Millennialism and Missions

We read in Revelation 20 that an angel bound the dragon, who is Satan, and threw him into the abyss, where he is to stay for one thousand years (vss. 2, 3). This one thousand years has been called the millennium, which is a Latin word for “one thousand.” Some Christians describe the millennium as a time during which Christ will rule the world and there is to be great joy, peace, and prosperity.

“Nuncmillennialism” – The premiUennial view says that Christ will return just before (pre) the thousand years begin. The postmillennial view says that Christ will return after (post) the thousand years are over. Reformed Christians are generally neither premillennial nor postmillennial in their understanding of Biblical prophecy. (See in this connection Article 37 of the Belgic Confession.) They have therefore been called amillennial. But this is an unfortunate label. It is a combination of “millennial” and “a,” which means “no.” It seems to say that those who hold this view deny the very existence of a millennium. But the Bible clearly says: “and bound him for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:2).

It would be better to say that Reformed Christians affirm the millennium as a present reality. William Hendriksen docs this very clearly in More Than Conquerors. (Privately Printed, Grand Rapids, 1939, pp. 222–232.) Perhaps the label “nuncmillennial” (Latin for now-1000 would more accurately describe the position of most Reformed scholars and many other Christians as well.

Is there then a difference between the postmillennial and the “nuncmillennial” positions? Yes, there is. The postmillennial view usually looks for a period of a literal one thousand years which is yet to come after which Christ will return. But this thousand years has not yet arrived. Even those postmillennialisls who do not insist on a literal one thousand years, and prefer to emphasize the social and economic aspects of the millennium, still look upon it as largely future. Reformed scholars, on the other hand, have learned from their study of the Bible that the “millennium” indicates a long period of time right now. Therefore the term, “nuncmillennial.”

Room for the Gospel – This view of the millennium as being present with us now has tremendous meaning for Christian missions, but how often have we viewed it that way? Consider the binding of Satan and what that means for missions. Satan was bound and thrown into the abyss “that he should deceive the nations no more” (Rev. 20:3). Revelation was written toward the close of the First Century A.D. when the Gospel had scarcely been preached throughout the Roman Empire. But we here have in Revelation a prediction of the spread of the Gospel over the entire earth until all nations shall have been touched by it.

Consider again the reply of Christ to the information that certain Greeks wanted to see Him: “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself (John 12:31, 32). Christ was not a universalist who taught that all men individually are saved. The “all men” whom He intended to draw to Himself were men from every tribe and nation under heaven; not one group would be excluded. And this drawing of all men is related to the casting out of the prince of this world, that is Satan. The prince must be cast out in order that there may be room for the Gospel. The prince must be cast out in order that he may no longer deceive.

Satan controlled today? – But is it not true that “your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion , walketh about, seeking whom he may dcvour”? (I Peter 5:8). Of course it is, hut lions do not roar as they stalk their prey out in the wilderness. They roar when they are brought in cages to the arena, as they were in Peter’s day, in order to kill and eat for the entertainment of spectators. These lions that Peter and his readers knew were still controlled by the lion trainers.

And Satan is controlled by God today. That is why Christ’s Kingdom has grown until it can now be found in most areas of the earth. It has grown like the stone in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream seeking to fill the whole earth (Dan. 2:35). Communism has risen to power during the Twentieth Century. But during this same century the Christian Church has become truly catholic (that is, universal), for it is now no longer a European institution with a few outposts elsewhere. It has gained many converts and has taken firm root in the soils of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

A Ground for Optimism – Reformed Christians ought always to be optimistic regarding the advance of the Gospel. They ought to be optimistic because God reigns and therefore He will cause His Kingdom to come. And they ought to be optimistic because the millennial age in which Satan’s powers are limited, is now upon us.

Even mission authorities who have not expressed their views on a present millennium have expressed optimism regarding the mission opportunities presently facing the Church. Dr. Barrett has predicted that by the year 2000 there will be 357,000,000 Christians in Africa (Church Growth Bulletin, March, 1971, p. 129). Dr. McGavran has said, “Conditions in animistic Africa encourage the belief that all Africa south of the Sahara may be discipled in this generation” (Church Growth Bulletin, March 1971, p. 126). And since the end of World War II the Church growth situation in Indonesia and Latin America has also been very favorable.

The lesson in all this is clear: We must work while Satan is bound for the time is coming when he will be loosed. Then the activities of Christians will be so severely restricted that even the survival of the church will become a concern to many. We must work now in carrying out the Great Commission.

A Postmillennial leaning – And Christian missions does not involve first of all building a Christian society, as some are saying. The idea that the Kingdom will come exclusively through a Christian society leans too far in the direction of the postmillennial view. It is trying to establish before Christ returns that which will be established after Christ returns in the “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (II Peter 3:13). This idea also overlooks the fact that a Christian society is made up of people who have come to know Christ and His will in an intimate way.

The millennium is now. This means that the Christian Church is not an interim institution to fill the gap until Christ returns (as many Premillennialists teach), but an integral part of God’s master plan for the world. To this Church is given the ministry of reconciliation. The Church is confident as she carries out this ministry, for God who does not lie has already promised, “My word shall not return to me void” (lsa. 55:11). The only question that remains is this: Arc you and I as members of the Church faithful in doing the work of the Church?

Timothy M. Monsma, presently on furlough, is a Christian Reformed missionary to Nigeria, where he has been since 1962.