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Why The Early Church Fathers Were Millennialists And Why The Gentile Church Quickly Rejected It For Sadduceeism

Posted by Job on October 16, 2008

This can be considered a supplement to The Early Church Fathers: Amillennialism and Universalism. Why were the church fathers millennialist? Simple: Christianity was never originally a new religion – nor was it intended to be by its founder Jesus Christ – but can accurately be described as a Jewish sect. Was it true Judaism, fulfilled Judaism, or what Sinai Judaism pointed to? Yes, but it was still Judaism, and it offered accommodations to Gentiles that were little different from, say, what the Pharisees of that time offered. (Whether other Jewish parties like the Sadducees, Essenes, etc. accommodated Gentiles who did not wish to become circumcised or otherwise fully convert to Judaism is of little consequence.) So rather than Christianity being a separate religion that has replaced or even exists alongside Judaism, it is helpful to consider that Biblical Christianity is Judaism, with Gentiles practicing what the Jerusalem Council and later the Pauline epistles gave to us, and Messianic Jews practicing what the Jewish Christians – including the same apostles who guided and instructed the Gentiles – did. Of course, in practice, Messianic Jews retain a lot of things related to Talmudism and eastern European Ashkenazism that have nothing to do with the practice of James and Peter, and we well know what westernism has done to Biblical Gentile Christianity. For a longer treatment of these topics, please consider A Better Replacement Theology For Christians And Jews.

So now that it is established that Christianity is in fact Jewish, it then becomes easier to understand why the early church, including the Gentile apostolic fathers who received the faith from the apostles, were millennialists. The reason is that millennialism doctrine was long established in Jewish thought prior to Christianity. It is very much reflected in the eschatological passages in the prophets and writings (especially Isaiah and the Psalms), the idea that the Messiah would rule the whole world. Jesus Christ’s refusal to set up an earthly kingdom was a major why the Pharisees rejected Him. Further, even Jesus Christ’s own followers, after His resurrection, still expected Him to set up a literal rule of the earth according to the early verses of Acts 1. So when Jesus Christ went to the right Hand of the Father promising to return, the Jews felt that upon His return Jesus Christ would fulfill the Messianic prophecies concerning His literal earthly rule that had been part of Judaism many centuries.

Please realize that these prophecies cannot be cast away. Not only does that damage the doctrines of infallibility of scripture and the rule of faith, but the all important doctrine of progressive revelation. God did not reveal mankind everything at once, but only rolled out revelation gradually, primarily through His prophets, with the ultimate and completed revelation being Jesus Christ. See the prologue to the epistle to the Hebrews for verification of this. (Incidentally, the concept of progressive revelation also explodes the lie common to liberal scholarship that Judaism lacked any real concept of a spirit world, an afterlife, or even mature doctrines of angels and demons before their interactions with Zoroastrianism during the Babylonian exile. Needless to say, the references to the dead children of Job, Jeroboam, and David as well as God taking Enoch and Elijah going to heaven on a chariot of fire make the claims that Judaism had no concept of righteous people having an eternal afterlife with God ridiculous.)

So, the millennial expectations of the Jews was not only a part of progressive revelation, but a huge part of it, and became even more pronounced during their captivity in Babylon and subsequent domination by the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. As a matter of fact, it remains a component of Orthodox and Conservative Judaism to this day, and is a major reason why the alliance between said Jews and dispensational pre – tribulation rapture evangelicals is so successful: both believe in the coming of Messiah, both believe that the Messiah will convert one side to the other, and both are willing to wait and see who is right (while each believing themselves to be).

So whether the Apocalypse of the Apostle John, better known as the Book of Revelation, was read by the other apostles or not (as some evangelical scholars assert that John wrote Revelation before he wrote his gospel) claiming that they did not teach that Jesus Christ would return to set up an earthly kingdom is rather difficult to sustain. It would require rejecting or either completely reinterpreting the Old Testament scriptures in a way that not a single teaching of Jesus Christ recorded in the gospels or the writings of the apostles who learned from Jesus Christ (the original ones including Matthias directly, Paul by revelation) supports. So then, while the scenario where Jesus Christ returns, rules with the saints of the first resurrection for 1000 years while Satan is bound (does amillennialism and preterism even allow for a first resurrection since neither suffers a literal interpretation of Revelation 20 and denies a linear timeline governing Revelation 19 and 20), and then there is the final battle followed by the great white throne judgment given in Revelation 19 – 20 may be an enlargement that contains new material, it is consistent with what Jews believed prior. Asserting amillennialism, then, is akin to saying that the Jews who lived in Jesus Christ’s day and time and prior were wrong, and the Gentile Christians who came along 200+ years later were right and did a better job of interpreting scripture than the Jews did. Of course, the post – apostolic fathers church, especially the Alexandrian allegorists, did have this belief. But when you recall that these were the people who gave Christendom the practice of praying to angels, pictures and statues, and a Mary that they claimed remained a virgin, we are not bound by their pretensions.

Now I mentioned earlier that the Pharisees believed in the millennium, which leaves out the Sadducees. Why did the Sadducees reject the millennium? Simple: because the Sadducees were Hellenists first, Jews second. The best example of this group was Herod, who obeyed the Jewish commandment not to eat pork while disobeying much more important commandments in murdering people, including members of his own family. Even the Roman Caesar noted that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than his son. The Jewish worldview is a spiritual, otherworldly one. By contrast, the Hellenistic worldview was, while not quite secular in the modern sense of the word, was definitely naturalist and this – worldly. Therefore, the Sadducees were only able to accept the Torah, and even there a despiritualized interpretation of it, as valid. (It was made easier for them by the fact that the Old Testament scriptures used at the time, the Greek Septuagint, already contained some concessions to the Hellenistic mindset.) The Sadducees rejected the writings (i.e. the Psalms) and the prophets. This meant that they not only denied the resurrection (as the gospels explicitly state) but the millennium, because they rejected all spiritual things. (Please recall that even the Greek “gods” were merely superhumans that lived in the natural plane, and that the Greek “underworld” where the dead went was literally underneath the physical surface of the earth, not spiritual at all.)

Now the Pharisees, on the other hand, believed in spiritual things, so that was not their error. Their error was A) failing to fully understand them and more importantly B) failing to understand the implications of spiritual things on earthly matters. That was why Jesus Christ criticized them for failing to use mercy in their interpretation and the administration of the law, for the law was not an earthly institution intended for regulating human affairs (the position of the Saduceees) but a spiritual thing that God gave mankind to teach man about His nature, so the Pharisees should have used the law to show the same mercy to the people that God had always shown Israel.

When you understand that the Sadducees rejected the resurrection, the millennium, the writings, the prophets, and even the more spiritual aspects of the Torah in order to create “Greek Judaism” that was more Greek than Jewish, (Hellenism with external Jewish customs and regulations that not only had no spiritual content but was also totally devoid of morality) then that also explains why the post – apostolic fathers church rejected millennialism for amillennialism. Now the precursor to this piece stated that millennialism had to go in order to accommodate such ideas as universalism and purgatory that made Christianity more acceptable to Greek pagans, not only for the purposes of mere popularity (Origen was regarded as a great intellect by the Greek pagans for telling them that they would ultimately be saved whether they converted and lived godly lives or not!) but because they made spiritual biblical Christianity more accommodating to naturalism and other pre – existing Greek constructs.

After all, did Greek paganism afford different fates to people in the afterlife based on how they lived and worshiped in this life? Nope. There was no basis for the different reward, because there was no single all powerful creator to mete out rewards and punishments. There were many gods, and serving one was as good as serving the other. So no matter who you worshiped or how you lived, everyone would receive the same fate: the underworld. The purgatory and universalism doctrines of Origen, Clementine, Gregory, etc. removed the idea that some would receive good and others evil in the next life. This was not because the Greco – Romans were so committed to egalitarianism, indeed quite the contrary. In that culture women and children had no rights, there were more slaves than citizens, and the rulers only cared about the poor literally starving to death inasmuch as its potential to cause mass revolts. And the Greco – Roman religion did not hold out equal status in the afterlife as the hope or aim of their religion. Quite the contrary, the purpose of their religion seems to have been to use drunken orgies to forget the difficulties of their daily existence, which was why the actual practice of their religions was most common and popular with people who had the lowest status: women, slaves, and the poor. So then, the reason why the idea that people will get different rewards in the afterlife based on which God they served in this one was so offensive to the Hellenistic mindset was because this concept is unworkable without a spiritual reality that opposes pagan naturalism. The Origenic Christianity, then, did require them to reject multiple gods for one God, but allowed them to worship according to a system that, while spiritual in theory, was practically and effectively little different from the prior pagan mythology. Again, there is a reason why cultured pagans who had no intention of converting came from far and wide to listen to Origen’s lectures and left praising his great intellect.

So this brings us back to the issue of millennialism. For the events of Revelation 19 – 20 to be fulfilled in a literal fashion, Jesus Christ ruling the nations with a rod of iron along with angels and resurrected martyrs … not only spiritual but on a fantastic and grand scale. Now please recall that the Sadduccees rejected the spirituality of the Torah, instead regarding it as only being useful for history and for governance. In a similar fashion, Jesus Christ literally ruling on earth could not coexist to the Hellenistic natural mind. So, the rule of Jesus Christ over the earth had to be accomplished naturally, through human institutions. Jesus Christ rules the church, but the church rules the earth by controlling political, economic, military, religious, and cultural life. In short, dominionism.

Of course, it was no small thing to separate it further and make it even less spiritual. Jesus Christ rules the earth through His rule of the church, but His rule over the church is not direct and personal, but rather through His VICARS on earth, or His appointed representatives. Except that Jesus Christ does not even need to directly appoint His representatives by way of a revelatory anointing or calling. Instead, said vicars are chosen by the church itself, either from among the church leadership or the emperor, as head of a church state, that has the ability to appoint them. (Please note that the church really never opposed the practice of Roman emperors taking the prerogative to name bishops until the doctrine of the primacy of the bishop of Rome was fully matured, and even then the right of monarchs to appoint at least some bishops was never denied. After all, so long as the monarch was a baptized Christian, he was part of Christ’s rule of the earth, especially those monarchs that the prelates themselves either crowned or used political manuevers to help get into office.)

So, though this sort of amillennialism alleged that Jesus Christ was ruling the earth during a symbolic millennium that inaugurated when Jesus Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father, the fact was that the His rule was limited to a church that moreover was free to govern its own affairs through Christ’s vicars and totally ignore Him. Jesus Christ’s actual Person was reserved for mystic experiences (which you had better believe that communion/transubstantiation is certainly one!) and even those are not for the purposes of exerting any authority over the church – let alone the world – but rather for the mystical experience of the believer. Thus, Jesus Christ’s actual return was an event believed only in theory with no practical doctrinal or theological implications, because the church was already allegedly accomplishing what the long history of Jewish Messianic progressive revelation was supposed to teach the church to expect. All that remained was final judgment, something not only intangible and far off, but a great deal less important than such things as, say, getting your deceased relatives out of purgatory and into heaven with your good works.

So, amillennialism does the same to millennial doctrine – and possibly to Christianity itself – what Sadduceeism did to Judaism. It removes the spirituality that Jesus Christ will literally fulfill in favor of a system for gaining, maintaining, and exerting earthly power through humans and institutions. That the Protestant reformers generally continued to be amillennial, then, is a great shame. It is not unfair to propose that the first generation Reformers went on to set up state churches that greatly involved themselves in civil affairs because of it. It is also fair to propose that the “free churches” that were not part of either the Catholic or Protestant state church system were generally open to other doctrines. We can guess that the reason for this is that if you are not a state church but instead are being persecuted by a state church, then it is rather difficult claim that Jesus Christ is ruling the world with a rod of iron through your influence in governmental, economic, and military institutions, and even more difficult to explain why, with Jesus Christ already in heaven and Satan bound, the dominion that amillennialism states and implies not taking place even in the church, let alone in the world. I can propose that the reason why the early reformers held on to amillennialism was because of they were so steeped in it from Roman Catholicism, and also because of the Augustine to which they were so deeply indebted. In other words, for the same reason why the reformers continued to support infant baptism.

What is even stranger still is how premillennial pre – tribulation rapture dispensational evangelicals (as opposed to fundamentalists with this same eschatological orientation) have practically adopted some things pertaining to amillennialism, and are the new dominionists as a result. On one side is the religious right, who believes that the duty of the church is to exert influence over the nation’s laws, culture, and morality (if not spirituality). On another side is the third wave charismatic movement, especially those influenced by the Word of Faith/prosperity doctrine teachings that the church must reclaim the dominion over the earth that God gave to Adam as a precondition for a worldwide revival that will evangelize the globe and fulfill the prophecy for the return of Jesus Christ. Now both these movements, the Southern Baptist dominated former and the Pentecostal dominated latter (generalizing just a tad, I know), come together in two ways. One is the notion that an undivided fully sovereign biblical Jewish state of Israel must continue to exist at all costs, and that the United States must not only ally with Israel, but use its economic, political, and military might – including aggression – to defend Israel, with the church’s exerting all the influence (pressure) that it can on our government to ensure that it does so. So, we have the notion that Jesus Christ is acting to accomplish His redemptive purposes not only through the SECULAR state of Israel, but through the United States as well. So, Jesus Christ’s rule on earth at this time is not only primarily manifested through Israel due to its singular importance in dispensationalism, but it is secondarily – but still vitally! – manifested through the United States whose military, political, religious, and economic dominance of the globe allows Israel to remain sovereign so Jesus Christ can rule through it, and through the church that makes sure that the United States accomplishes its divine purpose of protecting Israel so that God may continue to use it.

How does it come together the other way? In the person of none other than Sarah Palin, the woman who was born Roman Catholic but rebaptized into Pentecostalism, and has been fully steeped in third wave Pentecostal dominion theology preaching (see video below) and is herself perhaps the single leading figure in the religious right now that other figures have died or marginalized themselves.

And that little nugget is something to think about.

8 Responses to “Why The Early Church Fathers Were Millennialists And Why The Gentile Church Quickly Rejected It For Sadduceeism”

  1. jennifer said

    I sure wish that I could have sound on my computer *sigh*.

  2. Job said

    Jennifer:

    Please look at it again. I enlarged my section on Israel with information that I intended to add last night but got too sleepy🙂

  3. […] Comments Job on Why The Early Church Fathers W…James on Has Anyone Paid Any Attention …John Kaniecki on Third Temple preparations: […]

  4. Devon said

    Do you mean by millennialists that the early Church Fathers believed that the 1000 years in Revelation was a literal 1000 years to come?

    That’s what I think but my Amill buddies are adament that their position is correct!

  5. John Kaniecki said

    Devon,

    Hi hope you are well.

    You will find that most people have strong convictions on their belief. Most people connect their religious, political or philosophical thoughts with their ego. So a disagreement with such matters is more than it appears.

    The Bible teaches us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. It also tells us to cast the beam out of our own eyes and then we will be in a position to remove the mote from our brother’s eyes.

    As regarding Biblical ideas I can respect people who can back their thoughts with scripture. I respect them even if they are totally wrong! Yet some people will just flagrantly deny the Word of God. Catholics are definitely in this group. It doesn’t take deep theology to prove that what the Catholic Church teaches is wrong. Bishops not being married, the existance of cardinals, popes and purgatory, calling men on Earth father, worshipping Mary, praying to saints, an elevated class of individuals called preists and so forth.

    Yet if you confront a Catholic with the appropriate scriptures they will deny the obvious. I don’t know if you ever witnessed the rants of one ‘Karl’ who was with us for a season. Ask IC about him.

    The point is that there will always be disagreement in our Biblical conclusions. This will occur even when both parties are sincere. Paul needed to rebuke Peter once! So with humility and paitence we do our best to instruct others. Yet that humility must also carry the possibility that we ourselves may be wrong about things. I can personally testify that before being exposed to this web site I believed speaking in tongues a thing that has passed away. Yet after carefully reviewing the scriptures I could see it possible that somebody speaking in another language with an interpreter could perform that act.

    Some of the Lord’s best teachings come from when others questioned Him. Most often he answered a question with another question. So if someone question us we should not be offended.

    Any way the election is getting close after the last debate. I am glad my faith is in God and not either of the candidates.

    Love,

    John

  6. Devon said

    John, I think your replying in the wrong thread…I was asking Job what he meant my millenialists as it pertains to the Church fathers and whether they took the 1000 years in Revelation as literal or symbolic as the Amill and Post Mill camps do….

    Yes, I too am thankful that the Savior is in control down here and not men…..and yes, it is going to be close..

    As for the Catholic Church, yes there are some problems to be sure….the Focus on Mary is most unbiblical…pugatory is blasphemy and dangerous…..I wonder how many Catholics actually believe some of these non biblical doctrines?

    Take care

  7. […] was working from a naturalist pagan structure as opposed to a Jewish spiritual one – please read Why The Early Church Fathers Were Millennialists And Why The Gentile Church Quickly Rejected It For… and he Early Church Fathers: Amillennialism and Universalism, would have been […]

  8. stan said

    Job, Thank you for putting this post together so cogently. The Dominionist Delusions weary me. It is so apparent that it is all about the power of man and not the Power of The Man, Jesus Christ. The video is rehash of their tired expectations, which even when fulfilled as it has been at times, result in disaster for both the nation and the church. The Church is not taking over any culture or nation. We are as Abraham: We own nothing here, not one foothold. We are strangers and pilgrims seeking another City, one not built by (Gentile) hands.

    When Jesus told us He was given all authority in Heaven and Earth, He told us to make disciples of all nations, not to make all nations His disciples. The vast multitude of palm-waving saints in Revelation 7 are from out of all peoples, not all peoples. Jesus tells us that the (relatively) few will be saved, whereas the many will go along the broad way to destruction.

    And, is it just me, or did that preacher’s voice take on a creepy aspect near the end of the video as he spoke of and prayed for Governor Palin? It never seems to occur to these people that the rise of both evil and good governments are the direct acts of God. Evil governments in power are not some negligence by God, or a token of His lack of authority to rule as He desires. He raises evil people up into power deliberately when He chooses (which is much more often than not). They are all His servants. Romans 13:1b “For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.”

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