Losing The Faith (6/22)
Irenaeus (AD 120-202) writes eloquently on the subject of the millennium and also of the Abrahamic promises. These expositions appear in Against Heresies, Book V. Space will allow us just brief excerpts.
“Thus, then, the promise of God, which he gave to Abraham, remains steadfast. For thus he said: “Lift up thine eyes, and look from this place where now thou art, towards the north and south, and east and west. For all the earth which thou seest, I will give to thee and to thy seed, even for ever’ … and yet he did not receive an inheritance in it, not even a footstep, but was always a stranger and a pilgrim therein … Thus, then, they who are of faith shall be blessed with faithful Abraham … Now God made promise of the earth to Abraham and his seed; yet neither Abraham nor his seed, that is, those who are justified by faith, do now receive any inheritance in it; and on this account He said, ‘Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.’
“The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead … Then, too, Isaiah himself has plainly declared that there shall be joy of this nature at the resurrection of the just … But in the times of the kingdom, the earth has been called again by Christ to its pristine condition, and Jerusalem rebuilt after the pattern of the Jerusalem above … John, therefore, did distinctly foresee the first ‘resurrection of the just,’ and the inheritance in the kingdom on the earth; and what the prophets have prophesied concerning it harmonizes with his vision” (Against Heresies, Book V, chs. xxxii to xxxvi).
Truth is Lost
Origen (AD 185-254) was one of the first writers of prominence to disavow a future kingdom of God on earth. Educated in Greek philosophy, as well as the Scriptures, he represented a new vision of the Christian hope, one that was more acceptable to the intellectuals of his day.
There were some, Origen writes, who believed “that the earthly city of Jerusalem is to be rebuilt … they desire the fulfillment of all things looked for in the promises. Such are the views of those who, while believing in Christ, understand the divine Scriptures in a sort of Jewish sense, drawing from them nothing worthy of the divine promises” (De Principis, Book II, ch. xi).
Origen and Plato
Origen’s own expectation of life after the resurrection was “to reach the highest heavens,” a conviction which he admittedly shared with Plato, who, he says, “had the same truths in view” (Against Celsus, Book VI, ch. xx). It should be noted that Origen did not teach that the soul goes to heaven at death. He believed that souls of the righteous are detained in an earthly “paradise” till the resurrection. Bodily resurrection was still to his generation a teaching that could not be compromised. (Ref. De Principis, Book II, ch. x and xi.)
A Bishop Denies the Millennium
Dionysius (200-265) was bishop of Alexandria and a disciple of Origen. The purpose of one of his writings was the refutation of millennial teaching. Nepos, an earlier bishop in Egypt, had been closer to the truth. He had written on the subject of the promises and had “taught that the promises which were given to holy men in the sacred Scriptures were to be understood in the Jewish sense of the same: and affirmed that there would be some kind of millennial period upon the earth. And as he thought that he could establish this opinion of his by the Revelation of John, he had composed a book on this question, entitled Refutation of the Allegorists” (Eusebius: Ecclesiastical History, vii, 24 and 25).
Dionysius was concerned that these views (the truth concerning the Millennium) were still being taught by some who “insist very strongly, as if it demonstrated incontestably that there will be a (temporal) reign of Christ upon the earth” (On the Promises, I, i). He tells of convening the local presbyters and teachers for a three-day conference at which he convinced them that such beliefs had to be abandoned. His comments on the Apocalypse are revealing:
“But I, for my part, could not venture to set the book aside, for there are many brethren who value it highly … For though I cannot comprehend it, I still suspect that there is some deeper sense underlying the words.” Dionysius goes on to question the authorship of the Apocalypse. “That it was the writing of a John, I do not deny … But I could not so easily admit that this was the apostle, the son of Zebedee.”
Direct Denial of the Kingdom Age
In a commentary on the Apocalypse, written late in the third century, this comment appears: “They are not to be heard who assure themselves that there is to be an earthly reign of a thousand years … For the kingdom of Christ is now eternal in the saints, although the glory of the saints shall be manifested after the resurrection” (Victorinus: Commentary on the Apocalypse). Thus the established church set aside the sublime revelation of prophets and apostles and ceased to teach the truth on the subject of the Kingdom of God.