are those who believe, according to an ancient tradition in the church, grounded on some doubtful texts in the book of Revelation and other scriptures, that our Saviour shall reign a thousand years with the faithful upon earth after the first resurrection, before the full completion of final happiness; and their name, taken from the Latin word mille, "a thousand," has a direct allusion to the duration of this spiritual empire, which is styled the millennium. A millennium, or a future paradisaical state of the earth, is viewed by some as a doctrine not of Christian, but of Jewish, origin. The tradition which fixes the duration of the world, in its present imperfect state, to six thousand years, and announces the approach of a Sabbath of one thousand years of universal peace and plenty, to be ushered in by the glorious advent of the Messiah, has been traced up to Elias, a rabbinical writer, who flourished about two centuries before the birth of Christ. It certainly obtained among the Chaldeans from the earliest times; and it is countenanced by Barnabas, Irenaeus, and other primitive writers, and also by the Jews at the present day. But though the theory may not be very improbable, yet, as it has not the sanction of Scripture to support it, we are not bound to respect it any farther than as a doubtful tradition. The Jews understood several passages of the prophets, as Zechariah 14:16
, &c, of the millennium; in which, according to their carnal apprehensions, the Messiah is to reign on earth, and to bring all nations within the pale, and under subjection to the ordinances, of the Jewish church.
Justin Martyr, the most ancient of the fathers, was a great supporter of the doctrine of the millennium, or that our Saviour shall reign with the faithful upon earth, after the resurrection, for a thousand years; which he declares was the belief of all orthodox Christians. But this opinion is not generally followed; for, though there has been, perhaps, no age of the church in which this doctrine was not admitted by one or more divines of the first eminence, it yet appears, from the writings of Eusebius, Irenaeus, and others among the ancients, as well as from the histories of Dupin, Mosheim, and other moderns, that it was never adopted by the whole church, nor formed an article in the established creed in any nation. Origen, the most learned of the fathers, and Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, usually, for his immense erudition, surnamed the Great, both opposed the doctrine that prevailed on the subject in their day; and Dr. Whitby, in his learned treatise on the subject, proves, first, that the millennium was never generally received in the church of Christ; and, secondly, that there is no just ground to think it was derived from the Apostles.
On the other hand, Dr. T. Burner and others maintain that it was very generally admitted till the Nicene council, in 325, or till the fourth century. The doctor supposes Dionysius of Alexandria, who wrote against Nepos, an Egyptian bishop, before the middle of the third century, to have been the first that attacked this doctrine; but Origen had previously assailed it in many of his fictitious additions. The truth seems to be, as one well remarks, "that a spiritual reign of Christ was believed by all who carefully examined the Scriptures, though the popular notions of the millennium were often rejected; and ancient as well as modern writers assailed the extravagant superstructure, not the Scriptural foundation or the doctrine." During the interregnum in England, in the time of Cromwell, there arose a set of enthusiasts sometimes called Millenarians, but more frequently Fifth Monarchy Men, who expected the sudden appearance of Christ, to establish on earth a new monarchy or kingdom. In consequence of this, some of them aimed at the subversion of all human government. In ancient history we read of four great monarchies; the Assyrian, Persian, Grecian, and the Roman; and these men, believing that this new spiritual kingdom of Christ was to be the fifth, obtained the name by which they were called. They claimed to be the saints of God, and to have the dominion of saints, Daniel 7:27
; expecting that, when Christ was come into this kingdom, to begin his reign on earth, they, as his deputies, were to govern all things under him. They went so far as to give up their own Christian names, and assume others from Scripture, like the Manicheans of old.
The opinions of the moderns on this subject may be reduced to two: 1. Some believe that Christ will reign personally on the earth, and that the prophecies of the millennium point to a resurrection of martyrs and other just men, to reign with him a thousand years in a visible kingdom. 2. Others are inclined to believe that, by the reign of Christ and the saints for a thousand years on earth, "nothing more is meant than that, before the general judgment, the Jews shall be converted, genuine Christianity be diffused through all nations, and mankind enjoy that peace and happiness which the faith and precepts of the Gospel are calculated to confer on all by whom they are sincerely embraced." The state of the Christian church, say they, will be, for a thousand years before the general judgment, so pure and so widely extended, that, when compared with the state of the world in the ages preceding, it may, in the language of Scripture, be called a resurrection from the dead. In support of this interpretation, they quote two passages from St. Paul, in which a conversion from Paganism to Christianity, and a reformation of life is called a "resurrection from the dead," Romans 6:13
; Ephesians 5:14
. There is, indeed, an order in the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:24
; but we no where observe mention made of a first and second resurrection at the distance of a thousand years from each other: yet, were the millenarian hypothesis well founded, the words should rather have run thus: "Christ, the first-fruits, then the martyrs at his coming, and a thousand years afterward the residue of mankind,—then cometh the end," &c.
Mr. Joseph Mede, Dr. Gill, Bishop Newton, Mr. Winchester, Mr. Eyre, Mr. Kett, and a host of writers recently, are advocates for the first of these opinions, and contend for the personal reign of Christ on earth. "When these great events shall come to pass," says Bishop Newton, "of which we collect from the prophecies this to be the proper order,—the Protestant witnesses shall be greatly exalted, and the twelve hundred and sixty years of their prophesying in sackcloth, and of the tyranny of the beast, shall end together; the conversion and restoration of the Jews succeed; then follows the ruin of the Ottoman empire; and then the total destruction of Rome and of antichrist. When these great events, I say, shall come to pass, then shall the kingdom of Christ commence, or the reign of saints upon earth. So Daniel expressly informs us that the kingdom of Christ and the saints will be raised upon the ruins of the kingdom of antichrist, Daniel 7:26-27
. So likewise St. John saith, that, upon the final destruction of the beast and of the false prophet, ‘Satan is bound,' &c, Revelation 20:2-6
. It is, I conceive, to these great events, the fall of antichrist, the reestablishment of the Jews, and the beginning of the glorious millennium, that the three different dates in Daniel, of twelve hundred and sixty years, twelve hundred and ninety years, and thirteen hundred and thirty-five years, are to be referred. And, as Daniel saith, ‘Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thirteen hundred and thirty-five years,' Daniel 12:12
; so St. John saith, ‘Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection,'
. Blessed and happy, indeed, will be this period; and it is very observable, that the martyrs and confessors of Jesus, in papist as well as Pagan times, will be raised to partake of this felicity. Then shall all those gracious promises in the Old Testament be fulfilled, of the amplitude and extent of the peace and prosperity, of the glory and happiness, of the church in the latter days. Then, in the full sense of the words, ‘shall the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever,' Revelation 11:15
. According to tradition, these thousand years of the reign of Christ and the saints will be the seventh millenary of the world; for, as God created the world in six days, and rested on the seventh, so the world, it is argued, will continue six thousand years, and the seventh thousand will be the great sabbatism, or holy rest of the people of God; one day being with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,' 2 Peter 3:8
. According to tradition, too, these thousand years of the reign of Christ and the saints are the great day of judgment, in the morning or beginning whereof shall be the coming of Christ in flaming fire, and the particular judgment of antichrist, and the first resurrection; and in the evening or conclusion whereof shall be the general resurrection of the dead, small and great; ‘and they shall be judged every man according to his works.'
Such is the representation of the millennium, as given by those who embrace the opinion of Christ's reigning personally on earth during the period of one thousand years. But Dr. Whitby, Mr. Lowman, &c, contend against the literal interpretation of the millennium, both as to its nature and duration. Mr. Faber observes that, "respecting the yet future and mysterious millennium, the less that is said upon the subject the better. Unable myself to form the slightest conception of its specific nature, I shall weary neither my own nor my reader's patience with premature remarks upon it. That it will be a season of great blessedness, is certain; farther than this we know nothing definitely." The millenarians do not form a sect distinct from others; but their distinguishing tenet, in one view or other, prevails, in a greater or less degree, among most denominations into which the Christian world is divided.
The following observations from Jones's Biblical Cyclopaedia are worthy great attention for their sobriety:—Some have supposed that the passage, Revelation 20:4
, is to be taken literally, as importing that at that time Jesus Christ will come, in his human nature, from heaven to earth, and set his kingdom up here, reigning visibly and personally, with distinguished glory on earth; that the bodies of the martyrs, and of other eminent Christians will then be raised from the dead, in which they shall live and reign with Christ here on earth a thousand years. And some suppose, that all the saints, the true friends to God and Christ, who have lived before that time, will then be raised from the dead, and live on earth perfectly holy, during this thousand years. And this they suppose is meant by the first resurrection. Those who agree in general in this notion of the millennium differ with respect to many circumstances, which it is needless to mention here. Others have understood this paragraph of Scripture in a figurative sense; that by this reign of Christ on earth, is not meant his coming from heaven to earth, in his human visible nature; but his taking to himself his power, and utterly overthrowing the kingdom of Satan, and setting up his own kingdom throughout the world, which, before this, had been confined to very narrow bounds; subduing all hearts to a willing subjection, and thus reigning generally over the men who shall then be in the world, and live in that thousand years. And by "the souls of them which were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands," living again and reigning, with Christ a thousand years; they suppose, is not meant a literal resurrection, or the resurrection of their bodies, which is not asserted here, as there is nothing said of their bodies, or of their being raised to life; but that they shall live again, and reign with Christ, in the revival, prosperity, reign, and triumph of that cause and interest in which they lived, and for the promotion of which they died: and in whose death the cause seemed to languish and become extinct. Thus they shall live again in their successors, who shall arise and stand up with the same spirit, and in the same cause, in which they lived and died, agreeable to ancient prophecies. "The meek shall inherit the earth." "And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve him." And they suppose that this revival of the cause of Christ, by the numerous inhabitants of the earth rising up to a new and holy life, is that which is here called the first resurrection, in distinction front the second, which will consist in the resurrection of the body; whereas this is a spiritual resurrection; a resurrection of the cause of Christ, which had been, in a great degree, dead and lost; a resurrection of the souls of men, by the renovation of the Holy Spirit. That this important passage of Scripture is to be understood in the figurative sense, last mentioned, is probable, and the following considerations are thought sufficient to support it:—
1. Most if not all the prophecies in this book are delivered in figurative language, referring to types and events recorded in the Old Testament; and in imitation of the language of the ancient prophets. And this was proper, and even necessary, in the best manner to answer the ends of prophecy, as might easily be shown were it necessary. The first part of this passage, all must allow, is figurative. Satan cannot be bound with a literal, material chain. The key, the great chain, and the seal, cannot be understood literally. The whole is a figure, and can mean no more than, that, when the time of the millennium arrives, or rather previous to it, Jesus Christ will lay effectual restraints on Satan, so that his powerful and prevailing influence, by which he had before deceived and destroyed a great part of mankind, shall be wholly taken from him for a thousand years. And it is most natural to understand the other part of the description of this remarkable event to be represented in the same figurative language, as the whole is a representation of one scene; especially, since no reason can be given why it should not be so understood.
2. To suppose that Christ shall come in his human nature to this earth, and live here in his whole person visible a thousand years before the day of judgment, appears to be contrary to several passages of Scripture. The coming of Christ, and his appearing at the day of judgment in his human nature, is said to be his second appearance, answering to his first appearance, in his human nature, on earth, from his birth to his ascension into heaven, which was past. "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them who look for him shall he appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation," Hebrews 9:27-28
. The appearance here spoken of is the appearance of Christ at the day of judgment, to complete the salvation of his church. This could not be his appearing the second time, were he thus to appear, and to be bodily present in his human nature on earth, in the time of the millennium, which is to take place before the day of judgment. The coming of Christ does not always intend his coming visibly in his human nature; but he is said to come, when he destroyed the temple and nation of the Jews, and appeared in favour of his church. So his destruction of Heathen Rome, and delivering his church from that persecuting power, was an instance of his coming. And he will, in the same way, come to destroy antichrist, and the kingdom of Satan in the world, and introduce the millennium; and in these instances, and others, he may be said to appear. But his coming to judgment, and appearing to complete the final destruction of all his enemies, and to perfect the salvation of his church, is his last coming and appearance. But if he were here on earth, visible in his human nature, and reigning in his glorified body, during the millennium, he would be already here to attend the last judgment, and he could not be properly said to come from heaven, and to be revealed from heaven, because this was done a thousand years before. Beside, that Christ should come from heaven, and appear and reign in his human nature and presence before the day of judgment, seems to be contrary to the following scriptures: "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first." "When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God," &c. "When he shall come to be glorified in his saints,"
1 Thessalonians 4:16
; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8
; 2 Thessalonians 1:10
. This is evidently his appearing the second time, for the salvation of all them that look for him; but were he on earth before this, in the human nature, during the time of the millennium, how could he be said to be revealed, to descend and come from heaven to judge the world?
3. There is nothing expressly said of the resurrection of the body in this passage. The Apostle John saw the souls of them which were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, &c, and they lived and reigned with Christ. The resurrection of the body is no where expressed in Scripture by the soul's living. And as there is nothing said of the body, and he only saw their souls to live; this does not appear to be a proper expression to denote the resurrection of the body, and their living in that. As this, therefore, does not seem to be the natural meaning of the words, and certainly is not the necessary meaning, we are warranted to look for another meaning, and to acquiesce in it, if one can be found which is more easy and natural, and more agreeable to the whole passage and to the Scripture in general. Therefore,
4. The most easy and probable meaning is, that the souls of the martyrs, and all the faithful followers of Christ, who have lived in the world, and have died before the millennium shall commence, shall revive and live again in their successors, who shall rise up in the same spirit, and in the same character, in which they lived and died; and in the revival and flourishing of that cause which they espoused, and spent their lives in promoting. This is therefore a spiritual resurrection, denoting that all Christ's people shall appear in the spirit and power of those martyrs and holy men, who had before lived in the world, and who shall live again in these their successors, and in the revival of their cause, or in the resurrection of the church, from the very low state in which it had been before the millennium, to a state of great prosperity and glory. This is agreeable to the way of representing things in Scripture in other instances. John the Baptist was Elijah, because he rose in the spirit of Elijah, and promoted the same cause in which Elijah lived and died; and Elijah revived and lived in John the Baptist, because he went before Christ, in the spirit and power of Elijah, Luke 1:17
. Therefore Christ says of John, "This is Elijah who was to come,"
With regard to the nature of the millennial state, or the blessings which shall be more particularly enjoyed during that period, the following things seem to be marked out in prophecy:—
1. It is expressly said of those who shall partake of this first resurrection, that they shall be "blessed and holy;" by which the inspired writer seems to denote that it will be a time of eminent holiness. This will constitute the peculiar glory and the source of the happiness of the millennium state, Zechariah 14:20-21
. And that such will be the case, we may infer, also, from the consideration, that,
2. There is reason to expect a remarkable effusion of the Spirit, about the commencement of this happy period, even as there was at the first setting up of Christ's kingdom in the world. Beside the promises of the Spirit, which were accomplished in the apostolic age, there are others which from the connection appear to refer to the time we are now speaking of. Thus Isaiah, after having described Christ's kingdom which was set up at his first coming, and then the succeeding desolate state of the Jews, represents this as continuing "until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest,"
. The Apostle Paul, speaking of the conversion of the Jews at this period, refers to a passage in Isaiah where a promise of the Spirit is made to them: "As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord: My Spirit which is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever," Isaiah 59:20-21
; Romans 11:26-27
. The Lord having mentioned the forlorn dispersed state of Israel throughout the nations, among whom they had profaned his name, promises to gather them, cleanse them, and give them a new heart and spirit, and adds, "And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes; and ye shall keep my judgements and do them," Ezekiel 36:27
; Ezekiel 39:28-29
. The promise of pouring upon them the spirit of grace and supplication has also a view to this period, Zechariah 12:10
. Though we are not to expect the miraculous gifts of the apostolic age, yet the work of the Spirit will abundantly appear in qualifying men for propagating the Gospel throughout the world, filling them with light, zeal, courage, and activity, in that work; in giving success and effect to the Gospel by converting multitudes to the faith, quickening the dead in trespasses and sins, and translating them into the kingdom of Christ; and in enlightening, quickening, purifying, and comforting the children of God, stirring them up to greater liveliness, love, zeal, activity, and fruitfulness in his service.
3. A universal spread of the Gospel, diffusing the knowledge of the Lord throughout the world in a more extensive and effectual manner than ever it was before. This is repeatedly promised: "The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea;" and this shall take place in that day when the Gentiles shall seek to the branch of the root of Jesse, whose rest shall be glorious, and when "the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, and shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah, from the four corners of the earth,"
. The same promise of the universal knowledge of the glory of the Lord is repeated in the prophecy of Habakkuk 2:14
. This will be attended with corresponding effects: "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before him." Psalms 22:27
; yea, all kings shall fall down before him, "all nations shall serve him," Psalms 72:11
. And though we may not imagine that all the inhabitants of the globe will have the true and saving knowledge of the Lord; yet we may expect such a universal spread of light and religious knowledge as shall root up Pagan, Mohammedan, and antichristian delusions, and produce many good effects upon those who are not really regenerated, by awing their minds, taming their ferocity, improving their morals, and making them peaceable and humane.
4. The Jews will then be converted to the faith of the Messiah, and partake with the Gentiles of the blessings of his kingdom. The Apostle Paul, in the eleventh chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, treats of this at large, and confirms it from the prophecies of the Old Testament. He is speaking of Israel in a literal sense, the natural posterity of Abraham; for he distinguishes them both from the believing Gentiles and the Jewish converts of his time, and describes them as the rest who were blinded, had stumbled and fallen, and so had not obtained, but were broken off and cast away, Romans 11:7
; Romans 11:11-12
; Romans 11:15
; Romans 11:17
. Yet he denies that they have stumbled that they should fall, that is, irrecoverably, so as in no future period to be restored; but shows that God's design in permitting this was, that through their fall salvation might come unto the Gentiles, and that this again might provoke them to jealousy or emulation, Romans 11:11
. He argues that if their fall and diminishing was the riches of the Gentiles, and the casting away of them was the reconciling of the world, their fulness will be much more so, and the receiving of them be life from the dead, Romans 11:12
; Romans 11:15
. He farther argues, that if the Gentiles "were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more shall these which be the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?" Romans 11:24
. Nor did he consider this event as merely probable, but as absolutely certain; for he shows that the present blindness and future conversion of that people is the mystery or hidden sense of prophecies concerning them; and he cites two of these prophecies where the context foretels both their rejection and recovery, Isaiah 59:20-21
; Isaiah 27:9
5. The purity of visible church communions, worship, and discipline, will then be restored according to the primitive apostolic pattern. During the reign of antichrist a corrupted form of Christianity was drawn over the nations, and established in the political constitutions of the kingdoms which were subject to that monstrous power. By this means the children of God were either mixed in visible religious communion with the profane world, in direct opposition to the word of God, or persecuted for their nonconformity. In reference to this state of things, the angel commands St. John to leave out the court which is without the temple, and not to measure it, for this reason, because "it is given to the Gentiles; and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months," Revelation 11:2
; that is, they shall pollute and profane the worship and communion of the church during the one thousand two hundred and sixty years of antichrist's reign, so that it cannot be measured by the rule of God's word. But when the period we are speaking of shall arrive, the sanctuary shall be cleansed, Daniel 8:14
; the visible communion, worship, order, and discipline of the house of God will then be restored to their primitive purity, and accord with the rule of the New Testament. So it is promised to Zion, "Henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean,"
. "Thy people shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hand, that I may be glorified," Isaiah 60:21
. "And in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of Hosts," Zechariah 14:21
6. The Lord's special presence and residence will then be in the midst of his people. Christ hath promised to be with his people in every period of the church, even unto the end of the world, Matthew 28:20
, and that he will be in the midst even of two or three of them when gathered together in his name, Matthew 18:20
. He also calls them to purity of communion and personal holiness, and promiseth to dwell in them and walk in them, 2 Corinthians 6:16-17
; but this will be fulfilled in an eminent and remarkable manner during the millennial period. The Lord, having promised to raise Israel out of their graves, to gather them from among the Heathen, and bring them into the church and kingdom of Christ, as one fold having one shepherd, adds, "And I will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore; my tabernacle also shall be with them; yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people," Ezekiel 37:11-27
. This alludes to his dwelling among Israel in the tabernacle and sanctuary of old, Leviticus 26:11-12
; and imports his manifesting himself unto them, admitting them into the most intimate correspondence and communion with himself in his ordinances, communicating light, life, and consolation to them by his Spirit; and also his protection and care of them as his peculiar people. It is intimated that there will be such visible tokens of the divine presence and residence among them as will fall under the notice of the world, and produce conviction and awe, as was in some measure the case in the first churches, Acts 2:47
; Acts 5:11
; Acts 5:13
; 1 Corinthians