A Future of Hope: Jonathan Edwards and Millennial Expectations -- By: Brandon G. Withrow

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 22:1 (Spring 2001)
Article: A Future of Hope: Jonathan Edwards and Millennial Expectations
Author: Brandon G. Withrow

A Future of Hope: Jonathan Edwards
and Millennial Expectations

Brandon G. Withrow*

* Brandon G. Withrow is founder of Passion for Truth Ministries and begins doctoral studies at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in the fall of 2001.

As 1999 drew to a close, the year 2000 was shrouded in uncertainty. Many people anticipated either heaven or hell in the new millennium. There was anxiety over doomsday predictions, the widely publicized Y2K bug, and even rapture expectations. Jonathan Edwards harbored his own expectations for the year 2000. Rather than proposing a negative scenario, Edwards viewed the year 2000 as an essential turning point in the history of the world. In his eschatological position, the year 2000 would signal a time for reaping the full harvest of God’s kingdom. It would be the beginning of the glorious kingdom of Christ on earth through his church. This kingdom will last approximately 1, 000 years, after which Christ will return to bring in eternity. His postmillennial view brings an expectation of revivals which will eventually culminate in the kingdom.

In 1959 C. C. Goen wrote “Jonathan Edwards: A New Departure in Eschatology,” in which he interpreted an important passage of Edwards’s writings as promoting an imminent millennial kingdom which will begin in America before the year 2000.1 In his analysis he concluded that Edwards’s eschatology was a departure from the system of the times. The passage Goen analyzed, which has caused some confusion, is found in Some Thoughts Concerning Revival. Edwards wrote:

And ‘tis worthy to be noted that America was discovered about the time the Reformation, or but little before: which Reformation was the first thing that God did towards the glorious renovation of the world, after it had sunk into the depths of darkness and ruin under the great antichristian apostasy. So that as soon as this new world is (as it were) created, and stands forth in view, God presently goes about doing some great thing to make way for the introduction of the church’s latter-day glory, that is to have its first seat in, and is to take its rise from that new world.2

Goen’s interpretation has been challenged in recent scholarship by Gerald McDermott and John Wilson.3 McDermott concludes that Edwards was not expecting an imminent millennium.4 He demonstrates clearly that “Edwards never expected to see the dawn of the millennium himself.”

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