American Christians Love & Hate Eschatology
When Jesus and the New Testament revelators said He would return to the earth bodily and visibly a second time (Jn 14:3, Ac 1:11, 1Th 4:16, Tit 2:13, Heb 9:28, 1Jn 2:28, Rev 22:12,20), the early Christians assumed it would happen in their lifetime. Perhaps they misinterpreted Matthew 16:28, Mark 14:62, Romans 13:11, James 5:8,9, and similar verses. Perhaps they misinterpreted imminent-sounding words like "soon" and "near" and "at hand" and "at the door". Perhaps they misinterpreted the shockingly cruel, systemic persecution of Nero or Domitian as the final beast of Daniel 7 that precursors the End and the Messianic kingdom.
But Jesus did not come in their lifetime, as their mental model assumed.
Montanism, The First Eschatological Prophetic Movement
Then, around 150AD, the very first prophetic movement emerged. Montanus of Phrygia, flanked by two women, Maximilla and Prisca, began prophesying the End. They claimed to be the pinnacle and consummation of all prophecy (sound familiar?), and claimed their prophetic ministries would usher in the Second Coming. They gained quite a bit of traction and the movement grew, especially under Tertullian, and continued for a few hundred years after their deaths.
But Jesus did not come in their lifetime either. Their ministries did not usher in the Second Coming as they so narcissistically prophesied.
Constantine, The Rise of Postmillennialism & Amillennialism
Then, in 312, Roman emperor Constantine was allegedly converted to Christianity, and in 313, he issued the Edict of Milan, planting the legal and political seed for the Christianization of the entire Roman Empire. This was a mind-blowing, even miraculous-feeling, development for the Christians at that time. They had been the violently persecuted sect, the religious weirdos, the enemy of the state, the entertainment of the Colosseum, but now they had conquered almighty Rome with their religion. This development radically influenced the eschatological sentiments of that generation and the generation after them. They thought, "Jesus has not returned yet, but almighty Rome has been defeated and Christianized. Could it be the Lord wants us to Christianize the entire world in this way before He returns?"
And so the ideas of postmillennialism and amillennialism began to coagulate. These two terms are crucial. A few well-known leaders in Christianity today--especially in the Neo-Pentecostal, Neo-Charismatic, and Apostolic and Prophetic movements--are postmillennialists and/or amillennialists (sometimes secretly or understated). This directly shapes their eschatology, sermon types, and Christian activities, namely their persistent OCD towards politics.
Eschatology in American Christianity, 1600s - World Wars
Over a thousand years passed since Constantine's capitulation to Christianity enabled and accelerated postmillennial and amillennial constructs. Jesus still had not come back, but postmillennial and amillennial ideals were not even close to being actualized.
Recognizing the pragmatic failure of postmillennialism and amillennialism, apocalyptic preachers and movements began rising in the United States in the late 1600s, revisiting eschatological scriptures and pushing back against postmillennialism and amillennialism. Christian figures like Cotton Mathers (1663-1728), William Miller (1782-1849), John Darby (1800-1882), Ellen G. White (1827-1915), and William Seymour (1870-1922) were central to the pushback, notwithstanding their doctrinal mistakes or methodological mistakes. On an organizational level, post-Civil War Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, and others within both traditional and emergent movements, began to call Christians back to the eschatology of the first-century church. They called Christians to reject postmillennialism and amillennialism, their social gospel, their political gospel, and their silly hope of creating a global Christian utopia that ushers in the Second Coming. The understanding and conviction that the book of Revelation is literal and imminent was reemerging.
Jesus did not come in the lifetime of these apocalyptic renewals, disappointing many. But two world wars were about to happen, and Israel was about to be rebirthed as a nation after nineteen hundred years of nonexistence.
Eschatology in American Christianity, World Wars - U.S.S.R. Collapse
World War I, II, the Holocaust, the use of nuclear weapons against Japan, the national rebirth of Israel in 1948, and the Cold War was a blaring horn in the ear of humanity that a global apocalypse was not only possible, but probable. The apocalyptic movements from Cotton Mathers to William Seymour were like early sprinkles, the events of the 1900s were like torrential rainstorms. Postmillennialism and amillennialism greatly weakened, while the understanding and conviction that the book of Revelation is literal and imminent was strengthened and spread like wildfire. Apocalypse-preaching figures like Billy Graham, Hal Lindsey, Robert Van Kampen, and many, many others were central to this.
But Jesus did not come in the 20th century, and the looming terror of nuclear armageddon and planetary destruction subsided with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early '90s. This was an important moment in recent American Christianity. With the Soviet rivalry gone and the United States as the sole hegemon, many American Christians flipflopped yet again to postmillennial and amillennial sentiments, even those without the theological training to articulate those sentiments precisely.
Are you starting to see how many Christians form their eschatological ideas based on the personal, national, and international circumstances around them, instead of a steadfast hermeneutic of God's Word regardless of how the world or their world looks?
Eschatology in American Christianity, U.S.S.R. Collapse - Today
The Pax-Americana and apocalyptic calm of the post-Soviet years eventually began to change with the rise of China as a new superpower and rival, the resurgence of a hostile Russia, a now nuclear-armed and hostile North Korea, the rise of an increasingly anti-Semitic Turkey, an almost nuclear-armed Iran, the comprehensive moral deconstruction of Judeo-Christian underpinned Western nations, consistent economic crises on multiple levels, the covid pandemic and new pandemics on the horizon, and so on. Once again American Christians are seeing the pragmatic failure of postmillennialism, amillennialism, and their Neo-Pentecostal/Charismatic spinoff versions, and revisiting eschatological scriptures with new trembling and humility.
In fact, since the covid pandemic and Russia's shockingly barbaric invasion of Ukraine, interest in my books and articles on eschatology has surged. Ordinary Christians and leaders reaching out to me for dialogue on eschatology has surged, because they know I have taught eschatology steadfastly since the very beginning of my ministry twenty-eight years ago.
America, American Christianity, The Book of Revelation
The United States will not exist forever; that is not the storyline of the book of Revelation and Scripture. The United States is not the kingdom of God; that is not the kind of kingdom Jesus inaugurated at His First Coming. The kingdom our Lord spoke of is from another place, not of this world (Jn 18:36) and cannot be seen visually (Lk 17:20). Jesus even said it will have no geographical location as its headquarters so that people could say, "There it is!" or "Here it is!" (v21). That includes Rome, Redding, Nashville, Washington, or any other city or country we need to feel like is the kingdom center on earth.
When Jesus returns to the earth bodily and visibly, His kingdom will shift once again into a visible, physical, political kingdom centered in Jerusalem upon the throne of David. This is the story all the Hebrew prophets are telling, this is the story the book of Revelation is telling. You do not have to understand every metaphor in Revelation, but you do have to understand the story it is telling and how God is overseeing and guiding Planet Earth to fulfill that story.
To Leaders, To American Christians
Church and kingdom leaders, you will be accountable for the story you are telling those who listen to you. Some of you need to revisit Biblical eschatology and stop telling the wrong story about America, which invariably means a wrong story about the church in it and the individuals in it. Do not give American Christians false hope, the United States will never become the conservative Christian utopia these curiously rich, Republican-sponsored prophets keep promising with their constantly inaccurate prophecies. The book of Revelation will happen no matter what. Our job is to get ready and stay ready and focus our time and energy on the purposes of the church commanded in the New Testament.
The time is coming when a white horseman, a fake white knight, will ride out. And when he does, the last days of the last days will be here.