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The Chiliasts (early premillennialists) and John Bunyan

July 17, 2014

In my ongoing interests in premillennialism and church history, lately I have been looking more closely at the earlier premillennialists (pre-19th century), and particularly John Bunyan.  While searching on the Internet a few weeks ago, in reference to the question of “reformed Baptists” and historic premillennialism, I came across a recent article that explain a little of the history of the 1689 London Baptist confession and connection to premillennialism.  The following paragraph especially caught my interest:

Likewise, Nathaniel West tells us that “the English Chiliasts issued a public protest against both the conduct and principles of the revolutionary sect, a protest in which all true pre-millennarians were represented. (Neal’s Puritans, II. 221.) Eleven years after the Assembly adjourned, the English Baptists presented their pre-millennarian confession to Charles II., A.D. 1660, John Bunyan’s name among the number, declaring, ‘We believe that Christ, at His Second Coming, will not only raise the dead, and judge and restore the world, but also take to Himself His Kingdom, which will be a universal Kingdom and that, in this Kingdom, the Lord Jesus Christ will be the alone visible, Supreme, Lord and King of the whole earth.’ (Crosby’s History of the Baptists).

Prior to this, my primary knowledge of John Bunyan was his famous allegory, “Pilgrims Progress,” and related allegorical fiction, and a general impression that he did not write anything with specific reference to eschatology. Then I started looking at overall Puritan literature, including the John Bunyan volumes available at Bunyan Ministries, including Bunyan’s unfinished commentary on Genesis, which covered the first 10 chapters.  Recognizing that this was nearly two centuries before the 19th century controversy over evolution and the age of the Earth, still I was curious to find out what, if anything, John Bunyan had to say regarding the Earth’s age, in his writings about the early Genesis chapters.

Indeed, we won’t find anything in Bunyan’s writings in reference to the 19th century teaching of evolution or long, vast ages of earth history. But it was exciting and interesting to find this Puritan, hundreds of years before the more developed premillennial writings of the 19th century Benjamin Wills Newton and Nathaniel West variety, affirm the basics of premillennialism – and to specifically relate it to the doctrine of creation:

Which sabbath, as I conceive, will be the seventh thousand of years, which are to follow immediately after the world hath stood six thousand first: for as God was six days in the works of creation, and rested the seventh; so in six thousand years he will perfect his works and providences that concern this world. As also he will finish the toil and travel of his saints, with the burden of the beasts, and the curse of the ground; and bring all into rest for a thousand years.

Bunyan further understood the connection between the early Earth, the pre-flood era, and what is promised in the future millennial era, as in his comments on Genesis 5:

These long-lived men therefore shew us the glory that the church shall have in the latter day, even in the seventh thousand years of the world, that sabbath when Christ shall set up his kingdom on earth, according to that which is written, “They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Rev 20:1-4). They:—Who? The church of God, according also as it was with Adam. Therefore they are said by John to be holy, as well as blessed: “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” (v 6). In all which time the wicked in the world shall forbear to persecute, as did also the brood of wicked Cain in the days of Adam, Seth, &c. Hence therefore we find in the first place the dragon chained for these thousand years.

Bunyan’s view was quite similar to that of the early church, including the “millennial week” idea of a day as a thousand years, thus six thousand years of history for the six days of creation, followed by the “seventh day” as the 1000 year millennial kingdom. “Historic premillennialism” as expressed in the last 200 years, carries forward many features of early premillennialism, except the millennial week. For a modern Bible teacher who holds to chiliasm, see these articles from Tim Warner (note: he is also rather anti-Calvinist, and not in the usual tradition of the 19th century Calvinist Premillennialists), the only one I know of who holds to chiliasm in modern times:

Bunyan also taught according to the literal, non-spiritualizing hermeneutic, as seen in his reference to Zechariah 14:4, in this work addressing the error of the spiritualizing Quakers:

And his feet shall stand in that day [the day of his second coming] upon the Mount of Olives’ (Zech 14:4). Where is that? Not within thee, but that which is without Jerusalem, before it on the east side.

Regarding premillennialism in church history, the following online works:

  1. Shauna
    July 17, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Excellent & very interesting History that I didn’t know about – Thank You for sharing this!

    • July 17, 2014 at 6:22 pm

      Glad it was helpful to you, Shauna!

  2. July 17, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    I was blissfully unaware of this history pertaining to John Bunyan. For whatever the reason, I knew that Increase and Cotton Mather were premillennial Puritans as was Benjamin Keach, who signed the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and spent time in prison for his beliefs.

    • July 17, 2014 at 6:26 pm

      Yes, it is interesting, and not that well-known today. I also had heard of the Mathers in reference to premillennialism, but I’m not familiar with Benjamin Keach, will look him up for more info. Per Nathaniel West’s history which I just finished reading (History of the Premillennial Doctrine), quite a few of the Puritans were premillennial.

  3. July 21, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    Fascinating–to think that John Bunyan was Premillennial and this coming from someone who does like writing large allegories.

    • July 22, 2014 at 6:56 am

      Yes, and it goes to show that everyone can appreciate allegories, even those who hold to a more literal hermeneutic of scripture itself, such as John Bunyan.

  4. June 17, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    Hi there, not sure if you are still responding to this thread. I also currently hold to the historic premillennial view. I’ve been trying to reconcile something though, and wonder if you might have any thoughts. 2 Peter 3:12 describes the day of the Lord as being the day when the elements will melt with fervent heat. This seems to be a description of the destruction of the current earth to usher in the new heavens/new earth. But I read Zechariah 14 and see a reign being set up on earth after the day of the Lord. I may be very uninformed on my views, but this one has given me trouble. Any help you have I would love to hear!

  5. Gerry L
    May 5, 2018 at 10:31 pm

    Wow! This is SO interesting Lynda.

    I had read of Bunyan being “premillennial” years ago, but there was no accompanying provision of his writings to support this view as you have provided here.

    To me this is especially important and rewarding because Bunyan is easily my favorite Christian author. In the Banner of Truth edition of his Works, there is an essay of his on the New Jerusalem which I read over a decade ago. In his preface to the work he relates a rather remarkable account of his being led into the understanding he was given of this passage before preaching on it to others in prison with him. He then states that the written work was an outgrowth of that sermon. It is fascinating reading.

    I also read years ago part of his work on Genesis but must have missed the sections you refer to here.

    Thank you so much for bringing to my attention these proofs of Bunyans Premillennialism and his sabbath day analogy, a view I also hold to and one which I believe is especially telling, and fits well with idea that the whole Bible is a unique, consistent, complete comment on the history of God, man, angels and the world.

  6. Jason G
    May 30, 2022 at 3:50 pm

    Bunyan is premillennial, sure- but what does he believe about Revelation chapters 1-19? The four interpretation are futurist, preterist, historicist, and idealist.

    The answer is that he was historicist, like most Protestants in his time. He believed that Papacy is the Antichrist that will be destroyed. This also explains why he believed in the ‘millennial week’, which is a common historicist view.

    See here fore more: https://www.biblebb.com/files/bunyan/antichrist.htm

    • May 30, 2022 at 3:52 pm

      Yes, agree that he was also historicist— one of the views of premillennialists, though not as common of a view in our day.

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