The Millennial View of Early Church Leaders
…numerous historians declare the Premillennialism was the first major Millennial view of the Church…
The previous article began to examine the history of the different Millennial views which have been held by the organized Church during its time in the world. That article noted that numerous historians declare that Premillennialism was the first major Millennial view of the Church and that it was the predominant view of orthodox Christians from the first to the third centuries. It concluded by asserting that much of the evidence which these historians use to substantiate their declarations is found in the writings of early Church leaders.
The present article will examine the Millennial view of prominent early Church leaders as expressed in their writings.
Papias lived from approximately 60 to 130 A.D. It is believed that he was taught directly by the Apostle John. He was a friend of Polycarp, another prominent Church leader who was a disciple of John. Papias served as Bishop of Hierapolls in Phrygia, Asia Minor. His writings have not been preserved to the present day; however, Irenaeus and Eusebius, two other Church leaders, referred to his writings.1
Irenaeus, after relating Christ’s teaching concerning the dramatic changes which the earth will experience in the future Millennium, wrote this: “And these things are borne witness to in writing by Papias, the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp, in his fourth book; …. “2
Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea and the “Father of Church history,”3 wrote the following concerning Papias in his work Ecclesiastical History III, 39); “Among other things he says that a thousand years will elapse after the resurrection of the dead and there will be a corporeal establishment of Christ’s Kingdom on this earth.”4
. . . just as God rested on the seventh day after His six days of labor, so the present earth will enjoy one thousand years of rest after its six thousand years of labor.
THE EPISTLE OF BARNABAS
Scholars have concluded that this piece of early Christian literature was written between 120 and 150 A.D. by a Christian in Alexandria, Egypt, not by the Barnabas of the New Testament. 5
This epistle presented a view which appears to have been rather popular among ancient Jews and Christians. It declared that, just as God labored for six days in creation, so the present earth will labor in its turmoil for six thousand years. Then it asserted that, just as God rested on the seventh day after His six days of labor, so the present earth will enjoy one thousand years of rest after its six thousand years of labor. This thousand years of rest will begin “When His Son, coming [again], shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the sun, and the moon, and the stars, …. In other words, the thousand years of rest will begin in conjunction with the Second Coming of Christ.
The epistle further stated that, after the earth’s seventh day (thousand years of rest), there will be an “eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world,”7′ It would appear that this “eighth day” is a reference to the future eternal state with the new eternal earth after the thousand year Millennium.
. . . Christ and His saints will reign for one thousand years.
Justin Martyr lived from approximately 100 to 165 A. D. He was well educated. He held no regular church office but served as a traveling evangelist and defender of Christianity. In his writings he argued for the superiority of Christianity to paganism and Judaism. On his second journey to Rome he was arrested, lashed and beheaded because of his testimony for Christ.8
In his writing entitled Dialogue With Trypho Justin stated, “But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.”9 His use of the expression “right-minded Christians on all points” was his way of asserting that Premillennialism was the orthodox view in his day.
Again Justin said, And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and, in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place.10
In this statement Justin referred to John’s declarations in Revelation 20. In that passage John asserted that Christ and His saints will reign for one thousand years. Justin’s statement indicates that he understood John to be referring to one thousand literal years.
Irenaeus received his early Christian training from Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna in western Asia Minor. Polycarp had been a disciple of the Apostle John. Irenaeus may have served under Polycarp for several years before being sent to Gaul (France) as a missionary. Around 178 A.D. Irenaeus became Bishop of Lyons in Gaul. There he continued to serve effectively during the last quarter of the second century.11
Irenaeus wrote the following concerning the blessings of the future Kingdom of God foretold in the Scriptures:
The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead; when also the creation, having been renovated and set free, shall fructify with an abundance of all kinds of food, from the dew of heaven, and from the fertility of the earth: as the elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord, related that they had heard from him how the Lord used to teach in regard to these times, . . . . 12
Irenaeus declared that, in conjunction with the future Kingdom and its renovation of nature, the Lord promised great fruitage of vines, abundance of grain, large productivity of fruit-bearing trees, seeds and grass “and that all animals feeding [only] on the productions of the earth, should [in those days] become peaceful and harmonious among each other, and be in perfect subjection to man.”13
According to Irenaeus, in Isaiah 11:69 Isaiah prophesied concerning this future time when all animals will be tame and vegetarian in diet as they were before the fall of man. Commenting on this prophecy, he said, “And it is right that when the creation is restored, all the animals should obey and be in subjection to man, and revert to the food originally given by God (for they had been originally subjected in obedience to Adam), that is, the productions of the earth.” 14
Irenaeus warned against any attempts to allegorize the Kingdom prophecies: “If, however, any shall endeavor to allegorize [prophecies] of this kind, they shall not be found consistent with themselves in all points and shall be confuted by the teaching of the very expressions [in question].”15
With regard to prophecies concerning the resurrection of saints, Irenaeus wrote:
For all these and other words were unquestionably spoken in reference to the resurrection of the just, which takes place after the coming of Antichrist, and the destruction of all nations under his rule; in [the times of] which [resurrection] the righteous shall reign in the earth, waxing stronger by the sight of the Lord: and through Him they shall become accustomed to partake in the glory of God the Father, and shall enjoy in the kingdom intercourse and communion with the holy angels, ….16
Along the same lines he said the following concerning John’s comments in Revelation 20: “John, therefore, did distinctly foresee the first resurrection of the just, and the inheritance in the kingdom of the earth; and what the prophets have prophesied concerning it harmonize [with his vision].” 17
These statements indicate that Irenaeus was convinced that saints will be resurrected from the dead to reign with Christ in His Kingdom on this earth. Concerning conditions on the earth during the Kingdom he said, “But in the times of the kingdom, the earth has been called again by Christ [to its pristine condition], and Jerusalem rebuilt after the pattern of the Jerusalem above,….18
Irenaeus stated that, after the times of the Kingdom, the great white throne will appear, the present heavens and earth will flee away, the unjust will be resurrected and judged, the new heaven and earth will come into existence and the new Jerusalem will descend from heaven to earth.
Tertullian lived from approximately 160 to 220 A.D. He was thoroughly trained for politics, the practice of law and public debate. After he was converted around 195 A.D. he devoted his life to the defense of Christianity against paganism, Judaism and heresy. He opposed infant baptism, promoted the Traducian theory of the origin of the human soul and developed the term “trinity” to describe the Godhead. In the latter years of his life he became associated with Montanism, a movement which some regarded to be a heretical sect.20
In a work which he wrote before his association with Montanism Tertullian stated the following: “But we do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven, only in another state of existence; inasmuch as it will be after the resurrection for a thousand years . . . . “21
Then he wrote, “After its thousand years are over, . . . there will ensue the destruction of the world and the conflagration of all things at the judgments:….”22
Lactantius lived from approximately 240 to 320 A.D. He was trained in rhetoric (the effective use of language in literature and oratory).23 By 290 A.D. he had been appointed by Emperor Diocletian to teach rhetoric at a school in Nicomedia. He became a Christian around 300 A.D., and suffered greatly under the persecution by Emperor Galerius. After Emperor Constantine granted freedom to the Church and declared himself a Christian, he appointed Lacantius to be the personal teacher of his son.24 Through his writings in defense of Christianity he became known as the Christian Cicero.25 Jerome designated him the most learned man of his time.26 Eusebius and Augustine honored him.27
Lactantius wrote, And as God labored six days in building such great works, so His religion and the truth must labor during these six thousand years, while malice prevails and dominates. And again, since He rested on the seventh day from His completed labors and blessed that day, so it is necessary that, at the end of the six thousandth year, all evil be abolished from the earth, and that justice reign for a thousand years, and that there be tranquility and rest from the labors which the world is now enduring for so long.28
Lactantius understood that the end of this present age will be characterized by a time of unprecedented tribulation:
As the end of this age is drawing near, therefore, it is necessary that the state of human affairs be changed and fall to a worse one, evil growing stronger, so that these present times of ours, in which iniquity and malice have advanced to a very high peak, can be judged, however, happy and almost golden in comparison with that irremediable evil.29
He followed this statement with an amazing description of the future tribulation period.30
Although he lived while Rome was the great world power, Lactantius was convinced from the prophetic Scriptures that Rome would be destroyed and that then the rule of the world would shift from the west to the east: “This will be the cause of the destruction and confusion, that the Roman name, by which the world is now ruled — the mind shudders to say it, but I will say it, because it is going to be — will be taken from the earth, and power will be returned to Asia, and again the Orient will dominate and the West will serve.”31
Lactantius believed that at His second coming Christ will war against and judge Antichrist and his godless forces.32
- Then “the dead will rise again,… so that they may reign with God for a thousand years after being again restored to life.”33
He said of Jesus,’ ‘When He shall have destroyed injustice and made the great judgment and restored to life those who were just from the beginning, He will stay among men for a thousand years and will rule them with just dominion.”34
Lactantius described conditions of the future Kingdom:
Then, those who will be living in bodies will not die, but will generate an infinite multitude during those same thousand years, …. Those who will be raised from the dead will be in charge of the living as judges.35
At this same time, also, the prince of demons who is the contriver of all evils will be bound in chains, and he will be in custody for the thousand years of the heavenly power whereby justice will reign on earth, lest any evil be exerted against the people of God . . . the holy city will be set up in the center of the earth in which the Founder Himself may abide with the just who are its rulers.36
Lactantius claimed that the earth will be transformed; the sun will be more effective; fertility will be great; crops will be abundant, and animals will be tame. 37 In light of these changes he said;
Men will enjoy, therefore, the most tranquil and most abundant life, and they will reign together with God. Kings of the nations will come from the ends of the earth with gifts and presents to adore and honor the great King, whose name will be famous and venerable to all peoples which will be under heaven and to the kings who will rule on the earth.38
Lactantius asserted that at the end of the thousand years Satan will be set loose to lead a final revolt God will crush the revolt and judge Satan forever. The unjust will be resurrected to everlasting sufferings. Heaven and earth will change drastically.39
This examination of early Church leaders indicates that they were, indeed, Premillennial by conviction.
- Elgin Moyer and Earle E. Cairns, Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1982), pp. 314-15.
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V chpt. 33, section 4 in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Buffalo: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1885), I, 563.
- Moyer and Cairns, Biographical Dictionary, p, 135.
- The Apostolic Father in The Fathers Of The Church, edited by Ludwig Schopp, et. al., translated by Francis X, Glimm, Joseph M. F. Marique and Geraid G. Walsh (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 1962), I, 378.
- The Epistle of Barnabas in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Buffalo; The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1885), 1,133, 135.
- The Epistle of Barnabas, chpt. 15, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, I,146.
- Moyer and Cairns, Biographical Dictionary, pp. 220-21.
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, chpt. 80, in The Ante-Nicene Christian Library, edited by Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1867), II, 200.
- Ibid., chpt. 81, II, 201.
- Moyer and Cairns, Biographical Dictionary, p. 204.
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, chpt. 33,section 3, I, 562-63.
- Ibid.. p. 563.
- Ibid., section 4,1, 563.
- Ibid, chpt. 35, section 1, I, 565.
- Ibid., p. 565.
- Ibid., chpt. 36, section 3, I, 567.
- Ibid., chpt. 35, section 2, I, 565.
- Ibid., p. 566.
- Moyer and Cairns, Biographical Dictionary, p. 396.
- Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book III, chpt. 25 in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Buffalo: The Christian Literature Pubiishing Company,1885), III, 342.
- Ibid., p. 343.
- Moyer and Cairns, Biographical Dictionary, p. 233.
- The Fathers Of The Church, edited by Roy Joseph Deferrari, et. al., translated by Mary Francis McDonald (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 1964), 49, xxi-xiii.
- Ibid, xvi.
- Moyer and Cairnes, Biographical Dictionary, p. 233.
- The Fathers Of The Church, 49, xvii.
- Lactantius, The Divine Institutes. Book VII, chpt. 14 in The Fathers Of The Church, edited by Roy Joseph Deferrari, efc. al., translated by Mary Francis McDonald (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 1964), 49, 510.
- Ibid., chpt. 15, 49, 512.
- Ibid., p. 513.
- Ibid., chpt. 19, 49, 521.
- Ibid., chpt. 22, 49, 527.
- Ibid., chpt. 24, 49, 530.
- Ibid., , p. 531.
- Ibid., p. 533.
- Ibid., chpt. 26, 49, 535-36.