The hope is premillennial
Fifth, and finally, we need to emphasise the fact that the Christians hope is premillennial, which means that Christ will come in power and glory before, and not after, a future and literal thousand-year reign as Gods Priest-King on earth. The verses in Revelation 20.1-6 which mention the thousand-year reign of Christ five times, followed by a sixth mention in the following verse, are, as their place in the overall scheme of the book would naturally suggest, yet to be fulfilled. They are certainly not being fulfilled during the present church age, despite claims to the contrary by amillennialists. Although Satan was judged at the cross of Christ, and is a defeated foe, he is not bound now, but is still wreaking terrible havoc in the world. The man of sin and his world-wide government will be his masterpiece (Rev 13). This Satanic attempt to overturn all Gods purposes will only be thwarted by Gods direct intervention in judgment and the coming of Christ to earth again to reign in righteousness and peace for a thousand years, according to many predictions in both Testaments.
The binding of Satan during the millennial kingdom, followed by his subsequent brief release and further deception of the nations to rebel again, will serve to prove beyond doubt that man is incorrigibly evil by nature. He must be finally judged, not having been changed at heart even by a thousand years of righteous rule, peaceful conditions, and the knowledge of the glory of the Lord filling the earth. The millennial kingdom must also take place (see 1 Cor 15), so that Christ can fulfil Gods original purpose that man in Adam should rule the earth for Him as His viceroy. Also, Christ, and so God Himself, must be vindicated in the very world and place, Jerusalem, where He was rejected and crucified at His first coming in grace. And all judgment has been committed to Christ, both as the perfect Son of Man, according to John 5, and also as the Lamb slain for believers in Him, many of whom have been, and will yet be, martyred for His sake.
But a main point to establish is that Gods kingdom on earth will only be established by Gods direct intervention in judgment, not by the preaching of the gospel of the grace of God today, nor even by the beneficial effects of that preaching. The so-called postmillennial view of this matter must, therefore, be misguided. Scripture clearly predicts that mankind will largely reject the gospel, turn to moral, political, and religious apostasy, defy God, and accept Satans man of sin as god in His place, resulting in the deification of man and Satan. It will be this Satanic kingdom that Christ will return to destroy "by the brightness of his coming" (2 Thess 2.8) and "the breath of his mouth" (2 Thess 2.8, JND) at Armageddon, before setting up His own eternal kingdom. Only a minority of mankind will believe the gospel today, be raptured to glory, escape the coming great tribulation, and reign with Christ throughout the millennial kingdom.
We turn now to the more devotional and practical aspects of the Christians hope - its intended moral effect on our lives today, a most important consideration indeed.
First of all, the Christians hope of the coming of the Lord for us is intended by God to be character-forming through the trials of life that patient waiting for Christ involves (see Rom 8.24-25). James 1.2-4 reads, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations (or, trials); Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting (lacking in) nothing". Romans 5.3-4 further confirms that, "tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope". From all these Scriptures, we can see that patient endurance of trials of faith while we wait for the fulfilment of all Gods promises to us as believers is essential for the development in us by the Holy Spirit of a fully mature Christian character. 1 Corinthians 13 further states that hope, along with faith and love, is to be pursued as an enduring quality of character now, more than even the greater spiritual gifts, since godliness is always more important to cultivate than any gift. In the early assemblies movement three of the brethren perhaps exemplified these three Christian graces respectively more than many. George Muller was noted as a man of faith. Robert Chapman was a man of love. John Nelson Darby was more characterised by hope, being prominent at the Powerscourt conferences on prophecy. But only our Lord Himself had a perfect balance between all three of these graces. Let us follow Him fully!
The second valuable effect of the Christians hope upon our lives is that it is a guide to our conduct and relationships in the world today as the heavenly people of God. It is very important for us as believers living in the age of Gods grace to understand present divine policy concerning the world and its present population, because our relationship to them is determined by Christs present relationship to the world as a whole. 1 John 4.17 states the principle: "as he (Christ) is, so are we in this world". Now our Lord, the rejected King, but crowned Redeemer, is absent from earth in heaven awaiting the moment of His future coming in glory to judge and rule the world. During His absence He is not directly asserting His rightful authority to rule, but working in the world by His Spirit through us, His Church, to save other sinners out of it, by their willing response to the preaching of the gospel of the grace of God. The present age is still "the acceptable year of the Lord", not yet "the day of vengeance of our God" (Is 61.2), that is, the day of the Lord with all its direct judgments upon the earth. It follows from this fact, therefore, that our chief point of involvement with unbelievers today should be in gospel witness. We should also by our godly conduct and testimony generally act as salt and light in the world, thus restraining the full development of "the mystery of lawlessness" (2 Thess 2.7, JND) by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is the most probable meaning of "the restrainer" and "the restraint" (2 Thess 2.6-7). At present God is being longsuffering towards all mankind, not willing that any should perish, but come to repentance, and faith in Christ, before the inevitable judgment falls (2 Pet 3.9-10). We must expect to suffer with Christ now, and only to share His reign later, after the rapture and revelation. Today, believers have no authority to impose Gods rule upon the world by fighting with carnal weapons. Hence, all the well-intentioned crusades, revolutionary movements to impose Christianity at various times, the claim of the false professing Roman Catholic Church to temporal and spiritual authority in the Middle Ages and later, and attempts to coerce unbelievers into accepting Christ, were serious practical mistakes. They resulted from a complete misunderstanding of what the true New Testament Church of Christ should be doing today. We are, in fact, very much involved in another kind of battle altogether, a spiritual warfare "in the heavenlies" (Eph 1.3, JND) in Christ against spiritual powers of wickedness who also operate there, and we use only spiritual weapons in our warfare. Ephesians 6.10-20 exhorts us to take the "whole armour of God" to fight in this warfare. This involves the use of God-given qualities of spiritual character, and resources appropriate to our heavenly calling, namely, the spoken word of God as the only offensive weapon, and "all prayer" to God in the whole exercise. We shall be reproached, mistreated, despised, and thoroughly misunderstood for our stance, perhaps even by some other true believers who do not appreciate present divine truth as we do, because Christ, who is the whole secret of our lives, is currently in heaven. But think of the great recompense of reward there could be for us, if we are faithful to Him and His Word, when we appear with Him in glory at His second coming, and He is admired in all them that believe! This will make the trials of our present pathway all well worthwhile.
To be continued.