The Millennium In The Early Church
taken from "The Last Times And The Great Consummation"
Let us, then, proceed with our task and endeavour to
ascertain the views and teachings of the early Christians with regard to the
doctrine of the kingdom of God and the millennial reign of Christ.
The first witness I produce is Barnabas, a Levite of the country of Cyprus, and one of those who sold their possessions and laid the money at the apostles feet. Luke says that, "he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost." He was the companion of and fellow-preacher with the Apostle Paul. He has left an epistle that learned men think was written before the Epistle of Jude or the writings of John. Some have considered it apocryphal, but many eminent scholars and others not incompetent to judge in the case esteem it the genuine production of Barnabas the Levite, so honourably mentioned in the Scriptures. At all events, it belongs to early Christian antiquity and is a competent witness as to what were the views then entertained.
In the 13th chapter of this epistle we find: "God made in six days the works of His hands, and He finished them the seventh day, and He rested the seventh day and sanctified it. Consider, my children, what that signifies: He finished them in six days. The meaning of it is this: that in 6,000 years the Lord will bring all things to an end. For with Him one day is a thousand years, as He himself testifies. Therefore, children, in six days - that is, in 6,000 years - shall all things be accomplished.
"And what is that he says, "And He rested the seventh day"? He means this: that when His Son shall come and abolish the season of the wicked one, and judge the ungodly, and shall change the sun, moon and stars, THEN He shall gloriously rest in that seventh day. ... Behold, He will then truly sanctify it with blessed rest, when we (having received THE RIGHTEOUS PROMISE, when iniquity shall be no more, ALL THINGS BEING RENEWED BY THE LORD) shall be able to sanctify it, being ourselves first made holy."
In these words it is plainly taught:
1. That Christ is to come again personally to our world at the end of the 6,000 years.
2. That the wicked one and his domination will remain in existence until Christ comes.
3. That the seventh thousand years of the world is to be a millennium of holy rest, in which the saints are to inherit their promises and iniquity be done away; and -
4. That this millennium of glory is to be introduced by the personal coming of the Messiah to abolish the empire of the wicked one, judge the ungodly, change the present constitution of things and renew the world.
Such, then, is the testimony of one said to have been the companion and fellow of the Apostle Paul.
A second witness is Clement, whom Paul mentions among his "fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life." In such high repute were his writings held that they are found included in one of the oldest collections of New Testament writings as a part of the sacred canon. He does not refer to our subject as directly as Barnabas, but there can be no doubt as to his having entertained the same views. He was evidently a millennarian; that is, one who believes in the personal reign of Christ with His saints on earth.
He connected "the great and glorious promises" made to the people of God with the promise that "the whole earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord." He taught that "we shall come to judgment in the flesh, and so also in the flesh receive the reward." He also identified the coming of the kingdom of God with "the day of Gods appearing" and exhorted his readers hourly to expect, wait, and pray for it, that they might "enter into His kingdom and receive the promises." And if there is any weight to be attached to his apprehensions of divine truth, it goes decidedly in favour of our doctrines.
The next witness is Papias, the disciple of the Apostle John and a companion of Polycarp. Eusebius speaks unfavourably of his judgment in one place, but elsewhere pronounces him "eloquent and learned in the Scriptures." He himself says that he had most assiduously collected all that could be gathered of the teachings and sayings of Christ and the apostles. He certainly had every opportunity of knowing the truth. And he has recorded it as his belief, and as contained in what he had collected from the fountains of Christian doctrine, that "there will be a certain millennium AFTER THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD, when Christ will reign BODILY (personally) upon this very earth."
We come now to Justin the martyr, who was born ten years before the death of the Apostle John. Mosheim calls him "a man of eminent piety and learning who from a pagan philosopher became a Christian martyr."
In his Dialogue with Trypho, he says, "I, AND AS MANY AS ARE ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS, do acknowledge that there shall be a resurrection of the body, and a residence of a thousand years in Jerusalem rebuilt, adorned, and enlarged, as the prophets Ezekiel, Isaiah, and others do unanimously attest. ... Moreover, a certain man among us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, in a revelation made to him, did prophesy that the faithful believers in Christ shall live a thousand years in the New Jerusalem, and AFTER THAT shall be the general resurrection and judgment."
Not only does Justin here declare himself a believer in our doctrines, but, as Semisch (in Herzogs Encyclopaedia) says, he "distinguishes that belief as the keystone of orthodoxy."
The testimony of the distinguished Irenaeus is also of particular value. He was the disciple of Polycarp, the pupil of the Apostle John. It has justly been said that, "for learning, steadfastness, and zeal, he was among the most renowned of the early fathers." Mosheim says that his writings are "the most precious monuments of ancient erudition."
His tutor, Polycarp, was a most diligent collector of all that was to be known of what Christ and His apostles taught. Irenaeus regarded him with peculiar veneration and says of his teachings, "I remember his discourses concerning the conversations he had with John the apostle and others who had seen the Lord, how he rehearsed their discourses, and what he heard them say of our Lord and of His miracles and doctrine." Irenaeus, therefore, had good means of knowing what ideas the sacred writers attached to their own writings, and what ideas and hopes the Spirit through them inculcated respecting Gods great purposes. Hear, then, what this learned and devout man has said concerning our doctrine -
"In whatever number of days the world was created, in the same number of thousands of years it will come to its consummation. God, on the sixth day, finished the works that He made; and God rested on the seventh day from all His works. This is a history of the past and a prophecy of the future, for the day of the Lord is as a thousand years." Here is a distinct announcement of the millennial Sabbath. As to where it is to be celebrated, he is equally clear.
"It is fitting," says he, "that the just, rising again at the appearance of God, in the renewed state, receive the promise of inheritance which God covenanted to the fathers, and should reign in it; and that then should follow the final judgment. For, in the same condition in which they have laboured and been afflicted, and been tried by sufferings in all sorts of ways, it is but just that in it they should receive the fruits of their sufferings, so that where, for the love of God, they suffered death, there they should be brought to life again; and where they endured bondage, there also they should reign.,
"I say it is becoming that the creation, being restored to its original beauty, should, without any impediment or drawback, be subject to the righteous. This the apostle makes manifest in the Epistle to the Romans Thus, therefore, as God promised to Abraham the inheritance of the earth, and he received it not during the whole time he lived, it is necessary that he should receive it, together with his seed, that is, with such of them as fear God, and believe in Him, IN THE RESURRECTION OF THE JUST. They will undoubtedly receive it at the resurrection of the just; for true and unchangeable is God, wherefore He also said, `Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit THE EARTH."
Four things are here asserted: first, that Christ will really appear at the end of the 6,000 years; second, that the millennium comes after the Saviours advent; third, that there is to be a resurrection of the just at the beginning of the millennium; and fourth, that Christ is to reign with His saints in this world. Such is the testimony of Irenaeus, the pupil of Polycarp and Papias, the disciples of the Apostle John.
We come now to Tertullian, the eminent contemporary of Irenaeus, a man of eloquence and learning who, with all his faults, had many excellencies. His testimony is equally conspicuous and positive.
"We also confess," says he, "that a kingdom is promised us on earth, AFTER THE RESURRECTION; for it will be for a thousand years in a city of divine workmanship, viz., Jerusalem brought down from heaven, which city Ezekiel knew, and the Apostle John saw. This is the city provided of God to receive the saints in the resurrection, wherein to refresh themselves with all spiritual good things, in recompense of those which in the world we have despised and lost."
He also testifies that it was the custom of his times for Christians to pray that they might have part in the first resurrection, thus showing that this was the general and firm belief of his time.
Clement Of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria, the contemporary of Tertullian, whom Eusebius designates as an "incomparable master of the Christian philosophy," also refers to the mystic sanctity of the seventh day, as pointing in the estimation of both Hebrews and Greeks to the final revolution of the world and the renovation of all things.
Cyprian, the great bishop of Carthage, who sealed his faith with his blood, also alludes to the subject in a way leaving no doubt that he apprehended the Scriptures in the same manner.
"In the divine arrangement of the world," says he, "seven days were at first employed, and in them 7,000 years were included." This implies the doctrine of the millennial Sabbath; and, taking it in connection with his expectation of the future honours of the martyrs, and his declaration that in this world "things evil and adverse shall increase until the end come as foretold," we cannot suppose that he differed on this subject from the distinguished teachers who went before him and whose disciple he claimed to be.
We have now brought down our list of testimonies to the end of the second century after Christ. I have given you the language of the most pious and distinguished Christian teachers who lived during that time. And without one dissenting voice among them, we here have as their unanimous apprehension of the Scriptures and of what Christ and His apostles taught -
1. That there is to be a millennial Sabbath at the end of 6,000 years from the creation of Adam, in which the world shall joyfully rest from its long week of turmoil and disorder.
2. That the personal and final advent of Christ and the resurrection of the holy dead shall occur at the commencement of the millennium.
3. That Christ is to reign with His saints in glorious empire upon this earth.
4. That all sublunary things, embracing the entire lower creation, are to undergo a universal renovation and be restored to their original excellence and glory.
Nor was there any acknowledged Christian, until the time of Origen, in the middle of the third century, that ever recorded any other faith upon this subject. We may safely challenge all the research of the world to produce one single orthodox opposing testimony prior to the days of Origen, of whom Milner says, "No man not altogether unsound and hypocritical ever more injured the church of Christ." Indeed, the evidence that these views were a vital and prominent part of the faith of Christians for the first ages is so clear and conspicuous that I do not know that any scholar has ever ventured to contradict the fact. Let me submit to you some statements of learned men upon the subject.
The well-known infidel historian, Edward Gibbon, has this statement: "The ancient and popular doctrine of the millennium was intimately connected with the second coming of Christ. As the works of the creation had been finished in six days, their duration in their present state, according to a tradition that was attributed to the prophet Elijah, was fixed to 6,000 years. By the same analogy, it was inferred that this long period of labour and contention would be succeeded by a joyful Sabbath of a thousand years; and that Christ, with the triumphant band of the saints and the elect who had escaped death, or who had been miraculously revived, would reign upon earth. The assurance of such a millennium was carefully inculcated by a succession of fathers from Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, who conversed with the immediate disciples of the apostles, down to Lactantius, who was preceptor to the son of Constantine. IT APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN THE REIGNING SENTIMENT OF THE ORTHODOX BELIEVERS."
This Lactantius, to whom Gibbon refers, lived in the early part of the fourth century. Mosheim pronounces him "the most learned of the Latin fathers." He was known in his time as "the Christian Cicero." His sentiments upon this subject deserve to be presented among our testimonies. "When God shall come to judge the world," says he, "and shall restore unto life the just that have been since the beginning, He shall converse among men a thousand years, and rule them with a most righteous government. And they that shall be raised from the dead shall be over the living as judges. And the Gentiles shall not be utterly extinguished, but some shall be left for the victory of God. About the same time, the prince of devils, the forger of all evil, shall be bound with chains and shall be in custody all the thousand years of the heavenly empire under which righteousness shall reign over the world." Such then, according to Gibbon, were "the reigning sentiments of orthodox believers" for more than three centuries of the Christian era.
The celebrated Chillingworth says, "That this doctrine (of the millennium and Christs personal reign on earth) was by the church of the next age after the apostles held true and catholic, I prove by these two reasons: first, whatever doctrine is believed and taught by the most eminent fathers of any age of the church, and by none of their contemporaries opposed or condemned, that is to be esteemed the catholic doctrine of the church of those times; but the doctrine of the millennium was believed and taught by the most eminent fathers of the age next after the apostles, and by none of that age opposed or condemned; therefore IT WAS THE CATHOLIC DOCTRINE OF THOSE TIMES."
Mosheim says, "The prevailing opinion, that Christ was to come and reign a thousand years among men before the final dissolution of the world, had met with no opposition previous to the time of Origen."
Burton says, "It cannot be denied that Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and all the other ecclesiastical writers believed, literally, that the saints would rise in the first resurrection and reign with Christ upon earth previous to the general resurrection."
Munscher says, " How widely the doctrine of millenarianism prevailed in the first centuries of Christianity appears from this, that it was universally received by almost all teachers."
Gieseler says of the first centuries, "Millenarianism became the general belief of the time."
Newton says, "The doctrine of the millennium was generally believed in the three first and purest ages."
Semisch says, "The ancients expected a kingdom in this world in which Christ, after His coming, should reign with His risen and glorified saints. They believed that He would visibly return in order to establish a terrestrial theocracy as the centre of a dominion over the world, that He would destroy the kingdom of Antichrist and subjugate such worldly powers as are susceptible of being fashioned for the divine kingdom. They held that there would be a distinction in the resurrection - first the resurrection of the saints for the divine kingdom, and afterwards the rest of the dead at the final judgment; there would then be perfect happiness of soul and sense, and the glorified saints would reign together over unglorified humanity."
But I will not trouble you with needless repetitions. What these authors have said is just what multitudes of others, equally learned and disinterested, have declared. Encyclopaedias and reviews, friends and enemies, ancients and moderns, admit and declare the fact that the church of Christ, for the first two centuries after the inspired apostles, was universally millenarian, and that she substantially believed and taught this truth. This doctrine is what all the true believers in the revelations of God, for more than 200 years after Christ, accepted as the teaching of that holy book. And if I have not proven to you that the millenarian faith was the orthodox faith of primitive Christianity, there is no weight in testimony. Ask the fathers, and they will show you - the elders, and they will tell you. And if the church of our day is to keep to the simplicities of those early times after which she professes to pattern, she must hold to the personal reign of Christ with His saints on earth as one of her most sublime hopes.
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