The Illusory Hope of Postmillennialism
by Prof. H. Hanko
Especially in our time of theological confusion, many different views have appeared in the church on the question of the millennium. One such view is called Postmillennialism.
Among those who hold to a postmillennial position, many of them Calvinists, there is a considerable amount of disagreement on various details. The purpose of this article is not to enter into a thorough discussion of Postmillennialism, list all the differences of opinion, examine the teachings, and evaluate them in the light of the Word of God. For our purposes, we are content with a broad definition.
Whatever the differences may be, all Postmillennialists agreed on the broad definition which Loraine Boettner offers in his book, The Millennium (The Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, 1966; p. 4): Postmillennialism is that view of the last things which holds that the Kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the Gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit, that the world eventually will be Christianized, and that the return of Christ will occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace called the Millennium.
Postmillennialists, therefore, look for a period of time, not necessarily a literal 1000 years, before the coming of Christ during which Christianity is supreme in the world and a kingdom of peace, with great prosperity and unequaled happiness, characterizes our earthly planet. It will be an earthly kingdom of Christ, realized in this present world, and a kingdom which Christ takes to Himself when He comes again upon the clouds of heaven.
Hoeksema writes of this also (Reformed Dogmatics, Reformed Free Publishing, 1966, pp....... 816,817): The postmillenarians, as the name indicates, believe that the millennium is antecedent to the coming of Christ. Before the coming of Christ there will be a special dispensation of gospel preaching and its effect, so that before Christ's coming the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, even as the waters cover the bottom of the sea. Besides, a glorious reign of peace...is expected....They...expect a realization of the kingdom of God on earth, upon the scene of which Christ will come.
While it is not our purpose to examine Postmillennialism, we briefly mention some of the objections which can be brought against this view.
It is based on an interpretation of prophecy which, much like premillennialism, fails to reckon with the typical character of the Old Testament and interprets various prophecies in earthly terms.
It fails to reckon with significant passages of Scripture which teach things quite contrary to the postmillennial view. We have in mind a passage such as Luke 18:8b: "Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" Quite contrary to what the Lord means with this rhetorical question, the Postmillennialist would answer: "Yes, He shall find a world in which faith is the characteristic of most men."
It speaks of the kingdom of Christ in earthly terms, in spite of the fact that the Lord Himself emphatically states: "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, lo there! for, behold the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20,21).
It stands in sharp contrast with the whole body of Biblical data which describes the days prior to the coming of Christ as days in which lawlessness abounds (Matthew 24:12), persecution is the lot of God's people (Matthew 24:16-22, Revelation 11:13,17, etc.), and Antichrist reigns in a universal kingdom in which there is no room for the saints of Christ.
We oppose such views of the coming of Christ and the events which precede His coming. The Postmillennialists are an ardent group of men. They have little patience with anyone who does not agree with them. In personal correspondence one defender of Postmillennialism called us "pessimistic" and "kamikaze Christians" -- i.e., Christians who, after the pattern of Japanese pilots at the end of World War II, are intent on committing ecclesiastical suicide. The point of these and similar objections is that the believer who holds to an amillennial position has no hope. He takes a dark view of the future. He is gloomy and sees only the dark sides of life. All he sees in the world is a creation under the curse, a world filled with sin and getting worse, a hopeless situation beyond repair and impossible to salvage. He wanders through life with a long face and a pessimistic outlook.
He should be optimistic and enthusiastic. He should look at this world and think of what it will become. He should keep his eye fixed upon a great and glorious kingdom which shall presently be realized here below. He should not look at he dark side of the picture, but at the bright side, that here in this present world the kingdoms of this world are becoming the kingdom of our God and His Christ. Is he a part of only a few who hold to the truth? Never mind; presently the Reformed faith shall be the faith which is dominant in the whole world. Is he persecuted now by the wicked? Bear it patiently because presently he shall himself be in power and the wicked shall either be non-existent or at least completely under the control and rule of the righteous. Are there social problems of war, race inequalities, poverty, sickness, suffering? It will all presently be different when in this world the rule of God shall be over all, the Reformed faith shall hold sway throughout the world, the kingdom of Christ in which all life's problems are solved shall presently be established.
As the law of God is enforced in all the world, we shall have a kingdom of great prosperity, of world wide peace, of freedom from disease and suffering, of happiness and joy such as the world has never known.
It is something wonderful to look forward to and it gives the child of God something to work for with bubbling hope.
Is this the object of the hope of the Christian?
It all sounds so nice. One could almost wish that it were true.
Postmillennialism, however, holds before us an illusory hope. In this desert of sin and death in which we live, postmillennialism can only give us the promise of a mirage. It is important - for our spiritual well-being - that we recognize that postmillennial hope is indeed that and nothing more.
It is a mirage because it speaks of a kingdom here in the world of great joy and happiness for God's people when such is in fact not the case. It is like saying to mountain climber, who is near the point of total exhaustion, to keep courage, for just around the next bend in the trail the walk is easy and without obstacle - when in fact it is still ten miles to the summit.
It is a mirage because it promises to the people of God a kingdom here in this world, this world, this present world in which we live. It is a mirage, therefore a false hope, because it fails to reckon properly with the fact of sin. All the grief, the suffering, the trouble, the pain of war and earthquake, the vicious character of sin, the agony of death - all are the result of sin. Sin entered the world with the disobedience of our first parents. Nothing will be changed until sin is taken away. Christ did this on His cross. He took away the sins of His people. Deliverance must wait until we are taken out of this world into another world where sin is no more.
Nor must it be forgotten that, because of sin, the curse of God entered into the warp and woof of the creation itself. Shall this be changed here in this world? Romans 8 says loudly, No! "For the creation was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also..." (vs.20-23).
To fasten our hope upon an earthly kingdom is to fasten our hope upon a kingdom in which the curse still is present. I do not want that kind of a kingdom.
Postmillennialism cannot take sin as seriously as do the Scriptures.
It is a mirage because the kingdom which the Postmillennialists describe is, in fact, the kingdom of Antichrist. I do not doubt that a kingdom of peace, of great plenty, of enormous prosperity and uncounted riches, of beauty and splendor such as the world has never seen, will some day be established. Scripture points us to that.
What makes one cringe, however, is that this kingdom is described by Scripture as the kingdom of the beast (read Revelation 13).
This makes postmillennial thinking of considerable spiritual danger.
Rev. Hoeksema writes somewhere in this book, Behold He Cometh, that the spiritual danger of postmillennialism is that it tempts the people of God to identify the kingdom of Antichrist with that of Christ.
This is not hard to understand.
How nice it would be if we did not have to worry about persecution, about the terrible tribulation of the Antichrist's kingdom. How nice it would be if we could rather look forward to our faith pervading all the world. The song of postmillennialism is a lullaby. It is a sweet siren song that gradually sings the child of God to sleep. It is a song which is so beautiful, so entrancing, that he forgets all about this calling to watch for the coming of the Lord. And so when a very beautiful and glorious kingdom comes to this world, he will say: Ah, our dreams are realized, our hopes are fulfilled, our longings are satisfied; the kingdom of our Christ has come. But, lo and behold, it is the kingdom, not of Christ, but of Antichrist.
Do you respond to this by saying , "Never fear. I will be able to tell the difference. I can never possibly confuse the two. I know how Christ's kingdom is different from that of Antichrist"?
If your say this, then all I can do is warn you that the deception is very real and very much a possibility. The Lord was deeply concerned about this very thing when He told us, "Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders, insomuch, that if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before" (Matthew 24:23-25). The hope of the believer, and for this I am profoundly grateful, is not on any kingdom in this sorry world, but is fastened with eagerness, with longing and with great optimism, on the everlasting kingdom of righteousness which shall be realized only in the new heavens and in the new earth where sin shall be no more.