Dominion in Genesis, Part 4/8: Three Perspectives on End Times Prophecy

One of the central themes of Genesis is dominion. Nowhere is that theme more apparent than in the life of Joseph. After many peaks and valleys, Genesis crescendos with his rise to power in Egypt. A central theme of this series is that Joseph’s reign with the pharaoh foreshadowed Christ’s reign with God the Father during the millennium.

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Christ in Glory c. 1660 by Mattia Preti

Below, I will review the three main positions on end times prophecy. They are premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism. These may be further broken down into “pessimillennialism” and postmillennialism.

Christians who hold any of the three main eschatological views are in broad agreement that Jesus will physically return to the earth. However, they argue over when this will occur in relation to the millennial reign of Christ. It’s widely understood that the millennium will occur over a limited time, on the earth, in the presence of unbelievers. This is taught in Revelation 20 and other places, such as in the symbolic meaning of Joseph’s reign. Beyond this, Christians don’t agree on much when it comes to the “end times.”

 

Premillennialism

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Judgment Day Billboard (Wikimedia)

Premillennialism is the predominant eschatological view among Christians today, but this wasn’t always the case. Prior to the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909, the dominant view was postmillennialism.

Premillennialists believe Jesus will return before the millennium, which they expect to last for a literal one thousand years. I describe them as pessimists because they view the Church as mostly being apostate. Presumably, this excludes the premillennialists’ own denominations. Naturally, this perspective fosters judgmentalism toward outsiders.

Since they don’t think God wants them to suffer trials, most premillennialists expect Jesus to return invisibly to rapture them before the Great Tribulation. They believe the Lord is literally scheduled to return again seven years later, at the end of the tribulation. At that time, He will return in bodily form with His saints and angels to defeat His enemies at Armageddon. Jesus will then reign over the world from a throne in Jerusalem.

Zionist Christians anticipate that animal sacrifices will be reinstituted in a new temple. They know there’s no longer any need for sacrifices (Heb. 10:4-18), but think the bloody slaughter of innocent animals will be a lovely memorial to ancient Israel.

It’s uncertain whether Jesus will travel around the world doing evangelism and working miracles, or whether He will mostly act as an Administrator. It’s also unknown whether His angels will serve as a heavenly Gestapo, intervene to prevent traffic accidents, or simply continue to whisper in people’s ears.

While it’s true that a complex theological position can’t be expected to answer every question, neither should it be so irrational. These are but a few examples of the many absurdities that are bound up in premillennialist teachings.

If the premillennialists are correct, we Christians will have proven ourselves to be perpetual screw-ups. There’s no persuasive reason for supposing that this would change if Jesus were physically present on the earth. In any case, premillennialists admit that even Jesus will be seen as an incompetent ruler. Upon being released, Satan will be able to quickly gather and lead an enormous army against Him. These doctrines seem to originate from a judgmental view of the Church, and even of Christ Himself.

Christians don’t need Jesus to be physically present on the earth. The Lord didn’t leave us alone, but sent the Holy Spirit to live in and among us (Jn. 14:16-17). Jesus even said His followers would do “greater things” than what He had done (Jn. 14:12). Collectively, Christians represent Jesus as the body of Christ and the Bride of Christ. We ought to believe these truths and take these responsibilities seriously, as weighty as they are.

Even if you don’t believe that God can grant Christians the ability to perform miracles today, we’re able to take advantage of scientific and medical advances. The world currently produces enough food to feed everyone. This means problems such as hunger and starvation are our fault, not a problem of Jesus not being here in the flesh. Mankind, Christians in particular, must “take dominion” by being good managers of our technology and the earth’s resources.

Notably, some of the premillennialists’ predictions have been self-fulfilling. For example, after insisting that evil will increase, many are content to passively watch that happen, except for the occasional, futile rant against a particularly offensive sin. Premillennialists are conditioned to expect evil to increase, and to wait for a rapture that always seems to be just around the corner.

 

Amillennialism

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Sacred Heart of Jesus by José María Ibarrarán y Ponce, 1854-1910 (Wikimedia)

Amillennialists and postmillennialists share many common beliefs because they weren’t distinguished from one another until after World War I. This was such a pessimistic time in modern history that some Christians parted ways with historic postmillennialism and became known as amillennialists.

Amillennial means “no millennium.” However, amillennialists only refuse to believe in a literal, one thousand year millennium. They believe the Church Age is the millennium, and see God’s kingdom as a spiritual kingdom that does not include social or political transformation.

Historically, the forerunners of today’s amillennialists and postmillennialists have agreed that the Church is the continuation or fulfillment of the Old Testament nation of Israel (Gal. 6:16). It was understood that Christ reigns now over His holy nation. This Christian belief is now widely denounced as “replacement theology” because some Jews want to claim ownership of everything associated with ancient Israel.

Amillennialists weaken the doctrine of the Church as Christ’s body by depicting Jesus as a personal Savior who reigns spiritually in the hearts of Christians. Postmillennialists also see Christ as the King of kings Who reigns over the nations, largely through the Church’s influence.

The pessimillennialists (i.e., both amillennialists and premillennialists) agree that, even though it can’t be denied that the Church experiences occasional victories, evil continues to spread and increase over time. Supposedly, Satan will be released at the end of this age, and there will be a time of great apostasy and tribulation. Fortunately, Jesus is prepared to forcibly suppress any insurrection.

Here, there’s a divergence. Amillennialists expect the Final Judgment to follow, but premillennialists believe the one thousand year millennium will then commence. Amillennialists, together with postmillennialists, deny that Jesus will physically reign on the earth.

A primary weakness of amillennialism is that it spiritualizes the kingdom of Christ as being strictly heavenly. However, even the Old Testament tells us that God reigns over the nations on the earth (Ps. 47:7-9). Not only does Christ reign now, He’ll continue to reign until all His enemies—dominions, authorities, and powers—have been put under His feet (1 Cor. 15:24-26).

Lamentably, all Christian pessimists commit the sin of denying the power of God on this earth (2 Tim. 3:5).

 
Postmillennialism

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Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks

Most Christians today know little about the postmillennial view, even though it has a prominent place in Christian history.

Postmillennialists believe Christ will not return to the earth until after the millennium which, as amillennialists agree, is not to be taken literally as lasting one thousand years. Some postmillennialists, however, do take this word literally.

The Lord’s return will be followed immediately by the General Resurrection and the Final Judgment. Meanwhile, God is preparing for Christ’s glorious return by extending His kingdom in the world through the preaching of the gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit.

Postmillennialists can be distinguished from other Christians by our belief in the comprehensiveness of Christ’s kingdom. I will use the metaphor of body cells to explain this…

God loves every cell in your body, knowing that each one helps make up the person you are. The Lord knows that each cell must live in a sanitary environment and be supplied with the nutrients it needs to be healthy and do its job. Similarly, yet more intensely, God loves every Christian while knowing that each of us is part of Christ’s body.

Instead of living in a literal body, each of us is a member of a nation or society. You may live anywhere from a large city to a rural community. Most likely, your environment is worldly and corrupt. Christian children often get the worst of it. They typically spend six hours a day, nine months a year, for thirteen years sitting in public schools, only to come home and see filth on the television.

When an entire body is diseased, we can’t necessarily expect individual cells to remain healthy. The best way to heal any one cell is by creating a healthy environment for all the cells.

Since our world is spiritually sick and diseased, what can we do about it?

Pessimistic Christians have no real answer to this because they think God only saves individuals, families, and may bring revival to a church. The salvation of institutions and entire societies doesn’t figure prominently into their theology, even though God has done this in the past. The pessimists have a defensive outlook which hopes for the strength to endure trials, not for faith to storm the gates of Hell (Mt. 16:18).

I know pessimillennialists may insist that a nation can’t be “Christian.” However, we all know what it means when a country such as America is described as “post-Christian.” In fact, anyone who says God of Jesus Christ can’t transform a society or institution is displaying both irreverence and a profound ignorance of history.

Christians who, out of either fear or respect for Satan’s presumed lordship, do little to change our societal environment, bear some guilt for the condition of the world (Mt. 18:7, Jas. 4:17).

Postmillennialists don’t claim that every person in any given institution or society will be saved. We only claim that God can and will work through Christians to bring about massive, positive change through non-forceful means.

As we’ve been learning, God not only sought to, but at times did reign in a very real way over the nation of Israel. By raising up faithful saints such as Joseph and David, the Lord extended Israel’s influence to the surrounding nations.

God is able to effectively reign over and bless nations that seek him. Unfortunately, Christian pessimism, pietism, and a narrow emphasis on individual salvation has displaced nearly all expectation among Christians of corporate blessings such as mass conversions or massive structural change affecting society, culture, education, government, the economy, or politics.

Postmillennialists don’t focus exclusively on structural transformation. We understand that God begins with individuals. At the same time, we know that we can’t raise healthy fish in a dirty fish tank. I’ll explain this metaphor using a practical example.

Rousas John Rushdoony

R. J. Rushdoony

After a postmillennialist named Rousas John Rushdoony saw that public schools were corrupting Christian children, he didn’t bemoan the evil world, wring his hands in frustration, and write a bestseller on the “end times.” Instead, he became instrumental in establishing the Christian home school movement.

The point is not that postmillennialists care more about their children than other Christians. Rather, it’s that postmillennialists don’t accept or fatalistically resign ourselves to the theological error that Satan is growing stronger every day. Concerned postmillennialists seek to change this world for the better while being confident that God is on our side to help and strengthen us. On behalf of all postmillennialists, I invite you to join us in our belief that Christ genuinely defeated Satan on the cross.

 

Now that I’ve summarized the three main eschatological views, you have the information you need in order to know which interpretations discourage us from having hope and faith in this life, and which inspires us with the assurance that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 Jn. 4:4). Even though I couldn’t provide an in-depth study of Bible prophecy, I have curated some related articles on Scoop.it. In addition, I studied the prophecies in Daniel 9:24-27 and Matthew 24 in Chapter 8 of Return to Genesis. Anyone who is seriously interested in Christian dominion can benefit from reading the entire book.

Pessimillennialists may point out that if they’ve interpreted the Bible correctly, they can’t be faulted for being pessimistic. In theory, I agree. However. if the Bible truly presents God’s wisdom, we should expect it to be in conformity with reason and basic psychology. If God gave us good news, then by definition it should give us cause to be optimistic, not pessimistic. What do you think? Please leave any comments below.

This series is continued in part 5.