"Are You Becoming a Post-Millennialist?"
One of our apprentices put this question to me. The reason was my recommendation of a book called The Puritan Hope by Iain Murray. My sermon last Sunday may raise the same question. Here's my answer.
No. I am becoming a more hope-filled pre-millennialist.
What in the world does all this mean?
The “millennium” refers to the period of 1,000 years mentioned in Revelation 20:3, “He threw Satan into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended. After that he must be loosed for a little while.” Then it says in verse 4 that the saints “came to life, and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”
So the thousand-year period is a time when Satan is bound and the saints are reigning with Christ. This seems to imply a time of great glory for the church and victory over evil. Yet it is not the perfect final state, because “after that Satan must be loosed for a little while.”
Pre-millennialists believe that Christ will return before (pre) this thousand-year period to judge unbelievers, and that he will reign bodily on the earth during the millennium. Post-millennialists believe that Christ will return after (post) the thousand-year period. At that point he will judge unbelievers and establish the new heavens and new earth.
So post-millennialist believe that the reign of Christ in the “millennium” is his spiritual reign in the church, and that the peace and glory of the millennium will come about not through the return of Christ, but through the power of the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the gospel. In other words, the church will gradually conquer the world of unbelief through worldwide revival, and there will be a “golden age” when righteousness and peace will hold sway for a thousand years. Then Christ will come.
Most of the missionaries of the early modern missionary movement were post-millennialists (Eliot, Brainerd, Carey, etc.). The Puritans that I praised on Sunday were post-millennialist. Their hope was that the gospel would eventually conquer the world before Christ returned.
When I quote them with approval it is not because I think they were right on this point. It is because they were right that
- God has promised that one day all the peoples (not all individuals!) will worship him (Psalm 86:9);
- God is sovereign and will fulfill this promise by the power of his grace (John 10:16; 11:52);
- God has ordained that the church be his instrument in gathering a people from all the nations of the earth (Matthew 24:13); and
- this missionary labor is an essential part of fulfilling the hope that “the earth will be filled with a knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
The difference between my pre-millennialism and the Puritan's post-millennialism is that I see Christ intervening directly to complete the dominion of the gospel over the world. The gospel will not overcome all unbelief before Christ comes. When the missionary task is completed, Christ will come and banish all unbelievers from the world. This will be the great consummation of the missionary cause. The world will be filled with people who know and praise and enjoy and fear God (Psalm 67).
Christ will not do this apart from missions. This is why missions should be driven by this great hope for the worldwide glory of the church and of the gospel and of God. Essentially therefore (if not in detail) our hope is the same as the Puritans', and we have much to learn from them.
Inspired with missionary hope,