The Generational Divide: Luke 9:37-48

Some study notes from Bible study last night. The passage (Luke 9:37-48) immediately follows the Transfiguration.  I don’t have this in my notes, but at study I showed the group the beautiful ‘Transfiguration’ painting by Raphael, which is study in contrasts with the scene of the transfiguration and the one my notes below discuss. Here is the painting:

Transfiguration_Raphael

The Generational Divide

9:37-42 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. [38] And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. [39] And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. [40] And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” [41] Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” [42] While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.

Jesus’ Power Displays the Inbreaking of the Kingdom

Jesus’ authority in this situation is clear. He is King over all creation – He is king over all spiritual goings on in this world.

I think that much of what we see in this passage has to do with the inbreaking of the kingdom of God, and the power of Jesus over the demonic powers of this world. But there is also a feature of this passage that concerns us – namely how people of this world are blinded by their sin and by Satan to these spiritual truths, and have hearts that are slow to grasp the importance of loving others as Jesus did/does.

A key passage to understand the relationship between Jesus’ kingship and His kingdom, and the authority he holds over demons is found in Matthew 12:

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. [23] And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” [24] But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” [25] Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. [26] And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? [27] And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. [28] But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. [29] Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. [30] Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. [31] Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. [32] And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:22-32)

So the question becomes, if Jesus has the power to do these things, do we believe He has the power to do them. It is not simply that our belief somehow activates God’s power somehow. No. That is not the right way to think of it. God works according to His own sovereign pleasure. But it is perhaps more correct to state that God indeed takes pleasure in our prayers, and indeed gives us the faith to believe. The faith is actually a gift from God. For as Paul states in Ephesians 2, your faith is a “gift” so that “no man may boast.”

This is so that God will receive all the glory. For our purpose is to bring Him glory. That is our end, our great summum bonum.

A Study in Contrasts

Now, we’ve talked a lot in our study of Luke about Jesus’ miracles, and I’ve mentioned in a small group setting that it becomes difficult not to become desensitized to what we’re reading. These people lived a long time ago, we know don’t them, we haven’t lived a day in their shoes, we didn’t see this stuff take place. So we’re left to read it and imagine what the scene might have been like. God gave us His word and our imagination for just this reason.

Jesus has just come down the Mount of Transfiguration. We read about it last week and talked about the amazing display of glory, which the disciples were privileged to behold.

Now, He’s coming down off that hill and the first people Luke tells us He encountered were those who could use His power the most – those oppressed and possessed by demons.

But there’s a problem here, isn’t there. Jesus doesn’t respond as He usually might be expected to – its not as cut and dry as Jesus heals, then goes on His merry way.

We learn that there’s a man whose only son has been physically oppressed by a violent demon, and it seems that the disciples of Jesus weren’t able to cast the demon out.

Why?

It seems the answer is in Jesus’ reply: they lacked the faith necessary to accomplish the task. For Jesus states – in a way that must have sounded like a rebuke – “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?”

There is a direct connection between His glorification at the top of the mountain, and His reply to these people.

Luke must know that he has set before the reader a study in the contrast between the reality of Jesus and who He was, over against the unbelief and lack of faith of the people. Wasn’t it just last study that we read how an audible voice from heaven shook Peter, James, and John to their core with a proclamation of the deity of Jesus? Wasn’t it just a few hours before that Jesus was shining like the sun in resplendent glory?

The people here – the masses – didn’t see the transfiguration. But they saw many other miraculous signs from Jesus. So the reality of who Jesus is, does not square with the way in which the people respond to Him.

We are all like this – slow to believe in what Jesus says, and slow to obey him. I know this to be true from personal experience, for I count myself as part of this group.

For those doubters who say, “I’d believe and have faith if I saw Jesus do all that with my own eyes.” Passages like this, and many more to come, will build a case against that proposition. What we learn from a survey of the gospels is that seeing is not necessarily believing. There were a remnant of people who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet they still went on to tell the Jewish religious authorities in hopes of getting rid of Jesus. They didn’t believe.

So Thankful He can Do This Stuff…

Interestingly, as I read this passage, I was greatly comforted because of the reminder that Jesus has the power to heal, to cast out demons, and to create in us a clean heart. In other words, He has the ability to bring us spiritual peace.

I don’t want to minimize this. Because when we are tormented by the enemy, fall prey to our own depraved desires, we can know there is grace and there is power to save us, and to bring us back from our wanderings. It is this power that is stronger than anything else upon which we must rely.

9:43-44 And all were astonished at the majesty of God. But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, [44] “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”

It is perhaps noteworthy that the works of Jesus are being attributed by the people as coming from God. This is in contrast to the way the Pharisees saw Jesus as casting out evil spirits by the power of Satan (11:15). The common people seemed to realize that good things come from God (This is the theme of Psalm 127, and of course James 1:17).

I love the response here of Jesus to the miracle, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”

PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT I AM SAYING!

Now the contrast is complete. What kind of king gives himself up to his enemies? What kind of king plans to do so even before he is captured? Even before the plot to capture or kill him has been completely formulated!

This is no earthly king. One of our rulers would never have sacrificed himself for a group of people who couldn’t even muster up enough faith to partake in his work with him.

Hence the greatness of Jesus and of the gospel. For as Paul says:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [7] For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—[8] but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [9] Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. [11] More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)

Any other leader would have thought the transfiguration a confirmation of his right to rule the earth – and indeed it did just that for Jesus. But from there Jesus departs from the expected path. He once again sets aside His glory and condescends to save us.

This isn’t done subtly either. He gets their attention – He says to them to “let this saying sink into your ears.”

9:45 But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

Now how did the disciples react? They didn’t get it. They didn’t understand it. And, to be honest, they didn’t want to understand it. For it says, “they were afraid to ask him about this.”

In saying that Jesus’ words were “concealed from them” Luke is basically saying that these things were spiritually discerned and God did not give them wisdom to discern them. It’s just that simple. They didn’t get it, God didn’t allow them to understand it, which was perfect because frankly they didn’t want to understand it.

Don’t you think this might have been a tiny bit important? Perhaps the disciples just might have wanted to get to the bottom of this?

And people wonder why we can get into heaven on the basis of our own sovereign choices! If left to ourselves we will ignore the truth of the gospel. We will run far away from the wisdom of God. We are fallen creatures who love the darkness rather than the light (John 3:19-21). And when faced with difficult truths, we obfuscate or simply choose to ignore the facts in front of us.

Why do we do this? It could be the illusion of control is slipping away and we don’t like that. We like the idea of planning our own destiny, or at least heavily influencing it by our free will acts and choices. We don’t want to face future difficulties and act irrationally toward them by thinking that if we ignore them they’ll just go away.

This is perhaps why the disciples didn’t want to probe deeper into what Jesus had said.

9:46 An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. [47] But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side [48] and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”

The Nature of the Kingdom

And to prove just how far their heads were buried in the sand, the disciples were still unsure of what kind of kingdom Jesus was about to usher in. So instead of reconciling what they saw on the mountain with what Jesus was saying about His impending death, they focused on the more cheery prospect of Jesus’ earthly reign. For as we recall from earlier studies, some might have thought that He was about to establish a political kingdom and would overthrow Herrod’s rule, so they were starting to jockey for position within this upcoming administration.

However, looking back on these things, we do need to reconcile the Mount of Transfiguration with his saying here. What is going on here? How can He be both sovereign king of all the earth, and yet give himself over to his enemies to die?

I’ve made the argument before that the kind of kingship Jesus was conveying – the kind of kingship we share with him – is that which is put in place by God, established by His hand, and carried out in love through the power of the Spirit. Indeed, much of our conquering (as seen in the book of Revelation) is done in the realm of the spiritual. As Paul says:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

The nature of the kingdom is now spiritual, though Jesus reigns over all created matter – whether physical or spiritual. Indeed He utilizes that which is physical to accomplish the spreading of His spiritual kingdom. Therefore it is a false dichotomy to speak of two separate kingdoms. There is not a spiritual kingdom over and against (or separate from) a physical kingdom. They are two facets of the same one kingdom.

Though the disciples did not understand this, we need to understand it. For our goal, as articulated so well by R.C. Sproul, is to bear witness to an invisible kingdom:

In answer to their question about the kingdom, Jesus gave the fundamental mission of the church. Men would be blind to His kingship, so His disciples were given the task of making it visible. The fundamental task of the church is to bear witness to the kingdom of God. Our King reigns now, so for us to put the kingdom of God entirely in the future is to miss one of the most significant points of the New Testament. Our King has come and has inaugurated the kingdom of God. The future aspect of the kingdom is its final consummation.[i]

And I’ve mentioned this in my work on Revelation, but Anthony Hoekema is very helpful here:

The kingdom of God, therefore, is to be understood as the reign of God dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ, the purpose of which is the redemption of God’s people from sin and from demonic powers, and the final establishment of the new heavens and the new earth. It means the great drama of the history of salvation has been inaugurated, and that the new age has been ushered in. The kingdom must not be understood as merely the salvation of certain individuals or even as the reign of God in the hearts of his people; it means nothing less that the reign of God over his entire created universe. “The kingdom of God means that God is King and acts in history to bring history to a divinely directed goal. (quoting Ladd)”[ii]

The Least of You

Now we get to the point of things. Jesus brings a child near, and says that the least of you will be the greatest in the kingdom of God. To quote the title of a CJ Mahaney book ‘Humility: True Greatness.’

What is it that makes humility and being “the least” so powerful, so highly sought after in the kingdom Jesus is describing?

I’d wager that it’s because they both serve as descriptors for love.

The kingdom of God is characterized by love. It is the overriding hermeneutic, outlook, worldview, and lens through which a Christian must look – a lens put into place by the Holy Spirit.

This is because the kingdom of God is ruled by God, and God is love. Therefore the kingdom will be characterized by individuals who behave, think, and talk like God.

And because God loves His creatures and creation, we too should love them. Which means we should place ourselves in a posture of servanthood, of putting others first, in loving others, of not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. This is the attitudinal position of someone who is “great” in the kingdom of God.

The Generational Divide

Jesus was clearly annoyed at the generation in which He lived. But a generation passes, and another pops up. It only takes 40 years. Generations come and generations go. But what I believe that what is going on here is that Jesus is drawing the distinction between the ways of those under the law of the old covenant, and those who will makeup a new generation of believers.

The kingdom Jesus is ushering in consists of a new generation. The newness of this generation is seen also in how Jeremiah articulated the coming of the new covenant:

In those days they shall no longer say: “‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ [30] But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge. [31] “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. [33] For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

I’ve said in countless lessons that we live in the already/not yet. We live in a time of inaugurated eschatology, in laymans terms this means that Jesus ushered in a kingdom during his ministry on earth. It is an unseen kingdom, a kingdom of God.

It is all well and good to read about and talk about demons and the spiritual world, and all this theology of eschatology and so forth. But what does it matter?

Here is why it matters. If Jesus inaugurated a kingdom, and that kingdom is one whose guiding hermeneutic is one of kindness, love, and deferential treatment to others, then don’t you think its slightly important that we live in that way now?

This is why futurism isn’t all its cracked up to be. Because we live now, and God cares about how we live now.

Our lives now are to be characterized by the same driving principles that will govern them upon the return of our Savior. That is why the future has invaded the present. We are to live in such a way that the invisible will become visible to the hearts and minds of those who we work with, play with, hang out with, and minister to.

For as Paul says:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. [15] For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, [16] to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

Footnotes

[i] Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, Pg. 307.

[ii] Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, Pg. 45

Introduction to Revelation: Part 4

The Kingdom of God & the Already Not Yet

Often it is very easy to get caught up in viewpoints about the millennium, and I do not want to detract from the importance of the millennium. For even though the millennium – the 1,000 year reign of Christ mentioned in the first few verses of chapter 20 – takes up a very short space in terms of the book itself, its importance is seen in how we interpret what its saying.

But before we discuss these things specifically, I believe we need to begin our study of this book by briefly examining the nature of the kingdom of God. For when we speak of the “millennium” we’re talking about the Kingdom of God, and specifically the reign of His Christ.

Tom Schreiner says, “Those who participate in the first resurrection will reign with Christ for a thousand years (Revelation 20:6), although the nature of this reign is intensely debated, and scholars differ on whether it refers to the reign of saints in the heaven during the time between the resurrection and the return of Christ or to a reign of the saints on earth before the inauguration of the new heavens and new earth.”[ix]

We can see the importance of this idea of the reign of Christ in how it manages to seep into how pastors and theologians comprehend the overarching theme(s) of this book. For instance, Warren Wiersebe, a Premillennialist, says, “The overriding theme of the book of Revelation is the return of Jesus Christ to defeat all evil and to establish His reign.”   Note how he uses the word “establish” in lieu of the word “consummate” which is the term an amillennialist would use because of the emphasis on Christ’s current reign.

The amillennialist would remind us of verses like we find at the end of Mark’s gospel, “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19 – also see Ephesians 1:20-23)[i]

Now, most theologians believe that Christ is reigning now, but what is the nature of that reign? I think the difference lies in whether or not one believes that His current reign is somewhat lesser or mostly spiritual (i.e. in the hearts of his people).

Dispensationalist John MacArthur puts it this way:

So God rules spiritually now over the hearts of those who know Him by faith. And that’s been the case since His saving work began. There is a spiritual element of the Kingdom that has existed since God started redeeming men. But this is not that spiritual Kingdom of which we read here, but rather that earthly literal Kingdom which comes at the culmination of human history.[ii]

However, I think that this emphasis on the future nature of Christ’s kingdom does injustice to His victory at Calvary, and does not fully comprehend the fullness of Christ’s current reign.

You can now see the rub, can you not? How we think about the kingdom of God shapes how we view the book of Revelation, and perhaps the millennium question in particular.

The Already/Not Yet

I believe the critical hermeneutical principle which will help us most is called the “already/not yet” principle. In order to understand most of the NT – especially the words of Jesus and the book of Revelation – we need to understand this important principle.

For our purposes, I believe that we need to get our heads around two truths about the nature of God’s kingdom. The first is that it has been inaugurated by Jesus Christ, and will be consummated upon his return. The second is that God is working dynamically in history to bring about the expansion of His kingdom and its final consummation.

Regarding the first truth, it is worth quoting R.C. Sproul at this point at length:

Many professing evangelicals today believe the kingdom of God is strictly in the future, although there is no biblical foundation for that. This view robs the church of important teachings concerning the kingdom that are clearly set forth in the New Testament. In fact, the New Testament opens with John the Baptist’s announcement of the kingdom: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).

Another time the Pharisees asked Him when the kingdom of God would come, and Jesus replied, “Behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). The kingdom was in their midst became (sic – because) the King was there. In another occasion, He said, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).

So John came first with his warning of the radical nearness of the kingdom. Then Jesus came announcing the presence of the kingdom. This was followed by the acme of His redemptive work in the ascension, when He left earth to go to His coronation, where God declared Him King. As Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives, read to depart, His disciples asked him, “Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). They had been waiting for Jesus to make His move, to drive out the Romans and establish the kingdom, but Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).

In answer to their question about the kingdom, Jesus gave the fundamental mission of the church. Men would be blind to His kingship, so His disciples were given the task of making it visible. The fundamental task of the church is to bear witness to the kingdom of God. Our King reigns now, so for us to put the kingdom of God entirely in the future is to miss one of the most significant points of the New Testament. Our King has come and has inaugurated the kingdom of God. The future aspect of the kingdom is its final consummation.[iii]

When Jesus returns it will not be to establish a kingdom, but rather to consummate a kingdom which has been established from before the foundation of the world, and which He reigns over at this very moment.

Indeed the book of Revelation, as we mentioned earlier, was written to assure Christians that He is in control over all things – He is the Lord of history.

Interestingly, Beale thinks that John wrote Revelation with the book of Daniel in mind – especially important in Daniel is the already/not yet function of his literature. Some things were occurring right away for Daniel during his time, while others he saw as distant and far away. Those things which Daniel saw as far away, John saw as fulfilled at least partially in the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and the inauguration of his kingdom.

Beale puts it this way:

John probably views the death and resurrection of Christ as inaugurating the long-awaited kingdom of the end times predicted by Daniel, which will now continue throughout the church age.

Side note: for those more advanced in prophetic study or curious about these things, one of the things Beale and other see in Revelation is that at the beginning of some of the major sections/division there is a reference or allusion to something from Daniel chapter two (1:1, 4:1, and 22:6) Beale says that a pattern definitely emerges, “John is employing the same allusion as a literary device to give structure to his whole book.”

This also has ramifications for how we understand the millennium.

Douglass Kelly says, “The exercise of this heavenly authority over all lesser powers is the main thing that is happening in this age between the two comings of the Lord; which, as we shall seek to demonstrate, is the prime meaning of the millennium. The millennium is not a literal period of only one thousand years that will occur much later; rather it is that period of victorious outreach of the Gospel to the nations: a time that last from Jesus’ first coming to his last.”[iv]

All of this can be comprehended by identifying how the Bible speaks about the kingdom of God and the reign of His Christ in other places, and how we are to understand this in light of what we read in chapter 20. Is Jesus’ reign something future, or is it now and to be seen with our eyes in the future? How should we think of, and describe his reign?

This is what R.C. Sproul was speaking of earlier when he said that Christ’s kingdom was “inaugurated” but not yet “consummated.” There are some promises, and some realities that are presently being realized in the church age, yet will not come to their full glory until Christ returns. Our very salvation is like this, for we are saved NOW, yet we have not yet fully realized that salvation. We have the down payment of this reality in the giving of the Spirit, yet not the consummation of this reality in the presence of our Lord and Savior.

The second principle is tied to the first, and it is this: The kingdom of God is “dynamic.” That is to say it is more than just this idea of God separately reigning in heaven, He is working out His will in and amongst us in time and space. He is ruling here – He is involved in our lives – His rule is not detached.

John Frame quotes Geerhardus Vos for us on this matter:

To him (Jesus) the kingdom exists there, where not merely God is supreme, for that is true at all times and under all circumstances, but where God supernaturally carries through his supremacy against all opposing powers and brings men to the willing recognition of the same.

Then Frame says, “On this definition, the kingdom is dynamic, indeed dramatic. It is a world-historical movement, following the fall of Adam, in which God works to defeat Satan and bring human beings to acknowledge Christ as Lord. It is, preeminently, the history of salvation.”[v]

Anthony Hoekema puts it this way:

The kingdom of God, therefore, is to be understood as the reign of God dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ, the purpose of which is the redemption of God’s people from sin and from demonic powers, and the final establishment of the new heavens and the new earth. It means the great drama of the history of salvation has been inaugurated, and that the new age has been ushered in. The kingdom must not be understood as merely the salvation of certain individuals or even as the reign of God in the hearts of his people; it means nothing less that the reign of God over his entire created universe. “The kingdom of God means that God is King and acts in history to bring history to a divinely directed goal. (quoting Ladd)”[vi]

He goes on to say, “The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history.”[vii]

Now given what we know of these two principles, we know that God is both reigning supreme over all, but also dynamically working in and through His creation to bring about His purposes. This points to the linear nature of history – God is working toward something.[viii] What He is doing now in and through us by His Spirit and His Lordship over all history and creation is a shadow of what will be upon the consummation of His purposes.

Christ inaugurated a kingdom (the already) and with that inauguration has brought forth fruit first by His cross work, and now by His Spirit’s powerful work here on earth through the spread of the gospel. One day He will return to consummate His kingdom (the not yet) and upon that return will usher in the visible reality of his reign (the already).

While futurists await a future “literal earthly” kingdom (which we all look for), the way in which we speak about and think about God’s exercise of power and authority over the world, and the souls of lost people is important. I believe its crucial that we understand God as working even now dynamically, personally, powerfully in history and in the lives of men all across the globe to expand his kingdom – a real kingdom of real people.

So you can see how these perspectives function to shape our viewpoint of the book itself and the millennium. But they also shape how we live our lives as Christians – especially what kind of mindset we take toward events here on earth and circumstances in our personal lives.

NOTE: Some of the dispensationalists might argue that God rules “spiritually in the hearts” of men, but not physically here on earth, and does not rule them in any way other than in their hearts. To me this is a false dilemma. The postmillennialist has it right in the respect that when God saves a man, there is fruit and evidence of change not only in that man’s heart, but in his life and in the society in which he lives. To argue a distant futurist reign of Christ is to argue the opposite of how the Bible describes the efficacy of Christ’s work on the cross. He truly is Lord of all and he exercises that Lordship full now, though it is unseen (as Sproul mentions above). I’m not saying that the Postmillennial view is perfect, but their mindset on the nature of the kingdom certainly seems to make more sense and align more Biblically to me.

The Millennium

With this cursory understanding of the kingdom of God under our belts, let us examine the four major views on the reign of Christ in the millennium.

Amillennialism

The Amillennial view (Amil) is probably the simplest of the four major viewpoints on the millennial question.

Wayne Grudem says, “Those who are said to be reigning with Christ for the thousand years are Christians who have died and are already reigning with Christ in heaven…This view is called ‘Amillennialism’ because it maintains that there is no future millennium yet to come.”[x]

John Frame describes it:

The Amil believe that the millennium is now, the whole period from Jesus’ ascension to his return. He emphasizes that the resurrection and ascension of Jesus ushered in a new era of world history. Jesus has now achieved a great victory over Satan, sin, and death…The Amil says that Satan no longer deceives the nations (20:3) as he did before the coming of Christ. Before Jesus came, believers in the truth God existed mainly in Israel. The other nations were deceived by Satan into worship idols. But after the resurrection, the Christian church received power to reach people of all nations with the message of the gospel. And God will continue to empower this mission until the last day, until there are believers from every kingdom, tongue, tribe and nation.[xi]

R.C. Sproul adds…

The Amillennial position, which holds some points in common with both of the premillennial positions, believes that the church age is the kingdom age prophesied in the Old Testament. The New Testament church has become the Israel of God. Amillennialists believe that the binding of Satan took place during Jesus’ earthly ministry; Satan was restrained while the gospel was preached to the world, and this restraint continues today.[xii]

The verses that come to my mind as typically cited in terms of the defeat of Satan are as follows:

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)

Frame describes how the Amil views the future…

Amils affirm that toward the end of this era Satan will be released briefly, as Revelation 20:3 indicates (also verses 7-8). He will then deceive the nations again, presumably achieving some measure of his old power. But he will be frustrated and defeated by the return of Christ and the judgment that will result in his final destruction.[xiii]

Amils believe that the first resurrection is simply that spiritual resurrection that has taken place and realized during the intermediate state. The second resurrection is the physical resurrection of the body preceding the judgment when Christ returns. Frame says, “Similarly, the first death is the physical death of human being; the second death is the condemnation of the wicked, a death that believers do not experience.”[xiv]

Postmillennialism 

Most folks who are of the post-mil persuasion also believe that the millennium period of 1,000 years is NOW just like the Amils believe. John Frame notes that some older literature reveals that there are a few Post-mills who have said that is a part of this time now, but more will reside in the future. Post-mills also agree with Amils on the binding of Satan during Christ’s ministry and his release for a short time before Jesus’ return.

John Frame describes the difference between Amils and Post-mills:

Well, although the postmil agrees with the amil that our age is a time of persecution for the church, he also thinks that during this time Christians will come to have more and more influence in general culture. Believers will indeed gain wealth, influence, and even dominance.[xv]

Sproul describes this unique part of Post-millennialism:

What distinguishes postmillennialists from amillennialists and premillennialists is the belief that Scripture teaches the success of the Great Commission in the age of the church.[xvi]

Grudem says, “ The primary characteristic of postmillennialism is that it is very optimistic about the power of the gospel to change lives and bring about much good in the world.”

I must admit that when I study the history of the world since the spread of the gospel, I do not see a uniform trajectory upward toward a world of people who are united in morals and standards. Certainly I believe that since Christ the world has been changed in huge part by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt that the world was in darkness before He came – so much so that every other nation worshiped idols except Israel. Can you imagine if we looked around the world today and every other nation except one the size of Rhode Island worshiped wooden blocks and golden statues? So certainly the gospel has transformed our world.

However, the post-millennial viewpoint was really made popular and caught on prior to the 20th century. It was perhaps at its height at the end of the 19th century when medical cures were being found, the industrial revolution was in full swing, and great revivals had swept across the world many times over the course of the past several hundred years. Then came World War I. The gruesome bloodshed and seemingly worthless outcome was more than conservative theologians could swallow in their assessments of world events and the human situation on earth.

However, not all theologians and pastors had to wait until the bloody events of the 20th century to object to Postmillennialism’s optimistic theology. J.C. Ryle, the great 19th century contemporary of Spurgeon, wrote hinting about this way of thinking:

Let us dismiss from our minds the vain idea that nations will ever give up wars entirely, before Jesus Christ comes again. So long as the devil is the prince of this world, and the hearts of the many are unconverted, so long there must be strife and fighting. There will be no universal peace before the second advent of the Prince of peace. Then, and then only, men shall “learn war no more” (Isaiah 2:4).

Let us cease to expect that missionaries and ministers will ever convert the world, and teach all mankind to love one another. They will do nothing of the kind. They were never intended to do it. They will call out a witnessing people who shall serve Christ in every land, but they will do no more. The bulk of mankind will always refuse to obey the Gospel. The nations will always go on quarreling, wrangling, and fighting. The last days of the earth shall be its worst days. The last war shall be the most fearful and terrible war that ever desolated the earth.[xvii]

The theology fell out of style, yet there are some very smart theologians whom I respect who still hold this theology today. John Frame[xviii] and Keith Mathison both consider themselves Post-Millennial.

I say all that because, while I do not consider myself Postmillennial, I really respect those who take that view, and their arguments are generally very scriptural. They point to many times, both in Scripture and in the time since Christ, when Christian influence has changed the world for the good. They remind us that when Jesus changes someone’s head and heart, those changes lead to changes in our actions which affect the society in which we live.

NEXT TIME…..Premillenialism…..

FOOTNOTES

[i] Ligonier has a devotional published about the kingdom of God which cites these verses in Ephesians: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/seated-at-gods-right-hand/

[ii] John MacArthur sermon on Revelation 20 (Part 1): http://www.gty.org/resources/print/sermons/66-73

[iii] Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, Pg. 307.

[iv] Kelly, Pg. 11

[v] John M. Frame, ‘Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief’, Pg. 87

[vi] Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, Pg. 45

[vii] Anthony Hoekema, ‘The Bible and the Future’, Pg. 51

[viii] For more on the linear nature of history, see Anthony Hoekema’s ‘Created in God’s Image’

[ix] Tom Schreiner, New Testament Biblical Theology, Pg. 846-847.

[x] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1110.

[xi] John Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1087-1088

[xii] R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, Pg. 313.

[xiii] John Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1088

[xiv] John Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1088

[xv] Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1088.

[xvi] Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, Pg. 314.

[xvii] J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Luke 21:10-19. Here Ryle is discussing the Olivet Discourse and particularly, “Christ’s predictions concerning the nations and the world.” That this important, and sound, theologian and pastor would raise such a warning flag against the post-mil mindset while its popularity was at its zenith is (to me) a very important note.

[xviii] Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1094