Some time back I was asked to provide a Bible study that would include some documentation from the early Christian writers on their belief in a millennium, what is often called the 1000 year reign, or the kingdom age of Messiah.
Interestingly enough while the Scriptures are filled with references to an age to come that is described as peace and prosperity in all the earth, the only direct reference we have in the Scriptures to a 1000 year reign is in Revelation. But it is equally interesting that the concept of a 1000 year reign is taught both in Christianity, in Judaism, in Islam, in Zoroastrianism, and in other oriental religions.
The belief in a Millennium is deeply embedded in religions around the world. With that in mind, I’ll share primarily from early Church documentation. First, we need to hear from the apostle John.
“And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he lay hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him so that he could not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things, he must be released for a short time.
“Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead or on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.” (Revelations 20:1-5)
Notice that the term “a thousand years” is used four times. Though the book of Revelation is filled with symbols, John seems to be pretty clear on the issue of a thousand year period of time where Satan is placed in captivity. But the question that we want to answer is how did other early believers look at this idea of a thousand year reign? Did they accept a literal one thousand year
Did they accept a literal one thousand year reign, or did they simply place this teaching in Revelation as symbolic of perhaps something else?
The answer is that nearly all the earliest Christian writers believed in a literal thousand year reign. When I speak of the earliest writers, I am including second and third generation disciples. This would include those who were nearest to the apostolic age. Here are some quotes:
#1) Reference to Papias cited by Eusebius (Papias was a disciple of the Apostle John and a friend of Polycarp; 60-130 ad); “Among these things, Papias says that there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on this earth.”
#2) Justin Martyr (c. 160); “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 believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem.”
#3) Hippolytus (c. 205); “The Sabbath is the type and symbol of the future kingdom of the saints when they shall reign with Christ after He comes from heaven, as John says in his Revelation. For ‘a day with the Lord is as a thousand years.'”
#4) Tertullian (c. 207); “We do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven. Only, it will be in another state of existence. For it will be after the resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem ‘let down from heaven.'”
#5) Victorinus (c. 280); “The true Sabbath will be in the seventh millennium of years when Christ will reign with His elect.”
#6) Lactantius (c. 340); “Back then a mortal and imperfect man was formed from the earth so that he might live a thousand years in this world. So, now, from this earthly age is formed a perfect man. And, being quickened by God, he will bear rule in this same world through a thousand years.”
#7) Irenaeus (c. 180); “The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous will bear rule, after their rising from the dead. It is also the time when the creation will bear fruit with an abundance of all kinds of food, having been renovated and set free. … And all of the animals will feed on the vegetation of the earth. They will become peaceful and harmonious among each other, and they will be in perfect subjection to man. And these things are borne witness to in the fourth book of the writings of Papias, the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp.”
#8) Commodianus (240); “The Amen sends flames on the nations. And the Medes and Persians burn for a thousand years, as the apocalyptic words of John declare. After a thousand years, they will be delivered over to Gehenna. And he whose work they were is burned up with them.”
This is a sampling of how very literal the earliest disciples took the belief of a thousand year reign. There were a few such as Origen who denied a literal reign of Christ on the earth. These were in a minority. Origen was later charged with heresy.
That there was to be an age to come that precedes the eternities of God is very much described in the Scriptures. Isaiah is replete with descriptions of that age. Rather than go through the many references, let’s consider this one;
“The wilderness and the desert will be glad, and the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; like the crocus. It will blossom profusely and rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given it the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.” (Isaiah 35:2)
Then we have the teaching of Jesus. In the beatitudes, the Lord said, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) This is a near quote from the book of Psalms; “But the humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” (Psalm 37:11)
An important point to keep in mind is that the Bible of the early believers was simply the writings of Moses, of David, and the prophets, along with whatever apostolic writings had been collected. There was no need to rewrite all that God had to say about an age to come. The Hebrew people very much believed in a Messianic age. Their Bible was filled with descriptions of that certain age.
Perhaps we need to consider the word for ‘age.’ The Greek word is ‘aion.’ Aion generally refers to a unit of time. (The context determines its usage.) The Lord seemed to have the kingdom age in view, when he said, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; for they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:34-36)
This statement by Jesus ties in with that John had to say about the resurrection and the thousand year reign. He said, “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.”
Then when John speaks of thrones being set up at the end of the thousand year reign, Paul had this to say; “Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the matters of this life.” (1 Co6:3)
Just some things to think about.
Shalom in Christ,