I. Basic Definitions and Differentiations in Millennialism
The importance of these questions is apparent from the molding influence that varying millennial views have exerted on the Christian faith over the centuries. In order to understand the really fundamental differences, a definition of the terms used to describe the major schools of millennialismpremillennial, postmillennial, and amillennialis first essential.
1. Millenium.The Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary, second edition (1949), defines the word "millennium":
1. A thousand years. . . . 2. Specif., the thousand years mentioned in Revelation xx, during which holiness is to be triumphant. Some believe that during this period Christ will reign on earth.
This definition is more nearly accurate than that in The New Schaff-Herzog, which applies the word to a reign
on earth before the end of the world, disregarding the fact that these specifications are interpretation rather than definition.
2. Chiliasm.As generally used chiliasm is the teaching that the saints will reign with Christ on earth during the millennial thousand years. The identification of the one thousand years of Revelation 20 with various Old Testament prophecies of a literal kingdom on earth (not an express stipulation of Scripture) has periodically brought its advocates into disrepute because of the materialistic expectations and excesses sometimes accompanying this concept.
3. Premillennialism.Premillennialism posits the second coming of Christ and the first resurrection as
preceding the thousand years, with the second resurrection to follow the millennium. (It also commonly adds a chiliastic corollary, that when Christ comes He will set up a kingdom
on earth, in which the saints will reign with Christ over the nations.) The millennial reign is thus introduced by supernatural and catastrophic events.
4. Postmillennialism.Postmlllennlallsm sees the "thousand years" as possibly a literal period, but more probably an indefinite period of time, preceding the second advent. The "first resurrection" is therefore a revival of the spirit, doctrine, principles, and character of the Christian martyrs and departed saints. And after the evil of the world has been largely overthrown, paradisiac blessedness will be ushered in by Christ's coming and the general resurrection. Thus the millennium is introduced without direct divine intervention.
5. Amillennialism.Amillennialists assert that Revelation 20 is simply teaching spiritual truths in symbolic language. This concept eliminates an actual millennial reign, or regards it as the entire Christian
Era. The two resurrections are fused into one, and the different aspects of the judgment become one great assizeChrist simply comes at the end of the age to judge the world. Thus amillennialism seeks to avoid the difficulties believed to beset both premillennialism and postmillennialism.
With the major types of millennialism now before us, we will sketch in bold outline the course of millennialism across the centuries, in order to have the necessary historical setting for our own views, which follow in Question 39.
II. Early-Church Premillennialism
Early-Church Premillennialism.Premillennialism was strong in the early Christian church. The believers looked for a breakup of the Roman Empire and the coming of a malign antichrist who would persecute the saints for three years and a half, followed by the personal advent of Christ. They expected a literal first resurrection at the advent, and the setting up of a thousand-year kingdom of the saints reigning with Christ. Then at the end of the millennium, the second resurrection, the final judgment, and the retribution of the wicked would take place, they believed, followed by the eternal reward of the righteous in the new heavens and new earth. This belief they based on the New Testament prophecies, together with the historical prophecies of Daniel, in which they found themselves under the fourth kingdom. They expected the further unfolding of these events in history soon after their day, for they looked for the second advent shortly. (Early-century churchmen had,
of course, no idea of such a long stretch of time between the first and second advents as has now already ensued. Some looked to A.D. 500 for the end of the age.) Among the premillennialist writers were pseudo-Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Montanus, Tertullian, Nepos, Commodianus, Hippolytus, Methodius, Victorinus, Lactantius, and Apollinaris.*
The millennial kingdom was described variously, though it was generally understood to be on earth, with the saints reigning over the nations in the flesh. Some had literal Jerusalem, rebuilt, as the capital; Tertullian's view had the New Jerusalem descending from heaven. Some emphasized the spiritual joys, others the material prosperity, fertility, and plenty. Some had a Roman emperor as antichrist preceding the millennium, others a Jew (during a delayed seventieth week, according to Hippolytus, though this was not the majority view). Methodius saw the millennium as a day of judgment; Victorinus, as a Sabbath rest (based on the seven-thousand-year theory). By the time of Lactantius the full-fledged millennial doctrine was filled with fantastic elements from sources extraneous to the Biblical millennium, on the glories of the renovated earth, the multiplied offspring of the righteous in the flesh, and the enslavement of the survivors of the unregenerate nations. The increasing "carnality" of these ideas caused a revulsion of feeling against chiliasm, especially as allegorizing and philosophical concepts molded the church. Jerome protested that the kingdom of the saints was heavenly, not earthly, and Augustine, who would
*Sources for this section are found in D. H. Kromminga, The Millennium in the
Church, and L. E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vols. f to 4.
not have objected to a millennial kingdom in which the joys were spiritual rather than material, abandoned premillennialism and led the church into a new theory.
It is to be noted that although in this period, and later, there can be found hints of the belief that the Jews would finally be converted before the advent, the early church firmly believed that the kingdom prophecies were for the church as the true Israel. That view is very different from the idea of a Jewish kingdom in the millennium, as held by many modern premillennialists who revert to the early chiliastic view of the earthly millennial kingdom.
III. The Augustinian Postmillennialism
Premillennialism Abandoned in the Time of Augustine.Long before Augustine, Origen of Alexandria had opposed the increasingly materialistic chiliasm of many, and millennialism itself. And by spiritualization and allegorization he explained away the basis of the eschatological hopea literal resurrection, a literal second advent, and literal prophecies. Soon afterward came the concept that God's everlasting kingdom is the dominant church established on earth. This was introduced by Eusebius, following Constantine's "conversion" to Christianity and the cessation of pagan persecution. Augustine, likewise challenging the excesses of chiliastic premillennialism, now introduced a
spiritualization of the millennium.* The first resurrection was spiritual. The thousand years was the period between
*Augustine based his postulate on the "recapitulation" theory, derived from Trichinous-that the Apocalypse goes back and repeats covering the Christian Era again and again under the symbols of the seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, the beasts, and lastly, the millennium.
the first and second advents, with the second resurrectionthe literal resurrection of the bodyat its close.* (Present-day Protestant amillennialism takes much the same position on the two resurrections.)
Augustine's "thousand years" was a figurative numeralan expression of the whole period between Christ's ministry and the end of the world. Augustine also identified the thousand years of Revelation 20 with the sixth millennium of the world's history, and equated the seventh or Sabbath period with eternity.
The devil's "binding" was his expulsion from the hearts of the believers, the Catholic Church was the "kingdom of Christ," and the church rulers were already sitting in judgment. To Augustine the triumph of Christianity seemed sure. The "beast" was the ungodly world, and "Gog and Magog" the devil's nations. The "camp of the saints" is the church, and "devouring fire" their burning zeal, while the "New Jerusalem" is the church's present glory. Thus it was that Augustine's millennial kingdom was accepted as a
then-present reality on earth. It was a basically new philosophy of history.
This concept became dominant by the fifth century, and held general sway for over a thousand years as the controlling philosophy of Roman Catholic Christendom. Thus early premillennialism practically disappeared under the advancing triumph-of-the-church concept.
*The new Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, 1953, p. 1207, counsels its readers to "regard the chaining of Satan and the reign of the Saints as the whole period subsequent to the Incarnation."
IV. Medieval Pure-Church Postmillennialism
Augustinianism prevailed throughout the Middle Ages, along with increasing dominance of the church in Western Europe. But with the passing of A.D. 1000 and the approach of the year 1260, a new concept arose. The Augustinian theory looked for a triumphant church; medieval Joachim and the Joachimite Spirituals came to look for a pure church.
Very apparent ecclesiastical departures on the part of the Papacy made it no longer possible to equate the visible church with the kingdom of God on earth. So the medieval pure-church ideal took the form of a new postmillennialism, in which the golden age (not, however, of a thousand years) was placed in the future, preceding the second advent. Sharp criticism from various loyal sons and daughters of the church began to call for reform and to urge a spiritual revival. Joachim of Floris (1190) stressed a new millennial idealthat of a pure
church. This was based on a trinitarian-dispensational conceptthe age of the Father, the age of the Son, and the age of the Spirit. (This was not, however, at all akin to modern dispensationalism.) He held that the promised Age of the Spirit would begin before A.D. 1260, on the year-day principle. A future age marked by the dominance of the Spirit was increasingly stressed by the Franciscan Spirituals, who held that a
purification of the church was so greatly needed that nothing but the coming of the Holy Spirit in mighty power could effect it. A future as well as a past binding of Satan was taught by two Franciscan Spirituals, Pierre Jean d'Olivi (died 1298), who
castigated the hierarchical church as the apocalyptic "Babylon," and Ubertino of Casale (c. 1312), who identified a pope with the apocalyptic "beast." Arnold of Villanova (died c. 1313) expected an internal reform of the church to be accomplished by a pope. And Milicz of Kremsier (died 1374) held that the church must be cleansed of heretics before the consummation. So the pure-church ideal was widely heralded, and the overthrow of antichrist connected with a future binding of Satan.
In the medieval agitation for reform in the church there came a rising chorus of voices naming the Papacy as the Antichrist. Later the Reformed groups, who identified Antichrist with the apostate papal church, similarly sounded the call to come out of polluted Babylon. Thus in Protestantism the pure-church concept was also stressed. Some, however, sought to blend the medieval pure-church ideal with the earlier triumphant-church-kingdom concept, to be brought about through political and social revolution, as will be noted in the next section.
V. Premillennialism Revived in Post-Reformation Times
The great Reformers, occupied with developing such doctrines as justification by faith, were not directly concerned with the millennium. They continued the Augustinian view of the millennial kingdom as the church, though there was a strong emphasis on the Antichrist as the Papacy. As the Reformation became a movement of state churches, the pure-church millennialists became fringe groups, such as the Anabaptists. Indeed, the main Protestant churches tended to
disparage millennialism because of the excesses of some chiliasts, such as the Munsteries on the Continent and, later, the Fifth Monarchy men in England, and because of the political and revolutionary elements in their schemes for introducing the kingdom of God on earth. But the more stable elements of these fringe groups left a strong impress on the later Baptists and Congregationalists. It was from such a source that the early American churches became imbued with the ideal of the pure church establishing the kingdom of God before the coming of Christ.
It was after the Reformation period that Joseph Mede combated the Augustinian view with his scheme of prophetic interpretation that again put the millennium in the future, after the second advent, with a literal first and a second resurrection. Thenceforth, a historicist premillennialism flourished in Protestantism with such vigor that it was never completely displaced, even through the period of ascendancy of Whitbyan postmillennialism.
VI. Whitby's Eighteenth-Century Postmillennialism
The postmillennialism first introduced by Daniel Whitby in 1703* holds that the second advent will come only
after a thousand yearsliteral or otherwiseof world betterment, with increasing peace,
*Whitby denied the common concepts of the first and second literal resurrections, holding that the first "resurrection" is simply the glorious renewal of the church. The second advent, he affirmed, is simply a spiritual "effusion." To Whitby the saints on earth are separated from Christ during the millennium, as Christ and the dead of ages past are all in heaven. Whitby ends the period with the Lord's descent, accompanied by the spirits of just men made perfect. This postmillennial advent brings the day of judgment, with the destruction of remaining sinners and eternal salvation for the saints.
righteousness, and world conversion. Through the elimination of war and evil, the world as well as the church will enter upon its golden age. Postmillennialism maintains that the millennium will be brought about without direct divine intervention, without any catastrophic eventsimply by the operation of the Holy Spirit through the gospel and the regular agencies of grace. A truly Christian government will be established over the world, with Satan ultimately vanquished. During this time the Jews will be converted, but not necessarily with national restoration in Palestine.
The effect of this new hypothesis upon Protestantism was profound. As men began to contemplate a great vista of peace and safety, they ceased to be eager for the second advent, and came to substitute the expectancy of death for Christ's return. And this captivating post millennial theory swept like a tidal wave over European Protestantism. Introduced into America by Jonathan Edwards and Samuel Hopkins, it became the dominant view by 1800.
Postmillennialists hold that the "binding" and "loosing" of Satan are figurativethe limiting of Satan's power and a possible flare-up of that power just before Christ appears. But after the vials of God's wrath are poured out, the remaining wicked are destroyed. Then the eternal kingdom will be established. The fact that the gospel has already been widely preached and accepted, lends plausibility to the view that the same process will continue in augmented form until the world is evangelized and Christianized.
While Campegius Vitringa believed the second resurrection to be that of the literal dead, Whitby
explained it as the uprising of antichristian principles in the confederacy of "Gog and Magog." According to both Whitby and Vitringa, the "New Jerusalem" is the blessedness of the earthly church during the millennium. On the contrary, Brown and Faber explain it as the company of the saints after the millennium.
"Optimistic" postmillennialism, which later came to be tied in with the theory of evolution and human progress, has long chided premillennialism over its "pessimism." Prior to World War I, postmillennialists declared that humanity had made too much progress ever to have another war. But even as the champions of such a roseate philosophy were denying the plain declarations of the Word, the most terrible catastrophes of all time struck. Events of recent decades, from World War I onwardincluding the impotent League of Nations, the second world war, and its sequelhave revealed the fallacy of such reasoning, and have shattered such claims. Whitbyan postmillennialism is bankrupt today.
VII. Resurgent Premillennialism in Nineteenth Century
1. Premillennialism Revived.In the early nineteenth century came a resurgence of premillennialism in the far-flung Old World Advent awakening and the New World Advent movement. It has been said that three hundred Anglican and seven hundred nonconformist clergymen in Britainwith many others on the Continent, North Africa, and Indiastressed the approaching destruction of the Papacy and the Turk, the literal first resurrection and translation of the saints attending the second advent, marking the beginning of the millennium, with the second resurrection at its
close. Some held that the judgment precedes the advent, followed by the renovation of the earth at the millennium's close. Another angle came sharply to the forefrontthe anticipated rule to be exercised by the Jews on earth while the church is in heaven, or at least in a glorified state.
These premillennialists were called literalists in contrast with the postmillennialist spiritualizers. Historicists at first, these premillennialists held that, preceding the second advent, antichrist would gather his followers for a last terrific assault upon God's people, and institute a dreadful tribulation, through which the church must pass. Then, at the close of the tribulation, Christ would appear, the dead in Christ would rise first, in a literal resurrection, with the living saints translated and "caught up" to meet the Lord in the air. Finally, at the close of the millennium, Satan would be loosed and gather the nations to war against the saints. But they would all be overwhelmed by fire from heaven.
2. Secret Rapture Introduced in BritainRadical innovations were soon introduced, as Edward Irving and others espoused futurism. Irving's Catholic Apostolic Church, established in 1832 (claiming the revival of the apostolate, of prophecy, and of speaking with tongues), introduced the concept of a "secret rapture,"* and a new sacramentthe "sealing." Babylon they
*One of the Plymouth Brethren, Dr. S. P. Tregelles (The Hope of Christ's Second
Coming, 1864, p. 34-37), a contemporary, says of the origin of this "theory of a secret coming of Christ":
"I am not aware that there was any definite teaching that there should be a Secret Rapture of the Church at a secret coming until this was given forth as an 'utterance in Mr. Irving's church from what was then received as being the voice of the Spirit. But whether anyone ever asserted such a thing or not it was from that supposed revelation that the modern doctrine and the modern phraseology respecting it arose. It came, not from Holy Scripture, but from that which falsely pretended to be the Spirit of God."
held was the corrupt church, now ripe for judgment. The great tribulation was to come between the resurrection of the righteous and the "rapture" of the saints, and the overthrow of Satanthis to be followed by the millennial reign of Christ and His saints on earth.
At the same time, the Plymouth Brethren, following J. N. Darby, similarly taught a pretribulation rapture as the initial coming of Christ for His saints. They put the antichrist and his three-and-a-half-year persecution after the coming of Christ for the first resurrection, in the delayed seventieth week, at the end of which would be a further visible coming, or "revelation," of Christ
with His saints, for the judgment of the living nations. While the Irvingites believed a "sealing" would provide escape from the great tribulation, Darby held that no Christian would pass through it. Darby also is credited with the introduction of dispensationalism, although it was not entirely new with him. The teaching of these two groupsthe Irvingites and the followers of Darby, particularly the latterhas profoundly influenced present-day fundamentalist
VIII. American Premillennialism in the Nineteenth Century
In America the new premillennialism vigorously opposed the strongly entrenched postmillennialism that was flourishing in the New World atmosphere of reform, utopianism, and general rosy optimism for the perfectibility of mankind.*
*Wholly apart from the great Second Advent Movement of Miller and his associates, and largely prior thereto, there were a number of small, eccentric, chiliastic or utopian organizations in North America that practiced communal living. Some introduced strange sectarian, political, theosophical, or dispensational chiliasmbut held the reign of the saints to be with Christ on earth during the thousand years. These, in varying degrees, combined their eccentricities with premillennialism or postmillennialism, but stressed, along with their oddities, the familiar ideals of the pure church and the chiliastic earthly reign of the saints with Christ.
1. New World Advent Movement Premillennial.The widespread New World Advent movement in the fourth and fifth decades of the nineteenth century, counterpart of the Old World awakening, was led by a thousand premillennialist heralds. It was an interdenominational movement, surpassing the Old World emphasis in extent, intensity, and clarity. This included the Millerite movement, probably 100,000 strong. All, including literalists, were ardent premillennialists holding that the millennial period would be introduced by the second personal advent and bounded by the two literal resurrections. Some taught the restoration of the Jews and other views derived from the writings of the British literalists; at least one held a rapture theory, though the separated seventieth week was a later importation. They were historicists, with a papal (or Mohammedan) Antichrist. Futurism developed later among American premillennialists. The literalists were regarded by the Millerites as brethren and allies against postmillennialism in proclaiming "the Advent near," in spite of their differences on the nature of the millennium.
The literalists disagreed with the postmillennialists on the means of setting up the millennial kingdom, and to a considerable degree on the nature of the kingdom. However, they agreed with them in separating the millennium from the eternal state; they had the unregenerate nations still on earth, with birth and death, sin
and repentance, still operating. There was a confusion of views on the relationship of the glorified saints to the unregenerate nations, and the part played by the Jews, and also on the prophetic fulfillments leading to the millennium, which was variously expected as the restoration of the Jews, the cleansing of the church, the fall of the Papacy, Mohammedanism, or the Turks, or some other event.
2. The Millerites Introduce New Millennial Concept.Through this tangle of conflicting millennial expectations William Miller and his associates cut a clean swath in the direction of a new and different concept. "No temporal millennium," they said. By that they meant that the millennial reign was not in "time," with death, decay, and sin still present, but was the first portion of the eternal state. They held that when Christ comes again the day of human probation is ended, that all the sinners are slain by the overpowering brightness of the second advent, and all the redeemed are resurrected and/or transformed for eternity. They taught that the earth is renewed by fire, and that on it begins the kingdom of eternitywhich is merely punctuated at the end of a thousand years by the final disposal of "the rest of the dead." That is, the sinners will be resurrected and, led by the released Satan, will attempt to take the Holy City, which has come down out of heaven to the earth; and then comes the final judgment and the execution of the sentence on the wicked.
Thus the Millerites denied, on the one hand, the postmillennialist spiritualization of the millennium into a human utopia, and on the other hand, the premillennialist literalism that required detailed
fulfillments, after the second advent, of the Old Testament prophecies of the earthly rule of Israel over carnal nations.
3. A Nontemporal, Non-Jewish Millennium Distinguishes Millerism.The Millerite view that during the millennium only the immortalized saints are livingincluding redeemed Jews and Gentiles, without distinctioneliminated at one stroke both the temporal and the Jewish aspect of the millennial reign. This, not date setting, was the basic difference that set the Millerites apart from their contemporaries, both premillennialist and postmillennialist.
There were opponents of Miller in both camps who set approximately the same time as he for either the beginning of the millennium or the second advent or both, but who attacked the Millerite view that the millennium was to be the beginning of the eternal state and not a golden age of the church or a kingdom of the Jews (for example, George Bush, postmillennialist, and Richard Shimeall, premillennialist). Unfortunately only the
disappointment of the Millerites is remembered today, because their hopes were more specific, more spectacular, and more widely publicized. It should be remembered that the others were equally mistaken, and
their dates also passed by without the glorious events they expected.
IX. Later Development of Premillennialism
In the latter half of the century premillennialism and postmillennialism tended to follow a new line of cleavage. Postmillennialism, with its program of progressive righteousness, tended to ally itself with the
humanistic and evolutionary view of human progress, and to merge into the social gospel and modernism. At the same time premillennialism tended to become equated with fundamentalism. And premillennialism flowed in two streams rising from the two views exemplified by the Millerites and the literalists.
1. Adventist Views Derived from Millerites.Following the breakup of the Millerite movement came the formation of Adventist denominations. Of these the Seventh-day Adventists became the leading group, continuing and developing further the Millerite type of premillennialism, with a nontemporal, non-Jewish millennium. (The Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the millennium appears in the answer to Question 39).
2. Literalism Becomes Futuristic, Dispensationalist.Most premillennialists outside the Adventist churches eventually abandoned the historicist for the futurist position. Rising among the literalists and developing through Plymouth Brethrenism, there gradually grew up a full-fledged system of futurist-pretribulationist-dispensationalist teaching propagated by professional evangelists, interdenominational prophetic conferences, and Bible schools. This system has largely pre-empted the term "premillennialism," though not all premillennialists hold it, and there is sharp divergence over various details.
Present-day pretribulationists, now constituting an influential group, hold that there are two stages to the second coming, and that when Christ comes for His own, the watching saints are first secretly caught away, and so avoid the tribulation. Meanwhile the Jews,
having returned to Jerusalem, restore their system of sacrifices centered in a rebuilt temple. The malign Antichrist then sets up his kingdom, and the three-and-one-half-year tribulation begins. This all comes within a fateful seven-year periodthe seventieth week of Daniel 9. Then comes the second aspect of the second comingthe revelation, or appearing, of Christ, with His saints, to establish the millennial kingdom, in which Christ and the saints reign. The surviving nations are ruled by the now converted Jews in the flesh on a partly renovated earth, on which the law is again in effect after being in abeyance throughout the church age. The inwardly rebellious nations, ruled with "a rod of iron" during the thousand years, revolt in the end, and the judgment ensues. Then the millennial kingdom continues in the eternal state.
Along with this came the development of an elaborate division of the Bible into dispensational compartments (with antinomian tendencies), in a doctrine of mutual exclusiveness between law and grace. (For the vast difference between modern futurist premillennialism and the historic premillennialism of the early church, see pp. 302-308).
This form of premillennialism has been opposed in recent years by the view called amillennialismin some ways a revival of the Augustinian view.
X. Amillennialism Revives Augustinian Concept
1. A Figurative Millennium.To amillennialists there is no actual, literal thousand years as a special closing period of human history, distinct from the present era.
The millennium is simply the present period
in which we are now living, extending from the first to the second advent of Christ. As in the Augustinian theory of the Catholics, the "first resurrection" is spiritualfrom death in sin to spiritual life in Christ. The general resurrection of all the dead occurs at the second advent, which will usher in the eternal world. Satan was "bound" by the first advent of our Lord, and expelled from the individual hearts of His followers. Thus their "reign" with Him begins.
This "reign" of the saints embraces both the spiritual reign of the spirits in heaven, and the reign of the saints with Christ on earth before the final judgment. The "thousand" they interpret as the symbolic number of perfectionthe complete period between the two comings of Christ. The concept of Satan's being now bound in any world sense, as some claim, is absurd, they say, as world conditions testify. And the "resurrection" will go wherever the gospel is preached, continuing until the second coming of Christ at the end of time, to destroy antichrist, raise the dead, and establish the eternal kingdom.
2. Amillennialism and Premillennialism Compared..Like the premillennialist, the amillennialist believes there will be an admixture of good and evil up to the time of the second advent, and he does not believe the world will get better and better, or that all society will be Christianized. Rather, when the hosts of Satan are on the point of complete victory, Christ appears in glory, and resurrected dead and the transfigured living saints are caught up to be with their Saviour.
But amillennialists reject a literal interpretation that calls for a re-establishment of the Jews as God's people and a restoration of the Temple ritual. Neither do they look for an actual battle of Gog and Magog at the close of the millennium. In other words, the prophecies merely predict the peace that will come to earth as the result of Christ's first advent as Saviour, and in a figurative way portray the blessings and glories of the world to come, the exalted glory of the redeemed, and the completeness of Satan's overthrow, which ends in total triumph for Christ. That is amillennialism, which has wide acceptance today. In varying forms, it has its adherents among Roman Catholics, Protestant liberals, and even within the ranks of conservative Reformed theology. (See John F. Walvoord, "Amillennial Eschatology,"
Bibliotheca Sacra, January-March, 1951.)
Thus the pendulum, as concerns the millennial reign, has swung back and forth, producing a confusing and conflicting picture. But what constitutes an inseparable factor in the complicated setting that lies back of the differing positions is the chiliastic concept of millennialismthat of a literal reign on earth and in time, between the present age and the eternal state. This point needs discussion.
XI. The Trail of Materialistic Chiliasm Across the Centuries
As noted, a prominent feature of early church pre-millennialism was the chiliastic
conceptthat the reign of the saints would be exercised on earth. But for this the early church went outside Revelation 20the only Biblical reference to the thousand yearswhich does not describe or locate the reign. The idea of a material,
earthly kingdom was derived partly from the use of the old Testament prophecies of the Messianic kingdom, which the church applied to itself. Further, the Jewish Christians were steeped in the Jewish apocalyptic writings, which embodied their nationalistic aspirations for a glorious earthly kingdom, and which contain fantastic accounts of the fertility, plenty, and material prosperity of that period. At the same time the Gentile converts from the Roman world of the first century had a background of then-current pagan dreams of a coming golden age. Even the Jewish apocalyptic notion of thousand-year periods corresponding to the days of creation week was matched by pagan traditions (Etruscan and Persian) of a six-thousand-year duration of the race.
Since the early church regarded itself as the true Israel of the promises, it applied the kingdom prophecies to the saints, not to the Jews, though it saw no hope of an actual church kingdom in the then-present Roman age. Considering the fact that the church was tinged with current philosophical concepts, such as that of the inherent evil of matter, it could not allow a material kingdom in the new heavens and new earth of the eternal state. Hence it naturally placed this Jewish-pagan-Christian golden age during the millennium, after the advent, but before eternity. The ideas were superimposed upon the scriptural doctrine of the millennium, and the prophecies of the new earth were put on a definitely materialistic and temporal basis. The persecuted Christians came to aspire to an earthly rule of a triumphant church. But the extraneous teaching of gross
materialismthe claims of fantastic fertility and even carnality that were predicted of the reign of the
saints on earthbecame so repugnant to many that chiliasm was regarded as a heresy, and for a brief period the Apocalypse was in some quarters regarded as not apostolic, and therefore was even omitted from the Sacred Canon.*
So it was, that because of chiliastic views of the millennium, the very doctrine of millennialism was discredited. Similarly, abandonment of premillennialism was hastened by the favorable status the church attained in the fourth century under Constantine. As their influence steadily increased, the Christians began to apply the predictions of the future Messianic kingdom to the then-present Christian church. Eventually the exchange of the
future dominion of the saints in the Holy City for the present dominion of the church on earth, became a basis for the totalitarian rule of medieval Catholicism, with its persecutions.
The Reformation had to resist a different but equally fallacious chiliasmnot only an earthly but a political and revolutionary kingdom of the saints, set up by fire and sword before the advent and the
resurrectionówitness the excesses of Thomas Muntzer and some of the Anabaptists, the prophets of Zwickau and the French prophets of the Cervennes and, later, the Fifth Monarchy men in England.
*According to Bishop B. F. Westcott (A General Survey of the History of Canon of the New Testament, 1875, ch. 20), by the close of the second century the Apocalypse was acknowledged as apostolic and authoritative throughout the church, except in the Syriac version. But after almost universal acceptance among the Fathers, it fell temporarily into discredit because of opposition to chiliastic millennialism by Dionysius of Alexandria (died 265). Cyril of Jerusalem (died 386) and Gregory of Nazianzus (died 389) excluded the Apocalypse from their catalogs of the New Testament books,. and Chrysostom (died 407) nowhere quoted it. It was omitted from the canon list by the fourth-century Council of Laodicea. But in 367 Athanasius included it in his enumeration, and the Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397) declared it canonical. Soon all doubts disappeared. (See The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 1, pp. 103-107.)
The earthliness of the millennial reign was given a new turn in Whitby's postmillennialism, with its churchly golden age. The early American churches were strongly chiliastic, inheriting the pure-church ideal from the Anabaptists, who passed it on to the Baptists and Congregationalists. Their chiliasm raised exuberant hopes of a postmillennialist program of social regeneration to be realized in the churches. Thence also came numerous nineteenth-century attempts to bring the kingdom of God on earth, not only through revivalist-pietist church activity and varying reforms of every shade but also through sociopolitical channels and communal utopias. In the early-nineteenth-century expectation of the inauguration of the millennium such schemes multiplied rapidly. Also in the nineteenth century a "Judaistic" chiliasm stemming from the extreme literalism of the British Advent awakening emphasized not only the conversion of the Jews but also a restoration of the Jewish nation, a rebuilding of the Jewish temple, and re-establishment of the sacrificial system, as well as a Jewish political domination, and a coercive "iron-rod" rule of Christ over the rebellious nations.
Nor is the doctrine of chiliasm merely an academic question of what is to happen in the future, with no practical significance to us today. As a matter of fact, the political implications of this future-Jewish-kingdom concept are obvious, and its effects have been seen in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. There is evident at the present time an unfortunate confusion between recognizing the historical fulfillment of prophecy and attempting to use prophetic interpretation as an instrument for influencing political and
interna tional policy.
Stemming also from this futurist view that the Jews are to be God's elect, to whom all the kingdom prophecies must yet be literally fulfilled, is an unprecedented interpretive system with dangerous tendencies. It is embodied in a dispensationalist emphasis that rebuilds the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile that Jesus obliterated, that separates law from grace in thoroughly antinomian fashion, and that deflects from the Christian church the promises and the covenants and large portions of the Bible, especially the Gospels, giving to the Jew, rather than to the Christian, not only the Decalogue, but also the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer. Fortunately, although most premillennialists in the various churches today belong to this general school of thought, not all of them subscribe to all these views or carry them to their logical conclusions. It is unfortunate that some writers who have abandoned this futurist premillennialism have so often merely exchanged their chiliasm for amillennialism.
This survey calls attention to the fact that through the centuries the chiliastic expectation of an earthly millennial kingdom in the flesh, with coercive rule over unregenerate men, has been the root of doctrinal distortion, fanatical views, excess, totalitarianism, persecution, and even political revolution. None of these is inherent in premillennialism as based on the Scriptures, unmixed with Jewish traditions and pagan concepts, as will be shown in the answer to Question 39.