with Jeremy Westcott –
In the past couple of posts we have briefly sketched some of the widely-held views about the Millennium. So what did the early church believe about the scriptures we have been considering? And what has the church believed through the centuries?
Up to AD 70 most of the focus of teaching was preparing believers to live in that persecution leading up to Jesus’ coming in judgment upon Jerusalem. Initially, then, the prevailing conditions were persecution by Jews. After AD 70 persecution continued, but it was persecution by the Romans. The church took on a Jewish apocalyptical view of a literal kingdom on earth. Some thought that the kingdom might be before Jesus returned; some thought it might be after. It was still a very difficult time, and they were looking for Jesus to come and do something.
A major change happened for the church with the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in 310 AD – and not all of it good. The church was now accepted by the political authorities, and it was OK to be a Christian. But the church was also controlled by those political authorities, so that Greek thinking and Greek influence began to pervade it. At this time the prevailing view was amillennial: the old interpretation (which had made a lot of sense under persecution) seemed not to relate so well to the changed conditions, so people began to interpret things in a less literal way, and say it must all be spiritual. You can see the Greek mindset having its influence in that distinction.
Political control continued into the medieval period, 596-1517 AD, as church and state started to mix together. Politically motivated and powerful popes, the crusades, the Holy Roman Empire, the whole idea of Christendom: all these arose during this time. The church was used by those in power to exercise control. Hardly anybody could read the Bible for themselves because it was available only in a not-very-accurate Latin translation, and that meant the priests had control of the whole system. Postmillennial theology became the norm. Their expectation was that things would get better, that the church would increase to fill the world – but to achieve that they expected to use the sword, and to compel people to become Christians by killing those who would not comply. The preaching of the gospel was certainly not done in a way we would recognise today.
Reformation and revivals
After that came the Reformation (1517-1648). The truth began to be restored to the church and people began to question both the spiritual and the political authority of the Roman establishment. They continued to hold a postmillennial view, still expected things to get better, and saw the restoration of truth as part of that process.
Then we come to a period where the Holy Spirit was poured out in revivals in both England and America: Wesley and Whitfield and so on in the UK; the First and Second Great Awakenings in the USA with Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney (photo) and others. Those revivalists were predominantly postmillennialists: they believed that Jesus would be coming back after the church had succeeded in its mission. Maybe that was because they saw the church actually succeeding; they saw revivals in which many thousands were saved and the work of the Holy Spirit was very obvious.
Tares sown in
But from 1826-50, so much that was negative began to be sown in, as we have seen. The tares were sown into the world, with the rise of cults and so on; and in the church the leaven of dispensational teaching and false doctrine began to spread and permeate everything.
From 1909, when the Scofield Bible was published and so many people read it and adopted the dispensational premillennialist views it reflected, the predominant mindset became very pessimistic. There was a great deal of scientific and philosophical attack on Christian belief, Darwinism began to become generally accepted, and two World Wars seemed to indicate that far from getting better, things were getting much worse.
A whole generation which had been impacted by the Welsh revival saw its young men wiped out in the First World War. And even after the Second World War, the pessimism continued into Cold War, a period of intense uncertainty in which nuclear destruction looked to be a distinct possibility. So much went into print at that time identifying Russia as the Beast or the Antichrist or whatever – and now those books are completely obsolete.
It didn’t stop the same thing happening with the Common Market in Europe, which was supposed to be the twelve heads of the Beast coming out of the sea in Revelation – and how many nations are there in the EU now? Then it was going to be Saddam Hussein. Well, he is no longer around either. North Korea next…?
All this material was written by authors looking at the prevailing conditions and trying to interpret them using biblical prophecy; looking at events in the world and imposing that onto Scripture, instead of the other way around. When we read biblical prophecy, we want to allow it to tell us what is (or was) going to happen. We do not want to interpret it from looking at the newspapers or the television news.
Around 1960 there was a turning point, the charismatic renewal movement, when the Holy Spirit was poured out across the churches. That has led on to the whole prophetic movement, and the restoration of prophetic and apostolic ministry. With that has come fresh revelation – and a fresh challenge. It has caused warfare within the church, because when you challenge a status quo which is dominated by the enemy you get Jezebel spirits and all kinds of demonic activity being stirred up. They do not like the truth being preached when they have had things their own way for so long.
We need to preach the truth. The truth is that the kingdom of God is going to fill the earth. The truth is that Jesus is going to come back for a victorious church. The devil would just love us to believe that we are going to be defeated, because then our faith would be in that defeat.
But our faith is in victory, in overcoming, in seeing God’s kingdom fill the earth.
Related articles from Freedom ARC
- Millennium? What Millennium? (freedomarc.wordpress.com)
- Millennium? What Millennium? (Part 2) (freedomarc.wordpress.com)
- The End Of The Age (freedomarc.wordpress.com)
Related articles from others
- William Carey’s Postmillennialism and World Missions (apologus.wordpress.com)
- Postmillennialism Defined (apologus.wordpress.com)
Image of the Emperor Constantine
Attribution: “Rome-Capitole-StatueConstantin” by I, Jean-Christophe BENOIST.
Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rome-Capitole-StatueConstantin.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Rome-Capitole-StatueConstantin.jpg