Fundamental Characteristic of the Doctrine (§ 1)

Rise of the Doctrine (§ 2).

Christic and Pauline Doctrine (§ 3).

Periods of Development (§ 4).

Patristic and Medieval Doctrine (§ 5).

Development During and After the Reformation (§ 6).

Doctrine in the Eighteenth Century (§ 7).

The Time and Place (§ 8).

The Number of the Participants (§ 9).

Premillenarianism and Postmillenarianism (§ 10).

Premillenarianism in Great Britain and America (§ 11).

1. Fundamental Characteristic of the Doctrine. The term millennium denotes in theology the thousand years of the kingdom of Christ on earth referred to in Rev. xx. 1-6. Millenarianism (or the corresponding word of Greek derivation, chiliasm) is the belief in the millennium; more specifically, the belief that Christ will reign personally on the earth with his saints for one thousand years or an indefinitely long period before the end of the world.


The beliefs widely held at different epochs concerning the second coming of Christ and his reign upon earth constitute a historical phenomenon the significance of which can be thoroughly understood only from history itself. The definite period of a thousand years implied by the words which are commonly used as names for such beliefs is really a subordinate and not always strictly understood detail; the main thing is the conception of a glorious period of peace and joy in which the elect shall dwell under the immediate personal rulership of Christ, on earth, after his return and the close of the present dispensation. Whatever modifications the doctrine may have undergone with its later representatives, it never includes the conception of an earthly perfection of the Church in the way of historical development; the millennial reign is not an ideal condition of the world brought about previous to and independently of the second coming of Christ by the operation of the divine leaven now working here. It is a supernatural, extra-historical irruption of the other world into this world which is not prepared for it and strives to resist it. The millenarian belief has in common with the Church's doctrine a hope for the visible reappearance of Christ, but goes further when it intercalates between this and the end of the world a reign of a thousand years.

2. Rise of the Doctrine. The belief is much older, as a matter of fact, than the Christian Church. The conception of a thousand-year period which is to follow the downfall of hostile powers, connected, too, with the resurrection of the dead, is found in Zoroastrianism (q.v.). It does not appear in Old-Testament prophecy. This promises simply a reign of the Messiah, in which, after the restoration of the Jewish kingdom and the union of all nations in the worship of Yahweh, the happiness of the people shall express itself in external circumstances of peace and well-being (see MESSIAH, MESSIANISM); hence came the externalism of later Judaism, which did not distinguish between literal and symbolical in the words of the prophets, and was impelled by its position to emphasize the political side of its hopes. But the transcendental side of these hopes was not forgotten; the conceptions of a general judgment and an end of this world, of the resurrection of the dead and a future life, gradually took shape and acquired strength. As the opposition became obvious between the old Jewish hope of a happy life of the just in Palestine, and the new idea of a heavenly kingdom before which this world should pass away, it may have been an attempt to reconcile the two which gave rise to millenarianism. It was not, however, even in the time of Christ, the universal feeling of the Jews. The detailed conception of the last things is most fully worked out in II Esdras (vii. 28 sqq.), where appears the following order of events: a time of final trial, the coming of the Messiah, a war of the nations against him, ending in their defeat, the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem, the gathering of the dispersed Israelites, a four-hundred-year reign of the Messiah, seven days of absolute silence, the renewal of the world, the general resurrection, the last judgment. With such apocalyptic teaching as this is connected the reckoning of definite periods in the history of the world; the calculation of six or seven thousand years which was later so usual in the Christian Church appears with the translators of the Pentateuch (c. 280 B.C. according to Lagarde, Mittheilungen, iv. 315, Göttingen, 1891), and in Enoch (xxxiii.).


3. Christic and Pauline Doctrine. The teaching of Christ is not millenarian. In Mark i. 15, indeed, he announces that the kingdom of God is at hand; but he knows nothing of any provisory kingdom to be founded by him, or of any difference between his own and his Father's. His coming is identical with the last judgment, until which the wheat and the and tares are to grow together. The "resurrection of the just" in Luke xiv. 14 does not follow a preliminary period. The renewal of the world in Matt. xix. 28 is connected with the last judgment. In depicting the glories of the kingdom of heaven, he employs conceptions existing already, and leaves his disciples in no doubt that there is an analogy between the highest earthly joys and the blessings of the Messianic period (Mark x. 40, xiii. 27; Matt. v. 4, viii. 11, xxii. 1-14, xxv. 1-13; Luke xiii. 29, xiv. 15-24, xxii. 16, 30). But he made it clear to the Sadducees (Mark xii. 24-27) that they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God if they believed that he could do nothing but repeat in the other world the order of this; and at the Last Supper he made the supernatural character of the future joys plain to his disciples (Mark xiv. 25). That, none the less, something of the Jewish-apocalyptic notions of the Messiah passed over into primitive Christianity is easily explained by the fact that the first Christians were of Jewish birth. Of Paul, it may at least be said that by his doctrine of a limited reign of Christ (I Cor. xv. 25 sqq.) he gave a foothold in the Church for chiliastic expectations. But their main support was in the apocalyptic teaching of John (Rev. xx. 4 sqq.), completely misunderstood as the passage has been by many commentators from Augustine down, and little as it yields of positive information, even to modern critical investigation.


4. Periods of Development. The later development departed in many particulars from the Jewish-Christian type, as the Gentile Christians translated the belief into the terms of their old myths of a golden age, or as new inspirations and revelations gave it an individual form. The history of the doctrine may be conveniently divided into three main of periods. In the first centuries it formed a constant, though not an unquestioned, part of the Church's doctrine, until a radical change in external circumstances and attitude forced it into the position of a heresy. After the Reformation, it became a favorite doctrine of mystical enthusiasts and sects, who looked upon it as a comfort in the disappointment of their wishes and hopes. From the middle of the eighteenth century, it began again to penetrate more deeply into the life of the Church, building its evidence for the future on the history of the past.

5. Patristic and Medieval Doctrine. In the first of these periods, next to the old Jewish conceptions, it received its most powerful impulse from the persecutions which forced men to look forward to an approaching compensation. It is found not only in Cerinthus, in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, and among the Ebionites, but in the orthodox writers of the post-apostolic age, in the Epistle of Barnabas (xv.), and in the fragments of Papias (in Irenæus, Hær., V., xxxiii. 3 sqq., and Eusebius, Hist. eccl., III., xxxix.). Echoes of it are to be found also in the first Epistle of Clement (1. 3), in the Shepherd of Hermas (i. 3), in the Didache (x., xvi.), in the second Epistle of Clement, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the old Roman creed, which closes with the belief in the resurrection of the flesh. About the middle of the second century Justin Martyr (Trypho, lxxx.) knows orthodox believers who do not share the hope of an earthly perfection of the Church, but for himself regards it as the expression of complete orthodoxy. The doctrine appears in Melito of Sardis (Eusebius, Hist. eccl., V., xxiv. 5) and in the letters of the Christians of Lyons (ib. V., i. sqq.); and Irenæus (Hær., V., xxxii. sqq.), like Papias, founded his belief in it on the words of those who had been taught by the apostles themselves. The first objection against it was aroused by its fanatical exaggeration among the Montanists; its first literary opponent in the Western Church was the Roman presbyter Caius, though Hippolytus still followed Irenæus. The opposition of the Alexandrians was more important. Origen's Platonic idealism, teaching him to see the seat of all evil in matter, ranked him among its opponents (De principiis, ii. 11); but this reasoning influenced none but the educated class. In Egypt a bishop, Nepos, professing to defend the literal sense of Scripture, stirred up a violent agitation among both clergy and people; the conciliatory Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria succeeded in quieting it by his writings on the spiritual meaning of the prophecies. Methodius, bishop of Tyre, supported millenarianism. Its final echo in the East was the polemical treatise of Apollinaris of Laodicea against Dionysius in the last half of the fourth century. It maintained itself longer as a popular belief in the West, and the millennial reign was depicted in material colors by Commodian, Lactantius, and Victorinus, bishop of Pettau. It was with Augustine first (cf. De civitate Dei, XX, vii.9) that this doctrine was finally settled. It was henceforth an established principle that the Church was the kingdom of God upon earth. With the cessation of persecution, and still more with the conversion to Christianity of the secular powers, there was no more point in looking forward to a period of earthly triumph over the foes of the faith. The Middle Ages repeated the traditional formulas without special interest. The expectation of the end of the world at the conclusion of the first thousand years of the Christian era was only the result of the view, usual since Augustine, which reckoned the duration of the millennial reign, identified with the Church, from the beginning of Christianity. The apocalyptic sects and factions, which proclaimed the near approach of the age of the Spirit, saw it not in the return of Christ in external majesty but in a reversion to apostolic poverty, connected in Joachim of Floris with contemplation and enthusiastic love; in the "Spirituals" with imitation of the smallest details of the life of Christ; among the "Apostolic Brethren" with brotherly union under the rule of a holy pope sent from God. Later, the teachings of Joachim were used for political purposes in the communistic revolution attempted by the Taborites of Bohemia (see HUSS, JOHN, HUSSITES, II., §§ 3-7).


6. Development During and After the Reformation. With the Reformation began the second period of the history of millenarianism. The new interest in Scripture and the belief that the Apocalypse contained in type the whole history of God's kingdom on earth, caused men to seek in it the explanation of the signs of the troubled times; and the apparently approaching down fall of the "anti-Christian" papacy seemed a certain prelude to the coming of the Lord. As in the primitive centuries, the martyrdoms of persecuted Protestants recalled the promises of coming redemption. Some Anabaptists prepared for the approaching revelation of Christ by the abolition of government and of the Church's teaching function, and at Münster in 1534 established the new Zion with community of property (see MÜNSTER, ANABAPTISTS IN). Both the Lutheran Church in the Augsburg Confession (xvii.) and the Reformed in the Helvetic Confession (xi.) rejected this caricature of true millenarianism as mere visionary Judaism, and the Roman Catholic body had even less room for such speculations. The theosophy, indeed, of Jacob Böehme and of the mystics who followed Paracelsus awakened apocalyptic hopes by painting the restoration of Paradise in the most glowing colors; but it was in the seventeenth century that millenarianism had the freest play. The political convulsions which shook Europe, the revolutions in England, the religious wars in Germany, the maltreatment of the Protestants in France, spread its teaching far beyond the walls of the conventicle. Sober and learned men became prophets under the pressure of the times. Toward the end of the century the Lutheran Church was influenced in this direction by the Pietistic movement. Spenser himself (in his Hoffnung künftiger besserer Zeiten, 1693) gave utterance to a refined mllillenarianism, to which Joachim Lange added a stronger apocalyptic note in 1730. The Berleburg Bible (see BIBLES, ANNOTATED) and the writings of the English ecstatic Jane Lead (q.v.; d. 1704) influenced thoughtful men in Germany very widely from the beginning of the eighteenth century.


7. Doctrine in the Eighteenth Century. But the chiliastic doctrines received their most powerful support from Johann Albrecht Bengel (q.v.), whose writings maybe said to open the third period. England, America, and Germany were the countries in which the doctrine spread most widely. In the first-named, the millenarian sect of the Plymouth Brethren arose between 1820 and 1830, and in 1832 the Irvingites established their "Catholic Apostolic Church" (q.v.), proclaiming that the Lord was at hand. The Mormons in America laid the foundations of the new Zion; and the sect of Adventists founded by William Miller (q.v., and see ADVENTISTS) awaited the coming of Christ in 1847. Meantime, among the most recent theologians, according to their attitude toward the text of Scripture and the Revelation in particular, some reject the doctrine altogether, while others are not willing to give up a refined form of it.


8. The Time and Place. As old as the doctrine itself are the attempts to define the time of the millennial period. The failure to arrive at the time fixed proved no discouragement to fresh attempts. From Hippolytus to the present day there has been a continuous succession of these calculations, arbitrary enough in both their point of departure and their method of reckoning. The early Fathers most commonly looked for the second advent at the end of 6,000 years of the world's history; and many definite dates have been confidently announced. As to the duration of the millennial reign, more unanimity has prevailed, resting on Rev. xx. 4, 6 sqq.; Ps. xc. 4; II Pet. iii. 8. The thousand-year period has been almost universally adopted, though the Gospel of Nicodemus shortens it to 500 years, and Bengel, through an exegetical misunderstanding of Rev. xx., makes two successive periods of 1,000. Modem millenarians, however, such as Rothe, Ebrard, and Lange, discreetly take the thousand years of the Apocalypse as a prophetic symbol, and renounce the attempt to fix a definite period. As to the place, the great majority of millenarians have looked for the reign of Christ on earth; and its central point (except where sectarian beliefs have chosen another spot, as with the Montanists, Irvingites, and Mormons) the restored and beautified Jerusalem; or the heavenly Jerusalem, glittering with gold and jewels, was to descend to earth.

9. The Number of the Participants. The number of the elect who are to share these blessings has also been much discussed. A too literal interpretation of Rev. xx. 4 limited them to the martyrs and those who remained faithful in the final persecution; and sectarian narrowness allowed small factions to exclude all who did not belong to their communion. The millenarianism of the Church was much wider. The Fathers (e.g., Justin, Irenæus) take in all faithful Christians and the just of the old covenant. Poirêt included pagans, such as Socrates, who had been enlightened by the Logos, though these were not to reign but to be happy subjects. Many, on the basis of the yet unfulfilled prophecies as to the future of Israel, have laid it down that the Jewish people, converted and restored to Palestine, shall form the nucleus of the kingdom of Christ. Ebrard founds this prediction not only upon Old-Testament prophecies but also on Acts i. 6 sqq., iii. 20 sqq.; Rom. xi. 29. The condition of the participants has also been variously conceived. The later writers dwell, some on the theological side of the change which they expect on a religious-ethical assimilation to God; others on the theosophical side the spiritualizing of our nature. In all cases they look for the effect to follow upon the immediate personal presence of the Lord though this is conceived in various modes, according to the different ideas of the nature of the kingdom. The representations range through all imaginable pleasures, from the intoxication of the senses to pure contemplation of the divine Majesty. To be sure, the coarser ideas, such as those of Cerinthus, of the Ebionites, and of the Sibylline Books could find an echo only in fanatics like Felgenhauer. But even higher natures deceived themselves with dreams of a wonderful fertility of nature (Irenæus) and a numerous progeny (Commodian, Lactantius). The most ideal conceptions embraced the abolition of idolatry, the unity and spirituality of the worship of God, full knowledge of the truth, and contemplation of the Godhead in all essential glory, to which freedom from the evils of this life was added. Sin was not always understood to be totally abolished; the transitional period of the millennium was distinguished from eternity principally by the fact that the scarlet thread of evil still ran through it. But the power of evil was restrained and harmless (Kurtz, Lange), the number of the elect far surpassed that of sinners (Jurieu), and the baser forms of temptation were no more. Nature still had the attributes of corruptibility, since according to Scripture (II Pet. iii. 7; Rev. xxi. 1) the new heavens and the new earth belong to the complete and final perfection of eternity.



Chiliasm as such has held to certain features which are quite as distinct and permanent as the 1,000 years. At first, the millennium was limited to the Jews alone; later on it was taken over by the Christians and they, as the Jews had before them, conceived it as consisting of sensuous conditions (cf.: F. W. Weber, System der altsynagogalischen palästinischen Theologie, pp. 333-386, Leipsic, 1880). There was a crass materialism or a violent supernaturalism, fancy ran riot, and ethical and spiritual elements were largely absent (cf. Irenæus, Hær., v. 33; Eng. transl., ANF, i. 562-563). This element persisted and reappears in various forms, especially in the earlier and the more recent centuries of the Church. So far as chiliasm is distinguished from the millennium, it signifies the personal corporeal reign of Christ on earth a thousand years, whereas the millennium does not necessarily involve the personal presence of Christ during that period.


10. Premillenarianism and Postmillenarianism. The two views of the millennium are distinguished as pre- and post-millennium. With many minor but unimportant differences, the pre-millennialists hold: (1) the millennium is a period of world-wide righteousness, ushered in by the sudden, unannounced, visible advent of Jesus Christ. (2) The Gospel, purely as witness, is first to be proclaimed throughout the whole earth. (3) Events of the 1,000 years are: (a) the righteous will rise (some limit this to the martyrs) and reign with Christ on earth, organizing his everlasting kingdom; (b) the Lord and his saints will bring about a "great tribulation" (Rev. ii. 27; Ps. ii. 9); (c) Israel, probably rebellious still, will confess the Crucified One as the Messiah (Zech. xii. 10; Rev. i. 7); (d) by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a vast number of sinners yet on the earth will be converted; (e) Satan is bound and locked in the abyss. (4) After the thousand years, (a) Satan, unbound, makes a short, final, and vain effort to regain his lost foothold; (b) himself, his angels, and all lost souls, raised from the dead, will be judged and hurled into the lake of fire, doomed to everlasting torment; (c) the earth renewed by fire becomes the eternal home of the redeemed. The post-millennial doctrine is as follows: (1) Through Christian agencies the Gospel gradually permeates the entire world and becomes immeasurably more effective than at present. (2) This condition thus reached will continue for a thousand years. (3) The Jews will be converted either at the beginning or some time during this period. (4) Following this will be a brief apostasy and terrible conflict of Christian and evil forces. (5) Finally and simultaneously there will occur the advent of Christ, general resurrection, judgment, and, the old world destroyed by fire, the new heavens and the new earth will be revealed (Westminster Confession, xxxii, xxxiii.).

11. Pre-millenarianism in Great Britain and America. In Great Britain and America pre-millennianism has had many advocates. Among those of Great Britain were many of the divines of the Westminster Assembly (cf. Robert Baillie, q.v., Letters and Journals, Edinburgh, 1841-1842; Schaff, Creeds, i. 727-746), Sir Isaac Newston, Charles Wesley, Augustus Toplady, Archbishop Trench (qq.v.), Edward Bickersteth (q.v., A Practical Guide to the Prophecies, London, 1835), Horatius Bonar (Prophetical Landmarks, ib. 1839), T. R. Binks (Outline of Unfulfilled Prophecy, ib 1854), H. G. Guinness (Light for the Last Days, pp. 338-339, New York, 1885), C. J. Ellicott (Commentary on I and II Thess. and II Tim., London, 1866, 1869), H. Alford (Greek Testament, vol. iv., pp. xxxiii., 732, ib. 1871), John Cumming (q.v., Apocalyptic Sketches, ib. 1852). Some premillenarians hold to universal restoration (cf. A. Jukes, Second Death and Restitution of All Things, ib. 1878). In Scotland, Edward Irving (q.v.) gave a profound impulse to this belief (cf. Works, ib. 1879). In America premillenarianism has appeared in three different camps: (1) Christian scholars, as R. J. Breckenridge (The Knowledge of God Subjectively Considered, pp. 667-682, New York, 1860); J. A. Seiss (The Last Times, Philadelphia, 1878), E. R. Craven (Lange's Commentary on Revelation, pp. 93, 339, 352, New York, 1874). (2) The Adventists (q.v.; see also MILLER, WILLIAM), and the Seventh-day Adventists, the latter with a large publishing-house at Battle Creek, Mich. Their doctrine differs from the common belief of Evangelical Christians in two respects--the sleep of the soul after death till the judgment, and the annihilation of the wicked. (3) Evangelists. The most significant meeting with this interest, following a similar convention in London in February of the same year, was held in Holy Trinity Church, New York, Oct., 1878, which was called by the request of 122 persons, representing ten denominations, the results of which are preserved in Pre-millennial Essays of the Prophetic Conference, Chicago, 1879. And this note is still firmly in the sermons of many leading evangelists.

C. A. B.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: The sources are indicated in the text in the names given there of those who have dealt with the doctrine. In many of the commentaries on Daniel and the Apocalypse, the two Biblical books which have been used as foundation for the treatment, the doctrine is either advocated or expounded. The works on N. T. theology and on the history of the Church and of doctrine usually deal with the topic from the historical standpoint. Much will be found also in the literature under ESCHATOLOGY, while the systems of doctrine treat the subject more or less fully, from the doctrinal point of view, under "Eschatology." Special works on the history of the idea are: H. Corrodi, Kritische Geschichte des Chiliasmus, 4 vols., Zurich, 1794; S. Hopkins, A Treatise on the Millennium, added to his System of Doctrines, Boston, 1811; S. Waldegrave, N. T. Millenarianism, London, 1855; A. Chiapelli, Le Idee millenarie del Cristiani, Naples, 1888; L. Atzberger, Geschichte der christlichen Eschatologie, Freiburg, 1896; E. Wadstein, Die eschatologische Ideengruppe Antichrist, Weltsabbat, Weltende und Weltgericht, Leipsic, 1896 (deals with the Middle Ages); P. Volz, Jüdische Eschatologie von Daniel bis Akiba, Tübingen, 1903. Works which discuss the doctrine are: G. Duffield, Millenarianism Defended, New York, 1843; D. Brown, Christ's Second Coming; will it be Premillennial? Edinburgh, 1849; J. F. Berg, The Second Advent of Jesus Christ not Premillennial, Philadelphia, 1859; W. Kelly, Lectures on the Second Coming and Kingdom of . . . Jesus Christ, London, 1866; S. M. Merrill, The Second Coming of Christ Considered in its Relation to the Millennium, Cincinnati, 1879; I. P. Warren, The Parousia, Portland, Me., 1885; E. Storrow, The Millennium, London, 1886; H. Varley, Christ's Coming Kingdom, ib. 1886; J. S. Russell, The Parousia, ib. 1887; D. Bosworth, The Millennium and Related Events, New York, 1889; N. West, Studies in Eschatology; the Thousand Years in both Testaments, ib. 1889; L. J. Fisher, That Day of Days, Middletown, O., 1903; H. M. Riggle, The Kingdom of God and the One Thousand Years' Reign, Moundsville, W. Va., 1904; D. Heagle, That Blessed Hope, the Second Coming of Christ, Philadelphia, 1907 (aims to reconcile pre- and post-millenarianism).