PMW 2020-023 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
A reader sent me a question regarding postmillennialism’s glorious hope in light of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24:37–39. Jesus’ statement reads:
“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Matt. 24:37–39)
The problem we face
This statement appears to undermine postmillennial expectations for the improvement of world conditions under the spread of the gospel. In fact, it seems actually to teach the opposite: that history will descend into wholesale corruption equivalent to the worldwide debasement experienced in the days of Noah. This is quite significant in that the corruption in those days was so notorious (Gen. 6:5, 11–12) that God was “grieved” that he had created man (Gen. 6:6), leading him to determine to destroy all men except for Noah’s family (Gen. 6:7–8, 13, 17–18; 7:4). In fact, God does eventually send a worldwide flood to destroy all men for their evil (Gen. 7:21–23).
How can the postmillennialist explain Jesus’ statement while maintaining his hope-filled system? This is an important question in that this passage is frequently deployed against postmillennialists in eschatological debates. What’s a postmillennialist to do?
Your Hope in God’s World (Kenneth Gentry)
5 DVDs; 5 lectures
This series of lectures presents the theological and exegetical argument for the postmillennial hope in our fallen world. The last lecture answers the major practical, theological, and exegetical objections to postmillennialism. An excellent series for both introducing and refreshing one’s understanding of postmillennialism.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Before I give the postmillennial response, it is important to note that reputable postmillennial scholars over the centuries have been very much aware of Jesus’ famous statement, while persisting in their hope-filled expectations. Noteworthy scholars such as J. A. Alexander, Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge, B. B. Warfield, Loraine Boettner, John Jefferson Davis, and many others. This does not prove postmillennialism, of course. But it should give pause to those who think that merely pointing to this passage settles the argument.
The solution we offer
I will offer a three-fold response to the postmillennial objector. In this article I will focus on the first part of my response. Then complete the second two points in the following article.
First, the objector must understand what postmillennialism teaches.
Before you can effectively rebut a theological system, you must understand that system. As I have argued in other contexts, postmillennialism is the easiest millennial view to misunderstand because of our contemporary theological environment. And this is where the “Noah objection” can so easily fail. Let me explain.
Postmillennialism teaches the victorious spread of the gospel throughout the world. It expects the gospel gradually over time to usher in a long period of time (an era) in which righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail among men. It expects Christianity to become the rule in history, rather than the exception. In fact, this is the essence, the sine qua non of postmillennialism.
However, postmillennialists do not believe in a form of universalism. Notice that our definition holds that the gospel will usher in a “long period” of righteousness that “will prevail among men” so that Christianity will “become the rule in history, rather than the exception.” It does not declare that each-and-every person living in that era will be perfect. Nor even that each-and-every person will be a Christian.
Rather postmillennialism teaches that Christianity will dominate among men. It expects that the Christian faith will hold a worldwide gracious sway in human society and culture so that the vast majority of men will be converted. We recognize that there will always be tares among the wheat that will remain until the Final Judgment at Christ’s Second Coming (Matt. 13:24–30).
Postmillennialism Made Easy (by Ken Gentry)
Basic introduction to postmillennialism. Presents the essence of the postmillennial argument and answers the leading objections. And all in a succinct, introductory fashion.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Thus, while we affirm that the world will eventually become a wheat field rather than remaining a tare field, we hold that tares will still exist — even through the glory years and to the end of time. This is much like a Christian recognizing that the church which he attends is a Bible-believing, Christian church, even though there may be some unbelievers within. Despite the presence of some unbelievers within a truly Christian church, however, it is a Christian church where Christianity is the rule rather than the exception. And it seeks to operate on biblical principles, even if it fails to do so perfectly. This is small-scale, local picture of the large-scale, cosmic victory of the gospel in history.
Consequently, postmillennialism is majoritarian rather than universalistic. And in addition to its non-universalism, postmillennialists also hold that after a long period of righteousness, peace, and prosperity prevailing throughout the world, God will allow the sinners within the Christianized world of that time to engage in a final display of their culturally-suppressed sin.
At that time, God will release Satan from his being bound (Rev. 20:7; cp. Matt. 12:28–29) so that he might go forth and organize a final rebellion against him (Rev. 20:8). This final rebellion will be brief (“a short time,” Rev. 20:3) and will be put down by the Return of Christ (Rev. 20:9; cp. 2 Thess. 1:6-–10) followed by the Final Judgment (Rev. 20:11–15).
Thus, the first step in explaining “the days of Noah” within the postmillennial system is to point out that postmillennialism involves a long period of righteousness, not an everlasting period. It is a long period of wide-scale righteousness, not a long period of absolute righteousness. Consequently, in Matthew 24:37–39 Christ could be speaking of this final phase of history after the long period of righteousness. On this view, postmillennialism can account for Jesus’ statement.
Yet, though this is a possible response, it is not our actual response. I will explain this in my next two points, which will be presented in my next article.
JESUS, MATTHEW, AND OLIVET
I am currently researching a commentary on Matthew 21–25, the literary context of the Olivet Discourse from Matthew’s perspective. My research will demonstrate that Matthew’s presentation demands that the Olivet Discourse refer to AD 70 (Matt. 24:3–35) as an event that anticipates the Final Judgment at the Second Advent (Matt. 24:36–25:46). This will explode the myth that Jesus was a Jewish sage focusing only on Israel. The commentary will be about 250 pages in length.
If you would like to support me in my research, I invite you to consider giving a tax-deductible contribution to my research and writing ministry: GoodBirth Ministries. Your help is much appreciated!
Tagged: days of Noah
Good points! I have a little different view beginning in Matthew 24:37. Notice the word “but” which I believe is introducing the answer to the disciples 2nd question in verse 3. Perhaps Jesus is speaking of judging the inhabitants of the earth GRADUALLY through history. Just as the Flood gradually filled the earth so does God’s judgement through preaching and destroying rebellious nations as the church advances. Then in chapter 25 we see a very postmillennial idea. All ten virgins are looking for Christ to return, indicating that all inhabitants of the earth are either saved or profess salvation. Matthew 25 then is answering the 3rd question asked in 24:3. My thinking is Jesus is answering all 3 questions in order. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 is described in verses 24:4-34. Verses 35 and 36 are saying that 70 is not the passing of heaven and earth, and verse 37 introduces how Christ comes in gradual judgement through history, then chapter 25 answers about the 2nd bodily coming when all the earth is looking for him. This may also explain why Luke and Mark only records 2 questions asked by the disciples and Matthew answers all 3. Just my interpretation!
Interesting thoughts. However, the grammatical structure of Matt. 24:3 shows that there are only two questions.
So in this particular discourse you argue that Jesus is not mentioning the time between 70 and the 2nd coming in any way?
Yes. What I am arguing is that in this particular PART of the Discourse, he is not speaking of the long era between AD 70 and the Second Coming. However, I argue vigorously that the lengthy Discourse (Matt.24-25) DOES present the Second Advent in its latter part (Matt. 24:37-25:46. See: https://postmillennialworldview.com/2019/06/11/matthew-243-and-olivets-structure/ Yet, it does so by focusing on each time-period individually — AD 70 and the Second Coming — without touching on the historical development between the two events.
Postmillenistic ideas may contradict in some part the conclusions of many studies. However, the evidence presented is consistent with the facts.