Eschatology – Part 14

Eschatology – Part 14

In the last issue, Justin Martyr (100-165) wrote seeking to allay the fear of the Roman Empire regarding Christians having as their goal the establishment of a kingdom in conflict with Rome. It was his conviction, and we may safely conclude the conviction of most Christians, that the Church wasn’t trying to build anything nor seeking to replicate the theocratic kingdom of Old Testament Israel. “For if we look for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ.”[1] The “human kingdom” came later in the history of the Church.

At the same time, the doctrine that Israel was replaced by the Church in the affections of God, was well established by the time of Justin. In other words, the Church perceived herself as Israel, but had not as yet completely borrowed for the Church the warp and woof of the Old Testament system.


Doctrine evolved in the Church’s life. As we saw in part 7 of this series, little by little the Lord’s Table became an Altar, the Lord’s Supper a Sacrifice, etc. L.W. Bernard states in his book Justin Martyr, His Life and Thought that: “He (Justin) accepts, with most second-century Christian writers, that the Church is a supernatural society founded by the apostles in Christ’s name[2]. . . Justin, in no uncertain terms, repudiates those who stand outside the pale of the Church. . .

And they likewise proclaim that them that believe on him, as men of one soul and one synagogue and one Church, the Word of God addressed as Daughter, namely the Church…They are the true Israel.[3]

There are reasons for doubting whether the Church in Rome was an organizational entity in Justin’s day. There were in Rome numerous groups of resident aliens, some of whom became Christians, and a number of congregations of a semi-heretical tinge. Some of these heretical teachers were anxious to capture ‘the Church’ for their views. There is also the fact that no trace of an indigenous Latin Christianity is found in Justin’s time. Converts came mainly from Orientals and until the end of the second century the Roman Church was predominantly Greek-speaking and oriental in Character. L.E. Elliott-Binns suggests that there may have been a number of bishops or presbyter-bishops ruling different congregations in the city until well on into the second century.[4]”[5]


In dealing with the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist in the writings of Justin, Barnard says, “It is significant that there is no mention, in Justin’s account, of presbyters or elders taking part in the service…”[6] Evidently the laity could still participate in the Lord’s Supper without the presence of a pastor or priest.

Many of the scholars, writing on the Patristics’ view of the sacraments, agree that . . . “there was no fixed liturgy with a ‘structure’ known to Justin . . . In the Eucharist there is a further action of the logos (a term used for Jesus Christ in John 1) such that the elements of bread and wine become united with the logos and so become the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus. How this occurs Justin does not state apart from saying that the food is consecrated ‘by the Word of prayer which comes from him,’ . . To go beyond Justin’s words into an explanation as to how the elements become the flesh and blood of Christ is to go beyond the evidence. And to state that the mere recital of Christ’s words effects transubstantiation of the elements is to read later theories into Justin.[7]”[8] (Parenthesis mine).

In Justin the incorporation of the OT imagery into the sacraments has not yet taken place. The Eucharist is called a “sacrifice” in the Dialogue, but connected with the death of Christ rather than anything Old Testament. The Lord’s table is not called an altar and the one officiating is not called a priest. Baptism takes on a special significance, but comes short of being “baptismal regeneration.” Clement (fl. c. 90-100), on the other hand, makes a clear distinction between the clergy and laity, calling the former “priests.” He even distinguishes between “priests” and the “high-priest,” a clear indication that he saw the New Testament church in Old Testament terms.[9]


Scholars are not sure when Irenaeus was born and died. It probably was about 140-177 AD, dying in the persecution of 177-8. A native of Smyrna, he labored in Lyons, France – known as Gaul in that day. He was heavily involved in the Montanist debate.[10]

As we saw in our study of Polycarp, Irenaeus states that in his youth he sat at the feet of Polycarp and received from him oral traditions handed down from the apostles. He is the greatest chiliast of patristic literature, the most erudite and scriptural expositor of the early fathers. From his writings you will see that he embraced all of the major tenants of premillennial thought. In this first quote, note that Irenaeus believed in two literal resurrections separated by a literal thousand year reign of Christ, as depicted in Revelation 20.

“Inasmuch, therefore, as the opinions of certain (orthodox persons) are derived from heretical discourses, they are both ignorant of God’s dispensations, and of the mystery of the resurrection of the just, and of the (earthly) kingdom which is the commencement of incorruption, by means of which kingdom those who shall be worthy are accustomed gradually to partake of the divine nature (capere Deum); and it is necessary to tell them respecting those things, that it behooves the righteous first to receive the promise of the inheritance which God promised to the fathers, and to reign in it, when they rise again to behold God in this creation which is renovated, and that the judgment should take place afterwards. For it is just that in that very creation in which they toiled or were afflicted, being proved in every way by suffering, they should receive the reward of their suffering; and that in the creation in which they were slain because of their love to God, in that they should be revived again; and that in the creation in which they endured servitude, in that they should reign. For God is rich in all things, and all things are His. It is fitting, therefore, that the creation itself, being restored to its primeval condition, should without restraint be under the dominion of the righteous; and the apostle has made this plain in the Epistle to the Romans (Rom. 8:19-21).”[11] (Emphasis mine).

Irenaeus believed that there was a resurrection, followed by reigning in an earthly kingdom, concluding with judgment. As we saw in part 12 of this series, the “material re-creation” that forms the essence of the Old Testament hope in a Messianic Kingdom, is embraced by Irenaeus as well.

Notice the strong language of Irenaeus; “those who are ignorant of God’s dispensations and do not expect a resurrection of the just, come to their conclusions from heretical sources.” In this next quote we see that Irenaeus interprets Revelation literally.

“Such, then, being the state of the case, and this number being found in all the most approved and ancient copies (of the Apocalypse), and those men who saw John face to face bearing their testimony (to it); while reason also leads us to conclude that the number of the name of the beast, (if reckoned) according to the Greek mode of calculation by the (values of) the letters contained in it, will amount to six hundred and sixty and six . . . .[12]”[13]

From here Irenaeus discusses the use and misuse of 666 in seeking to ascertain its meaning. The important point, however, is the literalness with which he views this.

“But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, that hallowed seventh day; and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance, in which kingdom the Lord declared, that ‘many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.'[14]”[15]

When Irenaeus wrote, the temple was of course destroyed. On the basis of Revelation 11 he predicts the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem. After the reign of Antichrist, there will be a judgment and the establishment of Christ’s earthly kingdom, followed by the second resurrection and the new heaven and new earth.

“If, however, any shall endeavor to allegorize (prophecies) of this kind, they shall not be found consistent with themselves in all points, and shall be confuted by the teaching of the very expressions (in question)….For all these and other words were unquestionably spoken in reference to the resurrection of the just, which takes place after the coming of Antichrist, and the destruction of all nations under his rule; in (the times of) which (resurrection) the righteous shall reign in the earth, waxing stronger by the sight of the Lord: and through Him they shall become accustomed to partake in the glory of God the Father, and shall enjoy in the kingdom intercourse and communion with the holy angels, and union with spiritual beings; and (with respect to) those whom the Lord shall find in the flesh, awaiting Him from heaven, and who have suffered tribulation, as well as escaped the hands of the Wicked one….And Jeremiah the prophet has pointed out, that as many believers as God has prepared for this purpose, to multiply those left upon earth, should both be under the rule of the saints to minister to this Jerusalem, and that (His) kingdom shall be it…[16]

Irenaeus continues step by step, expositing the remaining section of Revelation, describing the new heaven and earth. Amillennialism sees only one literal resurrection, viewing one of the two mentioned in Revelation allegorically. Irenaeus clearly teaches two resurrections, and says the Old Testament saints will share in the first resurrection, along with the Church.

The millennium represents, according to Irenaeus, a transition stage between this world and eternity. Using the template of seven days, as discussed in eschatology, part 6, the millennium of Revelation is the seventh, a “day” of rest prior to the new heaven and earth. It is also the transition stage between the preliminary defeat of Satan in Rev. 19 and his final, decisive defeat at the end of the millennium in Rev. 20.

With the work of history brought to a close, he believed God creates the new heaven and earth in Rev. 21-22.


In tracing the evolution of doctrine, it is easy to see how the church’s perception of truth shifts, and how profoundly eschatology contributes to this shift. As the church shifted in the perception of herself as a struggling minority to the conviction that she was to claim the world for Christ, she borrowed the Old Testament framework. In her eyes, it had already been determined that she replaced Israel; it was now a simple matter to incorporate the imagery and task of the Old Testament theocracy. Justin Martyr correctly understood that the church is not in conflict with Rome.

To the degree that I am correct in all of this, it behooves us to learn from history, filtering history’s lessons through the grid of Scripture. If Scripture is “our only rule of faith and practice,” we must be careful not to allow ourselves to be unduly influenced by history, tradition, and culture.

Lord Jesus, come quickly,

[1] ibid, p. 166.

[2] “See the important remarks of M. Goguel, The Primitive Church (London, 1963), p.78: ‘…the idea of the Church, as a supernatural society founded by the apostles…, is now no more open to question than the conception of the Church as a depository of a doctrine of salvation. By the end of the first century and the beginning of the second, there seems to have been fairly wide agreement as to the conception of the Church and the character of the ministries exercised within it.’”

[3] “Dial with Try. cxix, cxxv, cxxx, cxxxv.”

[4] “The Beginnings of Western Christendom (London, 1948), p. 102.”

[5] Bernard, L.W., Justin Martyr, His Life and Thought, Cambride University Press, Cambridge, 1967, pp. 129-134.

[6] ibid, p. 143.

[7] “It is interesting to compare Justin’s theory of the Eucharist with that of Irenaeus. Irenaeus emphasises, more clearly than Justin, the composite character of the Eucharist. While retaining Justin’s realism he introduces an invocation of the elements (epiklesis) and states that a heavenly element (pragma ouranion) is added to them and operates through them (Adv. Haer. IV. 18. 4.). He also stresses, more than Justin, the effects of the Eucharist as a means of imparting life to the body and soul of man (cf. Ignatius’ ‘medicine of immortality’).”

[8] ibid, p. 148.

[9] Cf. this eschatology series, part 6, page 4.

[10] Montanism became prominent in the middle of the second century. Strongly millennarian, Montanus believed in the imminent return of Christ, and protested against growing formalism and worldliness in the official church. The most illustrious follower of Montanism was the theologican/ lawyer, Tertullian.

[11] op.cit., ANF, Vol I, p. 561, Irenaeus Against Heresies, book 5, chapter XXXII.1.

[12] Rev. 13:18.

[13] ibid, p. 558, book 5, chapter XXX. l.

[14] “Matt. 8:11.”

[15] ibid, p. 560, chapter XXX. 4.

[16] ibid, p. 565, chapter XXXV. 1.