The belief in a thousand year reign of Jesus upon the earth dominated the first four centuries of the church. Noted church historian Philip Schaff, who himself rejected this viewpoint, nevertheless verified that a belief in the millennial reign of Jesus was the prominent belief during the early centuries of the church.[i]
Justin Martyr (AD 100-165), who rose to prominence in the early church with his vigorous defense of the Christian faith, said this about Jesus’ reign:
“But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah declare. . . And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem. . .”[ii]
Today, we refer to the belief espoused in the above quote as premillennialism. Many other prominent leaders in the early church, besides Justin Martyr, also voiced strong support of Jesus’ millennial reign on the earth (before the eternal state) including such men as Papias, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Lactantius. Even though some replaced Israel with the church, they still maintained a literal interpretation of the book of Revelation and thousand year reign of Jesus, what we refer to as the millennium.
It was not until the time of Augustine (AD 354 – 430) that an alternate view of the end times increased in popularity. Influenced by the pagan philosopher Plato who regarded anything material as evil, he rejected the biblical teaching of Jesus’ thousand year rule in Jerusalem. Augustine said this doctrine “’would not be objectionable’ if the nature of the millennial kingdom was a ‘spiritual one’ rather than a physical one.”[iii] He resisted thoughts of the “carnal banquets” he imagined would be a part of such a kingdom.[iv]
The opposition to Jesus’ future reign on earth remains intense. Although premillennialism grew dramatically during the twentieth century, many Bible-believing teachers and pastors have reverted to Augustine’s platonic view of reality that denies biblical teaching regarding the millennium.
What has caused this reversal in recent decades? I believe the roots of today’s passionate opposition to premillennialism, as well as that in the history of the church, stems from Satan’s intense hatred of anything to do with Jesus’ future reign.
1. Satan Hates Anything that Glorifies Jesus
I cannot imagine anything more glorious, more spectacular than Jesus’ return to earth as a Conquering King as He defeats the armies arrayed against Jerusalem and sets up His kingdom in Zion. Zechariah 14:9 says, “And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.”
Words fail to adequately describe the future magnificence, power, and splendor of Christ as He rules as King over the nations of the world for one thousand years. Habakkuk adds this to the picture, “For the earth will be filled with glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (2:14).
Is it any wonder why the devil hates the day when Jesus will rip the kingdoms of this world away from his snarly fingers, imprison him, and rule over all the nations in his stead? I believe this is reason number one why Satan fiercely opposes any teaching regarding Jesus’ glorious reign over what he once ruled.
2. Satan Hates the Jewish People
No theology has caused more harm to the Jewish people throughout history than amillennialism. The belief that God has rejected Israel has seemingly empowers people to persecute them. History shows that whenever amillennialism dominates both the church and a culture, the destructive forces of anti-Semitism thrive and become murderous.
Satan’s opposition to Israel is nothing new; we see it throughout Old Testament as he tried everything he could to stop the birth of the Messiah. His antics even led to the killing of babies in Bethlehem.
If Israel no longer has a place in God’s prophetic program, one would expect this hostility to cease, but such is not the case. If Israel and the church are one entity today as many believers today claim, why does the devil continue to attack Israel as well as those in Christ? Why bother with Israel if the Lord has no future purpose for her?
Satan knows God is not yet finished with Israel. Jesus will return to a repentant Israel precisely as Zechariah prophesied long ago (Zech. 12:10-13:1). As a result, he will not stop his fierce efforts to destroy the nation and the Jewish people right up to the last moment before Jesus’ return as he arrays the armies of the world to stop Jesus’ return to Jerusalem.
3. Satan Hates Us
Satan despises all those who belong to Christ. In 1 Peter 5:8 the apostle gives us these solemn words of warning, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Our adversary will do all he can to undermine our hope in Jesus’ return and keep our eyes locked on earthly pursuits and aspirations.
Some dreams, however, never materialize and those that do come to fruition fade away all too quickly with the passing of time and old age. One day you are flexing the muscles of your youth and seemingly the next month you wonder how it’s possible you can be retirement age. I still wonder how retirement came so quickly.
For lives cut short due to tragedy and illness, Jesus’ rule in the millennium will be a time to again use God-given gifts and talents. For the desires He places in our hearts that do not see fulfillment in this life, the millennium will be a time when these aspirations come to fruition. For dreams cut short by the evil actions of others, the millennium will be a wondrous time of redemption and renewal (see Matt. 19:27-29).
The Lord will reward our faithful service with increased responsibilities during the millennium (Matt. 24:14-30).
I think of Joseph after his brothers betrayed him. Can you imagine his thoughts as he trudged toward Egypt bound in chains? I wonder if he thought about his dreams regarding the day his brothers would bow before him. Were they a prophecy of his role in a kingdom? Or, did his dreams die when the sons of Israel rejected him?
I believe Joseph’s story depicts our future. During this life we experience hardship, endure false accusations, and we wait, wait, wait. But just as the day came when Pharaoh called Joseph up to reign with him, someday we will rule over the nations alongside our Savior. Just as Joseph’s dreams came true, so the Lord’s promises to us of reigning with Him will not fail (Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 5:10).
The enemy of our soul does not want us to view our lives with such a glorious and expectant eternal perspective. He wants us to believe that failed dreams are gone forever, lost opportunities never return, and the godly aspirations of our hearts die with us.
The biblical truths of the millennium tell us a much different story.
For those of us in Christ, Jesus promises us a glorious time of renewal. Can you imagine more of an incentive to serve the Lord faithfully just as Joseph did during his years of slavery and imprisonment? Our time for using our talents and gifts will continue into the millennium. Our current lives are but a preparation for the glorious time ahead for us!
Yes, the amillennialists believe Jesus will rule in the eternal state. But not only does their belief contradict the clear words of Scripture, it lacks the excitement, wonder, and adventure of what the Bible teaches us about the millennial years! I think amillennialism is downright boring.
The early church leaders of the first four centuries got it right. Jesus is coming back to this world to reign for a thousand years on the throne of David (Isa. 9:6-7) and we will reign with Him during this wondrous time of renewal and redemption.
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[i] Allen, D. Matthew, Theology Adrift: The Early Church Fathers and Their Views of Eschatology. A paper published on the Bible.org website, Chapter Five
[ii] Martyr, Justin, “Dialogue with Trypho,” The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979) Vol. 1, pp. 239-40
[iii] Allen, D. Matthew, Theology Adrift: The Early Church Fathers and Their Views of Eschatology