Saturday, March 1, 2008

Chiliasm Defended (Part 1)

It is no misstatement to say that Chiliasm lies at the core of Christian eschatology. Even among its staunchest adversaries, its antiquity is unquestioned.  Although Chiliasm has had ups and downs throughout the centuries, and while it has sometimes even been branded as heresy, a large majority of the saints recognize that it alone properly explains and interprets the Messianic promises in language that "little children" would understand. That Chiliasm was the faith of men such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Lactantius, Commodian, and others influential in the early church, tells us that it is compatible with the orthodox faith. It also claims a spiritual power that it is conspicuously absent from A-Millennial and Post-Millennial systems. "For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power" (1 Cor. 4: 20). 

   This series will be aimed at defending the doctrines of Chiliasm from a Biblical as well as historical perspective. It will take into account advances made in prophetic studies since the Reformation --  not discounting, of course, the voice of the ancient church.  It is my frank opinion that in the first three centuries of Christianity will be found the purest expression of the faith.  These papers will therefore reflect that assumption.  At the same time, I intend to adhere closely to the Protestant doctrine of "Sola Scriptura."  The result will be a well-balanced study of eschatology, and one which I pray the Lord will use to encourage, strengthen, and bless others.

Notwithstanding, when one takes a panoramic view of church history, he/she will find that few doctrines have been more bitterly assailed than have Chiliasm.  One would think that it were calculated solely to arouse the enmity in men's hearts; whereas the intent of its foremost teachers has been aimed at promoting the three Christian graces: faith, hope, and charity (1 Cor. 13: 13).  Yet when we realize the spiritual nature of warfare in which Christians have in all ages engaged for their Lord, such opposition becomes deveiled of mystery.  In fact, its existence seems at times the most natural thing in the world.

Much of the enmity against Chiliasm arises from allegorical interpretations of Scripture. Though it a fixed law of interpretation that the literal must always govern the figurative (and not vice versa), some have not found it so.  The allegorical method was highly favored by Origen, and was admired and taken up by his disciples. Even Methodius of Olympus, Origen's earliest known opponent, followed his methods of spiritualizing nearly every passage he got his hands on. While Methodius himself leaned towards a Chiliastic view, after reading his writings one must concede that it is very difficult to maintain a Pre-Millennial position when one allows for such indiscriminate allegorizing of the prophetic Scriptures. It is at least highly difficult to prove anything with any degree of clearness or precision. And so Chiliasm seldom if ever survives in a non-literal hermeneutical environment.

Let us note that it was not a practice of the early church to allegorize the Scriptures. Tertullian freely admitted that some of the prophecies could be taken allegorically, but that this was an exception rather than a rule. Irenaeus had already shown that allegorical interpretations will often plunge one into serious hermeneutical problems. One must really ask whether the allegorizing of Scripture is even permissible, when we see every day the kind of damage it does to one's understanding of the Bible, and the stumbling-blocks it places before "him that is weak in the faith" (Romans 14: 1).  In many cases, those who invent newfangled theologies rely on allegorical interpretations because the meaning of the words must first be changed in order to promote their views. With all this nonsense going on, it would seem that allegorizing has a direct linkage to heretical theorizing. Let us beware of such methods; or, at the least, let us investigate to see whether they are sound to begin with.

Although various forms of Chiliasm survived into the Post-Nicene era, it was St. Augustine who put an effectual halt to its further growth. In his work The City of God, he claimed that the Millennium represents the spiritual reign of Christ's people "during the entire duration of this world" (XX. vii). It has been rumored by many, that Augustine's theology capitulated before the altar of political expediency; and so a spiritual ongoing kingdom craftily replaced a literal one headed by Christ in person.  Obviously such a view could only spring from the rampant spiritualizing of the Scriptures. For it is evident in the Word of God that the Millennial reign must occur after antichrist was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 19: 20-21; 20: 4). Also, the reign is continually promised as a future event:

(Matt. 19: 28) "Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

(Rev. 2: 26 ff.) "And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations."

(Rev. 5: 10) "And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth."

(Rev. 20: 6) "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years."

A simple glance at the above verses will tell us that the "First Resurrection" can not occur in the celestial realms, but on earth. For both priesthood and kingship belong to the earthly realm.  As a king rules over living men in the flesh, so the priest intercedes between living men and God.  To say that anyone can fill this dual role prior to the second advent of Christ is to trifle with the Scriptures.  When writing to the Corinthian saints, Paul emphatically stated that neither he nor they were reigning as kings (1 Cor. 4: 8).  This is sufficient to refute A-Millennialism.

There is no way one can spiritualize or allegorize the passages listed above. For Christ has clearly told His disciples that "The meek shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5: 5). The earth is not a super-celestial inheritance.  To Abraham was given the promise of inheriting the world (Gr. kosmos), and all all true children of Abraham will partake of conjoint sovereignty with Christ when He returns from heaven.  See Romans 4: 13.  The prophet David places the earthly allotment in connection with the destruction of the wicked (Psalm 37: 9, 11). Our belief is that when the wicked are consumed, the kingdom will be consummated.  Paul intimates as much in 2 Thessalonians 2: 7-10

It is my intention in these papers to show how passages speaking of the Messianic kingdom will be fulfilled during the Millennium, and also to confute the false views that have sprung up within, or in opposition to, Chiliastic theology.


Now, as we begin these studies, let me draw your attention to what I call the "diurnal typology." For this is really the true starting point for bringing forward Pre-Millennial truths.

Through my studies of the Scriptures, I have found that the seven days of the creative week are actually typical of a larger redemptive week. I have already related in previous articles, that when Adam sinned on the sixth day, he frustrated what would have been a perfect Sabbath, which had to be postponed to a future time. The true sabbath was therefore moved to the last day of the redemptive week.  Paul alludes to this in his letter to Hebrews, saying: "There remaineth therefore, a sabbath-keeping (Gr. sabbatismos) to the people of God" (Hebrews 4: 9).

But how was the perfection of the original sabbath frustrated?   God told Adam that in the day he ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree, he would surely die (Gen. 2: 17). The punishment was carried out on that same day; yet it fell on a substitute -- most likely a "lamb without blemish."  This slain animal typified the redemptive work which would be wrought in Christ, Who is called the "lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13: 8). The skins wherewith our first parents were clothed (Gen. 3: 21) sets forth the doctrine of imputed righteousness, which Adam and Eve must have received before leaving the Garden. 

 After their exile, Adam lived to be nine-hundred and thirty years old (Gen. 5: 5). That is exactly one thousand minus seventy. Moses states that seventy signifies the years of man's life (Psalm 90:10). But a day of the Lord is a thousand years (Psalm 90: 4; 2 Peter 3: 8). Thus, Adam truly died during the first day; for he was deprived of the number of his years in the midst of the day he ate of the fruit.  But it was the first redemptive day.  Wherefore we conclude that on the day the innocent lamb was slain, the redemptive week began.  The seventh day is the Millennium, whereas the eighth will bring in the eternal economy.

Now, Christ died for our sins after four thousand years had passed. But since Christ was crucified on Friday (sixth day), it is not likely that His death has any correspondence to the redemptive days. At any rate, since days are reckoned from evening unto morning (Gen. 1: 5), the coming of Christ marks the evening of the fourth day and the beginning of the fifth. This leaves two redemptive days of 1000 years each, until the expiration of the "present evil age" (Gal. 1: 4) and the inauguration of the Millennium.  But if we would undertake a chronological reckoning, we are not at all sure where to mark the actual expiration of the four thousandth year. In this we need help from orthodox Bible scholars.

There are two theories of chronology which may be accepted. Usher's chronology would make the fourth day end in 4 B.C. Whereas John Lightfoot's reckoning makes the fourth day to end around A.D. 68. What does this prove? Well, if we harmonize the two reckonings it shows that sometime between Christ's birth and the destruction of Jerusalem the fourth day elapsed and the fifth day began. Since that time approximately two thousand years have passed. That means that sometime within the present century, the sixth day will expire, and the seventh will begin. What does all this mean?

Let us recall that the seventh day is the missing Sabbath, which was frustrated by Adam's fall.  It must be clear to the most casual observer, that if six thousand years have not already elapsed, then the redemptive Sabbath is still future. It is my firm conviction that the redemptive "sabbatismos" is described in Rev. 20: 1-6. In other words, the seventh day is what Christians call the Millennium. This period shall last 1000 years, during which Christ and His overcoming saints will rule all nations with a rod of iron. This will be the fulfillment, or rather perfection, of the original Sabbath which was originally frustrated by Adam's sin. It will be made perfect by the Second Adam.  It takes place on earth; for as the kingdom was forfeited on earth, so it must be consummated thereupon.

Adam lost Christ's presence on earth, physically --  and not in any mere spiritual sense. When he left the Garden of Eden, he believed the Gospel, and called his wife's name Eve (Heb. Chavvah), which signifies "Lifespring;" for from her should Messiah be born. Adam later taught his sons to sacrifice, indicating that he was the first priest of Jehovah.  Else it is uncertain as to how, when, or where Cain and Abel learned to bring their offerings unto God. It is also possible that Adam kept the Sabbath after his eviction from Eden, as a pledge of Christ's future kingdom on earth; though it should pointed out that by the time the law was given to Israel on Mount Sinai, the sabbath as an institution of redemptive significance had become forgotten among men (see Nehemiah 9: 14).   

It is natural to suppose that as true worship was gradually eclipsed by idolatry, the keeping of the sabbath became obsolote.  Jehovah restored the true religion when he called Israel out of bondage; and from thenceforth began the institutition of those types, both sacrificial and prophetical, which would find their consummation in the Millennial day of rest.  Thus, it is fair to conclude that the Sabbath looks forward to the Seventh day on earth, to the restoration of Christ's presence among us (cf. Acts 3: 19-21), in which He shall be rule and reign in His physical person.

(Psalm 22: 27) "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the Lord's: and He is the governor among the nations."

(Psalm 86: 9) "All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before Thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name."

(Zech. 14: 9) "And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day there shall be one Lord, and His name one."

Again, these verses cannot be allegorized, nor can they be relegated to any present hypothetical reign, such as A-Millennialists would have us to believe.  The verses will be literally fulfilled. Our Lord speaks in His parable of going to receive a kingdom, and then returning (Luke 19: 12 ff.). Hence if the kingdom He received is a universal kingdom, then it follows that He shall return to fulfill the prophecies of His reign on earth (which was the scene of the original fall), and to distribute rewards unto His servants. That nearly every orthodox creed preserves the idea of a universal dominion of Christ following the resurrection of men, leads us to believe that the very germ of Chiliasm is latent in orthodoxy.

Scripture gives us no warrant, however, for concluding that the pre-millennial advent of Christ will issue in the general resurrection of all men.  Only "they who are Christ's" will be raised at His parousia (1 Cor. 15: 23), as corporate harvest to Christ the firstfruits.  The "church which is His body" (Eph. 1: 22-23) represents only one rank or tagma, which is raised at Christ's second advent.  The wicked dead form another rank altogether, and will not be raised until the close of the Millennium. In the following articles, we hope to bring into sharper profile the mechanics of the several resurrections, and the typological relationship which they occupy in God's redemptive program. 

To be continued...

No comments: