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THEOLOGY > Future > The Millennium > Testimony of the Fathers 


The early Church Fathers are nearly unanimous in their testimony to what has come to be known as Premillennialism. There is no written support for either Amillennialism or Postmillennialism during the early years of the Faith. And definitely there is no support for the novel view that arose during the first part of the 1800’s, the view of Dispensationalism (see: The Rapture Question and A Recent Interpretation).

Without a doubt the early Church embraced what is referred to as Premillennialism. Numerous Church Fathers from the first few centuries attest to the fact that the Lord would return and rule on this earth for one thousand years. That future Millennium would be preceded by a time of Great Tribulation (see: The Great Tribulation) dominated by the coming Antichrist (see: The Antichrist), at whose hand the Church would greatly suffer. The following quotes reflect the belief of the early Church:

Be watchful for your life; don't let your lamps be quenched and your loins ungirded, but be ready; for you don't know the hour in which our Lord comes. You must gather yourselves together frequently, seeking what is fitting for your souls; for the whole time of your faith shall not profit you, if you are not perfected at the last season.

In the last days the false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate. For as lawlessness increases, they shall hate one another and shall persecute and betray.

Then the world-deceiver shall appear as a son of God; and shall work signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands; and he shall do unholy things which have never been since the world began. Then all created mankind shall come to the fire of testing, and many shall be offended and perish; but those who endure in their faith shall be saved by the Curse Himself.

Then shall the signs of the truth appear; first a sign of a rift in the heaven, then a sign of a voice of a trumpet, and thirdly a resurrection of the dead; yet not of all, but as it was said: The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him. Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, 16).

That the Black One may find no means of entrance, let us flee from every vanity, let us utterly hate the works of the way of wickedness (The Epistle of Barnabas, IV).

Take heed, lest resting at our ease, as those who are the called [of God], we should fall asleep in our sins, and the wicked prince, acquiring power over, should thrust us away from the kingdom (The Epistle of Barnabas, IV).

Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, “He finished in six days.” This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifieth, saying, “Behold, to-day will be as a thousand years.” Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. “And He rested on the seventh day.” This meaneth: 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, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day (The Epistle of Barnabas, IV).

The blessing thus foretold belongs undoubtedly to the times of the Kingdom, when the righteous shall rise from the dead and reign . . . The days will come in which vines shall grow, having each ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each true twig ten thousand shoots, and in every shoots ten thousand clusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes . . . and when one of the saints shall lay hold of a cluster, another shall cry out, “I am a better cluster, take me; bless the Lord though me (Papias, Fragments of Papias).

Note: "[Papias said] that there will be a period of some thousand years after the resurrection of the dead, and that the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this very earth" (Eusebius, Church History, 3:39:12; additionally, Eusebius, who denied the doctrine, questioned the sources of Papias as well as his interpretation).

Happy ye who endure the great tribulation that is coming on, and happy they who shall not deny their own life (Shepherd of Hermas, Vision Two).

But who of us are ignorant of the judgment of the Lord? Do we not know that the saints shall judge the world, as Paul teaches (Polycarp, Epistle to the Philippians)?

I and others, who are right-minded Christians at 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 (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 80).

And further, a certain man among us by the name of 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 general of us. . . the eternal resurrection and judgement of all men would likewise take place (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 80).

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 believe 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 like wise take place (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 81).

He shall come from heaven with glory, when the man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us the Christians (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 110).

And then he [Daniel] points out the time that his tyranny shall last, during which the saints shall be put to flight, they who offer a pure sacrifice unto God (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, XXV, 4).

And they [the ten Kings] shall . . . give their kingdom to the beast, and put the Church to flight. After that they shall be destroyed by the coming of our Lord (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, XXVI, 1).

These are [to take place] in the times of the kingdom, that is, upon the seventh day, which has been sanctified . . . which is the true Sabbath of the righteous, which they shall not be engaged in any earthly occupation . . . 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 (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, XXXIII, 2-3).

Now, that the promises were not announced to the prophets and the fathers alone, but to the Churches united to these from the nations, whom also the Spirit terms “islands” (both because they are established in the midst of turbulence, suffer the storm of blasphemies, exist as a harbour of safety to those in peril, and are the refuge of those who love the height [of heaven] (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, XXXIV, 3).

But he [John] indicates the number of the name [Antichrist, 666] now, that when this man comes we may avoid him, being aware who he is (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, XXX, 4).

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 (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, XXXV, 1).

. . . 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, and union with spiritual beings; and with respect to those whom the Lord shall find in the flesh, awaiting Him from heaven, and who have suffered tribulation, as well as escaped the hands of the Wicked one (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, XXXV, 1).

In the Revelation of John, again, the order of these times is spread out . . . the beast Antichrist with his false prophet may wage war on the Church of God; and that, after the casting of the devil into the bottomless pit for a while, the blessed prerogative of the first resurrection may be ordained from the thrones (Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 25).

Now the privilege of this favour awaits those who shall at the coming of the Lord be found in the flesh, and who shall, owing to the oppressions of the time of Antichrist, deserve by an instantaneous death, which is accomplished by a sudden change, to become qualified to join the rising saints; as he writes to the Thessalonians: "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we too shall ourselves be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 41).

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 in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem (Tertullian, Against Marcion, 3, 25).

From heaven will descend the city in the first resurrection; this is what we may tell of such a celestial fabric. We shall arise again to Him, who have been devoted to Him. And they shall be incorruptible, even already living without death. And neither will there be any grief nor any groaning in that city. They shall come also who overcame cruel martyrdom under Antichrist, and they themselves live for the whole time, and receive blessings because they have suffered evil things; and they themselves marrying, beget for a thousand years (Commodianus, Instructions of Commodianus, XLIV).

Now, concerning the tribulation of the persecution which is to fall upon the Church from the adversary . . . (Hippolytus, Treatise of Christ and Antichrist, 60).

And 6,000 years must needs be accomplished, in order that the Sabbath may come, the rest, the holy day 'on which God rested from all His works.' For the Sabbath is the type and emblem of the future kingdom of the saints, when they 'shall reign with Christ,' when He comes from heaven, as John says in his Apocalypse: for 'a day with the Lord is as a thousand years (Hippolytus, On Daniel, 2:4).

“By the woman then clothed with the sun," he meant most manifestly the Church, endued with the Father's word . . . "And the dragon," he says, "saw and persecuted the woman which brought forth the man-child. And to the woman were given two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent." This statement refers to the one thousand two hundred and threescore days (the half of the week) during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the Church, which flees from city to city, and seeks concealment in the wilderness among the mountains (Hippolytus, Treatise of Christ and Antichrist, 61).

For the Sabbath is the type and emblem of the future kingdom of the saints, when they “shall reign with Christ,” when He comes from heaven (Hippolytus, Fragments from Commentaries, 4).

And again, since God, having finished His works, rested the seventh day and blessed it, at the end of the six thousandth year all wickedness must be abolished from the earth, and righteousness reign for a thousand years; and there must be tranquillity and rest from the labours which the world now has long endured (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, 7:14).

But He, when He shall have destroyed unrighteousness, and executed His great judgment, and shall have recalled to life the righteous, who have lived from the beginning, will be engaged among men a thousand years, and will rule them with most just command . . . Then they who shall be alive in their bodies shall not die, but during those thousand years shall produce an infinite multitude, and their offspring shall be holy, and beloved by God; but they who shall be raised from the dead shall preside over the living as judges . . . the prince of the devils . . . shall be bound . . . during the thousand years of the heavenly rule in which righteousness shall reign in the world (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, 7, 24).

With the exhortation of His fore-seeing word, instructing, and teaching, and preparing, and strengthening the people of His Church for all endurance of things to come, He predicted and said that wars, and famines, and earthquakes, and pestilences would arise in each place; and lest an unexpected and new dread of mischiefs should shake us, He previously warned us that adversity would increase more and more in the last times (Cyprian, Treatise VII).

It is an ancient adversary and an old enemy with whom we wage our battle: six thousand years are now nearly completed since the devil first attacked man . . . the divine arrangement containing seven thousand of years (Cyprian, Treatise 11).

You have desired, beloved Fortunatus that, l since the burden of persecutions and afflictions is lying heavy upon us, and in the ending and completion of the world the hateful time of Antichrist is already beginning to draw near, I would collect from the sacred Scriptures some exhortations for preparing and strengthening the minds of the brethren, whereby I might animate the soldiers of Christ for the heavenly and spiritual contest. (Cyprian, Treatise 11).

 For you ought to know and to believe, and hold it for certain, that the day of affliction has begun to hang over our heads, and the end of the world and the time of Antichrist to draw near, so that we must all stand prepared for the battle (Cyprian, Letter 55:1).  

Nor let it disturb you, dearest brethren, if with some, in these last times, either an uncertain faith is wavering, or a fear of God without religion is vacillating, or a peaceable concord does not continue. These things have been foretold as about to happen in the end of the world; and it was predicted by the voice of the Lord, and by the testimony of the apostles, that now that the world is failing, and the Antichrist is drawing near, everything good shall fail, but evil and adverse things shall prosper (Cyprian, Letter 67:7).

For the delay (of the bridegroom) is the interval which precedes the coming of Christ . . . the midnight is the kingdom of the antichrist, during which the destroying angel passes over the houses. But the cry will go our "Behold the bridegroom cometh!" and a voice shall be heard from heaven, and the trumpet, when the saints and all their bodies shall be raised, and be caught up, and shall meet the Lord in the clouds (Methodius, Banquet of the Ten Virgins).

“And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God.” He speaks of Elias the prophet, who is the precursor of the times of Antichrist, for the restoration and establishment of the churches from the great and intolerable persecution (Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John, VII, 2; this is the first know commentary on the book of Revelation).

“And I saw a beast rising up from the sea, like unto a leopard.” This signifies the kingdom of that time of Antichrist . . . “And I saw another beast” . . . He shall cause also that a golden image of Antichrist shall be placed in the temple at Jerusalem . . . (Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John, XIII, 1, 13).

Those years wherein Satan is bound . . . are called a thousand . . . what is left of the sixth day, to wit, of the sixth age, which subsists for a thousand years (Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John, XX, 1-3).

The Kingdom of antichrist shall fiercely, though for a short time, assail the Church (Augustine, City of God, XX, 23).

Note: The following is Augustine’s understanding of Rev. 20: Jesus bound Satan through His work of the Cross and thereby restrains him from seducing the nations; the saints currently reign with Christ, the reign known at the millennial kingdom of God; following the present age Satan will be loosed for a three and a half years, during which the church will be severely persecuted; then Christ will return (City of God).

These sample quotes reveal the Premillennialism that was dominant in the early Church. It was a common consensus that Christ would return after the Tribulation and before the Millennium. After the Church endures for a brief period under Antichrist, the Lord will return and initiate the Millennium, His literal reign on earth which will be characterized by peace and prosperity. For nearly 400 years the view known today as Premillennialism prevailed.

In none of the early Fathers is there a trace of what later came to be known as Dispensationalism. No one wrote of a return of Christ before the Great Tribulation, which would enable the Church to escape the Tribulation. There is no support for a secret Rapture of the Church seven years before a public Revelation. There is no limitation of the Church to the New Testament period. The Fathers who touched on eschatology believed in a literal Antichrist who would persecute the Church during a period of Great Tribulation. Through suffering the Church would be purified and prepared for the Lord’s return. The conclusion to the matter is in the following quotes.

Ladd stated:

 We can find no trace of pretribulationism in the early church (The Blessed Hope, 31).

Walvoord agreed:

“Posttribulationism has long been a common doctrine held by the majority of the church” (The Rapture Question, 131); he made a more telling statement when he admitted that “the early church did not teach twentieth-century pretribulationism” (Ibid., 157).

Philip Schaff, noted Christian historian, makes the same point:

The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent chiliasm, or millennarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment (Hist. of the Christian Church, 2:614).

Katterjohn came to the same conclusion:

This point of view is called historic Premillennialism, since its roots can be traced as far back as the early church fathers. It should be noted that some historic Premillennialists believed that Jesus’ second coming could occur at any time and that the tribulation could already be in progress. Others felt that the tribulation still lay ahead. But all agreed that Christ’s return would terminate the tribulation (Tribulation People, 12).

Finally, note the words of Alford:

That the Lord will come in person to this earth: that His risen elect will reign here with Him and judge: that during that blessed reign the power of evil will be bound, and the glorious prophecies of peace and truth on earth find their accomplishment:—this is my firm persuasion, and not mine alone, but that of multitudes of Christ’s writing people, as it was that of His primitive apostolic Church, before controversy blinded the eyes of the Fathers to the light of prophecy (The Greek Testament, IV, Prolegomena, 259).

Return to: The Millennium; Next Article: Old Testament Anticipation

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