Did the Early Church Believe in a Literal Thousand-Year Reign of Christ on Earth? – Post #10 of 2010
Post Author: Bill Pratt
The Book of Revelation, according to some Christians, teaches a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth after his second coming (see Rev. 20). This will then be followed by the creation of a new heaven and new earth. This view is known today as premillenialism.
But there are other Christians, in fact, the majority, who interpret the thousand years in Rev. 20 as a spiritual reign of the church which started at Christ’s first coming and ends at his second coming. This view is known today as amillenialism.
The proponents of both of these views have an array of arguments to support their positions, but what was the view of the early church?
It seems that up until the third century, the early church was primarily premillenialist. Writers like Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian all thought the second advent of Christ was imminent and that he would inaugurate his thousand-year reign on earth.
The tide, however, started to turn with the writings of Origen in the early third century, who adopted an allegorical method of interpreting Revelation. Origen believed that the thousand years represented a spiritual reign of the church. His disciple, Dionysius of Alexandria, continued the attack against premillenialism and turned the eastern church away from it.
In the western church, Augustine, in the late fourth century, began to teach amillenialism, siding with the Alexandrians in the east. His views of eschatology (the end times) were detailed in his most famous work, The City of God.
From the time of Augustine until the Reformation in the sixteenth century (~1,100 years), amillenialism was the dominant view in the church.
The story obviously doesn’t end there, but you now have a brief introduction of what happened in the first fifteen hundred years of Christianity with respect to the millennium scribed in Rev. 20.
What about you? Which view do you think is more likely correct? Do you think there will be a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth (i.e., premillenialism) or do you think the thousand years mentioned in Rev. 20 is a spiritual reign of the church which ends at Christ’s second coming (i.e., amillenialism)?