Christians and the Millennial Hope
“Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.’—Matt. 6:10.
1. (a) How does Christendom speak of the millennial hope? (b) Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses not disturbed by this?
THE Roman Catholic Church and, indeed, most of the large, well-established Protestant religions never mention the millennial hope to churchgoers. They speak disdainfully of that hope as “millennialism,” and of those who share it as “millenarians.” But Jehovah’s Witnesses are not ashamed of this belief, for irrefutable historical facts show that the millennial hope was shared by the early Christians.
EARLY CHRISTIANS WERE CALLED “MILLENARIANS”
2. What do two encyclopedias state concerning belief in the millennium among the early Christians?
2 Referring to Christians who believe in the 1,000-year reign of Christ, the Encyclopedia Americana states: “Those who hold such views are called millenarians or chiliasts, and their tenet chiliasm (Gr. chilioi, 1,000). It is admitted on all sides that these views were, if not general, at least very common in the ancient church.” The French Encyclopædia Universalis informs us: “In Western Christendom millennialism was very active in Judeo-Christianity during the first three centuries. . . . Millennialism was very deep-rooted during the first centuries of Christianity.”
3, 4. (a) What indications are there that Christians did not have to await the Revelation before cherishing millennial hopes? (b) What may some claim about the millennial hope?
3 There is evidence that the hopes connected with the 1,000-year reign of Christ were shared by Christians even before the apostle John received the Revelation at the end of the first century C.E. By reading the Jewish prophets, they had received foregleams of the wonderful millennial hope given by Christ in Revelation, chapters 20 and 21. Interestingly, the Encyclopædia Britannica (1966 edition) confirms this, stating: “Among early Christians the idea of millenarianism . . . was derived chiefly from Jewish eschatological expectations [expectations concerning the ultimate destiny of mankind and the world].” On this same point the 30-volume New Encyclopædia Britannica (1977) has this to say: “In the Book of Revelation the assimilation of Jewish apocalypticism [expectation of the ultimate destruction of evil and triumph of good] to Christianity was completed. . . . During the first hundred years of Christian history [33-133 C.E.], this form of millenarianism, or chiliasm (from the Greek word for 1,000), was commonly taught and accepted within the church.”—Italics ours.
4 Some may retort: ‘Perhaps, but the millennial hope for these early Christians did not concern the earth. It was a heavenly hope.’ Yet, what do the historical facts and the Bible show? Let us see.
PARADISE ON EARTH STILL HOPED FOR
5, 6. According to various authorities, what views did first-century Christians hold?
5 There is an abundance of evidence that the early Christians never imagined that all the prophecies and promises in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the restoration of paradise on earth had been canceled out by the coming of Messiah or Christ. The Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique itself admits: “The origins of millennialism reach back beyond the Christian era. The belief in an earthly reign of the Messiah had its beginning in the hopes of Israel.”
6 In A History of Christianity, historian Kenneth Scott Latourette says of the early Christians who were hoping for the second coming of Christ: “Many held to the view that before the final end of history and the full accomplishment of God’s purpose in the perfect doing of His will, a hope which was common to all Christians, Christ would return, set up his kingdom on earth and reign for a thousand years. . . . The conception of an age or ages of a thousand years duration was not confined to Christians, but was also to be found in Judaism.”
7. What indicates that the early Christians did not confuse paradise with heaven?
7 Thus, there is cumulative evidence that the early Christians were “millenarians,” insofar as that name was applied to those who were hoping for the 1,000-year reign of Christ the Messiah. Jesus had revealed that he would rule from heaven, but he did not annul the original Messianic hope of the Jews, the restoration of paradise on earth during that millennium. Interestingly, the Catholic Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible admits that “in Jewish writings, as in early Christian literature, the word paradise is not usually synonymous with heaven.”—Italics ours.
CHRIST DID NOT ANNUL THE MILLENNIAL HOPE
8. (a) Of what was Jesus’ coming a guarantee? (b) How do the Scriptures show that paradise will be restored on earth?
8 In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated: “Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I came, not to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17) Or, as Today’s English Version renders the last sentence: “I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true.” Since Jesus came to make the teachings of the prophets come true, his coming was a guarantee that their prophecies concerning the restoration of paradise on earth would be fulfilled. Here are just a few: Psalms 37:11, 29; 72:1-8,16-19; 115:16; Isaiah 9:6, 7; 11:1-10; 45:18; Daniel 2:34, 35, 44, 45; 7:13, 14.
9. How does the Model Prayer link the Kingdom with the millennial hope?
9 Also in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus showed quite clearly that the earth is due to play a part in the outworking of the divine will or purpose. He taught his followers to pray: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matt. 6:9, 10) He linked the accomplishment of God’s will on earth with the coming of God’s kingdom, which is none other than the Messianic kingdom. Hence, the Lord’s Prayer, repeated literally millions of times by Catholics and Protestants throughout the centuries, is, in fact, among other things, a prayer for the fulfillment of the Messianic promises tied in with the millennial hope.
THE MILLENNIAL HOPE FULLY REVEALED
10. (a) When and how did Jesus fully reveal the millennial hope? (b) What heartwarming details did he provide?
10 A quarter of a century after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E. (which put an end to Jewish hopes of national deliverance by a political Messiah) Jesus, the true Messiah, fully revealed the true millennial hope. In his record of the Revelation that he received from God through Jesus Christ, the apostle John wrote:
“And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven with the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he seized the dragon, the original serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. . . .
“And I saw thrones, and there were those who sat down on them, and power of judging was given them. . . . Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no authority, but they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; . . . With that I heard a loud voice from the throne say: ‘Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them . . . And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.’”—Rev. 20:1-6, Re 21:1-4.
A “SACRED SECRET” EXPLAINED
11. How did the millennial hope revealed by Jesus correspond with the original Messianic hope of the Jews?
11 Can you not see the resemblance between this description of the millennial reign of Christ and the original Messianic hope of the Jews, “the hope of an ideal Messianic future . . . the golden age of paradisiacal bliss . . . a world of perfect peace and harmony among all creatures . . . ‘new heavens and a new earth,’” to requote The Jewish Encyclopedia?a
12, 13. What shows that Jesus’ disciples were still expecting an earthly reign of the Messiah?
12 However, undeniably, there were important details concerning the Messianic kingdom that the Jews did not understand and that even the 12 apostles and other early disciples of Christ had difficulty in comprehending. Shortly after giving his Sermon on the Mount, in which he taught his disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come and for God’s will to take place on earth, as in heaven, Jesus said to his disciples: “To you the sacred secret of the kingdom of God has been given, but to those outside all things occur in illustrations.”—Mark 4:11.
13 Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus taught his disciples many things concerning the Messianic kingdom. In fact, even after his death and right up to the time he ascended to his heavenly Father he continued telling them “the things about the kingdom of God.” Yet, in spite of this, the very last question they put to him was: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?”, thereby revealing that they were still expecting the Messiah to restore the fleshly kingdom of Israel. (Acts 1:3, 6) They were right in thinking that the Messianic kingdom concerned rulership, government, but they mistakenly thought that Messiah would reign on earth and that his government would be purely Jewish.
14. (a) What enabled Christ’s disciples to break free from their mistaken hope? (b) What important features of the “sacred secret” did the early Christians gradually come to understand?
14 Only after the outpouring of the holy spirit at Pentecost did Christ’s disciples break free from the concept of a nationalistic Messianic kingdom and come to comprehend new and important features of “the sacred secret of the kingdom of God.” One aspect of that “sacred secret” was that the Messiah would be a heavenly king and that his government would be located in heaven. (John 18:36; Acts 2:32-36; 1 Tim. 3:16) Other features of that “sacred secret”—truths new and revolutionary for faithful Jewish minds molded by the Scriptures and not by Greek philosophy—were that a limited number of humans would be chosen as “holy ones” to become associates with the Messiah in his kingdom, that these would reign with him in heaven, and that they would be chosen not only from among the Jews but also from among the Gentiles or non-Jews.—Dan. 7:13, 14, 27; Luke 12:32; 22:28-30; John 14:1-3; Eph. 3:3-6; Col. 1:26, 27.
A REVOLUTIONARY NEW HOPE
15. Why was the very idea of going to heaven revolutionary for the faithful Jewish remnant?
15 All of this was something quite new. As we have already seen in the article “Origin of the Millennial Hope,” the Jews’ original Messianic hope was an earthly hope, and it was only under the influence of false religious traditions and philosophy that, very late in their history, some of them came to believe in an immortal soul. The faithful Jewish remnant that stuck to the inspired Hebrew Scriptures and accepted Jesus as the true Messiah certainly did not believe in inherent immortality. So for these the idea of a Messiah ruling the earth from heaven and of themselves becoming corulers with him in heaven was all the more revolutionary.
16. What did Peter write about this revolutionary new hope?
16 In a letter to early Christians who had received this very special call to become priests and kings with the heavenly Messiah, the apostle Peter wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for according to his great mercy he gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance. It is reserved in the heavens for you . . . But you are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood.’”—1 Pet. 1:3, 4; 2:9.
17. How did Paul show that the call to life in heaven was something new?
17 The apostle Paul also wrote about this exceptional call to heavenly life, saying: “He saved us and called us with a holy calling . . . now it has been made clearly evident through the manifestation of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has abolished death but has shed light upon life and incorruption.” (2 Tim. 1:9, 10) If life in heaven had been the hope of the faithful remnant among the Jews, why did Christ have to “shed light” on this “holy calling” to incorruption? No, this call to heavenly life was clearly something quite new for these early Christians chosen from among the Jews and the Gentiles.
THE HEAVENLY HOPE FOR A LIMITED NUMBER OF “CHOSEN ONES”
18, 19. Explain how Paul’s second letter to Timothy and Peter’s first letter indicate that not all those who hope to live forever will be kings and priests with Christ in heaven. (Rev. 5:9, 10)
18 But do all those who accept Christ and hope to live forever receive this “holy calling” to incorruptible life in the heavens? Indicating that this special calling is meant for a limited number of ‘elect’ (Authorized Version) or “chosen ones,” Paul adds: “On this account I go on enduring all things for the sake of the chosen ones, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in union with Christ Jesus along with everlasting glory. Faithful is the saying: Certainly if we died together, we shall also live together; if we go on enduring, we shall also rule together as kings.”—2 Tim. 2:10-12.
19 If all who are saved are called to “everlasting glory” in order to “rule together as kings” with Christ Jesus, over whom are they due to rule? And if all are to become “a royal priesthood,” on behalf of whom are they to act as royal priests?
20. How do Paul’s letters to the Galatians and the Romans show that the number of spiritual Israelites is limited?
20 Consider the following: In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says of Christians chosen from among Jews and non-Jews who have been “baptized into Christ” that they “are really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise,” and he calls them “the Israel of God.” (Gal. 3:26-29; 6:16) And in his letter to the Romans, the same apostle speaks of the “sacred secret” of non-Jews being called by God because of the “lack of faith” of many Jews, adding—and this is a key passage—“until the full number [“complete number,” TEV] of people of the nations has come in.” He explains that “in this manner,” that is, by Gentiles being called to fill out the required number, “all Israel will be saved.” Obviously this refers to spiritual Israel, the “ones chosen” from among Jews and non-Jews who are “really ‘Israel’” or “truly Israel.”—Rom. 11:7, 17-26; 9:6 (The New English Bible); Ro 2:28, 29.
21. (a) How many spiritual Israelites are there? (b) What scripture proves that they are not chosen from among the angels?
21 Since non-Jews would receive this “holy calling” only until the “full number” was reached of those making up “the Israel of God,” logically the number of such spiritual Israelites is limited. Well, what is that number? Look up Revelation 7:1-8. There a definite limit is set on the number of Christians who are “sealed” to become a part of spiritual Israel. That this limited number is not chosen from among the angels is proved by Revelation 14:1-4, where this same number is said to be “bought from the earth,” “bought from among mankind as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.”
22. For the 144,000, of what kind is their Bible-based hope?
22 For these 144,000 spirit-begotten, anointed Christians their Bible-based hope is a heavenly hope. After having part in “the first resurrection,” they “will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.”—Rev. 20:6.
23. What questions are raised by the words “firstfruits” and “kings”?
23 But if these “ones chosen” are “firstfruits,” logically other fruits are to follow. And if they are to “rule as kings,” who will be their subjects and what is the hope of such? We shall see as we proceed with this examination.
a See the article “Origin of the Millennial Hope,” in this issue.
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Papias of Hierapolis, Irenaeus of Lyons and Justin of Rome—second-century “saints” and “Fathers” recognized by the Catholic Church—were all millenarians.—The Catholic Encyclopedia.
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In their fight against the millennial hope, Roman presbyter Caius and “Saint” Dionysius stooped to denying the authenticity of the Revelation, given to the apostle John.—Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique.
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During the Millennium, Jesus will rule from heaven over an earth restored to paradise