Eschatology – Part 7

Eschatology – Part 7

By way of review, in the early days of the Church, Judaism sought to stamp out the heresy that Jesus was Messiah. By 100 AD, or 70 years after the death of Christ, the breach between Christianity and Judaism was absolute, with the latter sending out letters from Palestine to all synagogues informing them of the necessity of excluding Christians from their assemblies.

As the church became increasingly Gentile, this antipathy between Judaism and Christianity intensified, resulting in the latter bringing to the Scriptures a hermeneutic that excluded Israel from the program of God. The way this was accomplished was interpreting the OT promises regarding Israel’s future figuratively, applying them to the church. The Gentile church concluded that it had replaced Israel as the object of God’s grace. Thus, there would be no future for the nation of Israel.

The Church accused the Jews of three things: 1) – Killing their Messiah, Jesus; 2) – Closing access of Christians seeking to convert them; 3) – Joining Rome in persecuting Christians. As a result, Christians considered Judaism apostate, and therefore viewed themselves as the true Israel, appropriating the Old Testament promises to the Church.

Justin, the patristic, accused his Jewish friend Trypho: “For other nations have not inflicted on us and on Christ this wrong to such an extent as you have, who in very deed are the authors of the wicked prejudice against the Just One, and us who hold by Him. For after that you had crucified Him,…you selected and sent out from Jerusalem chosen men through all the land to tell that the godless heresy of the Christians had sprung up….publishing throughout all the land bitter and dark and unjust things against the only blameless and righteous Light sent by God.”

The implications of this have been felt down through history to the present. A partial list includes: 1 – Interpreting other portions of Scripture figuratively as well, creating all forms of heresies in its wake. 2 – Viewing the ministry and mission of the church through an OT lens, resulting in seeking to replicate the OT theocracy rather than reaching out to the lost. 3 – Excluding the laity from any meaningful involvement in the ministry of the Gospel. 4 – Viewing the church as an institution rather than an organism, requiring membership in the institution a condition of salvation.

I closed the last issue observing that many in the maturing church saw the solution to the tension that existed between the traveling missionaries and the local churches in an OT view of the ministry. With this came a hierarchy of offices and the laity barred from the duties of the priests. A clergy/laity distinction developed with the clergy viewed as the continuation of the OT priesthood and the laity gaining access to God only through the priest.


The Apostle Paul taught, “And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;”[3] Gifted men were given to the Church to equip the laity that the laity may do the ministry.

As this was enacted on the stage of history, no mechanism for control was available. Each believer ministered in his sphere of influence as he saw fit. This resulted in a dynamic lay-led propagation of the gospel, accompanied by various heresies. Early manifestations of this are apparent in the New Testament epistles. Much of Paul’s and John’s writings were given to correct errors such as gnosticism.[4]

Another ingredient was the absence of any wide-spread use of written documents. What Irenaeus called “the canon of truth” was an oral tradition with a condensed summary of the message and rules of the Faith. But how do you maintain purity of oral tradition? It was the job of bishops, who ostensibly traced their lineage to the apostles, to see that oral tradition did not deviate from the original revelation. The message was committed to the Church; the Church is the home of the Spirit, and the bishops are God’s vicars. The bishops became “an infallible charism of truth.”[5]

It was an error-prone environment. Since the Church had already concluded that it was the true Israel, it was easy for her to look to the Old Testament model for means of control. In the New Testament, Christ talked of believers as His Body, a living organism with Him as Head. In the Old Testament, Israel was a nation, an organization with clear, delineated lines of authority. The need for control required the Church to view herself in Old Testament terms.

The priesthood of the believer gave way to a formal priesthood. Gradually the communion table became an altar; the Lord’s supper a sacrifice; pastors were called priests, etc. Thus access to God was restricted. In the OT people could not enter the presence of God alone; they had to go through the Levitical priest. It was this view, carried into the church, that discouraged people from developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

It wasn’t until 313 AD, with the conversion of Constantine, that the Church finally had at its disposal the “sword of the state.” It could now enforce its will on its subjects, purifying the Church of all aberrations. The zeal of the laity could at last be held in check and heresy could be eliminated. The church was in control. But the whole of that story is still ahead of us.


Irenaeus writes, “And these things are borne witness to in writing by PAPIAS, the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp, in this fourth book; for there were five books compiled by him.”[6] From this we learn that Papias wrote at least five books,[7] sat under the ministry of the Apostle John, and was a friend of Polycarp (c. 69-155 AD).

One of the books Papias wrote, An Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord, in c. 130 AD, is lost save for fragmentary quotations in other ecclesiastical writings. Eusebius quotes Papias as saying, “But if I met with any one who had been a follower of the elders any where, I made it a point to inquire what were the declarations of the elders. What was said by Andrew, Peter or Philip. What by Thomas, James, John, Matthew, or any other of the disciples of the Lord.”[8] (You may remember that one goal during my sabbatical was to read works by those who were able to ask questions of the apostles. Papias was such a man, but unfortunately, most of his writings are lost).

Eusebius goes on to say that “the apostle Philip continued at Hierapolis, with his daughters…”[9] Evidently Philip and Papias co-labored in Hierapolis.

In his discussion of Papias, Eusebius says, “…there would be a certain millennium after the resurrection, and that there would be a corporeal reign of Christ on this very earth; which things he (Papias) appears to have imagined, as if they were authorized by the apostolic narrations, not understanding correctly those matters which they propounded mystically in their representations. For he was very limited in his comprehension, as is evident from his discourses; yet he was the cause why most of the ecclesiastical writers, urging the antiquity of the man, were carried away by a similar opinion; as for instance, Irenaeus, or any other that adopted such sentiments.”[10]

Eusebius was a historian during the days of Constantine, and chronicled the move of the Church from a struggling, persecuted minority to the Imperial Church with the full weight and blessing of Caesar! We will study Eusebius in detail later, but note two extraordinary things: First, he was staunchly anti-millenarian, being at the vanguard of the move toward a-millennialism. Later, we will see how many of the writings of the Patristics were either purposely lost or fabricated to reflect an a-millennial view, so odious was chiliasm to later writers. That Eusebius would even mention Papias’ millenarian understanding of prophecy testifies to how strongly it was held by those of Papias’ day.

Second, Eusebius wrote in the fourth century. Papias was a man who had access to the apostles of our Lord, being personally tutored by John, the writer of Revelation. That Eusebius was so bold as to say that Papias didn’t understand the meaning of the apostle’s writings, but he, Eusebius, did, shows how arrogant and confident these advocates of an imperial church were.

A fragment taken from Anastasius Sinaita (abbot of the monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai – d. c. 700) says, “Taking occasion from Papias of Hierapolis, the illustrious, a disciple of the apostle who leaned on the bosom of Christ, and Clemens, and Pantaenus the priest of the Church of the Alexandrians, and the wise Ammonius, the ancient and first expositors, who agreed with each other, who understood the work of the six days as referring to Christ and the whole Church.”[11] “So then the more ancient expositors of the churches, I mean Philo, the philosopher, and contemporary of the Apostles, and the famous Papias of Hierapolis, the disciple of John the Evangelist…and their associates, interpreted the sayings about Paradise spiritually, and referred them to the Church of Christ.”[12]

It is not clear if these are the thoughts of Papias or of Anastasius commenting on Papias, but in either case we see that already church leaders are called “priests,” and that they viewed the Church’s beginning in the Old Testament in that “the work of the six days…referring to Christ and the whole Church.” That is, the OT promises to Israel are to be understood figuratively, and will be fulfilled in a literal thousand years as taught in Revelation 20, applied to the Church. The Church has replaced Israel, taking from her the Old Testament concept of priesthood.


One of the arguments that men like Eusebius used against millennialists was, it encourages a temporal world view with a sensual, hedonistic view of heaven.

Origen (c. 185-250 AD), a great theologian from Alexandria, Egypt, described the excesses of those holding a pre-millennial eschatology. “Certain persons, then, refusing the labor of thinking, and adopting a superficial view…and yielding rather in some measure to the indulgence of their own desires and lusts…are of the opinion that the fulfillment of the promises of the future are to be looked for in bodily pleasure and luxury; and therefore they especially desire to have again, after the resurrection, such bodily structures as may never be without the power of eating, and drinking, and performing all the functions of flesh and blood, not following the opinion of the Apostle Paul regarding the resurrection of a spiritual body. And consequently they say, that after the resurrection there will be marriages, and the begetting of children,…that the natives of other countries are to be given them as the ministers of their pleasures, whom they are to employ either as tillers of the field or builders of walls, and by whom their ruined and fallen city is again to be raised up;…they think they are to be kings and princes, like those earthly monarchs who now exist….Such are the views of those who, while believing in Christ, understand the divine Scriptures in a sort of Jewish sense, drawing from them nothing worthy of the divine promises.”[13]

Using the allegorical method of interpretation, Origen seeks to refute millenarianism. Whether the Patristics, who adhered to a historic pre-millennial eschatology, actually believed these accusations, I am not sure. I was unable to find any corroborating evidence in the patristic writings.

The point, however, abides; whenever the millennium is divorced from Jewish expectations and embraced by the Church, it leads to excess. Jurgen Moltmann saw this clearly in his article, Israel’s No: Jew and Jesus in an Unredeemed World, as seen in “eschatology, part 4.” Hitler’s “thousand year Reich” is one of many illustrations.

Man is a creature of hope. Hope is always future and perceived to be to his advantage. Only the Jews were given a temporal hope, as promised in the Old Testament prophets and anticipated in the Revelation.[14] Hegel and Marx were non-believing Jews who sought to create utopia outside of the biblical parameters. Communism is eschatological, hoping to create the millennium of Revelation 20, and with it an utopian society without God. The millennium is a Jewish event, during which time God fulfills His OT promises to the nation of Israel. Whenever it has been interpreted differently, it leads to various aberrations. Origen said he saw it in an anti-Semitic pre-millennialism. Moltmann saw it in Hitler’s “thousand year Reich.” Communism is a current example.

All of these aberrations of a millennial hope are created by those with a Judeo-Christian world view in which history is correctly perceived as linear rather than cyclical (as is the case with Hinduism). They have in common a preconceived notion of how thing ought to be. They err in that with these preconceived notions, they approach the Bible for confirmation, and in the process misinterpret and misapply God’s Word. Surrender and integrity is the only antidote.

[1] op.cit., Barnard, p. 53.

[2] op.cit., ANF, Vol I, p. 203, Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, chapter XVII.

[3] Eph. 4:11-13.

[4] E.g., I John 4:2-3; II John 7.

[5] Kelly, J.N.D., Early Christian Doctrines, Harper, San Francisco, 1978, p. 37.

[6] op.cit., ANF, Vol I, p. 563, Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Chapter XXXIII, 4.

[7] ibid, p. 153.

[8] Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History, Baker, Grand Rapids, 1966, Book 3, Chapter 39, p. 125.

[9] ibid, p. 126.

[10] ibid, p. 126.

[11] op.cit., ANF, Vol I, p. 155, Fragment of Papias, IX.

[12] op.cit., Lightfoot, The Fragments of Papias, p. 269.

[13] op.cit., ANF, Vol IV, p. 297, Origen De Principiis, book II, chapter XI, 2.

[14] John’s Revelation is a Jewish Book; with few exceptions, the verses are either a direct Old Testament quote or an Old Testament reference.