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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