by Louis Berkhof
There are some who connect with the advent of Christ the idea of a millennium, either immediately before or immediately following the second coming. While this idea is not an integral part of Reformed theology, it nevertheless deserves consideration here, since it has become rather popular in many circles. Reformed theology cannot afford to ignore the wide-spread millenarian views of the present day, but should define its position with respect to these. Some of those who expect a millennium in the future hold that the Lord will return before the millennium, and are therefore called Premillennialists; while others believe that His second coming will follow after the millennium, and are therefore known as Postmillennialists. There are large numbers, however, who do not believe that the Bible warrants the expectation of a millennium, and it has become customary of late to speak of them as Amillennialists. The Amillennial view is, as the name indicates, purely negative. It holds that there is no sufficient Scriptural ground for the expectation of a millennium, and is firmly convinced that the Bible favors the idea that the present dispensation of the Kingdom of God will be followed immediately by the Kingdom of God in its consummate and eternal form. It is mindful of the fact that the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is represented as an eternal and not as a temporal kingdom, Isa. 9:7; Dan. 7:14; Luke 1:33; Heb. 1:8; 12:28; II Pet. 1:11; Rev. 11:15; and that to enter the Kingdom of the future is to enter upon one’s eternal state, Matt. 7:21,22, to enter life, Matt. 18:8,9 (cf. the preceding context), and to be saved, Mark 10:25,26. Some Premillenarians have spoken of Amillennialism as a new view and as one of the most recent novelties, but this is certainly not in accord with the testimony of history. The name is new indeed, but the view to which it is applied is as old as Christianity. It had at least as many advocates as Chiliasm among the Church Fathers of the second and third centuries, supposed to have been the heyday of Chiliasm. It has ever since been the view most widely accepted, is the only view that is either expressed or implied in the great historical Confessions of the Church, and has always been the prevalent view in Reformed circles.
Since Premillennialism has not always assumed the same form, it may be well to indicate briefly the form which it generally assumed in the past (without noting all kinds of aberrations), and then to follow this up with a more detailed description of the most dominant premillennial theory of the present day.
1. THE PREMILLENNIALISM OF THE PAST. The view of Irenæus may be given as that which best reflects that of the early Christian centuries. The present world will endure six thousand years, corresponding to the six days of creation. Towards the end of this period the sufferings and persecutions of the pious will greatly increase, until finally the incarnation of all wickedness appears in the person of Antichrist. After he has completed his destructive work and has boldly seated himself in the temple of God, Christ will appear in heavenly glory and triumph over all His enemies. This will be accompanied by the physical resurrection of the saints and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. The period of millennial bliss, lasting a thousand years, will correspond to the seventh day of creation, — the day of rest. Jerusalem will be rebuilt; the earth will yield its fruit in rich abundance; and peace and righteousness will prevail. At the end of the thousand years the final judgment will ensue, and a new creation will appear, in which the redeemed will live forever in the presence of God. In general outline this representation is typical of the eschatological views of the early Christian centuries, however these may differ in some details. During all the following centuries and into the nineteenth century, millennial thought remained essentially the same, though there were strange aberrations in some of the sects. Continued study, however, led to further development and to greater clarity in the presentation of some of its particulars. The main features of the common view may be stated somewhat as follows: The coming advent of Christ to the world is near, and will be visible, personal, and glorious. It will be preceded, however, by certain events, such as the evangelization of all nations, the conversion of Israel, the great apostasy and the great tribulation, and the revelation of the man of sin. Dark and trying times are therefore still in store for the Church, since she will have to pass through the great tribulation. The second coming will be a great, single, outstanding, and glorious event, but will be accompanied by several others bearing on the Church, on Israel, and on the world. The dead saints will be raised and the living transfigured, and together they will be translated to meet the coming Lord. Antichrist and his wicked allies will be slain; and Israel, the ancient people of God will repent, be saved, and restored to the Holy Land. Then the Kingdom of God, predicted by the prophets, will be established in a transformed world. The Gentiles will turn to God in great abundance and be incorporated in the Kingdom. A condition of peace and righteousness will prevail in all the earth. After the expiration of the earthly rule of Christ the rest of the dead will be raised up; and this resurrection will be followed by the last judgment and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. Generally speaking, it may be said that this is the type of Premillennialism advocated by such men as Mede, Bengel, Auberlen, Christlieb, Ebrard, Godet, Hofmann, Lange, Stier, Van Oosterzee, Van Andel, Alford, Andrews, Ellicott, Guinness, Kellogg, Zahn, Moorehead, Newton, Trench, and others. It goes without saying that these men differed in some details.
2. THE PREMILLENNIALISM OF THE PRESENT. In the second quarter of the nineteenth century a new form of Premillennialism was introduced under the influence of Darby, Kelly, Trotter, and their followers in England and America, a Premillennialism wedded to Dispensationalism. The new views were popularized in our country especially through the Scofield Bible, and are widely disseminated through the works of such men as Bullinger, F. W. Grant, Blackstone, Gray, Silver, Haldeman, the two Gaebeleins, Brookes, Riley, Rogers, and a host of others. They really present a new philosophy of the history of redemption, in which Israel plays a leading role and the Church is but an interlude. Their guiding principle prompts them to divide the Bible into two books, the book of the Kingdom and the book of the Church. In reading their descriptions of God’s dealings with men one is lost in a bewildering maze of covenants and dispensations, without an Ariadne thread to give safe guidance. Their divisive tendency also reveals itself in their eschatological program. There will be two second comings, two or three (if not four) resurrections, and also three judgments. Moreover, there will also be two peoples of God, which according to some will be eternally separate, Israel dwelling on earth, and the Church in heaven.
The following will give some idea of the Premillennial scheme that enjoys the greatest popularity to-day:
a. Its view of history. God deals with the world of humanity in the course of history on the basis of several covenants and according to the principles of seven different dispensations. Each dispensation is distinct, and each one of them represents a different test of the natural man; and since man fails to meet the successive tests, each dispensation ends in a judgment. The theocracy of Israel, founded on Mount Sinai, occupies a special place in the divine economy. It was the initiatory form of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of the Messiah, and had its golden age in the days of David and Solomon. In the way of obedience it might have increased in strength and glory, but as the result of the unfaithfulness of the people, it was finally overthrown, and the people were carried away into exile. The prophets predicted this overthrow, but also brought messages of hope and raised the expectation that in the days of the Messiah Israel would turn to the Lord in true repentance, the throne of David would be re-established in unsurpassed glory, and even the Gentiles would share in the blessings of the future Kingdom. But when the Messiah came and offered to establish the Kingdom, the Jews failed to show the requisite repentance. The result was that the King did not establish the Kingdom, but withdrew from Israel and went into a far country, postponing the establishment of the Kingdom until His return. Before He left the earth, however, He founded the Church, which has nothing in common with the Kingdom, and of which the prophets never spoke. The dispensation of the law made way for the dispensation of the grace of God. During this dispensation the Church is gathered out of Jews and Gentiles, and forms the body of Christ, which now shares in His sufferings, but will once, as the bride of the Lamb, share in His glory. Of this Church Christ is not the King, but the divine Head. She has the glorious task of preaching, not the gospel of the Kingdom, but the gospel of the free grace of God, among all the nations of the world, to gather out of them the elect and further to be a testimony unto them. This method will prove to be a failure; it will not effect conversions on any large scale. At the end of this dispensation Christ will suddenly return and effect a far more universal conversion.
b. Its eschatology. The return of Christ is imminent now, that is, He may come at any time, for there are no predicted events that must still precede it. However, His coming consists of two separate events, separated from each other by a period of seven years. The first of these events will be the parousia, when Christ will appear in the air to meet His saints. All the righteous dead will then be raised up, and the living saints will be transfigured. Together they will be caught up into the air, will celebrate the wedding of the Lamb, and will then be forever with the Lord. The translation of the living saints is called “the rapture,” sometimes “the secret rapture.” While Christ and His Church are absent from the earth, and even the indwelling Holy Spirit has gone with the Church, there will be a period of seven years or more, often divided into two parts, in which several things will happen. The gospel of the Kingdom will again be preached, primarily, it would seem, by the believing remnant of the Jews, and conversions on a large scale will result, though many will still continue to blaspheme God. The Lord will again begin to deal with Israel and it will probably at this time (though some say it will be later) be converted. In the second half of this period of seven years there will be a time of unequalled tribulation, the length of which is still a subject of debate. Antichrist will be revealed and the vials of God’s wrath will be poured out upon the human race. At the end of the seven-year period the “revelation” will follow, that is, the coming of the Lord down to earth, now not for but with His saints. The living nations are now judged (Matt. 25:31 ff.), and the sheep separated from the goats; the saints that died during the great tribulation are raised up; Antichrist is destroyed; and Satan is bound for a thousand years. The millennial kingdom will now be established, a real visible, terrestrial, and material kingdom of the Jews, the restoration of the theocratic kingdom, including the re-establishment of the Davidic kingship. In it the saints will reign with Christ, the Jews will be the natural citizens and many Gentiles adopted citizens. The throne of Christ will be established at Jerusalem, which will also again become the central place of worship. The temple will be rebuilt on Mount Zion, and the altar will again reek with the blood of sacrifices, even of sin- and trespass-offerings. And though sin and death will still claim their victims, it will be a time of great fruitfulness and prosperity, in which men’s lives will be prolonged and the wilderness will blossom as the rose. In this time the world will speedily be converted, according to some by the gospel, but according to the majority by totally different means, such as the personal appearance of Christ, the envy aroused by the blessedness of the saints, and above all great and terrible judgments. After the millennium Satan will be loosed for a little season, and the hordes of Gog and Magog assemble against the holy city. The enemies are devoured, however, by fire from heaven, and Satan is cast into the bottomless pit, whither the beast and the false prophet have preceded him. After this little season the wicked dead are raised up and appear in judgment before the great white throne, Rev. 20:11-15. And then there will be a new heaven and a new earth.
c. Some of the variations of this theory. Premillenarians are by no means all agreed as to the particulars of their eschatological scheme. A study of their literature reveals a great variety of opinions. There is indefiniteness and uncertainty on many points, which proves that their detailed construction is of rather doubtful value. While the majority of present day Premillenarians believe in a coming visible rule of Jesus Christ, even now some anticipate only a spiritual rule, and do not look for a physical presence of Christ on earth. Though the thousand years of Rev. 20 are generally interpreted literally, there is a tendency on the part of some to regard them as an indefinite period of shorter or longer duration. Some think that the Jews will be converted first, and then brought back to Palestine, while others are of the opinion that this order will be reversed. There are those who believe that the means used for the conversion of the world will be identical with those now employed, but the prevailing opinion is that other means will be substituted. There is a difference of opinion also as to the place where the risen saints will dwell during their millennial reign with Christ, on earth or in heaven, or in both places. Opinions differ very much, too, with respect to the continuance of the propagation of the human race during the millennium, the degree of sin that will prevail at that time, and the continued sway of death, and many other points.
3. OBJECTIONS TO PREMILLENNIALISM. In the discussion of the second advent the premillennial view of it was already subjected to special scrutiny and criticism, and the succeeding chapters on the resurrection and the final judgment will offer further occasion for a critical consideration of the premillennial construction of these events. Hence the objections raised at this point will be of a more general nature, and even so we can only pay attention to some of the most important ones.
a. The theory is based on a literal interpretation of the prophetic delineations of the future of Israel and of the Kingdom of God, which is entirely untenable. This has been pointed out repeatedly in such works on prophecy as those of Fairbairn, Riehm, and Davidson, in the splendid work of David Brown on The Second Advent, in Waldegrave’s important volume on New Testament Millennarianism, and in the more recent works of Dr. Aalders on De Profeten des Ouden Verbonds, and Het Herstel van Israel Volgens het Oude Testament. The last volume is devoted entirely to a detailed exegetical study of all the Old Testament passages that might bear in any way on the future restoration of Israel. It is a thorough work that deserves careful study. Premillenarians maintain that nothing short of a literal interpretation and fulfilment will satisfy the requirements of these prophetic forecasts; but the books of the prophets themselves already contain indications that point to a spiritual fulfilment, Isa. 54:13; 61:6; Jer. 3:16; 31:31-34; Hos. 14:2; Mic. 6:6-8. The contention that the names “Zion” and “Jerusalem” are never used by the prophets in any other than a literal sense, that the former always denotes a mountain, and the latter, a city, is clearly contrary to fact. There are passages in which both names are employed to designate Israel, the Old Testament Church of God, Isa. 49:14; 51:3; 52:1,2. And this use of the terms passes right over into the New Testament, Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22; Rev. 3:12; 21:9. It is remarkable that the New Testament, which is the fulfilment of the Old, contains no indication whatsoever of the re-establishment of the Old Testament theocracy by Jesus, nor a single undisputed positive prediction of its restoration, while it does contain abundant indications of the spiritual fulfilment of the promises given to Israel, Matt. 21:43; Acts 2:29-36, 15:14-18; Rom. 9:25, 26; Heb. 8:8-13; I Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10. For further details on the spiritualization found in Scripture the work of Dr. Wijngaarden on The Future of the Kingdom may be consulted. The New Testament certainly does not favor the literalism of the Premillenarians. Moreover this literalism lands them in all kinds of absurdities, for it involves the future restoration of all the former historical conditions of Israel’s life: the great world powers of the Old Testament (Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians), and the neighboring nations of Israel (Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, and Philistines) must again appear on the scene, Isa. 11:14; Amos 9:12; Joel 3:19; Mic. 5:5,6; Rev. 18. The temple will have to be rebuilt, Isa. 2:2,3; Mic. 4:1,2; Zech. 14:16-22; Ezek. 40-48, the sons of Zadok will again have to serve as priests, Ezek. 44:15-41; 48:11-14, and even sin and trespass offerings will again have to be brought upon the altar, not for commemoration (as some Premillenarians would have it), but for atonement, Ezek. 42:13; 43:18-27. And in addition to all that, the altered situation would make it necessary for all the nations to visit Jerusalem from year to year, in order to celebrate the feast of tabernacles, Zech. 14:16, and even from week to week, to worship before Jehovah, Isa. 66:23.
b. The so-called postponement theory, which is a necessary link in the premillennial scheme, is devoid of all Scriptural basis. According to it John and Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom, that is, the Jewish theocracy, was at hand. But because the Jews did not repent and believe, Jesus postponed its establishment until His second coming. The pivotal point marking the change is placed by Scofield in Matt. 11:20, by others in Matt. 12, and by others still later. Before that turning point Jesus did not concern Himself with the Gentiles, but preached the gospel of the kingdom to Israel; and after that He did not preach the kingdom any more, but only predicted its future coming and offered rest to the weary of both Israel and the Gentiles. But it cannot be maintained that Jesus did not concern Himself with the Gentiles before the supposed turning point, cf. Matt. 8:5-13; John 4:1-42, nor that after it He ceased to preach the kingdom, Matt. 13; Luke 10:1-11. There is absolutely no proof that Jesus preached two different gospels, first the gospel of the kingdom and then the gospel of the grace of God; in the light of Scripture this distinction is untenable. Jesus never had in mind the re-establishment of the Old Testament theocracy, but the introduction of the spiritual reality, of which the Old Testament kingdom was but a type, Matt. 8:11,12; 13:31-33; 21:43; Luke 17:21; John 3:3; 18:36,37 (comp. Rom. 14:17). He did not postpone the task for which He had come into the world, but actually established the Kingdom and referred to it more than once as a present reality, Matt. 11:12; 12:28; Luke 17:21; John 18:36,37; (comp. Col. 1:13). This whole postponement theory is a comparatively recent fiction, and is very objectionable, because it breaks up the unity of Scripture and of the people of God in an unwarranted way. The Bible represents the relation between the Old Testament and the New as that of type and antitype, of prophecy and fulfilment; but this theory holds that, while the New Testament was originally meant to be a fulfilment of the Old, it really became something quite different. The kingdom, that is, the Old Testament theocracy, was predicted and was not restored, and the Church was not predicted but was established. Thus the two fall apart, and the one becomes the book of the kingdom, and the other, with the exception of the Gospels, the book of the Church. Besides, we get two peoples of God, the one natural and the other spiritual, the one earthly and the other heavenly, as if Jesus did not speak of “one flock and one shepherd,” John 10:16, and as if Paul did not say that the Gentiles were grafted into the old olive tree, Rom. 11:17.
c. This theory is also in flagrant opposition to the Scriptural representation of the great events of the future, namely, the resurrection, the final judgment, and the end of the world. As was shown in the preceding, the Bible represents these great events as synchronizing. There is not the slightest indication that they are separated by a thousand years, except this be found in Rev. 20:4-6. They clearly coincide, Matt. 13:37-43,47-50 (separation of the good and the evil at “the end,” not a thousand years before); 24:29-31; 25:31-46; John 5:25-29; I Cor. 15:22-26; Phil. 3:20,21; I Thess. 4:15,16; Rev. 20:11-15. They all occur at the coming of the Lord, which is also the day of the Lord. In answer to this objection Premillenarians often suggest that the day of the Lord may be a thousand years long, so that the resurrection of the saints and the judgment of the nations takes place in the morning of that long day, and the resurrection of the wicked and the judgment at the great white throne occurs in the evening of that same day. They appeal to II Pet. 3:8... “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” But this can hardly prove the point, for the tables might easily be turned here. The same passage might also be used to prove that the thousand years of Rev. 20 are but a single day.
d. There is no positive Scriptural foundation whatsoever for the Premillennial view of a double, or even a three- or fourfold resurrection, as their theory requires, nor for spreading the last judgment over a period of a thousand years by dividing it into three judgments. It is, to say the least, very dubious that the words, “This is the first resurrection” in Rev. 20:5, refer to a physical resurrection. The context does not necessitate, nor even favor this view. What might seem to favor the theory of a double resurrection, is the fact that the apostles often speak of the resurrection of believers only, and do not refer to that of the wicked at all. But this is due to the fact that they are writing to the churches of Jesus Christ, to the connections in which they bring up the subject of the resurrection, and to the fact that they desire to stress the soteriological aspect of it, I Cor. 15; I Thess. 4:13-18. Other passages clearly speak of the resurrection of the righteous and that of the wicked in a single breath, Dan. 12:2; John 5:28,29; Acts 24:15. We shall consider this matter further in the following chapter.
e. The Premillennial theory entangles itself in all kinds of insuperable difficulties with its doctrine of the millennium. It is impossible to understand how a part of the old earth and of sinful humanity can exist alongside of a part of the new earth and of a humanity that is glorified. How can perfect saints in glorified bodies have communion with sinners in the flesh. How can glorified saints live in this sin-laden atmosphere and amid scenes of death and decay? How can the Lord of glory, the glorified Christ, establish His throne on earth as long as it has not yet been renewed. The twenty-first chapter of Revelation informs us that God and the Church of the redeemed will take up their dwellingplace on earth after heaven and earth have been renewed; how then can it be maintained that Christ and the saints will dwell there a thousand years before this renewal. How will sinners and saints in the flesh be able to stand in the presence of the glorified Christ, seeing that even Paul and John were completely overwhelmed by the vision of Him, Acts 26:12-14; Rev. 1:17? Beet truly says: “We cannot conceive mingled together on the same planet some who have yet to die and others who have passed through death and will die no more. Such confusion of the present age with the age to come is in the last degree unlikely.”[The Last Things, p. 88.] And Brown calls out: “What a mongrel state of things is this! What an abhorred mixture of things totally inconsistent with each other!”[The Second Advent, p. 384.]
f. The only Scriptural basis for this theory is Rev. 20:1-6, after an Old Testament content has been poured into it. This is a very precarious basis for various reasons. (1) This passage occurs in a highly symbolical book and is admittedly very obscure, as may be inferred from the different interpretations of it. (2) The literal interpretation of this passage, as given by the Premillenarians, leads to a view that finds no support elsewhere in Scripture, but is even contradicted by the rest of the New Testament. This is a fatal objection. Sound exegesis requires that the obscure passages of Scripture be read in the light of the clearer ones, and not vice versa. (3) Even the literal interpretation of the Premillenarians is not consistently literal, for it makes the chain in verse 1 and consequently also the binding of verse 2 figurative, often conceives of the thousand years as a long but undefined period, and changes the souls of verse 4 into resurrection saints. (4) The passage, strictly speaking, does not say that the classes referred to (the martyr saints and those who did not worship the beast) were raised up from the dead, but simply that they lived and reigned with Christ. And this living and reigning with Christ is said to constitute the first resurrection. (5) There is absolutely no indication in these verses that Christ and His saints are seen ruling on the earth. In the light of such passages as Rev. 4:4; 6:9, it is far more likely that the scene is laid in heaven. (6) It also deserves notice that the passage makes no mention whatsoever of Palestine, of Jerusalem, of the temple, and of the Jews, the natural citizens of the millennial kingdom. There is not a single hint that these are in any way concerned with this reign of a thousand years. For a detailed interpretation of this passage from the Amillennial point of view we refer to Kuyper, Bavinck, De Moor, Dijk, Greydanus, Vos, and Hendriksen.
The position of Postmillennialism is quite the opposite of that taken by Premillennialism respecting the time of the second coming of Christ. It holds that the return of Christ will follow the millennium, which may be expected during and at the close of the gospel dispensation. Immediately after it Christ will come to usher in the eternal order of things. In the discussion of Postmillennialism it will be necessary to distinguish two different forms of the theory, of which the one expects the millennium to be realized through the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit, and the other expects it to come by a natural process of evolution.
1. DIFFERENT FORMS OF POSTMILLENNIALISM.
a. The earlier form. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries several Reformed theologians in the Netherlands taught a form of Chiliasm, which would now be called Postmillennialism. Among them were such well-known men as Coccejus, Alting, the two Vitringas, d’Outrein, Witsius, Hoornbeek, Koelman, and Brakel, of which some regarded the millennium as belonging to the past, others thought of it as present, and still others looked for it in the future. The majority expected it toward the end of the world, just before the second coming of Christ. These men rejected the two leading ideas of the Premillenarians, namely, that Christ will return physically to reign on earth for a thousand years, and that the saints will be raised up at His coming, and will then reign with him in the millennial kingdom. While their representations differed in some details, the prevailing view was that the gospel, which will gradually spread through the whole world, will in the end become immeasurably more effective than it is at present, and will usher in a period of rich spiritual blessings for the Church of Jesus Christ, a golden age, in which the Jews will also share in the blessings of the gospel in an unprecedented manner. In more recent years some such Postmillennialism was advocated by D. Brown, J. Berg, J. H. Snowden, T. P. Stafford, and A. H. Strong. The last named theologian says that the millennium will be “a period in the later days of the Church militant, when, under the special influence of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of the martyrs shall appear again, true religion be greatly quickened and revived, and the members of Christ’s churches become so conscious of their strength in Christ that they shall, to an extent unknown before, triumph over the power of evil both within and without.”[Syst. Theol., p. 1013.] The golden age of the Church will, it is held, be followed by a brief apostasy, a terrible conflict between the forces of good and evil, and by the simultaneous occurrence of the advent of Christ, the general resurrection, and the final judgment.
b. The later form. A great deal of present day Postmillennialism is of an entirely different type, and concerns itself very little about the teachings of Scripture, except as a historical indication of what people once believed. The modern man has little patience with the millennial hopes of the past with their utter dependence on God. He does not believe that the new age will be ushered in by the preaching of the gospel and the accompanying work of the Holy Spirit; nor that it will be the result of a cataclysmic change. On the one hand it is believed that evolution will gradually bring the millennium, and on the other hand, that man himself must usher in the new age by adopting a constructive policy of world-betterment. Says Walter Rauschenbusch: “Our chief interest in any millennium is the desire for a social order in which the worth and freedom of every least human being will be honored and protected; in which the brotherhood of man will be expressed in the common possession of the economic resources of society; and in which the spiritual good of humanity will be set high above the private profit interests of all materialistic groups.... As to the way in which the Christian ideal of society is to come, — we must shift from catastrophe to development.”[A Theology for the Social Gospel, pp. 224 f.] Shirley Jackson Case asks: “Shall we still look for God to introduce a new order by catastrophic means or shall we assume the responsibility of bringing about our own millennium, believing that God is working in us and in our world to will and to work for His good pleasure?” And he himself gives the answer in the following paragraphs: “The course of history exhibits one long process of evolving struggle by which humanity as a whole rises constantly higher in the scale of civilization and attainment, bettering its condition from time to time through its greater skill and industry. Viewed in the long perspective of the ages, man’s career has been one of actual ascent. Instead of growing worse, the world is found to be constantly growing better . . . Since history and science show that betterment is always the result of achievement, man learns to surmise that evils still unconquered are to be eliminated by strenuous effort and gradual reform rather than by the catastrophic intervention of Deity.... Disease is to be cured or prevented by the physician’s skill, society’s ills are to be remedied by education and legislation, and international disasters are to be averted by establishing new standards and new methods for dealing with the problems involved. In short, the ills of life are to be cured by a gradual process of remedial treatment rather than by a sudden annihilation.”[The Millennial Hope, pp. 229,238 f.] These quotations are quite characteristic of a great deal of present day Postmillennialism, and it is no wonder that the Premillenarians react against it.
2. OBJECTIONS TO POSTMILLENNIALISM. There are some very serious objections to the Postmillennial theory.
a. The fundamental idea of the doctrine, that the whole world will gradually be won for Christ, that the life of all nations will in course of time be transformed by the gospel, that righteousness and peace will reign supreme, and that the blessings of the Spirit will be poured out in richer abundance than before, so that the Church will experience a season of unexampled prosperity just before the coming of the Lord, — is not in harmony with the picture of the end of the ages found in Scripture. The Bible teaches indeed that the gospel will spread throughout the world and will exercise a beneficent influence, but does not lead us to expect the conversion of the world, either in this or in a coming age. It stresses the fact that the time immediately preceding the end will be a time of great apostasy, of tribulation and persecution, a time when the faith of many will wax cold, and when they who are loyal to Christ will be subjected to bitter sufferings, and will in some cases even seal their confession with their blood, Matt. 24:6-14,21,22; Luke 18:8; 21:25-28; II Thess. 2:3-12; II Tim. 3:1-6; Rev. 13. Postmillennialists, of course, cannot very well ignore entirely what is said about the apostasy and the tribulation that will mark the end of history, but they minimize it and represent it as predicting an apostasy and a tribulation on a small scale, which will not affect the main course of the religious life. Their expectation of a glorious condition of the Church in the end, is based on passages which contain a figurative description, either of the gospel dispensation as a whole, or of the perfect bliss of the external Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
b. The related idea, that the present age will not end in a great cataclysmic change, but will pass almost imperceptibly into the coming age, is equally un-Scriptural. The Bible teaches us very explicitly that a catastrophe, a special intervention of God, will bring the rule of Satan on earth to an end, and will usher in the Kingdom that cannot be shaken, Matt. 24:29-31, 35-44; Heb. 12:26, 27; II Pet. 3:10-13. There will be a crisis, a change so great that it can be called “the regeneration,” Matt. 19:28. No more than believers are progressively sanctified in this life until they are practically ready to pass, without much more change, into heaven, will the world gradually be purified and thus made ready to enter upon the next stage. Just as believers must still undergo a great change at death, so must the world suffer a tremendous change when the end comes. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. Rev. 21:1.
c. The modern idea that natural evolution and the efforts of man in the field of education, of social reform, and of legislation, will gradually bring in the perfect reign of the Christian spirit, conflicts with everything that the Word of God teaches on this point. It is not the work of man, but the work of God to bring in the glorious Kingdom of God. This Kingdom cannot be established by natural but only by supernatural means. It is the reign of God, established and acknowledged in the hearts of His people, and this reign can never be made effective by purely natural means. Civilization without regeneration, without a supernatural change of the heart, will never bring in a millennium, an effective and glorious rule of Jesus Christ. It would seem that the experiences of the last quarter of a century should have forced this truth upon the modern man. The highly vaunted development of man has not yet brought us in sight of the millennium.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY: What is the historic origin of Premillennialism? Was it actually the prevailing view in the second and third centuries? What was Augustine’s view of the Kingdom of God and the millennium? Are the Kingdom of God and the Church distinct or identical in Scripture? Is the one natural and national, and the other spiritual and universal? Do Luke 14:14 and 20:35 teach a partial resurrection? Will any part of Israel constitute a part of the bride of Christ? Will the bride be complete when Christ returns? Are the Postmillennialists necessarily evolutionists? Is the optimism of the Postmillennialists, that the world is gradually getting better, justified by experience? Does the Bible predict continuous progress for the Kingdom of God right up to the end of the world? Is it necessary to assume a cataclysmic change at the end?
LITERATURE: Bavinck, Geref. Dogm, IV, pp. 717-769; Kuyper, Dict. Dogm., De Consummatione Saeculi, pp. 237-279; Vos, Geref. Dogm. V. Eschatologie, pp. 36-40; id., The Pauline Eschatology, pp. 226-260; Hodge, Syst. Theol. III, pp. 861-868; Warfield, The Millennium and the Apocalypse in Biblical Studies, pp. 643-664; Dahle, Life After Death, pp. 354-418; D. Brown, The Second Advent; Ch. Brown, The Hope of His Coming; Hoekstra, Het Chiliasme; Rutgers, Premillennialism in America; Merrill, Second Coming of Christ; Eckman, When Christ Comes Again; Heagle, That Blessed Hope; Case, The Millennial Hope; Rall, Modern Premillennialism and the Christian Hope; Fairbairn, The Prophetic Prospect of the Jews (by Pieters); Berkhof, Premillennialisme; Riley, The Evolution of the Kingdom; Bultema, Maranatha; Berkhoff, De Wederkomst van Christus; Brookes, Maranatha; Haldeman, The Coming of the Lord; Snowden, The Second Coming of the Lord; Blackstone; Jesus is Coming; Milligan, Is the Kingdom Age at Hand? Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom; West, The Thousand Years in Both Testaments; Silver, The Lord’s Return; Bullinger, How to Enjoy the Bible; Waldegrave, New Testament Millenarianism; Feinberg, Premillennialism and Amillennialism; Gæbelein, The Hope of the Ages; Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors; Dijk, Het Rijk der Duizend Jaren; Aalders, Het Herstel van Israel Volgens het Oude Testament; Mauro, The Gospel of the Kingdom, and The Hope of Israel; Frost; The Second Coming of Christ; Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ; Wyngaarden, The Future of the Kingdom.
From Stsyematic Theology by Louis Berkhof