Chapter Four Postmillennialism (22): The Reformed (Amillennial) Critique of Postmillennialism (cont.)

Previous article in this series: January 1, 2013, p. 151.

 

In my critique of postmillennialism, I am examin­ing the alleged biblical basis of the doctrinal error. I have considered the Old Testament prophecies, especially Isaiah 65 and Matthew 24.

Romans 11:25, 26

Yet another passage of Scripture that is important to the postmillennial doctrine is Romans 11, especially verses 25 and 26:

Verse 25: For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Is­rael, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.

Verse 26: And so all Israel shall be saved; as it is writ­ten, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.

The importance of Romans 11 to postmillennialism is that, on the postmillennial reading of the chapter, Romans 11:26 predicts a dramatic historical event in the future, prior to the second coming of Christ. This event is thought to be the conversion to Jesus Christ of large numbers of Jews. This prediction, therefore, is a kind of concrete, biblical warrant for the postmillen­nial dream of the future conversion of a majority of the human race and the resultant transformation of the world into the glorious (earthly) kingdom of Christ. If large numbers of the Jewish race and nation are to be converted, the postmillennial teaching of the conver­sion of large numbers of the entire race does not seem so biblically suspect as otherwise would be the case.

The postmillennial explanation of Romans 11, especially verses 25 and 26, is as follows. At some time still in the future, prior to the second coming of Christ, the Spirit of Christ will convert large numbers of Jews, likely the vast majority. This will be a restora­tion of the “nation of Israel.” Many postmillennialists have supposed that this mass conversion will involve a restoration of the Jews to the land of Canaan.

This conversion of the Jews is viewed as the begin­ning of the millennium, or “golden age”—the perfection of the Messianic kingdom. For the conversion of the Jews in large numbers will signal, and somehow serve to realize, a similar conversion of the majority of the entire human race. Because the majority of mankind will become Christians, the Jews leading the way, they will dominate all of earthly life over all the world. With the Christian church in power, earthly peace will settle upon all nations and peoples, and earthly prosperity will be enjoyed by all. The conversion of the Jews will betoken and commence the (earthly) reign of King Jesus in and over the world for a thousand years.

Murray and the Puritans

Iain H. Murray presents, and advocates, the doctrine of the Puritans regarding the large scale conversion of Jews and its significance for the millennial kingdom of Christ.

For the Puritans of the seventeenth century, “the future of the Jews had decisive significance . . . because . . . with the calling of the Jews there will come far-reaching blessing for the world.”1 The Puritans expected “a large and visible addition of Jews to Christ’s church” and looked “to Romans 11:25-26 for their chief authority.”2

On Puritan thinking, the passage prophesies a “fa­mous, notorious, universal calling of the Jews,” so that “the body of the Jews [is] received again” at some time in the future.3 Murray, an enthusiast for revivals, explains: “There is a great revival predicted here.”4 The Jewish revival will bring “Israel as a mass into the Church.”5

With appeal to Romans 11:15 (“What shall the re­ceiving of them be, but life from the dead”), Murray and the Puritans propose that the revival that will convert the Jews will “bring revival to the world.”6 That is, the conversion of the majority of Jews will somehow lead to the conversion of large numbers of Gentiles.

And this will be the onset of the millennium for which postmillennialists, including Iain Murray, dream, and argue. “Vast numbers of the natural descendants of Abraham will own and serve their Redeemer”—“in the ‘latter day glory.’”7

In arguing for the “latter day glory” of postmillen­nialism, Murray takes note of Herman Hoeksema’s objection, that the Bible foretells the very opposite of peace and prosperity for the church before Christ’s coming. Murray responds by asserting that much of the biblical prophecy of tribulation, for example, Mat­thew 24, has already been fulfilled, in the destruction of Jerusalem. Regarding the crucially important matter of the interpretation of the biblical warnings of apostasy and tribulation in the last days, immediately preceding the coming of Christ, Murray shows himself a preterist, as all postmillennialists are compelled to be. “The great tribulation predicted for the Jews [sic] on account of their apostasy has been fulfilled.”8

In II Timothy 3, another passage prophesying hard times for the church, “Paul was thinking primarily of his own time!”9

But preterism does not solve all of postmillennial­ism’s problems with New Testament prophecy concern­ing the last days. Especially the book of Revelation casts dark shadows on the rosy picture of the future painted by Murray and other postmillennialists. De­spite his preterist interpretation of many passages of Scripture that forewarn of troubles and tribulation for the church in the future, Murray must acknowledge that the “Scriptures seem to indicate a time of serious declension immediately preceding the advent.”10

The final solution is to “futurize” these Scriptures. That is, all such predictions of apostasy and tribulation refer to the period after the millennium. Between the “golden age” and the coming of Christ, many of the Jews and Gentiles who professed faith in Christ and showed themselves saints will fall away from Christ and become hostile to the church.

Thus, the earthly power, peace, and prosperity of the millennium are secured. Whatever threatens the millennium is either thrust into the past or projected far into the future. Nothing in Scripture may jeopardize the millennium.

But this solution does imply that the victory of Christ in the millennial kingdom—an earthly victory, according to postmillennialism—leaves much to be desired. It is not a lasting victory. In fact, in the end the millennial kingdom will be defeated, and broken up, in history. And this is a heavy, if not fatal, blow to postmillennialism, driven as it is by the conviction that Christ must have an earthly victory within history.

Christian Reconstruction

Christian Reconstruction postmillennialism is in agreement with the Puritans regarding the conversion of the Jews as the start of the millennium. With appeal to Romans 11, David Chilton has written that “some­day a majority among ethnic Israel will be saved. The people of Israel, as a whole, will turn back to the faith of their fathers and will acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.”11 This conversion of the Jews will usher in the millennium: “The conversion of Israel will result in an era of great blessings for the entire world . . . . This is when the Biblical promises of the Kingdom’s earthly blessings will reach their highest and most complete fulfillment.”12

à Brakel

Also the Dutch Reformed postmillennialist Wil­helmus à Brakel understood Romans 11 as teaching “the conversion of the entire Jewish nation” prior to Christ’s coming. The conversion of the Jews will be followed by “the glorious millennial state of the church upon earth.”13 The proof of this expectation, “we derive from Romans 11.”14

What this future conversion of the Jews will entail, Brakel indicated: “Jerusalem would be rebuilt and be further expanded, and also the unclean places in Jerusa­lem would be removed . . . . The Jewish nation will once most certainly be converted, and be re-established in her country.”15

This conversion of the “Jewish nation” will be the oc­casion of the conversion of the Gentiles on a large scale, and basic to the realization of the millennium. “The general conversion of Israel . . . will bring about much more blessing, light, life, and zeal among the Gentiles.”16 In his untranslated “Explanation of the Revelation of John,” Brakel wrote:

The entire Jewish nation shall acknowledge our Lord Je­sus to be the true and only and their promised Messiah, shall be converted to Him, [and] shall love, honor, and glorify Him uniquely . . . . The knowledge of the Lord Jesus, the love to Him, the zeal for Him, the holiness of life, [and] the glory shall be so great in the Jewish nation that the Gentiles shall flow to them and to faith in Christ.17

For this conception of the conversion of the Jews and its significance in ushering in the millennium, Brakel ap­pealed to Romans 11:15.18

Indicating a grievous theological error in the thinking of Brakel and others concerning a future conversion of the “nation of Israel” is Brakel’s application of the Old Testament prophecies of the future salvation and glory of Israel to racial Jews today—not to the New Testament church. Ezekiel 37, Isaiah 62, Zecharaiah 14, and many more Old Testament prophecies, according to Brakel, refer strictly to physical descendants of Abraham. For Brakel, the church is not the New Testament reality of Old Testament Israel. Brakel also refused to explain the blessings promised in the Old Testament as spiritual, that is, as the blessings of spiritual salvation.

Brakel denied that the Old Testament texts mentioned above “speak of the glorious state of the church of the New Testament” and that the promises of blessedness and glory refer “to spiritual matters, rather than to the conversion of the Jews and their restoration to Canaan.” Rather, Brakel insisted, “With every text we have shown emphatically that they speak of Israel and what would befall them according to soul and body.”19

This doctrine smacks of the gross error of dispensa­tionalism, which sees Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church as two different peoples, rather than as the one church of Christ.

It is fundamental Reformed doctrine that Old Testa­ment Israel was not merely an earthly nation of racial Jews, but the immature form of the church of believers and their spiritual seed. It is fundamental Reformed doctrine that the New Testament church of believers and their children out of all nations and of all races is the fulfillment—the mature reality—of Old Testament Israel. “What dost thou believe concerning the Holy Catholic Church? That out of the whole human race, from the beginning to the end of the world, the Son of God by his Spirit and Word, gathers, defends, and preserves for himself unto everlast­ing life, a chosen communion in the unity of the true faith . . . .”20

The Reformed faith rejects the notion that there will one day be a “restoration of the nation of Israel” in any manner and the notion that such a “restoration” will involve a return of the Jews to the earthly Canaan, the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the renewal of even some of the ceremonies of the Old Testament.


1 Iain H. Murray, The Puritan Hope: A Study in Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1971), 59, 60.

2 Ibid., 61.

3 Ibid., 68.

4 Ibid., 66.

5 Ibid., 77.

6 Ibid., 70, 71.

7 Ibid., 78; emphasis added.

8 Ibid., 79. The faithful reader of this series will remember that preterism is the false interpretation of the biblical passages that foretell tribulation for the people of God that explains these passages as having been fulfilled in the past (“preterism” means ‘past’), mainly in AD 70 in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. Therefore, according to preterism no tribulation, par­ticularly no Antichrist, will confront the church in the future. This opens the way to the bright and cheerful forecast for the church of postmillennialism.

9 Ibid., 80.

10 Ibid., 81.

11 David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Tyler, Texas: Reconstruction Press, 1985), 126

12 Ibid., 131.

13 Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 4, tr. Bartel Elshout (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), 348.

14 Ibid., 511.

15 Ibid., 529.

16 Ibid., 516.

17 Wilhelmus à Brakel, Redelijke Godsdienst [English trans­lation: Reasonable Service], 2nd ed., vol. 2 (Leiden: D. Donner, 1893), 323. Translation of the Dutch is mine.

18 Ibid.

19 à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 533.

20 Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 54, in Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966), 324, 325.