Does the Growth of the Kingdom Require Postmillennialism?
I mentioned in my last post that there are passages which the Postmillenialists might complain I am overlooking. Let me reassure my postmillennial friends that I am not. These passages are exactly the ones that make me an Optimistic Amillennialist. Let me explain.
I did not mention two of the seven, great Parables of the Kingdom in Matthew 13. They are the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matt. 13:31; Mark 4:31; Luke 13:19) and the Parable of the Leaven (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:21). Both of them teach (and in my view teach clearly) that there will be a vast growth of the kingdom during the gospel age.
Similar are the implications of the promises and predictions Christ’s makes in Matthew 16:16-19 with regard to both the building of the church and the prevailing of the church against the gates of Hades. These are glorious and encouraging promises of the success of the gospel through the church and beginning in this age.
Other passages add to this emphasis on the progress of the kingdom. There is the Parable of the Seed Growing by Itself in Mark 4:26-29. There is also the suggestion in Ephesians 4:12-15 of the maturation of the church throughout the gospel age. Once more in Colossians 1:6 such growth is suggested.
Dr. White sees the inevitable progress of the kingdom in Psalm 2, Psalm 110, Isaiah 42, and 1 Corinthians 15:20-28. Let me affirm this. I see it in those passages too.
Clearly, Postmillennialists will not argue against my seeing growth and progress for the kingdom in these passages. They will wonder, however, how I avoid what they think are the inevitable, postmillennial implications of these passages. I think that this question is reasonable. I also think that it is answerable. What is that answer?
Both Grow Together
Jesus gives us the answer Himself and nowhere more clearly than in the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds.
Here is the telling of the parable …
24 Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 “But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. 26 “But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. 27 “The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 “And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ 29 “But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 ‘Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘”
Here is the interpretation of the parable (which comes a few verses later) …
36 Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”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.
Jesus’s key statement is found in Matthew 13:30: “Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘” This is the answer of the Lord of the Harvest to a question of His servants. To their query whether they should hoe up the weeds that the enemy had sown, He replies that both wheat and weeds should be allowed to grow together until the harvest.
The error of the postmillennial use of all the growth and progress passages is here exposed. They assume that the growth of the wheat (the sons of the kingdom) during the gospel age means the withering of the weeds (the sons of the evil one). This assumption seems obvious to them, of course, but it is contrary to the teaching and assumption of Jesus. Jesus thinks that both good and evil will keep growing and grow together till the end of the age.
This view seems strange to us. This logic is contrary to our limited logic. There is, however, a deep truth in it. Evil gets worse just because good gets better. Good must get better in response to the putrid evil of the wicked; or it will be overcome.
This growth of both good and evil together is also the implication of other passages. Allow me to set aside for now the Preterist interpretation of Matthew 24. I will deal with it later. Let me say only what seems obvious to me and many Christians. Somehow this passage speaks not just of the Destruction of Jerusalem, but also of the Second Coming of Christ and the whole “inter-adventual” period or gospel age. Understood in this way, the passage teaches that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world in the midst of the darkness, chaos, and turmoil of the present age predicted in Matthew 24:1-36. Matthew 24:14 reads: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
Similarly, when Christ is on the throne, He has ascended in Revelation 5 and breaks the seals on the book which contains the end of the world. There is once more the progress of the gospel in the midst of trouble and chaos.
Though I make no claim to understand everything in the Book of Revelation, it seems to me that Revelation 5 and 6 do speak clearly of the enthronement of Christ at His resurrection. When in Revelation 6 you have the breaking of the seals on the book, it seems clearly to speak of the characteristics of this age. Yes, there is in the first seal Christ on the white horse winning gospel victories throughout the world, but these gospel victories do not appear to create a golden age in the period between Christ’s first and second advents. Rather, these gospel victories are gained in the midst of turmoil and distress. The second seal looses war on the world (Rev. 6:4). The third seal looses famine on the world (Rev. 6:5-6). The fourth seal looses mass death on the world (Rev. 6:7-8). The fifth seal returns to the plight of the saints in the gospel age and speaks of the reality of martyrdom (Rev. 6:9-11). The sixth seal speaks of the impending judgment which hangs over this age. The seventh seal brings us to the seven trumpets which warn of judgment and the next picture of this age. In the interim between the sixth and seventh seals there is perhaps a picture of the gathering of the elect, but there is no picture of millennial glory during or at the end of the gospel age.
Yes, the gospel wins victories throughout the world, but this does not create a golden age. Those victories are won in a day of darkness and difficulty.
Get Off the Millennial Teeter-totter
Postmillennialism is actually guilty of the equal and opposite error committed by Premillennialism and Pessimillennialism. Premillennialists look at all the passages that speak of the growth and progress of evil during this age. Evil men will get worse (2 Timothy 3:13). The mystery of iniquity already works (2 Thessalonians 2:7). The time of tribulation and the antichrist are coming at the very end of the age (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 8, 9; Revelation 20:9-10). They deduce from all this that dark days of apostasy are ahead for the church. They deduce from this that the church age will end in failure like all the other dispensations.
But they are wrong to think this way. The growth and progress of evil does not mean that the good seed stops growing or withers. Both grow together until the harvest!
But in exactly the same way and for exactly the same reason the postmillennial deduction from the passages that teach growth and progress is wrong. The growth of the good seed does not mean the withering of the evil seed until a golden age of peace, prosperity, and righteousness dominates the world. Both grow together until the harvest!
Yes, the kingdom will one day rule the world. Yes, Christ will defeat all of His enemies. But this final victory awaits His return. Only then is the last enemy destroyed. The teaching of the Bible is the progress of the kingdom in this age and the triumph of the kingdom in the age to come. Both grow together until the harvest!
I am, then, an Optimistic Amillennialist. I am very optimistic about the progress of the gospel throughout the world. I am very optimistic about the church being built throughout the world. I am not optimistic about the world. It will suffer under the growing of the weeds until harvest comes. Then there will come a new world in which righteousness dwells, but not until then. Growth never brings harvest. Only harvest (and the glorious return of the Lord of the harvest) brings harvest.
What does the key passage—Revelation 20—actually teach about the millennium?
There is one and only one passage in the Bible which explicitly speaks of the millennium. It seems necessary, therefore, to ask what Revelation 20 actually teaches about it. Of course, it is true that this passage has been a crux of New Testament interpretation for 2000 years.
I think, however, that I may assume that my postmillennial friends with me reject the literalism and weirdness of the premillennial interpretation of this passage in all its forms. I think they must also agree with me that this passage is crucial for our understanding of the millennium. Therefore, we must ask, Is the millennium here a golden age at the end of the gospel age?
It is obvious to me that the thousand years is not a period at the end of the gospel age. It is the gospel age. The thousand years begins with the binding of Satan. Once the literalism of Premillennialists is rejected; once the necessity of interpreting this passage according to the analogy of Scripture is accepted; then it is obvious that this binding of Satan took place at the time of Christ’s first advent and resurrection. Matthew 12:28-29; Luke 10:17-19; John 12:31-32; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 John 3:8; Revelation 12:10-15—all of these passages lead to the interpretation which sees the binding of Satan as beginning the gospel age and the spread of the gospel throughout the world.
On the other hand, there is no parallel passage which suggests a future, interim binding of Satan. Let me say that again. There are zero passages in the whole Bible that suggest that in the future, for a temporary period of time, Satan will be bound. On the other hand, there are seven clear passages which teach that he was bound by the events of Christ’s first advent. And this observation spells doom for both Premillenialism and Postmillennialism.
In particular, this is true for Postmillennialism. This passage teaches that the millennium began with Christ’s resurrection and is not a future golden age before Christ comes back. Whatever the millennium is, the fact is that we have been in it for 2000 years! This is not the postmillennial understanding of the matter.
Yet further, I noticed that at the end of the millennium of Revelation 20 there was a little season characterized by the loosing of Satan and a worldwide assault on the church. I find this also in 2 Thessalonians 2. There are a number of interesting parallels between 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 20. Both speak of the restraint of evil for a period. Both speak of the loosing of evil on the world at a future time just before the Second Coming of Christ. Both speak of this time as a period of terrible deception. Both speak of the final destruction of evil by Christ at His Second Coming. Thus, in both passages, there is a little season of trouble for the church. During this little season, the antichrist appears in the midst of a great rebellion or apostasy against God. This ending of the gospel age in a global persecution of the church under the man of lawlessness seems clear in these passages. It does not, it seems to me, comport with the picture of the future painted by Postmillennialists.
Now, at this point, I am quite certain that, if my postmillennial friends are still reading, they have some questions they want to ask me. I have implied something other than a preterist understanding of Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonians 2. I will take that up in my next post where I discuss the problems with Orthodox Preterism.
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.