Bauckham On Eschatological Expectation

The ideas of the 12th-century abbot Joachim inspired a new form of eschatological expectation which in the later Middle Ages and the 16th century was the major alternative to the Augustinian view. Before the end of history there would be an age of the Spirit, a period of spiritual prosperity and peace for the church on earth, which was identified with the millennium of Rev. 20, though not primarily derived from that text. This expectation can be called postmillennialist, since it held that the millennium would be inaugurated by a spiritual intervention of Christ in the power of his Spirit, not by his bodily advent, which would follow the millennium.

Joachimism appealed to some early Protestants, who saw in the success of the Reformation gospel the dawning of a new age of prosperity for the church. Joachimist influence, Protestant optimism about the trends of history, and exegesis of Revelation combined to produce Protestant postmillennialism, whose first influential exponent was Thomas Brightman (1562–1607) and which first flourished in the 17th century. In this view, the millennium would come about through the Spirit-empowered preaching of the gospel, resulting in the conversion of the world and the world-wide spiritual reign of Christ through the gospel.

The 18th century was the great age of postmillennialism, which played a key role in the development of missionary thinking. The revivals were seen as the first ripples of the movement of conversion which would engulf the world, and a view which gave human activity a significant role in God’s purpose of establishing his kingdom was a major stimulus to missionary activity. But in the 19th century, postmillennial expectation increasingly approximated to the secular doctrine of progress and merged into liberal theology’s identification of the kingdom of God with moral and social improvement. The modern decline of postmillennialism coincides with the loss of Christian credibility that doctrines of progress have suffered.

Richard J. Bauckham | New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), s.v., “Millennium”


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  1. If we translate τὰ ἔθνη in Revelation 20:3 as “The Gentiles”, we see that the millennium begins when Satan is bound from deceiving the Gentiles wholesale, the way he was able to before Pentecost. A Postmillennialism that takes this into account, which I would claim to be my position, becomes indistinguishable in its consequences from Amillennialism.

    • John,

      τὰ ἔθνη in the LXX refers to “the nations.” They are synonyms. The nations are the Gentile and the Gentiles are the nations. The are remaining issues that distinguish the Amils from the Postmils, chiefly the nature of the inter-adventual state. The postmil anticipates some kind of earthly glory age. In that he is more like the Chiliast than the Amil.

      • Dr Clark, thank you. I didn’t know enough to say that “The Nations” is always the Gentile Nations whereas if you mean all people including Jews and Gentiles you have to say “All Nations”, and vice versa, but, thank you, you do.
        As regards the other issues, I seem to be a bit thick. What is the difference between the natures of the inter-adventual state of Christ coming suddenly ending a millennium that began at Pentecost and that of Christ coming suddenly without there having been any millennium, other that you do or you don’t call it a millennium?

        • John,

          From the Jewish perspective the world is divided into two groups, The Jews and the Nations. In the prophets, e.g., “the nations” are always those people “out there.” The Greeks did the same when they referred to all non-Greeks as Barbarians. It’s a general category for “other.”

          The difference is that both all actual pre-mil eschatologies and all post-mil eschatologies look forward to some kind of earthly golden age, which was quite properly repudiated by the Protestant Reformers. There is no earthly golden age, whether a literal millennium or metaphorical millennium.

    • Surely Dr Clark, compared with the times when the Gentiles were under the wholesale deception of the Devil, which comparison is what I believe to be the perspective of the Holy Spirit in Revelation 20:3, aren’t we IN the golden age, the metaphorical millennium, the only one there is to be before Christ comes again? Isn’t it in THIS age that the souls of the righteous begin to live and reign with Christ (note: not live AGAIN and reign with Christ), experiencing the first resurrection?

      • John,

        I don’t think the Gentiles were ever under the “wholesale deception of the Devil,” insofar as there were no Gentiles until Abraham was circumcised and even then there were Gentiles who were added to the people throughout the history of redemption.

        Again, there is no golden age until the New Heavens and the New Earth.

        We are reigning with Christ right now and we are awaiting his return to consummate the New Heavens and the New Earth.

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