CHILIASM (CHRIST AND HIS MILLENNIAL KINGDOM)
By David Chagall
We know from the writings of the New Testament that the Apostolic church firmly believed in the return of Christ for His church, in a Great Tribulation that was to judge the world, and in a literal 1000-year reign of Christ on planet earth. Besides the Gospels, particularly Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 which quotes Jesus Himself on the sequence of events leading to His return, there is also Rom.8:20-23 (read)-- 1 Cor.15:51-52 (read)--1 Thess.4:15-18 (read)--2 Thess.2:1-5 (read)-- 2 Pet.3:1-14 (read)--and of course Rev.20:1-6 (read)--
This steadfast belief in the literal return and 1000-year reign of Christ and His Church on earth prior to the Great White throne judgment of the damned carried well into the third century. It was never embodied in any formal creed as such, but was written about and taught by a wide range of distinguished teachers, including Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Ireneus, Tertullian, Methodius and Lactantius. Only a few opposed the millenial view, namely Caius, Origen, Dionysius and Eusebius.
Later, after Constantine and Rome co-opted the Church, Saints Jerome and Augustine joined the dissent and succeeded in stifling the teaching of a literal 1000-year reign of Christ from the throne of David in Jerusalem, as prophesied. Intead, they came up with a so-called “Christian” (as opposed to “Jewish”) version of the Millenium. Whereas the Bible-based Church read the Scriptures literally, and saw Christ’s resurrection as physical and the believers’ resurrection and/or glorification as physical, as well as His reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords on earth as literal and physical, after the Council of Nicea a new eschatology arose.
This taught that the millenial reign, instead of being anxiously awaited and prayed for, was a wrong view. It had actually begun already, dated from either the first coming of Christ or, more popularly, from the conversion of Constantine and the defeat of paganism. This millennial reign of Christ in Spirit had been realized in the glory of the dominant imperial state-church of Rome. Augustine, who had at first held the Apostolic millenial position, actually turned around and wrote down this new, Roman Catholic interpretation which was widely accepted. He wrote that the apocalyptic age should be understood as the present reign of Christ in the Catholic Church and the first resurrection had been accomplished in the spiritual translation of the martyrs and saints to heaven, where they now participate in Christ’s reign.
That was why at the end of the first millennium in Europe, there was a wide belief that the final judgment was at hand (see Rev.20:7-21:4 [read]--) From that time forward--from Constantine and Augustine’s treatise--the Apostolic teaching of the millenial reign of Christ was declared a heresy. It was even rejected by the Protestant reformers as a Jewish dream, who held stubbornly to the Catholic dogma on the subject of the non-Rapture of the Church, but from the early centuries and later times the pre-tribulation Rapture of all true believers was kept alive and revived by small sects of Biblical literalists like the Anabaptists and Waldenses.
DID THE EARLY CHURCH TEACH A PRE-TRIB RAPTURE?
Not too long ago, there was a book published by a post-trib minister named Dave McPherson called The Incredible Rapture Coverup. In this book, he argued that the idea of a pre-tribulation Rapture was never taught in the early church. Instead, he wrote, a man named John Darby invented this idea in 1820, based on the supposed trance vision of a Scottish girl named Margaret Macdonald. In fact, Darby was preaching the pre-tribulation Rapture long before this Scottish lass ever had her vision, which in any case was not a pre-trib Rapture but a mid-trib Rapture.
A second debunker named John Bray pf Lakeland, Florida wrote that a Jesuit priest named Emmanuel Laconza came up with the pre-trib Rapture notion in his book The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty, written eight years before John Darby first preached his view. What is the truth?
What would really clinch the matter is if we could find some writings of the early church that could clarify the question. Of course, we have Scripture verses like 1 Thess.4:15-18 (read)--or 1 Thess.5:9 (read)-- But did the Apostles pass along any firm view on the pre-trib position? Well, there are two sources I would cite--one from the early second century and another from the fourth century--that clearly teaches the imminency of the Rapture.
The first is called The Shepherd of Hermas, which was published at the end of the first century AD, likely written soon after John completed his Book of Revelation in 96 AD. This book The Shepherd of Hermas was even regarded as Scripture by Ireneus in 180 AD, but didn’t make the final cut for our canonical writings. This author--who is named in the Book of Romans 16:14 (read)--gives his End-Times teaching in the form of a vision which he relates to the Book of Revelation. I’ll quote here from that book--”I saw a huge beast (a la Revelation, chapter 13). The beast has four colors (which echoes the four horsemen of the Apocalypse in Rev. 6). It is 100 feet long, but I escaped from it, thanks to the grace and power of God.”
Then Hermas meets a virgin dressed in white, who tells him, “Thou hast escaped a great tribulation because thou hast believed and at the sight of such a huge beast, have not doubted. Go therefore, and declare to the elect of the Lord His mighty deeds and say to them that this beast is a type of the Great Tribulation which is to come. If you therefore prepare yourself and with your whole heart turn to the Lord in repentence, then you shall be able to escape it.”
This book was considered important enough to be included in the collection of New Testament writings at the Sinai monastery of Saint Catherine, which was built in the fourth century and where this book was found in an excavation conducted in 1844.
In the fourth century, a Christian author named Ephraim the Syrian wrote a small book titled Anti-Christ and the End of the World, published in 376 AD. His books remained in relative obscurity until they were translated into English just a few decades ago. In his book, Ephraim wrote--”We ought to understand thoroughly, therefore my brothers, what is imminent or overhanging. Already there have been hungers and plagues, violent movement of nations and sins, which have been predicted by the Lord.
“Let us prepare ourselves for the meeting of the Lord Christ so that He may draw us from the confusion which overwhelms the world. Believe you me, dearest brothers, because the coming of the Lord is nigh. Believe you me, because the end of the world is at end. Believe me because it is the very last time. Because all Saints and the elect of the Lord are gathered together before the Tribulation which is about to come and are taken to the Lord in order that they may not see at any time the confusion that overwhelms the world because of our sins. And so brothers most dear to me, it is the eleventh hour, and the end of this world comes to the harvest and angels armed and prepared hold sickles in their hands awaiting the empire or kingdom of the Lord. When therefore the end of the world comes, that abominable, lying, and murderous one who is born from the tribe of Dan.. he is conceived from the seed of a man and from a most vile virgin mixed with an evil or worthless spirit.
“Therefore when he receives the kingdom, he orders the Temple of God to be rebuilt for himself which is in Jerusalem who, after coming into it, he shall sit as God in order that he may be adored by all nations. Then all people from everywhere shall flock together to him and the holy city shall be trampled on by the nations for 42 months. Just as the holy Apostle says in the Apocalypse which becomes 3 1/2 years--1260 days. Then when the 3 1/2 years have been completed, the time of Antichrist through which he will have seduced the world, after the resurrection of the two prophets, in the hour which the world does not know and on the day when the enemy or son of perdition does not know, will come the sign of the son of man. And coming forward, the Lord shall appear with great power and much majesty with the sign of the word of salvation going before Him.”
The only church father we know who taught other than a pre-tribulation Rapture was the Roman Origen in the early third century. Evidently Origen grew dissatisfied with a literal interpretation of Scripture and turned to widespread allegory. He first corrupted Church theology in Rome by teaching that Gentile Christianity had replaced the Jews as God’s Chosen People. A literal reading, of course, teaches that Israel is heir to the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, but when Jersualem was destroyed in 70 AD and the Jews scattered, in 165 AD Origen thought that God was finished with the Jews and had turned all His promises to His chosen people over to the Church.
Church historian A.H. Newman wrote this about Origen--”Origen was the first to reduce the allegorical method of interpretation to a system. His method of Scripture interpretation was soon adopted throughout the Church, and prevailed throughout the Middle Ages. In this particular, Origen’s influence was bad, and only bad.” St. Augustine adopted Origen’s replacement theology and developed the allegorical view into a systematic theology--promoted and enforced by the Roman Catholic Church--that has dominated European Christianity to this very day.
From the beginning, there were believers who continued to hold fast to the faith once delivered to the saints in Jerusalem. Others called them "Anabaptists" because they demanded a believer's baptism that negated any sort of infant sprinkling taught by the pagans and later by the Catholics. But over the centuries, the Anabaptists were slaughtered and persecuted for their beliefs, forcing them into home churches and secrecy. One notable Anabaptist group in 16th century Germany was led by Jan van Leyden of Munster, who fought off a Catholic army for sixteen months before being overrun and slaughtered by the Church zealots.
With the reformation some 400 years ago, John Calvin, Martin Luther and those Reform denominations that derived from them while rejecting papal authority and tradition as their source of faith and practise, continued to cling to Origen's and Augustine's allegorical interpretation of prophetic Scriptures. They continued to believe that the prohesies concerning apocalyptical events had all been fulfilled in the 1st Century, and that since then Christ began His "spiritual millennial reign" which, in their view, has been ongoing for 1900 years.
But other theologians, including John Owen and Charles Haddon Spurgeon in the 19th century, and Chares Ryrie, John Walvoord and J. Vernon McGee in the 20th, applied the literalist credo in all questions of Biblical interpretation--"If the plain sense makes good sense, then look for no other sense." Employing that standard for prophetic Scripture, eventually the pre-Tribulation Rapture position gained more credence and now has been widely restored.
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