Matthew Henry’s Progressive Postmillennialism

“David rose gradually; he was first anointed king in reversion, then in possession of one tribe only, and at last of all the tribes. Thus the Kingdom of the Messiah, the Son of David, is set up by degrees; he is Lord of all by divine designation, but we see not yet all things put under Him (Hebrews 2:8).”

Matthew Henry
Commentary II Samuel, Chapter 2:1-7

And as a throw in this wonderful gem from Henry

“Divine providence serves its own purposes by the stupidity of men at sometimes.”

Machen, The Postmillennialist — Part II

“But this is not the first period of decadence through which the world has passed, as it is not the first period of desperate conflict in the Church. God still rules, and in the midst of darkness there will come in His good time the shining of a clearer light. There will come a great revival of the Christian religion; and with it will come, we believe a revival of true learning: The new Reformation for which we long for and pray may well be accompanied by a new Renaissance.”

J. Gresham Machen
The Modern Use of the Bible
Princeton Theological Review, 23 (1925), p. 81

Machen would have never countenanced the current militant amillennialism as found in R2K. Any representation of Machen that he was no culture warrior — that he was a man uninterested in the Transformation of age — is just idiocy on stilts.

Machen, the Postmillennialist

“At present we are inarticulate; we know the riches of the gospel; we wonder at those who have it already at hand and yet are content instead with the weak and beggarly elements. When will God raise us the man of His choice to give His message powerfully to the world? We cannot say. But the truth is not dead, and God has not deserted His Church. Behind all the darkness and perplexity of the present time we can discern, on the basis of the promises of God, the dawn of a better day. There may come a time, sooner than we can tell, when again we cry in the Church, as every redeemed soul cries even now: ‘The old things are passed away; behold they are become new.”

J. Gresham Machen
God Transcendent, pg. 51

It is funny how R2K claims Machen for its own and yet Machen’s postmillennialism would have found him aghast at the R2K fighting as hard for their pessimism as he was fighting for the PCUSA. It was Machen’s postmillennial optimism that kept him in the fight when all was dark about him. It seems, at times, the only optimism and hope that the R2K advocates have is the optimism and hope that they will defeat the optimism and hope of the postmillennialists and the optimistic amillennialists.

Beale & McAtee on the unity of Scripture

Matthew 21:41 They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”

41 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

‘The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?[j]

43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44 And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”

Some commentators have rightly noticed that this second statement about a stone also has an OT background, this time from Daniel 2:34-35: “A stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue … and crushed [it],” and it “became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away.” The statue in Daniel represented the evil world empires that oppress God’s people, and the stone symbolized God’s Kingdom of Israel that would destroy and judge these unbelieving Kingdoms. Now, unbelieving Israel as become identified with pagan Kingdoms and is portrayed as being judged along with them by also being ‘broken to pieces’ and ‘scattered like dust.’

Thus Jesus sees Israel as becoming indistinguishable from the ungodly nations and accordingly judged in the very same way. That is, Israel as a nation will no longer exist as God’s true covenant people, just as the pagan nations to be judged at the eschaton will no loner exist. Remember also that the ‘stone’ of Daniel, after smashing the colossus, representing the evil kingdoms, ‘became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.’ Jesus identifies himself with Daniel’s stone that smashes the ungodly nations, which also includes here Israel, which is seen as being allied with these nations. That an aspect of the new form of the kingdom in this passage is the temple, centered in both Jesus and a new ‘people producing fruit,’ is further indicated by the fact that the parable of the vineyard in Is. 57, to which Jesus alludes in the directly preceding context, was interpreted by early Judaism to represent Israel’s temple.

That Jesus identifies himself with the cornerstone of the new temple is pointed to further by how in Dan. 2 the stone that struck the statue and then ‘filled the earth’ represented the foundation stone of the temple. That foundation stone grew and grew until it expanded to cover the entire the earth. A further indication that Israel identified itself with the nations instead of God’s true Israel, Jesus, is seen in Pilate’s question to the Jews, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ to which the chief priests responded, ‘We have no King but Caesar’ [John 19:15]. This develops the earlier statement by the Jewish crowd addressing Pilate, ‘if you release this man [Jesus], you are no friend of Caesar’ (John 19:12). In the parallel in Mt. 27:25 the Jews responded to Caesar saying, ‘ His blood be on us and our children,’ another radical expression of disassociating themselves from Jesus as the center of the newly emerging Israel, kingdom, and temple.

G. K. Beale
A New Testament Theology — 682

How can Beale remain amillennial and write material like this? Like Vos before him, Beale recognizes the “now, not yet” hermeneutic and constantly properly refers to the distinction between the Kingdom inaugurated and the Kingdom consummated. Yet, for Beale, again, like Vos before him always tends to front load the “not yet” in his hermeneutic over the “now.” I think this amillennial front loading of the “now” over the “not yet” is a Redemptive historical mistake. It was in the Old Testament where we find the front loading of the “not yet” over the “now,” in the coming of the Kingdom. However, with the coming of Christ who Himself is the Kingdom, the Redemptive-Historical anticipation has been realized so that with the new and better covenant the “now” of the “already, now, not-yet” Redemptive-Historical hermeneutic is front-loaded so that we anticipate that the inaugurated Kingdom that came with Christ goes from nowness unto nowness. This is the hermeneutical basis for postmillennialism. The front loading of the “not yet” has passed with the coming of Christ and with Christ’s victory we read the Scripture with the “now,” not consummated but indeed front loaded.

Also note that geo-political Israel is of no eschatological import to God as it has been overthrown, never to rise again. Geo-political Israel has absolutely zero claims to God’s promises of the OT. God has crushed Israel, divorced Israel, and served Israel divorce papers in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Indeed, I might go so far as to say that those who see Israel as remaining God’s chosen people, are trying to reverse God’s judgment and so are enemies of God and His people.

Notes and Thoughts on Isaiah 65 / II Corinthians 5:17f

17 “ For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing,
And her people a joy.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
And joy in My people;
The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her,
Nor the voice of crying.
20 “ No more shall an infant from there live but a few days,
Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days;
For the child shall die one hundred years old,
But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
They shall not plant and another eat;
For as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people,
And My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain,
Nor bring forth children for trouble;
For they shall be the descendants of the blessed of the LORD,
And their offspring with them.
24 “ It shall come to pass
That before they call, I will answer;
And while they are still speaking, I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
The lion shall eat straw like the ox,
And dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,”
Says the LORD.

This passage has been surrounded by a great deal of debate as to when we can anticipate such blessedness. Pre-millennialist insists that this description comes to pass in the Kingdom that Christ establishes once He returns. A-millennialists insist that this description comes to pass in the eschaton. Post-millenialist insist that all that Isaiah speaks of has been inaugurated by and in Christ, and so will come progressively in Christ as His Kingdom (His new creation of heaven and earth) like the Mustard seed, increasingly reflects what it has already established in an inaugurative fashion, with the consummation being the fulfillment of what has been inaugurated and all that is becoming true progressively.

The problem with the Pre-millennialist vision is that it hasn’t grasped the reality that Christ is King now (I Cor. 15:24-25, Col. 1:13, Mt. 28:18, Rev. 1:5, Eph. 1:22-23) and has inaugurated a Kingdom that has brought the age to come to overcome this present wicked age. Premillennialism fails to see that Christ’s inaugurated and present Kingdom is like leaven that will spread throughout this present wicked age so that the Kingdoms of this World will be the Kingdoms of the Christ. Pre-millennialism fails to see that Christ as King has brought the age to come and deposited it in the Church so that the Church, because it is the community of ‘the age to come’, is the ‘age to come’ equipping institution that sends forth its Captains to victoriously assault the gates of hell as those gates, protecting various realms and lacuna of this present wicked age, stand in usurping defiance against the Crown Rights of King Jesus and the extension of His Kingdom. In the Pre-millennial vision Isaiah 65 awaits some far future day because it can’t be true now because until Christ returns defeat is the expectation and lot of the community of the ‘age to come’ (The Church) .

The problem with the amillennialists vision as it pertains to Isaiah 65 is that the language in Isaiah 65 doesn’t fit the glorified state (consummation) and that is exactly what you will find the typical amillennialist arguing. First, in Isaiah’s description you have people still dying (vs. 20). I Cor. 15 teaches that death is the last enemy to be defeated, but defeated he will be in the glorified state. Therefore, contra amillennialism, Isaiah 65 can’t be describing the glorified state because in the glorified state people don’t die.

Second, just as Isaiah describes dying in this new heavens and new earth so he describes giving birth (23). I know of nobody who teaches that in the eternal state unmarried women (Matthew 22:30) will be giving birth.

Third, the amillennialist vision, like their pre-millennialist counterparts is one of defeatism. The amillennialist believes that the Satan and Christ’s Kingdoms grow together until the end, but they insist that the growth of Christ’s Kingdom is primarily Spiritual (read invisible) while conceding that the growth of Satan’s Kingdom is both Spiritual and Visible. According to the Amillennialist Christ’s Kingdom is keeping pace with Satan’s Kingdom but like Harvey the Rabbit nobody can see it. Amillennialism’s approach doesn’t correspond to Daniel’s Rock (Daniel 2) that crushes all other Kingdoms in absolute triumph, nor does it offer a reasonable explanation of how it can be that Satan’s Kingdom grows correspondingly to Christ’s Kingdom when one of the effects of Christ’s death was to plunder Satan’s goods (Mark 3:27).

27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

If the two Kingdoms are growing correspondingly how can it be said that Christ has plundered Satan’s Kingdom? In the Amillennial vision Isaiah 65 awaits the eschaton because it can’t be true now because until Christ returns cultural and civilizational defeat is the expectation and lot of the community of the ‘age to come’ (The Church).

In the Biblical (postmillennial) vision Isaiah 65 is a perfect picture of what Christ is accomplishing and will accomplish because of what Christ has accomplished. Postmillennialists see Isaiah 65 tracking well with New Testament passages like II Corinthians 5:17

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself

Scholars such as Calvin, Torrance, Beale, and Bruce, find Isaiah 65:17f to be the conceptual background text for II Corinthians 5:17f. Note the parallel between the new heaven and new earth in Isaiah 65 and the new creation in II Corinthians. Note Isaiah’s mention of the “Former things” and St. Paul’s mention of the “ancient things.”

The thinking among some is that the idea of reconciliation that Paul mentions here is a overlapping idea of Isaiah’s vision of restoration. The idea being that as one is reconciled to Christ (II Cor. 5:17), one is placed into the new creation age which is the same restorational age that Isaiah speaks of in Chapter 65. We are reconciled in Christ who is the one who stands at the Head of this restored age of which Isaiah prophesies.

So what we find in II Cor. 5 is St. Paul’s expression that the Lord Christ is the one in whom the New Creation takes place and is the one in whom the inaugurated fulfillment of the Isaiah 65 restoration takes place. To be reconciled to Christ is to begin to live in the age to come that Isaiah describes.

Calvin can write,

“By these metaphors he promises a remarkable change of affairs; as if God has said that he has both the inclination and the power not only to restore His Church, but to restore it in such a manner that it shall appear to gain new life and to dwell in a new world. These are exaggerated modes of expression; but the greatness of such a blessing, which was to be manifested at the coming of Christ, could not be described in any other way. Nor does he mean only the first coming, but the whole reign, which must be extended as far as to the last coming.”

Five Centuries after Calvin, G. K. Beale could echo that Calvin sentiment by writing,

” … Against the Isaiah background both his (Christ’s) death and resurrection can be viewed as inaugurating the true Israel, the church, into the presence of God. We suggest that just as Christ, the true Israel, was separated from the Father because of His vicarious death on behalf of His people (II Cor. 5:14-15, 21) and was restored from the exile of death to a relationship with God by means of the resurrection, so likewise is the Church restored from the exile of sinful alienation through corporate identification with Christ…. Simply put, Paul understands both “new creation” in Christ as well as reconciliation in Christ as the inaugurated fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise of a new creation in which Israel would be restore to peaceful relations w/ Yahweh.”

The emphasis here in II Corinthians 5 is that the believer is united with Christ who is the Second Adam and in whom one becomes part of a new humanity as part of the new creation. And that new humanity is described as it lives life out on earth in Isaiah 65

Obviously, some might protest that those who are new creations in Christ don’t look so new — their old way of life clings to definitively to them — but to say such a thing misses that what the Apostle is bringing to the forefront here — and that is because of Union with Christ what can be predicated about Christ can be said of the one united to Christ. Because Christ is raised he who was formerly in Adam but who is now in Christ is now raised (Romans 6:5). Because Christ is seated in the heavenlies he who was formerly in Adam but who is now in Christ is seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:6). Because Christ in His triumph has been invested with a Kingdom, he who was formerly in Adam, but who is now in Christ, has been translated to reside in that Kingdom of His Savior (Col. 1:13). We can well see why Paul says that ‘all things have become new.’ All of these things are declared as true of the redeemed individual, who as a member of Christ’s new humanity takes his place in the new heavens and earth that Christ has brought. As members of that new creation the Holy Spirit is progressively working in them to reverse the effects of the fall so that they increasingly personally correspond to what is true of them, in principle, because of their union with Christ. As that salvation becomes progressively true of and in them so that they increasingly become what they have been freely declared to be they take that salvation into every area of life wherein they have been called by their Savior and so being saved they bring th4e aroma of salvation to all their living and so, being salt and light, they extend Christ’s Kingdom.

The same kind of reasoning holds for the Isaiah 65 passage. In the resurrection, ascension, session, and vindication of Christ in AD 70 His always coming Kingdom has come in principle and so is coming progressively and will come consummatively, and so Christians dwell in a new heavens and earth which have been created by Christ’s victory. The former heavens and earth — which should be understood as the OT economy in the redemptive drama of Christ — have been shaken and what remains is the new heaven and earth that can’t be shaken (Hebrews 13:25f). What is not remembered in Isaiah 65:17 is who we were in Adam as well as the former ceremonial legislation, which was the shadow covenant.

Some will object to insisting that the idea that the creation of a new heavens and earth that is mentioned in Isaiah 65:17 should be equated with the end of the OT economy and the bringing in of Christ’s Kingdom. Amillennialist especially will insist that what is required by the ‘new heavens and earth’ language of Isa. 65 is a literal new universe. However, we have seen already that this can’t be true because of the insuperable difficulties that attach themselves to that kind of reading.

(Is this new physical universe going to have death in it? Will there be child-birth in the Consummated age?)

Therefore since Isaiah 65 can’t be referring to a recreated physical universe we must look elsewhere for an explanation. Such an explanation is found by understanding that the creation of a new heavens and new earth is prophetic language for God’s instituting His Messianic New World Order.


John Owen helps us here as we consider God’s Messianic New World Order

In commenting on II Peter 3:15-17 which speaks about the heavens and earth being reserved for fire John Owen could say,

“On this foundation I affirm, that the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition upon ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of the heaven and the earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical Church and state;…

Peter tells them, that, after the destruction and judgment that he speaks of, vs. 13, ‘We according to his promise look for new heavens and a new earth,’ etc. They had this expectation. But what is that promise? Where may we find it? Why, we have it in the very words and letter, Isaiah 65:17. Now, when shall this be that God will create these ‘new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness?’ Saith Peter, ‘It shall be after the coming of the Lord, after that judgment and destruction of ungodly men, who obey not the Gospel, that I foretell.’ But now is evident, from this place of Isaiah, with chapter 66:21-22, that this is a prophecy of gospel times only; and that the planting of these new heavens is nothing but the creation of the Gospel ordinances to endure forever. The same thing is expressed in Hebrews 12:26-28.”

Similarly the Puritan John Brown commenting on Matthew 5:17-18, which likewise uses the language of heaven and earth passing away, could say,

“‘Heaven and earth passing away,’ understood literally, is the dissolution of the present system of the universe; and the period when that is to take place, is called ‘the end of the world.’ But a person at all familiar with the phraseology of the Old Testament Scriptures, knows that the dissolution of the Mosaic economy, and the establishment of the Christian, is often spoken of as the removing of the old earth and heavens, and the creation of a new earth and heaven.”

So we conclude that when Isaiah speaks of the creation of a New Heavens and a New Earth what is being referenced is the establishment of God’s new world order known as the renewed and better covenant as brought by our Lord Jesus Christ and not a literal new physical creation.

All of this is reinforced even more by passages like Romans 8:19-23 and James 1:17-18. In both passages we read of the recreation that has already begun.

19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.(Jam 1:17-18)

Both Paul and James, teach that Christians as new creatures are the firstfruits of the New Creation mentioned in Isaiah. Believers, because of the finished reconciliation work of Christ, are proof that this new creation exists now. So, in this passage we see that Christ is presently ruling and by faith we are convinced that one day this complete and total reign will be brought to a complete and total fulfillment in time and space.

Moving on we would say that the reason that Isaiah can say in vs. 17b that ‘the former shall not be remembered or come to mind’ is because of the exceeding excellence of that new order that Christ brings.

Actually, the new heavens and new earth that Isaiah speaks of in chapter 65 is the second of three re-creations that are anticipated in Isaiah 65. Before the promise of a new dwelling in vs. 17 God’s people are promised a new name in vs. 15. With the promised new name and a promised new dwelling God promises a new environment in vs. 18-23.

New name — 15
New dwelling — 17
New environment — 18 – 23

But we must keep in mind that all these realities (the new name, the new creation, the new environment) have a ‘now, not yet’ (inaugurated – yet to be consummated) component to them. We are not what we once were but we are also not yet what we will be. So, all these realities are true.

We do live in a new creation (Col. 1:13)

13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,

We do have a new identity (Mt. 28:19)

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Col. 3:3 — For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God

and we do experience a new environment (Hebrews 8:10f)

10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”

but being completely true in principle they will one day be consummatively true in the glorified State. All of this is in such a fashion that what is true in a inaugurative sense is becoming progressively true as we are sanctified and anticipates a day when it will all be consummatively true.

The ‘not yet’ of this Isaiah prophecy is seen in the fact that though, as we have seen, the recreation has begun; Isaiah 65 describes time yet future in this ongoing recreation, when all enemies except death will have been conquered. And so now living in the New Heavens and New Earth and experiencing the new environment and having been given a new name we still look forward to the day when the voice of weeping shall be heard no more and where an infant shall no longer live but a few days.

Before wrapping up we should consider though that where the name of Christ has been spread and widely embraced things like life expectancy (20, 22) and social and familial stability (21-23) have been at their zenith. The embrace of the Gospel, which yields a life that takes seriously God’s Law Word, leads to people groups being attended with God’s blessings. (Which doesn’t mean that they still won’t face periodic hardship and trials.)

The understanding that we have advocated here complements well a passage like I Corinthians 15:25-26 where we are told that Christ

“Must reign till he has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.”

Christ is now reigning over the new creation but there remain defeated but yet to surrender enemies to be brought into subjection. Isaiah 65 reveals a time when most of those enemies have been brought to heel with only the last enemy of death being on the lam – and even he’s considering suing for terms of surrender. The Spirit anointed preaching of the Gospel, and the discipling of the nations is what brings these defeated but yet to surrender enemies to swear oaths of allegiance to King Christ and so is converted the Kingdoms of this World to the Kingdoms of our Lord and the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea.


Vs. 25 is often cited against the position offered in this treatise. There are those who read this text without taking into consideration prophetic type speech and so they look for wolves and lambs to dine together and for a day when hay needs to be pulled down for the lions as well as the cattle. Because this isn’t happening it is insisted that there is no sense in which Isaiah 65 is presently true.

We should note that similar language that we find in vs. 25 is found earlier in Isaiah 11:6f. Isaiah 11 is a Messianic passage describing the future reign of King Christ. The fact that language in Isaiah 11 is repeated in Isaiah 65 should give us a hint that what is being spoken of in Isaiah 65 corresponds in some way to what is being spoken of in Isaiah 11 and that is exactly the argument that we have sought to elucidate here. In Isaiah 65 there is a new creation characterized by peace and in Isaiah 11 we learn that during the rule of the Messiah there is peace and tranquility. The Shalom that Jesus brings to His New Creation that He rules over is pictured both in Isaiah 11 and 65 by carnivorous animals dwelling with their former dinners and by carnivores that are now herbivores. In both cases what is being portrayed for the readers is the Shalom that the Messiah brings to the new creation.

To continue to tease this out in a way consistent with what we have done above we would insist that in the New Creation that is the Church we find wolves lying down with lambs as Gentiles and Jews are reconciled together and find peace in Christ’s one body (Ephesians 2:14-18), as they realize a Spiritual unity that was previously unknown. Only once man’s warfare against God has ended can his warfare against his neighbor end. Only once man has peace with God can he have peace with his neighbor. In Christ we have peace with both God and neighbor. The wolf can lie down with the lamb and the lion can munch on straw. Shalom is present in the new creation.