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General Information

In its narrowest sense millenarianism refers to belief in the Second Coming Of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom on earth as predicted in the Book of Revelation. More generally, the term refers to any religious movement that prophesies the imminent destruction of the present order and the establishment of a new order, usually reversing the relative status of the oppressed and the oppressor.

Christian millenarian beliefs were derived from Jewish apocalyptic traditions current in the centuries before and after Jesus Christ. Some scholars have, in fact, suggested that in its origins Christianity was related to such millenarian groups as the Essenes. As Christianity developed into a stable community in the centuries after Jesus, millenarian activity became primarily a fringe movement, associated with such reform movements as Montanism and, in the 13th and 14th centuries, Joachimism and radical Franciscan movements. With the upheavals brought on by the Reformation in the 16th century, millenarianism increased and was found, for example, among the Anabaptists.

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In the 18th century, Independents in England (for example, Joseph Mede) and Pietists in Germany advocated millenarian views. Among contemporary Protestant groups believing in the millennium are the Seventh Day Adventists, the Christadelphians, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Plymouth Brethren. Most millenarians believe that the millennium will follow the Second Coming; some, however, have defined the millennium as a period of progressive improvement in the world that will culminate in the Second Coming.

M Barkum, Disaster and the Millennium (1986); K O L Burridge, New Heaven, New Earth: A Study of Millenarian Activities (1969); N Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (1970); J W Davidson, The Logic of Millennial Thought: Eighteenth Century New England (1977); R A Doan, The Miller Heresy: Millennialism and American Culture (1987); D L Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic, 200 BC - AD 100 (1964); A Taylor, Visions of Harmony: A Study in 19th Century Millenarianism (1987); T P Weber, Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming: American Premillennialism, 1875 - 1925 (1979).

EDITOR'S NOTE: Joseph Mede was actually an early 17th Century writer and not from the 18th Century as this author had stated. The article below correctly states this fact.


General Information


A millennium is a period of 1,000 years. The word millennium is derived from the Latin words mille, which means "thousand," and annus, "years."

In various Christian doctrines, millennium refers to a 1,000-year period foretold in the Bible's Book of Revelation, involving the apocalypse (the end of the world) and the reign of Jesus Christ on earth. The concept of the millennium is not only associated with Christian thought, however. Many cultures of the world have similar beliefs about the imminent transformation or end of the world and the creation of an age in which human suffering and violence will be eliminated. Thus, Western scholars commonly use the term millennium to refer generally to any new age of holiness, harmony, and earthly perfection. Similarly, the word millennialism is used to describe beliefs about an imminent apocalypse, the salvation of the world, or the creation of an earthly paradise. Such beliefs have existed throughout history and are still held by millions of people today.

The year 2000 had sparked widespread feelings that something monumental was going to occur with the flip of the calendar page. Although the year 2000 is a subjective marking of the passage of time, in popular culture it has enormous symbolic and conceptual power. For many people, it represents a pivotal moment in history, a time to reflect on the past thousand years or imagine a thousand years to come.

For the past several hundred years, people in Western cultures have marked time in terms of 10-year periods (decades) and 100-year periods (centuries). Westerners tend to associate eras with decades and centuries. For example, many Americans think of the 1920s as the Roaring Twenties, and they frequently associate the 1960s with protests and social activism. Many people attach special significance to years that end in a zero, because these years seem to signal a transition from one era to another. A year that ends in triple zeros, then, suggests an even greater change. Thus, the year 2000 had evoked hope for transformation and the birth of a new age, as well as fears about potential global catastrophes.

Dating the Millennium

Although January 1, 2000, was popularly celebrated as the beginning of the 3rd millennium, there are differing beliefs about when the new millennium actually began. The Western dating of the millennium is based on the Gregorian calendar, which is the most globally recognized system for marking the passage of years.

According to the Gregorian calendar, the millennium did not begin until January 1, 2001. The Gregorian calendar follows the AD (Latin anno Domini, "in the year of our Lord") system introduced by Christian monk Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century AD. The AD system counts time from the year Jesus Christ was born. Dionysius dated Jesus' birth in the year AD 1 rather than in AD 0, because Roman numerals, which were still in use, had no symbol for zero. In this dating system, each century begins with a year ending in 01 and ends with a year ending in 00. For example, the 19th century began in 1801 and ended in 1900. Therefore, December 31, 2000, ended the old millennium, and January 1, 2001, marked the start of the new millennium in this dating system.

Some people believe the new millennium, as marked by the birth of Jesus, began several years earlier than 2001. According to many scholars, Dionysius made various errors in calculating Jesus' birth date. Historical evidence indicates that Jesus was actually born in 4 BC or earlier. As a result, the 2,000-year anniversary of the birth of Jesus may have occurred sometime in the 1990s.

Other people believe that the change to the new millennium lasts a period of 33 years, corresponding to the life span of Jesus. According to some historians, the year 1033 - regarded by many people as the 1,000-year anniversary of Jesus' death - resulted in widespread millennial fervor in which people made pilgrimages to Jerusalem and anticipated the destruction or renewal of the world. Some people have predicted that the year 2033 [or maybe 2029, due to Dionysius' errors] will have millennial significance as well and will be viewed as the date that marks the beginning of the new millennium.

About two-thirds of the people in the world use religious or ceremonial calendars in addition to the Gregorian calendar. For example, January 1, 2000, on the Gregorian calendar was the year 1420 on the Islamic calendar, 5760 on the Jewish calendar, and 4697 on the Chinese calendar. However, even people who use these other calendars are aware of the global significance of the Gregorian calendar years 2000 and 2001.

Religious and Mystical Beliefs

Millennialist beliefs are not only related to the turn of the millennium. Since the beginning of human history, people in nearly every society have told sacred stories about worldly destruction, the regeneration of the earth, and the creation of a terrestrial paradise. Scholars have documented these types of stories from Zoroastrian, Babylonian, Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Greek, Roman, Norse, African, Maya, and Native American cultures.

Millennialist ideas are concerned with the destiny and destruction of the world, the end of time, the end of evil and suffering, and the creation of a perfect age. Millennialist belief systems have an enduring appeal because they assert that there is an underlying plan for history, that human existence is meaningful, and that a new world of peace and justice will be created.

Book of Revelation

In the Christian Bible, the concept of the millennium is introduced toward the end of the Book of Revelation (sometimes called the Apocalypse). According to Revelation 19:11-21, 20:1-10, and other passages, Jesus Christ will return to earth and defeat Satan at the battle of Armageddon (Second Coming). Christ will then throw Satan into a bottomless pit for 1,000 years and will reign during this millennium of peace on earth. However, at the end of those 1,000 years, Satan and the forces of evil will rise up to do battle with Christ once again. In this final battle, Christ will defeat Satan forever and throw Satan into a lake of fire to suffer eternal torment. God will then resurrect all human beings and judge them according to their beliefs and actions. This event is often referred to as the Last Judgment. According to Revelation, God will give the righteous people eternal life in paradise and will send the evil ones to hell.

Types of Christian Millennialism

The concept of the millennium and the apocalypse referred to in Revelation has been an important part of certain Christian sects, but it has held less significance for most Roman Catholic and Protestant groups. Believers in Christian millennialism differ about when Christ will return to earth, how the millennium will start, and the nature of the millennium. The three major types of Christian millennialism are premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism.

The Year 1000

In studying the various forms of millennialism, historians have debated whether people recognized the turn of the millennium around the year 1000. Some scholars believe that an apocalyptic fever had gripped Europe by the year 999. According to these scholars, many people converted to Christianity, stopped planting their crops, confessed their sins, and forgave each other their debts. Others abandoned their families to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem in hope of witnessing the Second Coming of Christ, or they knelt in church in terror as they anticipated an apocalypse.

However, most historians argue that the accounts of millennial hysteria are the romantic concoctions of overly imaginative writers. These historians note that the doctrines of the Catholic Church at the end of the 1st millennium were opposed to any teachings about imminent apocalypse. Furthermore, most people living in the years 999 and 1000 were not even aware that it was the end of the 1st millennium. However, there is considerable historical evidence that after the year 1000, millennialism became more widespread. It gained followers during the Crusades (wars between Western European Christians and Muslims that began in 1095) and throughout the latter part of the Middle Ages.

Contemporary Religious and Mystical Beliefs

Today many mainline religious organizations reject the concept of an apocalypse or a Christian millennium. However, millennialist beliefs are still integral to the worldviews of some denominations of Protestantism. For example, a number of Evangelical denominations hold premillennialist beliefs, including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God, and the Church of the Nazarene (see Evangelicalism). Many members of these and other Evangelical denominations claim that recent wars, plagues, famines, and earthquakes are signs that an apocalypse is imminent and that Christ will return. According to these groups, the world will experience a seven-year period of misery and massive destruction, but Christians will be removed from the Earth unharmed. [This involves the concept of "the Rapture".]

Adventism is another Protestant branch that holds millennialist views (see Adventists). Adventist groups grew out of the religious Millerite movement, led by American Baptist preacher William Miller, who predicted that the world would end by 1843 or 1844. After his predictions proved false, some disenchanted Millerites formed into various Adventist groups, such as the Seventh-day Adventists. Adventists maintain that various apocalyptic predictions have been fulfilled and that Christ will return in the near future. The Seventh-day Adventists assert that an invisible, spiritual apocalypse occurred in 1844 with the "cleansing of heaven," and they believe that it will eventually be followed by world destruction in which only the faithful will be saved.

Jehovah's Witnesses, another group formed from the Millerite movement, claim the spiritual, invisible Second Coming of Christ occurred in 1874 and that Christ's invisible reign started in 1914. The group believes an apocalypse will come in the near future. The religious group's founder, Charles Taze Russell, declared that the fulfillment of Christ's millennial kingdom would be completed only after the foreordained destruction of nations, governments, churches, and world leaders, all of which Russell considered representations of Satan's rule. The Jehovah's Witnesses rejected formal religious and governmental organizations, and they developed the practice of door-to-door evangelism in an attempt to convert nonbelievers.

Millennial beliefs are also an important part of the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as Mormonism. The religion was founded by Joseph Smith in 1830. Smith claimed an angel told him that Christ's Second Coming was imminent, and Smith believed he had been chosen to prepare humanity for the millennium. According to Smith's visions, the millennial kingdom will be established in the United States. Today, Mormonism does not stress millennialism as much as it did in the past. However, many Mormons interpret some world events as the fulfillment of prophecies that foretell an apocalyptic period.

Many other contemporary religious groups have millennialist views. These include the Unification Church, Hare Krishna, Baha'i, Rastafarianism, and other religious movements. Millennialist prophecy, once central to the early Jewish faith, continues today among members of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, an Orthodox Hasidic sect of Judaism. In the late 1980s and early 1990s many followers of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Brooklyn, New York, believed that he was the Messiah who would bring about the redemption of the world. Schneerson never claimed to be the Messiah, but he interpreted current events as apocalyptic signs that foretold the Messiah's appearance in the near future.

Millennialist beliefs also exist at a grassroots level as a form of popular or folk belief, apart from the sanction of formal religious institutions. For instance, there is popular interest in the apocalyptic predictions of Nostradamus, a 16th-century French physician and astrologer, and Edgar Cayce, an American who lived in the early 20th century and claimed to have psychic and healing abilities. Some people also believe that alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary warn of imminent worldly destruction.

Recent Millennialist Movements

Apocalyptic and millennialist movements not affiliated with established religious institutions are often depicted in stereotypical ways as doomsday cults, involving violent activities, mass suicides, and "brainwashed fanatics" with bizarre beliefs. Of the hundreds of contemporary millennialist groups that exist, relatively few movements have been motivated to acts of violence or suicide. But there have been some exceptions in recent years, including apocalyptic groups such as the Branch Davidians, Aum Shinrikyo, and Heaven's Gate.

Although these groups differ in their doctrines, aspects of their belief systems share certain common ideas. These ideas include a sense of fatalism for a world regarded as completely evil and doomed, and a desire for planetary escape and salvation. Some people predict that the dawning of the 3rd millennium may motivate other apocalyptic groups with similar beliefs to embrace and enact violent scenarios as well.

Secular Attitudes

Until recently, most people believed that an apocalypse would involve deities or divine forces. However, during the 20th century, more people developed secular theories about an apocalypse. Some believe the world will end due to nuclear warfare, new technologies, environmental destruction, epidemic diseases, global famine and overpopulation, or an Earth collision with a large asteroid or comet. Secular beliefs about inevitable societal destruction reflect a sense of helplessness, despair, or fatalistic resignation.

The creation of nuclear weapons in particular has fundamentally altered contemporary apocalyptic thought, evoking widespread fatalism about the future of humanity. When the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945, the event initiated an era of fear about global destruction. Despite the end of the Cold War, concerns about the possibility of nuclear annihilation persist today, stemming from fear that nuclear weapons will be developed and used by hostile nations or extremist organizations.

Specific secular beliefs about catastrophe occurring at the beginning of 2000 were associated with what was known as the year 2000 computer problem, the Y2K problem, or the millennium bug. Many [older] computers were programmed to recognize the year by the last two numbers of the year instead of by all four digits. On January 1, 2000, these computers registered the year as the digits 00. Computers that had not been fixed, understood these digits as representing the year 1900 and generated some error messages or shut down. Some people believed that many computer systems worldwide would crash when the date changed from 1999 to 2000. They feared these computer crashes would spark economic, political, and social catastrophes that would involve the malfunction of missile systems, hospital equipment, satellites, air transportation, and other major technologies.

Daniel N Wojcik

Views of the Millennium

Advanced Information

The word "millennium" is derived from the Latin for a thousand (at times the word "chiliasm" taken from the Greek and meaning the same thing is used). It denotes a doctrine taken from a passage in Revelation (20:1 - 10) in which the writer describes the devil as being bound and thrown into a bottomless pit for a thousand years. The removal of Satanic influence is accompanied by the resurrection of the Christian martyrs, who reign with Christ during the millennium. This period is a time when all of humankind's yearning for an ideal society characterized by peace, freedom, material prosperity, and the rule of righteousness will be realized. The vision of the OT prophets who foretold a period of earthly prosperity for the people of God will find fulfillment during this era.

Millennialism addresses problems that are often overlooked in other eschatological views. Although most Christian theologians discuss death, immortality, the end of the world, the last judgment, the rewards of the just, and the punishment of the damned, they often limit themselves to the prospects for the individual in this world and the next. In contrast, millennialism is concerned with the future of the human community on earth. It is concerned with the chronology of coming events just as history is involved with the study of the record of the past.

Millennialism has appeared within both Christian and non Christian traditions. Anthropologists and sociologists have found millennialist belief among non Western people, but they have debated as to whether or not these appearances of the teaching are based upon borrowing from the teaching are based upon borrowing from Christian preaching. Most Christian theologians believe that millennialism is based on material written by Judeo Christian authors, especially the books of Daniel and Revelation. The ideas, events, symbols, and personalities introduced in these writings have reappeared countless times in the teachings of prophets of the end of the world. Each new appearance finds these motifs given fresh significance from association with contemporary events.

Major Varieties of Millennialism

For purposes of analysis and explanation Christian attitudes toward the millennium can be classified as premillennial, postmillennial, and amillennial. These categories involve much more than the arrangement of events surrounding the return of Christ. The thousand years expected by the premillennialist is quite different from that anticipated by the postmillennialist. The premillennialist believes that the kingdom of Christ will be inaugurated in a cataclysmic way and that divine control will be exercised in a more supernatural manner than does the postmillennialist.



The premillennialist believes that the return of Christ will be preceded by signs including wars, famines, earthquakes, the preaching of the gospel to all nations, a great apostasy, the appearance of Antichrist, and the great tribulation. These events culminate in the second coming, which will result in a period of peace and righteousness when Christ and his saints control the world. This rule is established suddenly through supernatural methods rather than gradually over a long period of time by means of the conversion of individuals. The Jews will figure prominently in the future age because the premillennialist believes that they will be converted in large numbers and will again have a prominent place in God's work. Nature will have the curse removed from it, and even the desert will produce abundant crops, Christ will restrain evil during the age by the use of authoritarian power. Despite the idyllic conditions of this golden age there is a final rebellion of wicked people against Christ and his saints.

This exposure of evil is crushed by God, the non Christian dead are resurrected, the last judgment conducted, and the eternal states of heaven and hell established. Many premillennialists have taught that during the thousand years dead or martyred believers will be resurrected with glorified bodies to intermingle with the other inhabitants of the earth.



In contrast to premillennialism, the postmillennialists emphasize the present aspects of God's kingdom which will reach fruition in the future. They believe that the millennium will come through Christian preaching and teaching. Such activity will result in a more godly, peaceful, and prosperous world. The new age will not be essentially different from the present, and it will come about as more people are converted to Christ. Evil will not be totally eliminated during the millennium, but it will be reduced to a minimum as the moral and spiritual influence of Christians is increased. During the new age the church will assume greater importance, and many economic, social, and educational problems can be solved. This period is not necessarily limited to a thousand years because the number can be used symbolically. The millennium closes with the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the last judgment.



The third position, amillennialism, states that the Bible does not predict a period of the rule of Christ on earth before the last judgment. According to this outlook there will be a continuous development of good and evil in the world until the second coming of Christ, when the dead shall be raised and the judgment conducted. Amillennialists believe that the kingdom of God is now present in the world as the victorious Christ rules his church through the Word and the Spirit. They feel that the future, glorious, and perfect kingdom refers to the new earth and life in heaven. Thus Rev. 20 is a description of the souls of dead believers reigning with Christ in heaven.

The Rise of Millennialism

Early millennial teaching was characterized by an apocalyptic emphasis. In this view the future kingdom of God would be established through a series of dramatic, unusual events. Such teaching has been kept alive throughout the Christian era by certain types of premillennialism. Apocalyptic interpretation is based upon the prophecies of Daniel and the amplification of some of the same themes in the book of Revelation. These works point to the imminent and supernatural intervention of God in human affairs and the defeat of the seemingly irresistible progress of evil. Numerology, theme figures, and angelology play a major role in these presentations. The apocalyptic world view was very influential among the Jews in the period that elapsed between the OT and the NT. Consequently the audiences to which Jesus preached were influenced by it. The early Christians also embraced this outlook.

The book of Revelation, composed during a period of persecution in the first century, used the Jewish apocalyptic interpretation to explain the Christian era. Daniel's Son of man was presented as Christ, numerological formulas were restated, and the dualistic world of good and evil was provided with a new set of characters. Despite these changes the essential apocalyptic message remained as the book taught the living hope of the immediate direct intervention of God to reverse history and to overcome evil with good. Such an outlook brought great comfort to believers who suffered from persecution by the forces of Imperial Rome. Expressed in a form that has been called historic premillennialism, this hope seems to have been the prevailing eschatology during the first three centuries of the Christian era, and is found in the works of Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Methodius, Commodianus, and Lactantius.

Several forces worked to undermine the millennialism of the early church. One of these was the association of the teaching with a radical group, the Montanists, who placed a great stress on a new third age of the Spirit which they believed was coming among their number in Asia Minor. Another influence which encouraged a change of eschatological views was the emphasis of Origen upon the manifestation of the kingdom within the soul of the believer rather than in the world. This resulted in a shift of attention away from the historical toward the spiritual or metaphysical. A final factor that led to a new millennial interpretation was the conversion of the Emperor Constantine the Great and the adoption of Christianity as the favored Imperial religion.

Medieval and Reformation Millennialism

In the new age brought in by the acceptance of Christianity as the main religion of the Roman Empire it was Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, who articulated the amillennial view which dominated Western Christian thought during the Middle Ages. The millennium, according to his interpretation, referred to the church in which Christ reigned with his saints. The statements in the book of Revelation were interpreted allegorically by Augustine. No victory was imminent in the struggle with evil in the world. On the really important level, the spiritual, the battle had already been won and God had triumphed through the cross. Satan was reduced to lordship over the City of the World, which coexisted with the City of God. Eventually even the small domain left to the devil would be taken from him by a triumphant God.

Augustine's allegorical interpretation became the official doctrine of the church during the medieval period. However, in defiance of the main teaching of the church the earlier apocalyptic premillennialism continued to be held by certain counterculture groups. These millenarians under charismatic leaders were often associated with radicalism and revolts. For example, during the eleventh century in regions most affected by urbanization and social change thousands followed individuals such as Tanchelm of the Netherlands, causing great concern to those in positions of power. In the twelfth century Joachim of Fiore gave fresh expression to the millennial vision with his teaching about the coming third age of the Holy Spirit. During the Hussite Wars in fifteenth century Bohemia the Taborites encouraged the resistance to the Catholic Imperial forces by proclaiming the imminent return of Christ to establish his kingdom. These outbreaks of premillennialism continued during the Reformation era and were expressed most notably in the rebellion of the city of Munster in 1534.

Jan Matthys gained control of the community, proclaiming that he was Enoch preparing the way for the second coming of Christ by establishing a new code of laws which featured a community of property and other radical reforms. He declared that Munster was the New Jerusalem and called all faithful Christians to gather in the city. Many Anabaptists answered his summons, and most of the original inhabitants of the town were forced to flee or to live in a veritable reign of terror. The situation was so threatening to other areas of Europe that a combined Protestant and Catholic force laid siege to the place and after a difficult struggle captured the town, suppressing the wave of millennial enthusiasm.

Perhaps the Munster episode led the Protestant Reformers to reaffirm Augustinian amillennialism. Each of the three main Protestant traditions of the sixteenth century, Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican, had the support of the state and so continued the same Constantinian approach to theology. Both Luther and Calvin were very suspicious of millennial speculation. Calvin declared that those who engaged in calculations based on the apocalyptic portions of Scripture were "ignorant" and "malicious." The major statements of the various Protestant bodies such as the Augsburg Confession (1, xvii), the Thirty nine Articles (IV), and the Westminister Confession (chs. 32, 33), although professing faith in the return of Christ, do not support apocalyptic millenarian speculation. In certain respects, however, the Reformers inaugurated changes which would lead to a revival of interest in premillennialism. These include a more literal approach to the interpretation of Scripture, the identification of the papacy with Antichrist, and an emphasis on Bible prophecy.

Modern Millennialism

It was during the seventeenth century that premillennialism of a more scholarly nature was presented. Two Reformed theologians, Johann Heinrich Alsted and Joseph Mede, were responsible for the renewal of this outlook. They did not interpret the book of Revelation in an allegorical manner but rather understood it to contain the promise of a literal kingdom of God to be established on earth before the last judgment. During the Puritan Revolution the writings of these men encouraged others to look for the establishment of the millennial kingdom in England. One of the more radical of these groups, the Fifth Monarchy Men, became infamous for their insistence on the reestablishment of OT law and a reformed government for England. The collapse of the Cromwellian regime and the restoration of the Stuart monarchy discredited premillennialism. Yet the teaching continued into the eighteenth century through the work of Isaac Newton, Johann Albrecht Bengel, and Joseph Priestley.

As the popularity of premillennialism wanted, postmillennialism rose to prominence. First expressed in the works of certain Puritan scholars, it received its most influential formulation in the writings of the Anglican commentator Daniel Whitby. It seemed to him that the kingdom of God was coming ever closer and that it would arrive through the same kind of effort that had always triumphed in the past. Among the many theologians and preachers who were convinced by the arguments of Whitby was Jonathan Edwards. Edwardsean postmillennialism also emphasized the place of America in the establishment of millennial conditions upon the earth.

During the nineteenth century premillennialism became popular once again. The violent uprooting of European social and political institutions during the era of the French Revolution encouraged a more apocalyptic climate of opinion. There was also a revival of interest in the fortunes of the Jews. A new element was added to premillennialism during this period with the rise of dispensationalism. Edward Irving, a Church of Scotland minister who pastored a congregation in London, was one of the outstanding leaders in the development of the new interpretation. He published numerous works on prophecy and organized the Albury Park prophecy conferences, thus setting the pattern for other gatherings of premillenarians during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Irving's apocalyptic exposition found support among the Plymouth Brethren and led many in the group to become enthusiastic teachers of dispensational premillennialism.

Perhaps the leading early dispensational expositor among the Brethren was John Nelson Darby. He believed that the second coming of Christ consisted of two stages, the first a secret rapture or "catching away" of the saints which would remove the church before a seven year period of tribulation devastates the earth, and the second when Christ appears visibly with his saints after the tribulation to rule on earth for a thousand years. Darby also taught that the church was a mystery of which only Paul wrote and that the purposes of God can be understood as working through a series of periods, or dispensations, in each of which God dealt with people in unique ways.

Most premillennialists during the early nineteenth century were not dispensationalists, however. More typical of their number was David Nevins Lord, who edited a quarterly journal, The Theological and Literary Review, which appeared from 1848 to 1861. This periodical contained articles of interest to premillennialists and helped to elaborate a nondispensational system of prophetic interpretation. Lord believed that a historical explanation of the book of Revelation was preferable to the futurist outlook which characterized the dispensational view. This approach was followed by most premillennialists in the United States until after the Civil War, when dispensationalism spread among their number. Darby's interpretation was accepted because of the work of individuals such as Henry Moorhouse, a Brethren evangelist, who convinced many interdenominational speakers to accept many interdenominational speakers to accept dispensationalism.

Typical of those who came to believe in Darby's eschatology were William E Blackstone, "Harry" A Ironside, Arno C Gaebelein, Lewis Sperry Chafer, and C I Scofield. It is through Scofield and his works that dispensationalism became the norm for much of American evangelicalism. His Scofield Reference Bible, which made the new eschatological interpretation an integral part of an elaborate system of notes printed on the same pages as the text, proved so popular that it sold over three million copies in fifty years. Bible schools and seminaries such as Biola, Moody Bible Institute, Dallas Theological Seminary, and Grace Theological Seminary, along with the popular preachers and teachers who have utilized the electronic media, have made this interpretation popular among millions of conservative Protestants. The new view replaced the older premillennial outlook to such an extent that when George Ladd restated the historic interpretation in the midtwentieth century it seemed like a novelty to many evangelicals.

While the various forms of premillennialism competed for adherents in nineteenth century America, a form of postmillennialism that equated the United States with the kingdom of God became very popular. Many Protestant ministers fed the fires of nationalism and Manifest Destiny by presenting the coming of the golden age as dependent upon the spread of democracy, technology, and the other "benefits" of Western civilization. Perhaps the most complete statement of this civil millennialism was presented by Hollis Read. Ordained to the Congregational ministry in Park Street Church, Boston, he served as a missionary to India but was forced to return to the United States because of his wife's poor health. In a two volume work, The Hand of God in History, he attempted to prove that God's millennial purposes were finding fulfillment in America. He believed that geography, politics, learning, the arts, and morality all pointed to the coming of the millennium to America in the nineteenth century. From this base the new age could spread to the entire earth.

As Ps. 22:27 stated, "All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him." In order to accomplish the purpose of global evangelism Read favored imperialism because the extension of Anglo Saxon control over other nations ensured the spread of the gospel. He cited the prevalence of the English language, which made it easier to preach the Word and to teach the native people the more civilized Western culture, as one example of the benefits of Western control. Technological improvements such as the steam press, the locomotive, and the steamship were also given by God to spread enlightenment and the Christian message to all peoples.

Whenever the United States has faced a time of crisis, there have been those who have revived civil postmillennialism as a means to encourage and comfort their fellow citizens. The biblical content of this belief has become increasingly vague as the society has become more pluralistic. For example, during the period of the Civil War many agreed with Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic," which described God as working through the Northern forces to accomplish his ultimate purpose. President Wilson's crusade to "make the world safe for democracy," which led his country into World War I, was based upon a postmillennial vision that gave American ideals the major role in establishing peace and justice on earth. Since World War II several groups have revived civil millennialism to counter communism and to resist domestic changes such as those brought about by the moves for equal rights for women.

In addition to the premillennial, amillennial, and postmillennial interpretations there have been groups such as the Shakers, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Latter day Saints (Mormons) who tend to equate the activities of their own sect with the coming of the millennium. There are also movements including the Nazis and the Marxists who teach a kind of secular millennialism when they speak of the Third Reich or the classless society.

R G Clouse
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

R G Clouse, ed., The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views; E R Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism; G E Ladd, The Blessed Hope; A Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ; N West, Studies in Eschatology; R Anderson, The Coming Prince; W E Blackstone, Jesus Is Coming; R Pache, The Return of Jesus Christ; C C Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today; J F Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom; L Boettner, The Millennium; D Brown, Christ's Second Coming; J M Kik, An Eschatology of Victory; O T Allis, Prophecy and the Church; A A Hoekema, The Bible and the Future; P Mauro, The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation; G Vos, The Pauline Eschatology.

Millennium and Millenarianism

Catholic Information

The fundamental idea of millenarianism, as understood by Christian writers, may be set forth as follows: At the end of time Christ will return in all His splendour to gather together the just, to annihilate hostile powers, and to found a glorious kingdom on earth for the enjoyment of the highest spiritual and material blessings; He Himself will reign as its king, and all the just, including the saints recalled to life, will participate in it. At the close of this kingdom the saints will enter heaven with Christ, while the wicked, who have also been resuscitated, will be condemned to eternal damnation. The duration of this glorious reign of Christ and His saints on earth, is frequently given as one thousand years. Hence it is commonly known as the "millennium", while the belief in the future realization of the kingdom is called "millenarianism" (or "chiliasm", from the Greek chilia, scil. ete). This term of one thousand years, however, is by no means an essential element of the millennium as conceived by its adherents. The extent, details of the realization, conditions, the place, of the millennium were variously described.

Essential are the following points:

the early return of Christ in all His power and glory,

the establishment of an earthly kingdom with the just,

the resuscitation of the deceased saints and their participation in the glorious reign,

the destruction of the powers hostile to God, and,

at the end of the kingdom, the universal resurrection with the final judgment,

after which the just will enter heaven, while the wicked will be consigned to the eternal fire of hell.

The roots of the belief in a glorious kingdom, partly natural, partly supernatural, are found in the hopes of the Jews for a temporal Messiah and in the Jewish apocalyptic. Under the galling pressure of their political circumstances the expectation of a Messiah who would free the people of God had in the Jewish mind, assumed a character that was to a great extent earthly; the Jews longed above all for a saviour who would free them from their oppressors and restore the former splendour of Israel. These expectations generally included the belief that Jehovah would conquer all powers hostile to Himself and to His chosen people, and that He would set up a final, glorious kingdom of Israel. The apocalyptic books, principally the book of Henoch and the fourth book of Esdras, indicate various details of the arrival of the Messiah, the defeat of the nations hostile to Israel, and the union of all the Israelites in the Messianic kingdom followed by the renovation of the world and the universal resurrection.

The natural and the supernatural are mingled in this conception of a Messianic kingdom as the closing act of the world's history. The Jewish hopes of a Messiah, and the descriptions of apocalyptic writers were blended; it was between the close of the present world-order and the commencement of the new that this sublime kingdom of the chosen people was to find its place. That many details of these conceptions should remain indistinct and confused was but natural, but the Messianic kingdom is always pictured as something miraculous, though the colours are at times earthly and sensuous. The evangelical accounts clearly prove how fervently the Jews at the time of Christ expected an earthly Messianic kingdom, but the Saviour came to proclaim the spiritual kingdom of God for the deliverance of man from his sins and for his sanctification, a kingdom which actually began with His birth. There is no trace of chiliasm to be found in the Gospels or in the Epistles of St. Paul; everything moves in the spiritual and religious sphere; even the descriptions of the end of the world and of the last judgment bear this stamp. The victory over the symbolical beast (the enemy of God and of the saints) and over Antichrist, as well as the triumph of Christ and His saints, are described in the Apocalypse of St. John (Revelation 20-21), in pictures that resemble those of the Jewish apocalyptic writers, especially of Daniel and Henoch. Satan is chained in the abyss for a thousand years, the martyrs and the just rise from the dead and share in the priesthood and kingship of Christ. Though it is difficult to focus sharply the pictures used in the Apocalypse and the things expressed by them, yet there can be no doubt that the whole description refers to the spiritual combat between Christ and the Church on the one hand and the malignant powers of hell and the world on the other. Nevertheless, a large number of Christians of the post-Apostolic era, particularly in Asia Minor, yielded so far to Jewish apocalyptic as to put a literal meaning into these descriptions of St. John's Apocalypse; the result was that millenarianism spread and gained staunch advocates not only among the heretics but among the Catholic Christians as well.

One of the heretics, the Gnostic Cerinthus, who flourished towards the end of the first century, proclaimed a splendid kingdom of Christ on earth which He would establish with the risen saints upon His second advent, and pictured the pleasures of this one thousand years in gross, sensual colours (Caius in Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl.", III, 28; Dionysius Alex. in Eusebius, ibid., VII, 25). Later among Catholics, Bishop Papias of Hierapolis, a disciple of St. John, appeared as an advocate of millenarianism. He claimed to have received his doctrine from contemporaries of the Apostles, and Irenaeus narrates that other "Presbyteri", who had seen and heard the disciple John, learned from him the belief in millenarianism as part of the Lord's doctrine. According to Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., 111, 39) Papias in his book asserted that the resurrection of the dead would be followed by one thousand years of a visible glorious earthly kingdom of Christ, and according to Irenaeus (Adv. Haereses, V, 33), he taught that the saints too would enjoy a superabundance of earthly pleasures. There will be days in which vines will grow, each with 10,000 branches, and on each branch 10,000 twigs, and on each twig 10,000 shoots, and in each shoot 10,000 clusters, and on each cluster 10,000 grapes, and each grape will produce 216 gallons of wine etc.

Millenarian ideas are found by most commentators in the Epistle of St. Barnabas, in the passage treating of the Jewish sabbath; for the resting of God on the seventh day after the creation is explained in the following manner. After the Son of God has come and put an end to the era of the wicked and judged them, and after the sun, the moon, and the stars have been changed, then He will rest in glory on the seventh day. The author had premised, if it is said that God created all things in six days, this means that God will complete all things in six millenniums, for one day represents one thousand years. It is certain that the writer advocates the tenet of a re-formation of the world through the second advent of Christ, but it is not clear from the indications whether the author of the letter was a millenarian in the strict sense of the word. St. Irenæus of Lyons, a native of Asia Minor, influenced by the companions of St. Polycarp, adopted millenarian ideas, discussing and defending them in his works against the Gnostics (Adv. Haereses, V, 32). He developed this doctrine mainly in opposition to the Gnostics, who rejected all hopes of the Christians in a happy future life, and discerned in the glorious kingdom of Christ on earth principally the prelude to the final, spiritual kingdom of God, the realm of eternal bliss. St. Justin of Rome, the martyr, opposes to the Jews in his Dialogue with Tryphon (ch. 80-1) the tenet of a millennium and asserts that he and the Christians whose belief is correct in every point know that there will be a resurrection of the body and that the newly built and enlarged Jerusalem will last for the space of a thousand years, but he adds that there are many who, though adhering to the pure and pious teachings of Christ, do not believe in it. A witness for the continued belief in millenarianism in the province of Asia is St. Melito, Bishop of Sardes in the second century. He develops the same train of thought as did St. Irenæus.

The Montanistic movement had its origin in Asia Minor. The expectation of an early advent of the celestial Jerusalem upon earth, which, it was thought, would appear in Phrygia, was intimately joined in the minds of the Montanists with the idea of the millennium. Tertullian, the protagonist of Montanism, expounds the doctrine (in his work now lost, "De Spe Fidelium" and in "Adv. Marcionem", IV) that at the end of time the great Kingdom of promise, the new Jerusalem, would be established and last for the space of one thousand years. All these millenarian authors appeal to various passages in the prophetic books of the Old Testament, to a few passages in the Letters of St. Paul and to the Apocalypse of St. John. Though millenarianism had found numerous adherents among the Christians and had been upheld by several ecclesiastical theologians, neither in the post-Apostolic period nor in the course of the second century, does it appear as a universal doctrine of the Church or as a part of the Apostolic tradition. The primitive Apostolic symbol mentions indeed the resurrection of the body and the return of Christ to judge the living and the dead, but it says not a word of the millennium. It was the second century that produced not only defenders of the millennium but pronounced adversaries of the chiliastic ideas. Gnosticism rejected millenarianism. In Asia Minor, the principal seat of millenarian teachings, the so-called Alogi rose up against millenarianism as well as against Montanism, but they went too far in their opposition, rejecting not only the Apocalypse of St. John, alleging Cerinthus as its author, but his Gospel also. The opposition to millenarianism became more general towards the end of the second century, going hand in hand with the struggle against Montanism. The Roman presbyter Caius (end of the second and beginning of the third century) attacked the millenarians. On the other hand, Hippolytus of Rome defended them and attempted a proof, basing his arguments on the allegorical explanation of the six days of creation as six thousand years, as he had been taught by tradition.

The most powerful adversary of millenarianism was Origen of Alexandria. In view of the Neo-Platonism on which his doctrines were founded and of his spiritual-allegorical method of explaining the Holy Scripture, he could not side with the millenarians. He combatted them expressly, and, owing to the great influence which his writings exerted on ecclesiastical theology especially in Oriental countries, millenarianism gradually disappeared from the idea of Oriental Christians. Only a few later advocates are known to us, principally theological adversaries of Origen. About the middle of the third century, Nepos, bishop in Egypt, who entered the lists against the allegorism of Origen, also propounded millenarian ideas and gained some adherents in the vicinity of Arsino . A schism threatened; but the prudent and moderate policy of Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, preserved unity; the chiliasts abandoned their views (Eusebius "Hist. Eccl.", VII, 14). Egypt seems to have harboured adherents of millenarianism in still later times Methodius, Bishop of Olympus, one of the principal opponents of Origen at the beginning of the fourth century, upheld chiliasm in his Symposion (IX, 1, 5). In the second half of the fourth century, these doctrines found their last defender in Apollinaris, Bishop of Laodicea and founder of Apollinarism (q.v.). His writings on this subject, have been lost; but St. Basil of Caesarea (Epist. CCLXIII, 4), Epiphanius (Haeres. LXX, 36) and Jerome (In Isai. XVIII) testify to his having been a chiliast. Jerome also adds that many Christians of that time shared the same beliefs; but after that millenarianism found no outspoken champion among the theologians of the Greek Church.

In the West, the millenarian expectations of a glorious kingdom of Christ and His just, found adherents for a long time. The poet Commodian (Instructiones, 41, 42, 44) as well as Lactantius (Institutiones, VII) proclaim the millennial realm and describe its splendour, partly drawing on the earlier chiliasts and the Sybilline prophecies, partly borrowing their colours from the "golden age" of the pagan poets; but the idea of the six thousand years for the duration of the world is ever conspicuous. Victorinus of Pettau also was a millenarian though in the extant copy of his commentary on the Apocalypse no allusions to it can be detected. St. Jerome, himself a decided opponent of the millenial ideas, brands Sulpicius Severus as adhering to them, but in the writings of this author in their present form nothing can be found to support this charge. St. Ambrose indeed teaches a twofold resurrection, but millenarian doctrines do not stand out clearly. On the other hand; St. Augustine was for a time, as he himself testifies (De Civitate Dei, XX, 7), a pronounced champion of millenarianism; but he places the millennium after the universal resurrection and regards it in a more spiritual light (Sermo, CCLIX). When, however, he accepted the doctrine of only one universal resurrection and a final judgment immediately following, he could no longer cling to the principal tenet of early chiliasm. St. Augustine finally held to the conviction that there will be no millennium. The struggle between Christ and His saints on the one hand and the wicked world and Satan on the other, is waged in the Church on earth; so the great Doctor describes it in his work De Civitate Dei. In the same book he gives us an allegorical explanation of Chapter 20 of the Apocalypse. The first resurrection, of which this chapter treats, he tells us, refers to the spiritual rebirth in baptism; the sabbath of one thousand years after the six thousand years of history is the whole of eternal life -- or in other words, the number one thousand is intended to express perfection, and the last space of one thousand years must be understood as referring to the end of the world; at all events, the kingdom of Christ, of which the Apocalypse speaks, can only be applied to the Church (De Civitate Dei, XX 5-7). This explanation of the illustrious Doctor was adopted by succeeding Western theologians, and millenarianism in its earlier shape no longer received support. Cerinthus and the Ebionites are mentioned in later writings against the heretics as defenders of the millennium, it is true, but as cut-off from the Church. Moreover, the attitude of the Church towards the secular power had undergone a change with closer connection between her and the Roman empire. There is no doubt that this turn of events did much towards weaning the Christians from the old millenarianism, which during the time of persecution had been the expression of their hopes that Christ would soon reappear and overthrow the foes of His elect. Chiliastic views disappeared all the more rapidly, because, as was remarked above, in spite of their wide diffusion even among sincere Christians, and in spite of their defence by prominent Fathers of the early Church, millenarianism was never held in the universal Church as an article of faith based on Apostolic traditions. The Middle Ages were never tainted with millenarianism; it was foreign both to the theology of that period and to the religious ideas of the people. The fantastic views of the apocalyptic writers (Joachim of Floris, the Franciscan-Spirituals, the Apostolici), referred only to a particular form of spiritual renovation of the Church, but did not include a second advent of Christ. The "emperor myths," which prophesied the establishment of a happy, universal kingdom by the great emperor of the future, contain indeed descriptions that remind one of the ancient Sybilline and millenarian writings, but an essential trait is again missing, the return of Christ and the connection of the blissful reign with the resurrection of the just. Hence the millennium proper is unknown to them. The Protestantism of the sixteenth century ushered in a new epoch of millenarian doctrines. Protestant fanatics of the earlier years, particularly the Anabaptists, believed in a new, golden age under the sceptre of Christ, after the overthrow of the papacy and secular empires. In 1534 the Anabaptists set up in Münster (Westphalia) the new Kingdom of Zion, which advocated sharing property and women in common, as a prelude to the new kingdom of Christ. Their excesses were opposed and their millenarianism disowned by both the Augsberg (art. 17) and the Helvetian Confession (ch. 11), so that it found no admission into the Lutheran and Reformed theologies. Nevertheless, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries produced new apocalyptic fanatics and mystics who expected the millennium in one form or another: in Germany, the Bohemian and Moravian Brethren (Comenius); in France, Pierre Jurien (L'Accomplissement des Propheties, 1686); in England at the time of Cromwell, the Independents and Jane Leade. A new phase in the development of millenarian views among the Protestants commenced with Pietism. One of the chief champions of the millennium in Germany was I.A. Bengel and his disciple Crusius, who were afterwards joined by Rothe, Volch, Thiersch, Lange and others. Protestants from Wurtemberg emigrated to Palestine (Temple Communities) in order to be closer to Christ at His second advent. Certain fantastical sects of England and North America, such as the Irvingites, Mormons, Adventists, adopted both apocalyptic and millenarian views, expecting the return of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom at an early date. Some Catholic theologians of the nineteenth century championed a moderate, modified millenarianism, especially in connection with their explanations of the Apocalypse; as Pagani (The End of the World, 1856), Schneider (Die chiliastische Doktrin, 1859), Rohling (Erklärung der Apokalypse des hl. lohannes, 1895; Auf nach Sion, 1901), Rougeyron Chabauty (Avenir de l'Eglise catholique selon le Plan Divin, 1890).

Publication information Written by J.P. Kirsch. Transcribed by Donald J. Boon. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

Also, see:

Westminster Confession of Faith. London Confession
Augsburg Confession
Thirty-Nine Articles

Second Coming of Christ
Dispensation, Dispensationalism
Last Judgement
Rapture of the Church, Tribulation
Tribulation, Great Tribulation

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