PMT 2014-145 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
I have started a practice of asking Facebook friends and PostmillennialismToday readers for some questions about eschatology that they might have. This is my second effort at that. Be aware: I usually upload blog articles several weeks in advance. So your question might come slowly, rather than what you might expect: “the time is near.” Send your questions to me at: KennethGentry@cs.com
Ben Askins asks: “What similarities and differences are there between the postmillennial conception of the brief period of global rebellion at the end of the millennium and the dispensational post-trib premillennial conception of the Great Tribulation?”
All through eschatological positions allow for a final rebellion at the end of history. This seems to fit better within premillennialism and amillennialism, given their historical, systemic pessimism. But even postmillennialism allows such, as I point out in PMT 2014-009 and 105.
Nevertheless, postmillennialism and premillennialism are enormously different on this point. Let me explain (especially since you asked me to!)
But now: How does that differ from premillennialism? Actually fundamental differences distinguish the views of these two systems. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this is to explain the problems this view presents in premillennialism, especially dispensational premillennialism (which will be my focus due to its large influence in evangelicalism).
1. Literal v. spiritual. This Satanic rebellion occurs at the end of the millennium, which in premillennialism is a literal 1000 years. Postmillennialism sees this perfectly round number in this highly symbolic book as an image of a long period of time, stretching well beyond 1000 years.
The dispensational millennium has Christ literally on the earth in Jerusalem, so that the surrounding of the camp of the saints in the beloved city is a literal, military siege against the local manifestation of Christ’s reign. In postmillennialism, this surrounding of the city is an image of a Satanically-inspired attempt of unbelievers to destroy Christianity, rather than attacking a literal “headquarters” to Christianity.
2. Humiliation v. providence. In dispensationalism the number involved in the rebellion demonstrates the greatly reduced ratio of the saved found at the beginning of the millennium as compared to the lost living at the end. As Robert Thomas notes: “The population of the millennial kingdom will have spread far and wide…. Sad to say, unbelievers will exist in very large numbers among the generations subsequent to the one populating the earth initially in the Millennium” (Revelation 20:8–22, 423).
Walvoord (Revelation of Jesus Christ, 302, 305) agrees with Thomas, but adds more (surprising!) detail: “Those who are tempted are the descendants of the tribulation saints who survive the tribulation and enter the millennium in their natural bodies.” He cites Atkinsom noting that he “believes infants born during the millennium will live to its conclusion and will not be required to make a choice between the devil and Christ until the end. The children of those entering the millennium far outnumber the parents, and undoubtedly the earth is teeming with inhabitants at the conclusion of the thousand-year reign of Christ. Outwardly they have been required to conform to the rule of the king and make a profession of obedience to Christ. In many cases, however, this was mere outward conformity without inward readily.” “Thus the last gigantic rebellion of man develops against God’s sovereign rule. . . . Even in the ideal situation of the millennial reign of Christ, innumerable hosts immediately respond to the first temptation to rebel.”
Thus, dispensationalism not only has Christ personally reigning on earth for a literal 1000 years, but after his personal ruling of his kingdom, it begins collapsing toward the end. Consequently, an enormous number revolt against the direct, personal rule of Christ, effectively causing him to endure a “second humiliation.”
Postmillennialism sees the final rebellion as under the providence of God in his loosing Satan just before the end. This is designed to allow the tares among the wheat to be exposed for what they are and for sin to come to its final, ugly expression. Satan’s loosing leads to his gathering a following (tares) within a world largely dominated by the gospel and Christianity (wheat). This rebellion is brief and limited, and is against the majority, prevailing Christian culture. It is not a military revolt against Christ’s direct, hands-on rule, but is a providential movement allowed by God.
3. Enormity v. hyperbole. We read of the number of rebels being “like the sand of the seashore” (Rev 20:8). This suggests to literalists in dispensationalism to be a truly enormous number. But postmillennialist understand this biblically. We understand this as simply expressing a surprisingly large, though limited number, rather than a virtually unlimited, literal number. Let me explain.
John declares that the number of them is like the sand of the seashore (Rev20:8c). This hyperbolic statement is a common ancient image that the Bible uses of large-scale armies in (Jos 11:4; Jdg 7:12; 1Sa 13:5; 2Sa 17:11), various local populations (1Ki 4:20; Isa 10:22; 48:19; Jer 15:8; 33:22; Hos 1:10), the patriarchs’ offspring (Ge 22:17; 32:12), and so forth.
In fact, the 1Sa 13:5 reference specifically mentions only 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen accompanying Philistia’s army. In 2Sa 17:11 the writer is referring to early Israel’s own army, which could hardly approach this enormous number literally. In Jer 15:8 God speaks against Jerusalem warning that “their widows will be more numerous before Me / Than the sand of the seas” (Jer 15:8a).
Thus, this number is an exaggerated, hyperbolic figure. It certainly indicates a large number, but not necessarily a dominating number as the imagery might imply in a literalist scheme.
4. Absurdity v. Normalcy. In dispensationalism the revolt comes while under Christ’s personal, direct, and benevolent rule. And it comes at Jesus’ high point in redemptive history, the ultimate, most glorious, final dispensation. But it also comes after 1000 years of men living in mortal bodies which weaken and die (the descendants of the tribulation saints who enter the millennium after Christ’s second coming). And these mortals actually attack and attempt to overthrow the exalted Christ and his resurrected, imperishable saints who have shown themselves incapable of weakness of death. This is absurd.
Whereas in postmillennialism this revolt pictures a cultural revolution against Christianity and the church in normal history. This is like modern-day apostasy in local churches: people who claim to be converted to Christ eventually apostatize. But in this case, Christianity has come to dominate world affairs, and these rebels seek to undermine and overthrow the Christian faith through common means.
These are a few of the fundamental differences between the postmillennial view of the end-time revolt as compared to dispensationalism.