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Premillennialism/Chiliasm

Premillennialism, or Chiliasm as it was called in the first few centuries of the church, is the physical reign of Christ for one thousand years on earth following His second coming. Chiliasm comes from the Greek word that means a thousand. After the one thousand year reign of Christ ends there will be a resurrection of the dead and the great white throne judgment. Premillenarians agree on the fact that the coming of Christ is before the thousand year reign of Christ.

There are many writers today that say the teaching of premillennialism was not known before the nineteenth century. They fail to look at the history of the church. The early church fathers from the beginning of the church until about AD 325 knew nothing but chiliasm, as they called it, which is what is known as premillennialism today. There are virtually no known early church documents prior to AD 325 that supports any view but premillennialism. It was the predominant view of the church for the first three centuries.

Biblical Prophecies of The Millennial Kingdom

Look at the “Seventy Weeks of Daniel” and you will see that Daniel predicts the coming millennial kingdom with the rapture occurring at the beginning of the last week of Daniel and with the “Second Coming of Christ” at the end of that period. Daniel foretold of this kingdom in Daniel 2:44 and says this kingdom will destroy the other kingdoms and this kingdom will stand forever. Later, in Daniel 7:18, Daniel let us know that the “saints”, believers, will have a part in this kingdom. Daniel tells us that the God of heaven will set up a kingdom on earth that will have Jerusalem as it's capital, Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45. This kingdom has not yet been established and will be established at the Second Coming of Christ. It will be established by power, not persuasion, and will follow divine judgment on the Gentile world powers, Psalms 2:4-9; Isaiah 9:7; Daniel 7:26-27. From Daniel 2:37-44 we see that the kingdom of God will destroy human kingdoms and God's kingdom will last forever with the believers having a part in receiving it. Then in the Old and New Testament, especially Revelation 17:12-14, we see the concept of an end time earthly kingdom with ten parts which God will destroy and establish His kingdom and Christ will reign over it as King for one thousand years. After the one thousand years the kingdom will be given over to the Father and will last forever.

Isaiah in his book tells us that there will be a physical reign on earth with Jesus as King. This will be a kingdom of peace. In Isaiah 11:1-10 we see a picture of how this millennial kingdom will be. Israel will have a special place in this kingdom because of the Abrahamic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, and the New Covenant and people from all other nations will benefit from this kingdom. The kingdom Isaiah tells us about here is not in heaven nor in the new earth since there are wicked here and there are no wicked in heaven, Revelation 21:1-4. Isaiah 1:25-31 gives Israel warning and promises to come in the millennial kingdom and tells us that the old method of administering the theocratic government over Israel is to be restored. Isaiah chapters 65 and 66 tells us of the coming kingdom.

From Micah 4:1-4 it can be seen that mankind and the animals will be doing better during this kingdom and the whole creation will benefit. Paul also tells us, in Romans 8:19-21, of this and about the glorious liberty of the children of God when Jesus Christ returns and establishes His kingdom.

The book of Revelation teaches us a thousand year reign of Christ upon this earth (the Millennial Kingdom), Revelation 5:9-10. Paul tells the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6:2 that the believers shall judge the world. Paul also tells us in 2 Timothy 2:11-12 that believers will also reign with Him. In Revelation 20:1-6 John tells us five times that there will be a thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth. In the early years of the church funerals and graves of believers were sometimes marked with millennial symbols seemingly to let others know of their faith that they expected Christ to return and reign and raise the dead.

Zechariah gives us a good view of the coming kingdom. In Zechariah 12:1-3 we see the siege of Jerusalem just before the battle of Armageddon. It should be clear in Zechariah 12:2-3 that this is the current situation today. Zechariah continues on to tell us of the battle itself, Zechariah 12:4-9. In Zechariah 12:10-14 we see that Israel will repent, it is a time of repentance. Joel tells us that God will pour out the Spirit upon Israel, Joel 2;28-29 and then the people will realize their sins and call upon God for forgiveness. In Zechariah 13:1-7 the nation of Israel, in response to their calling upon God for forgiveness, will be cleansed.

There are many other references in the Old as well as the New Testament but the above is enough to show that it was taught in both. Not only that but throughout the gospels ( Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) we have Jesus preaching the gospel of the kingdom. This is the kingdom Jesus came to set up and He will set it up at His second coming. The gospel (good news) of this kingdom that Jesus came preaching was rejected by the Jews and they were set aside temporarily while Christ takes out a people for His name, called the church. When church is completed the rapture will occur and that begins the tribulation period which is the seventieth week of Daniel. The tribulation period is to bring the Jewish people back to God. Then at the end of the tribulation Jesus will return and set up the millennial kingdom. So we have the Bible teaching us about the coming millennial kingdom, Jesus came preaching the coming of the millennial kingdom, and the early church fathers believed in the millennial kingdom.

The Teaching of Some of The Early Church Father's:

  • In the first century Barnabas expressly taught the premillennial reign of Christ on the earth.
  • Papias (60-130) said that there would be a period of a thousand years after the resurrection of the dead that the kingdom of Christ would be set up in material form on this earth.
  • Justin Martyr (100-165) believed that there will be a resurrection of the dead a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, enlarged as the prophets of Ezekiel and Isaiah and the others declare. Also that John predicted by revelation that was made to him that those who believe in our Christ would spend a thousand years in Jerusalem and thereafter the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place.
  • Irenaeus (130-230) said that premillennial doctrine was traditional orthodoxy.
  • Tertullian (160-220) believed that a kingdom was promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven. . It will be after the resurrection for a thousand years.
  • Hippolytus (170-236) entertained millennarian hopes.
  • Lactantius (240-320) believed that at the end of the six thousandth year, all evil would be abolished from the earth, and that justice reign for a thousand years.
  • Jerome (331-420) opposed the literal earthly kingdom but confirmed that he doesn't condemn the doctrine because many ecclesiastical persons and martyrs affirm the same.

As can be seen premillennialism was taught in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. Contrary to many writers who claim millennialism did not exist until the nineteenth century, we see it taught by the church father's beginning in 60 AD.

There was a slow shift from premillennialism to amillennialism beginning in the second and third centuries and by the sixth century there were only a few churches that taught a literal thousand year kingdom on earth. This remained true up to the reformation. This was a shift from the belief in a literal kingdom of 1000 years to a spiritualized kingdom of unlimited duration.

Why did this shift in interpreting the Bible occur? Because there are two methods of interpreting the Bible. One is a literal historical-grammatical method which takes the Bible for what it says. The words are taken literally while recognizing the figures of speech, allegories, and typology. The other is an allegorical method that was later developed by Origen.

Jesus and the apostles used the literal method of interpreting the Bible. When Jesus quoted the Old Testament it was in a literal manner not an allegorical method. The writers of the New Testament also used a literal understanding of the Bible.

The other method of interpreting the Bible is called the allegorical method. This method looks for meanings beyond the literal meaning of the words of the text and looks for a deeper sense of the Bible and many times interprets words and phrases outside their literal meaning. The allegorical method was promoted by the biblical school in Alexandria, Egypt. It was founded by Pantaenus in the second century and was later lead by Clement of Alexandria and Origen, his pupil. Origen (185-254 AD), using the allegorical method of Philo who was a Jewish Platonist, is the one that developed a systematic interpretation and used it to develop his doctrinal positions. Later Augustine would give up his view of premillennialism.

The early church was composed mostly of Jewish believers but as the church spread through the Roman Empire it became more composed of Gentiles (non-Jews) and the Jewish beginnings of the church diminished. The church became more anti-Semitic, Jesus had not returned, and this made adopting amillennialism much more favorable since they could then say that God was finished with Israel and the church had now replaced Israel in God's plan, known as Replacement Theology. The growth of amillennialism was the result of the social, political, and theological problems of that time. They adopted amillennialism because they felt it best fit the current events. If we take the Bible at face value it will lead to a belief in a literal one thousand year reign of Christ on the earth which is, today, called premillennialism.


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