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Will there be a Golden Age before Christ Returns
by Lee Irons, B.A., M.Div.


Some conservative, Bible-believing Christians believe that before Christ returns the church will experience a Golden Age of unparalleled success, victory, and glory in this world - numerically, spiritually, and culturally. Many Puritans held to this position, as well as some well-known theologians of more recent times 1. We have no reason to deny that these men are brothers in Christ on account of their belief. They do not hold to this position on evolutionary grounds or because they think man is basically good and that progress is inevitable. Rather, these men are generally orthodox Protestants who love and believe that because of man's depravity, his only hope is in the saving work of Jesus Christ.

However, they believe that this work of Christ, accomplished once-for-all in history through his death and resurrection, will have positive, tangible, long-term effects for human culture and society prior to his second coming. They believe that "the kingdom will grow and develop until eventually it exercises a dominant and universal gracious. influence in a long era of righteousness, peace, and prosperity on the earth and in history" 2 They expect the entire world to be Christianized, not only by the salvation of (nearly) all people then living, but by the cultural influence of a dominant Christianity in every sphere of life. This long era of prosperity is known as the Golden Age.

What are we to think of this idea? Is it taught in Scripture? After examining this question for myself, I have come to the conclusion that the Golden Age theory does not correspond to Biblical teaching. In fact, I am afraid that this belief could have a negative impact on the Christian's life and walk in this world.

Here are five reasons why you should not believe in a Golden Age prior to the return of Christ:




1. The Silence of the New Testament

In all of the major eschatological texts of the NT - texts where the entire sweep of the age between the first and second comings of Christ is described and foretold in detail by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit - no mention is made of a Golden Age. The silence is deafening. Can the complete absence of any mention of a future era of earthly victory for the church in such passages be without significance?

The silence of the NT is important and should not be overlooked. Although the Golden Age theory can be defended by appealing to many OT passages (i.e., Isaiah 65) which envision the global extension of Christ's kingdom on the earth, it is interesting to note that such prophetic visions are never applied in the NT to a long era of success which begins much later than the resurrection and closes with the second coming. The NT uniformly applies such texts to the eternal state. Isaiah 65:17, for example, is clearly applied this way: the phrase "the New Heavens and the New Earth" is quoted in II Pet 3:13 and Rev 21:1 with reference to the final state after Christ returns. A "literal" reading of Isaiah leads many to think that it cannot be referring to the eternal state. But should we not submit ourselves to the authoritative interpretation given by the apostles of Jesus Christ, rather than squeeze the OT into our preconceived ideas about "literal" interpretation?





2. The crisis at the end of the age

A second argument against a Golden Age is that the NT's vision of a time of crisis and suffering at the end of the age is antithetical to the bright vision of a long era of righteousness and peace. "We condemn Jewish dreams that there will be a golden age on earth before the Day of Judgment, 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 [presumably v. 8], and apostolic teaching in II Thess., ch. 2, and II Tim., chs. 3 and 4, present something quite different" (The Second Helvetic Confession, ch. 11). The passages cited by this Reformation document (1566) all have one thing in common: they describe the end of the age in terms far bleaker than that envisioned in the Golden Age theory.

Here are some of the things that will characterize that time:

There is a way of attempting to get around this evidence. Some scholars (known as preterists) argue that these visions of tribulation and crisis were fulfilled in the events surrounding the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. 4 Nero, who died in A.D. 68, is thought by preterists to be the Antichrist. However, while it is true that the destruction of Jerusalem is indeed a fulfillment of many prophetic passages, it is impossible to argue that all predictions of a future tribulation or apostasy were completely fulfilled in A.D. 70. Why not? Because the second coming of Christ is said to be "immediately after the tribulation of those days" (Matt 24:29). But if Christ's return occurs immediately after the tribulation, the tribulation of A.D. 70 cannot be the final or only tribulation (for Christ did not return then). And the Antichrist, Paul tells us, will be "destroyed by the splendor of [Christ's] coming" (II Thess 2:8). But if the Antichrist will be destroyed by the splendor of Christ's coming, then he must be alive when Christ returns! So the final Antichrist cannot be Nero, but an as-yet unrevealed individual.

Some aspects of the preterist view have merit - the Bible does regard the destruction of Jerusalem as an important eschatological event in which the Old Covenant order is permanently terminated. But preterism cannot bleach out of the Bible all references to a coming ultimate crisis, a final battle between good and evil that will be dramatically and decisively won when "the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire" to crush the rebellion (II Thess 1:7-8; Rev 20:7-10). 5 And that means that at least some of the passages predicting a time of great distress and persecution have yet to be fulfilled. And these passages teach that the times preceding the return of Christ will not be characterized by righteousness, peace, prosperity and revival. Rather, "just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man" (Matt 24:37). A Golden Age seems inconsistent with this dark and stormy vision of the future.





3. The evidence from Daniel 2

Third, the Golden Age theory is damaged by an important text: Daniel 2 clearly teaches that the saints will not inherit the kingdom until the world power is utterly destroyed - which, everyone admits, will not occur until Christ returns.

Daniel 2 tell us about Nebuchadnezzar's dream of an image with a head of gold (Babylon), chest and arms of silver (Medo-Persia), a belly and thighs of bronze (Greece), and legs of iron and feet of iron and clay (Rome). The unity of all these world powers may not be evident to the human eye - they successively attacked and destroyed one another. But in the divine perspective they are really one. Together they constitute one idolatrous image of man as he attempts in Babel-like arrogance to set himself up as God. This entire world power will be destroyed at the coming of Christ, the rock made without hands (Dan 2:34).

Now here's the key: this rock totally and completely grinds the world power (the image) to dust: "Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace" (Dan 2:35). No trace is left of the image! The world power is not merely incapacitated or suppressed, leaving only a minority that later rears its ugly head. This total destruction of the city of man is then followed by the setting up of the city of God: "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever" (Dan 2:44).

So, then, the sequence is as follows:

  1. The idolatrous world power has dominion for a time.
  2. The world power is totally annihilated at the coming of Christ.
  3. The eternal kingdom of God is set up forever.

Now it is true that the first coming of Christ resulted in the binding of Satan. Christ triumphed over the angelic powers behind the world power and placed them under his authority (I Pet 3:22). A significant subjugation of the world power occurred then. By his triumphant resurrection Christ became "the ruler of the kings of the earth" in principle (Rev 1:5)

All of this is to be acknowledged. But no one would argue that the world power was totally annihilated "without leaving a trace" at Christ's first advent. For "when the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth - Gog and Magog - to gather them for the battle" (Rev 20:7-8). Clearly, then, Daniel's vision of a "rock" coming out of heaven to crush the image (Dan 2:34) was not fulfilled at the first advent of Christ.

Therefore (and this is the punch-line), the statement that "the rock struck the statue and became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (Dan 2:35) will be fulfilled only when Christ returns a second time. The rock will not become a mountain and fill the earth until Christ totally destroys the kingdoms of this world at his second coming. Only then will "the kingdom of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ" (Rev 11:15). Only then will the kingdom which Christ achieved in principle at his first coming be realized in fact in visible, external power and glory. "And he shall reign forever and ever."

Because the Golden Age theory envisions the earth-filling mountain-kingdom before the second coming, it envisions something totally contrary to the teaching of Daniel, namely, its coexistence with the world power. The Golden Age position envisions the mountain of Christ's kingdom filling the earth side-by-side with the idolatrous image which remains standing until the second coming! It is difficult to reconcile this picture with the evidence from Daniel 2.






4. What purpose does it serve?

The very notion of a Golden Age - a qualified, imperfect "victory" in history and on earth prior to the unqualified, absolute victory in the New Heavens and New Earth - is unreasonable.

So, then, if these things are true, let us ponder again the question, "Why a Golden Age prior to the day of judgment?" What purpose does it serve? What need is there for it? Does the church need it to satisfy her longing? Does God need it to enhance his glory?





5. The negative effects of this view

All the Christian virtues spring from the Christian's heavenly hope. If Christians substitute an earthly hope in this world for their true inheritance in the next, then this will inevitably affect the way they live their lives. It will affect their attitudes and aspirations, their priorities and desires. The following things are just a few of the ways the Golden Age theory could negatively impact one's Christian life:

Conclusion

Such are my reasons for concluding that the Golden Age theory is unwarranted by Scripture. The silence of the NT, the coming crisis at the end of the age, the evidence from Daniel 2, the absence of any meaningful rationale, and the negative effects of this view - all point us away from such "Jewish dreams." Although we should be careful not to become overly judgmental concerning complex subjects like eschatology, and we certainly recognize that many sound and orthodox teachers of the Bible have held this view, nevertheless the preponderance of the evidence strongly suggests that it is not in accord with Biblical teaching.

Our treasure ought to be in heaven, not on the earth (Matt 6:19). "Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come" (Heb 13:14). Let us set our hope fully on the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that the victory he was won through his death and resurrection is an assured reality. "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed" (Rom. 8:18). For we have "an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - reserved in heaven for us" (I Pet 1:4).




Endnotes

1 Popular contemporary treatments include Loraine Boettner's, The Millennium, and J. Marcellus Kik's, The Eschatology of Victory.

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2 Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Greatness of the Great Commission (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990), p. 141.
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3 Gentry, "Whose Victory in History?" in Theonomy: An Informed Response, edited by Gary North (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), pp. 210-13. Gentry cites BDB (a Hebrew Lexicon) as interpreting the word to mean "not an absolute close, but an epoch, or turning-point, in the future." This may be true in some instances, but here in this text, Paul clearly defines when the "until" occurs: "He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (vv. 25-26). Thus, Christ will reign "until" he has destroyed death. And when will "death" be destroyed? The whole of I Cor 15 provides the answer: at the resurrection of believers, and even Gentry admits that this will occur at the second coming, not before it.

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4 The preterist interpretation of many of these passages is delineated by Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1992). There are two forms of preterism today: an extreme (and heretical) form which says that even the resurrection and second coming are already past; and a more moderate position which admits that these events are still future (Gentry holds this view).

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5 These two passages (II Thess 1:7-10; Rev 20:7-9) are the shoals upon which the ship of preterism must finally run aground. Gentry even admits that "the Scriptural evidence, though clearly expecting Christ's dominion throughout the world, also allows that there will be a minority who will not be converted to Him. There seems to be clear evidence for this in the events associated with Christ's return, which include a brief rebellion, as indicated by 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 and Revelation 20:7-9" (He Shall Have Dominion, pp. 253f). Of course, he minimizes the crisis to "a brief rebellion" by "a minority" but his admission confirms the fact that the bleach of preterism cannot fully remove all indicators of a final battle at the end of the age. Only the extreme, heretical form of preterism can, but Gentry wants to remain orthodox (see note 4).

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6 Geerhardus Vos, cited by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr, "Theonomy and Eschatology: Reflections on Postmillennialism," in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, edited by William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), p. 210.

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7 Defenders of a Golden Age theory admit that we will still be able to quote Rom 8:18 even in the Golden Age. "The kingdom expansion, even at its most glorious height, will still not compare to the glory of the total liberty of the believer in the resurrection as he possesses a glorified, eternal body" (Gentry, "Whose Victory in History?" in Theonomy: An Informed Response, p. 229). So the haunting question remains: Why a Golden Age?

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8 According to some theologians, the Fall did not abolish the Dominion or Cultural Mandate of Gen 1:26-28. Rather, it continues in force and is fulfilled through the cultural, political, and scientific efforts of Christians. This view was first championed in the latter part of the 19th century by a movement known as Dutch Neo-Calvinism (Abraham Kuyper and Klaas Schilder were the primary theological leaders of this movement). A contemporary explanation of this Dutch Neo-Calvinistic philosophy of culture may be found in H. Henry Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism, 6th ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990). Meeter, who agrees with Kuyper and Schilder, believes that "those things that we do which spring genuinely from the grace and mercy of God and which are done in faith and obedience will not pass away and be lost forever. Instead they will be purified and will be carried over into the kingdom of God" (p. 198). Anthony Hoekema takes a similar view of culture in chapter 20 of The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979).

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This Paper is used by permission, courtesy of  Lee Irons, B.A., M.Div.


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