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Section 9B .. The Future/The Millennium

 

003white  Index to Section 9B... The Future     >    The Millennium... Three Views     >     From Pre-millennialism to A-millennialism

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THE MEANING OF THE MILLENNIUM #5: The Great Millennium Controversy

by David Haggith

INTRODUCTION

PART I ... Why Post-millennialism Cannot Possibly Be True

PART II ...The Sabbath Millennium

 PART III ... Pre-Millennialism... The Facts Vs. The Fairy Tales

PART IV ... Summary and Conclusion. Gog and Magog

YOU ARE HERE 001orange The Change In Millennial Beliefs by David Haggith

While a utopian millennium may seem like a nice idea that could not cause anyone grief, it wound up becoming the point upon which doctrinal battles over biblical prophecy would rage for centuries, and it was not just an intellectual battle. The winning opinion became the basis for coerced baptisms, inquisitions, empire building, and the divine right of kings to rule the earth, and even the infallible right of popes to govern the thoughts of men on matters of faith. How could a dream so sweet go so sour?

For the first two-hundred years of Christian history, the utopian millennium described by the Apostle John in The Apocalypse was understood as a literal period of a thousand years that would follow Christ's physical return to earth. This predicted time of peace would become a doctrine that would create anything but peace.

Shortly after the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, he summoned the first general council of all the Christian churches--the Council of Nicea. The Nicene Creed, which came out of this great moment of unity, is the only statement of faith accepted by virtually every Christian church in the world, partly because it is a great work, but in no small part because the emperor decreed that the Creed should be considered fundamental to all churches in the empire. He even banished some Christians who disagreed with the official dogma. Constantine remained tolerant toward pagans after his conversion and didn't force Christianity on them, but Christianity clearly became the religion of official status.

(Also See Catholicism and The Councils.. And The Problems With Creeds)

Where the emperors of pagan Rome had long been ferocious enemies of the Christians, this Roman emperor became their closest ally, freeing Christian slaves, ending practices offensive to Christianity, funding the construction of elaborate churches, and appointing Christians to the highest positions in the government.

Naturally, incurring the favor of the emperor helped in gaining high positions in the Church as well, for what local church would not wish to please such a noble patron in his recommendations for certain ecclesiastical appointments? Church and State had found each other and joined in matrimony, even to the point of the emperor establishing matters of faith--in consort with the bishops--for the entire empire. The relationship between Church and State even evolved into the first civil penalties toward those who were unorthodox in their beliefs. The young religion was codified, institutionalized and fortified.

It's not hard to understand the psychological dynamics involved in this marriage. The emperor's new faith was a matter of central importance to him. Constantine believed the Christian God had given him a great victory in war when he saw a vision of a luminous cross in the sky. Apparently he believed the Christian God would likely continue to bring him victory so long as he continued to honor the one true God. So, the emperor used his kingdom to please God and used God to establish a kingdom of a more pleasing size. It would also appear that Constantine believed he could bring about earthly utopia by uniting all people under this God.

On the other side of this relationship, Christians had just come out of the worst period of persecution in two-hundred years. The previous ruler, Diocletian, had burned churches and hacked and racked and applied various other tortures against Christians. With things being so much better under Constantine than they had ever been, who would want to upset the balance by saying or doing anything that might anger the new emperor and cause him to have second thoughts about his new-found faith.

Now that the Roman Empire had been placed in the hands of Christians, so many good things were happening to Christians that it looked as if God's kingdom had already arrived on earth. Since it had apparently begun without Christ's return, a new understanding of millennial prophecy was in order. Some bishops began to believe that The Apocalypse (Book of Revelation) meant Christ would reign figuratively. In other words it meant that his eventual followers would become masters of the Roman Empire- -as had just happened! The living saints of God would govern the entire earth "in his name," as opposed to Christ governing it in person.

This innovation was readily accepted on both sides of the marriage because it served the expansionist aims of the empire. Ideas are important, and this one was more important than most. Yet, today, many people do not grasp the worldwide significance of this one change in something as arcane as prophetic interpretation. As it took full form, it would shape the entire Western world for more than a thousand years.

The change in millennial belief can best be seen in one of Constantine's closest associates during the Council of Nice--a bishop named Eusebius. Prior to Constantine's conversion, Eusebius proclaimed that Rome would be the last empire on earth and would be destroyed and replaced by Jesus Christ. (When times are bad, people look for Jesus to return and put an end to it all.) Eusebius ascribed to an ancient prophetic dream by King Nebuchadnezar of Babylon, which was recorded in the Old Testament. He described the dream as follows:

    ". . . just as iron crushes and subdues everything, so did Rome crush and subdue. And after [Rome was symbolized in the dream], the Kingdom of God was presented as a stone that destroyed the whole image." (Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, book 15, vol 2, pp 236-237.)

No indication there of a transformation of the Roman Empire--just its destruction by the Kingdom of God, which supplanted it.

After the conversion of the emperor and his empire, however, Eusebius changed his point of view. (When times are good, people look for the status quo to continue without interruption.) In his History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, Eusebius wrote about an earlier bishop named Papias, who lived while John was alive and writing The Apocalypse. Papias had listened to the Apostle John directly as well as to pupils of the other Apostles, and Papias clearly believed John's Apocalypse described a literal thousand-year utopia after Christ's return. Eusebius quotes Papias favorably on other occasions, but then argues against him on his literal understanding of the millennium now that the return of Christ seemed superfluous to the reign of Christ:

    "[Papias] says that after the resurrection of the dead [invariably linked with the return of the resurrected Christ] there will be a period of a thousand years, when Christ's kingdom will be set up on this earth in material form. I suppose he got these notions by misinterpreting the apostolic accounts and failing to grasp what they had said in mystic and symbolic language. For he seems to have been a man of very small intelligence, to judge from his books. But it is partly due to him that the great majority of churchmen after him took the same view, relying on his early date [i.e., on the fact that he lived early enough to hear the Apostle John in person]." (Eusebius, History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, III.39.)

On all other subjects Eusebius quotes Papias as a reliable source of direct information regarding the author of The Apocalypse, but he now dismisses Papias as a man of small intelligence when it comes to actually understanding The Apocalypse. In other words, wherever Papias agreed with Eusebius, he was quoted as highly reliable. Where he disagreed, he was an idiot. That's actually typical of the debate that still rages on this matter.

One of the stories in The Apocalypse tells of how the Archangel Michael slew that "great dragon . . . the devil." Constantine saw himself as the one who defeated Satan by outlawing the pagan persecution of Christians, and Eusebius whole-heartedly concurred:

    ". . . he [Constantine] caused to be painted [on the front of his palace] . . . so as to be visible to all . . . a representation . . . of his head, and below it that hateful and savage adversary of mankind . . . falling headlong, [in] the form of a dragon, to the abyss of destruction. The emperor thus publicly displayed a painted resemblance of the dragon beneath his own and his children's feet. . . . And I am filled with wonder at the intellectual greatness of the emperor, who as if by divine inspiration thus expressed what the prophets had foretold concerning this monster." (Eusebius, The Life of Constantine, book 3, chapter 3)

The imperial goal of Rome required that Christ's kingdom be understood figuratively in order for Constantine to be considered its head here on earth--as the conqueror of Satan, no less. Of course, emperor worship had a long tradition in Rome, so ruling as a figurehead of Christ found easy acceptance. This was heady stuff, making the emperor's real-life conquests cosmic in importance and essential to bringing the promised millennial tranquility throughout the world. How could you have peace unless everyone submitted to Christ's designated throne? So, the new interpretation that Satan had been defeated by the emperor and that Christ now reigned figuratively through this emperor served Constantine and cemented his ties with the Church.

It's hard to blame Eusebius and the majority of his colleagues for being blinded by the splendor and transformation of pagan Rome. Who wouldn't feel such events were apocalyptic in scale? The entire Roman Empire had turned over in a spiritual transformation. Eusebius' interpretation of the apocalyptic dragon as representing pagan Rome is also understandable because the dragon had been one of the military ensigns of pagan Rome.

The scene which follows the millennium in The Apocalypse, is the establishment by God of a "New Jerusalem," a holy city that descends out of heaven. Here, too, Eusebius saw prophecy as being fulfilled by Constantine when the emperor commissioned the construction of a new church building near the old Jerusalem:

    "It was opposite this city that the emperor now began to rear a monument to the Saviour's victory over death, with rich and lavish magnificence. And it may be that this was that second and new Jerusalem spoken of in the predictions of the prophets." (Eusebius, The Life of Constantine, book 3, chapter 33.)

This church, in fact, was even named "New Jerusalem" by Constantine's mother. That's how much hope some had that Constantine was fulfilling the last chapters of The Apocalypse. Clearly Eusebius didn't object to a literal reading of apocalyptic imagery if it suited the empire. The old Jerusalem had been destroyed, and a literal new Jerusalem would undoubtedly grow up around Constantine's church.

A minority of Christians resisted these imperial interpretations of The Apocalypse, however, and continued in their belief that no human kingdom could be regarded as the reign of Christ--even if the emperor was a Christian. Certainly no human kingdom from Constantine onward ever looked like utopia. Belief in a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ persisted because it was the interpretation of The Apocalypse that existed first. Even Eusebius admitted it had been the majority position from the time of Papias up until his own time two-hundred years later. Nevertheless, those who held to belief in a literal understanding of the millennium found themselves gradually being redefined as heretics.

See
Constantine and The Construction of Churches
 In summary, Constantine made Christianity the state religion and built a number of churches fashioned after the Roman Basilicas, which were, in turn, modeled after The Karnak Great Hypostyle Hall. Karnak was the largest religious sanctuary in Egypt's imperial capital of Thebes, and was dedicated to the god Amun Ra.

Man Got Carried Away by A Sense of His Own Importance... With a Little Help From A Roman Emperor

Ironically, no one formalized the idea of an imperial millennium under Roman rule until the very years when Rome was falling. That's when Augustine took the theocratic notions that had been loosely floating around and formalized them in his book The City of God, which he wrote between the time when Rome was first sacked by Alaric the Goth and when it was finally busted up by Attila the Hun.

According to Augustine, those 1,000 years in The Apocalypse when the saints would rule with Christ meant that the Spirit of Christ would rule the world through the Church hierarchy for a long-but-indefinite period until Jesus returned to judge the earth and take his saints to heaven. Satan was seen as being bound, not by Constantine's prohibition of persecution by pagans, but by Christ at the Cross who cast Satan out of the believer's heart and, therefore, out of the Church.

Augustine conceded, however, that the devil was still much alive in the world of unbelievers. That concession was necessary due to frequent bombardments against the empire by the Vandals, who showed that paganism was alive and well and the world still obviously imperfect. While The Apocalypse specifically stated that Satan was bound prior to the millennium so that he could not deceive the nations, Augustine taught that Satan still deceived the nations but was only bound so that he could not deceive the Church. (This new idea would eventually become a pillar in the doctrine of papal infallibility.) See The Fallibility of Papal Infallibility

Even Augustine had once believed in a literal sabbath millennium until he decided it had to be rejected because many of those who believed in it thought it would be graced with abundant physical pleasures. That couldn't be good: (Augustine tended to be hard on himself that way--and on others--to the point of self-loathing.)

    "[Some people], on the strength of [the millennial passage in the Apocalypse], . . . have been moved, among other things, specially by the number of a thousand years, as if it were a fit thing that the saints should thus enjoy a kind of sabbath-rest during that period, a holy leisure after the labours of the six thousand years since man was created . . . so that thus, as it is written, "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day," there should follow on the completion of six thousand years . . . a kind of seventh-day sabbath in the succeeding thousand years; and that it is for this purpose the saints rise, viz., to celebrate this sabbath. And this opinion would not be objectionable, if it were believed that the joys of the saints in that sabbath shall be spiritual . . . for I myself, too, once held this opinion. But, as they assert that those who then rise again shall enjoy the leisure of immoderate carnal banquets . . . such assertions can be believed only by the carnal." (Augustine, The City of God, XX.7.)

That's quintessential Augustine -- the inventor of Catholic guilt. If it's pleasurable, it can't be good and should be rejected. That's how and why his own opinion about the millennium changed. Buried within his statement, however, is a problem that Augustine never gets satisfactorily around: What's the purpose of the resurrection of physical bodies at the return of Christ if there is never going to be a time of living and reigning with him physically on the earth? This resurrection is spoken of throughout the New Testament and in The Apocalypse as an event associated with Christ's return. If physical pleasures are to be put away in favor of a purely spiritual reality, why resurrect a physical body? If earth is not going to continue for some time under the reign of Christ, why should he return at all? Why not simply transport all of his followers straight to where he now dwells in that spiritual dimension called heaven?

Augustine's views had some chilling, unintended outcomes. Originally an advocate of religious liberty, Augustine became one of the first bishops to assert the principle of religious coercion and to put his name behind civil persecution by the Church against those who would not convert. Just as the dream of an imperial millennium seemed to empower Constantine in his expansion of the Roman Empire, it also appears to have impelled Augustine toward coerced expansion of the Church. It's hard to say for certain what rationale pressed Augustine to exceed his own limits, but his doctrine, which became known as "amillennialism," certainly was used by others to justify much greater violence in the centuries that followed him.

InPlainSite.org Note: Augustine far from being a saint, was responsible for much bad theology being introduced into the Church. DETAILS

Because Augustine lived in an age of monumental political change, his re-shaping of prophetic interpretation re shaped the world. When Rome fell, the succession of many short-lived rulers in the West left the bishops of Rome (eventually called popes) as the most stable center of influence, strengthening their position over time. The Church survived what Rome could not, and its power grew into a theocracy that transcended political regimes.

Augustine cast a long shadow across the subsequent Age of Faith. Since the devil was bound so that he could no longer deceive the Church, it would seem to follow that the Church could do no evil. Under Augustinian theology, the Roman Catholic Church evolved to become its own highest standard. The pope's actions could scarcely even be challenged by scripture because the pope's interpretation of scripture (i.e., matters of faith) was considered infallible. (Papal infallibility was a matter of practice long before it was a declaration.) Room for dissenting opinions became increasingly narrow. See The Fallibility of Papal Infallibility

When Charlemagne formed what became known as the Holy Roman Empire, his most-loved book was Augustine's City of God, which led him to achieve anew Augustine's dream of "one God, one emperor, one pope, one city of God." So the book really did become the blueprint for theocracy, which all centered on how one understood the millennium. Church and State again came together in an odd form of matrimony (or perhaps hegemony).

In A.D. 1000, some five-hundred years after Augustine, the glacial force of a millennial change pushed Augustine's figurative interpretation of the millennium into nearly universal acceptance. The actual passing of a millennium made it clear that a thousand years had passed without the return of Christ. Since the Church still reigned in Rome (sort of), there could be no question that the thousand-year reign of Christ was figurative. The idea that Christ's reign hadn't even begun, hardly seemed tenable with the Church still in so much power after so long a time. The conversion of so many ntions toward Christianity around this same time no doubt strengthened the view that Christ was reigning through his Church.

With time, Augustine's City of God even became the Bible of the Inquisition, being used to justify the deaths of thousands and thousands of "heretical" Christians, pagans, and Jews. As a result, the idea that the Church now reigned over the earth and that it could not be influenced by Satan buttressed some of the greatest evils in history. The Church could do no wrong. Christ reigned with an iron scepter.

 

Footnote I
In City of God, Augustine wrote...

    But the binding of the devil is his being prevented from the exercise of his whole power to seduce men, either by violently forcing or fraudulently deceiving them into taking part with him. If he were during so long a period permitted to assail the weakness of men, very many persons, such as God would not wish to expose to such temptation, would have their faith overthrown, or would be prevented from believing; and that this might not happen, he is bound. [13]

    Therefore the Church even now is the kingdom of Christ, and the kingdom of heaven. Accordingly, even now His saints reign with Him, though otherwise than as they shall reign hereafter. [14]

Endnotes
[13] St. Augustine's City of God and Christian Doctrine. Chapter 8.—Of the Binding and Loosing of the Devil.
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.iv.XX.8.html?highlight=power to seduce men#highlight

[14] St. Augustine's City of God and Christian Doctrine. Chapter 9.—What the Reign of the Saints with Christ for a Thousand Years Is, and How It Differs from the Eternal Kingdom.
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.iv.XX.9.html?highlight=even now his saints reign with him#highlight

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