PMT 2014-099 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
You have suffered long enough: this is my last article in a series on the question of suffering, the church, and postmillennialism. I have been dealing with the charge that God has called the church to suffer in this age, which would seem to undermine the postmillennial expectation. But postmillennialists affirm the reality of suffering — and even in the time of Christianity’s highest advance before Christ returns! How can this be?
We must recognize that even the very height of earthly, postmillennial glory pales in comparison to the “weight of glory” that is ours, and that stirs our deepest longings as sons of God (cf. Php 1:23). As recipients of the mysteries of the kingdom of God, Christians experience “the heightened form which our desire for this future [resurrection] state assumes. For it is not mere desire to obtain a new body, but specifically to obtain it as soon as possible” (cf. 2Co 5:1–10) (G. Vos, Redemptive History, 46). What is more, we who know God’s saving mercies deeply desire “the state of immediate vision of and perfect communion with God and Christ” which “the future life alone can bring” with its “perfected sonship” (Vos, Redemptive History, 55). Anything short of perfected sonship is a form of suffering “not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Ro 8:18).
Indeed, our very state of mortality is suffering when compared to eternity, for the body is “sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1Co 15:42–44). As Christians “we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven. While we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2Co 5:1–2, 4). We are motivated by the fact that Christ “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (Php 3:21).
Thus, the postmillennialist agrees that we are to “suffer with Christ” until he returns, for we grieve over the sufferings of our forefathers, endure the pains and limitations consequent upon our fallen experience, bemoan our own indwelling sin as well as the sin of the unconverted, and earnestly long for the eternal glory we will share in the presence of God. Strimple even recognizes the suffering of Romans 8 involves “sin and all of its consequences,” “all the corrupting consequences of human sin,” not just persecution (Strimple in Bock, Three Views on the Millennium, 61, 106). Gaffin admits: “Christian suffering ought not to be conceived of too narrowly. Suffering includes but is more than persecution and martyrdom” (Gaffin in Barker, Theonomy, 213–14).
Earthly suffering involves times of prosperity as well as times of adversity. Even at the height of the kingdom’s earthly development we will always need to struggle in order to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Mt 6:33), always resisting the temptation to arrogantly declare: “my power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth” (Dt 8:17).
Having studied the issue of suffering over the past several articles, it certainly is not true that the biblical message of suffering and perseverance contradicts the postmillennial hope. Postmillennialists gladly affirm the redemptive irony of God’s victory over Satan. Postmillennialists wholeheartedly agree that the faithful church weathering the storms of persecution is victorious. Postmillennialists unashamedly confess the reality that our state prior to the resurrection is one of suffering. We do humbly affirm the “theology of the cross” (Gaffin, 216); but we also heartily rejoice in the “theology of the resurrection.”