Reading some of the comments sparked by Joel’s piece on Postmillennialism which was posted last week, clearly the people of God are not exactly united on the future direction of the world! Or is that an understatement?
We Postmills point to many passages in the Bible that seem to support our position (see Psalm 22:27-28 for one of many examples). Postmil sceptics then retort with a bunch of verses that seem, at least on the surface, to contradict that view (Matthew 7:14 for instance). What I want to do here is not a verse by verse comparison of the merits or demerits of the Postmillennial position, but rather advance the argument from the whole tenor of Scripture.
Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden. Adam, the first man, was given various tasks: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). His immediate task was to tend and dress the Garden (Genesis 2:15), yet the task was not limited to this, but was thrown open to the whole world.
What is implied here is that the Garden of Eden, though Paradise, needed constant maintenance. The rest of the Earth, on the other hand, was anything but a Paradise, but a wilderness. Rather than needing simple maintenance, it needed to be filled with people – Adam’s progeny – who would subdue and replenish the Earth to the Glory of God. Eden was therefore the prototype for what Adam was to do to the whole Earth.
Adam also had another job to do. That was to drive the dragon out. N.D. Wilson rightly points out that it is a common misconception that the pre-fall world was a trouble-free existence: “Adam and Eve were not in hammocks, relaxing in the light of a perma-sunset with even tans while sipping on honeysuckle bouquets proffered by miniature ponies.”1 No, a test was given and a dragon entered the garden as part of that test. Adam’s role was to drive the dragon out, pass the test, so that he could get on with the task God had assigned him and his children.
Of course he flunked the test and, rather than banishing the dragon, took its side. Which meant what? That he and his progeny were all plunged into sin. That God and Man were now separated by a seemingly unbridgeable gap. That Adam and his offspring would die and would suffer all sorts of hardships during their lives.
But it also meant that Adam could no longer perform the tasks granted to him. How could he subdue the Earth to the Glory of God when he no longer aspired to the Glory of God? And even when he was saved by grace (Genesis 3:15 & 20) how could he fulfil this task? He was a weak, fallen human with sinful tendencies, a frail body and a world full of obstacles (Genesis 3:16-19). It is important to remember at this point, though, that God nowhere revoked the command given in Genesis 1:28. The difference was now simply that Adam could no longer fulfil it.
Later in the history of the Old Testament, God reiterates this task, firstly to Noah after the flood and then to Israel. Israel was called upon to be a Royal Priesthood, a nation that would disciple the other nations: “Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” (Deuteronomy 4:5-6).
There is a parallel here that should not be missed. Just as Eden was to be a prototype for the subduing of the rest of the world, when God gave the land of Canaan to the Israelites, it too was meant to serve as a prototype for the whole Earth. Had the Israelites obeyed God and kept His commandments, according to Deuteronomy 4 this would have led to the nations round about joining themselves to the Covenant and the whole world eventually being subdued.
Of course the history of Israel showed them to be as much failures in this task as Adam had been in Eden. But again this did not make the truth of God to none effect; it simply meant that God would need to use another instrument to accomplish His mandate. In other words, for the instructions to Adam, Noah and Israel to ever be fully realised, the world would need a new Adam, a new Noah and a new Israel. Step forward the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.
Now what was Jesus’ job description? Many Christians would answer this by saying His task was to come to the world to save some sinners. Whilst it is clear that Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), was there anything else? Was he anointed to pluck a few brands from the burning and take them to Heaven? Or was there more to it than this?
Christ is specifically identified by Paul as the last Adam. He is the new Humanity, the new Man. But if He is identified as the last Adam, does it not follow that he must have Adam’s job description?
The answer to this is yes and no. No, his job description was not confined to Adam’s. He had a whole lot more to do. He had to lay His life down for His people, and in allowing Himself to be nailed to the cross, take the curse of sin upon Himself so that sinners might be saved.
But have the rest of the tasks Adam was given been revoked for the last Adam? What about the test that was given to the first Adam? Christ took it and passed it when tempted by Satan (Luke 4:1-13). What about driving out the dragon? Again, Christ accomplished this when He died on the cross and the “ruler of this world was cast out” (John 12:31).
What about the dominion mandate? Has this been revoked for Jesus, the last Adam? I don’t see anything in Scripture that leads me to believe that this task has not been assigned to Him. On the contrary, the second chapter of Hebrews tells us that the dominion mandate which was first given to Adam, reiterated by David in Psalm 8, is now directly in the hands of Christ (Hebrews 2:6-9). In other words, the New Testament confirms in this place (and in many others) that Christ, as the last Adam, still has the task of subduing the whole Earth to Himself. And just as Adam was charged to do this together with his “help-meet,” Eve, Christ is charged to do this through His “help-meet”, the Church.
Now, let me ask you this. If it is true that Christ as the new Adam is charged with completing the task that the old Adam failed – subduing the Earth – what will the fulfilment of it actually look like? Will it look like the view that says there is no real victory of Christ on Earth, but where good and evil and constantly vie for the supremacy but neither really gets on top, until God cannot tolerate it anymore and so comes and ends it all?
Is it the view that things will get worse and worse until the church, having failed in its task as the bride of Christ, needs Jesus to literally come back to sort things out? Does this accord with Hebrews 1:13: “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool”?
Or will the fulfillment look like Christ, ruling from the Throne Room of God, progressively submitting and subduing the Earth to Himself through His Spirit and through His people?
Don’t let the progressive nature of the fulfilling of this mandate throw you. Even if Adam had passed his test and had fulfilled the command, it would still have been a progressive deal taking hundreds perhaps thousands of years. Now that humanity is fallen, the task is that much more difficult and so bound to take much longer. Christ will have the victory, but He will have it using weak, feeble, sinful sons of Adam, which means it won’t be over any time soon.
Don’t also get bogged down with the fact that things are getting worse in your generation. So what? We’re not the first generation to have experienced that, but we need to look beyond our own place in history and see just how much the Kingdom of God has progressed over 2,000 years.
Finally, what kind of victory is it, what kind of fulfilment of Adam’s mandate to subdue the Earth is it, if Christ – the last Adam – doesn’t actually do this as He reigns as King of Kings from the Throne Room, where all authority in Heaven and in Earth have been given to Him? It would be no victory at all. But thankfully, the Last Adam is not set for such a future. Rather He will subdue the Earth. He will have dominion. He will fulfil Adam’s charge. And then cometh the end (1 Corinthians 15: 24-26).
- N.D. Wilson, p74, Death by Living, Thomas Nelson, 2013(↩)