I have probably already lost many of you by using the word “millennialist.” Let me define it quick: a post-millennialist is someone who holds that the millennial kingdom (“a thousand years”) spoken of in Revelation 20 is a period of time that happens on the earth in which the gospel will spread so thoroughly and deeply in culture to create a golden age in which Christian ethics prosper.
I don’t agree with this view, and without getting too much into eschatology (i.e. the study of end times), I want to briefly argue that many evangelical Christians are functional (i.e. practical) post-millennialists. By this, I mean that they often expect the gospel to so transform the culture that when they do not notice tangible change, they become depressed or even doubt if the word of God is advancing at all.
Here’s an example: some (not all!) evangelicals often complain that we (or probably the “institutional church”) are the reason there is poverty, hunger, war, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, and a host of other tragedies in the world. They think that if the church just did more, we could root out these evil things in the culture and then God’s kingdom would really come on earth.
But Jesus reminds us that we will “always have the poor” with us (Matt. 26:11). He also says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In this life the faithful to Christ “will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). This does not sound like a golden age. Only at Jesus second coming will he “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” because only then “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore” (Rev. 21:4). Why then? Because at that moment, and only at that moment, will “the former things [the things of this age] have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
We will never solve the world’s problems. We will never eliminate hunger and war. We will never eradicate cancer or HIV. But that doesn’t mean we throw up our arms in defeat. Gospel proclamation takes center stage, but generosity, social concern, and action also reflect the character of God and are evidence of a changed heart through the gospel. Indeed, all efforts that reflect God’s character and done for his glory paint a picture to the world of what the new creation will be like.
Let us be reminded that the kingdom of God, ultimately, is not about activity to “make the world a better place.” It is about a King. As a friend tweeted earlier today, “The story of what God is doing in the world is not about you. (It’s about Jesus.) But it is for you. And it involves you.” So do not be discouraged when it seems that Christians do not make as big of a difference in the world as you think we should make. We have already overcome. “And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4b-5).