How optimistic are you about the future? Today, Barry Cooper examines one of the main views Christians have held about the end of the world, the glory of God’s kingdom, and the reign and return of Christ.
If you’re a follower of Christ, how optimistic are you about the future of this world we’re living in?
Many of us seem to grow more disillusioned about the prospects as we grow older. And I have to say, this is only amplified if you’re English. For nearly half a century now, I’ve watched our national team get repeatedly knocked out of major sporting tournaments on penalties, so in general, the English psyche has been carefully conditioned to always expect the worst. Our natural, ingrained tendency leans toward the pessimistic.
But postmillennials are defiantly optimistic, at least where it comes to the future of our world.
I talked about this in the episode about the Millennium, but biblically speaking, there are three main positions on how the world will end: premillennial, amillennial and postmillennial.
The three positions differ on when Jesus will return. So you’re premillennial if you believe Jesus will return before the millennium. (The millennium is the period of time described in Revelation when Christ will reign with His saints.) You’re amillennial if you don’t believe there will be a literal earthly millennium before Jesus returns. And you’re postmillennial if you think Jesus will return after the millennium, after the world has been successfully evangelized.
So those are the three main views on when Jesus will return.
Which of those three views you take will depend on your view of Revelation. And there are basically four ways to approach Revelation: Futurist, Historicist, Idealist, and Preterist.
Broadly speaking, the futurist – as you might expect – believes that the fulfilment of the prophecies in Revelation will happen exclusively in the future.
The historicist believes that the prophecies of Revelation have been gradually fulfilled across church history, starting with the time of John (who wrote Revelation) and proceeding up to the present day and on into the future until Jesus returns.
The idealist takes the view that the events of Revelation aren’t tied to particular historical events, but symbolically represent the ongoing struggle between good and evil.
The preterist believes that many or all of the events described in Revelation were in John’s immediate future – the first century AD in fact – and have therefore already been fulfilled in our past (the word preterist comes from the Latin meaning “past”.)
So-called “full” preterists believe that all the prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled in AD70, at the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. The problem with that, of course, is that this view implies there’s no future resurrection, and no future second coming of Christ. “Partial” preterists, by contrast, believe that most of the Revelation prophecies were fulfilled in the first century, but that there are still some events to come in the future, including the bodily resurrection of all believers, and the return of Christ to judge the living and the dead. This partial preterist view often coincides with a belief in postmillennialism.
Postmillennialism is an optimistic view of the future, and how the world will end. Postmillennials believe that the great commission – make disciples of all nations – is actually going to be fulfilled; that the nations will overwhelmingly turn to Jesus before He returns.
When a postmillennial prays the Lord’s Prayer, there is the real expectation that the following line will come to pass before Christ returns: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
One early statement of this postmillennial view comes in the the Savoy Declaration of 1658:
In the latter days, antichrist being destroyed, the Jews called, and the adversaries of the kingdom of his dear Son broken, the churches of Christ—being enlarged, and edified through a free and plentiful communication of light and grace—shall enjoy in this world a more quiet, peaceable, and glorious condition than they have enjoyed.
This optimistic postmillennial view has been held by a number of theological heavyweights, including John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Hodge.
Good will gradually triumph over evil. There won’t be a sudden 180, taking the world from overwhelmingly evil to overwhelmingly good, all in the moment of Christ’s return. Instead, across history, the kingdom of God has been growing, and it continues to grow even now, so that there will eventually be a glorious, extended period of time in which the rule of Christ will flourish on the earth. And after that, the Lord will return.
Which, for a curmudgeonly Englishman like me, is a very appealing thought.