Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Hope of Glory

Why can’t we all just get along?
I’ve been reading a fair bit of commentary by frustrated alt-right postmillennialist believers lately, folks for whom the reestablishment of Western Christianized patriarchy has become awfully close to an article of faith.

Their agitation is actually quite understandable, really. If your view of prophecy is that you are currently experiencing the thousand-year reign of Christ (or that the spread of the gospel should shortly serve to bring it about), at some point the evidence of your eyes has got to churn up some serious cognitive dissonance.

Right now, Satan doesn’t look all that “bound” to me.

A Postmillennialist Primer

The Blue Letter Bible describes the postmillennialist view of Bible prophecy like this:
“The postmillennialist believes that the millennium is an era (not a literal thousand years) during which Christ will reign over the earth, not from a literal and earthly throne, but through the gradual increase of the Gospel and its power to change lives. After this gradual Christianization of the world, Christ will return and immediately usher the church into their eternal state after judging the wicked.”
George M. Fredrickson points out that among postmillennialists:
“The belief that a religious revival and the resulting improvement in human faith and morals would eventually usher in a thousand years of peace and justice antecedent to the Second Coming of Christ was an impetus to the promotion of Progressive reforms, as historians have frequently pointed out.”
Fredrickson goes on to add that by the 1840s, for most postmillennialists “the great day had receded to the distant future” and they largely resigned themselves to plugging away at improving society in the knowledge that they were playing the long game. Still, steady moral and material progress was their goal. For all intents and purposes, their hope was very much in the here and now.

Did I Do That?

It would be unrealistic (and unhistorical) to blame postmillennialists for the eventual co-opting of the social gospel by today’s anti-Christian would-be-fascist PC terrors, but postmillennialist thinking was certainly a feature of early progressivism. Frankly, if you transported a postmillennialist from 1840 into today’s American society, I’m quite sure he’d rend his garments in horror. The progressive of 1840 was a long, long way from today’s progressives, who look (at least in the short term) to be winning the battle for ideological and social dominance by introducing transgenderism into public bathrooms and gay marriage into the evangelical church.

This is surely not the millennial bliss the gospel was supposed to ring in!

Christ Among You

Our present age might best be characterized as “Christ among you”. The kingdom of heaven remains a mixture of wheat and weeds, and we are not wrong to observe that there are a surprising number of weeds in the field. Sometimes it’s hard to find the wheat. Further, in this age, while officially seated at the right hand of the Father, the Son is also regularly occupied in walking among the golden lampstands, the various local representations of his body, the Church.

Viewed from a prophetic perspective, the story of the seven churches of Revelation ends in Laodicea with the Head of the Church appealing to individuals within it to open the door to him.

No cognitive dissonance there, folks. Anyone attentive to the state of modern Christendom has to work overtime to avoid observing its uniquely Laodicean flavour.

Christ Over the World

On the other hand, a literal millennial reign (if we allow ourselves to assume such is the correct biblical view) might be best characterized as “Christ over the world”. The prophecies of the Old Testament depict a glorious worldwide reign from Jerusalem that is not universally welcomed but divinely imposed; a reign that ends in deceived nations and Satanic rebellion.

Perfect government is not the ultimate solution to the condition of this world any more than God’s present strategy of leaving a testimony among the nations. Even the presence of Christ himself does not change the wickedness of the human heart from outside it.

Christ In You

Neither the present state of mankind nor the (true, biblical) millennial state of mankind represents the hope of the Church. Our hope is not in any sort of reformation of this present world through Christian values, nor is it in the top-down imposition of perfect righteousness.

Rather, the hope of glory is Christ in us:
“God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
Paul is not merely referring to the miraculous spiritual reality (“Christ in you”) that occurred at Pentecost and continues today, but to the fulfillment of its ultimate purpose.

A Hope, Not a Present Reality

Jesus Christ is in us now, and that is certainly glorious. But “glory” officially arrives on the day everyone in the kingdom can be presented “mature in Christ”, a day that cannot be fully realized without resurrection (prior to which there is not truly an “everyone” to present), without faith becoming sight, and without the Church, living and asleep, being reunited with its glorious Head. Paul represents this as a hope, not as a present reality.

Such a state requires more than perfectly righteous rule in a fallen world. It requires new men and women in both body and spirit. It requires the final expulsion of the source of evil and temptation, and the removal of all those who insist upon embracing Satan’s ways. This is a divinely purposed process, and most of it (thankfully) is not down to us.

In the final state of affairs, Christ will be in us, around us and over us. God will be all in all.

No matter how deeply they desire it and how well-intentioned they may be, no political realignment, social reformation or religious revival can ever hope to bring about the state of affairs postmillennialists are searching for.

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