*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 4th of October 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Kevin in Seattle
“I saw you on the 1517 Instagram videos talking about the End Times- I was wondering if you could talk more about what the early church thought about the end times, which position is the most historical?”
Thanks for the question, Kevin. A few things:
A reminder that Church History isn’t a silver bullet for winning theological arguments. Saying “Yeah, but we’ve always done it this way” isn’t always the winning argument we might think it is.
Secondly, it is important to remember that Christians are apocalyptic people- that is, we are here for the big reveal- which we believe to be the advent of Jesus. That is, his first AND second coming. Jesus tells us to watch for his second coming. So we aren’t being irresponsible when we do.
The common way of looking at the end times today has to do with our relationship with the “millennium”- or 1,000 years of peace on earth. “Pre-Millennial” means Jesus comes back and then ushers in peace himself. Or, “Post-Millennial” which suggests Jesus returns after we usher in the 1,000 years ourselves. And then “A-Millennial” which suggests that there is no “literal” millennium, but rather a poetic and apocalyptic description of the Kingdom of God on earth.
And in the first few centuries of the church we see variations on all of these positions- but none that fit perfectly. Let me lay out a few of the more prominent positions.
Papias, who may have been a disciple of John was the first to suggest a literal 1,000 years. His disciple Irenaeus followed him and believed that this 1,000 years would occur after Christ returned. Another disciple of Papias, Justin Martyr suggested that this 1,000-year reign of the saints would take place in a literal rebuilt Jerusalem.
Montanus, a mysterious second-century Christian, believed that a new Jerusalem would literally descend into modern-day Turkey, he believed that all authority had been given to him and his two female companions. It sounds wild, but Montanists would outlive Montanus, even including the church father Tertullian as an adherent.
We have two more moderate positions- the first from Hippolytus of Rome, a 3rd-century Christian. Hippolytus is the author of the first commentary on a complete book of the Bible. That book? The book of Daniel. Why Daniel? Because it is the Apocalyptic Old Testament book many believe had the key to understanding Revelation.
But Hippolytus wasn’t suggesting anyone sell their property and sell back their life insurance. He had done some calculating suggesting that the Millennium would come in the 6,000 year and would last as a kind of Millennium sabbath. He calculated Jesus’s birth to have occurred around the 5,500th year and thus the Millennium would begin around 500- a few centuries after Hippolytus.
Origen, of course, upset many people by suggesting that it was all a metaphor and representative of a spiritual Jerusalem and future peace.
Of course, during the persecution of Diocletian the church was as pessimistic as it would become overconfident after Constantine. And when Rome fell many ripped up their expectations- among these theologians would be St. Augustine. The modern “A-millennial” position resembles Augustine.
Why does it matter?
- I think the way we think about the end of the story affects how we live today.
- The news is ultimately good news and should give us hope!
- If we’re doing it right the focus isn’t on our counting, our theories, or our being right. If we’re doing it right the focus is on Jesus.
But I suppose if you want a definitive answer as to the early church’s doctrine of the end times, I might suggest:
“He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”
Thanks, Kevin. And a reminder to send me your questions via the ways people communicate online.
The last word for today comes the Gospel of Mark
14 After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, 15 saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 4th of October 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who knows it is the end of the world as we know it but he feels fine. He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.