5 Points of Intersection Between Postmillennialism and Apologetics – Point 3

Point 3:  Postmillennialism refutes the skeptics’ claim that Jesus broke His promise to return. Postmillennialism, with a preterist view of the Great Tribulation, refutes the claim of skeptics that Jesus was a false prophet because He did not return to earth within a generation as He predicted and as His apostles expected. 

A hurdle that the argument that I gave in the last post regarding Christ’s legitimacy faces is noted by the famous philosopher Bertrand Russell, in his lecture, later produced as a pamphlet, titled Why I am not a Christian.  He cites the passages that I quoted in a previous post in this series about Jesus coming in judgment within a generation , such as “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28).  He concludes that Jesus falsely claimed that He would physically return to earth within a generation.  The idea that “the Great Tribulation” is when Christ’s Second Coming occurs is also a view that is popular among many Christians currently, although they put it in the future.  These Christians and the liberals are both wrong to connect the Great Tribulation to Christ’s physical Second Coming.  Russell is right that Jesus was speaking of a first century coming, but wrong that it is a physical appearance to people on earth.  Modern Christians who hold to the futurist view are wrong that the Great Tribulation is in the future rather than the first century, and wrong that the Great Tribulation involves Christ Second Coming and the Rapture (bodily translation of living believers to heaven and physical resurrection of dead believers).  There is a two-fold coming of Christ taught in the Bible: 1) a first century (A.D. 70) coming in judgment against Jerusalem in the form of the Roman army destroying the city and Temple (“the Great Tribulation”), and 2) at the end of history in the bodily Second Coming of Christ.  The Second Coming is when Jesus physically appears in the sky, as angels told the disciples when Jesus physically ascended to heaven (Acts 1:10-11).  But the Second Coming and Rapture occur at the end of history, after all nations have chosen to worship Him (cf. Isa. 2:2-4), with the last enemy destroyed being death, resulting in the resurrection:

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.  Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.  (1 Corinthians 15:22-26)

The New Testament contains language about Jesus coming in judgment in the first century, but that has to be interpreted in accordance with how the rest of the Bible uses that kind of language.  In the Old Testament, God is often said to be “coming on the clouds” in judgment against a nation, but there is no appearance of God Himself.  Those texts make clear that God is coming in judgment by sending an army to destroy the nation.  For example, in this passage God comes against Egypt through a civil war in that nation:  “Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence,  and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.   And I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians, and they will fight, each against another and each against his neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom” (Isaiah 19:1-2 ).  Micah records this threat of judgment against Israel:  “The Lord is coming out of his place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.  And the mountains will melt under him, and the valleys will split open, like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place” (Micah 1:3-4 ).  But it was the nation of Assyria who would literally carry out the judgment (Micah 7:12 ).  Nahum talks about God’s wrath as God coming in stormy clouds against an evil nation:  “His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nahum 1:3 ).

Then in the New Testament, passages that talk about Jesus coming in clouds of judgment in the first century also describe Jesus seated on His throne in heaven at the same time.  When being questioned by the High Priest Caiaphas, Jesus tells him, “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64).   The Son of Man is seated on His throne in heaven while, at the same time, He is coming in clouds of judgment to destroy Jerusalem and its corrupt religious establishment.

In Matthew 24:30, just before saying that this event and all the others that He mentions in this speech will come upon “this generation” (Matt. 24:34), Jesus says, “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”  Notice the first sentence.  The verb is “appears.”  The verb can apply only to the subject of the sentence, which is “the sign.”  So the sign is appearing, and according to this translation, the Son of Man is heaven when this happens.  Nevertheless, the word translated “heaven” can also be translated “sky,” and it is possible that this sentence can be understood to mean that the sign that appears is “the Son of Man in the sky,” as in “the sign of circumcision” where circumcision is the sign (called the “genitive of apposition”).[1]    But since Jesus just said that this event will occur in “this generation,” we are compelled to adopt the first view, that Jesus is seated in heaven when the sign appears on earth.  The phrase “of the Son of Man in heaven” serves to further explain the sign, not be the sign (called the “genitive of epexegesis”).  This interpretation is also consistent with Jesus’ statement to the High Priest in Matthew 26:64.  It is also consistent with 1 Corinthians 15:25 and several Old Testament prophecies on which 1 Corinthians 15:25 is based, in which the Messiah is sitting on His heavenly throne while He brings judgment on nations (Ps. 2, Ps. 110:1, Dan. 7:13-14).  Psalm 110:1, the Old Testament verse most quoted in the New Testament, says, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’”  The second Lord stays seated in heaven while engaged in the process of making the nations submit to Him.

The sign that the Son of Man was reigning in heaven was that He was sending the Roman army to destroy His enemies in Jerusalem.  The next sentence is standard coming-in-clouds-of-judgment language from the Old Testament.  The judgment on Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the civil war that raged in Rome around the same time were but the first of the risen Messiah’s acts while sitting on His heavenly throne to bring judgment on nations until the time comes that “all the nations . . .  say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths’” (Isa. 2:2 ,3).  Only after that happens will Jesus come a second time in a physical appearance, at the time of the resurrection of the dead (“rapture”) and the Last Judgment, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15.

Postscript on the Apostolic Teaching and the Book of Revelation:

The Apostolic Teaching:

Here the passages from the letters of the New Testament (except Revelation, which I address separately below) about the teachings of the apostles on the subject of the Last Days:

“. . . but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Heb. 1:2)

“Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.” (Jam. 3:5)

“You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.  Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” (Jam. 5:8-9)

“. . . who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Pet. 1:5)

“He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.” (1 Peter 1:20)

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” (1 Pet. 4:7).

“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.” (1 Pet. 4:17)

“. . . you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.” (2 Pet. 3:2-3)

“Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18)

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.” (1 Tim. 4:1)

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” (1 Tim. 3:1)

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation . . . .” (Jude 3-4)

“But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.  They said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.’” (Jude 17-18)

“For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.  But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:  ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh . . . .‘” (Acts 2:15-17)

Some of these passages speak of “the last days” as something future and without defining how far in the future.  But several of them say that the last days, and even the hour, are upon them.  In Acts 20:28-31 Paul applies his previous warnings communicated to the elders of the church at Ephesus, which would include the letters to Timothy since Timothy had been the pastor of the church at Ephesus, to heretics who will arise soon after Paul’s death.  And Jude quotes Peter’s warnings about the last days as applying to the situation that existed when Jude writes his letter (Jude 3, 17-18).

 

The Book of Revelation:

In addition to Jesus’ lecture about “the Great Tribulation” in the gospels, the book of Revelation is also concerned with the first century events of the destruction of Jerusalem and the events in Rome around that time (except, of course, the part about the Last Judgment said last a “a millennium” in the future).  This is stated clearly several times in several ways at the beginning and end of the book so it can’t be missed:  “the things that must soon take place” (Rev. 1:1), “what must soon take place” (Rev. 22:6); “for the time is near” (Rev. 1:3 , 22:10), “Behold, I am coming soon,” (Rev. 22:7 ,10), and “Surely I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:20).  The letter is written by John who is “your brother and partner in the tribulation” (Rev. 1:9), to seven real churches that existed in the latter part of the first century to prepare them for a tribulation whose “time is near” and “soon.”  Jesus tells the church in Pergamum that “I will come to you soon” (Rev.  2:16).  He tells the church in Thyatira to “hold fast what you have until I come” (Rev. 2:25).  He tells the church in Sardis that “I will come like a thief” (Rev. 3:3).  And He tells the church in Philadelphia that “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.  I am coming soon” (Rev. 3:10-11).

John says that he writes the book during the reign of the sixth emperor of Rome (Rev. 17:10).  Counting from Julius Caesar, that would be during Nero’s reign (A.D. 54-68).  And the name Nero Caesar happens to add up to 666 when written in Hebrew letters. [17]  Since Nero is the Beast (or, more precisely, the sixth head of the Beast), Revelation is written during the early period of his reign and written about Nero’s reign and the time shortly thereafter, after Nero killed himself and civil war erupted in Rome over control of the empire .

 

 

[1]  See Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., “The Sign of the Son Of Man (2),” https://postmillennialismtoday.com/2016/11/22/the-sign-of-the-son-of-man-2/.

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