A letter to the Editor
January 25, 1999
Dear Rev. Sandlin,
TIME for some confrontational theology!
I have been receiving the Chalcedon Report since 1988, and as a Bible-believing Christian I can honestly say that I agree with much of what I read in it. One thing I strongly disagree with is Chalcedon's postmillennial eschatology. I was a premillennialist before I began receiving the Chalcedon Report, and I remain a premillennialist. Let me tell you why I am persuaded that postmillennialism is a false doctrine.
Contrary to "the great Puritan vision of a Godly Golden Age before Christ's Second Advent," the Bible clearly teaches that the last days will be characterized by lack of righteousness, deception, war, famine, pestilence and earthquakes in various places. Christ said that the period of time just prior to His return would be as it was in the days of Noah (Mt. 24: 37-39). As we all know, the earth was filled with violence and corruption in the days of Noah. Christ also said that the end would come, not after the whole world had been converted to Christianity and been brought under the discipline of God's law-word, but after the gospel had been "PREACHED IN ALL THE WORLD FOR A WITNESS UNTO ALL NATIONS" (Mt. 24:14). "Today, for the first time in history, we are witnessing the preaching of the gospel on a global scale such as the world has never known, using radio, the printed page, television. It's one of the signs that we are to look for as we approach the end of history" (Billy Graham in Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, pp. 218-219).
Are we living in the last days? Most Christians, including myself, certainly think so. We are living in a time in which immorality and lawlessness are rampant (2 Tim. 3:1-5). We are seeing a resurgence of paganism and a proliferation of false Christs and false prophets (Mt. 24:5, 11, 24). The twentieth century has been the bloodiest in all of human history (Mt. 24:6). "One hundred twenty million people have been killed in 130 wars in this century, more than all those killed in war before 1900" (Richard Nixon in 1999: Victory Without War, p. 13). Famine and incurable disease have taken the lives of many millions more (Mt. 24:7). Earthquakes are occurring worldwide and with greater frequency and intensity (Mt. 24:7). Lastly, God's restoration of the national existence of Israel is a sure sign that we are living in the last days. "When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory" (Ps. 102:16).
Chalcedon claims that the church is now Israel. In spiritual terms, that's true. But it is not true that the church has replaced physical Israel. John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, and author of Final Dawn Over Jerusalem, writes:
On May 15, 1948, a theological earthquake leveled replacement theology when the State of Israel was reborn after 2,000 years of wandering. From the four corners of the earth, the Seed of Abraham returned to the land of their fathers. They arose from their Gentile "graves" (Ezek. 37:12) speaking sixty different languages, and they founded a nation that has become a superpower in forty years. Far from passing away, the State of Israel is building, growing, inventing, and developing. The desert is indeed blooming like a rose, just as Isaiah the prophet promised (3:15).
The rebirth of the nation of Israel is proof that God has not cast off His people. He will fulfill His word concerning them, not because they have deserved it, but because God says so in His word.
God's promise to restore the nation of Israel and bring the Jews back into the land of their forefathers is abundantly proclaimed in the Old Testament (Dt. 30:3-6; Is. 11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer. 16:14-14; 23:3; 30:3; Ezek. 11:17; 39:25-29; Hos. 3:4-5; 6:2; etc.). Again and again we can read in the prophetic Scriptures of the Old Testament that God will gather His people out of all the countries where He has driven them. He will also bring them "out of the land of the north" (Jer. 3:18), and the days are coming when the children of Israel will no longer speak of the exodus out of Egypt (Jer. 23:7-8). A second and greater exodus is taking place in our time. Many of the Jews now living in Israel have come from Russia (the "north country"), and there are many more yet to come out of that land. It is also interesting to note that God, in the last days, will "make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people" (Zec. 12:3). No one can deny that Jerusalem is increasingly becoming a "burdensome stone" for all concerned, but it shall remain in the hands of the Jewish people. God will see to that.
In 2 Peter 3:3-4 we read, "Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." In the days prior to Christ's return, says the Apostle Peter, there will be people who contemptuously dismiss the Second Coming. Such scoffers abound today. But the important question is this: If there is going to be a "Godly Golden Age before Christ's Second Advent," why would anyone in the last days be saying that everything has remained the same since the beginning of human history?
Let us be obedient to God and do all that He has commanded, but let us not think that we will be so victorious that we will establish the kingdom of God before Christ returns. Let us continue to advance the kingdom of our Lord and Savior, but let us not put our hope in an earthly theocracy that God has not promised for this age. Let us preach the gospel to every creature, but let us remember that "narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and FEW there be that find it" (Mt. 7:14).
Christ, when He returns, will establish God's kingdom in its fullness, and we will reign with Him a thousand years (Rev. 20:6). At the end of that time, the lost will be resurrected and judged according to their works. They and hell will then be cast into the lake of fire, where "the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever" (Rev. 14:11). The rest of us will live eternally with our God, who will make all things new (Rev. 21:5). Praise be to God forevermore!
Yours in Christ,
P.S. Although you are under no obligation to do so, I wish that you would publish my letter. There should be a "letter box" in the Chalcedon Report where readers may communicate their thoughts concerning important theological issues, provided they do so in an intelligent and respectful manner.
Response from Andrew Sandlin
February 17, 1999
Dear _________ :
Thanks for your letter of January 25. While I strongly disagree with your position and its implications, I appreciate your willingness to address important eschatological issues, as well as your suggestion that we include letters like yours in the Chalcedon Report. Our editorial committee had already decided to do this, and your letter and my response will be included in an upcoming issue. While my answer must be relatively brief, I am having the office send you copies of Rushdoony's God's Plan for Victory as well as my Postmillennial Primer. These works will address most of your assertions. In addition, I recommend the postmillennial works of Loraine Boettner, John Jefferson Davis, Kenneth Gentry, and Marcellus Kik. These works and others present a persuasive case for postmillennialism.
In my view, the texts which you adduce to support premillennialism fail to support it, and certain texts that you did not mention do quite clearly support postmillennialism.
You suggest that most Christians believe we are presently living in the "last days." I certainly hope this is the case, since this is precisely what the Bible teaches in fact, we know that the last days began as early as the first post-ascension Pentecost in Acts 2 (vv. 14-21). Notice that Hebrews 1:2 patently implies that the last days were a present reality at the time of the author's writing (see also 1 Pet. 1:20; 1 Jn. 2:18). It is true that the expression "the last day" refers to the day of final judgment and the accompanying resurrection (Jn. 6:29-40), but there can be little doubt that "the last days" (and "latter times") refers generally to virtually the entire interadvental era, the period between Christ's incarnation (or at least His resurrection, ascension, and session), and His visible Second Coming which signals the conclusion of human history. "Last days," therefore, denotes the last epoch of human history, the period immediately after which human history ends.
I believe you have greatly misunderstood Matthew 24:37-39. This passage says nothing about sinfulness's being a marked characteristic of Noah's contemporaries, and verses 40-44 indicates the sense in which verses 36-39 should be understood. The characteristic of Noah's contemporaries to which this passage points is not depravity, but insouciance, a lack of any sense of awareness of Christ's Second Advent. There is nothing Biblically objectionable in "eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage" (v. 38), any more than there is in grinding at a mill (v. 41) or guarding a house (v. 43). Verses 45-51 reveal the proper Christian response to the knowledge of Christ's Second Advent, faithfulness. Christians must never presume that history is to be interpreted by some uniformitarian scheme that the future will preserve the divinely uninterrupted continuity of the present and of the recent past (2 Pet. 3:1-4).
Further, Matthew 24:14 is a part of our Lord's extended monologue in answer to His disciples' question about the sign of His coming and the end of the world (or age). While postmillennialists differ among themselves in interpreting much of this chapter (some hold, for example, that much of it was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70), I hold that it, like the book of Revelation, constitutes a description of events occurring through much of the interadvental era, until the millennium blooms in all of its fullness. Postmillennialism asserts that Christ's kingdom will gradually overspread the earth, not that the interadvental era will be characterized by unvarnished bliss and harmony.
You cite 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Matthew 24:7, and Psalm 102:16 to support the notion that the world is growing more depraved, that Christianity is becoming a less dominant force, and that the Second Coming of Christ is imminent. These verses teach nothing of the kind. In the first place, while it is true that wicked men will grow increasingly wicked (possibly because they observe and deplore the advance of the gospel), there is no indication that the wicked will become more numerous and powerful. Second, you have not taken into account the unquestioned victories of Christianity in the world over the last 2000 years. While we today are far, far from the fullness of the earthly millennium prophesied in the Old Testament and confirmed in the New Testament, we can see about us the fruits of the extension of Christ's kingdom. There are unquestionably many more Christians today per the entire population than there were 2000 years ago when a small band of believers met in an upper room and received the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Ac. 2). Today the message of Christianity has gone around the world, though it is true that some nations and tribes have still not heard the gospel. The blessings of covenant obedience pledged in Deuteronomy 28 and elsewhere are quite evident; they are the fruits of an imperfect, though genuine, Christian civilization from the fourth century and preserved largely intact in European society until the eighteenth century, and in the United States until well into the nineteenth century. These include social dominance (Dt. 28:1-3), economic prosperity (vv. 4-5, 8, 11-12), military might (v. 7), worldly acclaim (v. 10), and world leadership (v. 13). These blessings are all the direct result of obedience to God's written law (v. 9, 13). The Western world today is living on the borrowed capital of the covenant faithfulness of its Christian forefathers. No postmillennialist, certainly none at Chalcedon, denies the great evils of the modern world. Nor does postmillennialism assert that the extension and the advancement of Christ's kingdom is an historically even escalation. History has meaning. Men, families, churches, and nations sin; when they sin, they are judged by God. Nonetheless, despite man's sin, Christ sovereignly advances His kingdom in time and history; the growth is not always even, but it is genuine. This, in addition, distinguishes Christian postmillennialism from liberal postmillennialism, which holds that Christ's kingdom advances because of the inherent goodness of man. Christian postmillennialism holds that Christ's kingdom advances in spite of the inherent sinfulness of man. One essential aspect of Christ's kingly office is to wield the sword of the gospel against unbelieving hearts, bringing them into submission to His royal grace, gospel, and law (Eph. 6:17; Phil. 3:20, 21; 1 Cor. 15:25; Rev. 19:11-21). In other words, Christ's advancing kingdom is a result of the evident power of God, not the spurious goodness of man.
You claim that the church has not replaced physical Israel in God's plan and that the "rebirth of the nation of Israel is proof that God has not cast off His people." You define this rebirth as God's "bring[ing] the Jews back into the land of their forefathers." I believe your understanding of this situation is partly correct, and that the part that is correct supports the postmillennial viewpoint. While it is perhaps misleading to assert that the church has replaced ethnic Israel, it certainly is correct to say that the Old Testament church has expanded to include the Gentiles as converted Gentiles, and not as ethnic Jews. This, by the way, is the only substantive difference between God's covenant plan as revealed in the Old Testament and that revealed in the New Testament. In the Old Testament era, or for most of it at least, one had to become an ethnic Jew in order to become a member of the covenant people of God; this is certainly not true in the New Testament era, as the New Testament teaches (Ac. 15:1-29; Gal. 2:1-16; Eph. 2:11-22), and as the Old Testament had prophesied (Is. 19:24-25). St. Paul makes clear that the true Jews are those united to Christ by faith (Rom. 2:24-29; 9:6-29; 10:11-13; 11:11-24; Gal. 3:16-29). As the last verse of Galatians 3 (as well as Eph. 2:11-16) makes clear, all Christians of whatever race are the seed of Abraham and are entitled to all of the promises of Abraham to which any converted Jews are entitled. There is no difference in God's dealings. I do not dispute the interpretation of the many Old Testament passages which sees them as securing Canaan for the Jews; but I hold that the intended recipients of this promise are no less the converted Gentiles than the converted Jews, and that, further, this promise of the inheritance of Canaan has been expanded to include the entire earth (Rom. 4:13). God's pledge of earthly inheritance for His covenant people has not changed; it has only been extended from a narrow tract in the Middle East to the entire earth. We see from the Old Testament to the New Testament no substantive change in God's covenant, but an extension of His soteriological, ecclesiological, and eschatological purposes. True worship is no longer limited to a specific location (Jn. 4:19-24). The priesthood is no longer a localized familial priesthood, but includes all Christians (Rev. 1:5, 6). This de-localization and universalization of God's covenant plan is expressed powerfully in Hebrews 12:18-29. Today, the most important Jerusalem is not the Jerusalem in modern Israel, but the heavenly Jerusalem in which the King sits reigning over the entire earth (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22; Rev. 21:2; cf. Ac. 2:30-36; 1 Cor. 15:27; Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 2:8).
In light of 2 Peter 3:3-4, you ask "if there is going to be a 'Godly Golden Age before Christ's Second Advent' why would anyone in the last days be saying that everything has remained the same since the beginning of human history?" The answer to this question is simple: we hold that the kingdom of God advances gradually and incrementally; unlike the premillennialists, we do not hold that the kingdom of God is a cataclysmically induced kingdom at Jesus Christ's return from heaven riding on a large horse. Rather, we hold that it advances slowly, almost imperceptibly (Mt. 13:31-33). Because the miraculous, supernatural advancement of the kingdom is such a gradual, continuous affair, sinners will conclude that history itself is uniformitarian. In other words, they will take for granted the blessings of God. This is quite similar to the pagan Westerner who challenges God to kill him on the spot if there is indeed a God, and concludes that there is no God because God does not oblige his wish. He is surrounded by the miraculous blessings of the sovereign God, but he refuses to acknowledge them. These scoffers want immediate, cataclysmic, miraculous proof of the existence of God. God does not oblige them.
It always surprises me when premillennialists cite Matthew 7:14 as proof of the predestined defeat of the gospel. Virtually all of these premillennialists hold that one day, after Christ returns to establish a millennium on the earth, there will be many, many conversions (or even many before that event in the so-called "seven-year tribulation"). For some reason Matthew 7:14 will not apply to this changed situation of gospel prosperity. The difference between the postmillennialists and premillennialists in the interpretation of this verse, therefore, is not whether there will one day be many converted, both agree on this, but over when this plethora of conversions will occur. We postmillennialists believe it will occur before Christ's Second Advent, and we hold that Matthew 7:14 describes a period near the beginning of the establishment of Christ's kingdom and that it will not characterize that kingdom when it extends in its fullness.
You claim that Revelation 20:6 teaches that Christ will establish God's kingdom when He returns, yet Revelation 20 says nothing of the kind. Neither Revelation 20 nor chapter 19 describes an earthly physical presence of Jesus Christ, but rather a heavenly physical reign of Jesus Christ over the earth, the inception of which Daniel prophesies in 7:13, 14, and Peter describes in Acts 2:22-36. Christ received His mediatorial kingdom at His ascension and session; He will not receive it at His Second Advent, which will usher in the eternal state. 1 Corinthians 15:22-26 describes the sequence surrounding the Second Advent and the end of human history. Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection, and believers (as well as unbelievers [Jn. 5:28-29]), will be resurrected at Christ's Second Coming. "Then cometh the end . . . " (1 Cor. 15:24). The "end" occurs at Christ's coming, "when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet" (vv. 24, 25). The "end" of human history occurs when Christ returns, at which time Christ will have subordinated all of His enemies, and finally the enemy of death.
There is much, much more that I could say. I will not discuss the extensive positive evidence for postmillennialism, because you can examine that in the works that I mentioned in my first paragraph. Let it suffice that the Scriptures you have set forth do not support premillennialism. Thank you again for your writing and for your interest in the Chalcedon Report.
Yours for Christ's Kingdom