Millennialism


Millennialism or millenarianism is a Christian belief, based on the Book of Revelation 20:1-6, that Christ will establish a kingdom on earth for a duration of 1,000 years. The term comes from "millennium" (Latin mille "one thousand" and annum "year"), which means "one thousand years." Interpretations of the millennium's temporal relationship with Christ's second coming differ considerably among various branches of Christianity: some believe that the return of Christ occurs before the millennial kingdom (premillennialism), while others think it will happen after the millennial kingdom (postmillennialism). For premillennialists, the return of Christ is a cataclysmic event initiated by God to bring a very sharp break from the wicked reality of the world by inaugurating the millennial kingdom. For postmillennialists, in contrast, the return of Christ happens after Christians in the millennial kingdom responsibly establish cultural and political foundations to receive him. There is a third view called amillennialism, and it has a symbolic interpretation of the millennium kingdom, saying that it is simply the duration of the imperfect church on earth between Christ's first coming and his return, and that the real kingdom of God is in heaven beyond the millennium.

These millennial views in Christianity, in spite of their differences, consider the millennial kingdom to be earthly, and it would fit with God's original promise to Abraham about giving him "this land" (Gen. 12:7; 17:8). Any attempt to soften the sharp division between premillennialsim and postmillennialism over the millennium's temporal relationship with Christ's return would involve a theory of harmonizing God's initiation and human responsibility. Thoughtful theologians suggest that the differences of the various types of millennialism should not divide believers from one another, as theological interpretation is always tentative in nature.

Contents

A variety of cultures embrace the expectation of an imminent golden age, and some millennial movements exist outside of Christianity. In the beginning of the twenty-first century, as in past times, hundreds of religious groups claim that the millenarian era is imminent.

Origins

Pre-Christian

Millennialism developed out of a uniquely Christian interpretation of Jewish apocalypticism, which took root in Jewish apocryphal literature of the tumultuous inter-testamental period (200 B.C.E. to 100 C.E.), including writings such as Enoch, Jubilees, Esdras, and the additions to Daniel. Passages within these texts, including 1 Enoch 6-36, 91-104, 2 Enoch 33:1, and Jubilees 23:27, refer to the establishment of a "millennial kingdom" by a messianic figure, occasionally suggesting that the duration of this kingdom would be a thousand years. However, the actual number of years given for the duration of the kingdom varied. In 4 Ezra 7:28-9, for example, it is said that the kingdom will last only 400 years.

This notion of the millennium no doubt helped some Jews to cope with the socio-political conflicts that they faced. This concept of the millennium served to reverse the previous period of evil and suffering, rewarding the virtuous for their courage while punishing the evil-doers, with a clear separation of those who are good from those who are evil. The vision of a thousand-year period of bliss for the faithful, to be enjoyed here in the physical world as "heaven on earth," exerted an irresistible power over the imagination of Jews in the inter-testamental period as well as early Christians. Millennialism, which had already existed in Jewish thought, received a new interpretation and fresh impetus with the arrival of Christianity.

The concept of a utopian millennium, and much of the imagery used by [Jew]s and early Christians to describe this time period, was most likely influenced by Persian culture, specifically by Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism describes history as occurring in successive thousand-year periods, each of which will end in a cataclysm of heresy and destruction. These epochs will culminate in the final destruction of evil by a triumphant messianic figure, the Saoshyant, at the end of the last millennial age. The Saoshyant will perform a purification of the morally corrupted physical world, as described in the Zand-i Vohuman Yasht: "Saoshyant makes the creatures again pure, and the resurrection and future existence occur."[1] This eschatological event is referred to as frashokereti, a notion that seems to have had a great degree of influence on Judaic eschatology and eventually Christian millennialism.

In Christian scripture

Christian millennialist thinking is primarily based upon Revelation 20:1-6, which describes the vision of an angel who descended from heaven with a large chain and a key to a bottomless pit, and captured Satan, imprisoning him for a thousand years:

He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years and threw him into the pit and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be let out for a little while (Rev. 20:2-3).

The Book of Revelation then describes a series of judges who are seated on thrones, as well as his vision of the souls of those who were beheaded for their testimony in favor of Jesus and their rejection of the mark of the beast. These souls:

came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6).

Thus, John of Patmos characterizes a millennium where Christ and the Father will rule over a theocracy of the righteous. While there are an abundance of biblical references to such a kingdom of God throughout the Old and New Testaments, this is the only literal reference in the Bible to such a period lasting one thousand years. The literal belief in a thousand-year reign of Christ is a later development in Christianity, as it does not seem to have been present in first century texts.

In writing his account of Revelation, St. John may have been influenced by the fractious social climate in [[]]Rome during the first century C.E. Christianity was among the numerous religious traditions that deviated from the Roman state religion and were persecuted by the Roman rulers for this reason. Christian millennialism was one of a number of reactions against the prevailing Roman Empire. The possibility of deliverance from this Roman state made the thought of a millennium under Jesus' benevolent rule more appealing.

Types of millennialism

There are three main types of millennialism within Christianity: premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism. In all cases with the exception of the premillennialism of the Seventh-day Adventists, the millennial kingdom is basically on earth. Premillennialism and postmillennialism differ in their views of the temporal relationship between Christ's second coming and the millennial kingdom. Amillennialism has a symbolic interpretation of the millennium and the millennial kingdom.

Premillennialism

Comparison of Christian millennial interpretations

Premillennialism believes that Christ returns prior to the millennial kingdom (Rev. 19:11) to inaugurate it on earth. The glorious return of Christ takes place after the history of Christianity has witnessed numerous moments of satanic activities. Thus, the second coming is a cataclysmic event that brings a very sharp break from the wicked reality of the world, involving the surrender of Satan (Rev. 20:2-3), the resurrection of the righteous dead (Rev. 20:4-5; 1 Thess. 4:16), and the being "caught up" of the living believers in the church to meet Christ (1 Thess. 4:17). These people will reign the millennial kingdom with Christ as King (Rev. 20:4). At the end of the millennium, Satan will be loosed to deceive people (Rev. 20:7-8), but Christ will win over him again through the final judgment (Rev. 20:9-10), including the judgment of the wicked dead that get resurrected at that point (Rev. 20:13-14). Thus, the eternal order will begin. All the saintly human beings will be transferred to heaven.

However, regarding the great tribulation (Matt. 24:4-28) at the hands of the antichrist (1 John 2:18) and how it is temporally related to the return of Christ, premillennialists are divided by two different tribulational views: pretribulationism and posttribulationism. Pretribulationism believes that Christ invisibly returns prior to the literal seven-year tribulation (Dan. 9:27) to secretly take up the church into himself through what pretribulationism calls "rapture" (1 Thess. 4:17), delivering the believers from the wrath (1 Thess. 1:10). This means that the church does not suffer the tribulation (1 Thess. 5:9; Rev. 3:20). After the tribulation, which only non-Christians experience, is over, Christ now visibly returns with the church to reign. Thus, there are two stages in the return of Christ. The best example of pretribulationism is dispensationalism that emerged in the nineteenth century.

In contrast, posttribulationism holds that Christ only returns after the tribulation of the church, which is not necessarily just seven years in duration but rather a substantial period of time, and that the deliverance of the church happens in such a way that right after the living believers are "caught up" to meet Christ (1 Thess. 4:17), they simply come back to earth with him victoriously. There are no two stages in the return of Christ, and the deliverance of the church this way does not necessarily have to be called rapture. One biblical evidence for the posttribulational idea that Christ returns after the tribulation that is experienced by the living believers, is Matthew 24:29-31, which says that "the Son of man" comes "after the tribulation" to gather "his elect" who are present during the tribulation. Historic premillennialism has usually taken this posttribulational position.

For the premillennialist, the dawning of the new millennial age with the second coming can only be set in motion by God, rather than by humanity, since the physical world is wicked to such a degree that only God can effect such drastic change.

Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism sees Christ's second coming as occurring after the millennial kingdom that is brought about on earth through the expansion and influence of the church. Unlike premillennialism, which believes that God alone initiates the second coming and the inauguration of the millennium kingdom, postmillennialists hold that Christians are responsible for setting in motion the millennial kingdom by converting all of society to Christianity (Matt. 24:14; 28:18-20). The thousand-year kingdom will be ushered in by the true church regardless of the initial tribulations that might befall it. The church will be perfected in the meantime (Matt. 16:18), overcoming all evil by setting in motion a religious revival throughout the world.

Most postmillennialists adhere to preterism (from the Latin praeter, meaning "past"), according to which the biblical prophesies regarding the tribulation in the last days (Matt. 24:4-28) were already fulfilled in the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73 C.E. that involved the destruction of Jerusalem. They believe that the millennial kingdom started to grow sometime after the first century, and that the growth of the millennial kingdom in the present age until the end is evident from the parables of Jesus (e.g., Matt. 13). At the end of the successful millennial kingdom, Christ returns for the physical resurrection of all, the final judgment, and the eternal order. For postmillennialists, the first resurrection of the righteous mentioned as occuring before the millennium (Rev. 20:4-5) simply means spiritual resurrection, i.e., conversion or regeneration that takes places before and even during the millennium.

Postmillennialism first arose in the early seventeenth century through certain Reformed and Puritan scholars, and the Great Awakening that started from the eighteenth century in the history of the United States involved powerful postmillennialist preachers such as Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and Charles Finney (1792-1875).

Amillennialism

The prefix a ("not") of amillennialism does not mean that it does not believe in a millennial kingdom at all. It only denies the existence of a literal 1000-year kingdom on earth. The millennium is a metaphor for the age of the church, and the kingdom is spiritual as Christ's reign at the right hand of God in heaven. For ammillennialists, therefore, the millennial kingdom only means the church as it exists on earth, somehow pointing to the kingdom of God in heaven. This kingdom of God in heaven does not involve a direct, personal reign of Christ on earth. Rather, this kingdom in heaven is manifested only in the hearts of believers as they receive the blessings of salvation (Col. 1:13-14) in the church. The age of the church, symbolized by the millennium, began with Christ's first coming and will continue until his return, and the church as a reflection of God's kingdom in heaven is considered to be far from perfect and still characterized by tribulation and suffering. So, although amillennialism is similar to postmillennialism in rejecting the millennium preceded by the second coming, it largely differs from the latter by denying the latter's preterist assertions that the tribulation was a past event fulfilled in the first century, and that the millennial kingdom therefore will be manifested on earth in a visible way with great political and cultural influence.

According to amillennialism, it is only at the return of Christ when the final judgment takes place that the tribulation will be overcome and Satan and his followers will be destroyed. Also, the physical resurrection of all will take place for the final judgment, and the eternal order will begin. For amillennialists as well as for postmillennialists, the first resurrection of the righteous (Rev. 20:4-5) simply refers to spiritual resurrection, i.e., conversion or regeneration that occurs during the millennium.

Amillennialism was popularized by Augustine in the fifth century and has dominated Christian eschatology for many centuries. Many mainline churches today continue to endorse amillennialism.

Christian millennialism through history

The early church

While millennialism in the sense of a literal 1000-year reign does not seem to have been prevalent in the earliest forms of Christianity in the Apostolic period,[2] it in its premillennialist form, known as "chiliasm" (from Greek chilioi, meaning "thousand"), did flourish in the second and third centuries, during which the Christians generally expected the imminent return of Christ in face of persecutions in the Roman Empire. Perhaps the first Christian leader to express the premillennial faith was Papias (c.60-130), bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, who described the millennial rule of Christ upon earth as characterized by miracles and natural blessings. Other premillennialists during that period include Justin Martyr (c.100-165), Melito of Sardis (d.c.180), Irenaeus (c.120-c.200), Tertullian (c.155-230), Hippolytus (c.170-235), Methodius (d.c.311), and Lactantius (c.240-c.320). Justin Martyr, discussing his own premillennial beliefs in his Dialogue with Trypho (chap. 110), observed that such beliefs were apparently prevalent among Christian adherents:

I admitted to you formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion, and [believe] that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise.[3]

But, when Constantine the Great (272-337) legalized Christianity in the fourth century, hostility toward Christianity was replaced by government support. So, premillennialism started to fade away in favor of amillennialism, which had already been developed by Alexandrian theologians such as Origen (c.185-c.254), who interpreted the Bible allegorically. Amillennialism, with its belief that the Christian hope is not to be on earth but in heaven, was accepted by Augustine (354-430), according to whom the first resurrection only figuratively refers to the conversion experience while the millennium symbolically means the Christian era.

Following Augustine, the Medieval Catholic Church adopted amillennialism. At the Council of Ephesus in 431 premillennialism was condemned as superstition, although it had already been officially left out earlier when the phrase "whose kingdom shall have no end" was included in the Nicene Creed in order to rule out the idea of a kingdom of God which would be limited to a duration of 1000 literal years.[4] The Church had little problem with doctrines such as the antichrist and the final battle between good and evil, but the idea of a literal kingdom of 1000 years was viewed with considerable suspicion.

The Medieval period: a premillennial undercurrent

The utopianism of Joachim of Fiore

In spite of its condemnation, there was always an undercurrent of premillennialism during the Medieval period among individuals such as the Italian monk and theologian Joachim of Fiore (c.1135-1202). Premillennialism had ramifications far beyond strictly religious concern, when it was blended and enhanced with the idea of utopia. Making use of the doctrine of the Trinity, Joachim developed a theory of three ages. He claimed that all of human history is involved in a succession of three ages: 1) the Age of the Father, which was represented by the Old Testament and characterized by the obedience of humankind to the law of God; 2) the Age of the Son, which occurs between the advent of Christ and the year 1260 C.E. and is represented by the New Testament, and in which we become more spiritual and freer because of our experience of divine grace; and 3) the Age of the Holy Spirit, which will be very different than previous ages, characterized by love and freedom. In this final age, humankind is to come into full communion with God, allowing for the dissolution of the ecclesiastical organization of the Catholic Church and giving humanity the opportunity to live in the complete freedom embodied within the original Christian message. Based on Revelation 11:3 and 12:6, Joachim calculated that the Age of the Holy Spirit would begin at around 1260, and that from then on all believers would assume the lifestyle of monks for a thousand years. After this time period, the final judgment would arrive, marking an end to the history of planet Earth.

The Franciscan Spirituals in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries picked this up and connected it with their strong sense of mission, thus creating a tension with the Catholic Church. Although Joachim's teachings were officially condemned, his optimism about history had a far-reaching influence.

The Taborites

Premillennial sentiments developed in Europe also due in no small measure to momentous events such as the Black Death in the middle of the fourteenth century as well as the gradual disintegration of the continent's religious unity reflected in the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1309-1377) and its aftermath. The most notable fifteenth-century premillennialists were the Taborites, a group inspired by the teachings of the Czech reformer Jan Hus (c.1369-1415), who had been burnt as a heretic in 1415. After making a considerable social stir, culminating in the murder of Prague's King Wencelsas in 1419, these Hussites decamped to a hill outside Prague, which they named Tabor. Here they established an egalitarian society and awaited Christ's return, remaining an influential social force until their demise in 1434.

The Reformation and the seventeenth century

The Reformers

The Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564) continued to hold the Augustinian view of the millennium, which was amillennialism. They disliked premillennialism perhaps because they did not like the activities of certain Anabaptist groups who were premillennialists. The Augsburg Confession of 1530 by the Lutherans formally rejected premillennialism. Calvin regarded premillennialism as a "fiction" that is "too puerile to need or to deserve refutation."[5]

Anabaptist premillennialism

Many people, most notably the Anabaptists, took the Reformation in a much more radical direction, and this is how premillennialism arose. The German pastor Thomas Müntzer (c.1490-1525) is typically considered one of the founding fathers of Anabaptism due to his stance against infant baptism. In 1525, he called for a complete upheaval of the secular world, including the corrupted Catholic Church, in order to hasten the return of Christ. Convinced that the end times were imminent based upon chapter 2 of the Book of Daniel, Müntzer believed that God had called him to the lead role in the coming apocalyptic drama. With this in mind, he preached of the arrival of the kingdom of God and proceeded to lead a peasant rebellion in Thuringia, Germany. However, Müntzer and his followers were easily defeated by the German authorities. Hans Hut (c.1490-1527), one of Müntzer's loyal followers, continued to promulgate the message of the imminent millennium after Müntzer's demise. Hut believed that Christ would return to Whitsuntide, Germany in 1528, although Hut died before any such event could occur.

A later Anabaptist group, founded on the prophecies of Melchior Hoffman (c.1495-1543), eschewed traditional Anabaptist pacifism as a result of their millennial expectations. In 1534, this Anabaptists group stormed the city of Münster, Germany, and established an anarchical religious commune, expelling all non-Anabaptists. Their community imposed severe punishment for moral misconduct where sexual transgressions were punishable by death. Eventually, opponents of the movement cut off all trade with Hoffman's followers, leading the city into squalor. The reputation of Anabaptism was damaged by this event.

A premillennial undercurrent

In the following century (seventeenth century), premillennialism was not a conventional belief yet. But, some premillennial renewal took place in that century as an undercurrent, partly because Luther himself had actually advocated a more literal approach to the Bible, and partly because the German Calvinist Johann H. Alsted (1588-1638) revived premillennialism in spite of Calvin's opposition. Alsted's work was adopted by the Anglican theologian Joseph Mede (1586-1639), who popularized premillennialism in the English-speaking world through his book, Clavis Apocalypticae (The Key to the Apocalypse),[6] and is therefore called the "father of modern premillennialism." In the New World, Puritan ministers such as Thomas Shepard (1604-1649) and Increase Mather (1639-1723) were premillennialists. The Baptist Roger Williams (c.1603-1683), the founder of Rhode Island, was also a premillennialist.

The English revolution: postmillennial

Millennialism also took hold in England during the seventeenth century, particularly during the time of the English Civil War between 1642 and 1651, although it was largely postmillennial. Such millennialism was based upon the alleged link between the antichrist and the Pope, as well as the idea that with historical events such as the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, England may have indeed been God's chosen nation. Complex numerologies suggested numerous dates for the return of Christ, often pointing toward the year 1666 due to its similarity with the number of the beast, and also 1656, which some believed corresponded to the year after creation in which God originally flooded the world. Also, the 42 months and 1260 years mentioned in the Book of Daniel were figured into these various calculations, as well as the collapse of the four great historical empires mentioned in that same book. For the so-called "Fifth Monarchists," the death of King Charles I was thought to clear the way for the kingdom of Jesus, which would be the fifth great empire in the history of the world. These movements during the English revolution were largely rooted in postmillennialism, which was evident in their idea that the rule by the saints over the world must take place before the return of Christ and also in the changing policy at that time concerning the Jewish people. Jews, who had not been allowed to reside in England since the thirteenth century, were granted admittance into the country during the 1650s, since Christians believed that Jesus' second coming would be delayed so long as Jews remained unconverted.

Modern millennialism

The rise of postmillennialism

Postmillennialism was first expressed by certain Reformed and Puritan scholars in the early seventeenth century and adhered to by many particularly during the English Civil War. But, it received its most influential formulation in the work of the Anglican divine Daniel Whitby (1638-1726). Postmillennialism preached in favor of social and intellectual progression alongside its calls for a worldwide religious revival. In the eighteenth century, Whitby's eschatology became widespread. During the first two Great Awakenings in the United States, postmillennialism almost supplanted premillennialism. The First Great Awakening by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) around the middle of the eighteenth century is considered to be a precursor to the American Revolutionary War. The Second Great Awakening in the first half of the nineteenth century, with Charles Finney (1792-1875) as the main figure, promoted abolitionism, temperance, women's rights, prison reform, etc. Even the Third Great Awakening from the late nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century had a postmillennial sentiment, becoming a guiding principle to overcome the Great Depression.

In the later decades of the twentieth century, postmillennialism has been carried on in small movements such as Christian Reconstructionism, Kingdom Now theology, and Charismatic Restorationism. Christian Reconstructionists, strongly Calvinistic, believe that the conservative variations of Christianity can shape North America and the world by way of the basic principles of the Pentateuch, thereby creating the social climate for the millennial kingdom before the return of Christ. Kingdom Now theology, which is a small minority within the Charismatic movement, believes that the leadership of "restored" apostles must take over the world before the return of Christ. (Both Christian Reconstructionism and Kingdom Now theology are two main streams of what is called "Dominion Theology.") Charismatic Restorationism, which is again part of the Charismatic movement, is however a more sectarian form of postmillennialism that urges retreat from society among its adherents, such that the millennial kingdom on earth, which restores the New Testament forms of church government, is actually an alternative, counter-culture society run by God's rules before Christ's return.

Dispensationalism: the rebound of premillenialism

In the seventeenth century, premillennialism was still an undercurrent. It was only gradually accepted later. In the eighteenth century, the German Lutheran theologian Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1751) was instrumental in making premillennialism more respectable, and he influenced the Moravian leader Count Zinzendorf (1700-1760). In the early nineteenth century, however, people started to show real interest in premillennialism. It was because the French Revolution, which had overthrown the monarch and destroyed papal authority in France, brought forth a state of turbulence, encouraging apocalyptic thinking. In the English-speaking world, Christian leaders such as the English politician and businessman Henry Drummond (1786-1860) and the American merchant David Nevins Lord (1792-1880) spread premillennialism.

It was through a new type of premillennialism called dispensationalism, however, that the marked rebound of premillennialism came in the early nineteenth century. The Anglo-Irish evangelist John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), an influential figure among the original Plymouth Brethren, championed dispensationalism under some influence of the eschatology of the Scottish Presbyterian Edward Irving (1792-1834). According to Darby's new understanding, God deals with human history through a series of seven distinct periods called dispensations: innocence (before the fall), conscience (the fall to Noah), human government (Noah to Abraham), promise (Abraham to Moses), the law (Moses to Christ), the church (Christ to his return), and the millennium (after the return of Christ). Humankind is tested in each of these dispensations, and the final dispensation, i.e., the millennium, is inaugurated by the return of Christ in two stages: 1) his first return prior to the great tribulation to take up the church to himself through secret rapture; and 2) his second return with the church after the great tribulation to establish the millennial kingdom. This position is pretribulationist. It is related to its other idea that the church needs to be taken out of the world for Israel to be the place of the fulfillment of God's promise. (The establishment of the new Israel in 1948 is therefore interpreted as a sign of the impending end times.) Dispensationalism has become the most widely held premillennial view in the United States since the Civil War. More than 200 Bible institutes and seminaries, most notably Dallas Theological Seminary, in America have endorsed it, and many famous preachers such as Dwight Moody (1837-1899) and Billy Graham (1918-) have adopted it.

Seventh-day Adventism

The Seventh-day Adventists, whose church was established in the United States around the middle of the nineteenth century, uphold a position that straddles the boundary between pre- and postmillennialism. For them, Christ will return before the millennium, raising all the righteous dead into heaven so that they may bear witness to the spectacle of the end times. In contrast to other millennial beliefs, it posits that the thousand years will occur in heaven and will allow the saints there to prepare for eternity on the restored earth beyond the millennium. These saints return to earth after the millennium has expired. During the thousand years, the saved are allowed to examine the fairness of God's decisions as they relate to the fate of the wicked. After the millennium, the New Jerusalem descends to the earth for the inhabitation of the saints. Satan is once again freed, and along with the wicked dead, he makes a final attempt to overthrow righteousness, although he and his minions fail, defeated at the hands of God himself. Regardless of these seemingly premillennial beliefs, Seventh-day Adventists have not cast aside the world as it exists today. In contrast, they are actively engaged in education, medical work, and humanitarian development. Thus, while Adventist millennialism is premillennial, in practice it behaves as if it were postmillennial in its desire to improve the physical world as a preparation for the return of Christ.

The Year 2000

Leading up to the onset of the year 2000 C.E., there was considerable fervor among contemporary Christian sects, as to the symbolic significance of the end of the second millennium. In 1999, numerous Christians, mainly premillennialists, made pilgrimages to Jerusalem with the full expectation they would witness apocalyptic events, such as the battle of Gog and Magog, the resurrection of the dead, and ultimately the return of Christ.

For example, approximately 100 Christians from North America went so far as to rent apartments on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives, where Christ was forecast to arrive [7] Israeli authorities labeled this behavior as "Jerusalem Syndrome" or "messianic madness," referring to the delusions which otherwise psychologically healthy Christians began to experience during this time, thinking they were figures involved in the dawning eschatological drama. That same year, members of the American group, the Concerned Christians, were arrested by Israeli police for plotting acts of extreme violence in hopes of setting off the Second Advent.[8]

Nevertheless, the year 2000 came and went with nothing but the technical worries of the Y2K computer glitch. Reflections on the failure of these millennial expectations was muted among most Christians.

Non-Christian millennialism

Taiping Rebellion

The Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864), one of the largest revolutionary movements in history, was based largely in millennial doctrine borrowed from Christian eschatological rhetoric. Hong Xiuquan (1814-1864), who orchestrated the movement and became something of a messianic figure for his followers, proclaimed himself to be a younger brother of Jesus Christ. His goal was not only to destroy the Manchu and Confucian leadership, which had presided over China for centuries, but also to restore a previous order in which all nations worshipped the "Great God." As in postmillennialism, Hung claimed that the true millennium of God's rule would only begin once Christianity had spread to all peoples of the world. However, more in line with millennialism proper, the Taiping also believed that the New Jerusalem had already arrived, in this case in the city of Nanking, which the Taiping established as its capital in 1853. Nanking, the kingdom of heavenly peace, was ruled by laws reminiscent of earlier Christian millennial centers, upholding stringent adherence to Christian values, with severe punishments put in place for transgressions. In addition, the notion of private property was dissolved inside the city. Hope for this kingdom culled together many groups of people, and lead to the destruction of more than 600 urban centers in the process.[9]

Nazism

The Nazi movement of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) has been described by some scholars as millennial or millenarian. The most controversial interpretation of the Three Ages philosophy and of millennialism in general is Hitler's vision of the "Third Reich" (German: Drittes Reich). This phrase was coined by Arthur Moeller van den Bruck in his book, Das Dritte Reich (1923). It eventually became an ideal of the Nazi regime, which postulated two previous eras that allegedly foreshadowed the rise of Nazi rule: 1) the Holy Roman Empire (beginning with Charlemagne in 800 C.E.) as the "First Reich," and 2) the German Empire under the Hohenzollern dynasty (1871-1918) as the "Second Reich." After the interval of the Weimar Republic (1918-1933), during which constitutionalism, parliamentarism, and even pacifism ruled, the Third Reich was predicted to commence. Hitler anticipated that this interval would last for a thousand years. In a speech held on November 27, 1937, Hitler commented on his plans to have major parts of Berlin torn down and rebuilt so as to facilitate a more advanced city, making specific reference to a one thousand-year period of German rule. He hoped "to build a millennial city adequate [in splendor] for a thousand year old people with a thousand year old historical and cultural past, for its never-ending glorious future."[10] In reality, however, the so-called Third Reich only lasted for 12 years (1933-1945), ending with Germany's defeat in World War II.

Secular millennialism

In the modern era, some of the concepts of millennial thinking have found their way into various secular ideas. For example, many interpreted the French Revolution to be an ushering in of the millennial age of reason. The philosophies of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) and Karl Marx (1818-1883) also carried strong millennial overtones, suggesting that human intellectual and social progression would climax in an actualization of a utopian society. In 1970, Yale law professor Charles A. Reich coined the term "Consciousness III" in his best seller The Greening of America, in which he spoke of a new age ushered in by the hippie generation. The New Age movement was also highly influenced by Joachim of Fiore's divisions of time, and transformed the Three Ages philosophy into astrological terminology. The Age of the Father was recast as the Age of Aries, the Age of the Son became the Age of Pisces, and the Age of the Holy Spirit was called the Aquarian New Age. The current so-called "Age of Aquarius" will supposedly witness the development of a number of great changes for humankind, reflecting the typical features of millennialism. Despite superficial similarities, however, these secular theories generally have little or nothing to do with the deeper theology of the original millennial thinking.

Assessment

It is noteworthy that all types of millennialism (perhaps with the exception of the premillennialism of the Seventh-day Adventist Church) understand the millennial kingdom to be basically earthly. This explains the this-worldly nature of Christianity, although the final abode beyond the earthly millennium is still considered to be in heaven even with bodily resurrection. (Seventh-day Adventism, too, is very this-worldly when it teaches that the saints live in the restored earth for eternity beyond the spiritual millennium.) This earthly outlook seems to be adequately compatible with God's original promise to Abraham about giving him "this land" (Gen. 12:7; 17:8) and about the multiplication of his offspring on earth (Gen. 15:5; 17:6), which in turn is compatible with God's blessings to Adam: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen. 1:28).

The three different types of millennialism, which result from different interpretations of the Bible, have competed with one another without being able to reach any consensus. One major issue is whether the second coming of Christ is before or after the millennial kingdom, and it sharply divides between premillennialism and postmillennialism. Perhaps this gap can be addressed somehow by adopting the postmillennial type of practice done amongst otherwise premillennialist Seventh-day Adventists in their involvement in education, medical work, and humanitarian development. Thus, the premillennial timetable of the inauguration of the millennial kingdom by the return of Christ can be supplemented by the postmillennial type of commitment to making practical efforts in preparation for the return of Christ. This seems to be a good way of harmonizing the two opposing views that talk about God's initiation and human responsibility, respectively.

Towards the possible unity of the various types of millennialism, a thoughtful theologian, although he confesses to be a posttribulational premillennialist, has suggested that we should be cautious of any attempt to divide ourselves on the basis of millennial views that are, in spite of being "definitely not insignificant," are "just as definitely not of the same degree of certainty or importance as the foundational beliefs of Christianity."[11]

Notes

  1. Zand-i Vohuman Yasht, chap. 3, section 62. Retrieved December 16, 2008.
  2. Stanley E. Porter, "Millenarian Thought in the First-Century Church," in Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco, ed. Stephen Hunt (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001), 76.
  3. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, chap. 80. Retrieved December 11, 2008.
  4. "Nicene Creed." Retrieved December 12, 2008.
  5. John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, book III, chap. 25, section 5. Retrieved December 12, 2008.
  6. Joseph Mede, The Key to the Apocalypse. Retrieved December 16, 2008.
  7. Stephen Hunt, Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001), 1.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Stephen Hunt, "The Revolutionary Dimension of Millenarianism: The Case of the T'aiping Rebellion," in Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco, ed. Stephen Hunt (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001), 116-30.
  10. Elke Frolich, ed., Die Tadebucher von Joseph Goebells: Samtliche Fragmente, Part 1, Volume 3. (Munich: Saur, 1987), 348.
  11. Michael Pahl, "A Survey of the Major Millennial Positions." Retrieved December 16, 2008.

References

  • Barkun, Michael. Disaster and the Millennium. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974. ISBN 0300017251
  • Bradstock, Andrew. "Millenarianism in the Reformation and English Revolution." In Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco, edited by Stephen Hunt, 77-87. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001.
  • Calvin, John. The Institutes of the Christian Religion, book III, chap. 25, section 5. Retrieved December 12, 2008
  • Cohn, Norman. The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, revised and expanded. New York: Oxford University Press, first published in 1957, 1970.
  • Ellwood, Robert. "Nazism as a Millennialist Movement." In Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence: Historical Cases, edited by Catherine Wessinger. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2000. ISBN 0815605994
  • Fenn, Richard K. The End of Time: Religion, Ritual, and the Forging of the Soul. Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1997. ISBN 0829812067
  • Hunt, Stephen. Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001. ISBN 0253214912
  • __________. "The Revolutionary Dimension of Millenarianism: The Case of the T'aiping Rebellion." In Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco, edited by Stephen Hunt, 116-30. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001.
  • __________. "The Rise, Fall and Return of Post-Millenarianism." In Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco, edited by Stephen Hunt, 50-61. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001.
  • Justin Martyr. Dialogue with Trypho, chap. 80. Retrieved December 11, 2008.
  • Kaplan, Jeffrey. Radical Religion in America: Millenarian Movements from the Far Right to the Children of Noah. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997. ISBN 0815626878
  • Mede, Joseph. The Key to the Apocalypse. Retrieved December 16, 2008.
  • Newport, Kenneth. "The Heavenly Millennium of Seventh-Day Adventism." In Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco, edited by Stephen Hunt, 131-48. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001.
  • Pahl, Michael. "A Survey of the Major Millennial Positions." Retrieved December 16, 2008
  • Percy, Martyn. "Whose Time is it Anyway? Evagelicals, the Millennium and Millenarianism." In Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco, edited by Stephen Hunt, 26-38. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001.
  • Porter, Stanley E. "Millenarian Thought in the First-Century Church." In Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco, edited by Stephen Hunt, 62-76. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001.
  • Rhodes, James M. The Hitler Movement: A Modern Millenarian Revolution. Stanford, CAL: Hoover Institution Press, 1980. ISBN 0817971319
  • Stone, Jon R., ed. Expecting Armageddon. London: Routledge, 2000. ISBN 041592331X
  • Wistrich, Robert. Hitler’s Apocalypse: Jews and the Nazi Legacy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. ISBN 0312388195
  • York, Michael. "New Age Millenarianism and its Christian Influences." In Stephen Hunt, ed. Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001, 224-238.

External links

All links retrieved October 27, 2014.

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