Many Christians have a different understanding of how history will progress, holding different views on millennialism. The previous article sought to disprove the two variants of premillennialism, leaving only amillennialism and postmillennialism as viable candidates. This article will involve a basis for the great optimism characteristic of postmillennial eschatology, as opposed to the pessimism or mild optimism belonging to historical amillennial thought.1
Redemption by the Second Adam
Historic covenant theology informs us that God made a covenant of works with Adam upon his creation, promising him everlasting life conditional upon his meritorious obedience. One part of Adam’s obligations to the Lord included the “cultural mandate,” or the drive to take dominion over all the earth: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28; cf. Ps. 8:6-8). This command was not negated by Adam’s fall into sin, but reaffirmed with Noah (Gen. 9:1-3). The mandate refers specifically to plants and animals, but it is clear that it involves a full dominion of every task that man takes up with creation, whether technological, cultural, political, entrepreneurial, or anything else. Even after the fall, Adam and all his descendants quickly obeyed God in this, with culture developing at a rapid rate: men were raising livestock, creating music and instruments, crafting tools (Gen. 4:20-22). Civil government was also instituted later (Gen. 9:6). Orienting all aspects of culture to display the glory of God was the intention of the people of God at that time, and it is likewise our obligation to do so today (2 Cor. 10:5; Col. 3:23). This should be obvious apart from verses like Genesis 1:28, but Scripture also makes it clear. God is glorified not merely in the salvation of individual souls, but in the Christianization of the institutions and kingdoms of this world (cf. Rev. 11:15).
This mandate is the foundation on which we understand the work of redemption which the Father has decreed, the Son has executed, and the Spirit has applied (and is applying). Christ will not only fulfill the covenant of works in the elect’s stead, but will also redeem what Adam ruined vis-à-vis the cultural mandate. He will redeem His bride, the church, and also creation as a whole (Rom. 8:20-21). This comports with the fact that God created everything good in His sovereign act of creation (Gen. 1:31), and will not abandon His own purposes by merely seeking to save some souls here and there. In the end, God will be greatly glorified as the world will shine forth in redemption.
This idea is very consistent with the tenor of Scripture. Psalm 110, the most cited psalm in the New Testament, speaks of all enemies being made Christ’s footstool as He sits down following His accomplished work of redemption. After defeating the powers of wickedness, triumphing over them on the cross (Col. 2:15), Christ has sat down next to the Father to watch as all His enemies are destroyed (1 Cor. 15:24-26; see also Ps. 2; Matt. 28:18-20), not just to spectate as a small number of souls invisibly change their dispositions towards Him. The entire world will become the kingdom of the King of kings.
Vast Salvation Promised
Even the most pessimistic of Christians would grant that Christ will eventually conquer all aspects of creation, since they affirm the sinlessness of heaven. The crucial point to establish, therefore, is whether God promises in His Word vast salvation prior to Christ’s second coming. The question to be settled is whether He promises great success for His church on earth and in history. As it turns out, this is prophesied a number of times in Scripture.
Very early in redemptive history, yet following the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15, God promised innumerable descendants to Abraham over and over again (Gen. 12:2-3; 13:14-16; 15:5; 18:18; 26:4; 28:14). While this has a physical component, St. Paul elsewhere teaches that these “descendants” also have a spiritual signification, referring to fellow believers in Christ the Messiah (Rom. 4, esp. vv. 11, 16-18). The great number of spiritual sons of Abraham prophesied here should serve as prima facie warrant to be increasingly optimistic at the prospect of world Christianization. True, amillennialists could claim an enormous cumulative number of Christians in history without needing to affirm that a large percentage of the world’s population at any given point is Christian, but the prospect of such uncountable spiritual children gives preliminary evidence for postmillennialism.
Many other passages speak of widespread belief. They might refer to a large number of believers, or to the conversion of entire nations to the true religion, or something else. More significantly, there are many passages which refer to widespread biblical religion, but which also must be fulfilled before Christ returns again. These passages have indicators in the text which require them to refer to a period before Christ’s final coming. I will list several examples of this.
First are all the postmillennial assertions in the book of Psalms. Psalm 2 speaks of how the “nations” and “ends of the earth” (v. 8) are Christ’s, and calls kings of nations to worship Christ (vv. 10-12). This is referring to the present age, for sin is involved (vv. 1-2). Psalm 22:27-31 refers to vast conversion (v. 27), which cannot take place in the eternal state—believers exist in the eternal state, but not conversions from unbelief to belief—in addition to death (v. 29) and posterity (v. 30). Psalm 72 speaks of widespread belief and prosperity (vv. 3-5, 7-8, 11, 17) though it also mentions sin and pain (vv. 4, 9, 12-14) in addition to the cycle of the sun and moon (vv. 5, 7, 15, 17), which will not persist in the eternal state (Rev. 21:23; 22:5). As mentioned above, Psalm 110 speaks of how Christ is still sitting as His enemies are His footstool—He is not arising and returning to earth; He rules from heaven.
Second are many passages in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah 2:1-4 (along with Micah 4:1-3) speaks of how Christianity will be exalted and followed by all nations (v. 2), which will result in world peace (v. 4). Yet, there also will be sin to rebuke (v. 4), showing that this is not a description of the eternal state. Isaiah 9:1-7 shows how conversion (v. 2), the end of warfare (v. 5), and ever-increasing peace and justice (v. 7) will be wrought by Christ (v. 6), called the “prince of peace.” Such an increase of His kingdom will be fueled by the zeal of the Lord of hosts (v. 7). Isaiah 11 speaks of widespread prosperity, even mentioning how the knowledge of Christ shall be as plenteous as the ocean (v. 9). The passage elsewhere speaks of punishment and violence (vv. 4, 13-15), showing that it cannot be referring to the eternal state. Isaiah 65:17-25 also speaks of prosperity, and even of great longevity. Yet, death is still present (v. 20), showing that this is before Christ’s return.
Also worth noting, even though it is cited earlier, are Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15, specifically vv. 22-26:
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.
St. Paul states here that the final resurrection of the dead will occur immediately before “the end,” but also states in v. 25 that this end of history will occur after the subjection of all of Christ’s enemies. Christ will reign in heaven and at the Father’s right hand “till He has put all enemies under His feet.” The vanquishing of all of Christ’s enemies must be comprehensive in scope, or otherwise “all” would not be a fitting description. Paul, therefore, makes reference to great success by the church, the body of Christ, prior to the eternal state.
These passages give a fuller meaning to Christ’s words in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). His command to “make disciples of all the nations” is with the expectation of eventual but widespread success. This expectation is preceded with the basis for such success: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” We can have assurance that all the nations of this world—the whole nations, not just a few elect scattered in every nation—will be discipled and taught Christ’s law. This is in accord with the power Isaiah ascribes to the Godhead over all peoples: “Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, And are counted as the small dust on the scales; Look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing. . . . All nations before Him are as nothing, And they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless” (Isa. 40:15, 17).
Despite this predicted success, some might still reject the label of “postmillennialist,” instead describing themselves as “optimistic amillennialists.” Though these optimistic Christians might disagree with postmillennialists on the degree of optimism we ought to hold, it is not important to utilize the particular label of “postmillennialism,” nor is it important to locate the precise line of distinction between optimistic amillennialism and postmillennialism. What is important is that we have great optimism to trust God’s sovereign grace in regenerating His world.
Because the King of kings has promised vast salvation, we ought therefore to take up the torch of Christendom. We ought to seek to fulfill the cultural mandate by the grace and Spirit of Christ, applying God’s law to every sphere of life. Nonetheless, there still might be some important considerations to clarify for a proper comprehension of biblical postmillennialism. These will be covered in a future article.
- For the following information I owe a great debt both to Ken Gentry’s book on postmillennialism, He Shall Have Dominion, 2nd ed., and to the following mp3 lectures by Greg Bahnsen: “Chronology and History,” “The Nature of Christ’s Kingdom,” and “Christ’s Expectation of His Earthly Kingdom.” ↩