Matthew chapter 24 and Revelation 20 have long confused Bible readers. Are we to believe that Jesus foretold the end of the world at his Olivet Discourse and that the Millennium spoken of in Revelation is a literal period of 1000 years during which Satan will be literally bound (with a literal chain?) and in a literal bottomless pit? What are we to make of such passages? Are these events all to take place in the future? While I was a dispensationalist the answers to these and many other eschatological questions were easy. To be a dispensationalist one must be a “literalist” and also be a “futurist”. In other words, one must believe that most of the predictive passages in the New Testament must be referring to a future end of the world event (one which is apparently rapidly approaching, by the way).
When I shed the Dispensationalist system a number of years back, I realized that my whole hermeneutical system had to change. A paradigm shift was in order. After careful study, I slowly became what I came to learn was called a postmillennial and a “preterist” (or partial-preterist if you like). The former term has to do with the timing of Jesus’ second coming and the latter the way in which you interpret the Bible prophecy. Postmillenialism refers to the fact that Jesus will return after (post) the millennial kingdom age. Generally, a preterist is one who sees that the New Testament’s judgment passages refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple Complex, and the Jewish nation in 70 AD. Matthew 24 and Revelation 20 do not refer, therefore, to events coming in the future, but have already been fulfilled in the first century or are currently being fulfilled in the case of the millennium. If you have never heard of these terms, I ask that you give this book a spot on your reading list. There is no better place to start learning about the post-millennial, partial-preterist perspective than J Marcellus Kik’s An Eschatology of Victory. Kik was one of the first graduates from Westminster Seminary in 1930. He, along with other conservative students, transferred from Princeton. He became a pastor in New Brunswick, an author, and a founding editor of Christianity Today. This accessible book, published in 1991, is, amongst other things, a thorough verse by verse commentary of Matthew 24 and Revelation 20. Kik gives a preterist interpretation of the Olivet Discourse and a postmillennial view of the millennium. This book provided ample ammunition for my paradigm shift.
The first section gives a useful background showing that the historic Reformed position was in fact a general optimism about the success of the gospel of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom. He lists such men as the Hodges, B.B. Warfield, A.A. and J.A. Alexander, R.L. Dabney, Jonathan Edwards, and many more who hold to the “eschatology of victory”. Even the Westminster Confession was influenced by this optimistic attitude. Kik argues that the answers to Questions 51 and 191 of the Westminster Larger Catechism illustrate that “it was believed that Christ would dispose all things to the good of the church, that Christ would overcome the enemies of the church, that the church should pray that the kingdom of Satan be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, and the fullness of the Gentiles brought in. Surely the Westminster standards would not encourage hope and prayer for things contrary to the Word of God” (14). An optimistic eschatology seems to be assumed in many of the Reformed confessions.
The second section of the book is adapted from three lectures given by Kik on postmillennialism, Matthew 24 and Revelation 20 respectively. They serve as a general introduction to some of the more thorough exegesis in the third section. The chapter on postmillennialism, entitled “All Nations Blessed” is an especially helpful summary of the biblical story of redemption. His Biblical Theological approach shows that the promise made to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, the ultimate defeat of the serpent, is fulfilled in Christ at his death, resurrection and ascension, and through his church while Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Kik references passages such as Romans 16:20, Revelation 12:9,11, Luke 10, Colossians 2:15, Hebrews 2:14, and 1 John 3:8 to argue that the church is promised victory in the fight against Satan and his forces. Kik remarks that
to say that the defeat of Satan will only come through a cataclysmic act at the second coming of Christ is ridiculous in the light of these passages. To think that the church must grow weaker and weaker and the kingdom of Satan stronger and stronger is to deny that Christ came to destroy the works of the devil; it is to dishonor Christ; it is to disbelieve His Word. We do not glorify God nor His prophetic word by being pessimists and defeatists. With sufficient faith in Christ we could crush Satan under our feet shortly. Or else these passages would have no significance to the church of Christ (19-20).
To Kik, then, the Great Commission was given as a promise, and not just a guideline.
The third section is the meat of the book where Kik gives verse by verse commentaries on Matthew 24 and Revelation 20. He gives in depth and understandable explanations on a number of important topics. Many dispensationalists will argue that the phrase “this generation” refers to the Jewish race, or a future generation that will see the signs Jesus was describing. Using much supporting scripture, Kik definitely proves that the word “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 refers to the generation Christ is speaking to and thus is referring to 70 AD. He argues that “to change the meaning of “this generation” to that of the Jewish nation in its successive generations would indeed be unwarranted and unscriptural. Only the stress of having to fit this word to some “prophetic scheme” has brought about such interpretation” (63).
He also highlights the fact that Matthew 24 is full with Old Testament judgment language. Jesus draws from Old Testament prophets and their pronouncements against pagan nations when using such phrases as “coming in the clouds”, the “sun being darkened”, and the “moon will not give its light” (Isa. 13:10, 34:4-5; Eze. 32:7-8; Joel 2:28-32). These are not literal occurrences, but catastrophic imagery used to show God’s judgement on a nation. Thus, “traditional apocalyptic language as used by the Old Testament prophets should not cause surprise here since Christ depicts the fall of the Jewish nation” (128). Earlier Kik had quoted the bible scholar Milton S Terry on this subject:
We might fill volumes with extracts showing how exegetes and writers on New Testament doctrine assume as a principle not to be questioned that such highly wrought language as Matt. 24:29-31; 1 Thess. 4:16; and 2 Peter 3:10, 12, taken almost verbatim from Old Testament prophecies of judgement on nations and kingdoms which long ago perished, must be literally understood. Too little study of Old Testament ideas of judgement and apocalyptic language and style, would seem to be the main reason for this one sided exegesis. It will require more than assertion to convince thoughtful men that the figurative language of Isaiah and Daniel, admitted on all hands to be such in those ancient prophets, is to be literally interpreted when used by Jesus and Paul (36).
Revelation 20 confounds many a bible student. In 16 short chapters, Kik clears much of the perennial fog from this passage. One of the things I appreciated most about this short commentary was the laser focus on the text. Kik interprets scripture with scripture. He interprets the many unclear things in this passage with clear teachings from other scriptures. This is sound exegesis. He explains that much of Revelation is symbolic and non-literal. The bottomless pit, the chain, the millennium, the dragon, thrones, the cities etc. are symbols with rich biblical meaning. If we literalize everything in Revelation we actually lose the intended meaning. One might ask: “if the world is so full of evil, how can Satan be said to be bound and this time be the millennial age?” Kik answers that
the trouble is that we have altogether a too materialistic concept of the millennial blessings. We fail to see that the greatest blessings are spiritual and they are in our midst. We are looking for a material kingdom, a material throne, and material prosperity. In this we fall into the same error of the carnal expectations of the Jews and the error with which our Lord had to contend with his own disciples. We fail to see that the greatest millennial blessings are already in our midst (205).
A common objection to postmillennialism is along the same lines: “how can postmillennialist be true if we do not see these victories promised to us?” Kik rebukes us and explains that “the absence of greater victories is due to our lack of faith, and not because of the absences of millennium blessings” (206). We forget that the bible explains that
the millennium and its blessings will pervade the earth gradually. The Kingdom of Heaven is likened to a grain of mustard seed which grows and becometh a tree. The Kingdom of Heaven is likened to leaven which will gradually leaven the earth. Our Lord stated that the Kingdom cometh not with observation. That is, it will not be established with great fanfare… Daniel’s stone which smote the image became a great mountain, filling the earth. Ezekiel’s river was ankle deep to start with but increased to a river in which to swim. Both the amil and premil are in error when they maintain that the millennial blessings foretold in the Old Testament must come about by a cataclysmic act at the second coming of Christ. That is not the teaching of the Bible. Both in the Old and in the New it is taught that the Kingdom blessings would come about by an almost imperceptible growth (206-207).
Do you get discouraged because of current events? Do you not perceive Kingdom growth (or the kingdom at all?) Maybe it is time for a paradigm shift.
Kik’s ideas are centred on the Bible. His arguments are backed by scripture. Read this book and take them to heart. Do not be tempted to despair, become complacent, or withdraw from the fight. Trust in God’s promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail against his Church. Even if you do not agree with every jot and tittle (I do not!), I ask you to carefully consider his conclusions. Through Christ, God has promised victory to his Church. Postmillennialism is the system that emphasizes the victory of the Gospel of Kingdom of Christ the King. To put it bluntly:
the book of Revelation, of course, is the book which speaks of the ultimate triumph of Christ and His Church. It is terrible ignorance of this book that causes some to think it speaks only of a triumph by a cataclysmic act at the second coming of our Lord. The poor church, according to some, is only to struggle without hope till that day. Rightly interpreted, Revelation reveals a triumph of the church in time and history. It sums up for us the promise of [Gen.] 3:15; it gives reason to the triumphant poetry of the Psalter; it indicates the fulfillment of the covenant promise that all nations will be blessed (28-29).