Millennial Views-Part 3

By: Dr. Renald Showers; ©2003
Dr. Showers quotes several early church fathers to show that the premillennial view was the predominant view of orthodox believers as early as the first century.

Contents

Our two previous articles noted the claim of historians to the effect that Premillennialism (initially called Chiliasm) was the first major millennial view of the Church, and that it was the predominant view of orthodox believers from the first to the third centuries. Much of the evidence which these historians use to substantiate their claim is found in the writings of early Church leaders. Some of those writings will begin to be examined in the present article.

The Millennial View of Early Church Leaders

Papias

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 Hierapolis 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, “And these things are borne witness to in the writings 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[4], “Among other things he says that a thousand years will elapse after the resurrection of the dead and there will be a corporal establishment of Christ’s Kingdom on this earth”.[5]

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.[6]

The epistle presented the septamillennial 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 6,000 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 1,000 years of rest after its 6,000 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”.[7] 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”.[8] 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.

Justin Martyr

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.[9]

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”.[10] His use of the expression right-minded Christians on all points was his way of asserting that Premillennialism was the orthodox view of 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 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”.[11]

In his statement Justin referred to John’s declarations in Revelation 20. In that passage John asserted that Christ and His saints will reign for 1,000 years. Justin’s statement indi­cates that he understood John to be referring to 1,000 literal years.

The writings of more early Church leaders will be examined in the next article.

For a comparison of Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology obtain the follow­ing book: Renald E. Showers, There Really Is A Difference! (The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. Telephone: 800-257-7843. Mailing address: P.O. Box 908, Bellmawr, NJ 08099).

NOTES

  1. Elgin Moyer and Earle E. Cairns, Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church, Chicago: Moody Press, 1982, pp. 314-315.
  2. 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, p. 563.
  3. Moyer and Cairns, Biographical Dictionary, p. 135
  4. III, 39
  5. The Apostolic Fathers in The Fathers Of The Church, edited by Ludwig Schopp, et. al., translated by Francis X. Glimm, Joseph M. F. Marique, and Gerald G. Walsh, Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1962, I, p. 378.
  6. The Epistle of Barnabas in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Buffalo: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1885, I, pp. 133, 135.
  7. The Epistle of Barnabas, chpt. 15, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, I, p. 146.
  8. Ibid..
  9. Moyer and Cairns, Biographical Dictionary, pp. 220-221.
  10. 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, p. 200.
  11. Ibid., chpt. 81, II, p. 201.

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