Essays On Chiliasm (Part 1)

  It is no misstatement to say that Chiliasm is the doctrine of the Bible itself.  It was probably the first system used by Christians to interpret that passage in Revelation 20 which speaks of the “thousand years.”  Although Chiliasm has had ups and downs throughout the centuries, and while it has sometimes even been branded as heresy, we must recognize that it alone properly explains and interprets the Messianic promises in language that “little children” would understand.  That such was the understanding of men such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Lactantius, Commodian, and others, should tell us that it is compatible with the orthodox faith.  It also claims a spiritual power that it is conspicuously absent from A-Millennial and Post-Millennial systems.  This series will be aimed at promoting the doctrines of Chiliasm from a Biblical as well as historical perspective.  It is labeled ‘Reformed’ for the simple reason that my purpose will be to restore Chiliastic doctrines to their original significance– not because I follow any system claimed by the Protestant Reformers.  Most of the Reformers, as we well know, denied and rejected Chiliasm.  But that was not always the case with Christian interpreters.

   Much of the enmity against Chiliasm arises from allegorical interpretations of Scripture.  This allegorical method was highly favored by Origen, and was taken up by his disciples.  Even Methodius of Olympus, Origen’s earliest known opponent, followed his methods of spiritualizing every passage he got his hands on.  While Methodius himself leans towards a Chiliastic view, one must concede that it is very difficult to hold a Pre-Millennial position when you allow for the indiscriminate allegorizing of prophetic Scripture.  It is at least highly difficult to prove one’s point.  And that seems to be the beginning of the whole problem.

   Note that it was not a practice of the early church to allegorize the Scriptures.  Tertullian freely admitted that many of the prophecies could be taken allegorically, but that this was an exception rather than a rule.  Irenaeus had already shown that allegorical interpretations will get you into very serious hermeneutical problems.  One must really ask whether the allegorizing of Scripture is even permissible, when we see every day the kind of damage it does to one’s understanding of the Bible.  In many cases, those who invent newfangled theologies rely on allegorical interpretations because the meaning of the words must first be changed in order to promote their views.  With all this nonsense going on, it would seem that allegorizing has a direct linkage to heretical theorizing. Let us beware of such methods; or, at the least, let us investigate to see whether they are sound to begin with.

   Although various forms of Chiliasm survived into the Post-Nicene era, it was St. Augustine who put an effectual halt to its further growth.  In his work The City of God, he claimed that the Millennium represents the spiritual reign of Christ’s people “during the entire duration of this world” (XX. vii).  Obviously such a view could only spring from the rampant spiritualizing of the Scriptures.  For it is evident in the Word of God that the Millennial reign would occur after antichrist was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 19: 20-21; 20: 4).  Thus it must begin at some point in human history.  Also, the reign is continually promised as a future event:

   (Matt. 19: 28) “Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

   (Rev. 2: 26 ff.) “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations.”

   (Rev. 5: 10) “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.

   (Rev. 20: 6) “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”

   A simple glance at the above verses will tell us that the “First Resurrection” does not occur in the celestial realms, but on earth.  There is no way one can spiritualize or allegorize the passages.  For Christ has clearly told His disciples that “The meek shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5: 5).  The prophet David places this inheritance alongside the destruction of the wicked (Psalm 37: 9, 11).  During the following weeks and months I will be showing how these passages will be fulfilled during the Millennium, and will also be confuting the false views that have sprung up within, or in opposition to, Chiliastic theology. 

   But for the present, I think an explanation is in order as to how I came to adopt such a system.  Actually, it was a movement made in “Full Circle.”  For when I was baptized  at Grace Independent Baptist Church in Moss Point, Mississippi, I had accepted the Chiliast position.  When I was called into the Gospel ministry, I retained this position.  It wasn’t until I came across the doctrines of Preterism that I began to question my first faith.  I have already elsewhere told of my gradual slide from Partial to Full Preterism.  There is no need to re-visit those scenes.  Let me only say that, in studying the Bible more and more, I’ve come to the conclusion that Preterism is entirely untenable for a number of reasons.  As this series of articles is about Chiliasm, and not Preterism, I will only be able to touch lightly on the falsehoods of the latter system.  However, all this will gradually be cleared up as I continue to delve into the Scriptures.

   Now, however, let me draw your attention to what I call the “diurnal typology.”  For this is really the true starting point for bringing forward Pre-Millennial truths. 

   Although God created the heavens and the earth in six literal days, each day is typical of 1000 years.  I have already related in previous articles, that when Adam sinned on the sixth day, he frustrated the perfection of the Sabbath, which had to be postponed to a future time.  God told him that in the day he ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree, he would surely die (Gen. 2: 17).  Adam lived to be nine-hundred and thirty years old (Gen. 5: 5).  That is exactly one thousand minus seventy.  Seventy signifies the years of man’s life (Psalm 90:10).  But a day of the Lord is a thousand years (Psalm 90: 4; 2 Peter 3: 8).  Thus, Adam truly died during the first day; for he was deprived of the number of his years in the midst of the day he ate of the fruit.

    Now, Christ died for our sins after four thousand years had passed. Since days are reckoned from evening unto morning (Gen. 1: 5), the coming of Christ marks the evening of the fourth day and the beginning of the fifth.  But we are not at all sure where to mark the actual expiration of the four thousandth year.  In this we need help from orthodox Bible scholars. 

   There are two theories of chronology which may be accepted.  Usher’s chronology would make the fourth day end in 4 B.C.  Nevertheless, John Lightfoot’s reckoning makes the fourth day end around A.D. 68.  What does this prove?  Well, it shows that sometime between Christ’s birth and the destruction of Jerusalem the fourth day elapsed and the fifth day began.  Since that time approximately two thousand years have passed.  That means that sometime within the present century, the sixth day will expire, and the seventh will begin.  What does all this mean?

   Let us recall that the seventh day is the missing Sabbath, which was frustrated by Adam’s fall.  Now, what ever happened to this missing Sabbath?  For it is evident that if six thousand years have not already elapsed, then the Sabbath is still future.  I believe the answer may be found in Rev. 20: 1-6.  In other words, the seventh day is the Millennium! This period shall last 1000 years, during which Christ and His saints will rule all nations with a rod of iron.  This will be the fulfillment of the original Sabbath which was frustrated by sin.  It takes place on earth, for it is the completion of God’s purposes concerning the Genetic creation.  Please note that Adam lost Christ’s presence on earth, not spiritually.  For he believed in the promise of Christ, and taught his sons to sacrifice and to maintain religion.  It is also evident that he must have kept the Sabbath after his eviction from Eden.  Thus, the Sabbath looks forward to the Seventh day on earth, to the restoration of Christ’s presence among us, in which He shall be rule and reign from Jerusalem.

   (Psalm 22: 27) “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.  For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and He is the governor among the nations.”

   (Zech. 14: 9) “And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day there shall be one Lord, and His name one.

   Once again, these verses cannot be allegorized, nor can they be relegated to the past.  For although such verses can be applied to Christ’s mediatorial reign, it is obvious that such application does not constitute fulfillment.  Our Lord speaks in His parable of going to receive a kingdom, and then returning (Luke 19: 12 ff.).  Hence if the kingdom He received is a mediatorial kingdom, then it follows that He shall return to fulfill the prophecies of His reign on earth, and to distribute rewards unto His servants.  The start of the Millennium, however, does not represent the general resurrection.  For as Christ rose on the day after the Sabbath, the general resurrection is always placed after the close of the Millennium. It is not on the seventh day, but on the eighth.  Thus the seventh day must be spent before the general resurrection occurs.  Wherefore it is truly said that “The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished” (Rev. 20: 5).

   Of course, I realize that Preterists will take certain time statements and twist their meaning to support the theology that “all things were fulfilled in A.D. 70.”  But their view enforces allegorical interpretations, as well as frustrates the diurnal typology.  It makes God work according to our notions of time, and not His own. “Behold, I come quickly” (Rev. 22: 12). Preterists do not understand that “quickly” cannot mean “a number of years.”  No human usage allows phrases such as “in a little while” “soon,” “at hand,” etc. to be used to signify years!  If I told someone I was coming to visit them “quickly,” and I took years to arrive, the first question would be “What took you so long?”  The error comes from placing the apostles in our shoes, when we ought really to place ourselves in their shoes.  Looking back over the bridge of 2,000 years, forty years does seem to us like a very short period of time.  But the impression is purely subjective.  The timing statements Full Preterists use must break down at all points when we find similar statements occurring throughout the Old Testament repeatedly.  What does God really mean when He says “soon?”  Does he mean forty years in human time, or a few days according to His own time?

To be continued…

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Fred Cafagno says:

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