Chiliastic Expectations

Primitive Christianity was marked by great chiliastic enthusiasm, traces

of which may be found in the New Testament. By chiliasm, strictly

speaking, is meant the belief that Christ was to return to earth and reign

visibly for one thousand years. That return was commonly placed in the

immediate future. With that reign was connected the bodily resurrection of

the saints. This belief, in somewhat varying form, was one of the great
ethical motives in apostolic and post-apostolic times. It was a part of

the fundamental principles of Montanism. It disappeared with the rise of a

"scientific theology" such as that of Alexandria, the exclusion of

Montanism, and the changed conception of the relation of the Church and

the world, due to the lapse of time and the establishment of Christianity

as the religion of the State. From the fourth century it ceased to be a

living doctrine.

(a) Papias, in Eusebius, Hist. Ec., III, 39. (MSG, 20: 300.)

Papias, from whom two selections have been taken, was bishop of

Hierapolis in Phrygia during the first part of the second century.

He was, therefore, an elder contemporary of Justin Martyr. His

work, The Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord, has perished,

with the exception of a few fragments. The comments of Eusebius in

introducing the quotations of Papias are characteristic of the

change that had come over the Church since the post-apostolic

period. That Papias was not to be regarded as a man of small power

simply because he held chiliastic ideas is sufficiently refuted by

the fact that Justin Martyr falls but little behind Papias in

extravagance of expression.

"I shall not hesitate, also, to set in order for you with my

interpretations whatsoever things I have ever learned carefully from the

elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing the truth of them. For I

did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as

much as what came from the living and abiding voice." The same writer

gives also other accounts which he says came to him through unwritten

traditions, certain strange parables and teachings of the Saviour and some

other more mythical things. Among these he says that there will be a

period of some thousand years after the resurrection of the dead, when the

kingdom of Christ will be set up in a material form on this very earth. I

suppose he got these ideas through a misunderstanding of the apostolic

accounts, not perceiving that the things said by them were spoken

mystically in figures. For he appears to have been of very limited

understanding, as one can see from his discourses, though so many of the

Church Fathers after him adopted a like opinion, urging in their support

the antiquity of the man; as, for instance, Irenaeus and any one else that

may have proclaimed similar views.

(b) Irenaeus. Adv. Haereses, V, 33. (MSG, 7:1213.)

The elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord, relate that they heard

from him how the Lord used to teach in regard to those times, and say:

"The days will come in which vines shall grow, each having ten thousand

branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each twig ten

thousand shoots, and in each one of the shoots ten thousand clusters, and

on every cluster ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will

yield five-and-twenty metretes of wine. And when any one of the saints

shall lay hold of a cluster, another shall cry out, 'I am better cluster,

take me; bless the Lord through me.' In like manner [the Lord declared]

that a grain of wheat would produce ten thousand ears, and that every ear

would produce ten thousand grains, and every grain would yield ten pounds

of clear, pure, fine flour; and that all other fruit-bearing trees, and

seeds and grass would produce similar proportions, and that all animals

feeding [only] on the productions of the earth would [in those days]

become peaceful and harmonious with each other and be in perfect

subjection to men." And these things are borne witness to in writing by

Papias, the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp, in his fourth

book; for there were five books compiled by him. And he says in addition:

"Now these things are credible to believers."

(c) Justin Martyr, Dialogus cum Tryphone, 80 f. (MSG, 6:665.)

Ch. 80. Although you have fallen in with some who are called Christians,

but who do not admit this truth [the resurrection] and venture to

blaspheme the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of

Jacob,(14) and who say that there is no resurrection of the dead and that

their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven, be careful not to regard

them as Christians. But I and whoever are on all points right-minded

Christians know that there will be a resurrection of the dead and a

thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and

enlarged as the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and the others declare.

Ch. 81. And, further, a certain man with us, named John, one of the

Apostles of Christ, predicted by a revelation that was made to him that

those who believed in our Christ would spend a thousand years in

Jerusalem, and thereafter the general, or to speak briefly, the eternal

resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place.