Premillennialism as Majority Position of Early Church

Dr. Thomas Ice summarizes well (via EARLY PREMILLENNIALISM) the majority opinion of the early church through the first four centuries: premillennialism (refer to the link to see the works cited):

It is generally recognized within the scholarly world of early church historians that premillennialism was the most widely held view of the earliest church tradition. One of the leading experts on the doctrine of the early church is J. N. D. Kelly, who says, “millenarianism, or the theory that the returned Christ would reign on earth for a thousand years came to find increasing support among Christian teachers…This millenarian, or ‘chiliastic’ doctrine was widely popular at this time.” (17) “The great theologians who followed the Apologists, lrenaeus, Tertullian and Hippolytus, were primarily concerned to defend the traditional eschatological scheme against Gnosticism,” explains Kelly. “They are all exponents of millenarianism.” (18)

Philip Schaff, the dean of American church historians and himself a postrnillennialist, provided the following summary of the early church’s view of the millennium:  “The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent chiliasm, or millenarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment. It was indeed not the doctrine of the church embodied in any creed or form of devotion, but a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers, such as Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius.” (19)

European scholar and church historian, Adolph Harnack echoes Schaff and tells us, “First in point of time came the faith in the nearness of Christ’s second advent and the establishing of His reign of glory on the earth. Indeed it appears so early that it might be questioned whether it ought not to be regarded as an essential part of the Christian religion .” (20)

I don’t think the church should divide over the issue, and I’ll grant that premillennialism wasn’t even the uniform position in the early church, but it was the majority position, especially among those within the line to John. The irony is that ardent premillennialists were combating gnostic denials that this material earth could experience blessing under the reign of the Messiah. The premillennial instinct to affirm the goodness, falleneess, and eventual reclamation of this material earth under the Messiah’s reign is something to be commended, even if you have misgivings about the ordering of eschatological events. There ought to be solidarity with their conviction that this earth matters and that Christ’s rule and reign will affect the natural order in a tangible fashion. We do not labor in vain — for that which is not wood, hay, or stubble will carry on according to the redemptive purposes of God.

© 2014, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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