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The Puritan Hope

09/03/2021

TableTalk – The Puritan Hope

Text. Matthew 28:16-20  

This lesson is about POSTMILLENNIALISM – THE PURITAN HOPE!

The Puritans were optimistic about the future. The list of puritan divines, preachers and writers who embraced the  Postmillennialist worldview is impressive.   Their eschatological hope represented a longing in the herts of the Puritans, to see the whole world won for Christ.  It’s what inspired men like William Carey to carry the gospel to far off lands. They were influenced by verses like, Isaiah 11:6-9  Isaac Watts, a congregationalist dissenter wrote  “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun does its successive journeys run, his kingdom stretch from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.  

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11:6

1. First Things First – What’s a Millennium?

The word ‘Millennium’ simply means ‘a thousand years’ – From the Latin ‘Mille’ – thousand, and ‘Annum’ – year.  In the Bible, the ‘millennium’ is found in  Rev 20:1 -2. What really divides opinion is the juxtaposition of the return of Christ and the millennium.  Will the Lord Jesus return before the 1000 years, or after the thousand years, or is the 1000 years simply a long time symbolic of the church age? That is the question that has basically divided the opinion of Christians on the doctrine of the end times – eschatology.   Now, let’s look at:-

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2. The Biblical Case for Postmillennialism.

The essence of Postmillennialism is optimism that when Christ returns it is to a world that has been largely ‘Christianised.’  That doesn’t imply that everyone in the entire world will be a Christian, or that every ruler in every land will rule with Biblical standards, or that there will be a time when all sin will be abolished. It’s to that optimism about the future that we must turn to now as we consider the biblical case for postmillennialism:-

  • Creation and the fall.  Consider the optimism of the ‘proto-euangelion’ in Genesis 3:15 
  • The patriarchs.  We know that God established optimistic promises in the covenants that he made with the patriarchs.  We have only to consider the promise made to Abraham, that in his seed all nations would be blessed.  Paul expands on this in Romans 3:16,  
  • Psalms.  The Messianic psalms especially are full of hope, that Christ would ultimately have victory in this present world.  For example, Psalm 22, or Psalm 110  
  • The writing prophets. Isaiah 9 is a fine example, and we shall look at it below.  Isaiah 2 shows how how all nations hall flow into the church,  v2-4 
  • The Lord Jesus Christ.  In the gospels, Jesus identified himself with the positive prophecies of the OT.  He was the inheritor of the Davidic covenant, who reigned on David’s throne. eg. Mark 1:14-15  The Kingdom Parables are full of optimism.  The gospel is like a man sowing seed, (Matt 13:3-23) which when it falls on prepared ground takes root and grows.  The parable of the mustard seed illustrates the gradual nature of that growth, from a tiny seed to a mature plant.  Matthew 13:31-32.  
  • The Apostle Paul.  In his letters Paul often takes an extremely optimistic view of the future.  He agrees, for example, that Christ already has all authority in heaven and earth.   Ephesians 1:22  1 Corinthians 15:27  Philippians 2:9-10   Paul’s masterpiece of optimism for the future is, of course found in Romans 11.

If a postmillennialist were to choose a single text to express the optimism about the coming revival that they see prior to the coming of Christ, it would perhaps be the Great Commission, the charge given by Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection. Matthew 28:18-20. The key word to note in the Great Commission is the word ALL!  

  • Jesus has ALL authority.  When we look at the spiritual condition of this world, do we forget that Christ has more authority in this world than any government, any lobby group, any spiritual influence.  He is our King, and he is the rightful King and ruler of this world and he has the power and authority to bring about whatever he desires and wills.  
    • The confirmation of his authority.  Jesus’s resurrection is the proof, given by God, that He is the King, that all authority rests on his shoulders, as prophesied by Isaiah in John 5:30 cf Isaiah 9:6-7  Romans 1:3-5 … 
    • The extent of that authority. Christ’s reigning authority, his mighty rule, is not just confined (according to the postmillennialist) to the heavenly realms, or the spiritual kingdom of his church, but to this present world.
  • He commissions us to go to ALL NATIONS.  His followers are to take the gospel to every nation under the sun.  This doesn’t just involved evangelism, (it will, of course) but it includes discipleship, making the newly converted believers into serious disciples, with all that involves, and with the costs it imposes on one’s life.  The gospel is proclaimed in word and sacrament.
  • Teaching them to observe ALL things.  The disciples had spent three years with Jesus, learning the path of Christian discipleship.  They have been TAUGHT, and now they must TEACH others, in every nation, that they too would obey the Lord, that they would surrender to his kingship.
  • He is with us ALways. As we go among all the nations of the world, bringing people not a relationship with Christ, and bringing them under the rule of his kingly authority, we have the promise of Christ that he is in our midst, with us, exercising his kingly presence.   

So the Postmillennialist sees a thread of optimism that runs through the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation.   

3. The Problems with Postmillennialism.

What’s not to like about Postmillennialism?  But there are difficulties and weaknesses in the postmillennialist scheme of time, and while I want to be fair to that viewpoint, I don’t want to gloss over the problems either.  So what are these difficulties?

  • The continual suffering of the church. The church is suffering for the Saviour, and is expected to suffer.  Paul argues that our suffering will continue until the end of the age, in Romans 8:19-23 
  • The expectation of Christ’s soon return.  In the NT we are taught to expect the soon return of the Lord Jesus.  It is to be sudden and unexpected, like thief in the night. We are to be ready, for the Lord’s return is immanent. Watchfulness is a theme that runs through the NT. Romans 13:11-12  James 5:8  1 Peter 4:7   So the question then arises, if we are waiting for a time of blessedness, before the Lord’s return, and we believe that he won’t return until that time of blessedness happens, why would we need to be alert?   
  • The last days and the declension of man. There are passages that depict the very last days as being evil, not times of prosperity and peace.  Mark 10:30   
  • The societal implications of a Christianised world.  The postmillennialist worldview implies that at some time society will be organised along Christian lines.  Every part of society.  This has led some extreme postmillennialists, ‘theonomists’ to have a desire to apply the OT law to modern society.    Classical postmillennialists believed that the growth of Christianity would be by the Spirit and the Word, not by imposing OT laws on society.

On balance, while I like postmillennialism, and I’d really love for it to be correct, I can’t quite manage to get around the arguments that show that Christ is coming back soon, and we must be ready, and that when he comes there will not be a Christianised society.

Conclusion.

I was talking to a postmillennialist.  We found little to disagree about, and that’s unsurprising, for before the early twentieth century, amillennialism was a word unknown.  Amillennialists were simply regarded as pessimistic postmillennialists.  So our disagreement was only over that inevitable difference; what the conditions in this world would be when Jesus returned, would it be to a world filled with God’s glory, a triumphant, worldwide visible church, united in praise of her King, or would he return to a dark nightmare of fallen humanity, sunk deeply into sin and shame.  Perhaps a-millennialists are just pessimistic postmillennialists, and postmillennialists are just optimistic a-millennilists!

BobMcEvoy March 2021

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