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Amillennialism

How did the early Church view the End Times?

Justin Martyr, as the name implies, was killed for his faith. He lived in a time of intense persecution. All the woes that he read from the available Scripture, led him to believe that he was living in the End Times and you can't fault him for that.

Irenaeus thought this too and wrote about it in Against Heresies, producing a detailed analysis of the Book of Daniel and Revelation, particularly regarding the timetable, activities and identity of the antichrist. He was also the first to muse on "666", however he reached no firm conclusions. He also believed in the literal Millennium Kingdom, the 1000 year reign of Christ and his Church on Earth after the Second Coming.

He was one of the first premillenialists. This is the belief that Christ will return before the 1000 year Millennium reign of Revelation 20.

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)

This position was strongly opposed by - guess who? - yes it's that man Origen again. A literal 1000 year reign that the Scriptures imply was totally unacceptable to this Christian philosopher, the main promoter of the philosophic ideas of Plato, including the use of allegory to spiritualise Holy Scripture. The prevailing Greek worldview was the thought of everything going on forever in a cyclical sense, with life followed by death, then by life, then by death and so on, also the idea of the End Time scenario of the premillenialists was alien to them, and to Origen.

Origen was one of the first amillenialists, the belief that there will be no literal 1000 year Millennium reign, but rather that the 1000 years is to be taken symbolically and that the Millennium has actually begun and is the current Church age. A curious implication of this belief is that Satan is currently bound (Revelation 20:2) and powerless, which seems to be contrary to popular Christian opinion and experience!

This all sounds like Origen; the word "symbolically" is the big give-away, plus his reluctance to accept the plain meaning of Biblical texts and to relentlessly spiritualise away as much as he could, in the true spirit of Platonism.

This was also the view of the enormously influential Augustine, which basically meant that amillennialism became the official Catholic view at that time, and has remained so ever since. There were also political reasons, as the Catholic State Church was not too happy to promote a worldview that involved Christ returning to do away with the evil rulers of the World! Also, amillennialism fitted in seamlessly with his whole theological system, regarding his view of sin, grace and the sacraments, as well as his thoughts on Israel. One thing that he couldn't countenance was a physical 1000 year Kingdom of God on Earth, Plato would never have allowed this.

Although amillennialism remained the dominant position for a long time afterwards, there were a few apocalyptic blips, mainly around the days leading up to the years AD 500 and AD 1000. Then there was the monk, Joachim of Fiore, a fervent premillenialist, who decided that the year AD 1260 was to usher in the Millennium reign of Christ, but died well before his life's work was shown to be nonsense.

Steve Maltz

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again)

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