Home > Christian Authors, church history, eschatology, premillennial church history, premillennialism > Chiliasm: Premillennialism in Church History, Part I

Chiliasm: Premillennialism in Church History, Part I


The following is the first in a short blog series, with details concerning the history of premillennialism, from the early church through the Puritan era. Further resources for this information: Nathaniel West’s History of the Premillennial Doctrine (1879), and “The Voice of the Church on the Coming and Kingdom of the Redeemer, Or, a History of the Doctrine of the Reign of Christ on Earth” by Daniel Thompson Taylor (1855).  Nathaniel West’s essay is a good overview and defense of premillennialism, in which he points out the true positions of early teachers and later attempted criticism of this hope of the martyr church. The earlier book (by D.T. Taylor) is a more comprehensive look at the actual history, with more details including many quotes from premillennialists through the centuries.

For today, a look at what the early church believed, and the scriptures they referenced in support of chiliasm – from the writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Lactantius and several others. Contrary to what is sometimes said about the early church, and what is sometimes presented as “historic premillennialism,” the early church had very definite ideas concerning what Revelation was about (quite opposite to what a local church pastor has often claimed, that the earliest believers didn’t understand the book of Revelation and didn’t know what it was about), and their premillennialism was based on many texts of scripture beyond the “one text” presentation of Revelation 20, including many Old Testament passages.

  • Psalm 37:11, “The meek shall inherit the earth, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace,” and the promise in the gospels, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”
  • Revelation 20, Genesis creation, Isaiah 65:17, Psalm 90:4; (also Peter’s reference in 2 Peter 3); Zechariah 14. (Note these verse also in reference to the millennial week concept of creation, including the six thousand years of history followed by the seventh thousand as the millennial era.)
  • That the city of Jerusalem would be “built, adorned, and enlarged according to the Prophets.” (Justin Martyr)

As noted in this previous post, the early church also affirmed a future 3 ½ year Tribulation, during which the believers will be persecuted by antichrist, after which Christ will Return. They especially understood the parallels between Daniel 7 and the book of Revelation, and that Revelation gives more temporal information of what Daniel’s account compresses, and that these passages refer to Christ’s Second Advent. Consider the following parallels, as presented by Nathaniel West:

As to the Cloud Comer:
Daniel 7:18 “I went on gazing in the night’s visions, and behold! One like a Son of Man came in the clouds of heaven,” etc.
Revelation 1:7 “Behold! He cometh in clouds, and every eye shall see Him; they also that pierced Him.”

As to the Persecuting Antichristian Beast:
Daniel 7:21, 22 “I went on gazing, and the same Horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them until the Ancient of Days came,”
Rev. 11:7; 18:7; 17:14. “The Beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.” “War with the saints and overcome them.”

As to the time of the Dominance of the Beast:
Dan 7:25. “They shall be given into his hands for a time, times, and the dividing of a time.”
Rev. 12:14; 11:2, 3. “For a time, times, and half a time.” “Forty and two months.” “A thousand, two hundred and threescore days.”

As to the Judgment on the Antichristian Beast:
Dan. 7:9, 10, 22, 26, 11. “I went on gazing till the thrones were placed and the Ancient of Days did sit,” -etc. “The judgment was set and the books were opened.” “And judgment was given to the saints of the Most High.” “The judgment shall sit,” etc. “I went on gazing—till the Beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.”
Rev. 19:11; 20:4, 12; 19:20, 21. “I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse,” etc. “I saw thrones and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them.” “And I saw a great white throne, and the books were opened.” “And I saw the Beast,” etc. “And the Beast was taken, and with him the False Prophet that wrought miracles before them,” etc. “These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of Him that sat on the horse,” etc.

As to the Kingdom and Reign of the triumphant saints:
Dan. 7:18, 22, 27. “The time came that the saints possessed the Kingdom.” “The saints of the Most High shall take the Kingdom forever, even for ever and ever.” “And the Kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the Kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom,” etc.
Rev. 6:10; 11:15; 20:4, 5. “We shall reign with thee on the earth.” “The Kingdoms of this world are become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever, and ever.” “And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God,” etc. “And they lived and reigned a thousand years. This is the first resurrection.”

As to the Blessedness of the Millennial Reign:
Dan. 12:12, 18. “Blessed is he that waiteth and cometh to the thousand, three hundred and five and thirty days.” “Thou shalt rest and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.”
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.”

An excerpt from Nathaniel West on this point:

The prophetic page of Daniel was regarded as a sacred calendar of the future, measuring the range of successive Gentile empires from the captivity date to the finishing of the mystery of God under the seventh trumpet, embracing the conversion of the Jews or recall of Israel to the covenant, the overthrow of Antichrist, the first Resurrection, and the Millennial Reign and Final Judgment. (Rev. 10:7; 11:15; Rom. 11:26; Rev. 19:20; 20: 1-7)—a course of history spanning 490 years of the later Jewish dispensation, all the Christian dispensation closing with the overthrow of the Beast and Little Horn, and the erection of Daniel’s fifth and everlasting Kingdom as an external polity, upon the extinct polities of all nations. The whole time thus covered, by this scope, was the long period of Israel’s expectation, running parallel with the Captivity, Restoration, Rejection, the times of the Antichristian Apostacy—all this the “Times of the Gentiles,”—together with the ” Time of the End,” and of the 1,000 years. The prophetic page of John, too, was regarded by the early Church as a compend, not of the details, but of the chief events and results of history in their relation to the coming Kingdom, a further development of the vision of Daniel, depicting the rise and progress of Antichrist, the final overthrow of the Roman Empire, and the judgment on Antichrist at the end of the 1,260 days—the Great Image no longer standing on its feet, Beast and False Prophet no longer existing, the Millennial Kingdom coming with One who comes in the clouds of Heaven. With such a view it was impossible for the early Church not to be Pre-Millennarian, for the visions of Daniel (chap. 7) and John (Apoc. chaps. 4-22) were one.

Next Time: The Martyr doctrine that was itself martyred

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