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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

MILLENNIUM.

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This term signifies a period of a thousand years, and in its religious use is applied to the prophetic era mentioned in Revelation 20:1-7. The Millenarians or Chiliasts, in ancient and modern times, are characterized by their tenet respecting the second advent of Jesus, which they believe will be accompanied by the resurrection of the martyrs and saints, who will reign with him on earth, in a state of blessedness and rest, for a thousand years, when the resurrection of the wicked will occur, together with the final judgment and its eternal awards. They have differed somewhat among themselves concerning the character of this millennial kingdom, some viewing it as more and some as less spiritual in its nature, employments, and joys. They have also differed in other minor particulars; but in the main opinion relative to the advent, the first resurrection, and the temporal reign of Christ, the various classes of Millenarians are agreed. This doctrine is generally attributed to a Jewish origin. Josephus (Ant. 18:1, 3) says of the Pharisees that they hold to the confinement of the souls of the wicked in an everlasting prison, but that the righteous "have power to revive and live again." In a second passage (War, 2:8, 14) he describes the Pharisaic doctrine in a similar manner, for it is not probable that, in this last place, he intends to ascribe to the Pharisees a doctrine of transmigration. In the Book of Daniel (Daniel 12:2) it is declared that both the righteous and wicked will be raised from the grave, although it is no certain whether the sacred writer at the moment has in mind the whole human race or only Israel. The New Testament teaches us that both the righteous and the wicked will be raised from the dead (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; Revelation 20:11-15). The passages on this topic in the writings of Paul pertain chiefly to the consequences of redemption, and hence relate to the resurrection of believers. The idea of a resurrection of the saints, and of their participation in a temporal, millennial reign of Christ, was early adopted, especially by Jewish Christians. In the Epistle of Barnabas (cir. 100) we find the rest of the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3) symbolically interpreted, with the aid of Psalms 90:4, and made to prefigure a rest of Christ and his saints, to continue for a thousand years (chapter 15).

The millennial theory was embraced in a sensuous form by Cerinthus (Eusebius, Hist. Ecl. 3:28; 7:25). It is found in apocryphal books by Jews and Jewish Christians in the first age of the Gospel in the Book of Enoch, in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, and in the Sibylline Books. It penetrated into the Gentile branch of the Church, and spread extensively. Papias, who is supposed to have been a contemporary of John the Apostle, is mentioned by Irenaeus and Eusebius as an adherent of this doctrine. The colossal grapes which Papias supposed that the millennial days would provide suggest the idea which he entertained of this happy period. It is true that the Chiliastic doctrine wears a Judaic stamp, and arose, in some degree, from Judaic influences; but, as Dorner has observed, there is one marked distinction between the millenarian views of Christians and all Jewish theories of the Messianic kingdom. Christian millenarians unanimously considered the earthly kingdom as limited in its duration, and as introductory to a spiritual and eternal state of being. The triumph of the Gospel through the agency of a present Redeemer was to be attended with the renovation of the earth, and to be succeeded by the everlasting, heavenly blessedness of the righteous, the proper sequel of the last judgment. Tracing down the history of the doctrine, we find that Justin Martyr (cir. 150) received it. In the dialogue with Trypho (c. 80), he says that he himself and many others" hold that Jerusalem will be built again as a residence for Christ, with the patriarchs and saints. He says that there are "many of a pure and devout Christian mind who are not of the same opinion;" but he adds, "I, and all other Christians whose belief is in every respect correct, know that there will be both a resurrection of the flesh and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be rebuilt, adorned, and enlarged, as the prophets Ezekiel, Isaiah, and others declare." Justin quotes in support of his opinion Isaiah 65:17 sq.; Genesis 2:2, in connection with Psalms 90:3; Revelation 20:4-6, and other passages. Ireneus is likewise a millenarian. He speaks (Adv. Haer. V, 33:2) of "the times of the kingdom," when the "righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead; when also the creation, having been renovated and set free, shall fructify with an abundance of all kinds of food, from the dew of heaven and from the fertility of the earth." Here follows the citation from Papias in regard to the colossal fruit of the vine. Tertullian advocated the same doctrine. Notwithstanding the extensive spreading of the millenarian tenet, it would be a rash inference to assume that it was universal, or accepted as the creed of the Church. On this point Neander has good observations (Ch. Hist., Torrey's transl., 1:651).

The first decided opponent of whom we have a knowledge was Caius, the Roman presbyter, about the year 200. The crass form in which Chiliasm entered into the heresy of Montanism contributed materially to the strengthening of the antagonism to millenarian views. The Alexandrian school opposed them with energy, particularly Origen, with whose peculiar opinions it was inconsistent. Nepos, an Egyptian bishop, about the middle of the 3d century wrote, in defence of the doctrine, a work entitled A Confutation of the Alegorists, by which name were designated such as explained allegorically the passages on which the opinion of a millennium rested. This work, which acquired much reputation, was refuted with equal zeal and candor by Dionysius of Alexandria. It was still common, however, in the time of Jerome, who himself was one of its opponents. But gradually the tenet which had so widely prevailed became obnoxious and proscribed. One great reason of this remarkable change of sentiment is to be found in the altered condition and prospects of the Church. Christians at first yearned for the reappearance of the Lord. Moreover, it was impossible for them to raise their faith and hopes so high as to expect the conquest of the Roman empire by the moral power of the cross, independently of the personal and supernatural interposition of Christ. But as the Gospel made progress, the possibility and probability of a peaceful victory of the Christian cause over all its adversaries, by the might of truth and of the Spirit, gained a lodgment in the convictions of good men. It is believed that Origen (b. 180, d. 254) is the first of the ancient ecclesiastical writers to affirm the practicableness of such a triumph of the Gospel through its own inherent efficacy. The Judaic and Judaizing associations of the millenarian opinion were not without a strong influence in rendering it suspected and unpopular. Augustine's treatment of the subject marks an epoch. He says (De Civitate Dei, 20:7) that he had once held to a millenarian Sabbath; nor does he consider the doctrine objectionable, provided the joys of the righteous are figured as spiritual. But, proceeding to discuss the subject, he advocates the proposition that the earthly kingdom of Christ is the Church, which was even then in the millennial era, and on the road to a glorious ascendency over all its enemies. It would seem that this modified interpretation of prophecy, sustained as it was by the authority of the principal Latin father, gave color to the mediaeval speculations on this subject. As the year of our Lord 1000 approached, it was a natural corollary that the judgment and the end of the world would then occur. Hence there was a widespread excitement throughout Western Europe, from the apprehension that the "dies irae" was at hand. There were not wanting in the Middle Ages "apocalyptic parties" enthusiasts, whether individuals or in bands who looked for the miraculous advent of Jesus as the indispensable means of purifying and extending the Church. At the Reformation, the traditional method of interpreting the Book of Revelation was abandoned. The papacy was extensively regarded as Antichrist, and Luther and other leading Reformers frequently supposed themselves authorized by the signs of the times to expect the speedy coming of the Lord. A fanatical form of millenarianism was espoused by the Anabaptists of Germany, who took possession of the city of Meunster, and set up the reign of the saints.

The millenarian doctrine, in its essential characteristics, has had adherents among some of the sober-minded theologians of the Lutheran Church in later times. Of these, one of the most distinguished is John Albert Bengel, the author of the Gnomon, who defended his opinion in his commentary on the Apocalypse, published in 1740. He was followed by other divines of repute; and the doctrine has not been without prominent supporters among the Lutherans down to the present time. One of the latest of their number who has discussed this question is the Reverend A. Koch (Das tausendjahrige Reich, Basle, 1872). This writer endeavors, in particular, to refute the arguments adduced against the doctrine of a millennium by the German commentators Hengstenberg, Keil, and Kliefoth.

In all the other various orthodox Protestant bodies there are many who believe in the personal advent of Christ for the purpose of establishing a millennial kingdom. Now, as in former ages, the literal restoration of the Jews to Palestine, and their conversion to Christianity, is frequently a part of this creed. The coming of Christ in visible glory is to be signalized, it is held, by this among other wonderful events. The Chiliastic tenet forms one of the distinguishing features of the "Catholic Apostolic Church," or the religious denomination commonly known as Irvingites. ( (See CATHOLIC APOSTOLIC CHURCH), and (See IRVING, EDWARD), in this Cyclopedia.) Christ is to come and gather his elect together; the Jews are to be brought back to their ancient land; the Gospel is to be extended by their instrumentality, and by the new agencies connected with the personal presence of the Lord, over the earth. Then is to follow the judgment and the end of the world. Such are the main points of the millenarian view, as cherished by the followers of Mr. Irving.

In the course of the history of the Church many sects have arisen by whom the speedy coming of Christ to set up a visible empire has been proclaimed. One of these is the class designated as "Millerites" (q.v.), the disciples of William Miller (q.v.). He was born in Pittsfield, Mass., in i781, and died in 1849. With slender resources of learning, he began, about the year 1833, to preach on the subject of the second advent, which he declared, on the ground of his interpretation of the prophecies, to be near at hand. The Millerites at length went so far as to fix a certain day in the year 1843 when the Lord was to appear in the clouds of heaven. Some gave up their ordinary occupations, and prepared robes in which to ascend and meet Christ. Subsequently the members of this sect if sect it is to be called ceased to define the precise time of the miraculous advent, but continued to wait for it as near. (See ADVENTISTS). The Millerites, in common with many other Chiliasts, have supposed themselves to be furnished by the prophecies with the means of calculating with mathematical accuracy the time of the Saviour's glorious advent.

When we leave the history of the doctrine, and look at the exegetical arguments of the several parties, it becomes plain that they are guided by diverse principles of interpretation. With respect to certain passages, millenarians adopt a second sense, or a figurative, tropical interpretation. This is the character of their view of the sabbatical rest, as predicted in Genesis 2:2-3, and Psalms 90:4. On the contrary, to the passages in Isaiah and other prophets which describe Jerusalem as the centre and resort of worshippers of all nations, promise Canaan as an everlasting possession to the Jews, and depict their splendid restoration to power and plenty, they give a literal interpretation. The same course is pursued by them with regard to Revelation 20 and with regard to all that is said of the first and the second resurrection. They attach often a literal sense to the declaration of Jesus (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25) in which he speaks of drinking new wine in his Father's kingdom. They consider their general view to be favored by Luke 14:14 ("the resurrection of the just"); Luke 20:35 ("they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world and the resurrection of the dead"); by John 6:39; John 6:44 (which speaks of the resurrection of believers, without any mention of others). The promise of Christ that the disciples at "the regeneration" or the restitution of all things, and the deliverance of all things from corruption shall sit on thrones, judging the tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), is confidently referred to as proving the millenarian hypothesis. So the statements of John and Paul with respect to Antichrist, and the sins and perils to immediately precede the advent corroborated, as they suppose, by the Savior's own predictions in Matthew 24, 25, and the parallel passages are brought forward in defence of their position. The opponents of the millenarians rely principally upon the passages in which the resurrection of the good and evil is spoken of as if it were simultaneous, or without any considerable interval of time interposed. They appeal also to the passages in the Gospels and Epistles in which the general judgment is connected immediately with the second advent. Their conception of the prospects and destiny of the kingdom of Christ are derived from passages like the parables of the leaven, of the mustard-seed, and of the husbandman. That it was expedient for Christ to go away from his disciples in order that his visible presence might give way to his invisible presence and influence everywhere, and to the dispensation of the Spirit, is considered an argument against the general philosophy on which the millenarian tenet rests. It is thought to be more consonant with the genius of Christianity, as contrasted with the Jewish economy, to look for a triumph of the Gospel in the earth by moral forces and by the agency of the Holy Spirit within the souls of men, than to expect the stupendous miracle of Christ's reappearance as a Ruler on this globe, for the spiritual subjugation of unbelievers and enemies. Hence those who reject Chiliasm give a figurative rendering to the prophetic passages in the Apocalypse which are the most plausible argument for that theory. The tendency of the millenarian theory to chill the hopes, and thus repress the missionary activity of Christians, by exhibiting the world as in a process of deterioration, and by representing the efforts of Christians to convert mankind as fruitless, until the coming of Christ, constitutes not the least serious objection to such opinions.

There is in England at the present time an energetic propaganda of millenarian notions, called the "Prophecy Investigation Society," which consists of fifty members, some of them prominent Churchmen, and which has published a series of volumes on prophetic subjects, adding largely to apocalyptic literature. There are also numerous journals published in England to support these views. The most important is the Quarterly Journal of Prophecy, edited by Dr. Bonar, of the Free Church of Scotland, which has been established fourteen years, and has a large circulation. The Rainbow is a monthly periodical; the Christian Observer, the monthly journal of the evangelicals, often displays millenarian tendencies. There are, besides, numerous weeklies of small circulation, the chief being the Revivalist, originally established to promote revivals in personal religion, but now devoted to the spread of millenarian views. Nor is the interest in this subject confined to Dissenters in England or Scotland; a certain class of minds in the Established Church seem to be just as strongly contaminated. For many successive years, during Lent, courses of lectures have been delivered in St. George's Church, Bloomsbury, on the subject of the second advent, by clergymen of the Church of England. The course for the year 1849 was printed, under the title of The Priest upon his Throne, being lectures by twelve clergymen of the Church of England, with a Preface by the Reverend James Haldane Stewart, M.A., rector of Limpsfield (Lond. 1849). This is, next to Dr. Brown's Second Coming of our Lord, the ablest book against the millenarian doctrine. One of the latest productions in English is The End of all Things, or the Coming of Christ, by an anonymous author, a clergyman of the Church of England. It is an argument against millenarianism, and is interesting for its sketch of the rise of the doctrine with the well-meaning but weak-minded Papias, and its progress through all the sects and shades of belief, until "more than half of the evangelical clergy of the Church of England are at this moment millenarians."

Among the most important writings on the millennium are Corrodi, Krit. Gesch. d. Chiliasmus (Frankfort, 1871); Dorner, Gesch. d. Person Christi, vol. i; Herzog, Real-Encyklop. art. Chiliasmus. See also the exegetical criticism in Rothe's Dognzatik, part 2, section 2. Most of the recent treatises on doctrinal theology for example, that of Gass, Dogmengeschichte, 2:477 sq.; and the able work by Dr. Hodge contain discussions of this subject. Among the special writers on the subject may be consulted, on the millenarian side, Mede, Abbadie, Beverley, Burnet, Hartley, Price, Frere, Irving, Birks, Bickersteth, Brooks, the duke of Manchester, Begg, Burgh, Greswell, Gilfillan, Bonar, Elliot, Homes, Burchell, Wood, Tyso, Molyneux, etc.; and on the other side, bishop Hall, R. Baxter, Gipps, Dr. David Brown. Waldegrave, Fairbairn, Urwick, Bush, and many others. Floerke (evangelical pastor in Libz), Die Lehre von tausendjahrigen Reiche. Ein theologischer Versuch. (Marburg, 1859, 8vo); Volck, Der Chiliasmus seiner neuesten Bekampfung gegenuber, eine historisch-exegetische Studie (Dorpat, 1869, 8vo); Carson, The Personal Reign of Christ during the Millennium proved to be impossible (1873,12mo); Second Adventism in the Light of Jewish History, by the Reverend T.M. Hopkins, edited by Joseph R. Boyd, D.D. (N.Y. 1873, 12mo). The following periadicals may be consulted to advantage: Church of England Rev. 1854, October page 443; Lond. Rev. No. 10, art. 9; Meth. Qu. Rev. 1845; January art. 5 and 7; 1850, July, page 485; 1851, April, page 325; 1868, October page 615; Kitto, Journal of Sacred Literature, 1854, July, page 505; October page 19 sq.; 1856, January page 467; Amer. Presb. Rev. 1861, April, page 403; 1864, April, page 177 sq.; July, page 411; 1865, April, page 195; Princet. Rev. 1867, January page 160; Evangel. Qu. Rev. 1861, January, art. 2; 1868, July, p. 337; Theological. Medium (Cumberland Presb. Church), 1873, April, art. 9; Bibliotheca Sacra, 1873, January art. 4; Qu. Rev. Evang. Luth. Church, 1873, Jan. art. 2. (G.P.F.)

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'MILLENNIUM.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/m/millennium.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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