*This series is a republication of lectures written by Dr. Waldron near the end of the 1980s. This is Part 9 of a series titled “Theonomy: A Reformed Baptist Assessment.”
For Part 1, you can click here: https://cbtseminary.org/theonomy-a-reformed-baptist-assessment-sam-waldron/
For Part 2, you can click here: https://cbtseminary.org/the-sources-of-theonomic-development-sam-waldron/
For Part 3, you can click here: https://cbtseminary.org/the-challenges-of-critiquing-theonomy-sam-waldron/
For Part 4, you can click here: https://cbtseminary.org/understanding-the-supposed-theocratic-kingdom-sam-waldron/
For Part 5, you can click here: https://cbtseminary.org/the-historical-background-of-theonomic-ethics-sam-waldron/
For Part 6, you can click here: https://cbtseminary.org/a-biblical-refutation-of-theonomic-ethics-sam-waldron/
For Part 7, you can click here: https://cbtseminary.org/a-reformed-alternative-to-theonomic-ethics-sam-waldron/
For Part 8, you can click here: https://cbtseminary.org/what-is-theonomic-postmillennialism-sam-waldron/
Theonomy: A Reformed Baptist Assessment
Theonomic Postmillennialism Critiqued | Sam Waldron
The insuperable difficulty which the Bible poses for Theonomic Postmillenialism has already been suggested by our study of the redemptive history of the Theocratic Kingdom. We have seen that the Theocratic Kingdom does not return visibly, externally, or politically till the return of Jesus Christ. Until that momentous event, the kingdom is primarily spiritual in character and finds its only external manifestation in the church, an ecclesiastical, rather than a civil, institution. Integral to the present situation is, then, the reality that the people of God are aliens in the present world system. They live surrounded by the consequences of the curse of God which destroyed the old Theocratic Kingdom. They live under the power of the fallible and sometimes hostile Gentile kingdoms. This is the present spiritual location of the people of God; and according to the teaching of the Bible this will be the spiritual location of the people of God till the return of Christ.
This redemptive-historical situation creates the strongest presumption against any form of Postmillenialism. The baggage of Postmillenialism, its predictions of political supremacy, economic prosperity, and cultural victory for the people of God, will not fit through the narrow gate which leads to life. This general perspective suggested by our study of the Theocratic Kingdom must now be given specific focus through addressing five issues relevant to Theonomic Postmillenialism.
I. The Two-Age Structure of Biblical Eschatology
The terminology, “this age and the age to come,” was in all probability developed by Jewish Scribes of the Inter-testamental period in order to give systematic structure to their view of Old Testament Prophecy. They noticed that again and again the present order of sin and distress was contrasted with a future order variously described as the era of Israel’s redemption, the age of salvation, or the Kingdom of God. This contrast they described by means of the distinction between this age and the age to come.
Its earliest usage in the extant evidence is, however, by Jesus. Clearly, Jesus and after Him His Apostles adopted this terminology and thereby sealed it with the divine imprimatur as the correct scheme of Old Testament Prophecy. This terminology or parts of it are used 18 times in the New Testament. Parallel phraseology adds many more occurrences to this list. This terminology is, therefore, pervasive in the New Testament and structural to its eschatological perspective.
The key word in this terminology is the Greek word áéùv. It combines the two ideas, age and world. That is to say, it is at one and the same time both a spatial and temporal designation (Gal. 1:4; Lk. 20:35). This in itself is intensely significant. For by using the phrase, “the age to come,” of the eternal state the Bible clearly designates it as a temporal and spatial existence.
Gary North repeatedly avails himself of the phraseology, “in time and on earth,” to speak of and insist upon the coming of millennial blessing in this age. Though one does not need to assume that North believes that the eternal state is a non-time and non-earth existence purely on the basis of his repeated usage of this phraseology, nonetheless it is symptomatic of a tendency among postmillennialists to refuse to allow the eternal state to count with reference to the fulfillment of the dominion mandate or the coming of kingdom blessings. More shall be said about this later, but let it suffice to say here that spatial and temporal existence in the New and Redeemed Earth does count in the Bible for the fulfillment of the dominion mandate and the historical culmination of God’s Kingdom. We agree with North that we need an eschatology of victory in time and on earth. This, however, does not mean that we need Postmillennialism.
Four statements must be made about the distinction between this age and the age to come if its polemic value against Postmillenialism is to be appreciated.
(1) This age and the age to come taken together exhaust all time, including the endless time of the eternal state. (Mt. 12:32, cf. Mk. 3:29; 10:30, parallel, Lk. 18:30, I Tim. 6:17-19).
This statement teaches us that the two ages, “this age and the age to come” originated at the beginning of human history and exhaust all periods of human existence to all eternity. If the two ages exhaust all possible time, there is no possibility of a state intermediate between them. There is no period of human history before “this age.” There is no period between “this age and the age to come.” There is no period after “the age to come.” It is eternal. Vos confirms this.
We have already seen that the distinction between “this age” and “the age to come” lies in the line of successiveness. Where, and as soon as, the one ceases, the other begins, or at least is at the point of beginning. The very name “coming aion” is not merely expressive of futurity, but also carries within itself the element of direct successiveness.
(2) This age and the age to come are qualitatively different states of human existence and qualitatively different periods in the history of the world.
This age does not evolve through natural or gradual process into the age to come. The difference is that between the natural and the supernatural order. The crucial passage here is Luke 20:27-40. What are the differences between this age and the age to come according to this passage?
- Marriage and giving in marriage.
- Death and dying.
- Natural men.
- Sons of the devil and righteous co-exist.
The Age to Come
- No marriage or giving in marriage.
- No death or dying.
- Resurrected men.
- Only sons of God exist in that age and in a resurrected state.
(3) This age and the age to come are divided by the second coming of Christ which ends this age and inaugurates the age to come.
Luke 20:35 teaches that attaining to that age is equivalent to attaining to the resurrection of the dead. The resurrection is the door out of this age, and into the age to come. When does the resurrection occur? It occurs according to the pervasive teaching of the New Testament at Christ’s return (1 Cor. 15:22, 23; 1 Cor. 15:50-55; 1 Thes. 4:16). Matthew 13:39-43 refers to the same event as Lk. 20:35. They are clearly a reference to the second coming of Christ. Mark 10:30 asserts that in the age to come we receive eternal life. This occurs at Christ’s second coming (Mt. 25:31 with vs. 46.). Titus 2:12 clearly implies that the second coming consummates this age and brings in the age to come in its fullness (Mt. 28:20).
John 6:39 says, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that of all that he has given me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” On the basis of the scriptural evidence we have now examined we may assert that the last day of this age is the day of Christ’s second coming and it is the first day of the age to come. Thus, we come again to the conclusion that there is no period between this age and the age to come.
One point of application is appropriate here. Biblical eschatology involves an emphatic supernaturalism. There is no evolution into the age to come. No naturalistic or materialistic explanation for the glory that shall be revealed. Furthermore, no spiritual progression brings in the consummate Kingdom of God.
(4) This age is and always will be an evil age.
In Luke 16:8 evil men are called the sons of this age and contrasted with the sons of light. In Mark 10:30 and Luke 18:30 we learn that those who have left all for Christ can always expect persecutions in this age. As long as this age lasts persecution will be the lot of true Christians. In Romans 12:2 Paul exhorts Christians not to be conformed to this age. How could Paul have used such language if he did not believe that this age will always be an evil age? In 2 Cor. 4:4 Satan is identified as the god of this age. It is therefore necessarily evil. In Galatians 1:4 Paul calls this age a present, evil age. In Ephesians 2:2 Paul describes the former, wicked lives of Ephesians believers as 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 defies the plain implications and presuppositions of these passages.
All of this, of course, has direct application to any form of postmillennialism, but it also has specific application to Theonomic postmillennialism. No Postmillenialist has yet shown, no Postmillenialist of any brand‑-theonomic or otherwise‑-can show how the golden age they expect at the end of this age is consistent with these plain assertions of the Bible.
II. The Two-stage Coming of God’s Kingdom
Properly understood, no more complete or clear teaching on the coming of the kingdom occurs in the New Testament than that of the seven parables of the kingdom found in Matthew 13. It is peculiarly appropriate that we should examine these parables since Gary North makes them the subject of extended comment in Unconditional Surrender.
The theme of these parables is pervasively present in Matthew 13. It is the Kingdom, or more precisely, the coming of the Kingdom. Cf. verses 11, 16, 17, 19, 24, 31, 32, 44, 45, 52. There are four things we must notice in these parables.
(1) Their Common Emphasis
The common emphasis of these parables flows from the fact that they all address the same problem or question. This question flowed out of the historical situation in which Jesus and his disciples found themselves. The Jews in general conceived of the coming of the Kingdom as a glorious deliverance from all their troubles. Political and temporal victory would be its results (John 6:15; Acts 5:35-39). Even those Jews with a more spiritual expectation like that of John the Baptist viewed its coming as equivalent to the judgment of the wicked with irresistible might (Mt. 3:2-12). In such a context, Jesus came preaching the nearness and then the actual coming of the Kingdom (Mt. 4:17; 12:28, 29). A man like John the Baptist gladly embraced Jesus as the one who would usher in the glorious and irresistible coming of the Kingdom. But when Jesus continued to preach and even preach the actual presence of the Kingdom (Mt. 12:28f) without the onset of the glorious consummation, John the Baptist with such preconceptions began to have doubts (Matt. 11:2-6, 11). Verse 11 of Matthew 13 refers to knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom. If a man like John would struggle with the seeming inconsistency of Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom with what the Old Testament itself had led the Jews to expect (Dan. 2:44), Jesus’ disciples would not be immune to the same doubts. The question was: How could the all-conquering, glorious eschatological Kingdom of God be present in the former carpenter turned itinerant preacher and his Galilean followers? Compare Ladd:
The Sitz im Leben of the parable is Jesus’ announcement that the Kingdom of God had come among men. The Jews thought that the coming of the Kingdom would mean the exercise of God’s mighty power before which no man could stand. The Kingdom of God would batter the godless nations (Dan. 2:44). The dominion of wicked rulers would be destroyed and the Kingdom be given to the saints of the Most High, that all nations should serve and obey them (Dan. 7:27). In apparent disagreement with the Old Testament promises, which were elaborated in great detail in the contemporary apocalyptic expectations, Jesus said that the Kingdom had indeed come upon men, but not for the purpose of shattering evil. It is now attended by no apocalyptic display of irresistible power.
The common emphasis of these parables is that the Kingdom has come and is present, but that this is inseparably related to its future, glorious consummation. It is present in its initial phase, in other words, in a form mostly unexpected by the Jews.
(2) Their Specific Emphases
Each of the parables picks up this common emphasis and elaborates it in its own peculiar fashion.
The Parable of the Four Soils teaches that the Kingdom of heaven is present in the sowing of the Word of God. The emphasis is elaborated in two directions. First, the presence of the Kingdom is consistent with the rejection of the Word and its consequent fruitlessness in the lives of some who hear it. Ladd remarks,
Rather, the Kingdom in its present working is like a farmer sowing seed. It does not sweep away the wicked. In fact, the word in which the Kingdom is proclaimed may lie like seed on the roadside and never take root; or it may be superficially received only to die; or it may be choked by the cares of the age, which is hostile to the Kingdom of God.
If the Kingdom is present as sowing, such fruitlessness is to be expected. Even the best seed does not always bear fruit.
The second direction in which this emphasis is elaborated vindicates the identity of the seed as kingdom seed. The presence of the Kingdom is vindicated by the amazing fruitfulness of the Word in those who receive it. They do bear fruit thrity, sixty, and a hundredfold.
The Parable of the Tares elaborates what was implicit in the Parable of the four Soils. The Kingdom of God comes in two stages. It will come as the eschatological harvest, but it must for that very reason come first as seed-time. Extraordinary as the thought was to the Jewish mind, good and evil men will co-exist in the world in the time of the Kingdom. The coming of the Kingdom does not mean the immediate destruction of the wicked. The Messiah comes first as sower then as harvester. It is not his will that the wicked be immediately destroyed. Ladd remarks,
The meaning of the parable is clear when interpreted in terms of the mystery of the Kingdom: its present but secret working in the world. The Kingdom has come into history but in such a way that society is not disrupted. The sons of the Kingdom have received God’s reign and entered into its blessings. Yet they must continue to live in this age, intermingled with the wicked in a mixed society. Only at the eschatological coming of the Kingdom will the separation take place. Here is indeed the revelation of a new truth: that the Kingdom of God can actually come into the world, creating sons who enjoy its blessings without effecting the eschatological judgment.
The Parable of the Dragnet is almost, if not completely, synonymous with that of the Tares. Not only in agriculture, but also in fishing, two distinct phases occur. First, there is gathering, then there is separating. Until the time of separation, good and bad co-exist together.
The Parables of the Treasure and the Pearl provide two related emphases. First, Jesus intimates that the Kingdom is present in a hidden and unexpected form. Note the reference in v. 44 to the “treasure hidden in the field” and in v. 45 to “finding one pearl”. Second, Jesus declares that in order to possess the Kingdom there will be the need of total sacrifice. To a Jew with ideas of a glorious, earthly kingdom, possessing the Kingdom meant glory, riches, fame, and honor. Jesus says a flat “no” to that idea. Possessing the Kingdom would rather mean the total sacrifice of this world’s possessions.
The Parables of the Mustard Seed and Leaven emphasize again that the Kingdom comes in two phases. More especially, Jesus is affirming that the present, apparent insignificance of he himself and his followers is no bar to their being the present manifestation of that Kingdom which would one day attain supreme dominance. Jesus’ answer is first the seed, then the tree. First the absurdly small bit of leaven in over a bushel of meal and then the whole leavened. Ladd says,
The burning question faced by Jesus’ disciples was how the Kingdom of God could actually be present in such an insignificant movement as that embodied in his ministry. The Jews expected the Kingdom to be like a great tree under which nations would find shelter. They could not understand how one could talk about the Kingdom apart from such an all-encompassing manifestation of God’s rule. How could the coming glorious Kingdom have anything to do with the poor little band of Jesus’ disciples? Rejected by the religious leaders, welcomed by tax collectors and sinners, Jesus looked more like a deluded dreamer than the bearer of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus answer is, first the tiny seed, later the large tree. The smallness and relative insignificance of what is happening in his ministry does not exclude the secret presence of the very Kingdom of God.
The parallel with the parables of the tares and dragnet shows that the ultimate triumph in view is that of the age to come, the consummate Kingdom. It is not the golden age of the Post-millennialists.
While rejecting the post-millennial interpretation of these parables, the question of whether Jesus is here emphasizing the growth of the Kingdom must still be answered. In other words, Jesus’ primary stress is on the beginning and the end, but does he also stress the middle period, the growth of the Kingdom? Ladd rejects this idea of process.
We believe that it is present. The idea of a process of growth does not, however, demand Postmillenialism. There may be progress without Postmillenialism. The framework of seed-time and harvest illustrates the idea of a process of maturation. It is noteworthy, however, that such a process of maturation by itself would never bring harvest. There must be the direct intervention of the harvester.
(3) Their Comprehensive Teaching
Taken together these parables give us a comprehensive view of the Kingdom. With respect to the prospects of the Kingdom during this age, both pessimism and unalloyed optimism must be rejected. A realistic optimism is, however, warranted by these parables. Growth and progress will occur, but not such growth or progress as will supersede the problems which confronted the early followers of Jesus and their faith. For many, the word will continue fruitless. Good and evil will continue to co-exist in the world and in the community created by the Kingdom. Sacrifice will always be the order of the day for those who would possess the Kingdom. Yet, in many, the word will cause extraordinary and fruitful effects and over-all growth will continue.
(4) Their Present Relevance
North–to do justice to him–does emphasize the idea of historical continuity contained in these parables. He rejects any Premillennial and by implication any Postmillennial disruption of the historical continuity which these parables teach will obtain until the absolute consummation. He, of course, also emphasizes the growth of the Kingdom as it is set forth in the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven. It is, however, at this point that North’s treatment becomes imbalanced. The fact is that two other ideas are taught very clearly in these parables. One is the continuance of evil in the present phase of the Kingdom with its concomitant impact on the Kingdom, i.e. widespread fruitlessness in the preaching of the Word, persecution and the necessity of sacrifice in this age. This is the special emphasis of the parable of the tares, but it is the implication of several of the other parables. This growth of evil in this age is also the explicit teaching of other passages in the NT (2 Thes. 2:7, 8; 2 Tim. 3:1, 12, 13; Rev. 20:7-9). It is when North negates these realities by distorting the emphasis on growth in the parables of the kingdom that he departs from the analogy of Scripture. This distortion and departure becomes evident in the following passages in Unconditional Surrender.
Satan’s kingdom is being conquered by the gospel, not by the sheer force of God’s angelic host. The terms of surrender are ethical. The offer of salvation is not being made to Satan’s angelic host, but to his earthly troops. Christians are steadily seeing the defeat of Satan’s human forces, for Satan suffers continual defections. As the power of the gospel increases its zone of sovereign mastery, even more will defect. He will have only the remnants of any army when the final trumpet sounds. He will be trying to hold the fort in the last outpost. And the gates of hell shall not prevail. . . .
Seventh, the treaty of peace is extended to all areas of those cultures that surrender to God unconditionally. The whole of society must be put under dominion. Societies can rule under God’s sovereign authority, as Israel was called to do, or they can become tributaries to God’s conquering kingdom, as the nations far from Israel were expected to do (Deuteronomy 20:10-11), or else they are to be destroyed (Deuteronomy 20:12-15). There is no “King’s X,” no escape hatch. . . .
Theonomists like North and Rushdoony refuse to accept the Biblical paradox of the parallel growth of good and evil in the present age. Their dialectic sees only two alternatives: “pessimillennialism” or postmillennialism, optimism or pessimism. It is because of this artificial dichotomy that Rushdoony repeatedly lumps amillennialism with the most pessimistic forms of premillennialism. While it is true that some forms of amillennialism do tend to be quite pessimistic, there is an alternative to the alternating pessimism and optimism of chiliastic expectations. It is the optimistic realism of Biblical amillennialism.
There are perhaps two reasons why Theonomists have failed to understand or embrace the Biblical paradox of the parallel growth of good and evil in the present age. The first is that they have equated the kingdom of God with the whole of society. While it is true that the gospel does have ripple effects on society, it is wrong to equate the kingdom of God with any institution except the visible church. The concentration of Theonomy on the economic, social, cultural, and political ramifications of the Word of God is symptomatic of their depreciation of the visible church.
The second reason why Theonomists have failed to embrace this paradox is rejection of the biblical logic which it embodies. There is a theological logic behind the parallel growth of good and evil in the present age. Simply stated, it is this. Biblically, both good and evil are capable of maturation individually, corporately, and historically. Evil matures as it rejects light and is progressively hardened. Good matures as it progressively recognizes and rejects evil. It is in the very interaction of light and darkness that this maturing process takes place. In a certain sense it is the very growth of good, the more brilliant shining of light, which is responsible for driving historical evil to its wicked consummation.
III. The Single Focus of the Christian Hope
It is beyond dispute that the practical effect of Theonomic rhetoric is to fix the attention and expectation of Christians upon the Christianized world of postmillennialism in order to motivate Christians to cultural labor to that great goal. In Rushdoony’s The Meaning of Postmillennialism: God’s Plan for Victory everything conspires to fasten the Christian’s labors and hopes on this millennial blessing. To North’s credit, in Unconditional Surrender he seeks to be more balanced. Alongside of the millennial world, he repeatedly stresses the consummate state.
Fifteenth, God creates the final version of the new heaven and new earth, wherein grows the tree of eternal life (Revelation 22:2). Men now have access to it. No longer is it in Eden, with a flaming sword to keep men from gaining access to it on the basis of their own works and power (Genesis 3:24). He demonstrates that His down payment on this final dwelling place had been wholly reliable.
Even this quotation, however, shows the practical dualism of the Theonomic hope.
It is the contention of this assessment of Theonomy that there is something profoundly amiss in such dualistic expectations. For as the NT interprets OT prophecy and as it repeatedly stresses the hope of the Christian, one can only speak of that hope as having a single focus. Whatever expectations there may be for this age are merely anticipations of the age to come and the overwhelmingly dominant focus is on the age to come.
This is perhaps most evident if one does a simple word study on hope in the NT. When hope is thought of as an objective goal, (and not as a grace or internal attitude) the single focus is upon the age to come. Its central focus is the resurrection of the body, Acts 23:6, 7; Acts 24:15, 26:6-8, 1 Cor. 15:19-22, 1 Thes. 4:13-16. Its broader context is the redeemed earth, Rom. 8:18-25. Its present location is heaven, 1 Pet. 1:3, 4; Col. 1:5, where it is stored securely until Christ brings it to us in His glorious return, Phil. 3:20, 21; Col. 3:1-3, 1 Pet. 1:13. Its future revelation comes by the personal agency of Jesus Christ at His second coming, 1 Peter 1:13, 1 Thes. 4:13-5:3, Rom. 8:20-25, Tit. 2:11-13, 1 Jn. 3:2,3. Its various descriptions all underscore its connection with the second coming and the resurrection. It is glory, Rom. 5:2, 8:21, 2 Cor. 3:12, Col. 1:27, eternal life, 1 Tim. 6:17-19, Tit. 1:2, 3:7, open justification, Gal. 5:5, 2 Tim. 4:8, perfected image-bearing, I Jn. 3:2, salvation, 1 Thes. 5:8, 9, Christ 1 Thes. 2:19, 5:10, Tit. 2:13, and grace, 1 Pet. 1:13, Jude 21. There are passages where the word, hope, is given a temporal application, Phil. 1:20, 1 Tim. 5:5, Rom. 4:17-21, 2 Cor. 1:8-10. There is no fear, however, that millennial blessings will be found in these passage
When the hope of Theonomy is compared to the hope of the NT, the contrast is stark. Without asserting or desiring to assert that the Christian has no hope to see the gospel advance, the church built, and even ripples of righteousness spread through society, there simply is no question in the NT that all such hopes are distinctly and vastly secondary and subordinate to “the blessed hope.”
Perhaps the classicus locus of the Christian hope is found in Rom. 8:18-25 which contains Paul’s famous statement that “we have been saved in hope.” (Rom. 8;24). This passage warrants closer examination because it connects the Christian hope to the subject of the lifting of the curse. This is significant because Gary North also connects his hope with the lifting of the curse.
Eleventh, the kingdom of God becomes truly worldwide in scope. This involves the beginning of the restoration of the cursed world. The curse will then be lifted progressively by God. One result is longer life spans for man. This is a down payment on the paradise to come after the final judgment. God says: “For, behold I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17). But this process of creation is part of history, to be concluded by the final conflagration. It has preliminary visibility, in time and one earth. How do we know this? Because of verse 20, one of the crucial teachings in the Bible concerning God’s preliminary blessings: “There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being a hundred years old shall be accursed.” Isaiah 65:20 therefore points to a time before the final judgment, when people still die and sinners still operate, but which resembles the long life spans of these who lived before Noah’s Flood. This passage cannot possibly be referring to the world beyond the final judgment, yet it points to external blessings, namely, long life, that do not exist in our wold. These words cannot legitimately be “spiritualized.” They refer to life on earth. They refer to a specific blessing on earth. It is a blessing that is a down payment on paradise, a testimony of God that He can deliver this fallen cursed world. This testimony, however, is not based on a radical break with the processes of history, but is instead a testimony that stems from the steady expansion of God’s kingdom. This is continuity in history, and there is also progress in external affairs. This is not some hypothetical internal kingdom, but a visible kingdom of flesh and blood.
The language of North is clear. At a future point when the kingdom has become worldwide, then God will begin to progressively lift the curse. This is interesting. Though North, as we have seen, is theoretically committed to the idea of historical continuity till the consummation of the age, here he speaks of an event not taking place at present, the lifting of the curse on this world, which can only be described as having the quality of redemptive discontinuity. The only qualitatively different lifting of the curse which the Bible views as yet future is that described in Rom. 8:18f. There it is clearly associated and coincident with “the glory that is to be revealed” (v. l8), “the revealing of the sons of God” (v. l9), “creation itself being set free into the glory of the children of God” (v. 21), and “our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (v. 25).
Clearly, it is difficult to keep postmillennialism tidily within the bounds of the historical continuity taught in the Bible!
IV. The Correct Interpretation of Isa. 65:17-25
North in asserting that the curse is lifted prior to the Second Coming of Christ cites Isa. 65:17-25. This passage is arguably the classic locus of postmillennialism. There are three considerations which are conclusive against the post-millennial and Theonomic interpretation of this passage.
- It ignores the NT interpretation of this prophecy.
No interpretation which fails to begin with an appreciation for the necessity of interpreting the Old Testament after the analogy set in the NT is safe. This is especially so when the NT itself repeatedly asserts the comparative dimness and shadow-like character of the Old Testament and its prophecy. (Cf. Heb. 1:1, 2, 10:1, 1 Pet. 1:10-12.) It, therefore, may not be ignored or even treated as irrelevant when the NT repeatedly interprets the language of this passage as referring to the eternal state. The mention of a new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem in Isa. 65:17, 18 are used of the consummate and eternal condition of God’s kingdom in 2 Pet. 3:1-13 and Rev. 21:1, 2. The cessation of “weeping and the sound of crying” is unknown in the NT until Christ ushers in the eternal state. Then echoes of this language reverberate in Rev. 21:4. The perfect termination of evil and the harm it causes in God’s holy mountain is fulfilled only in the new earth and the new Jerusalem where nothing unclean enters and there is no more curse, Rev. 21:27, 22:3. It may be safely asserted that NT never applies the language of Isa. 65:17-25 to millennial blessings.
- It is unable to do justice to key elements of this prophecy.
Is it really the case, we would inquire of the postmillennialists, that you expect in your millennium a condition which is “forever” (Isa. 65:18), in which “there will no longer be heard in her the voice of weeping and the sound of crying” (Isa. 65:19), and in which “the wolf and the lamb shall graze together and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain” (Isa. 65:25), and all this, furthermore, understood not in a spiritual sense, but in the very literal sense advocated by North? Theonomic postmillennialists, at least, advocate no such millennium, we are glad to say, but by that very fact they are not consistent or coherent in their interpretation of Isa. 65.
- It forgets the Old Testament character of this passage.
It is a recognized principle of the interpretation of Old Testament prophecy among Reformed commentators that in the Old Testament the blessings of the age of resurrection were much less clearly revealed and were often spoken of in terms familiar to Old Testament Israel. So here in Isaiah 65 the blessings of eternal life are held out under the shadow of extended longevity of earthly life and blessing as we know it in this age.
V. The Practical Significance of the Dominion Mandate
From the previous quotations of North and Rushdoony, it is clear that they would charge the eschatological stance outlined in this section as discouraging Christian men from diligent labor to apply the law of God in the world and to advance the righteousness of the kingdom. In other words, it takes the heart out of men for fulfilling the “dominion mandate.”
The issue now confronted is a difficult and vexed one. Reactionary views, like Carl McIntire’s denial of the creation mandate must be avoided. There is a dominion mandate and it is relevant in the present age. With John Murray we find it impossible to see how any Biblical and Reformed Christian can evade this responsibility. Murray writes,
By the term, The Christian World Order, I take it that what is meant is a world order that in all its aspects and spheres is Christian, an order so conformed to the principals of Christianity, and so pervaded by the forces that are operative in Christianity, that the whole of life will be brought into willing captivity to the obedience of Christ. . . .
Our dilemma would seem to be indeed perplexing. If we have to wait for the supernatural forces that Christ’s advent will bring in its train before the order of absolute right and holiness will be ushered in, is there any sense in speaking of a Christian world order except as an eschatological hope? Particularly and most practically, is there good sense in working towards the establishment of a Christian order when we know that, in the completeness of its conception, it is not attainable in what we generally call this life?
We must be bold to say that the Christian revelation does not allow us to do anything less than to formulate and work towards a Christian world order in the life that we now live. It is not difficult to demonstrate the validity and even necessity of this thesis.
The standard of thought and the rule of conduct for us are divine obligation. The rule and standard for us are the irreducible claims and demands of the divine sovereignty, and these irreducible claims are that the sovereignty of God and of his Christ be recognized and applied in the whole range of life, of interest, of vocation and of activity. That is just saying that the demands of the divine sovereignty make it impossible for us to evade the obligation to strive with all our heart and soul and strength and mind for the establishment of an order that will bring to realization all the demands of God’s majesty, supremacy and kingship. And this, in a word, is simply the full fruition of the kingdom of God, wherever we are, and in the whole compass of thought, word and action.
But, since we have fallen, and since the only way now whereby the claims of the divine sovereignty can even begin to be realized within the compass of our responsibilities is through the redemptive and mediatorial work of Christ, then there rests upon us, with like universal and unrelaxed stringency, the obligation to bring to bear upon the whole compass of life the supernatural and redemptive forces that are inherent in the Christian redemption and revelation. And this is just saying that the ideal and goal imposed upon us by the kingship and kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is nothing less than Christian world order. To recede from this conception and aim is to abandon what is impled in the prayer Christ taught his disciples to pray, ‘Thy kingdom come, They will be done in earth, as it is in heaven’ (Matt. 6:10). And it is to renounce what is overtly expressed in the words of the apostle, ‘For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mightily through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ’ (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
Let it be duly noted that the eschatology assumed and advocated in this assessment of Theonomy warrants the expectation of a measure of success in this age in fulfilling the dominion mandate. Christian achievements may be partial and will certainly be transitory in this present, evil age, but they are not less admirable–but more!–for all that.
Something more must be said, however. Rushdoony remarks,
The kind of faith we have governs the whole of our lives, and our total outlook. How we view God and Christ will determine how we view ourselves, our calling, and the end times. Our view of the end, of eschatology, depends to a large measure on our view of the beginning, and of all history, and on our doctrine of God and salvation. Theology is a seamless garment, and a man’s views of the end times is inseparable from his view of God. If he changes his mind on the one, he changes his mind on the other.
With this view of theology we certainly agree. Thus, we cannot help but conclude that Theonomic postmillennialism must produce a skewed and imbalanced view of the Christian’s relative responsibilities in the world. There is visible in their writings a depreciation of “soul-saving” and the church in favor of the dominion mandate with its emphasis on the familial, economic, and civil spheres of life. Rushdoony’s own life and writings are, perhaps, the most glaring illustration of this dangerous imbalance. North’s comments about Rushdoony in his response to Christianity Today. Remarks like the following in Rushdoony’s Institutes do nothing to calm one’s fears of imbalance.
In spite of the early and excellent statement, Protestantism has by and large by-passed the law as the way of sanctification in favor of the “impulse of self-devised devotion.” Moreover, the more it has followed in this course, the more self-righteous and pharisaic has it become, a natural course where men make the word of God of none effect through their traditions (Matt. 15:6-9). The sanctified person in Protestantism is too often a sanctimonious law-breaker who goes to Sunday School, attends church twice each Sunday, prayer-meeting in the week, gives testimonies when asked, and is amazed if he is told that the law of God, rather than man-made spiritual exercises, constitutes the way of sanctification. Many preachers stress long hours of prayer as a mark of holiness, in plain defiance of Christ’s condemnation of those who thought, with their long prayers, they would “be heard for their much speaking.” (Matt. 6:7)
In Arminian churches, and especially the so-called “holiness churches (Pentecostal and others), sanctification is associated with various emotional binges, which are far closer to the methods of ancient Baal worship, which, in its extreme, went into cutting and even castrating oneself (1 Kings 18:28). . . .
We are glad to say that North’s attitudes about the church appear far less extreme in Unconditional Surrender, yet statements which provoke deep concern still remain.
. . . The doctrine of predestination can lead to social impotence if it is coupled with pessimism concerning the long-run triumph of the church, in time and on earth. Those who hold both the doctrine of predestination and an eschatology of earthy, historical defeat have a tendency to run inward, both psychologically and ecclesiastically. They worry too much about the state of their souls and the state of the institutional church, and not enough about the state of the kingdom of God in its broadest sense. . . .
Theonomists may at this point want to remind us that there is no ultimate dichotomy between “soul-saving” and the church on the one hand, and the dominion mandate on the other. With this, of course, we agree. We would, however, remind them that it is they themselves who have made this dichotomy when they said things like that quoted above.
The Parable of the Sower implies the germinal power, the amazing fruitfulness of the Word (Matt. 13:8, 23). But note that growth and progress co-exists with the reality of fruitlessness in this parable. The parallel occurrence of the Parable of the Mustard Seed in Mark 4:30-32 gives a clearer emphasis to the idea of growth by its use of three, durative present tenses in verse 32. The context of Mark 4:30-32 points to the idea of growth. Cf. the parable found in 4:26-29. The term, áõôoìáôç, and the delineation of three stages of growth point up the idea of growth. (4) The context of the Parable of the Mustard Seed as it is found in Luke 13:18-20. Note the connection between verse 10-17 and verses 18-20. Those verses emphasize the present power of Jesus’ word to heal the sick, humiliate his enemies and gladden the multitude with the word of salvation. (5) The allusion to such parables as that of the mustard seed in Col. 1:6, 10, 11 confirms the presence of the growth idea in them.
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.