This article is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Great End Time Debate. That in turn is an abridgment of my previously published book, The High King of Heaven. For further discussion of the various evangelical options in eschatology please consult those works.

 

  1. Exposition

(To view a timeline for Postmillennialism please click here)

 

The word postmillennialism means after the millennium. Thus, like amillennialism, postmillennialism teaches that Christ will coming again after the thousand years of Revelation 20. Nevertheless, the two schools are different, primarily because postmillennarians are highly optimistic about the progress of the Gospel during the Era of Proclamation. The seeds of this persuasion were planted by Augustine, who was quite confident about the redemptive power and future growth of the City of God (i.e., the Church). In Reformation times certain Dutch theologians modified his view, asserting that the thousand years symbolize a later portion of the Church Era, during which time the Jews will be converted and world will be more or less completely Christianized.

Though hardly the majority report of the Church, postmillennialism has had some astute defenders. Most of the American Puritans were postmillennarians. They believed that God would use the American experiment in a special way advance his universal Kingdom. Recent and contemporary postmillennarians include Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, Lorraine Boettner, John Jefferson Davis, Marcellus Kik, Keith Mathison, and Doug Wilson. The disciples of Rousas Rushdoony—the founder of a theological school called Christian Reconstructionism—are also postmillennial. They include Greg Bahnsen, Ken Gentry, Gary North, and Martin Selbrede.

Postmillennarians agree with their amillennarian brothers that the Kingdom of God enters history in two stages: the Kingdom of the Son, followed by the Kingdom of the Father. However, some postmillennarians think of the Millennium as a distinct phase of the Kingdom of Son, in which Christ suddenly binds Satan and triumphantly extends his spiritual reign over the face of the whole earth. Thus, Postmillennialism is not altogether a species of Present-millennialism, since here the Millennium is present with some, but not all, Christians living in the Era of Proclamation.

As for their interpretation of Old Testament Kingdom Prophecy (OTKP), postmillennarians agree with their amillennarian brothers in interpreting these prophecies spiritually, as being fulfilled under the New Covenant. However, where most amillenarians find the prophets speaking of the World to Come, many postmillennarians find them speaking of the triumphs of the Era of Gospel Proclamation (see e.g., Psalm 72, Isaiah 65:17-25).

Again, postmillennarians differ among themselves about the thousand years of Revelation 20. Some identify it with the entire Era of Proclamation, others with its final thousand years, still others with a season of indeterminate length situated near the end of the present evil age; a season that will commence with a special, latter-day binding of Satan, possibly leading to the conversion of ethnic Israel at large (this is the view I have pictured in the time-line above). All agree, however, that the basic trajectory of Church history, despite occasional setbacks, is one of gospel triumph.

Regarding the Consummation, postmillennarians concede that Revelation 20:7-10 does indeed anticipate a final, global rebellion against Christ and his faithful people. They insist, however, that it will be of very short duration and largely unsuccessful. This painful interlude—so out of character with the preceding years of triumph and blessing—will quickly lead to the Parousia, the various elements of the Consummation, and the World to Come.

Thus, for most postmillennarians the true locus of Christ’s victory over the powers of evil is the Era of Proclamation itself, with Christ’s Second Coming serving largely as a glorious capstone for all that he was able to previously accomplish through the faithful preaching of his Church. Does Scripture justify this optimistic scenario? And does the course of Church History to date confirm it? In the pages ahead we will seek to answer these important questions.

  1. Critique

Again, postmillennialism is a species of amillennialism. Its distinguishing characteristic is the expectation of a Golden Era of universal Christian faith, peace, and prosperity prior to the Last Battle, the Parousia, and the Consummation of all things. With the help of the diagram above, let’s review its understanding of Salvation History.

View of the Kingdom

Like amillennialism, postmillennialism envisions the Kingdom of God as appearing in two stages: the Kingdom of the Son followed by the Kingdom of the Father. Unlike amillennialism, it goes on to posit that the Kingdom of the Son is divided into two stages. In the first stage the Gospel goes out into the world and begins to prosper, but only amidst significant opposition and tribulation. Later in the Era of Proclamation—and at point yet future to us—the second stage begins. Here Satan is bound in such a way that the Gospel now makes unprecedented advances. This is the second and “millennial” stage of the Kingdom of the Son.

Many postmillennarians assert that the Millennium will begin with the conversion of the great bulk of ethnic Israel. Then, according to Ken Gentry, “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.” This era could last more than a literal 1000 years, since (unlike Augustine) most postmillennarians regard that number as symbolizing magnitude. Inexplicably, near the end of the Millennium the Golden Era is suddenly overshadowed by a brief, Satanically inspired rebellion, in which the true saints of God will suffer much persecution. However, just as suddenly the Lord will return to reverse the reversal, rescue his own, raise the dead, judge the world, and bring in the eternal Kingdom.

While postmillennialism is biblically sound in teaching a two-staged view of the Kingdom, it errs in its view of the structure of the Kingdom of the Son. Nowhere in the Didactic New Testament (DNT) do we find any suggestion that it is divided into two stages, or that it includes a long, future Golden Era. Quite to the contrary, both Christ and the apostles repeatedly gird the loins of the saints for constant opposition and persecution, though also for measured success as God gathers his little flock through the faithful preaching of the Gospel (Matt. 24:9-14; John 10:16; Rom. 8:30; 1 Thess. 2:2; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 4:12; 1 John 3:13, 5:19).

On this score the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares is paradigmatic (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). Here the Lord clearly assumes that throughout the entire Era of Proclamation the tares will grow up alongside the wheat. Indeed, so abundant are the tares that the angels regard them as a threat to the safety of God’s crop (Matt. 13:27-28). This is the template of all NT eschatology. Believers live and serve in the present evil age (Gal. 1:4). They constantly struggle against the world-forces of this present darkness (Eph. 6:12). To the very end the world-system lies in the grip of the evil one (1 John 5:19). The Church is a light shining in the ever-deepening darkness of the world-system (Matt. 5:14; John 1:5). Her ongoing experience is one of Great Tribulation (Rev. 7:14). She is making a hard pilgrimage through the wilderness of a hostile world (Rev. 12:6, 13-17). The Last Battle is simply the final and most extreme engagement of this perennial war. Where, in all of this, is there room for a Golden Era of peace, righteousness, and prosperity? 2

View of OTKP

Postmillennarians argue that many OTKP’s predict a global triumph of the Gospel in the Era of Proclamation (Psalms 72, 110; Is. 2:1-4, 45:2-3, 65:17-25; Mic. 4:1-3; Zech. 9:10, etc.). But here we encounter some confusion. Yes, postmillennarians are correct when they assert that these prophecies are fulfilled under the New Covenant and must therefore be interpreted figuratively. But they err when they assert that they are fulfilled in the Era of Proclamation and not at all in the World to Come. The truth is nuanced and accessible only through a careful use of the DNT and the New Covenant Hermeneutic (NCH). As we have seen, the DNT depicts the Kingdom of the Son as a temporary season of measured Gospel success amidst tribulation, and the Kingdom of the Father as an eternal season of complete success following the removal of all tribulation at the Consummation. Under the discipline of this rubric we will understand OTKP’s prophecies well. Apart from it we will we will stumble into error, false optimism, and deep disappointment.

Let us view these principles at work by considering a text especially dear to the hearts of our postmillennial brothers.

In Psalm 72 the writer (likely David) supplies his fellow Israelites with a prayer that they can offer for Solomon and all his royal successors. In so doing he gives us a picture of Israel’s ideal king and of the blessings that must attend his reign. Premillennarians say that he is describing the fruits of the earthly millennial reign of Christ that will come after his (first) return. Postmillennarians say he is describing the fruits of the heavenly millennial reign of Christ that will come before his return. However, amillennarians, operating under the discipline of the DNT, say he is describing the fruits of Christ’s heavenly reign during the Era of Proclamation, at the Consummation, and throughout the World to Come. Yes, the mystery of the two-staged Kingdom was hidden from the eyes of the Psalmist, with the result that there is a seamless vision of the total fruitage of the Messiah’s reign. But having received the gift of the NCH we are able to see its fulfillment at last.

Accordingly, we can see that even now the heavenly King defends the cause of the poor (v. 4; Matt. 5:3; 1 Cor. 1:26-30). Even now he gives deliverance to the oppressed and needy (v. 4, 12; Eph. 2:1-10; 1 Thess. 1:10; Titus 3:3f). Even now he is to his thirsting people as showers that water the earth (v. 6; Acts 3:19; 1 Cor. 12:13; Phil. 1:19). Even now, through the faithful preaching of the Gospel, his far-flung dominion is spreading from sea to sea and to all the ends of the earth (v. 8; Matt. 13:33; Acts 1:8; Col. 1:23).

However, this psalm also anticipates the Consummation, as well as the eternal stage of the Kingdom to follow. At his return the King’s enemies will lick the dust (v. 9; Luke 19:27), all the rulers of the earth will fall down before him (v. 11; Phil. 2:10), and every remaining oppressor, including death itself, will be crushed (vv. 4, 14; Rom. 16:20; 1 Cor. 15:25). Then, in the completed Kingdom of God that he himself has ushered in, the mountains will bring forth perfect prosperity (v. 3; Heb. 12:18f; Rev. 21:10), the peoples will flourish like the grass of the field (v. 16; Rev. 22:2), the saints will praise his name forever (v. 17; Heb. 13:15), and all the nations of the saved will call him blessed (v. 17; Rev. 5:6-14). Long shall he live, and long shall his redeemed Bride and Family live with him in the eternal Kingdom of God (vv. 14, 15; Rev. 1:18, 21:3-4).

The skilled use of the NCH enables us to open up all the other texts to which postmillennarians appeal. For example, Psalm 110:1-3 does not picture a universal reign of Christ through the advance of the Gospel, but rather the ongoing spiritual warfare of the Church Militant and the real but measured evangelistic success that the High King will grant. Isaiah 2 and Micah 4 do not refer to the universal triumph of the Gospel prior to the Parousia, but to the progress of the Gospel in the first stage of the Kingdom, and its final triumph in the second. Isaiah 65:17-25 is not, as postmillennarian Marcellus Kik avers, a picture of “the moral and spiritual revolution in human affairs fostered by the Gospel.” Rather, it is a picture of the new heavens and the new earth, cast in the familiar tropes of the OT (1 Pet. 3:13, Rev. 21:2). Zechariah 9:10 will not be fulfilled in the Era of Gospel Proclamation, but at the Consummation, when Christ will speak peace to all the nations of the redeemed, and his dominion will extend to the ends of the earth.

Again, it is not that OTKP’s could not be understood to promise Golden Era of gospel prosperity; it is that the DNT requires us to interpret them otherwise. The OT does indeed promise a universal reign of Israel’s Messiah and Israel’s God. But that reign will overspread the earth in part through the preaching of the gospel, and then in fullness at the Lord’s return. In that day the OT prophets will rejoice, for the Golden Age of Israel’s ideal King will have come at last.

View of the Consummation

Fundamentally, the postmillennial view of the Consummation is sound since it looks for a single Consummation at the Parousia of Christ. Nevertheless, there are a number of problems.

First, many postmillennarians anticipate a latter-day conversion of ethnic Israel prior to the Millennium (i.e., the Golden Era of gospel prosperity). But this is not the teaching of the NT, which looks for Israel’s conversion at the end of the Millennium (i.e., at the end of the Era of Proclamation). This is a serious error since it robs the Church of an important sign of the imminence of the Parousia: the grafting of ethnic Israel back into the vine of Christ, after which we she may soon expect “life from the dead” (Rom. 11:15).

Secondly, postmillennialism vitiates biblical teaching on the Last Battle. Yes, postmillennarians confess that a Last Battle will occur prior to the Parousia. But by placing it on the far side of their Golden Era they leave the Church looking first for a Golden Era (that will not come), and only then for the Last Battle (which, for postmillennarians, will come all too soon). In other words, this teaching effectively cuts the nerve of several powerful NT texts warning us that the Last Battle could swiftly fall upon us, and that we must always be ready for it (2 Thess. 2:1f; Rev. 16:15). It leaves a naively optimistic Church vulnerable to the shock of the sudden rise of the Antichrist, and to all the spiritual disillusionment that must flow from it. Again, this dire consequence is rooted in postmillennialism’s failure to see that the entire Era of Proclamation is a season of gospel combat and conflict, a season of “great tribulation” (Rev. 7:14).

Finally, postmillennialism tends to trivialize the Last Battle and the Last Judgment. Both are profoundly solemn events, events that will engulf huge swaths of humanity. Postmillennialism pictures the Last Battle as an unfortunate ripple upon a sea of millennial bliss. Similarly, it minimizes the gravity of the Last Judgment by implying that in virtue of the Golden Era of gospel progress relatively few souls will be lost.

On both counts the NT sharply disagrees. Our Lord said that throughout the Church era, and especially at its end, his disciples will be hated by all nations (Matt. 10:16ff, 24:9). John relates that the number of those who wage war against the eschatological camp of the saints will be “like the sand of the seashore” (Rev. 20:8). As for the ratio of the saved to the lost, I believe we are wise to eschew undue speculation (Luke 13:22f). Nevertheless, it is sobering to recall that wide is the gate and broad the way that leads to destruction, and that many go in by it (Matt. 7:13, 13:24-40, 36-43); that Christ refers to his Church as “a little flock” (Luke 12:32); and that those will follow him upon the slopes of the eternal Zion are the first fruits (i.e., the smaller part) of the total harvest of God and the Lamb (Jas. 1:18, Rev. 14:1-4, 14-20).

We find, then, that despite its welcome nod to orthodoxy, postmillennialism gives us a flawed and potentially injurious view of the Consummation. 

View of the Revelation

Like premillennarians, postmillennarians generally teach that the events described in Revelation 20 follow those described in Revelation 19:11-21. This means, of course, that Revelation 19:11-21 cannot be speaking of the Parousia/Consummation. Accordingly, Loraine Boettner argues that this text gives us “ . . . a vision setting forth in figurative language the age-long struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil in the world, with its promise of complete victory.” In other words, it gives us Christ triumphing in the Era of Proclamation through the preaching of the Word of God. This results in a special binding of Satan, which in turn inaugurates the golden millennial era (Rev. 20:1-3). In that era, the world will allegedly experience “the first resurrection,” by which postmillennarians mean a “ . . . restoration and vindication of the cause for which the martyrs died” (J. J. Davis), or “a rebirth of the martyr spirit” (A. Strong). Vast numbers of millennial saints, now fully subject to the Spirit of the High King of Heaven, will reign victoriously on a peaceful and prosperous earth (20:4-6). At the close of the Millennium, this global victory will seem, for the briefest of moments, to end in defeat, as Satan is released from his prison and leads multitudes against the faithful people of God. However, at his Parousia, Christ will swiftly intervene to destroy his enemies (Rev. 20:7-10). This brings on the Last Judgment (Rev. 20:12-15), which in turn brings in the new heavens and the new earth (Rev. 21:1-22:21).

By my lights this is a serious misreading of the Revelation. As I argued earlier, Revelation 20 runs parallel to Revelation 17-19, and does not follow it chronologically. Revelation 19:11-21 most certainly does give us the Parousia, as do Revelation 6:12-17, 11:11-19, 14:14-20 and 20:10-15. The binding of Satan took place at the beginning of the Era of Proclamation, through Christ’s work on the Cross; it is not still future, even to us who live 2000 years into that era (Matt. 12:29; John 12:31; Col. 2:15; 1 Pet. 3:22, Rev. 12:7f)! The first resurrection is not a revival of the martyr’s cause or spirit, but entrance upon the joys of the Intermediate State by the spirits of the saints who die in the Lord (Rev. 14:13). And finally, the millennial reign of the saints does not take place upon the earth, but rather in heaven, where the sprits of the saints reign in life with Christ, even as they await the final triumph of life at “the second resurrection”: the resurrection of the body on the Day of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17; 1 Cor. 15:1f; Rev. 20:11-15).

Conclusion

Certainly we can be grateful to our postmillennarian brethren when they remind us that God has predestined the Gospel to redeem a great multitude of believers out of every tribe, tongue, people and nation (2 Cor. 2:14; Rev. 5:9, 7:9). And certainly we can join them in affirming that the advance of Christ’s Kingdom will leaven the evil world-system in such a way as to have positive impacts on its various institutions, whether cultural, political, or economic (Matt. 5:13-16). By all means, then, let individual Christians serve the Lord in every legitimate sphere of life, and let them be grateful for whatever good their presence accomplishes, whether great or small (John 17:15).

Nevertheless, the Church should regard postmillennialism as a seriously flawed eschatology, and perhaps even a dangerous one. Its root problem is that it misunderstands God’s true purpose in the Era of Proclamation, which is not to Christianize the Domain of Darkness, but rather to rescue a chosen people out of it and transfer them into the Kingdom of his beloved Son (Gal. 1:4, Col. 1:13). This means that from start to finish Christ’s Kingdom and Satan’s kingdom are in constant contact and conflict, and that the Era of Proclamation is, above all else, a spiritual battlefield upon which a great war is being fought for the souls of men. “Even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined” (Dan. 9:26).

If it is received, the unbiblical doctrine of a future Golden Era will seriously undermine the spiritual health of the saints. It sets them up for disappointment and frustration, since the Era they dream of will never come, no matter how hard they toil for it. It distracts them from their true mission, which is not to transform the world-system, but simply to preach the Gospel so that God may gather his elect out of it. It distorts the believer’s hope, focusing it upon an illusory stage of Church history rather than upon the Consummation at Christ’s return (Tit. 2:3; 1 Pet. 1:13). It fails to prepare the Church for inevitable persecution, and also to warn her against the perils of the rising tide of lawlessness that will characterize the last of the last days (Matt. 24:12). And again, it effectively robs her of the three great signs by which she can know that the Coming of her Lord is at hand: the fulfillment of the Great Commission, the conversion of ethnic Israel, and the Last Battle.

For all these reasons I would invite my postmillennial brethren to come home to your true birth mother: the amillennial eschatology of the classic Reformation. Truly, she has prepared her table well, and is eager to forgive, forget, and savor all good things with her beloved sons.

 

“But I have this against you: You have left your first love.
So then: Remember the place from which you have fallen,
and repent and do the first works.”
(Revelation 2:3-4)

This word arrived as a gut punch to the Ephesians. It can do the same when we read it today.

Before it hit, the Lord was all commendation, praising these busy Christians for their toil, endurance, and holy intolerance of evil. And after it hit, he did the same, lauding them for their hatred of the lawless works of the Nicolaitans. But in between there came a stern and urgent reproof, flashing like dark lightning in a deep blue sky. What can account for it?

When I asked myself this question a memorable poem by William Blake came to mind:

O Rose, thou are sick.
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,
Hath found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Doth thy life destroy.

When people looked at the Ephesian rose, all seemed to be well. These believers were abounding in the work of the Lord. What’s more,, we can see from the King’s commendations that they were doing their works in the Spirit and power of the Lord. This should give us pause: Though the Lord may be granting us fruitful labors, it may also be that a dark and dangerous love has begun to creep, worm-like, into our bed of crimson joy: into the life of love that was purchased for us by the blood of Christ.

What exactly was the nature of this invisible worm? And how was it enticing the Ephesians to leave their first love?

Perhaps we find our answers in a story about Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38ff). The Lord had come to town. Martha invited him into her home for dinner. Her sister Mary sat herself at the Lord’s feet, listening to his words. But Martha was distracted with her preparations.

Not only that, she was also angry. With an unholy boldness that shocks the observer, she came up to the Son of God himself and said, ““Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Tell her to help me!” But the Lord, wise and gentle,  firmly answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is truly necessary. I’m saying this because Mary has chosen the best part, and it will not be taken from her.” 

Is this not how it was with the Ephesians. Yes, their service was partly in the Spirit, but it was also partly in the flesh. It was partly motivated by a sincere love for the Lord, but now some “dark, secret love” was creeping into the sacred space. What was it? Pride, independence, selfish ambition, worldly pleasure?  Whatever it was, it was causing many among them to drift away from their first love. The story in Luke suggests that they had done so by departing from the feet and living word of their Master. Their work for the Lord had somehow become an excuse to abandon their time with the Lord, which alone can keep the saints in squarely in the crimson bed.

This brings me to the “first works” which the Lord urged upon the Ephesians. Obviously they are vital. What are they?

Speaking personally, whenever I read those words I am reminded of my daily quiet time. For years I have reckoned it to be the first of the first works.

When I come to the Lord, I try to come early: If he is first in my life, he needs to be first in my day. I come alone, Bible in hand. Mary-like, I seat myself at his feet. I try to go low: to empty myself of myself, and to place myself in a posture of hearing, seeing, receiving. I want to receive his living word.

I begin by remembering the love of God: The love of my Father in choosing me,  the love of my Savior in redeeming me, the love of the Spirit in calling, sanctifying, and preserving me. I speak of this love and thank them for it. In the miraculous chemistry of spiritual life, such heartfelt thanksgiving over the love of God rekindles my love for him.

Next I ask for a fresh infusion of the Lord’s light and life through the opening of his Word to my heart. Believing that it will come, I slowly read and mediate upon today’s text. When I am stricken by a word I love, I will sometimes share it in love (smart phones are a big help). Usually I simply go into my day in the strength of any quickened word, sharing it, and/or the life it has brought me, with my neighbor as opportunities arise.

Then I pray, asking above all to be led by the Holy Spirit in my prayers. I know he is leading when he brings specific needs to mind, and when I experience life, liberty, longing, and loving concern as I lay my requests before him.

Finally, I pray for guidance for my day, sometimes jotting down the errands of love that I believe the Lord has placed on my heart. When I execute those errands I again go low again, waiting upon the wisdom, beauty, and power of a ministry done in love.

All of this easily said; most assuredly it is not easily done. How swiftly the alien worms of pride, selfish ambition, haste, distraction, and preoccupation encroach upon the holy rose.

But here is good news: The Lord is committed to guarding the rose. He has given us a new heart, a holy heart; and he has told us that he will watch over it with all of his heart. He has sealed it for himself. “I am a jealous God,” says the Lord. The covenant-keeping God of the Bible has sworn: Though dark, secret loves may beckon and entice, they will not prevail.

In all of this there is his part and there is our part.

On his part there are invitations to come and sit at his feet; there are promises of life-giving openings of his Word; there are seasons of refreshing and streams in the desert; there are fruitful goings out and comings in.

But all of this is contingent on us doing our part. And the first part of our part is to meet him daily in the crimson bed. As long as I am abiding there I know that all will be well, and that the fragrance of Christ will be upon the flower of my life.

This is the first of the first works. Let us labor together to do it with all our hearts.

 

 

My all time favorite Gospel tract. May it bring you a fresh sighting of the Pearl of Great Price. d

 

The Matchless Pearl

A HEAVY SPLASH was followed by many ripples, and then the water below the pier was still. An American crouched on the low Indian pier, his eyes riveted on the place where a stream of little bubbles rose to the surface from deep under the water. In a moment a black head appeared and a pair of bright eyes looked up. Then the old Indian pearl diver was clambering onto the dock, grinning and shaking the water from his shining, oily body.

“As nice a dive as I’ve ever seen, Rambhau!” cried David Morse, the American missionary.

“Look at this one, sahib,” said Rambhau, taking a big oyster from between his teeth. “I think it’ll be good.”

“Rambhau! Look!” exclaimed Morse, “Why it’s a treasure!”

“Oh, yes, but there are better pearls, much better. Why, I have one—” his voice trailed off. “See this one—the imperfections—the black speck here, this tiny dent, even in shape it is a bit oblong, but good enough as pearls go.”

“Your eye is too sharp for your own good, friend,” lamented Morse. “I would never ask for a more perfect pearl!”

“It is just as you say of your God. To themselves people look perfect, but God sees them as they actually are.” The two men started down the dusty road to the town.

“You’re right, Rambhau. And God offers perfect righteousness to all who will simply believe and accept His free offer of salvation. He says, ‘The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Rom 6:23). Can’t you see that, my friend?”

“No, sahib. As so many times before I have told you, it’s too easy. That is where your good religion breaks down. I cannot accept that. Perhaps I am too proud. I must work for my place in heaven, or I would always be uncomfortable.”

“Oh, Rambhau!” Behind the missionary’s words were years of prayer for this man. “You are getting older now. Perhaps this is your last season of diving for pearls. If you ever want to see heaven’s gates of pearl, you must accept the new life God offers you in His Son.”

“My last season! Yes, you are right. Today was my last day of diving. This is the last month of the year, and I have preparations to make.”

“You should be making preparations for the life to come.”

“That’s just what I’m going to do. The first day of the New Year I begin my pilgrimage. All my life I have planned it. I shall make sure of heaven this time. I am going to Delhi on my knees.”

“No! Never! It’s nine hundred miles to Delhi! The skin will break on your knees, and you’ll have blood poisoning or leprosy before you get to Bombay.”

“But, I must get to Delhi. And then the immortals will reward me. The suffering will be sweet, for it will purchase heaven for me.”

“Rambhau! My friend! You can’t! How can I let you do this when Jesus Christ has died to purchase heaven for you!”

But the old man could not be moved. On the afternoon of Christmas Day, Morse answered a knock at the door to find Rambhau there.

“My good friend!” cried Morse. “Come in, Rambhau.”

“No,” said the pearl diver, “I want you to come with me to my house, sahib, for a short time. I have something to show you. Please do not say no.”

The heart of the missionary leaped. Perhaps God was answering his prayer at last.

“Of course I’ll come,” he said.

“I leave for Delhi just one week from today, you know,” said Rambhau as they neared his house ten minutes later. The missionary’s heart sank.

Inside, Morse was ushered to a seat his friend had built especially for him. Rambhau left the room to return soon with a small but heavy English strongbox.

“I have had this box for years,” he said. “I keep only one thing in it. Now I will tell you about it. Sahib Morse, I once had a son.”

“A son! Why, Rambhau, you have never said a word about him!”

“No, sahib, I couldn’t.” Even as he spoke the diver’s eyes moistened. “Now I must tell you, for soon I will leave, and who knows whether I shall ever return? My son was a diver too. He was the best pearl diver on the coasts of India. He had the swiftest dive, the keenest eye, the strongest arm, the longest breath of any man who sought for pearls. What joy he brought to me! He always dreamed of finding a pearl beyond all that had ever been found. One day he found it. But when he saw it, he had already been underwater too long. He lost his life soon after.” The old pearl diver bowed his head for a moment.

“All these years I have kept the pearl,” he continued, “but now I am going, not to return. I know that this is a day among Christians for the giving of gifts, and to you, my best friend, I am giving my pearl.”

The old man worked the combination on the strongbox and drew from it a carefully wrapped package. Gently opening the cotton, he picked up a mammoth pearl and placed it in the hand of the missionary. It was one of the largest pearls ever found off the coast of India, and it glowed with a luster and brilliance never seen in cultured pearls. It would have brought a fabulous sum in any market.

For a moment the missionary was speechless and gazed with awe.

“Rambhau! What a pearl!”

“That pearl, sahib, is perfect,” replied the Indian quietly.

“Rambhau,” he said, “this is a wonderful pearl, an amazing pearl. Let me buy it. I would give you ten thousand dollars for it, or if it takes more I will work for it.”

“Sahib,” said Rambhau, stiffening his whole body, “this pearl is beyond all price. No man in all the world has money enough to say what this pearl is worth to me. I will not sell it to you. You may have it only as a gift.”

“No, Rambhau, I cannot accept that. As much as I want the pearl, I cannot accept it that way. Perhaps I am proud, but that is too easy. I must pay for it or work for it.”

The old pearl diver was stunned.

“You don’t understand, sahib. Don’t you see? My only son gave his life to get this pearl, and I wouldn’t sell it for any money. Its worth is in the lifeblood of my son. I cannot sell this, but I can give it to you. Just accept it in token of the love I bear you.”

The missionary was choked and for a moment could not speak. Then he gripped the hand of the old man.

“Rambhau,” he said in a low voice, “don’t you see? That is just what you have been saying to God.”

The diver looked long and searchingly at the missionary and slowly, slowly he began to understand.

“God is offering you everlasting life as a free gift. It is so great and priceless that no man on earth could buy it. No man on earth could earn it. His life would be millions of years too short. No man is good enough to deserve it. It cost God the lifeblood of His only Son to make the entrance for you into heaven. In a million years, in a hundred pilgrimages, you could not earn that entrance. All you can do is to accept it as a token of God’s love for you, a sinner. Rambhau, won’t you accept God’s great gift of eternal life, in deep humility, knowing it cost Him the death of His Son to offer it to you?”

“Sahib, I see it now. I have believed in the doctrine of Jesus for two years, but I could not believe that His salvation was free. Now I understand. Some things are too priceless to be bought or earned. Sahib, I will accept His salvation.”


Christian Light Publications, Harrisonburg, VA 22802

Only God knows how many of his dear children he has brought to faith in Christ by illuminating this most amazing of all Old Testament Messianic prophecies. May it bring a fresh blessing to your hearts and lives. d

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Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no stately form or majesty to attract us,
no beauty that we should desire Him.

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.
Like one from whom men hide their faces,
He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.

Surely He bore our infirmities and carried our sorrows;
yet we considered Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was placed upon Him,
and by His stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray,
each one has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet He opened not His mouth.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter;
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so He opened not His mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who among us considered
that he was cut off from the land of the living
for the transgression of my people,
the ones to whom the stroke was due?

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and was with a rich man in His death,
though He had done no violence,
nor was any deceit found in His mouth.

Yet it pleased the LORD to crush Him, and to put Him to grief.
And when His soul has been made a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
After the anguish of His soul,
He will see the light of life and be satisfied.

By His knowledge My righteous Servant will justify many,
and He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will allot Him a portion with the great,
and He will divide the spoils with the strong,
because He poured out His life unto death,
and because He was numbered among the transgressors.
Yet He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.

– Isaiah 53 (ASV, NASB, BSB)

“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry out to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned:
that she has received from the LORD’S hand
double for all her sins.”

 

These amazing words, which echo through all generations, are ultimately addressed to the Church. Here Christians receive a command to comfort the people of God. But how are we to do so?

First, we are to speak tenderly to Jerusalem. God has in view the Jerusalem above, the heavenly Jerusalem, the City of the Living God: His chosen people who presently are, or soon will be, seated with Christ in heavenly places (Gal. 4:26, Heb. 12:22, Eph. 1:3, 20). We are commanded to speak tenderly to them: to speak in such a way as to make known God’s love for them all.

Secondly, we are to cry out that her warfare is ended. Because Christ Jesus went to war for us, we can now lay down our arms. Because Christ loved us, God is no longer angry with us, nor should we be angry at him, or hostile to him. In Christ, the warring parties—God and his elect—are reconciled at last.

Thirdly, we are to cry out that her iniquity is pardoned. By his atoning death the Lord Jesus paid the penalty for our sins; by the Spirit’s effectual call we were brought to repentance and faith, with the result that our sins were forgiven once and for all. Do some of God’s children still groan under a burden on guilt and shame for past transgressions? If so, we must comfort them: “There is therefore now now condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Your iniquity is pardoned, your warfare ended. Arise and go forth in the joy of the Lord!”

Finally, we are to cry out that Jerusalem has received from the LORD’S hand double for all her sins. This is a difficult verse. What does it mean? And why is it comforting?

Here is what it does not mean. It does not mean that Jerusalem received twice as much punishment as she deserved. Nor does it mean that God will give her twice as much blessing to compensate for all the punishment she received. Nor indeed does it mean that Jerusalem herself received the punishment she deserved!

What it does mean can only be seen beneath the light of the Gospel. Viewed from there it means that in the Person of Christ, and at the Cross of Christ, the heavenly Jerusalem received punishment from the LORD’S hand, for Christ stood in for her as a substitute. And it means that the punishment Christ endured exactly matched the punishment that she deserved. An actor’s “double” perfectly corresponds to the actor. Just so, God’s just judgment perfectly corresponded to Jerusalem’s sins.1

This is difficult for us to understand, and painful for us to contemplate. But we must do both, lest we fail to receive the comfort God is offering his people. Our sins were infinitely culpable, and therefore worthy of eternal punishment. But on the Cross a divine and infinitely capable Christ received double for them all. That is, he perfectly endured the just punishment for them all, thereby paying for them all. God’s anger and retribution towards us were perfectly poured out on him, so that God’s love for him might be perfectly poured out on us; so that we might be pardoned and reconciled forever; so that our warfare might be ended; so that an eternity of peace, love, and joy might begin.

It will take us an eternity to understand these things, and an eternity to thank God for them. But let us begin today. And as we do, let us make it our ambition to obey the good word of God: Let us speak comfort to all Jerusalem!

 

  1. See the note on Isaiah 40:2 in The Reformation Study Bible.