PMW 2022-082 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
Since Hal Lindsey originally burst on the scene in 1970, biblical prophecy has become a fun game that the whole family can play. Biblical prophecy has thus become a toy and has led many game winners (who have sold in excess of 100 million books to qualify) to be excitedly declared “Prophecy Experts.” But as for me and my house, once I hear the term “prophecy expert,” I turn the channel. Even if I do not have the TV on. I don’t take chances.
When I was first converted in 1966, I got caught up in prophecy rage, especially when The Late Great Planet Earth was published in 1970. I longed to watch new Olympic sports events, such as “Pin the Horns on the Antichrist” or “Guess the Date of Rapture.” Or even to see a new TV game show: “I’ve Got a Secret (Rapture). Eventually I even received a B.S. degree in Biblical Studies from a college committed to such dispensational activities. “Those were the days, my friend, / I thought they’d never end.” But fortunately I grew up and walked away from such. And have not looked back (though, admittedly, I like salt).
One of the most important principles for understanding biblical prophecy is known as the “Now but Not Yet Principle,” also known as the “Already/Not Yet Principle” (it is never called the “See You Later Alligator Principle” or “Take It Easy Greasy Principle”). If Christians would take this interpretive principle to heart (or better: to mind), a lot of embarrassment from failed prophetic expectations could be avoided. And a lot of money saved on books that give the latest Rapture predictions.
Before I state the Now/Not Yet Principle, I will note that it aligns nicely with the postmillennial principle of “Gradualism.” But what is this principle?
The Gradualism Principle
Gradualism (which is set over against Catastrophism) teaches that God generally works out his plan in history gradualistically (little-by-little, here-a-little-there-a-little) rather than catastrophically (all at once as a full-blown reality). We have many clear examples of gradualism found in familiar portions of Scripture.
For instance, an historical indicator of kingdom gradualism appears in the Promised Land’s conquest. In Deuteronomy 7:22 we read: “And the Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to put an end to them quickly, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you.” Here Moses specifically informs Israel that though he has given her the promised land, the gradual conquest of the land is for her good. That is, it allows her to conquer in such a way that they could secure and maintain control of the land.
In Daniel 2:31–45 Christ’s kingdom appears as coming down to earth as a stone smiting the world kingdom. As we read through the passage we learn that the kingdom grows to become a great mountain in the earth: “You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces . . . . And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Da 2:34–35, 44). Thus, the stone gradually grows to become a “great mountain.”
In Ezekiel 17:22–24 God promises to establish the kingdom by establishing it as a small “sprig from the lofty top of the cedar.” Then he will nurture it until it becomes “a stately cedar.” It produces great boughs so that “birds of every kind will nest under it.” This growth is certain for “I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will perform it.” We all know how trees grow: gradually over time, and very large over head.
In Ezekiel 47:1–9 redemption flows forth from God’s temple in stages. The waters of life initiate from under the altar, first to the ankles (v 3), then to the knees (v 4a), then to the loins (v 4b), then it “was a river that I could not ford” (v 5). This is the river of life (v 9). It gradually flows ever deeper.
In Matthew 13 the Kingdom Parables speak of the kingdom’s increase in size and gradual influence. Matthew 13:3–9 portrays the kingdom as scattered seed that gradually grows to bear abundant fruit. Matthew 13:31–33 speaks of its growth as that of a mustard seed, which gradually becomes a great plant, and as a little leaven that gradually leavens three bushels of meal. In Mark 4:26– 29, God’s kingdom begins as mere seed (v 26), then it puts forth the blade, then the head, the mature grain (v 27). Gradually, over time.
He Shall Have Dominion
(paperback by Kenneth Gentry)
A classic, thorough explanation and defense of postmillennialism (600+ pages). Complete with several chapters answering specific objections.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Thus, is the Gradualism Principle. But now what about the Now/Not Yet Principle?
The Now/Not Yet Principle
As noted above, the Now/Not Yet Principle coheres well with the Gradualism Principle. Basically the Now/Not Yet Principle teaches that certain prophetic expectations are stated in the NT as coming to pass in the first century. These prophetic fulfillments are spoken of in such a way that we would think it involved a good college basketball player who is “one and done” (he takes one year of college, and that is all of his college “career”).
Though certain prophetic issues are stated as coming to pass, the Now/Not Yet Principle requires that they follow the pattern of Karen Carpenter’s suggestion, “We Have Only Just Begun.” That is, the kingdom does come in the first century, but it is not present in its final, fullest expression. Also we read that Christ defeats his enemies at the cross, but that those enemies are not yet fully destroyed. And so forth.
For instance, we see the Now/Not Yet Principle at work when we read Heb. 2:8. Notice the bold statement that appears to declare the full subjugation of Christ’s enemies: “You have put all things in subjection under his feet” (Heb. 2:8a). But this is immediately followed by an historical observation that qualifies the statement: Heb. 2:8b adds: “For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.”
Thus, the NT teaches that he has subjugated his enemies beneath his feet. But also that he has not! Paradoxically as it may sound, both are true — based on the Now/Not Yet Principle. To put it another way, he has legally effected subjugation of his enemies, but he has yet to historically effect their subjection (this is what postmillennialism strives toward).
Similarly, we have two parables of Christ regarding a wedding feast. And they appear contradictory. Unless we recognize the Now/Not Yet Principle. Let me explain.
Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond
(ed. by Darrell Bock)
Presents three views on the millennium: progressive dispensationalist, amillennialist, and reconstructionist postmillennialist viewpoints. Includes separate responses to each view. Ken Gentry provides the postmillennial contribution.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
In Matt. 22:1–14 Jesus gives a parable that speaks of the wedding feast as a present reality. In fact, the negative point of the parable reads: “When the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes” (Matt. 22:11).
But later in Matt. 25:1–13 the wedding feast appears to be wholly future. There we read: “The kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” (Matt. 25:1). The point of this parable is its future reality: “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13).
Thus, the wedding feast is a past reality (begun in the first century) and is a future reality (toward which we labor). Consequently, it is both past and future.
The failure to realize this Now/Not Yet Principle has tripped up dispensationalists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hyper-preterists, and others. Don’t you follow the testimony of Elvis Presley, when he sang, “I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell.”
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Tagged: already / not yet, Gradualism, now but not yet
Gradualism makes a lot of sense, especially with the kingdom parables. I also relate the principle of gradualism to other areas such as world history and sanctification. Recently, I have wondered if the gradualism principle applies to creation. Either God gradually created the universe over millions or billions of years, or God created the universe catastrophically in six days. I just started your book, “As It Is Written,” so I am curious to see where I stand when I finish the book.
I believe postmillennialism will become the dominate view one day. When I ask why God has not made it dominate today, I think of gradualism. God often allows incorrect interpretations of scripture or wrong conclusions from science to flourish for centuries. By allowing dispensationalism for a couple hundred years (no longer than that, please!), postmillennialism will have greater confidence and strength.
Speaking of gradualism, I will be gradually reading through this blog since I am new here, but my newness will gradually fade into seniority. Grace to you.
I believe the gradualism principle DOES apply to creation. Remember that Augustine wondered why God did not create all things instantly. The fact that it took him six days perplexed him. But I believe the gradualism speaks of six literal days as over against instantaneous creatino.
As presented here I agree with your portrayal of now/not yet because God does work gradualistically. His plan from the beginning was to bring in the Messiah and worked through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and his twelve sons to do so. God also led the Israelites to the Promised Land and to Jerusalem, instituting His system through the tabernacle along the way then the Temple. And while I believe God’s plan was always the salvation of Jew and Gentile, He did that gradually too with the Jew first. It is interesting that the Israelite’s stiff-necked and obstinate disobedience to Him brought on God’s judgment, just as it did after their return from the captivity. In the process God took the kingdom from them and gave it to a people producing the fruit of it. Jesus said that immediately before the marriage feast parable. I don’t subscribe to supersessionism, especially the negative way it is characterized, but it is curious the “break” almost makes it appear that way. National Israel’s rights to the land catty forward but their way to salvation is the same as everyone’s – Jesus Christ.
I don’t believe in supercessionism, but in “fulfillment theology.” That is, the church is the fulfillment of the promises of Israel; and the church is made of Jew and Gentile alike.
Amen to that.