(Part 2 of 2 posts)
God's prophetic word is power. It is not raw power, however. Neither is it brute force. Rather it is structured, sovereign might. It is guided by divinely ordained creational principle and covenantal promise. It will secure the end toward which it moves: "So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it" (Isa. 55:11). Our's is a certain hope, not a mere wishful thought, for God says: "My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please" (Isa. 46:10b).
There is an abundance of prophecy that we could delve into at this juncture. We could look at the glorious prophecy of Psalm 2, where the Messiah is promised that He will be given all the nations on the basis of His historical resurrection. On this sure promise the psalmist calls upon all contemporary nations to do homage to the Son.
We could turn to Psalm 22, where we learn that "all the ends of the earth will turn and remember" and "all nations will worship" the Lord. This is as a direct result of the efficacy of His historical suffering, dealt with in the first portion of the Psalm. We could delve into Psalm 72, where we read that He will "rule from the river to the ends of the earth." This will be in contemporary history before the new heavens and new earth, for it is "as long as the sun and moon endures."
We could open up Psalm 110, which speaks of His entry into heaven and being seated at God's right hand "until His enemies become a footstool for His feet." There we learn that His enemies will be vanquished before He leaves heaven to return to the earth at the Second Advent.
And there are many, many more passages that reflect the glorious victory motif and provide for us a sure grounding in prophecy for our certain hope. But though the Church has ample time available to it to expand the victory of Christ, I do not have such time to expound the victory of Christ. So let me just turn to consider Isaiah 2:2-4, a classic postmillennial reference. (By the way, this passage is found almost verbatim in Micah 4:1-3.)
First, we should note the time-frame for this prophecy we are considering. This is fundamentally important for demonstrating the strength of the postmillennial interpretation, as contrasted to the weakness of the amillennial, premillennial, and dispensational interpretations.
The time-frame we are dealing with is stated in Isaiah 2:2: "Now it shall come to pass in the last days...." The "last days" is eschatological terminology that is important to the structuring of redemptive history. As argued by Oscar Cüllmann, history is properly divided in two: B.C. and A.D. Christ is the center point of universal history. According to the infallible interpretation of the New Testament writers the "last days" began with Christ. This view is opposed by ancient rabbinism and modern Judaism, which do not hold Jesus Christ to be the Messiah. It is also contrary to the Zionism inherent in dispensationalism, which conceives of these days beginning at a time far removed from the first century, and relative to the state of Israel rather than the Person of Christ.
Let us simply note a few verses in support of our contention that the "last days" began in the ministry of Christ:
Acts 2:16-17a: "But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh."
1 Corinthians 10:11: "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come."
Hebrews 1:1-2: "God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds."
Hebrews 9:26: "He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself."
Clearly "the last days" is an eschatological time-frame which began in the days of Christ. Just as clearly it is during the course of these last days that the events prophesied will occur. Isaiah employs the definite article "the" to speak of the "last days" as a unit, a totality, a whole. That era was to be the last era of the very days the Jews then lived in. That is, this is speaking of temporal history, before eternity begins: it is the last era of the days of history. By definition, then, no temporal era is to follow.
(Side note: Martin Cisneros would not concur on this point of no temporal era to follow, because of a belief in the Universal Restoration when all of the subdued enemies of Christ are then reconciled, so that God will ultimately be all in all, in whatever sense He's not yet all in all, per 1Corinthians 15:22-28. So, obviously there's at least one more temporal era to come - the "ages of ages" which corresponds to the Jubilee of the Old Testament. The Gospel ages, thus far, have merely been the years of release prefigured in the Old Testament.)
Furthermore, the prophecy to follow is to occur during the last days. In Hebrew the letter (beth) is present, indicating it is actually in or during the last days that these things occur. The same phrase "in the last days" occurs in Genesis 49:1, where we read: "And Jacob called his sons and said, 'Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days.'" He is not informing his sons of what will happen after their last days, but during them! Isaiah is not prophesying what will happen after the last days, as per premillennialism and dispensationalism.
Now what is to occur during these last days? This is where postmillennialism parts company with amillennialism. And this is where we have our certain hope underscored.
Isaiah mentions first that "the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains" (Isa. 2:2). The Hebrew reads literally: "In the last days, established shall be the mountain of the Lord's house." The emphasis is on firm establishing, so "established" it is put first in the statement. The Hebrew word (kun) speaks of permanent duration—and this is intensified by the verb "shall be."
The writer of Hebrews, who emphasizes the "last days" to the Hebrews of the first century (Heb. 1:2; 9:26), speaks of the beginning of this fulfillment in his day. He tells those Jews who were living in the era of the "last days" and who had professed faith in Christ that: "You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22). Consequently, he adds in Hebrews 12:28-29:
"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire." Christ's kingdom is established in the last days by Christ Himself, while on earth almost 2000 years ago. It is a permanent and sure establishment, not to be overthrown.
Secondly, Christ's kingdom is spoken of as an exalted mountain, towering over the landscape of the earth: "the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills" (Isa. 2:2b). The Lord's house in the Old Testament was the temple, which contained the Shekinah glory presence of God. In the New Testament the Lord's house/temple is the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is a spiritual temple containing the presence of the Spirit of God: "having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2:20-21). As Christ said, His kingdom-Church was to be "a city set on a hill" (Matt. 5:14). Isaiah promises that hill will be an exalted mountain.
Third, during the last days the mountain of the Lord's house will be exalted for a glorious reason: "all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; he will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Isa. 2;2-3). Here we see the victory of the Gospel: All nations will flood into the house of God as an ever-deepening stream. These will evangelize others, encouraging them to turn to God and to seek to worship Him and live by His Law. This is why we have a Great Commission from the Lord that promises: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 'Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age'" (Matt. 28:18-20.)
Fourth, because of this the cultural implications eventually become enormous: "Many people shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; he will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isa. 2:3-4).
Due to the exalted dominance of the Lord's House in the final era of redemptive history. . . . And due to the tremendous influence of Christianity's God-blessed missionary outreach, sinners will be powerfully transformed by a saving knowledge of the Lord and will. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit they will seek to implement His righteous Law. As a consequence of this, their warring tendencies will be overcome by the grace of God, so that universal righteousness, peace, and prosperity will flow into all the earth.
Postmillennialism teaches that social progress is inevitable. But it is not inevitable on evolutionary assumptions, by naturalistic means, and driven by the inherent goodness of man. Rather social progress toward universal peace and prosperity is certain on the basis of creational, covenantal, and prophetic forces operating in symphony under the providence of God. That is, social progress is assured by means of God-blessed evangelism and discipleship, according to the history-determining prophetic word of God.
I now turn now to my last foundation stone:
By creation God establishes the world in which righteousness is to dwell. By covenant He structures the legal framework of universal righteousness. By prophecy He engages the power of His all-controlling word to direct the spread of His righteousness in history. And by the establishment of the kingdom, He begins the actual progress to universal righteousness.
According to the clear testimony of the New Testament, Christ established His kingdom during His earthly ministry over 1900 years ago. As He began His ministry He preached: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). Later He preached: "But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt. 12:28).
Peter points to His Resurrection as the point at which Christ assumed Messianic rule: "Therefore, [David] being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ" (Acts 2:30-31a). He then makes reference to Psalm 110:1 to show the expectation of Christ's rule:
Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:33-36)
But let us turn to Paul's exposition of the postmillennial kingdom in 1 Corinthians 15:20-27. This glorious passage resounds with victory as the throbbing essence of the postmillennial hope. Let me give a brief, running exposition of Paul's thought here.
As we all well-know, Paul is dealing with the idea of the resurrection of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15. He points out that it is in Christ that we shall be made eternally alive by the resurrection: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22). But there is an order in the eschatological resurrection: Christ becomes the firstfruits of the resurrection. "But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming" (1 Cor. 15:23). Just as surely as Christ, the firstfruits, was resurrected in eschatological glory long ago, so shall we, who are found in Him, be resurrected in eschatological glory at some future date.
Contrary to the premillennial expectation, the resurrection is the grand finale of the "last days." The resurrection punctuates "the end" of history: "But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. Then comes the end" (1 Cor. 15:23-24). No new era begins: these are the last days that we now live in. No millennial period will follow the resurrection in history because "then comes the end."
But what may we expect to precede the conclusion of history? Here is where we part company with our amillennial brethren. Verse 24 says, "the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father." The end of earth history is brought about "whenever" (literally) Christ "delivers up" the kingdom to the Father.
In the construction before us the "delivering up" of the kingdom must occur in conjunction with "the end." The Greek for "delivers up" here is ( paradidoi ), which is a verb in the present tense and subjunctive mode. When the word translated "when" or "whenever" ( hotan ) is followed by the present subjunctive (as here), it indicates a present contingency that occurs in conjunction with the main clause, which is "then comes the end." Here the contingent factor is in regard to the date of the "end": "whenever" it may be that He delivers up the kingdom, then the end will come.
Associated with the predestined end here is the prophecy that the kingdom of Christ will be delivered up to the Father. But this occurs only "when he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power." In the Greek text the hotan ( "when") is here followed by the aorist subjunctive, katargese . This construction indicates that the action of this subordinate clause precedes the action of the main clause. The phrase here should be translated: "after he had destroyed all dominion, authority and power."
Gathering this exegetical data together, we see that the end is contingent: it will come whenever it is that he delivers up the kingdom to the Father. But this will not occur until "after He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power." Consequently, "the end" will not occur, Christ will not turn the kingdom over to the Father, until after He has abolished His opposition. Here is the certain hope of postmillennialism!
And notice further that verse 25 demands that "He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet." Here the present infinitive translated "reign" indicates the continuance of a reign then in progress. References elsewhere to the Psalm 110 passage specifically mention His sitting at God's right hand. Sitting at the right hand entails active ruling and reigning, not passive resignation. He is now actively "the ruler over the kings of the earth" who "has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever" (Rev. 1:5).
Here in 1 Corinthians 15:25 we learn that he must continue to reign, He must continue to put His enemies under His feet—but until when? The answer is identical to that which has already been concluded: it is expected before the end of history. Earlier it was awaiting the abolishing of all rule, authority and power; here it delayed until "He has put all His enemies under His feet." The repetition of the expectation of His sure conquest before the end is significant. Furthermore, the last enemy that will be subdued is death, which is subdued in conjunction with the Resurrection that occurs at His coming. But the subduing of His other enemies occurs before this, before the Resurrection.
In verse 27 it is clear that He has the title to rule, for the Father "has put everything under His feet." This is the Pauline expression (borrowed from Psa. 8:6) that is equivalent to Christ's declaration that "all authority has been given Me." Christ has the promise of victory and He has the right to victory. Psalm 110, especially as expounded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, shows He will have the historical, pre-consummation victory as His own before His coming.
This is why He confidently commands us: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). This is why postmillennialism is a "certain hope." Our hope is built on the foundational principles of creation, covenant, prophecy, and kingdom.