PART 4: IMPLICATIONS – Chapter 11: Millennial Orientation and the Great Commission

Kenneth L Gentry

Narrated By: Joseph Spurgeon
Book: The Greatness of the Great Commission
Topics: , ,


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Chapter Text


For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For He has put all things under His feet…. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:25-27a, 58).

“Eschatology” is that field of study in theology that is concerned with “the last things.”[1] As I have shown in various places in the preceding chapters, eschatology has a tremendous effect on the Christian’s worldview and, consequently, on his practical, daily living. Eschatological systems are generally categorized in regard to their approach to the “millennium.”[2] The idea of the millennium is derived from Revelation 20:1-6, where the designation of a “one thousand” year reign of Christ is treated (though only in these six verses!).

Comparative Summary of Millennial Views

The Great Commission is greatly affected by our understanding of eschatology. Ironically, there is one eschatological position that cites the Great Commission as evidence of its biblical warrant: postmillennialism. This is the viewpoint presented in this book. In that the Great Commission is so affected by one’s eschatological system, it might be helpful to provide a brief summary of several of the leading features of the four major evangelical eschatological systems.[3] It should be understood that any particular adherent to one of the following views may disagree with some aspect as I have presented it. There are always differences of nuance among adherents to any particular system. Nevertheless, the presentation attempts to portray accurately the general, leading features of the systems. The systems will be presented in alphabetical order.





That view of prophecy that expects no wide-ranging, long-lasting earthly manifestation of kingdom power until Christ returns, other than in the salvation of the elect. Amillennialist Kuiper writes: “‘The thousand years’ of Revelation 20 represent in symbolic language a long and complete period; namely, the period of history from Christ’s ascension into heaven until his second coming. Throughout that age Christ reigns and the saints in glory reign with him (vs. 4). Satan is bound in the sense of not being permitted to lead the pagan nations against Christendom (vss. 2-3)…. During that period also takes place under the rule of Christ what may be termed the parallel development of the kingdom of light and that of darkness…. Toward the end of ‘the thousand years’ Satan will be loosed for a little while. Those will be dark days for the church of God…. Christ will return in ineffable glory and, having raised the dead, will sit in judgment on all men (Rev. 20: 12,13).”[4]

Descriptive Features:

  1. The Church Age is the kingdom era prophesied by the Old Testament prophets.[5] Israel and the Church are merged into one body in Christ to form the Israel of God.
  1. Satan is bound during His earthly ministry at Christ’s First Coming. Satan is progressively restricted by the proclamation of the gospel.
  1. Christ rules in the hearts of believers. There will be but occasional, short-lived influences of Christianity on culture, although the Christian should, nevertheless, labor toward a Christian culture. Hence: the system is amillennial (no-millennium), in that there is no visible, earthly manifestation of millennial conditions as in the pre- and postmillennial systems. The “thousand years” is held to be a symbolic figure representative of a vast expanse of time.
  1. History will gradually worsen as the growth of evil accelerates toward the end. This will culminate in the Great Tribulation.
  1. Christ will return to end history, resurrect and judge all men, and establish the eternal order.

Representative Adherents:

In the ancient church: Hermas (first century) and Augustine (A.D. 354-430). In the modern church: Jay E. Adams, Hendrikus Berkhof, Louis Berkhof, Theodore Graebner, W. J. Grier, Floyd E. Hamilton, William Hendriksen, J. W. Hodges, Anthony Hoekema, Abraham Kuyper, Philip Mauro, George Murray, Albenus Pieters, and Geerhardus Vos (possibly).

Dispensational Premillennialism



A theological system, arising around 1830, that understands the Scripture to teach that God has two separate programs for two distinct peoples: national Israel and the Church. Since Pentecost the program for the Church has been in operation. The Church will continue to operate as a spiritual witness to the nations until God secretly raptures Christians out of the world. Soon thereafter Christ will return to the earth to set up an earthly kingdom of one thousand years duration.[6]


Descriptive Features:

  1. The Church Age is a wholly unforseen mystery, which was altogether unknown to and unexpected by the Old Testament prophets.
  1. God has a separate and distinct program and plan for racial Israel, as distinguished from the Church. The Church of Jesus Christ is a parenthetical aside in the original plan of God.
  1. The Kingdom offered by Christ in the first century was postponed until the future.
  1. The Church experiences some small scale successes in history, but ultimately loses influence, fails in her mission, is corrupted as worldwide evil increases and intensifies toward the end of the Church Age.
  1. Christ returns secretly in the sky to rapture living saints and to resurrect the bodies of deceased saints (the first resurrection). These are removed out of the world before the Great Tribulation. The judgment of the saints is accomplished in heaven during the seven year period before Christ’s return to the earth.
  1. At the conclusion of the seven year Great Tribulation, Christ returns to the earth with His glorified saints in order to establish and personally administer a Jewish political kingdom headquartered at Jerusalem for 1000 years. During this time Satan is bound and the temple and sacrificial system is re-established in Jerusalem as memorials. Hence: the system is “premil-lennial,” in that Christ returns prior to the millennium, which is a literal 1000 years.
  1. Toward the end of the Millennial Kingdom, Satan is loosed and Christ is surrounded and attacked at Jerusalem.
  1. Christ calls down fire from heaven to destroy His enemies. The resurrection (the second resurrection) and judgment of the wicked occurs. The eternal order begins.

Representative Adherents:

In the ancient church: None(created ca. 1830). In the modern church: Donald G. Barnhouse, W. E. Blackstone, James M. Brookes, L. S. Chafer, John Nelson Darby, Charles Lee Feinberg, A. C. Gaebelein, Norman Geisler, Harry Ironside, Hal Lindsey, C. H. MacIntosh, G. Campbell Morgan, J. Dwight Pentecost, Charles C. Ryrie, C. I Scofield, John F. Walvoord, and Warren Wiersbe.

Historic Premillennialism

Definition: That ancient view of prophecy that sees the present age as one in which the Church will expand, but with little influence in the world, other than calling out the elect to salvation. At the end of this age the Lord will return and resurrect believers and will establish His kingdom over the earth for 1000 years. At the end of that period will occur the resurrection of the wicked. Premillennialist Ladd writes: “the gospel is not to conquer the world and subdue all nations to itself. Hatred, conflict, and war will continue to characterize the age until the coming of the Son of Man” and “evil will mark the course of the age.”[7]


Descriptive Features:

  1. The New Testament era Church is the initial phase of Christ’s kingdom as prophesied by the Old Testament prophets.
  1. The New Testament Church will win many victories, but ultimately will fail in its mission, lose influence, and become corrupted as worldwide evil increases toward the end of the Church Age.
  1. The Church will pass through a future, worldwide, unprecedented time of travail, known as the Great Tribulation, which will punctuate the end of contemporary history.
  1. Christ will return at the end of the Tribulation to rapture the Church, resurrect deceased saints, and conduct the judgment of the righteous in the “twinkling of an eye.”
  1. Christ then will descend to the earth with His glorified saints, fight the battle of Armageddon, bind Satan, and establish a worldwide, political kingdom, which will be personally administered by Him for 1000 years from Jerusalem. Hence, the designation “premillennial, in that Christ returns prior to the millennium, which is understood as a literal 1000 years.
  1. At the end of the millennial reign, Satan will be loosed and a massive rebellion against the kingdom and a fierce assault against Christ and His saints will occur.
  1. God will intervene with fiery judgment to rescue Christ and the saints. The resurrection and the judgment of the wicked will occur and the eternal order will begin.

Representative Adherents:

In the Ancient church: Papias (A.D. 60-130) and Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165). In the modern church: Henry Alford, E. B. Elliott, A. R. Faussett, Henry W. Frost, H. G. Guinness, Robert H. Gundry, S. H. Kellog, George Eldon Ladd, Alexander Reese, and Nathaniel West.



Postmillennialism is that system of eschatology which understands the Messianic kingdom to have been founded upon the earth during the earthly ministry and through the redemptive labors of the Lord Jesus Christ in fulfillment of Old Testament prophetic expectation. The nature of that kingdom is essentially redemptive and spiritual and will exercise a transformational socio-cultural influence in history, as more and more people are converted to Christ. Postmillennialism confidently anticipates a time in earth history in which the gospel will have won the victory throughout the earth in fulfillment of the Great Commission. After an extended period of gospel prosperity, earth history will be drawn to a close by the personal, visible, bodily return of Jesus Christ (accompanied by a literal resurrection and a general judgment).


Descriptive Features:

  1. The Church is the kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament era and is the millennial age. It is composed of Jew and Gentile merged into one body in Christ, as the New Israel of God.
  1. The kingdom was established in its mustard seed form by Christ during His earthly ministry at His First Coming. It will develop gradualistically through time.[8]
  2. Satan was bound by Christ in His earthly ministry and is progressively hindered as the gospel spreads.
  1. The Great Tribulation occurred in the first century at the destruction of the Jewish Temple and Jerusalem, because of Israel’s rejection of their Messiah, Jesus Christ.
  1. The kingdom will grow and develop until eventually it exercises a dominant and universal gracious influence in a long era of righteousness, peace, and prosperity on the earth and in history.
  1. Toward the end of Christ’s spiritual millennial reign, Satan will be loosed and a brief rebellion by the remaining minority, unconverted sinners against Christianity will occur.
  1. Christ will return after the millennium to avenge Himself upon the ungrateful rebels and to resurrect and judge all men. He will then usher in the eternal order. Hence: the system is postmillennial, in that Christ returns after the millennium, although the “1000 years” is held to be a symbolic figure representative of a vast expanse of time.

Representative Adherents:

In the ancient church: Eusebius (A.D. 260-340) and Athanasius (A.D. 296-372). In the modern church: (traditional) J. A. Alexander, o. 1: Allis, David Brown, Lorraine Boettner, John Calvin, Roderick Campbell, David Chilton, John Jefferson Davis, Jonathan Edwards, A. A. and Charles A. Hodge, Erroll Hulse, Marcellus Kik, John Murray, B. B. Warfield; (covenantal or theonomic) Greg Bahnsen, Francis Nigel Lee, Gary North, R. J. Rushdoony – and the Westminster Confession of Faith and many of the Puritans.

The Biblical and Theological Superiority of Postmillennialism

There are two sets of primary considerations: biblical and theological. The former relates to the actual biblical texts; the latter relates to the implications of these texts.


Biblical Considerations

  1. Contrary to dispensationalism’s view of the Church Age being unforeseen by the prophets of the Old Testament, see: Acts 2:16-17; 3:24-26; 15:14-18; Galatians 3:8.
  1. Contrary to dispensationalism’s view that the kingdom promises refer to national Israel rather than to the Church as the New Israel of God, see: Galatians 3:28-19; 6:16; Ephesians 2:12-22; Philippians 3:3; Romans 2:28-29; and 1 Peter 2:5-9.
  1. Contrary to dispensationalism, Christ did establish His kingdom in the first century, see: Mark 1:15; 9:1; Luke 11:20; 17:20-21; John 18:33-37; Colossians 1:13.
  1. Contrary to dispensationalism, Christ is now enthroned and ruling over His kingdom, see: Acts 2:29-35; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 1:3; 10:12-13; Revelation 1:5-6; 3:21.
  1. Contrary to dispensationalism and historic premillennialism, Christ’s kingdom is not an earthly-political kingdom[9], but a spiritual-redemptive kingdom, see: Luke 17:20-21; Romans 14:17; John 18:36-37.
  1. Contrary to dispensationalism and historic premillennialism, Satan was bound in the first century, see: Matthew 12:28-29; Luke 10:18; John 12:31; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8.
  1. Contrary to dispensationalism, historic premillennialism, and amillennialism, the Great Tribulation occurred in the first century (at the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem), see: Matthew 24:34 (cp. Matt. 24:2, 3, 15, 21); Revelation 1:1, 3, 9; 3:10 (cp. Revelation 7:14).
  1. Contrary to dispensationalism, historic premillennialism, and amillennialism, the Church will not fail in its task of evangelizing the world, see: Matthew 13:31-32; 16:18; 28:18-20.
  1. Contrary to dispensationalism, historic premillennialism, and amillennialism, Christ’s redemptive labors will hold a universal sway in the world before the end of contemporary history, see: Matthew 13:31-32; John 1:29; 3:17; 4:42; 12:31-32; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Hebrews 1:3, 13; 10:12-13.
  1. Contrary to dispensationalism and historic premillennialism, there is but one resurrection and one judgment, which occur simultaneously at the end of history, see: Daniel 12:2; Matthew 24:31-32; John 5:28-29; 6:39-40; 11:40; Acts 24:15.
  1. Contrary to dispensationalism and historic premillenniaIism, when Christ comes, history will end, see: 1 Corinthians 15:20-25; Matthew 13:29-30; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.

Theological Considerations

  1. In distinction to dispensationaIism, historic premillenniaIism, and amillenniaIism, postmillennialism is optimistic in its historical outlook, see: Psalm 2; 72; Isaiah 2:1-4; 9:6-7; 11:1-9; Matthew 28:18-20.
  1. In distinction to dispensationalism and historic premillenniaIism, postmillennialism does not allow for a monstrous and absurd mixing of immortal, gloried and resurrected saints with mortal, unglorified men upon the earth for a 1000 year period of interaction.
  1. In distinction to dispensationalism and historic premillennialism, in postmillennialism Christ will not undergo a “second humiliation” on earth (or ever).
  1. Contrary to dispensationalism, postmillennialism does not teach there is coming a return to “weak and beggarly elements,” such as the temple, sacrifices, Jewish exaltation, and such, see: Galatians 4:9; Hebrews 9-10; 1 Peter 2:5-9; Ephesians 2:20-21; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:19ff.

The Great Commission and Dispensationalism

It is alarming that some among dispensationalists view the Great Commission as a Jewish mandate not incumbent upon the Church in this age! Let us cite just a few brief quotations in demonstration of this remarkable distortion of biblical theology.

  1. W. Bullinger (19th century), well known for his Companion Bible, states very clearly of Matthew 28:18-20: “this particular commission was… postponed.”[10] Here the Postponed Kingdom Theory of dispensationalism is tied into the disavowal of the contemporary obligation to promote the Great Commission.

Arno C. Gaebelein (d. 1945) wrote of the Great Commission in his popular Annotated Bible: “This is the Kingdom Commission…. A time is coming when this great commission here will be carried out by a remnant of Jewish disciples….”[11] In keeping with the Postponed Kingdom Theory, Gaebelein also puts the Commission’s institution off into the future.

A more recent dispensationalist, Charles F. Baker, explains that when the Great Commission was given “there had been no revelation as yet that the program of the prophesied Kingdom was to be interrupted by this present dispensation of the mystery.”[12] George Williams agrees.[13] (Notice should be made of the fact that the Church Age “interrupted” God’s Kingdom Program.)

Dispensationalist Stanley Toussaint, in his recent commentary on Matthew, mentions the debate among current dispensationalists,[14] while another dispensationalist David L. Turner comments regarding modern dispensationalists that “most would agree that the stirring mandate for discipleship with which Matthew concludes is incumbent upon the Church today.”[15]


The study of eschatology is an important matter for the Christian. What we believe the future holds for us and our children has a great impact on the prioritizing of our life’s concerns. Eschatology should not be approached as if but an interesting aside to the study of Scripture. It is a fundamental aspect of it, having a great bearing even on the understanding of evangelism itself.

[1] “Eschatology” is derived from the Greek: eschatos, i.e. “last,” and logos, i.e. “word.”

[2] “Millennium” is derived from the Latin mille, i.e. “thousand,” and annum, i.e. “year.”

[3] For more detailed information, see: Robert G. Clouse, ed., The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (Downer’s Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1977).

[4] R. B. Kuiper, God-Centered Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1961), pp. 208-209.

[5] Amillennialist Anthony Hoekema sees the fulfillment of the kingdom prophecies in the New Heavens and New Earth, rather than in the Church. Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979). See my footnote 2, p. 147.

[6] See: H. Wayne House and Thomas D. Ice, Dominion Theology: Blessing Or Curse? (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1988), pp. 418-420, 422.

[7] George Eldon Ladd. Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans. 1974). pp. 202, 203.

[8] It does not develop uniformly, but gradualistically in spurts. In a sense, it is like seed, which is planted and grows and produces other seed (see: Matt. 13:3-9,23). Thus, we can expect it to grow in certain areas and perhaps even to die, but eventually to come back, because the productivity of seed involves its death and renewal (see: John 12:24; 1 Cor. 15:36). In addition, we may expect God’s pruning from time to time (John 15:5-6).

[9] Although Christ’s kingdom does have an earthly-political influence.

[10] E. W. Bullinger, The Companion Bible (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, rep. 1970 [n.d.]) p. 1380.

[11] Arnoc C. Gebelein, The Annotated Bible, vol.6: Matthew to the Acts (Traveler’s Rest, SC: Southern Bible Book House, n.d.), p. 61.

[12] Charles F. Baker, A Dispensational Theology (Grand Rapids: Grace Bible College, 1971), p. 558.

[13] 13. George Williams, The Student’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (4th ed.: Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1949), pp. 730-731.

[14] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the King! (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1980), p. 318.

[15] David L. Turner, “The Structure and Sequence of Matthew 24:1-41: Interaction with Evangelical Treatments,” Grace Theological Journal 10:1 (Spring, 1989) 6 (emphasis mine).