What Role Does Israel Play in Postmillennialism?
Since the publication of Hal Lindsey’s malicious book, The Road to Holocaust, Reconstructionists have been branded with the label “Anti-Semitic.” Lindsey’s argument was that postmillennialism leaves no place in prophecy for the nation of Israel, and thus paves the way for Anti-Semitism and a possible Holocaust. Of course, this argument implies that amillennialists and historical premillennialists are also Anti-Semitic.
Contrary to Lindsey’s allegations, postmillennialism has always emphasized the important place that the ethnic Jews have in the future of the Church. Reconstructionist writer Gary North summarizes his own views by saying,
[E]ven the Jews will be provoked to jealousy. Paul cited Deuteronomy 32:21 concerning the Jews: “But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you” (Romans 10:19). The Gentiles have received the great blessing. “I say then, Have they [the Jews] stumbled that they should fall? God forbid; but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy” (Romans 11:11). This becomes a means of converting the remnant of Israel in the future, and when they are converted, Paul says, just think of the blessings that God will pour out on the earth, given the fact that the fall of Israel was the source of great blessings for the Gentile nations. “Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fullness?” (Romans 11:12). When the Jews received their promise, the age of blessings will come. When they submit to God’s peace treaty, the growth of the kingdom will be spectacular. This is what Paul means by his phrase, “how much more.” This leads to stage ten, the explosion of conversions and blessings. If God responds to covenantal faithfulness by means of blessings, just consider the implications of widespread conversions among the Jews. When the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then Israel will be converted (Romans 11:25). The distinction between Jew and Gentile will then be finally erased in history, and the kingdom of God will be united as never before.
As this quotation makes plain, North (as well as other Reconstructionists) rely on Paul’s discussion in Romans 9-11 as the biblical basis for their view of the future of Israel. In sum, postmillennialism teaches that the Jews will someday be convened to Christ, and that this will spark a massive revival, which will produce abundant blessing for the entire world.
This understanding of the place of Israel in prophecy was not invented by Dr. North. In fact, it was a crucial feature in the development of the postmillennial position. As early as the sixteenth century, in the Reformation and immediate post-Reformation period, several theologians addressed the question of Israel’s place in God’s plans for the future. Theodore Beza, John Calvin’s successor in Geneva, taught that the world would “be restored from death to life againe, at the time when the Jews should also come, and be called to the profession of the Gospel.” Martin Bucer, the reformer of Strassbourg who had a direct influence on English Puritanism, wrote in a 1568 commentary on Romans that Paul prophesied a future conversion of the Jewish people. Peter Manyr Vermigli, who taught Hebrew in Strassbourg and later at Oxford, agreed.
Historian Peter Toon describes the transmission of this interpretation from the Continent to England, Scotland, and then to America:
… the word ‘Israel’ in Romans 11:25ff., which had been understood by Calvin and Luther as referring to the Church of Jews and Gentiles, could be taken to mean :Jews’, that is non-Christian Jews whose religion was Judaism. Beza himself favoured this interpretation of Romans 11 and he was followed by the various editors of the influential Geneva Bible, which was translated in Geneva by the Marian exiles during the lifetime of Beza. In the 1557 and 1560 editions short notes explained that ‘Israel’ meant ‘the nation of the Jews’ but in later editions (e.g. 1599) the note on Romans 11 stated that the prophets of the Old Testament had predicted a future conversion of the nation of the Jews to Christ. Through this Bible and the writings of the Puritans (e.g. William Perkins, Commentary on Galatians, and various books by Hugh Broughton) the doctrine of the conversion of the Jewish people was widely diffused in England, Scotland, and New England.
In England, the place of the Jews in prophecy was a prominent issue in the seventeenth century, and, significantly, this was true among postmillennial Calvinists. William Perkins, a leading Puritan teacher and writer, taught that there would be a future mass conversion of the Jews. Similarly, Richard Sibbes wrote that “The Jews are not yet come in under Christ’s banner; but God, that hath persuaded Japhet to come into the tents of Shem, will persuade Shem to come into the tents of Japhet.” Elnathan Parr’s 1620 commentary on Romans espoused the view that there would be two “fullnesses” of the Gentiles: one prior to the conversion of the Jews and one following: “The end of this world shall not be till the Jews are called, and how long after that none yet can tell.”
Speaking before the House of Commons in 1649 during the Puritan Revolution, John Owen, a postmillennial theologian, spoke about “the bringing home of [God’s] ancient people o be one fold with the fullness of the Gentiles . . . in answer to millions of prayers put up at the throne of grace, for this very glory, in all generations.”
Postmillennialist Jonathan Edwards outlined the history of the Christian Church in his 1774 History of Redemption. Edwards believed that the overthrow of Satan’s kingdom involved several elements: the abolition of heresies and infidelity, the overthrow of the kingdom of the Antichrist (the Pope), the overthrow of the Muslim nations, and the overthrow of “Jewish infidelity”:
However obstinate [the Jews] have been now for above seventeen hundred years in their rejection of Christ, and however rare have been the instances of individual conversions, ever since the destruction of Jerusalem … yet, when this day comes, the thick vail that blinds their eyes shall be removed, 2 Cor. iii.16. and divine grace shall melt and renew their hard hearts … And then shall the house of Israel be saved: the Jews in all their dispersions shall cast away their old infidelity, and shall have their hearts wonderfully changed, and abhor themselves for their past unbelief and obstinacy.
He concluded that “Nothing is more certainly foretold than this national conversion of the Jews in Romans 11.”
This view continued to be taught by postmillennialists throughout the nineteenth century. The great Princeton theologian Charles Hodge found in Romans 11 a prophecy that “the Gentiles, as a body, the mass of the Gentile world, will be converted before the restoration of the Jews, as a nation.” After the fullness of the Gentiles come in, the Jewish people will be saved: “The Jews, as a people, are now rejected; as a people, they are to be restored. As their rejection, although national, did not include the rejection of every individual; so their restoration, although in like manner national, need not be assumed to include the salvation of every individual Jew.” This will not be the end of history, however; rather, “much will remain to be accomplished after that event; and in the accomplishment of what shall then remain to be done, the Jews are to have a prominent agency.”
This same view has been taught in the present century by some leading Reformed theologians. One of the high ironies of The Road to Holocaust is that Lindsey relies on a postmillennialist, the late John Murray of Westminster Theological Seminary, at crucial points in his exegesis of Romans 9-11! How Lindsey can then go on to warn about the potential “anti-Semitism” of postmillennialism is a leap of logic that we do not claim to fathom. In any case, Murray wrote this comment on Romans
If we keep in mind the theme of this chapter and the sustained emphasis on the restoration of Israel, there is no alternative than to conclude that the proposition, “all Israel shall be saved”, is to be interpreted in terms of the fullness, the receiving, the ingrafting of Israel as a people, the restoration of Israel to gospel favour and blessing and the correlative turning of Israel from unbelief to faith and repentance… the salvation of Israel must be conceived of on a scale that is commensurate with their trespass, their loss, their casting away, their breaking off, and their hardening, commensurate, of course, in the opposite direction.
Many “Dominion Theologians” follow Murray’s exegesis of this passage. I quoted Gary North’s explanation of the conversion of the Jews above. Along similar lines, after citing Murray’s exegesis of Romans 11, Ray R. Sutton, the pastor of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Tyler, Texas, and author of That You May Prosper, explains what he calls the “representative” or “covenantal” view of Israel, which holds that Israel “represents the conversion of the world to Christ.” Sutton explains further:
I hold to the [representative view of Israel’s future], neither anti-semitic nor zionist. First, according to this position, Israel maintains a special place in the plan of God. It is greatly loved by God. Because of its unique role in the conversion of the Gentiles, it is to be evangelized, not exterminated. It is to be called back to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, not excluded from a place in the world. It is to be cherished by the Church, the New Israel, not excoriated as a “Christ-killer”; remember, the whole world crucified Christ, for above His head were written in all the major languages of Jew and Gentile: “King of the Jews.”
But second, the representative or covenantal view is not nationalistic. It does not believe there is magic in being a political unit, a nation. Just because Israel has become nationalized has little or nothing to do with its becoming “covenantalized”; in fact, being politicized has always stood in its way of accepting Christ as Savior and more importantly, Lord. The representative view can therefore advocate love for the Jew, while being able to reject his anti-Christian nation that persecutes Christians and butchers other people who need Christ just as much as they. It can work for the conversion of Israel without becoming the pawn of maniacal nationalism, a racial supremacy as ugly and potentially oppressive as its twentieth century arch enemy, Aryanism.
The twentieth century has witnessed a great holocaust against the Jews. What millennial position dominated American culture during this time? It was dispensational premillennialism, not postmillennial Reconstructionism. Dispensationalists are quick to point out that postmillennialism fell out of favor with theologians after the first world war. Amillennialism was still prominent as was covenantal premillennialism. Certainly postmillennialism cannot be blamed for the holocaust since, according to Lindsey and company, there were very few men who were advocating the position after the first world war. Since dispensationalism did predominate during this period, what was its response to the persecution of the Jews under Hitler’s regime?
Dwight Wilson, author of Armageddon Now!, convincingly writes that dispensational premillennialism advocated a “hands off’ policy regarding Nazi persecutions of the Jews. Since, according to dispensational views regarding Bible prophecy, “the Gentile nations are permitted to afflict Israel in chastisement for her national sins,” there is little or anything that should be done to oppose it. Wilson writes that “It is regrettable that this view allowed premillennialists to expect the phenomenon of anti-Semitism and tolerate it matter-of-factly.” Wilson is not a postmillennialist. The author describes himself as “a third-generation premillennarian who has spent his whole life in premillennialist churches, has attended a premillennialist Bible college, and has taught in such a college for fourteen years.” His views cannot be viewed as prejudiced against premillennialism.
Wilson described “premillennarian views” of anti-Semitism in the mid-thirties and thereafter as “ambivalent.” There was little moral outcry “among the premillennarians… against the persecution, since they had been expecting it.” He continues with startling candor:
Another comment regarding the general European anti-Semitism depicted these developments as part of the on-going plan of God for the nation; they were “Foregleams of Israel’s Tribulation.” Premillennialists were anticipating the Great Tribulation, “the time of Jacob’s trouble.” Therefore, they predicted, “The next scene in Israel’s history may be summed up in three words: purification through tribulation.” It was clear that although this purification was part of the curse, God did not intend that Christians should participate in it. Clear, also, was the implication that He did intend for the Germans to participate in it (in spite of the fact that it would bring them punishment) – and that any moral outcry against Germany would have been in opposition to God’s will. In such a fatalistic system, to oppose Hitler was to oppose God.
Other premillennial writers placed “part of the blame for anti-Semitism on the Jews: ‘The Jew is the world’s archtroubler. Most of the Revolutions of Continental Europe were fostered by Jews.’ The Jews – especially the German Jews – were responsible for the great depression.”
Wilson maintains that it was the premillennial view of a predicted Jewish persecution prior to the Second Coming that led to a “hands off’ policy when it came to speaking out against virulent anti-Semitism. “For the premillennarian, the massacre of Jewry expedited his blessed hope. Certainly he did not rejoice over the Nazi holocaust, he just fatalistically observed it as a ‘sign of the times.’ “ Wilson offers this summary:
Pleas from Europe for assistance for Jewish refugees fell on deaf ears, and “Hands Off’ meant no helping hand. So in spite of being theologically more pro-Jewish than any other Christian group, the premillennarians also were apathetic – because of a residual anti-Semitism, because persecution was prophetically expected, because it would encourage immigration to Palestine, because it seemed the beginning of the Great Tribulation, and because it was a wonderful sign of the imminent blessed hope.
From a reading of Dwight Wilson’s material, the argument has been turned on those dispensational premillennialists who have charged non-dispensationalists with being “unconsciously” anti-Semitic. The charge is preposterous, especially since postmillennialists see a great conversion of the Jews to Christ prophesied in the Bible prior to any such “Great Tribulation,” while dispensationalism sees a great persecution yet to come where “two thirds of the children of Israel in the land will perish” during the “Great Tribulation.”
 Hal Lindsey, The Road to Holocaust (New York: Bantam Books, 1989). For an extended review of Lindsey’s book, see Gary DeMar and Peter J. Leithart, The Legacy of Hatred Continues: A Response to Hal Lindsey’s The Road to Holocaust (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989).
 Gary North, Unconditional Surrender: God’s Program for Victory 3rd ed. (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics,  1988), pp. 340-41.
 Quotations from J. A DeJong, As the Waters Cover the Sea: Millennial Expectations in the Rise of Anglo-America Missions, 1640-1810 (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1970), p. 9.
 Peter Toon, “The Latter-Day Glory,” in Puritans, the Millennium and the Culture of Israel: Puritan Eschatology 1600-1660, ed. Peter Toon (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1970), p. 24.
 All quotations from DeJong, As the Waters Cover the Sea, pp. 27-28.
 Quoted in lain Murray, The Puritan Hope: Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1971), p. 100.
 Edwards, “History of Redemption,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1, p. 607.
 Charles Hodge, A Commentary on R.om4ns (London: Banner of Truth Trust,  1972), p. 374. See also Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, pp. 804-13.
 Lindsey, Road to Holocaust, pp. 176-77, 189.
 John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols. in one (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968), vol. 2, p. 98.
 Ray R. Sutton, “Does Israel Have a Future?” Covenant Renewal (December 1988), p. 3.
 Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now!: The Premillenarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 1977). p. 16.
 Ibid., p. 13.
 Ibid., p. 94.
 Idem. Emphasis added.
 Ibid., p. 95.
 Ibid., pp. 96-97. See Wilson’s comments on page 217.
 John F. Walvoord, Israel in Prophecy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan/Academie,  1988), p. 108.