A Sweet and Sour Eschatology
by Joseph Franks
Postmillenialists believe the world is getting better. According to their interpretation of certain scriptures, righteousness will gradually cover the land, God’s ethic will be more and more realized, and only after the Christianization of the nations will Jesus come again. A positive attitude towards the world’s temporal future is preached, encouraged, and (I might say) pretended. But there is no pretending as these friends work to reclaim culture, cities, institutions, and this current world order. Earthly triumphant optimism is a key tenet of those in those in this eschatological camp. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they were correct. What Christian would not want to see God’s kingdom come on earth as it is already realized in heaven? The only question is whether or not the kingdom will come before the King returns. Perhaps they have this backwards.
On the other end of the eschatological spectrum are Premillenialists. These friends believe the world is getting worse, and they have no trouble pointing to newscasts which seem to prove their assessment. According to their interpretation of certain scriptures, wars, rumors of wars, false teachers, natural disasters, persecutions and antichrists are all on the rise. Lawlessness is being further propagated; ways of sinning are being invented; faithful preaching is being abandoned; the church is being neutered; and soon the world will look more like Sodom and Babylon than ever. Consequently, Premillenialists have a negative attitude towards the future; they have a awkward stance towards their culture; and an isolationist posture towards their neighbors. According to many, Christians need to merely hunker down, stay holy, and survive. Cultural, city, and institutional reclamation is not a key focus for them. For after all, “Why would someone want to polish the brass on a sinking ship?”
However, there is a middle ground that seeks to rightly interpret God’s special and general revelation. This group looks at both the Bible and the trajectory of nations. And this group understands the simultaneous growth of both the kingdom of darkness and God’s church. Amillenialists make much of both the tribulation and the triumph of the Kingdom. They are both triumphant and realistic. Therefore, while they see the world getting worse and worse, they also see the church growing in holiness, number, ethnic diversity, and influence. And while they understand the devious natures of antichrists, they stand with confidence knowing that none of these can halt the advance of Christ and his church. Yes, the gates of hell may be greater, ghastlier, and grosser than ever, but they shall not prevail. Though this world is filled with devils, the church will not fear for Christ has willed his truth to triumph through her. (Martin Luther)
Therefore Christians, let us prepare ourselves for more and more opposition, tribulation, and persecution. Let us see the trajectory of the world and realize its horrid end. Ever since the beginning, the curse has been pronounced and growing in expression. The days of Noah are coming back. The legacy of Sodom and Gomorrah is going to be repeated. Babylon is growing, and horrid is that which she promotes. Yes, in many ways the future is indeed sour.
However, let us also prepare ourselves for more and more victory. The church is like a mustard seed; it is growing way out of proportion to its original size. And the King of kings and Lord of lords is watching and reigning above, and the days of his long-suffering patience are passing. Let us realize the ultimate end is sweet, and let us live out our days enduring the sour but also rejoicing in the sweet advances made in our spiritual war. And if we need an example to spur us on in our present age of sour tribulation, perhaps Acts 12 will help.
Notice the persecution and success of Herod and the antichrists:
Acts 12:1-5 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
Herod laid violent hands on some. He then killed James, one of the initial disciples of Jesus. Later he arrested Peter, and all of this pleased the people. It was indeed a very dark day in history, and it would get worse. The persecutions of Nero and Domitian were right around the corner. However, though tribulation was real and growing, though there were many sour days in the life of Christ’s family; God’s truth was marching on:
Acts 12:6-24 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place. Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there. Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. But the word of God increased and multiplied.
People panted; people prayed, and God performed. Out of prison came Peter, and out of darkness came the light of the Gospel. Herod decreased, but the Word of God increased and multiplied. So though the world was not getting better, the church was getting stronger. Though earthly governments were in the business of slaughtering believers, God was in the business of slaughtering leaders. This was indeed the age of tribulation, but it was the age of triumphant worship as well. Life on earth was sour, but it was also spiritually sweet.
And so it is today. Let us not be discouraged and depressed. Let us not be negative separatists or isolationists. Life is sour, but God is sovereign, and he does incredibly sweet things through his faithful and praying flock.