Suffering and Hope in Wartime Eschatology

GDJT 2 (2023): 95–125
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We may begin by admitting that eschatology is an oft-malnourished doctrine within many Christian circles. For some Christians, eschatology represents the uncomfortable specter of church squabbles regarding things such as the identity of the antichrist or the mark of the beast. Visions of walls cluttered with charts and yarn assail our thoughts, and we immediately feel disoriented and uneasy at the prospect of delving much further. For others, eschatology seems to be entirely concerned with the correct interpretation of the millennial period in the Revelation to John, the millennial “kingdom” or “reign.” In any case, Christian conversations concerning eschatology frequently seem to generate far more heat than light, and relationships between involved parties often suffer in the aftermath. For all of these reasons, eschatology has become a doctrine which brings fear rather than hope for many Christians, and it accordingly holds very little impact on their lives and undertakings in this world.

One cause for this cognitive disconnect is a narrow hermeneutic concerning the category of eschatology. That is to say, for many Christians the study of eschatology is synonymous with the study of the book of the Revelation, and quite little else.[2] Eschatology is the Revelation, and the Revelation is eschatology—the one being simply referenced as a sort of shorthand for the other (or so the unstated belief often goes). Even pressing in a bit further, eschatology typically progresses past the primary substantive sections of the Revelation and devotes the entirety of its attention to the Revelation’s twentieth chapter (and often only that chapter’s opening verses, at that). A Christian’s eschatological beliefs are regularly expressed as their views about the millennial period (chiliasm), as if this is the singular issue at stake in eschatology.[3] In this case, eschatology is frequently reduced to the question of whether one is pre-, mid-, or post-tribulational, with the unstated assumption that these options somehow encapsulate one’s convictions regarding eschatology. Suffice it to say, this anemic perspective on eschatology is quite unfortunate.

On the contrary to the above, I would argue that the church is in desperate need of a recovery of sound biblical eschatology. Simply put, eschatology is the biblical language of hope, and it provides Christians with an indispensable sense of bearing and comfort in this life. The church desperately needs a return to a biblical eschatology that provides Christians with both courage for today and hope for tomorrow. Additionally, if we may borrow a bit from Paul’s terminology, Christians need a wartime eschatology that is fit for the conflict at hand (cf. 2 Cor 10:3–6). To borrow from Geerhardus Vos, we will operate under the presupposition that “the Christian life is semi-eschatological,” in that “it partakes in principle of the powers and privileges of the world to come.”[4] Christians are eschatological creatures in need of eschatological formation. Again, a healthy eschatology is a whole-Bible eschatology that provides Christians with faith and hope in the face of trials and tribulations, precisely because Christ is victorious (see John 16:33). What the Christian church needs is not escapism or storm-shelter eschatology, but a wartime eschatology for the battles of this age.

Yet a sufficiently robust eschatology will be precisely that—one that is broadly comprehensive and richly biblical, as opposed to an outlook that is stilted or malnourished. Eschatology is a message of resounding hope, and there is much to lament concerning the trends of pessimistic and hopeless eschatology that have often plagued Christian circles, often notably so at the popular level of discourse. Counter to that trend of pessimism, there has been a noticeable (and welcome) rise in a professedly “hopeful” eschatology in recent years, quite notably so within American Christian circles. This hopeful eschatology has sometimes found its expression in scholarly and academic writings, but far more often it has been expressed via the popular-level discourse of social media, blog posts, podcasts, and video. Though this eschatology may take different forms, I am referring in general to that swath of eschatology that promotes a hopeful, victorious, triumphant theme of Christ’s victory in this world.

Yet since many (or most) eschatological perspectives may initially claim to hold such an optimistic outlook, we may define this a bit further. When we speak of a hopeful eschatology, we mean that Christ’s eschatological victory is actually being realized now through the church, and it is not solely relegated to a yet-future event(s). This may be expressed in recognizing that the cross brought victory as well as redemption, and that the call to disciple the nations will be successfully accomplished in this world. Further still, this hopeful eschatological victory is markedly concerned with the manifestation of Christ’s reign in this world (both in heaven and on earth), and it is not referring to a solely spiritualized or ethereal manifestation of otherworldly eschatological victory (bifurcating the heavenly from the earthly). There are many who may count themselves as partakers in this hopeful eschatology, but it is here that I think a word of irenic and in-house caution may be in order, a sort of intramural plea. This word of caution is quite simple: to be sufficiently biblical, a relentlessly hopeful eschatology must not neglect to incorporate a robust theology of suffering. That is, we simply cannot entertain an over-realized or enthusiastic eschatology which has no room for sin, suffering, and tribulation in this life, elements which await the consummation of Christ’s return for their final rectification. What follows in this article is a call for balance, a call that is both congenial and seemingly necessary: to be both biblically faithful and sufficiently encouraging, our eschatology must account for ongoing suffering in the life of the church.

Though the appeal to account for suffering will surely sound quite disagreeable to many ears, there is a substantive need for an accounting for suffering in our eschatology. The church stands in a time of victory already achieved, while such victory is not-yet consummated. Hence, suffering (to varying extents) is fundamentally endemic to the Christian experience in this world. This is an outworking of the inaugurated eschatology that has fortunately become quite widely accepted in eschatological circles, recognizing that there is an already victory (and an already conquering of sin/evil) that is awaiting a not-yet consummation (and a not-yet cessation of suffering). A common illustration of this is the V-Day/D-Day illustration popularized by Oscar Cullman (and later Greg Beale, among others), which describes a wartime victory that has presently been achieved while recognizing fierce battlefield fighting that still lies ahead.[5] This inaugurated understanding of suffering recognizes that Christians are victorious in this world amidst suffering and persecution, even as there is a divine use of suffering for the very purpose of achieving Christian victory in this world. Suffering does not signify defeat, and victory does not prohibit suffering.

The dynamic of an inaugurated wartime victory is a biblically faithful and reasonably helpful way to understand the manifestation of eschatological victory. That is, an inaugurated wartime victory that accounts for an ongoing dynamic of suffering helps clarify both biblical truth and the lived experience of the church. In one sense, this means that eschatology is a story of what has already been accomplished. This observation should ring true, as Christ has declared with finality that “It is finished” (Τετέλεσται, John 19:30).[6] Yet just as in an ongoing war whose outcome has been conclusively decided, and there are still fierce battles ahead to be fought, the enemy is still present; the threat is extant and palpable; and there are undeniable struggles ahead that appear just as intense as those that have come before.[7] Yet in another sense—one which we cannot overlook—the war has been decided in the fullest measure. There may be real fighting and grave threats which persist in this world, but the war has truly been won. Christ has “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col 2:15).[8] It is on this theme of suffering amidst ongoing triumph that the following discussion will focus, though a few words of definition are first in order.

The Need for Robust Eschatology

If this is an appeal for a retrieval of a theology of suffering within a hopeful eschatology, we must certainly be precise in what we mean by the term eschatology. The precise definition of eschatology has been fraught with no small amount of disagreement over its meaning, though in general terms we may recognize eschatology to refer to the last things, or perhaps to the final or ultimate things.[9] The word eschatology is a blend of the Greek words ἔσχατος (“last”) and λόγος (“word”), carrying the sense that it is generally a study of the consummating, ultimate, and conclusive events that are to take place in redemptive history.[10] As such, eschatology generally occupies the closing chapters of various theological textbooks. However, isolating eschatology to a theological bookend is certainly a detrimentally truncated view of this expansive doctrine. As the reader of Scripture considers the Great Story that is progressively unfolding, one may recognize that this story extends far deeper and ranges far wider than a description of a few concluding events.[11] For example, Greg Beale addresses the prescient concern with such a truncated view of eschatology:

However, such an understanding of the latter days that views them as arriving only at the very end of history needs rethinking. The phrase “latter days” (and similar phrases) occurs numerous times in the NT and often does not refer exclusively to the very end of history, as we typically think of it. This wording is used frequently to describe the end times as beginning already in the first century. Consequently, a survey of these phrases in the NT as well as a brief overview of the language in the OT, Judaism, and the Apostolic Fathers demand that the popular and even often-held scholarly view be reassessed.[12]

Beale’s appeal for a reassessment amounts to viewing eschatology in light of the whole of the biblical canon, and not simply relegating such a doctrine to the final chapters of the story. The things of the end reach quite far and range quite wide. Yet in order to speak about these things of the end, the biblical reader must first get a bit of perspective on the whole of the story in order to fully appreciate its conclusion.

Instead of a truncated view, we may instead pursue a more robust eschatology, one that takes into account the eschatological flow of the whole of Scripture. Keith Mathison encapsulates this impetus quite well when he observes:

Eschatology in a broader sense, however, concerns what Scripture teaches about God’s purposes in Christ for history. As such, eschatology does include a study of the consummation of God’s purposes at the end of history, but it also includes a study of the stages in the unfolding of those purposes. . . . If, for example, the first coming of Christ inaugurated the last days, then a study of biblical eschatology must include a study of Christ’s first advent as well as his second. It must also include a study of God’s preparation in history for the eschatological first advent of Christ. In other words, eschatology must involve a redemptive-historical study of the entire Bible.[13]

A robust understanding of eschatology gives the Christian definite theological bearings regarding their place in the flow of the redemptive saga, containing elements that are both personal and global, both present and future. The telos of a robust eschatology will produce a reading of Scripture which places great emphasis on the new-creational paradigm of the consummated order of the coming eschaton.[14] The things of this age are moving in a direction, and that movement must be kept in sharp focus. God has redemptive plans for the created order, and those redemptive plans involve an eschatological escalation toward a new created order in which all the promises of God find their ultimate consummation. The telos of eschatology accordingly recognizes the reclamation and restoration that are found in the redemptive flow accomplished in the work of Christ, concluding with Christ’s reclamation and restoration of His people amidst the fiery judgment that accompanies His return (see 1 John 4:17; 2 Pet 3:7).

Eschatology is fundamentally the account of how God is restoring all things to Himself through the victorious work of Jesus Christ: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor 1:20). Therefore, eschatology proper concerns the things of the end (Christ’s return, the final judgment, the glorification of the saints, the New Heavens and Earth, etc.), but it also involves the totality of events that propel the story along toward its final conclusion.[15] This is quite important to note, because eschatology is not only found in one chapter of Scripture, nor even within one book of Scripture. Instead, eschatology stretches across the whole breadth and depth of Scripture. The message of the Bible is an inherently eschatological message—it is a redemption narrative that is insuppressibly moving toward a glorious, definitive consummation. There is a quite widely-circulated illustration about a group of blind men who are attempting to describe an elephant based on their sense of touch, while each man is limited by what his hands can feel (whether its leg, or ear, etc.). None of the men provides an accurate description of the entire elephant, because examining only a portion of the elephant (to the detriment of the other parts) does not give an accurate representation of the whole. Similarly, eschatology entails all of Scripture, and a robust interpretation of eschatology must develop accordingly. What is being advocated here is a sort of “whole-canon biblical eschatology,” in which all of Scripture is considered by observing the constituent themes and topics that progressively weave together to form the whole.[16]

Accordingly, if our eschatological reading does not provide a clear and compelling picture of the victorious Christ, we have most certainly made grievous mistakes in our study. Christ is the prophesied victor of the story (Gen 3:15), the one of whom the prophets spoke (John 1:45), the one who possesses all authority in both heaven and earth (Matt 28:18), the one whose Spirit indwells His children (Rom 8:9), and the one who will return in glory to judge the living and the dead (Rev 22:12). But this goes far beyond a simple declaration or assertion—in other words, one cannot affirm this statement yet deny it in practice. If an understanding of eschatology places the focus of the Great Story on anyone or anything other than Christ, if it markets fear and does not generate peace, or if it produces despair and not hope, we must staunchly caution that such a venture does not sound like the eschatological message of Scripture. Our appeal here is for this victorious eschatological recognition, yet accompanied by the words of the one who walked the road to Golgotha: “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (Matt 16:24).

Sources of Contention

What may we say about a hopeful eschatology that is both robust and biblical? More specifically, what may we say concerning the necessary element of suffering within a hopeful eschatology? Our goal is to provide a measured balance to the twin errors of triumphalism and defeatism, by means of defending the element of suffering as a sort of teleological corrective for eschatology. As an initial observation toward that end, we may recognize that there is a sense in which Christians are commanded to wage spiritual war through the work of eschatology. That does not mean that eschatology is inherently caustic or disparaging, but there is certainly a sense in which Christian eschatology involves an offensive approach.[17] Paul’s words are instructive in this regard:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Cor 10:3–5)

In this passage, Paul uses terms that are quite noticeably expressions of military conquest.[18] Paul exhorts the Corinthian believers to “wage war” (στρατεύω), yet not according to their “flesh.” Likewise, the Corinthian Christians have been given weapons to be used for “warfare” (στρατεία) that are not of the “flesh” but are of weapons of divine power. Consequently, the are instructed to “destroy” (καθαιρέω). The objects of their destruction are those things that are raised against the knowledge of God, and they are to likewise take every thought “captive” (αἰχμαλωτίζω) in the course of their obedience. Accordingly, Christians are admonished to put on the appropriate armor for battle, described as the “whole armor of God” (Eph 6:10,13), in order that they may wage war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers [κοσμοκράτορας][19] over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). The eschatological admonition for Christians (those on whom the end of the ages has come; see 1 Cor 10:11) is to pick up the armor of war.

Yet although many may agree on the tenor of eschatological conflict, questions persist on the nature of such conflict. Is this eschatological battle to be fought in heaven, or on earth? Is this eschatological victory achieved within the walls of the church, or does it extend into all of life? How do we weigh the qualifications of eschatological victory—that is, what does victory look like? It is in answering these definitional particulars that the recognizable divisions between the various millennial views tend to occur. While chiliasm is not completely absent from this discussion, this present dialogue is more aimed toward those within the postmillennial and amillennial schools of thought. It has often been observed that these monikers (post- and a-) are not always overtly helpful or adequately descriptive, as both of these eschatological positions share much in common, having only been substantively differentiated from one another in recent years. There is also an increasing consensus between these views on issues such as the length and contours of the kingdom, the progression of the epochs/ages, and the defeat and restraint of Satan,[20] among other foundational issues, while there remains work that is yet to be done concerning the nature and timing of the kingdom (and therefore its manifestation and application in this world).

We may also lament that these eschatological views (at least in title) are statedly concerned with the events of the millennium (χίλια ἔτη), a period that is specifically named only in Revelation 20, where it appears in each of six successive verses (20:2,3,4,5,6,7). However, we may recognize that the implications of these millennial perspectives stretch far beyond that individual chapter, impacting (or being impacted by) how one approaches the biblical narrative at large.[21] Since we are here to address the theme of suffering and not to consider millennialism directly, we will approach the millennium herein as referring to the period that “stands for the whole time between the life of Jesus on earth and his second coming.”[22] Marcellus Kik explains this conception of the millennium from a postmillennial perspective quite well:

So when we speak of the kingdom of God, the millennial kingdom, and even the kingdom (Christ’s) of glory, we refer to the kingdom that God has given exclusively to the God-man for a definite period of time. The millennium, in other words, is the period of the gospel dispensation, the Messianic kingdom, the new heavens and new earth, the regeneration, etc. The millennium commenced either with the ascension of Christ or with the day of Pentecost and will remain until the second coming of Christ. There was a period of time when Jesus received the kingdom and there will be a period of time when He will surrender it to the Father.[23]

There are some articulations of the millennium which may place more or less emphasis on a golden age that is differentiated from the millennial period, though most look for that millennial period (however articulated) to progress toward a time wherein individual regenerations eventually lead to a Christianized rejuvenation in social, economic, political and cultural areas of life.[24] This starting point should allow us to address the intramural discussion of eschatological suffering within such a millennial context.

A Few Underlying Issues

As we venture into broadly postmillennial thought, there are certain definitional categories that must impact our understanding of suffering within a presumably victorious eschatology. There has been quite substantive dialogue and growth in eschatology observable over the past century (particularly in several notable areas of agreement between amillennial and postmillennial thought), and finding universally-accepted representatives of an eschatological perspective is quite a tall order. Though it has since become a well-worn trope of sorts, Greg Bahnsen once identified postmillennial thought with a characteristic and inherent sense of optimism: “In short, postmillennialism is set apart from the other two schools of thought [premillennialism and amillennialism] by its essential optimism for the kingdom in the present age.”[25] As suggested above, this identifying feature of optimism can become a bit of a misnomer or cliché, yet there is a reason that postmillennial thought is often described with language of optimism. Whereas presently there is only a somewhat inconsistent experience of the kingdom’s benefits in this world, there is a time of realized gospel triumph which will precede Christ’s return. Yet this expectation of gospel success is not to suggest a complete absence of evil or sin, as Boettner clarifies:

This does not mean that there ever will be a time on this earth when every person will be a Christian, or that all sin will be abolished. But it does mean that evil in all its many forms eventually will be reduced to negligible proportions, that Christian principles will be the rule, not the exception, and that Christ will return to a truly Christianized world.”[26]

Accordingly, postmillennial thought may be accurately (albeit generally) characterized by an expectation of gospel success in this world prior to Christ’s second coming.

Here we may identify one underlying issue which impacts a theology of suffering within a hopeful eschatology. There is a frequent lament from postmillennial circles that the other eschatological views are overtly negative and pessimistic in their outlook. Again, we return to Kik:

To say that the defeat of Satan will only come through a cataclysmic act at the second coming of Christ is ridiculous in the light of these passages. To think that the church must grow weaker and weaker and the kingdom of Satan stronger and stronger is to deny that Christ came to destroy the works of the devil; it is to dishonor Christ; it is to disbelieve His Word. We do not glorify God nor His prophetic word by being pessimists and defeatists.[27]

Kik is not alone in this critique, and it is not without substance—herein lies the challenge of suffering. For example, Kim Riddlebarger (author of one of the seminal works in amillennialism) observes that the church age is definitionally marked by conflict, suffering, and even martyrdom, ergo suffering is a persistent expectation for the Christian in this age.[28] This expectation of suffering has often been sharply criticized by those within traditionally postmillennial circles, as the expectation of persisting suffering is often equated with an inescapably pessimistic eschatology. Ken Gentry’s critique is illustrative: “Not surprisingly, the defenders and extenders of pessimistic eschatologies often speak of suffering and sorrow as the lot of Christians throughout the Christian history, with no hope of a let up.”[29]

To summarize this underlying problem, certain postmillennial critiques of amillennialism often include the critique of eschatological suffering as an ongoing expectation for the church until Christ’s second coming. This has been especially prevalent in some of the writings of those in the twentieth-century reconstructionist movement, as Rushdoony may serve as an example: “Let us now examine some common traits of amillennialism and premillennialism. First, both regard attempts to build a Christian society or to further Christian reconstruction as either futile or wrong. If God has decreed that the world’s future is one of downward spiral, then indeed Christian reconstruction is futile.”[30] Rushdoony’s comments are clearly in reference to a specific application of his postmillennial outlook (Christian reconstructionism), yet it exemplifies the underlying critique that views the suffering taught by amillennialism to be an impediment to eschatological impact in society. In this perspective, suffering is defeatist since any such efforts at Christian society would be ineffectual and pointless. The critique does not end there, as Rushdoony continues:

In theory, the amillennial position holds that there is a parallel development of good and evil, of God’s Kingdom and Satan’s Kingdom. In reality, amillennialism holds that the major area of growth and power is in Satan’s Kingdom, because the world is seen as progressively falling away to Satan, the church’s trials and tribulations increasing, and the end of the world finding the church lonely and sorely beset. There is no such thing as a millennium or a triumph of Christ and His Kingdom in history. The role of the saints is at best to grin and bear it, and more likely to be victims and martyrs. The world will go from bad to worse in the pessimistic viewpoint.[31]

One familiar with amillennial scholarship may cry foul at certain points that Rushdoony here raises, yet we may recognize the powerful role that Christian suffering plays in the tone and tenor of his critique. Other postmillennial scholars have critiqued amillennial representatives such as Geerhardus Vos for effectively blurring the lines of the work of the kingdom as it is manifested in this world, particularly so in regard to the subject of suffering.[32] Gentry is helpful in clarifying that the conventional postmillennial position does not reject the presence of suffering, but the persistence of suffering: “The theme of relentless suffering for the Church throughout history is pervasive in contemporary Christian literature. The point is clear: the pessimistic eschatologies interpret the suffering theme in Scripture as prophetically ordained for all times. It is not, however, predestined for all time.”[33] Further, Gentry notes that the definitional contention that sets apart the postmillennial position is the conviction that the Suffering Church will eventually and inevitably become the Victorious Church—that is, that suffering is not a persisting and static principle, but only a transitory reality while the church is yet living among an ungodly majority.”[34] Therefore, the difference being noted here is not the current presence of suffering per se, but of the eschatological persistence of suffering—which is quite a valuable (and essential) distinction.

It should, then, be quite clear that a primary postmillennial critique of other eschatologies is that they entertain a pessimism which includes a proclivity to expect suffering throughout the extent of the church age. Though his conception of the millennium and the golden agemay differ from some modern postmillennial explanations, Boettner is again helpful in framing the expectation of hopeful progress that is inherent in postmillennialism even as his definition grapples with the extant presence of sin:

The postmillennialist looks for a golden age that will not be essentially different from our own so far as the basic facts of life are concerned. This age gradually merges into the millennial age as an increasing proportion of the world’s inhabitants are converted to Christianity. Marriage and the home will continue, and new members will enter the human race through the natural process of birth, as at present. Sin will not be eliminated but will be reduced to a minimum as the moral and spiritual environment of the earth becomes predominantly Christian. Social, economic, and educational problems will remain but with their unpleasant features greatly eliminated and their desirable features heightened. Christian principles of belief and conduct will be the accepted standards. Life during the millennium will compare with life in the world today in much the same way that life in a Christian community compares with that in a pagan or irreligious community.[35]

This is a helpful glimpse into the characteristic postmillennial hopefulness: God saves, the nations are discipled, God’s blessings flow forth as His law is pursued, and the world becomes tangibly Christianized, all in the expectation of Christ’s return to crush Satan’s final rebellion and institute (or consummate) the new heavens and earth.[36] Yet what may we say of the expectation that “sin will not be eliminated” and “problems will remain?” What then of suffering in this world?

Recognition of Suffering

How may we work toward an understanding of suffering in this world? First, we may recognize that Scripture reflects a certain expectation for suffering, as indicated in Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:10–12)

Accordingly, it may come as little surprise that this expectation of suffering was present even within early Judaism, an expectation which was later mirrored in the New Testament writings. Beale observes: “Elements within Judaism anticipated the advent of deception in the last days occurring alongside suffering in the covenant community—deception that would be subtle, drawing those away from the Christian community, and ultimately leading to their destruction (Dan 11:30–45, cf. 2 Thess 2:3).”[37] This contention by Beale is in keeping with the two-age model of eschatology (that of this age and the age to come), recognizing that there is a real and substantive victory that Christ has accomplished even while suffering and persecution are extant hallmarks of this age that is still passing away.[38]

We may recognize that some eschatologies have certainly tended toward pessimism, including the expectation that everything essentially will spiritually decline up to the point of Christ’s return, yet that perspective is not what is in view here. Rather, we are examining the perspective which includes an expectation of a continuing battle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15), a war which was won in Christ’s earthly ministry, and a war which will be consummated upon Christ’s second coming.[39] Neither should this observation be relegated to an exclusively postmillennial or amillennial camp, as proponents of both views have echoed just such an expectation. Again, we may note that Bahnsen observes that sin will be reduced while not totally eliminated, and Boettner likewise observes that evil will “eventually will be reduced to negligible proportions” though not all sin will be abolished.[40] Boettner goes on to even further qualify that “evil, however, does not cease to exist, nor is it necessarily decreased in amount,” and further that “at the end of the millennium it [evil] breaks out in a terrible rebellion that all but overwhelms the saints and the holy city.” Boettner’s words are quite a weighty allowance for an appreciable continuation of evil (and thereby suffering) in this world, and one that could ostensibly find affirmation in postmillennial and amillennial circles alike.[41] Boettner concludes that although Christ rules with a rod of iron, that “this does not mean that all sin will ever be eradicated.”[42] Similar to Boettner’s remarks, Gary North likewise recognizes that the conquest of the gospel in this world is a process that entails ongoing sin and suffering: “The process will be one of growth or decay. The process may be an ebb and flow, heading for victory for the church or defeat for the church, in time and on earth.”[43] Likewise, Gentry notes that “Suffering is an important feature of God’s governance of His people,” something that is often “ethically necessary in many times” such that “the people of God can expect suffering in their temporal experience.”[44] Yet with this growing consensus on the ongoing presence of sin and suffering amidst Christ’s triumphant victory, how are we to understand the eschatological impact of such suffering?

Suffering Sanctifies

Accounting for the presence of sin and suffering in this world is the task of theodicy, though our question here is far more modest (and manageable): what is the role of suffering within eschatology? That is, what should we expect a recognition of suffering to produce in a hopeful eschatology? One reason an understanding of suffering is quite indispensable in eschatology is that it is a mechanism of Christian sanctification. There is a teleological quality to suffering, in which Christians are being redeemed and remade through the very means of suffering. This is quite evident from John’s opening in the Revelation (1:9), in which his Christological focus is immediately evident: Christ is the focal point, sustainer, and victorious conqueror upon whom the believers are to set their focus in the midst of their suffering. Yet at the same time, John describes himself as a “fellow-partaker” (συγκοινωνός) with them in this suffering—indicating they share active participation in suffering, even while the mention of “kingdom” and “endurance” reveal the victorious nature of their mutual suffering.[45] From the very outset of the Revelation, the concepts suffering and trials seem inseparably linked with the concepts of victory and kingdom triumph—Christians will experience kingdom triumph directly through the experience of suffering and tribulation, not despite them.[46]

In John Calvin’s reasoning, this experience of suffering is a means by which the Christian is to follow Christ. Calvin observes: “It teaches us, thus humbled, to rest upon God alone, with the result that we do not faint or yield. Hope, moreover, follows victory in so far as the Lord, by performing what he has promised, establishes his truth for the time to come. Even if these were the only reasons, it plainly appears how much we need the practice of bearing the cross.”[47] For Calvin, such suffering bears an eschatological mark insofar as it moves us to persevere to the very end:

And it is of no slight importance for you to be cleansed of your blind love of self that you may be made more nearly aware of your incapacity; to feel your own incapacity that you may learn to distrust yourself; to distrust yourself that you may transfer your trust to God; to rest with a trustful heart in God that, relying upon his help, you may persevere unconquered to the end; to take your stand in his grace that you may comprehend the truth of his promises; to have unquestioned certainty of his promises that your hope may thereby be strengthened.[48]

Suffering may then lead the Christian not only to trust God, but further to boldly persevere until the end of things. This is surely a bold message of eschatological hope.

The eschatological corrective emerges again at this point: suffering is neither a negation of the promises and victory of Christ, nor is it necessarily a component of pessimism or defeatism. Instead, suffering is a necessary—indeed, an indispensable—component of a robust and hopeful eschatology. We may embrace the role of a suffering pilgrim as Christians (1 Pet 2:11) yet by viewing this as the mode of our engagement and not as an alternative to such eschatological action.[49] Following in Christ’s footsteps is thereby a path for victory through suffering for the Christian church. Bahnsen notes that this understanding contains a “new exodus” motif, inasmuch as Jesus entered glory through suffering, so too the new covenant community experiences victory through suffering. This seems particularly clear in the Revelation, where John’s depiction of the Christian’s suffering reflects the Christological path of victory: “John mentions the suffering of believers first because tribulation marks the path that leads us to the kingdom, just as for Jesus the cross preceded the crown.”[50] In Christ’s work as in the Christian life, suffering precedes glory—as Gentry likewise notes: “The Suffering Christ came forth from the grave as the Victorious Christ. As it is in the school of life, glory follows suffering.”[51]

Suffering Guards Against Over-Realization

There is an occasional tendency in hopeful eschatology for us to run a bit too fast. In more precise terms, there is an intrinsic danger in producing an over-realized eschatology, in which there is no budgeting for the ongoing suffering and trials in this life. An eschatological theology of suffering balances against over-realization by recognizing the already without neglecting the not-yet. By carefully opposing such views that over-realize the eschatological victory we experience in this age, we may instead embrace a cruciform theology that includes a sufficiently robust theology of suffering.[52] Christians thereby experience the blessings and victory of the age to come that has dawned in Jesus Christ, even while we experience this victories alongside the lasting effects of evil at work in this age.

Accounting for eschatological suffering is also imminently practical for Christian living. Though his theological development is not without question in this regard, Martin Luther observed that Christians suffer wrongs in this life in an essentially passive manner, depending on God to act on their behalf and judge those who wrong them.[53] In his call for peace, Luther observed:

Christians do not fight for themselves with sword and musket, but with the cross and with suffering, just as Christ, our leader, does not bear a sword, but hangs on the cross. Your victory, therefore, does not consist in conquering and reigning, or in the use of force, but in defeat and in weakness, as St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1 [10:4], “The weapons of our warfare are not material, but are the strength which comes from God,” and, “Power is made perfect in weakness” [2 Cor. 12:9].[54]

Though these comments may (and should) be weighed against the social upheavals of Luther’s own day, we may recognize that his theology certainly recognized a cruciform theology of Christian living. Suffering, for Luther, is the proper expectation of the Christian in this life.

Having mentioned Luther, we may briefly consider at this point that there is an over-application of his theology of suffering that has apparently left its mark within much modern eschatology (and theology in general). Having made an appeal for an eschatological theology of suffering, we may recognize that this in no way may minimize the power and reality of Christ’s present rule and reign. That is, avoiding an over-realized eschatology cannot give way to an under-realized eschatology. On one hand, we do well to warn against “the toxin of triumphalism arising from an over-realized eschatology that sees our efforts as establishing and ushering in the kingdom of God;” while on the other, we may simultaneously avoid the “equally dangerous toxin-namely, an ingratitude arising from an underrealized eschatology that refuses to extend the Third Use of the Law beyond personal ethics into social-cultural relationships, an ingratitude that quarantines the active rule of King Jesus, and communal principled response to it, to the church parking lot [emphases in original].”[55] There is a ditch on both sides that must be avoided: a theology of suffering with neither over-realization nor under-realization. There is a future and final end to suffering, sin, and death, yet that final end will only come with the consummation of Christ’s consummative victory.

Victory Comes Through Suffering

Here is where a theology of suffering is often quite paradoxical for those who advance an eschatology of hope: suffering does not typically look like victory. Suffering seems to indicate defeat, pessimism, and hopelessness (as some of the above critiques reveal). Yet suffering, as we have maintained, is the very mechanism of Christ’s victory in this world. The church triumphs through its victorious suffering precisely because it is following Christ, its victorious head (Col 1:18) who has triumphed through the shame and suffering of the cross (Heb 12:2). Further, we may recognize that this impetus is intimately tied to Christ’s self-identification of the eschatological Son of Man—Christ achieves victory over every nation, power, and authority through the mechanism of victory through suffering (cf. Dan 7:13–14).[56] Just as Christ conquered through the Via Dolorosa, the church likewise conquers through suffering and persecution as a testimony of their faith: “And they have conquered by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev 12:11; cf. 1 John 5:4). John Calvin accordingly observes:

And this is what Paul teaches: “Tribulations produce patience; and patience, tried character” [Rom. 5:3–4, cf. Vg.]. That God has promised to be with believers in tribulation [cf. 2 Cor. 1:4] they experience to be true, while, supported by his hand, they patiently endure—an endurance quite unattainable by their own effort. The saints, therefore, through forbearance experience the fact that God, when there is need, provides the assistance that he has promised.[57]

The church’s victory in this world is realized in much the same manner as Christ’s victory was realized in His first coming. Just as Christ suffered, His church will also suffer—yet it is precisely through this cruciform-yet-victorious suffering that true victory is realized for the church in this world (John 16:33).[58]

If the church paradoxically experiences victory through suffering, we may reject the notion that accounting for suffering in this world necessarily produces pessimistic or defeatist eschatology. Further, we may insist that a truly hopeful eschatology must account for the biblical instruction concerning suffering in the life of the church—that is, in the present pre-consummate pre-glorified state of things. In the New Testament letters that were written following Christ’s victorious resurrection and ascension, the church was warned of the satanically-inspired rulers and authorities that exist in the heavenly places who would seek to do them harm (ἐπουρανίοις; Eph 6:12), even though Christ has now been raised above every ruler and authority in the heavenly places (Eph 1:20–21, 3:10).[59] Christ has achieved current epochal victory concomitant with the extant presence of suffering. This dynamic seems quite in keeping with Christ’s victory, in which His triumph was both fulfilled and established even while the Christian is called to follow in those same footsteps as a true disciple/follower (Matt 16:21; Luke 9:22; Ps 8; cf. Dan 7:21–22, 7:18, 24–27; Rev 2).[60]

Yet there is an epochal finality to this theme of suffering that is not-yet consummated. For clarity, the experience of suffering is not a detriment to a truly hopeful eschatology. In describing the kingdom of God to the Pharisees, Christ tells us that “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20–21). The advance of the kingdom is often quite mysterious, and our perception of events is not always the true truth of things. We may remember that the disciples struggled to understand this dynamic at the cross, as even while darkness covered the land during Christ’s crucifixion (Matt 27:45 // Mark 15:33 // Luke 23:44), the truth of things was that Christ’s death brought about the defeat of the rulers and powers of darkness (Col 2:15). Perception is not always reality, and extant suffering does not negate the unstoppable triumph of the kingdom in this world.

An Eschatology of Hope

Though this conception of battlefield eschatology is a spiritual call to arms, it is likewise a call to revel in a victory that has already been achieved. That is to say, the call of a wartime eschatology is foundationally a message of hope. When John penned the opening passage of the Revelation, he described himself as his recipients’ “brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus” (Rev 1:9). John’s eschatological message was one of camaraderie and brotherhood, affirming that he participated alongside the church in the tribulation (θλῖψις) that is experienced in the expansion of the kingdom. These words are soon followed by the admonition of Christ (specifically in the section to the church in Thyatira) to “hold fast what you have until I come” (Rev 2:25). Tribulation is present, therefore hold fast and persevere.

Christians are in need of a proper perspective on eschatology because it is the means through which encouragement is communicated to the church in peril. When the tribulation of this world rises, Christians are commanded to hold fast until the time of ultimate victory. The vast expanse of what God is accomplishing in this age is often difficult for finite creatures to comprehend—indeed, when different prophets were given glimpses into the unfolding vision of God’s redemptive plan, the gravity and radiance of God’s work left them wholly undone (see Dan 8:27; Rev 1:17). Yet this is precisely where the encouragement of a robust eschatology brings comfort and security in the uncertain times of this life: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess 5:11). The biblical message of eschatology gives Christians the language of that encouragement.

Finally, the message of eschatology is given for conflict, not in spite of conflict (or in its absence). Following Joshua’s death and Israel’s continuing conquest of Canaan during the time of the judges over Israel, there was a growing forgetfulness experienced among the people of God. Specifically, Israel forgot the redemptive works of God in their midst: “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). As a resolution to this problem, God allowed Israel’s enemies to persist among them for a specific purpose: “Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan” (Judges 3:1). The pagan nations who made war with Israel were preserved precisely in order to remind Israel of war, as the next verse clarifies: “It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before” (3:2). God’s people cannot afford to forget the sounds of battle and war, and the message of eschatology is a potent reminder of the war that rages (though its outcome is secure).

If we are studying eschatology appropriately, we should be quite steadfast and immovable in our faith as a normative result (1 Cor 15:58). Our eschatology should not be driven about by the whims and emotions of the given moment, as if our eschatological perception was molded by the momentary experiences of this present life. Instead, the Christian must allow biblical eschatology to form and mold the very way we perceive the world itself, with our eschatology functioning as a sort of corrective lens given to us that we might see rightly.[61] If Christ claims to possess all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt 28:18), we dare not look around us at evil and tragedy and question whether He was correct in this assessment. Newspaper headlines and the troubles of this life do not determine the true state of this world. Instead, we take the words of Christ to be the true truth of things, and we rely on this truth to properly understand the world around us. A natural disaster does not disprove the words of Christ, but instead the words of Christ give us the proper vision and context through which to view the natural disaster. Vos correctly observes that this is the true context of eschatological hope when we speak of salvation and deliverance:

The idea of σωτηρία is with Paul originally an eschatological idea: it denotes salvation in the day of judgment, salvation from the wrath to come, and from this it is transferred to the present state, inasmuch as the believer receives this immunity, this deliverance in principle now. It is thus of the very essence of salvation that it correlates the Christian’s standing with the great issues of the last day and the world to come. Hence also the καινὴ κτίσις spoken of in 2 Cor. 5:17, undoubtedly means to the Apostle the personal beginning of that world-renewal in which all eschatology culminates: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation”.[62]

When we try to determine eschatology by what feels right or makes sense to us in the moment, we will inevitably construct an eschatology of our own making. Likewise, when we venture beyond what is revealed, we find ourselves in perilous waters (cf. Deut 29:29). Rather, the call of the Christian is to find peace, hope, and joy in the biblical message of eschatology—that is to say, in the Person of Jesus Christ. Through this Christ-centered lens, we may begin to form a truly robust wartime eschatology for this age.

[1] Joshua P. Howard, PhD, is pastor of Grace Community Church, Battle Creek, MI.

[2] I am using the language “the Revelation” to refer specifically to the final book of the Protestant Christian canon, the Revelation of Jesus Christ (to John): Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (“the Revelation of Jesus Christ;” Rev 1:1). See Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012).

[3] Taken from the Greek word χίλιοι, chiliasm referring to a specific interpretation of the thousand-year reign of Revelation 20 that includes an earthly thousand year of Christ following the Second Coming. See F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd Revised edition. (Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 332; Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms (Greenville: Ambassador Emerald International, 2002), 85. Foundationally, chiliasm recognizes two eschatological resurrections and two kingdoms (one Messianic and one divine); see Geerhardus Vos, “The Pauline Eschatology and Chiliasm,” The Princeton Theological Review IX, no. 1 (1911): 33.

[4] Vos, “The Pauline Eschatology and Chiliasm,” 34. Vos continues: “The most fundamental way of affirming this is by ascribing to the Christian a ‘spiritual’ state of existence, for the πνεῦμα is the characteristic element of the heavenly life of the αἰὼν μέλλων.”

[5] For example, see Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000), 21. Also Ibid., 14, 18, 20–22, 39, 298ff.; G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd, The Story Retold: A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020), 466; C. Samuel Storms, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Scotland: Mentor, 2013), 429n7, 439, 444, cf. 433ff; R. Fowler White, “Agony, Irony and Victory in Inaugurated Eschatology: Reflections on the Current Amillennial-Postmillennial Debate,” The Westminster Theological Journal 62, no. Issue 2 (2000): 162; Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 111–112; Scott A. Swanson, “How Does ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ before the End? Theology of the Present and Future Kingdom in the Book of Revelation,” in Ryan C. McIlhenny, ed., Kingdoms Apart: Engaging the Two Kingdoms Perspective (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2012), 206.

[6] Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this work are to the English Standard Version (ESV) (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016). Greek references reflect Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece; also Barbara Aland et al., eds., The Greek New Testament, Fifth Revised Edition (with Morphology). (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2014).

[7] The common comparison regarding this dynamic in eschatology is often represented with the analogy of D-Day and V-Day (or perhaps V-E Day and V-J Day) in World War II; see the use of this analogy in Oscar Cullmann, Christ and Time, trans. Floyd V. Filson (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1950), 87; Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 21; G. K. Beale, “The Millennium in Revelation 20:1–10: An Amillennial Perspective,” Criswell Theological Review 11, no. 1 (2013): 62; George Eldon Ladd, The Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1974), 120; William F. Cook and Charles E Lawless, Spiritual Warfare in the Storyline of Scripture: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach, 2019, 96.

[8] Both terms of military triumph, while θριαμβεύω occurs only here and in the “triumphal procession” of 2 Cor 2:14; see Walter Bauer and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG), 3rd Ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 100, 459.

[9] I. Howard Marshall, “Slippery Words 1: Eschatology,” Expository Times 89 (1978): 264–269. Cf. G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 129.

[10] See Bauer and Danker, BDAG, 313; Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 1091; David F. Wright, Sinclair B. Ferguson, and J. I. Packer, eds., New Dictionary of Theology, First Ed. (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 1988), 228–231.

[11] I will borrow from the parlance of C.S. Lewis by using the phrase “Great Story” to refer to the whole of the biblical meta-narrative. On reading the Bible as an eschatological storyline, see Beale, NTBT, 163.

[12] Beale, NTBT, 130.

[13] Keith A. Mathison, From Age to Age (P & R Publishing Co, 2014), 2. See also Keith A. Mathison, Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1999).

[14] See Charles R. Kennedy, “Telos,” in William Smith, ed., Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1865), 1103; Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 280–281; Bauer and Danker, BDAG, 998.

[15] See also Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 1995), 1; Mathison, From Age to Age, 2.

[16] On thematic developments within Scripture and a whole-Bible reading, see Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard Duane Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011), 58. On applying both a “canonical” and “theological” approach, see Jeremy M. Kimble and Ched Spellman, Invitation to Biblical Theology: Exploring the Shape, Storyline, and Themes of Scripture, Invitation to Theological Studies Series (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2020), 42; cf. Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments: Theological Reflection on the Christian Bible, 1st Fortress Press ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993); Charles H. H. Scobie, The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub, 2003), 81ff; William J Dumbrell, The Search for Order: Biblical Eschatology in Focus (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2001), 9, 11; T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2013).

[17] Offensive as opposed to defensive, though the word’s alternate meaning could well apply in certain cases.

[18] Roger L. Omanson and John Ellington, A Handbook on Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1993), 178.

[19] Κοσμοκράτωρ, a hapax legomenon carrying the sense of supernatural “world rulers.” See Bauer and Danker, BDAG, 561.

[20] Though Cornelis Venema may be correct when he observes that many within postmillennialism echo those in premillennialism by defining the binding of Satan as a complete cessation of activity; see Cornelis P. Venema, The Promise of the Future (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 2000), 317.

[21] “χίλια ἔτη” is also found in a symbolic reference in 2 Pet 3:8: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years [χίλια ἔτη], and a thousand years [χίλια ἔτη] as one day.”

[22] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries 20 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 222–223; G. K. Beale, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), 421; cf. Gordon D. Fee, Revelation, New Covenant Commentary Series (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011), 281–282.

[23] J. Marcellus Kik, Eschatology of Victory (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1974), 17. We may note that Kik includes the conception of “new heavens and new earth” in his definition, which is typically understood as inaugurated and not-yet consummated.

[24] Loraine Boettner, The Millennium (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed Pub Co, 1958), 14.

[25] Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Prima Facie Acceptability of Postmillennialism,” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, no. III (1976): 66.

[26] Boettner, The Millennium, 14.

[27] Kik, Eschatology of Victory, 19.

[28] Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times, Expanded Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013), 207.

[29] Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology, Third Edition. (Chesnee: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2021), 34. Gentry’s Appendix on the postmillennial understanding of suffering does not appear in some print editions of Gentry’s work (including the one used for reference herein); this current work accessed the appendix material via https://theonomyresources.com/pdfs/he-shall-have-dominion-ken-gentry.pdf, last accessed June 1, 2023.

[30] R. J. Rushdoony, The Meaning of Postmillennialism (Vallecito: Chalcedon Foundation, 1977), 10.

[31] Rushdoony, Meaning of Postmillennialism., 8–9.

[32] See, for example, Kik’s critique that Vos “does not make a clear distinction between the Messianic kingdom and the consummate kingdom in his eschatology” (in reference to the “new heavens and a new earth” passage treated in Joseph Alexander’s Prophecies of Isaiah, Vol I). Kik, Eschatology of Victory, 5–6.

[33] Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, 529.

[34] Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, 536, 529.

[35] Loraine Boettner, “Postmillennialism,” in Robert G. Clouse, ed., The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 120–121.

[36] “What if the following scenario were the case? First, God saves men through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Second, these men respond in faith to God’s dominion assignment, given to us through our fathers, Adam, Noah, and Christ in the great commission (Matthew 28:18–20). Third, these regenerate men begin to study the law of God, subduing their own hearts, lives, and areas of respons­ibility in terms of God’s comprehensive law-order. Fourth, the blessings of God begin to flow toward these who are acting in His name and in terms of His law. Fifth, the stewardship principle of “service as a road to leadership” begins to be acknowledged by those who call themselves Christian, in every sphere of life: family, institu­tional church, schools, civil government, economy. This leads to step six, the rise to prominence of Christians in every sphere of life, as Satanists become increasingly impotent to handle the crises that their world-and-life view has created. Seventh, the law of God is imposed progressively across the face of each society which has declared commit­ment to Christ. Eighth, this provokes foreign nations to jealousy, and they begin to imitate the Christian social order, in order to receive the external blessings. Ninth, even the Jews are provoked to jealousy, and they convert to Christ. Tenth, the conversion of the Jews leads to an unparalleled explosion of conver­sions, followed by even greater external blessings. Eleventh, the kingdom of God becomes worldwide in scope, serving as a down payment by God to His people on the restoration which will come beyond the day of judgment. Twelfth, the forces of Satan have something to provoke them to rebellion, after generations of subservience outward­ly to the benefits-producing law of God. Thirteenth, this rebellion by Satan is immedi­ately smashed by Christ in His final return in glory and judg­ment. Fourteenth, Satan, his troops of angels, and his human followers are judged, and then condemned to the lake of fire. And finally, fifteenth, God sets up His new heaven and new earth, for regenerate men to serve in throughout all eternity…” Gary North, Unconditional Surrender: God’s Program for Victory (Tyler: Geneva Divinity School Press, 1983), 176–177.

[37]Beale, NTBT, 156, 190, 202. See also Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, 111.

[38] See Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, 36–38; Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 940–942.

[39] We would echo Beale’s emphasis on not only Christ’s death, but also His resurrection and ascension; see Beale, Revelation, 177.

[40] Robert G. Clouse, The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, 63; cf. Bahnsen, “The Prima Facie Acceptability of Postmillennialism”; Loraine Boettner, “Postmillennialism,” in George Eldon Ladd et al., The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. Robert G. Clouse (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1977), 118. Anthony Hoekema advances a compelling critique of Boettner’s presentation, including Boettner’s neglect of an exposition of Rev 20:1–10, as well as a lack of definition concerning technical progress as it relates to “goodness.” See Anthony A Hoekema, “An Amillennial Response,” in Robert G. Clouse, The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, 149–154.

[41] Loraine Boettner, “Postmillennialism,” in Robert G. Clouse, The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, 121.

[42] Loraine Boettner, “Postmillennialism,” 125.

[43] North, Unconditional Surrender, 182, 193.

[44] Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, 529–30.

[45] Bauer and Danker, BDAG, 952; Beale, Revelation, 45.

[46] So also Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, 56; Beale, Revelation, 45.

[47] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1 & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 3.8.3.

[48] Clavin, Institutes, 3.8.3.

[49] Nelson Kloosterman, “Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms in the Thought of Herman Bavinck,” in McIlhenny, Kingdoms Apart: Engaging the Two Kingdoms Perspective, 77.

[50] Richard D. Phillips, Revelation, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip G. Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2017), 59.

[51] Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, 535.

[52] Michael Horton, “Eschatology After Nietzsche: Apollonian, Dionysian or Pauline?,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 2, no. 1 (March 2000): 46–47, 49. Horton terms an intersection between the kingdom of grace (now) and the kingdom of glory (not-yet); Horton, The Christian Faith, 940–942.

[53] Ashley Null, “Admonition to Peace: A Reply to the Twelve Articles of the Peasants in Swabia,” in Hans J. Hillerbrand, Kirsi I. Stjerna, and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., Christian Life in the World, vol. 5, The Annotated Luther (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1525), 287. These writings of Luther are complicated by their place in his reaction to the peasant revolts of 1524–1525, during which time some of his theological responses have been widely questioned and critiqued.

[54] Ashley Null, “Admonition to Peace: A Reply to the Twelve Articles of the Peasants in Swabia,” in Christians Life in the World, 5:318–319.

[55] Nelson Kloosterman, “Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms in the Thought of Herman Bavinck,” in McIlhenny, Kingdoms Apart: Engaging the Two Kingdoms Perspective, 77.

[56]G. K. Beale, Redemptive Reversals and the Ironic Overturning of Human Wisdom: “The Ironic Patterns of Biblical Theology: How God Overturns Human Wisdom” (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 99–100. “Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite self-designation, occurring 30x in Matt, 15x in Mark, 25x in Luke, 12x in John; James Stalker, “The Son of Man,” in James Orr et al., eds., The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), 2829. Cross & Livingstone observe: “In the NT, a designation applied to Jesus. With one exception (Acts 7:56), it is found only in the Gospels and here always on His own lips.” Cross and Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1529.

[57] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1 & 2, 3.8.3.

[58] See also the development of eschatological victory-through-suffering in Andreas J. Kostenberger, Alexander Stewart, and Apollo Makara, Jesus and the Future: Understanding What He Taught about the End Times (Lexham Press, 2018).

[59] On a biblical-theological approach to eschatological powers, see Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2019), 121–122; Scobie, The Ways of Our God, 265.

[60] Beale, Redemptive Reversals and the Ironic Overturning of Human Wisdom, 99–103.

[61] So also Beale, NTBT, 23.

[62] Vos, “The Pauline Eschatology and Chiliasm,” 35.

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