This is part 2 of a 5 part series on “#datpostmil?” View Part 1
A Present Evil Age!
I ended my first post in this friendly response to James White by arguing that it is the notion of a distinct, future millennial period before the return of Christ in glory that is the distinguishing feature of what I will call systematic Postmillennialism. It is this future golden age before Christ returns and in which we do not already live that distinguishes Postmillennialism from Amillennialism. Subtract this idea from Postmillennialism and you might as well call all of us optimistic Amillennialists postmillennial. It is furthermore this idea of a distinct, future golden age which has usually distinguished Postmillennialists in the past in the present.
Perhaps it is good to insert here a confession. I once wanted to be postmil. I tried to be postmil. I had read Boettner’s The Millennium. I also loved John Murray’s interpretation of Romans 11 in which he argued for a future mass conversion of physical Israelites. This view of Murray’s does not mean that he or anyone else is necessarily postmil. One could hold it—in my opinion—in an optimistic amillennial scheme. I recall that some postmils actually reject the idea of a future mass conversion of the Jews. Yet, such a view of Romans 11 does certainly fit well within the postmillennial scheme.
It did not take me long after my college years to depart from my early postmil sympathies. I suppose there were many reasons for this “sad” departure. I will attempt to describe them in this and future posts. But as I look at things now, it is this bifurcation of the present gospel age into two radically different periods which is necessary to systematic Postmillennialism which I see as a premier reason to reject Postmillennialism. It simply does not fit with the two-age schema of biblical prophecy. I argue in End Times Made Simple for the prominence of this two-age scheme in the New Testament. I see it as the beating heart of biblical eschatology. And the simple truth is that this scheme is inconsistent with systematic Postmillennialism. Let me explain why.
Of the very many references to the two-age scheme in the New Testament Luke 20:34-36 is perhaps its classic, biblical statement. Here is what that passage says:
34 Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 36 for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.
It is clear from Jesus’ words that the history of the world is divided into two ages. Jesus calls them here “this age” and “that age.” Elsewhere the New Testament speaks of that age as “the age to come” (Matt. 12:32; Mk. 10:30; Lk. 18:30; Eph. 1:21; Heb. 6:5). It is also clear these two ages are radically different. Four major differences are mentioned in this key passage. (1) The sons of this age marry but the sons of that age do not. (2) The sons of this age die but the sons of that age do not. (3) In this age, the sons of this age and the sons of God are mixed together in the world but in the age to come there are only sons of God. (4) The sons of this age are natural men but the sons of the age to come are sons of the resurrection.
The New Testament makes clear that the age to come begins with the resurrection of the righteous and that the resurrection of the righteous begins with the Second Coming of Christ. Matthew 13:37-43 is closely parallel and makes this exact point.
37 And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 “So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 “Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
Here is the same viewpoint as that found in Luke 20. In this age, good and evil men are mixed together. At the harvest or judgment, they are separated. Then, in the coming age, there are only righteous men in the state of resurrection. Verse 43 refers to the resurrection as its quotation of Daniel 12:1-3 makes clear.
But my point is this. What event brings about the new age and the kingdom of the Father? It is the Second Coming in glory. Until then this present, natural age continues with good and evil men mixed together in the world. What this passage teaches the New Testament everywhere teaches. This age ends and the new age comes with the Second Coming of Christ and the resurrection of the righteous which is always associated with it. Cf. Matthew 24:3; 28:20; Luke 18:30; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3; Titus 2:12-13.
It is in this two-age scheme that we have the backbone of biblical eschatology. In my book I argue that this scheme makes Premillennialism impossible. Premillennialists can neither place Revelation 20 (as they interpret it) in this age (which ends with the resurrection and Second Coming of Christ); nor can they place their version of the millennium in the age to come (since their millennium is not a perfected condition with only resurrected and righteous men inhabiting that age of the world).
But my point here is that systematic Postmillennialism also does not fit with this two-age scheme of the New Testament. It is not just that there are only two ages and not the three which systematic Postmillennialism (substantially) presumes. No, there is a much deeper problem.
What is it? It is the way that the New Testament describes this age in other places. We already know that it is an age in which good and evil men are mixed together till the end. But when the New Testament speaks of the characteristics of this age it raises significant stumbling blocks for Postmillennialism. Why? It is because it teaches that this age is and always will be an evil age.
The proposition here is, in other words, that the basic character of this age will always be morally evil. A number of the key passages where the two-age terminology is used require this conclusion. Luke 16:8 speaks of evil men as the sons of this age and contrasts them with the sons of light. Mark 10:30 teaches that those who have left all for Christ must always expect persecutions in this age. As long as this age lasts, then, persecution will be the lot of the true Christian. Romans 12:2 is Paul’s exhortation to Christians not to be conformed to this age. Such language plainly assumes that this age will always be an evil age. 2 Corinthians 4:4 asserts that Satan is “the god of this age”. It is, therefore, necessarily evil. Galatians 1:4 is Paul’s description of this age as a “present, evil age” from which the elect are to be delivered by the death of Christ. Ephesians 2:2 describes the former, wicked lives of Ephesian believers as a “walking according to the age of this world.”
Such passages as these presuppose and assume that this present age is, and always will be, evil. If this were not the case, there might come a day when the persecution of Christians would cease, when it would not be wrong to be conformed to this age, when Satan would not be its god, when Paul’s description of it as evil would cease to be true, and when one could walk according to the age of this world and be righteous. All this would defy, however, the plain implications of these passages.
Such passages confront postmillennialism with a serious difficulty. Postmillennialism teaches that good triumphs over evil in this age. Righteousness and peace in this age overcome unrighteousness and hatred according to postmillennialism. Postmillennialists may qualify their teaching by saying that they do not believe that this age will become perfect or that every single man will be converted. Still and nonetheless, their contention remains that, in substance, good triumphs over evil in this age. When the Bible, however, assumes that this age (that ends, as we have seen, only with the Second Coming of Christ) is and always will be evil, it teaches something that pointedly contradicts Postmillennialism. Let me conclude by trying to illustrate this with a diagram.
One more thing is necessary to say. I agree with Dr. White when he affirms that God will bring down everything that exalts itself against Christ. I agree with him that many of these defeats will come during this age. But the defeat of these enemies does not mean that a millennial golden age arises in their place. For 70 years the anti-God Communist ideology prevailed in the Soviet Union filling the world with terror. Christ brought the Soviet Union down! But this did not mean that a new Reformed and Evangelical Russia would rise in its place. Rather another dragon emerged out of the sea of this fallen world. The corrupt oligarchy led my Vladimir Putin came to power. My point is that the victories of Christ in this age are real, but they do not mean that a golden age is coming before the King Himself returns. They only mean that God preserves His people for the spread of His gospel and the building of the church. As Peter said in 2 Peter 2:9, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.” Messianic judgments are real and history-altering during this age, but they do not mean a millennium is coming before Christ returns in glory.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.