Postmillennialism: A Redeemed World or Race By: Loraine Boettner
Postmillennialism: A Redeemed World or Race
On postmillennial principles a strong emphasis is thrown on the universality of Christ’s work of redemption, and hope is held out for the salvation of an incredibly large number of the race of mankind. Since it was the world, or the race, which fell in Adam, it was the world, or the race, which was the object of Christ’s redemption. This does not mean that every individual will be saved, but that the race as a race will be saved. Jehovah is no mere tribal deity, but is described as ‘the Lord of the whole earth,’ 'a great King over all the earth’ (Psa_97:5; Psa_47:2).
The salvation that He had in view cannot be limited to a little select group or favored few. The good news of redemption was not merely local news for a few villages in Palestine, but was a world message; and the abundant and continuous testimony of Scripture is that the kingdom of God is to fill the earth, 'from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth’ (Zec_9:10).
Early in the Old Testament we have the promise that 'all the earth shall be filled with the glory of Jehovah’ (Num_14:21); and Isaiah repeats the promise that all flesh shall see the glory of Jehovah (Isa_40:5). Isaiah was set for 'a light to the Gentiles,’ and for 'salvation unto the end of the earth’ (Isa_49:8; Act_13:47). Joel made the clear declaration that in the coming days of blessing, the Spirit hitherto given only to Israel would be poured out upon the whole earth. 'And it shall come to pass afterward,’ said the Lord through His prophet, 'that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh’ (2:28); and Peter applied that prophecy to the outpouring that was begun at Pentecost,–'But this is that which hath been spoken through the prophet Joel …’ (Act_2:16 f).
Nothing could well exceed the plainness, directness and precision with which the conversion of the nations is announced in the Psalms:
'All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, 0 Lord;
And they shall glorify thy name’ (Psa_86:9).
'All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto Jehovah; And all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee’ (Psa_22:27).
'Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, And the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession’ (Psa_2:8).
The 47th Psalm sings of the sovereignty of God, and of His rulership over the nations:
'For Jehovah Most High is terrible; file is a great King over all the earth. He subdueth peoples under us, And nations under our feet … For God is the King of all the earth; Sing ye praises with understanding, God reigneth over the nations: God sitteth upon his holy throne’ (Psa_1:1-8).
Probably nowhere is the universal reign of Christ stated more strongly than in the Messianic 72nd Psalm:
'In his day shall the righteous flourish, And abundance of peace, till the moon be no more. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, And from the River unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; And his enemies shall lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall render tribute: The kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: All nations shall serve him … All nations shall call him happy … And let the whole earth be filled with his glory’ (Psa_72:7-11, Psa_72:17).
'All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, 0 Lord; And they shall glorify thy name’ (Psa_86:9).
'I Jehovah saith unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool’ (Psa_110:1).
We call special attention to the fact that this latter verse from the 110th Psalm means that Christ is to conquer all. The right hand position is the position of power and influence. This conquest is now in process of accomplishment as He advances against His enemies. His mediatorial reign from the right hand of God is to continue until all of His enemies have been subdued. In the New Testament Christ Himself quoted this verse to prove His Deity (Luk_20:42-43). Peter too quoted this verse (Act_2:34-35) to prove that what had happened at Pentecost was the fulfillment of Psa_110:1. He thus saw its fulfillment, not as a cataclysmic act coming at the day of judgment, but in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church during the present age. This process is to continue until all of Christ’s enemies have been placed under His feet, so that He reigns over all the earth.
There is no mistaking the meaning of these announcements found in the Psalms. They are as unambiguous as anything that can be spoken by the most sanguine advocates of foreign missions in this twentieth century. Yet they come from the time of David, and most of them are from his pen. By him the Holy Spirit, for twenty-nine centuries, has been bearing witness that God’s visible Church is destined to embrace all the nations that He has created on the whole face of the earth. A time is coming when they shall acknowledge the Lord as their Ruler. They have long forgotten Him, but one day they shall acknowledge His claims and turn to Him, even in the uttermost parts of the earth. Says Mr. Kik:
'The Covenant concept of 'all nations blessed’ comes to the fore in the poetry of the Psalter. The composers of the Book of Praise of the Old Testament looked for the triumph of the Church upon earth. There are no better missionary hymns than those contained in the Psalms. One of the contributing factors to present-day pessimism, gloominess, defeatism within the Church is the omitting of the Psalms from the hymn books’’ (An Eschatology of Victory, p. 22).
In Isa_2:2-3 we read: 'And it shall come to pass in the latter days, that the mountain of Jehovah’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem.’ In the book of Hebrews 'Mount Zion,’ God’s holy mountain, is spiritualized to mean the Church (Heb_12:22). Hence in this prophecy it must mean that the Church, having attained a position so that it stands out like a mountain on a plain, will be prominent and regulative in all world affairs.
Ezekiel gives us the picture of the increasing flow of the healing waters which issue from under the threshold of the temple; waters which first were only to the ankles, then to the knees, then to the loins, then a great river, waters which could not be passed through (Eze_47:1-5). Daniel’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream taught the same truth. The king saw a large image, with various parts of gold, silver, brass, iron and clay. Then he saw a stone cut without hands, which stone smote the image so that the gold, silver, brass, iron and clay were carried away like the chaff of the summer threshing floor. These various elements represented great world empires which were to be broken in pieces and completely destroyed, while the stone cut out without hands represented a spiritual kingdom which God Himself would set up and which figuratively would become a great mountain and fill the whole earth. 'And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever’ (Dan_2:44). The generally accepted interpretation of the dream is that the four parts of the image represented four successive empires, the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Macedonian empire of Alexander the Great, and the Roman empire. In the light of the New Testament we see that the final kingdom, represented by the stone cut out without hands, was the one that Christ set up, which indeed was set up while the Roman empire still was in existence. The Church, an institution not of human but of divine origin and therefore described as 'cut out without hands,’ was destined to outlast and break in pieces all of the anti-Christian kingdoms, that is, convert and transform them, and so, figuratively, to become a great mountain and fill the whole earth, so prominent will it be in every phase of human life.
In the vision which Daniel saw, recorded in chapter 7, the beast made war against the saints and prevailed against them for a time,–but, 'the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom’ (Dan_7:22).
Jeremiah gives the promise that the time is coming when it will no longer be necessary for a man to say to his brother or to his neighbor, 'Know Jehovah’; 'for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them’ (Jer_31:34). The last book of the Old Testament contains a promise that 'from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles, saith Jehovah of hosts’ (Mal_1:11)
In the New Testament we find the same clear teaching. At the Jerusalem Conference James cited the prophecy of Amo_9:11-12, that in the days to come God would pour out spiritual blessings on His people, 'that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the nations that are called by my name,’–Edom here being taken as typical of Jehovah’s enemies; and James, speaking by inspiration and quoting this prophecy, gives it a wider interpretation, saying that 'the residue of men,’ and 'all the Gentiles,’ are to 'seek after the Lord’ (Act_15:17). This clearly implies the world-wide conversion of the nations.
The New Testament puts a strong emphasis on the fact that it is the world that is the object of Christ’s redemption. 'Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world’ (1Jn_2:2). 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him’ (Joh_3:16-17). 'The Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world’ (1Jn_4:14). 'Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world’ (Joh_1:29). 'We have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world’ (Joh_4:42). 'I am the light of the world’ (Joh_8:12). 'God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself’ (2Co_5:19).
The parable of the leaven teaches the universal extension and triumph of the Gospel, and it further teaches that this development is accomplished through the gradual development of the Kingdom, not through a sudden and cataclysmic explosion. There we are told that 'the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened’ (Mat_13:33). The Kingdom of heaven, like leaven, transforms that with which it comes in contact. All the meal was transformed by its contact with the leaven. Similarly, Christ teaches, society is to be transformed by the Kingdom of heaven, and the result will be a Christianized world. Premillennialists cannot admit this. To do so would contradict their whole system. Hence they seek another meaning, and where Christ says the Kingdom of heaven is like leaven, they say that the leaven is not symbolical of the Kingdom of heaven, but of evil. J. S. Silver, one of their representative writers, says: 'Literally, it denotes sin, therefore here it means apostasy’ (The Lord’s Return, p 247). And another representative writer, W. E. Blackstone, says: 'We believe that the leaven in the parable of Mat_13:1-58 represents . . the false doctrines which have crept in and so pervaded the professing church that it has, in the main, become merely formal and nominal’ (Jesus Is Coming, p. 95). We are at a loss to understand how any one professing to take the Bible at face value, particularly those who lay great stress on literal interpretation, can deliberately contradict the words spoken so clearly and unequivocally and make them mean the exact opposite, in this case, false doctrine. These are the very people who protest so strongly against 'spiritualizing.’ Anyone who can so change the meaning of Scripture can make it mean anything that he pleases. According to this interpretation Christ is to be understood as saying in effect that,“The kingdom of heaven is like an evil influence which brings the whole world into a state of apostasy.’ This is an example of the extremity to which some will go, the forced interpretation to which they will resort, in defending a theory. They would never arrive at such a meaning if they were not attempting to avoid the clear implication of the parable.
Premillennialists seize upon the words of Jesus in Mat_24:14, 'And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come’ (King James Version), as proving their doctrine that the gospel is to be preached only as a 'witness,’ or as a 'testimony’ (American Standard Version), and therefore that it is not intended to convert the world. This verse in itself may not be decisive as to the purpose and effect of such preaching. But such definitely was not the case when Christ gave the Great Commission to the disciples. There He said: 'All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye 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 whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world’ (Mat_28:18-20).
Here we are told that 'all authority’ in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ for the performance of this work. Commenting on this point Dr. Snowden says: 'All authority includes all power of every kind that is applicable to this task. Jesus Christ can never have any more power than He has now, for He now has all there is. Premillenarians put their confidence in some 'rod of iron’ with which Christ will 'smite down all opposition’ when He comes, but Christ now has omnipotence and has pledged it to the present work of preaching the gospel for the conversion of the world.’ He goes on to say that, 'The Greek word translated 'make disciples of ’ is a strong one, meaning not merely to 'preach’ or 'evangelize’ but to convert into disciples … We have in this commission express and inescapable teaching that the gospel is preached not simply for 'evangelizing’ or 'for a witness’, but for the deeper work of conversion .. . These nations are to be converted into Christian disciples, and this work is not done but only begun when they are 'evangelized,’ or simply had the gospel preached to them. Jesus here speaks in world terms, here is the splendid universality of His gospel … Premillenarians say that Christ the King is absent and tell us what great things He will do when He comes again. But Christ Himself assures us He is present and is even now with us in our work … To reduce this great commission to the premillenarian program of preaching the gospel as a witness to a world that is to grow worse and worse until it plunges into its doom in destruction, is to emasculate the gospel of Christ and wither it into Pitiful impotency. This is to send the gospel out into the world as a futile thing, foreordained to failure from the start. No, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and Jesus Christ, marching in the greatness of His strength, sends us on no empty errand of uttering a message that will die away in the air on an unheeding and hostile world, gathering only a few out of its innumerable multitudes and consigning the vast majority to destruction, but He sends us to 'make disciples of all the nations’ and thereby win the world itself’ (The Coming of the Lord, pp. 98-103).
We find that Christ’s work of redemption truly has as its object the people of the entire world and that His Kingdom is to become universal. And since nothing is told us as to how long the earth shall continue after that goal has been reached, possibly we can look forward to a great 'golden age’ of spiritual prosperity continuing for centuries, or even for millenniums, during which time Christianity shall be triumphant over all the earth, and during which time the great proportion even of adults shall be saved. It seems that the number of the redeemed shall then be swelled until it far surpasses that of the lost.