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 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 (Elgin Moyer and Earle E. Cairns, Wycliffe
Biographical Dictionary of the Church, Chicago: Moody
Press, 1982, pp. 314-315).
Irenaeus, after relating Christís 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" (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).
Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea and "The Father of Church
History" (Moyer and Cairns, Biographical Dictionary,
p. 135), wrote the following concerning Papias in his work
Ecclesiastical History (III, 39), "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 Christís Kingdom on this earth" (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).
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 (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).
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" (The Epistle of
Barnabas, chpt. 15, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers,
I, p. 146). In other words, the thousand years of rest
will begin in conjunction with the Second Coming of
The epistle further stated that after the earthís seventh
day (thousand years of rest), there will be an "eighth
day, that is, a beginning of another world" (Ibid.).
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 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 (Moyer and
Cairns, Biographical Dictionary, pp. 220-221).
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" (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). 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" (Ibid.,
chpt. 81, II, p. 201).
In his statement Justin referred to Johnís declarations in
Revelation 20. In that passage John asserted that Christ
and His saints will reign for 1,000 years. Justinís
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).