truth statement, a proposition, which was God is love.
Then you arrange propositions in their correct slots or files. I gave the illustration of imagining a “proposition machine.” First of all, take all the relative scripture, the data, and pour it into a proposition machine. The proposition machine spits out different categories. With the end of times you have the second coming, the resurrection, the millennium, the tribulation, and the rapture – all different categories. You then arrange the propositions in their particular slots.
In the last session we looked at the most popular eschatological view in our country and in the world today, dispensational premillennialism. Dispensational premillennialism is the air that we breathe in our evangelical environment. It is assumed. I didn’t know there was another view out there for many years as I was growing up in the church.
Let’s review the timeline for dispensational premillennialism. First of all, God has His chosen people – the nation of Israel. He prophesied through the prophets to His chosen people that there will be a time when the Messiah would come. Then, according to this scheme, the Messiah comes and offers the Davidic kingdom to the national kingdom of Israel and they reject it. When they reject it the church age enters. God puts Israel on hold for a while and focuses His attention on the church and the in-gathering of the Gentiles and people of all nations. The church age, which we are currently in right now, will come to a close with the rapture. That is a secret rapture of the church when Christ will come in the clouds and resurrect all the Christians who have died and those who are living on the earth. They will meet Him in the air and they will go to be in heaven. They will stand before the judgment seat of Christ where they will receive trophies or simply get a good pat on the back. Then they will enter into the marriage feast of the Lamb which is during that seven year period.
Meanwhile, back on earth, God has taken Israel off of pause. The tribulation has occurred, which is a great outpouring of God’s wrath that we cannot even imagine. 144,000 Jews get saved; they are fired up and evangelizing. The antichrist is in power during the time of tribulation. He has this new world order, this kind of peace and prosperity supposedly, and everybody has to have the mark of the beast. Then there is this great battle and all the nations begin to hunker down on the nation of Israel, it looks really bad for the Jews. Boom! The second coming of Jesus Christ. He comes with His church, He rattles Satan’s armies, and then He ushers in the millennial thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is physically present on the earth to rule and reign for a thousand years. He restores the nation of Israel, and He rules from Jerusalem for a thousand years. Satan is bound in the pit during that time. At the end of the thousand year period he is released from the pit for a minor little rebellion. He is a rebel without a cause and he knows he is history.
Christ comes with His armies to defeat him again and you have the second resurrection which is the resurrection of unbelievers. They stand before the great white throne judgment where you have the separation of the sheep that go into the new heavens and the new earth. You have the goats that go into hell with the anti-Christ and Satan and all his minions. That is the dispensational premillennial Eschatological time frame.
Now, while preparing for this lesson, I had a revelation that would help simplify this so I could understand it. And it has to do with TV. Now, some of you may really get into football on New Year’s Day. There might be two bowl games going on at the same time. So, you put two TV’s in your living room. Imagine this to help in understanding dispensational premillennialism. This is just one aspect of it, but it’ll help us.
God has on TV set number one: Israel. All through the Old Testament, that’s God’s program – Israel – He is watching Israel on this channel. Then, Jesus Christ comes onto the scene offering the Davidic kingdom and Israel rejects it. God presses the pause button on Israel’s history. So, God turns on the second TV and there is the church, the ingathering of the Gentiles – that is us. Then, He takes the church out and we are history! He didn’t press pause on the church, He presses stop because the church is raptured out. Then He runs over, clicks on play and then the seven year tribulation period and the thousand year reign occur. During this time, His focus is once again on the nation of Israel as they embrace Jesus as the Messiah and as He rules and reigns. Does that help a little bit? Israel is on, God puts them on pause. He turns on the church, raptures the church and turns Israel back on. That is just review.
Moving on, we are going to look at what I call the Rodney Dangerfield of all end times views, postmillennialism. They get no respect. Hal Lindsey said in his mega thirty-million best seller, The Late Great Planet Earth, that no thinking person or theologian would ever believe in postmillennialism. He said you have to be stupid to read the paper and to watch the news, and to believe that the world is getting better and better, and that the church is really going to succeed in Christianizing the world.
We will look at postmillennialism in this lesson. First of all, before we get into it – we need to talk about the principle of interpretation. Don’t forget as you are studying this doctrine of Eschatology that everything rests on interpretation. Remember in premillennial dispensationalism, the interpretation is on literalism – to treat the prophetic passages in the Old Testament as literal so that Christ would literally fulfill them through the nation of Israel.
Let me show you where some dispensationalists run into some problems with their so-called consistent hermeneutic. Turn to Matthew 24:1-3, and then we will look at Matthew 24:34. Now I have already kind of paraphrased Matthew 24 tonight in the introduction. Matthew 24:1-2. “And Jesus Christ came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He answered and said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down.’” That blew them away. Their whole life – their social life, their spiritual life, their political life – everything revolved around the temple. And He said, “This entire thing is going to be obliterated, it’s going to be demolished.” That’s when they said, “Well Jesus, tell us when you are going to come again. What are some of the signs?” He listed the signs: the famines, the earthquakes, the tribulation, the lawlessness, the false prophets and He said the gospel must be preached into the entire world (you can see that in verse 3 and following). Then in verse 34, He says “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” You have got a big time problem if you’re a literalist. Because as Christ used the word generation in Matthew here, and another account of the Olivet discourse – the discourse is all about here – it is where it would take place on the Mount of Olives. He uses the word generation to refer to a specific time period of around forty years.
The famous atheist, Bertrand Russell who wrote the book Why I’m Not A Christian, will point to this passage and other passages in the New Testament where Christ said, “I’m coming soon, I’m coming soon, and these things will happen, and none of you standing here will taste death until all this stuff has happened. This generation will not pass until you see all these things, all these signs take place.” How do you deal with that? If you’re going to take prophesy, if you’re going to take things literally then where does that leave you?
It leaves you with three options. The first option is you can take the entire discourse literally. Take all of Matthew 24 and 25 literally. That’s one option. That is actually what the liberals do. Ironic, isn’t it? Liberals like Albert Schweitzer take Matthew 24 and Matthew 25 literally. If you do that, you make Jesus Christ out to be a false prophet and a liar. So, you can’t do that.
The second thing is to interpret the events literally. Interpret the events literally, but then interpret the time frame references figuratively. That’s what dispensational premillennialists do. This kind of slightly contradicts the hermeneutic from the last lesson.
The third option is to take the time frame references literally. In other words, if those events did happen within a generation, then take the events surrounding the second coming figuratively. That is what those who hold to a postmillennial view do. Some of the more radical postmillennialists would say all the prophecies in the Olivet discourse happened between the times of the discourse, around 30-31 AD and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. Now remember I told you that many of these events have already taken place. Many of these signs have already been fulfilled. You say, “Well Ben, where in the world from history do you get that? Don’t you realize that today we are seeing the signs of the end of times?”
Let me share with you a little brief snippet about some of the things that happened between Christ’s words here in Matthew 24 and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. First of all, the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. Before that you have all kinds of false Messiahs: Theodas who’s mentioned in Acts who is a false Messiah, Simon the Magician, and Dositheus. You have wars, including a Jewish rebellion in Syria, Alexandria and Damascus in which eight-thousand Jews were killed. You have famines that are mentioned in Acts chapter 11 under the reign of Claudius. You also have historians such as Tacitus mentioning famines throughout the area and through the world in that day. Earthquakes occurred in Crete, Malitus, Colossi, Rome, Smyrna and Judea. You have the great tribulation mentioned in the book of Acts in chapters 4, 7, 8, 9, 14, and 18. All of these events happened prior to AD 70.
There are many people in this camp and the postmillennialist camp and the amillennialist camp (which we’ll look at in the next section), that will believe that a lot of the events prophesied by Christ concerning His second coming have already taken place in history. So you see, once again, how everything is based on interpretation.
For example, take the book of Revelation: how do you interpret that book? Well, there are some scholars who would interpret that book in a preterist manner. That means they would say that a lot of the prophecies were fulfilled in the first century. Imagine someone reading the book of Revelation with a pair of eyeglasses that allow the reader to read as if the events had been fulfilled in the first century. You have others who would have a historicist interpretation of the book of Revelation. They would see this book as a detailed blueprint of Christian history. That is the historicist’s lens or paradigm of reading the book of Revelation.
There is also the futurist’s way of reading the book of Revelation. A futurist would read it from the dispensational viewpoint. They would take the prophecies, the scheme, and the events mentioned in Revelation and put them into the future, into the tribulation of the millennium.
Finally, there is the idealist way of interpreting Revelation, which would be the amillennialism camp. This camp would say that there are symbols in Revelation that point to certain principles.
In actuality, most of us, even the dispensationalists who say that they always hold to a literal hermeneutic, end up becoming a combination of the preterists, the historicists, the idealists, and the futurists. We have, in a sense, kind of combined different ways of interpreting the book of Revelation.
In saying all this, don’t try to bully people with your particular end times view. You have to hold that view with conviction, but hold it with great humility. We have had many great men and great women interpreting God’s Word. Some have landed in a dispensational premillennialism camp, while others have landed in a postmillennialism, or an amillennialism camp. They have landed all over the spectrum, yet they all believe in the authority and inerrancy of the Word of God. So, hold that view with conviction, but hold it with great humility.
Let’s look at the postmillennial view of the end of the world as we know it. What does that word mean? First of all, the word millennium means one thousand years. A thousand year reign of Christ. If someone is a postmillennialist, then they believe that Christ’s second coming is after the millennium. A premillennialist believes that Christ’s second coming is before the thousand year reign.
Along with the TV metaphor, I have a McDonald’s metaphor to help us understand postmillennialism. When I was a little kid my family would ask me where I wanted to go eat. I usually responded with, “McDonald’s!” They were always bummed out when I would say McDonald’s, but I never figured why they were bummed until I was an adult. I can remember going to McDonald’s years ago in North Carolina and South Carolina and seeing on the sign, “5 million burgers served.” I said, “Wow! Five million.” Then I got a little bit older and the sign said, “10 million served.” Then I got a little bit older, “100 million served.” Today, what does it say on the McDonald’s sign? Billions and billions, taking a page out of Carl Sagan’s play book, billions and billions served.
That is a picture, in a sense, of the postmillennial view. As the gospel is preached and proclaimed there will be many individuals that will receive Christ. These individuals will impact others and others and others and others and others and millions and millions and millions, and eventually billions will be saved. There will be more people who are in a relationship with Jesus Christ than those who are not. This is what will usher in smoothly the millennial reign of Christ. Now, if Christ is still in heaven, He will reign through the hearts of men and reign as the church is triumphant. The kingdom of God, His gospel, will grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow.
The postmillennial view, from an emotional standpoint, is an optimistic Eschatology. It is the most optimistic of the end of time views. It really is. Due to certain circumstances in our culture today, the mood tends to be pretty pessimistic and cynical. So, you can see why there aren’t many postmillennialists running around saying, “The world is getting better and better! We’re Christianizing the world!”
Let me show you a time frame of what postmillennialists believe. Currently we are in the church age and they believe in the advance of the gospel. As the gospel is preached, and proclaimed, there will be millions, maybe billions of people who will trust Christ. At that time, there will be a smooth transition into the millennium. The church will still be at the forefront of God’s plan, not Israel. Then at the end of the millennium Satan will have a rebellion, but Christ will come. The rapture and the second coming will all happen in one event. Christ will come again and there will be one resurrection of the believers and unbelievers, there will be one judgment. Then the eternal state of the new heavens and the new earth, those who are in Christ, which will be billions of people, the vast majority, will spend eternity with Him in the new heavens and new earth. Those who have not trusted Christ will spend an eternity in hell separated from Him. That is the postmillennial time line, which is a lot easier than last week’s (for me at least).
Here are three things that postmillennialists believe. First of all, postmillennialists believe in the spread of the gospel and the conversion of billions. Look in Matthew 13 at Christ’s parable concerning the leaven, the yeast that spreads and permeates the entire loaf. He will also look at the mustard seed that grew into this big huge tree where all the nations came and partook of its fruit and of its glory. They see the kingdom of God and the gospel as advancing and growing. As the gospel begins to influence individual lives, it influences families and families influence communities, and communities influence governments. So, you see the virtual Christianization of the planet which ushers in the kingdom of God, which ushers in the millennial reign.
Many postmillennialists don’t take the thousand year reference in Revelation literally. They say this thousand year golden age of righteousness and peace may be a thousand years or may be longer. Postmillennialists also see a smooth transition into the millennial age. Remember in dispensational premillennialism the entrance into the millennium is not so smooth. Boom! There is the rapture, the tribulation, Armageddon, and then the second coming. That is a really cataclysmic transition from this age to the millennial age. You see in dispensationalism a discontinuity between this age, how we’re living now, and in the future age, in the millennial age. In postmillennialism, you see continuity between this age and the new age, the new millennium.
The second thing that postmillennialists believe is that the millennium will climax in the second coming. They believe that as the gospel is proclaimed and as it spreads, billions will be saved. And as people are saved, the golden era will be ushered in and the millennium of peace and righteousness and goodness happens for a thousand years, may be longer than a thousand years. Satan still tries to rebel, then comes the second coming. The second coming and the rapture all happen at one time, in one event. Then there is one judgment. You don’t have the judgment seat of Christ and the great white throne of judgment; they see it as one judgment. This is followed by one resurrection, not two, of believers and unbelievers. Then, finally, you have the eternal state.
So, that is two aspects of postmillennialism. They believe the gospel will spread and that billions will come to know Him which will usher in a smooth transition to the millennium. Then after the millennium, Christ comes and is physically present on earth. Do you remember the other one, Christ was physically present when? After the tribulation. Christ is ruling and reigning, He is king now. We have the power of the gospel and the Spirit and the spreading of His Word to usher in and bring in the kingdom.
The third thing postmillennialists believe is that the church is the new Israel. That is a big distinction from dispensationalism. They believe the church is the new Israel, so they don’t go for the two TV sets – the Israel program, put it on pause, then the church program. They see continuity between the Old Testament people and the New Testament people. They reference Galatians chapters 3 and 6, or Romans 9 in order to say that the true Israel is not those who are descendants of Abraham physically, but those who have faith in Christ and His righteousness.
They see the church as fulfilling the prophecies. Again those in the postmillennial camp are not totally literal – they are literal and figurative. They see the church fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament people. So you don’t have the two plans, you have the one plan.
During this, during the time the gospel is spread, you probably do have millions of Jews coming into the church. But the church is at the forefront of God’s program and God’s plan in the postmillennial view.
You say, “Why is that? Why do they think that the church fulfilled all those prophecies? Why don’t they take that little hermeneutic that we looked at last week?” Well, they would say to look at the first coming of Christ. What do you remember about the first coming of Christ? All the religious leaders – did they get it? No. They didn’t get it. They thought it was going to be some political kingdom He was going to establish. And He didn’t do that, so they kind of felt gypped, so gypped that they put Him on the cross and killed Him. So they say, “Look at how some of the prophecies Christ fulfilled in His first coming were not always literal, but spiritual, so it’s going to be the same in His second coming.” It all goes back to that first point – everything rests on interpretation. The postmillennialists believe the church is the new Israel. They see the church as triumphant, the church as victorious, and the church as conquering in the church age and in the millennial age to come. Both post and premillennialists look forward to a millennial reign, but the substance of that reign and the substance of that kingdom are different.
Now, with all that in mind, let me tell you why I personally like the postmillennial view. Now I can tell you, before I started studying this, I thought, “Postmillennial? You’ve got to be kidding! Who in their right mind would be a postmillennialist in this day and age? Wake up!” Here is why I like this view – I’m not saying I buy into it, I’m telling you why I like it, what I have learned from it.
First of all, it is optimistic. Postmillennialists are optimistic about the absolute power of Jesus Christ. In Revelation 19, there’s a reference to a rider on a white horse. They see the rider on the white horse as being symbolic of the church of Jesus Christ, ruling and reigning and advancing the kingdom in the church age. When they read Revelation and Matthew 28, the great commission, “All authority has been given to Me – I give you that authority,” they really believe it! I like that! They believe in the absolute authority, the absolute power of Jesus Christ.
Another reason I like this particular end of times view is that they believe and are optimistic about the available power of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is not going to reign and be the king in some future millennium – He is reigning, He is king right here and right now. He is here to restore and to renew. He is here to bring love, peace, and healing in our lives, in the church, and in the world right now, here today. I like that, because I think a lot of times we forget that. We forget that we are blessed with every single spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
We forget that all authority has been given and delegated to us as believers in Christ. We forget to put on the full armor of God. We forget that Satan is a grape that has been squashed by Jesus Christ. We forget that, and we need to be reminded that God in Christ is on the throne, that He rules and reigns, that He is the king of the present, king of the future and He is Lord right now. Everything is under His control.
The third reason I like this view is that they are optimistic about the authority of God’s Word. Do you know what a postmillennialist would say to most of us here, which grew up breathing the air of dispensational premillennialism? They would say to us, “You know what? We get our theology from the Bible – not from CNN or The Houston Chronicle or from popular culture. We get our theology from the Word of God. We get it straight from Scripture.” They ask the question, what does the Bible say? I appreciate the fact that many postmillennialists are willing to stand on the Word of God and say, “Hey, the Word of God is true. These things will happen. The gospel will advance, the kingdom will be preached, the gospel will be preached to all nations, the gospel will spread, and there will be massive and massive conversions of people that will usher in this millennial reign.” I like that. I like the optimism of this view. It is a good balance for us. It is a good balance for the church that has become very pessimistic, I think, about the future and about the potential and the power of the church of Jesus Christ.
All this information, all these schemes, all this stuff we are learning about the interpretation of the Bible is useless. It is useless if it does not lead to transformation in your life and in my life. It is useless. We should be sitting on the edge of our seats expectantly awaiting the return of Jesus. This view encourages us to be about the work of Christ and it also encourages us to know that our work, that our serving, that our loving, that our putting in a great work week and working for the glory of God, and evangelizing and discipling and loving and helping and serving – all those things do not go in vain, but the power of Christ goes with us.
There is something about McDonald’s that kind of bothers me. It bothers me that the people in that corporation are more passionate about selling burgers and fries, than we are about telling other people about the good news and the grace of Jesus Christ. Isn’t it great to know and to really believe that all authority has been given to Jesus Christ? Isn’t it great to believe and to know that as we are going and making disciples, He is with us always?