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Postmillennialism: The Final Apostasy and Rebellion? by Loraine Boettner

By April 9, 2011April 12th, 2016Postmillennialism

A question which confronts both Post- and Premillennialism is this: Is there to be a brief but world-wide apostasy and rebellion at the end of the Millennium? Does the large proportion of the human race, after enjoying the high privileges which come with life during the millennial era, turn violently against God and righteousness and attempt to overthrow the Kingdom that has been established?

That such is to be the case has usually been the assumption of Post- and Premillennialism alike. So far as Amillennialism is concerned a final rebellion does not present special difficulty, because it does not expect a future age of righteousness. Most Amillennialists, however, also have expected an apostasy. But on either post- or premillennial principles, and coming at the very height of the millennial reign, such a development does seem to be anti-climactic and to present a very unpleasant feature. Whether the millennial age is looked upon as the result and fruitage of a long and costly campaign of world evangelism, as the Postmillennialist believes, or whether it is looked upon as a divinely established kingdom with Christ ruling in person in Jerusalem, a general apostasy and rebellion in which the Devil is given a world-wide even though brief triumph seems to be entirely out of character. Much of the glory of the Kingdom would seem to be lost with such a rebellion.

The Scripture cited in this connection is Revelation 20:3, 7-10. After the statement that Satan is to be chained and cast into the abyss for a thousand years so that he should deceive the nations no more, we read: ‘After this he must be loosed for a little time… And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall come forth to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up over the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down out of heaven, and devoured them. And the Devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.’

This passage contains much figurative language and admittedly is difficult to interpret. However, as stated earlier, we believe that the binding of Satan referred to in verses 1-3, so that he can deceive the nations no more, means that the world is to be Christianized. These verses seem clearly to refer to the earth since John saw the angel coming down out of heaven, and the Devil was bound so that he should deceive the nations no more until the thousand years are finished. ‘Nations’ relate to earthly life, not to heavenly life. We believe that verses 4-6 are parenthetical and that they refer to the intermediate state.

It is to be remembered in the first place that the Devil already is a defeated and fallen foe, and that he cannot tempt or injure mankind or do anything else except as he receives permission from God. Premillennialists have a tendency to underrate the power of God and to overrate the power of the Devil. Some talk as if the Devil were a formidable foe, ‘the god of this world’ in a literal sense, contending on practically an equal footing with God, and winning many victories. We can never understand the course of this world’s events unless we keep in mind that God is the absolute and unchallengeable Sovereign of all that exists, and that no event, good or bad, great or small, can take place without either His decretive or permissive will. That he does allow much evil that He could prevent if He chose, is an undeniable fact. But He limits it, controls it, and overrules it for His own glory and the greater good of His people. He often uses one evil person or power to punish another. The power that the Devil and evil men have in this world is like that which the cruel and arrogant king of Assyria exercised toward Israel, who, while pursuing his own plans, was in reality only the instrument of God for the chastisement of Israel (Is. 10:5-15). He was completely in the hands of God and could go as far as but no farther than God chose to allow him to go. This is the only adequate view of the course of history if we are to understand God’s dealings with men.

All of this is clearly brought out in the story of Job. The Devil could not touch Job until given permission, and then could do so only within prescribed limits. In that instance God overruled the Devil’s evil designs and made use of them to further the sanctification of His servant. By that means God tested Job’s patience, humbled his pride, vanquished his self-confidence, and in the end led Job to trust more deeply in His grace. In the New Testament we read that ‘God spared not angels when they sinned [the Devil included), but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment’ (II Peter 2:4). During the public ministry of Jesus the Devil and the demons were immediately subject to His commands. Hence any interpretation that we made of Revelation 20 must be made on the assumption that the Devil is at all times under God’s absolute control and subject to His commands.*

This final ‘war,’ of course, has nothing to do with military maneuvers or military weapons, or even with geographical locations. It is the last phase of the spiritual warfare that has been raging between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. It has been shown, we believe, that the great battle described in Revelation 19:11-21 is not a military but a spiritual conflict which rages through the centuries. The war against the saints in Revelation 20:7-l0 is of the same nature, although of much shorter duration. ‘ Inasmuch as new material relevant to this topic is being added in a new chapter on pages 388 and following (Revised Edition, 1983) it has become necessary to delete some material as contained on pages 69, 70, 73 and 75 of the original edition. The Lord’s people have a place of refuge and safety in ‘the camp of the saints,’ ‘the beloved city,’ and not one of them is lost. ‘The camp of the saints’ and ‘the beloved city’ of verse 9 quite clearly are figurative expressions referring to the Church, which is a source of spiritual strength and wisdom and safety for the saints. The regenerate souls in the true Church, as revealed in Revelation 7:3, 4, are sealed so that they cannot be hurt, that is, so that they cannot be led into apostasy by any of the Devil’s works. No true saint apostatizes to the service of the Devil. All the time they are under divine protection, which is symbolized by the fire that comes down out of heaven and devours their enemies. The weapons used by Satan and his followers are false doctrines, heresies, lies, slander, etc., which are directed against the Lord’s people. Those who are not born again Christians are easy victims of the Devil’s wiles and become his followers. But true Christians are inwardly prepared and ready to meet any such attack and cannot be hurt by any of these things.

Earlier in the New Testament, when writing to the Christians in the Church at Ephesus, Paul used similar language and expounded at length the idea that the Christian is inwardly prepared and secure against the attacks of the evil one. ‘Put on the whole armour of God,’ he said, ‘that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil.’ ‘For,’ he continues, ‘our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Wherefore take up the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; withal taking up the shield of faith wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. And that the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: with all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints’ (Eph. 6:11-18). And to the Corinthians he wrote: ‘For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds); casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ’ (II Cor. 10:3-5).

To assume that at the end of the Millennium the vast multitude of the saints of God are literally shut up in the city of Jerusalem by their enemies and rendered practically helpless is to assume the absurd. We must ever keep in mind that this is symbolical language, that what we are seeing is not the reality, but a vision, a great pageant, and that the material symbols are merely used to set forth spiritual truth.

In his recent book, An Eschatology of Victory, Rev. J. Marcellus Kik makes the following comment regarding the loosing of Satan and the warfare against the beloved city:

‘Notice that Satan does not break out of the prison by his own power. He does not break his chains. He is loosed by the Lord… The names of Gog and Magog are used much as we might use the names of Hitler and Nazi after our experience in World War II. Hitler and Nazi bring before our minds cruel armies who wrought much damage. We might well term some future tyrant Hitler and some future nation Nazi horde without having Germans in mind. In Revelation the names of the old enemies are used to designate new ones. Gog and Magog represent future enemies of the Church whose names are as yet unknown. This type of interpretation is taught in Revelation 11:8, ‘And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.’ Sodom and Egypt are ‘spiritualized.’ Even so we ‘spiritualize’ Gog and Magog…

‘It is difficult for some to conceive of the nature of the opposition. The language is so vivid that it is hard for us to realize that this is not a battle of arms — of sword and gun. Our Lord clearly implies that the battle for Christianity is not fought with carnal sword. It is a battle between the true Gospel and the false Gospel. It is a battle of truth against error. It is a battle of light against darkness. It is not a war against flesh and blood, ‘but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of the world, against spiritual wickedness in high places’…

‘They compassed the camp of the saints about. The Church is likened to a military camp. This is a figure borrowed from the time of Moses and Joshua when the Church even externally presented the form of a military camp. The twelve tribes with their banners surrounded the Tabernacle on four sides. The camp was in the form of a square, of which the four sides were to be placed toward the four quarters of the compass. This was a type of the heavenly city as seen by Ezekiel 48:20 and the city foursquare of Revelation 21:16. The camp and the City are but different figures of speech to describe the Church upon earth. The Church in heaven will never be surrounded by enemies such as are pictured to us in Revelation 20…

‘To others this is the literal city of Jerusalem. Just a little thinking will show how impossible this is. Imagine all the armies of the nations of the world laying siege to one city in Palestine! And you must picture modern armies equipped with missiles, bombs, and planes. The land of Palestine could not contain all the armies of the world. This is figurative language. This is the language of the Old Testament to express the enmity of the world against the Church’ (pp. 237-242).

It is of further interest in this connection to note that Dr. Warfield believed there will be no resurgence of evil at all at the end, but rather that at the return of Christ the present Kingdom — then perfected, with the conquering of the last enemy, death,– will be merged into the eternal kingdom. He understood the section Revelation 20:1-10 to refer to the intermediate state, and he believed that the ‘thousand years’ was intended to describe the heavenly bliss of the saints in Paradise, in contrast with which the trial time of the Church on earth is described by the term ‘a little time’ (vs. 3). This view made it possible for him to hold that there is no apostasy or rebellion at all at the close of the golden age of righteousness and peace. As a Postmillennialist he believed that the world is to be converted to Christianity before the return of Christ, but he based his view on Revelation 19:11-21 and on the intimations in Romans 11 and I Corinthians 15 rather than on Revelation 20:1-10. He says concerning Revelation 20:1-10:

‘The picture that is brought before us here is the picture of the ‘intermediate state’ — of the saints of God gathered in heaven away from the confused noises and garments bathed in blood that characterizes the war upon earth, in order that they may securely await the end. The thousand years, thus, is the whole of this present dispensation, which again is placed before us in its entirety, but looked at now relatively not to what is passing on the earth but to what is enjoyed ‘in paradise.’ This, in fact, is the meaning of the symbol of a thousand years. For, this period between the events is, on earth, a broken time — three and a half years, a ‘little time’ (verse 3) — which, amid turmoil and trouble, the saints are encouraged to look upon as of short duration, soon to be over. To the saints in bliss it is, on the contrary, a long blessed period passing slowly and peacefully by, while they reign with Christ and enjoy the blessedness of holy communion with Him — ‘a thousand years.’

‘Of course the passage (xx. 1-10) does not give us a direct description of ‘the intermediate state.’ We must bear in mind that the book we are reading is written in symbols and gives us a direct description of nothing that is set before us, but always a direct description of the symbol by which it is represented. In the preceding vision (xix. 1l-21) we had no direct description of the triumph and progress of the Gospel, but only of a fierce and gruesome war: the single phrase that spoke of the slaying sword as ‘proceeding out of the mouth’ of the conqueror alone indicating that it was a conquest by means of persuading words. So here we are not to expect a direct description of the ‘intermediate state’…It is a description in the form of a narrative; the element of time and chronological succession belong to the symbol, not to the thing symbolized. The ‘binding of Satan’ is, therefore, in reality, not for a season, but with reference to a sphere; and his ‘loosing’ again is not after a period but in another sphere: it is not subsequence but exteriority that is suggested. There is, indeed, no literal ‘binding of Satan’ to be thought of at all: what happens, happens not to Satan but to the saints, and is only represented as happening to Satan for the purpose of the symbolical picture. What actually happens is that the saints described are removed from the sphere of Satan’s assaults. The saints described are free from all access of Satan — he is bound with respect to them: outside of their charmed circle his horrid work goes on. This is indicated, indeed, in the very employment of the two symbols ‘a thousand years’ and ‘a little time.’ A ‘thousand years’ is the symbol of heavenly completeness and blessing; the ‘little time’ of earthly turmoil and evil. Those in the ‘thousand years’ are safe from Satan’s assaults: those outside the thousand years are still enduring his attacks. And therefore he, though with respect to those in the thousand years bound, is not destroyed; and the vision accordingly requires to close with an account of his complete destruction, and of course this also must needs be presented in the narrative form of a release of Satan, the gathering of his hosts and their destruction from above’ (Article, The Millennium and the Apocalypse; reprinted in Biblical Doctrines, pp. 649-651).

We agree that Revelation 20:1-10 affords no real basis for believing that there is to be a final apostasy in the sense that a large proportion of earth’s inhabitants turn against God, or that the safety of the saints is seriously threatened.

Furthermore, after we have been shown in the Revelation 19:11- 21 how complete is Christ’s victory and how thoroughly crushed are all His foes, we cannot believe that at the end God as the sovereign Ruler of the world — He of whom the Scriptures say, ‘The * We shall have more information regarding Dr. Warfield’s views in chapter 22, which includes an article added to the 1983 edition of this book. king’s heart is in the hand of Jehovah as the watercourses; he turneth it whithersoever he will’ (Prov. 21:1); and, ‘He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?’ (Dan. 4:35) — will suddenly and purposefully throw away that victory and permit the Devil a worldwide triumph even for the briefest time. Once the hard-fought battle is over and such a magnificent victory won, we may be sure that it will be properly safeguarded, and that the Devil will never again be allowed to rise as a serious contender against God.

And this we believe is the consistent teaching of Scripture. Perhaps the most definite statement regarding the permanence of Messiah’s kingdom is found in Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, where, after indicating the successive world kingdoms that were to rise, Daniel said: ‘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’ (2:44). Ezekiel pictures the ever-increasing blessings of Messiah’s reign as a flow of healing waters that issue from under the threshold of the temple, first only ankle deep, then to the knees, then to the loins, then a great river that could not be passed through (47:1-5). Zechariah says of the Messianic Kingdom that ‘his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth’ (9:10). The kingdom prophecies in Isaiah and Micah teach a complete victory with never a reference to a final apostasy. Speaking through the Psalmist God said, ‘Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, And the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession’ (2:8).

The New Testament presents the same teaching. The healing stream pictured by Ezekiel finds fulfillment in the life-giving ministry of the Christian Church. The kingdom of heaven is said to be ‘like unto leaven,’ which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened’ (Matt. 13:33).

‘The residue of men, and all the Gentiles’ are to ‘seek after the Lord’ (Acts 15:17). Christ is to sit at the right hand of the Father until all His enemies have been placed under His feet (Acts 2:35) — and there is no reason to believe that those enemies, having once been conquered, will ever again be permitted to rise up and renew the battle.

A striking contrast between the Millennium in which the Postmillennialist believes and that in which the Premillennialist believes is seen in the degree to which evil will be allowed to assert itself during that time and at its close. The Postmillennialist believes that as the Millennium becomes a reality evil will be reduced to a minimum. But the Premillennialist believes that while Satan is to be bound so that he can no longer deceive the nations, those nations nevertheless continue at heart enemies, ready to turn to Satan and to follow his leadership in a war against the saints the moment the thousand years are finished. According to the premillennial view evil is effectively held in check during the Millennium only by the rod-of-iron rule of Christ.

Premillennialists who are accustomed to think of the millennial age as an age of righteousness and peace may be surprised to know what three of their representative men who have been so influential in bringing the system to its present form (Dispensationalism) had to say on this subject. John N. Darby, whose influence at the beginning of the movement was so formative, says: ‘Now there are a faithful few, Satan being the prince and god of this world, going against the stream. Then Christ will be the prince of the world, and Satan bound, and obedience will be paid to Christ’s manifested power even when men are not converted. When this obedience is not paid, excision takes place, so that all is peaceful and happy. It is a perfect government of the earth made good everywhere. When Satan is let loose and temptations come again, those not kept by grace follow him. I have an impression that piety will decline in the millennium; but it is founded on a figure, so that I do not insist on it; but the rest of what I have said is revealed. That men should fall when tempted, however sad, is nothing but what is very simple. It is the last effort of Satan’ (Collective Writings, xi., p. 534).

James H. Brookes, in his Maranatha, presents an even darker picture. Says he: ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh and though restrained during the Millennium it will manifest its inherent depravity at the first favorable opportunity, like a tiger long caged and curbed that will bound back to its native jungle with unquenchable thirst for blood when their iron bars are removed’ (p. 540, Fifth Ed., 1878).

And Dr. G. Campbell Morgan says: ‘We have seen that the Golden Age is to be characterized by the direct government of Christ. Sin will still be in the earth; but it will be held in repression and summarily punished as soon as manifested. The nations which Christ will rule with a rod of iron will be to a large extent disloyal in heart; so that when Satan is loosed for a little season he will straightway deceive them. True, there will be everywhere those who refuse enlistment under his banners; but the picture here is that of an enormous apostasy, the most fearful even seen… There is no doubt that to some who have dreamed of the Millennium as a finality, the outlook afterward is disappointing; but ere the kingdom of Jesus Christ in all its glory can be ushered in, the unbelief and disloyalty which lurks in the hearts of men must be brought to a final head… All the nations will be under the government of the ‘rod of iron,’ and will be compelled to submit therefore. In heart, however, the great mass will be rebellious to the end, and will eagerly avail themselves of the opportunity of outwardly throwing off the yoke and entering upon actual conflict when it presents itself in the unloosing of Satan’ (God’s Methods with Man, pp. 132, 133).

Commenting on this view Dr. Allis observes that it is not an attractive one and then says: ‘it is not pleasing to think of the Messianic King, the Prince of Peace, sitting enthroned as it were on a smouldering volcano; of a reign of Messiah, peaceful on the surface but seething with hate and muttered rebellion; of people yielding outward obedience because ‘excision’ is the inevitable consequence of disobedience and opposition, since the rod-of-iron rule can only mean the ‘dashing in pieces’ of the rebellious like a potter’s vessel. When we read that ‘the wolf shall dwell with the lamb,’ we do not take this to mean that the wolf will be as eager as ever to devour the lamb and be restrained from doing so only by fear of the consequences. We naturally understand it to imply a change of nature; the ravening beast, whether the words be taken literally or figuratively, will no longer desire to devour the lamb. ‘They shall not hurt nor destroy’ in all God’s holy mountain, for the reason that they will not want to, not because they will be restrained by force majeure from doing what they will want to do.’

He adds further that according to this view, ‘The enemies of Messiah will make a show of obedience to a rule which they hate. So we may say that, according to this view, the millennium will surpass all others as the age of hypocrisy and hypocrites. Men, many men, will submit only because they must; and these tiger-men will be waiting with ever growing impatience for the moment when defiance and resistance may offer at least the semblance of a successful issue’ (Prophecy and the Church, p. 241).

What a Millennium the Premillennialist has! A thousand years of Jewish supremacy with Jerusalem as the capital, semi-heavenly and semi-earthly, saints in glorified resurrection bodies mingling with sinners in the flesh, a mixed state of mortals and immortals, and all of this climaxed by an unprecedented manifestation of evil at its close! Human life and the work of the world will go on during all that long period very much as now. Men and women will marry and children will be born; people with mortal bodies will live in houses and eat physical food and be subject to sickness and death although not to the same degree as at present. Conditions will be ideal but not heavenly; the earth will be abundantly fruitful; multitudes will honor and worship God while other multitudes will be sullen and resentful. Wicked men will be held in check by the rule of force. To a considerable extent Old Testament conditions will be re-established. ‘The middle wall of partition’ between Jew and Gentile, which Christ has broken down ‘that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace’ (Eph. 2:14, 15), is to be built up again and made higher and stronger, and the Jews re-established as the chosen people. Such a Kingdom must of necessity be far inferior in glory to the final Kingdom.

Premillennialists insist that the latter part of Ezekiel, chapters 38 to 48, is to be taken with great literalness as having fulfillment in the millennial kingdom, and as foretelling a restored Israel in the land of Palestine. Thus the temple is to be rebuilt, animal sacrifices are again to be presented to make atonement for the sins of the people (45:15 — 46:15), the priests will officiate (46:2), the people of the earth will go up to Jerusalem for the appointed feasts (46:9), and Christ personally present and visible only to a comparatively small number of people will enter the temple by the eastern gate as the priests prepare His burnt-offerings and peace-offerings (46:2, 3). Notice that if these chapters are to be taken literally they do not say, as Premillennialists attempt to make them say, that the sacrifices will be only memorial in nature, but that they definitely are called ‘sin-offerings,’ ‘burnt offerings,’ and ‘meal-offerings’ (45:22, 25). A literalist has no right to give them any other meaning. We prefer to say that these predictions were fulfilled in part when Israel was restored to Palestine at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah and later, and that as regards any parts that did not find fulfillment at that time, Old Testament thought forms are employed to teach New Testament spiritual truths, truths which in that day could be expressed intelligently only through those forms with which the people were familiar.

Frankly, we have no desire for such a state as Premillennialism sets forth, but prefer at death to enter directly into the heavenly Kingdom. Surely it must be evident to anyone that such a state, though for the saints it may be marked by holiness of life, nevertheless leaves much to be desired, and that such a lesser state of things prolonged for a thousand years becomes not an increase but a decrease of blessedness, restraining rather than promoting the coming of the Kingdom of God in its fullness. There is in fact nothing to justify the prolongation of such a futile interval. For the departed saints who have been reigning with Christ a return to earthly life and earthly conditions would be, literally and figuratively, a great ‘come-down,’ a serious restriction of the glorious life that they now enjoy. The Premillennialist makes no adequate allowance for the far superior and radically different type of life enjoyed by the saints in Paradise and that to which they would be subjected if brought back to this earth. And as far as those who still are in the flesh are concerned, surely the Lord’s physical presence, visible to but a comparatively small number of His people, would mean less than His spiritual presence now experienced by all His people in all parts of the world — unless we are to cease walking by faith and begin walking by sight.

Again we say, What a Millennium the Premillennialist has! — a Millennium preceded by seven years of unparalleled confusion and suffering and persecution during the ‘Great Tribulation’ and under the reign of Antichrist, and ending with a universal revolt and war against which the saints and even Christ Himself seem to be helpless and from which they are rescued only by fire from heaven! We cannot refrain from asking, Does Christ desert His people at the end of the glorious millennial reign, that they should be shut up in Jerusalem and practically at the mercy of the enemy? Surely that cannot be! How is that strange turn of events to be explained?

And we must ask further, why, if such an important earthly interval lies ahead, why did not Christ and the apostles clearly predict that the temple would be rebuilt, the Levitical sacrifices and rituals re-established, the Aaronic priesthood restored, the Jews again appointed to be a separate and especially favored people, and Jerusalem again made the center of the world’s worship in a thousand year Jewish kingdom? There can be but one answer: Such a scheme formed no part of their belief. Far from localizing worship in a temple in Jerusalem, Jesus said, ‘The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father… The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for such doth the Father seek to be his worshippers. God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth’ (John 4:21-24).