top of page

Did the Early Church Fathers Believe in Christian Zionism (Premillennialism / Dispensationalism)?


By Rev. D. Earl Cripe, Ph.D.



We live in a day of revisionist history and existential Christianity where truth is presented as anything the speaker chooses to call it, and Church history is anything he claims it to be.  It is supposed, I guess, that the average Christian is so completely ignorant of Church history that he will believe anything the speaker says, if he likes him or if the speaker is saying things he wants to hear.  One Old Testament Jewish Apologist begins his daily program by calling it “Messianic Christianity from a distinctly first century perspective.”  He is perhaps more bald-faced than most, but hardly alone in his adventurism.  Early Church history is massacred by Christian Zionism, Premillennialism and the Circumcision on an almost daily basis.  But what exactly does Church History teach on this subject?  I will give you a look at the words of those men who people claim were Premillennialists, and then I will give my conclusion.

I will start with a question asked me by the very person cited in the foregoing paragraph. How do I answer it?


Q.  “...virtually all church historians [recognize the early church as having been] Premillennial (chiliastic) in its eschatology[.]” 


A.  I am uncertain who you mean by “virtually all church historians,” but since you mention Philip Schaff, I will use him as a starting place.


The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent Chiliasm, or millenarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment.  It was indeed not the doctrine of the church embodied in any creed or form of devotion, but a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers such as Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Iranaeus, Tertullian, Methodius and Lactantius; while Caius, Origen, Dionysius the Great, Eusebius (afterwards Jerome and Augustine) who opposed it.

The Jewish Chiliasm rested on a carnal misapprehension of the Messianic kingdom, a literal interpretation of prophetic figures, and an overestimate of the importance of the Jewish people and the holy city as the center of that kingdom.  It was developed shortly before and after Christ in the apocalyptic literature, as the Book of Enoch, the Apocalyptic of Baruch, 4th Esdras, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the Sibylline Books.  It was adopted by the heretical sect of the Ebionites, and the Gnostic Cerinthus.

The Christian Chiliasm is the Jewish Chiliasm spiritualized...[1]


Here we see that:


  1. Chiliasm (Premillennialism) was not the reigning doctrine of the church at all.

  2. Origen, Eusebius, Jerome (Athanasius too, as it later develops) and Augustine, who were the strongest leaders of the Church, opposed it.

  3. Even those who held Premillennialism considered any Jewish note to it to be pronounced and defined heresy, giving it little in common with the Christian Zionism of today’s Premillennialism.

  4. Jewish Premillennialism was believed by all but the heretics to be an old testament error that placed too much importance on the Jewish people, the city of Jerusalem and materialistic concepts in general.

  5. The heresy of Jewish Premillennialism was held to be caused by, and indivisibly linked to, an attempt to take literal, rather than the willingness and ability to allegorize prophetic truths that, even to the Christian Chiliasts, obviously had spiritual meanings not to the nation of Israel.

  6. Jewish Chiliasm depended for textual support on heretical books that are not now and never were part of the Canon.


“Among the Apostolic Fathers, Barnabas is the first and the only one[2] who expressly teaches a pre-millennial reign of Christ on earth... Papias of Hierapolis, a pious but credulous contemporary of Polycarp, entertained quaint and extravagant notions of the happiness of the millennial reign, for which he appealed to apostolic tradition.  He put into the mouth of Christ himself a highly figurative description of the more than tropical fertility of that period, which is preserved and approved in Iranaeus, but sounds very apocryphal.”[3]


“And why was the wool [placed] upon the wood? Because by wood Jesus holds His kingdom, so that [through the cross] those believing on Him shall live for ever.  But why was hyssop joined with the wool? Because in His kingdom the days will be evil and polluted in which we shall be saved,[4] [and] because he who suffers in body is cured through the cleansing efficacy of hyssop.  And on this account the things which stand thus are clear to us, but obscure to them because they did not hear the voice of the Lord.”[5]


Here, Barnabas clearly believes that the days of the Kingdom in this world will be days in which there will be evil all around, and that it is the present dispensation, the one in which we are saved.  It is this time in which we suffer and are made purer through testing. 


“Take heed, lest resting at our ease, as those who are the called [of God], we should fall asleep in our sins, and the wicked prince, acquiring power over us, should thrust us away from the kingdom of the Lord.  And all the more attend to this, my brethren, when ye reflect and behold, that after so great signs and wonders were wrought in Israel, they were thus [at length] abandoned.[6]  Let us beware lest we be found [fulfilling that saying], as it is written, “Many are called, but few are chosen.””[7]


Here, Barnabas expresses the conviction that by being careless, the devil can push us away from the Kingdom of God, making the Kingdom of God a reality in the Church.  He further believes, as did St. Paul, that Israel, because of their abominations, were abandoned by God (which they were), which fits in with his strong, earlier emphases that the Kingdom of God has nothing whatever to do with the Jews.  Yet Barnabas alone believed in a Premillennial reign, according to Schaff.  Quite evidently Barnabas did not mean what modern Premillennialism means.


“But why is it that they place the wool in the midst of thorns? It is a type of Jesus set before the view of the Church.  [They place the wool among thorns], that any one who wishes to bear it away may find it necessary to suffer much, because the thorn is formidable, and thus obtain it only as the result of suffering.  Thus also, says He, “Those who wish to behold Me, and lay hold of My kingdom, must through tribulation and suffering obtain Me.””[8]


Here Barnabas, like Augustine, says plainly that the Church is the Kingdom of God, and cites St. Paul in Acts 14, telling the Church that they were in both the Kingdom and the Tribulation.

         What can we learn from this?


  1. Whatever was being taught by that minor constancy of the early church that believed in “Chiliasm,” it was not a Premillennial reign of Christ on the earth (only Barnabas taught that), and it was distinctly non-Jewish.  It did not have the Jews and the chosen people of God on earth, and saw nothing as being fulfillment of Jewish promises of the Old Testament.

  2. One of the proprietors of Chiliasm, Papias of Heiropolis, was given to flights of imagination, and made-up untruths, not only about what was taught by the Apostles, but what Christ himself was supposed to have said in Papias’ hearing (though men of the day considered it to be a plagiarizing and a spin-off of St. John’s writing in Revelation).  This certainly must be regarded as something less than a recommendation.


“Justin Martyr represents the transition from Jewish Christian to the Gentile Christian Chiliasm...  He regarded this expectation of the earthly perfection of Christ’s Kingdom as the key-stone of pure doctrine, but adds that many pure and devout Christians of his day did not share his opinion...  In his two apologies, Justin teaches the usual view of the general resurrection and judgment[9] and makes no mention of the millennium, but does not exclude it.”[10]


What can we take from this?


  1. Justin too carefully excluded any Jewish note from his beliefs, making them very different from Premillennialism today.

  2. Justin acknowledged that the Church was not in agreement on this subject and many  “pure and devout” people did not agree with him.  The general, or the common or ordinary view of the resurrection and judgment was not the Premillennial view.

  3. After an enthusiastic interest, Justin seems to retreat to the orthodox view of end times and leaves off of any mention of what was an earlier passion.


“Tertullian was an enthusiastic Chiliast, and points not only to, but also to the predictions of the Montanist prophets.  But the Montanists substituted Pepuza in Phrygia for Jerusalem, as the centre of Christ’s reign, and ran into fanatical excesses, which brought Chiliasm into discredit, and resulted in its condemnation by several synods in Asia Minor.”[11]


Tertullian’s Premillennialism was corrupted with heretical notions from the prophets of his off-beat religious group, sort of like Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and Seventh-Day Adventists today.  The doctrine which they were teaching, which people choose to use in support of Premillennialism in the early church, was a patchwork of self-serving ideas that had Christ coming over to their part of the territory and making Pepuza His headquarters.  So far out was this strange brand of Chiliasm that it resulted in several church counsels (even in the second and third centuries, when just about any thing got by) to denounce it as heresy.


“Caius of Rome attacked both Chiliasm and Monetarism, and traced the former to the hated heretic Cerinthus.  The Roman churches never to have sympathized with either, and prepared itself for a comfortable settlement and normal developments in this world.  In Alexandria, Origen opposed Chiliasm as a Jewish dream, and spiritualized the symbolical language of the prophets.  His distinguished pupil, Dionysius the Great, checked the chiliastic movement when it was revived by Nepos in Egypt, and wrote and elaborate work against it, which is lost...  Eusebius inclined to the same view.   But the crushing blow came from the great change in the social condition and prospects of the church in the Nicene age.  After Christianity, contrary to all expectation, triumphed in the Roman empire, and was embraced by the Caesars themselves, the millennial reign, instead of being anxiously waited and prayed for, began to be dated either from the first appearance of Christ, or from the conversion of Constantine and the downfall of paganism, and to be regarded as realized in the glory of the dominant imperial state-church.  Augustine, who himself had formerly entertained chiliastic hopes, formed the new theory which reflected the social change, and was generally excepted.  The apocalyptic millennium he understood to be the present reign of Christ in the Church, and he first resurrection, the translation of he martyrs and saints to heaven.  Where they participate in Christ’s reign...  From the time of Constantine and Augustine Chiliasm took its place among the heresies, and was rejected subsequently even by the Protestant reformers and a Jewish dream...  In a free spiritual sense, however, millenarianism will always survive as the hope of a golden age of the church on earth, and of a great Sabbath of history after its many centuries of labor and strife.  The church militant ever longs after the church triumphant, and looks for a new heavens and a new earth, where dwelleth righteousness.  ‘There remaineth a Sabbath rest for the people of God.’”[12]


Here we see some very significant things about Philip Schaff and the early Church:

  1. Chiliasm had already been roundly rejected by Origen and Dionysius at Alexandria.  Now it was attacked as heresy by the western church as well. 

  2. Repeating St. Paul’s condemnation of Premillennialism (Titus 1:14), Origen calls it a Jewish dream.

  3. Dinoysius was a firm and effective voice against Chiliasm and lead to its final theological defeat by his large written work.

  4. Schaff reveals his own Premillennial leanings by attributing its downfall not to unsound theology, but to the change in social and political climate.

  5. Schaff further shows his bias toward Chiliasm by calling Augustine’s position that the Church was he Kingdom of God on earth “the new theory” though it is evident as we shall see that this was the teaching and belief of St. Paul, St.  Peter, St.  James, St.  John and the writer of Hebrews.

  6. From Augustine on until the 19th century, Premillennialism was denounced as heresy by the church, being labeled for what it was and is, a creation of the Jewish mind that refused then, as indeed it does today to realize that the only chance the Jews ever had to bring the Kingdom of God to this earth in national from was forever gone with the rejection of the Messiah, and when the Kingdom was taken away from them.

  7. The millenarianism of the early Church was of confused, and Schaff is so confused in trying to describe it, that he confuses it with the blessed hope and the legitimate biblical Second Coming of Christ: 


“In a free spiritual sense, however, millenarianism will always survive as the hope of a golden age of the church on earth, and of a great Sabbath of history after its many centuries of labor and strife.  The church militant ever longs after the church triumphant, and looks for a new heavens and a new earth,[13] where dwelleth righteousness.  ‘There remaineth a Sabbath rest for the people of God.’”[14]


Pay no attention to the fact that Schaff has confused the teaching in the book of Hebrews about Sanctification with the Second Coming.  The Second Coming, the end of this world, and the creation of the new would never be argued as Chiliasm by any but the most ignorant or desperate.  What Schaff is trying to say by this vague statement is by no means clear, but it is certainly wrong when put in the context of millenarianism.

Clement of Rome believed that the Church was the Kingdom of God:


“The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God.  Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ.  Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God.  Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand.[15]  And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labors], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe.  Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons.  For thus saith the Scripture a certain place, “I will appoint their bishops s in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.”[16]


“As long then as the former time endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts.  This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the Kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able.[17][18]


“We wish you, brethren, all happiness, while you walk according to the doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; with whom be glory to God the Father and the Holy Spirit, for the salvation of His holy elect, after whose example the blessed Polycarp suffered, following in whose steins may we too be found in the kingdom of Jesus Christ![19][20]


“It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian], than to talk and not to be one.  “The Kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” Men “believe with the heart, and confess with the mouth,” the one “unto righteousness,” the other “unto salvation.” It is good to teach, if he who speaks also acts.  For he who shall both “do and teach, the same shall be great in the kingdom.” Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, first did and then taught, as Luke testifies, “whose praise is in the Gospel through all the Churches.” There is nothing which is hid from the Lord, but our very secrets are near to Him.  Let us therefore do all things as those who have Him dwelling in us, that we may be His temples, and He may be in us as God.  Let Christ speak in us, even as He did in Paul.  Let the Holy Spirit teach us to speak the things of Christ in like manner as He did.”[21]


Jerome sees the Kingdom as the Church and the Kingdom of God within every believer:


“In speaking thus we do not mean to deny that the Kingdom of God is within or to say that there are no holy men elsewhere; we merely assert in the strongest manner that those who stand first throughout the world are here gathered side by side.”[22]


“What is praiseworthy is not to have been at Jerusalem but to have lived a good life while there.  The city which we are to praise and to seek is not that which has slain the prophets and shed the blood of Christ, but that which is made glad by the streams of the river, which is set upon a mountain and so cannot be hid, which the apostle declares to be a mother of the saints, and in which he rejoices to have his citizenship with the righteous.

“In speaking thus I am not laying myself open to a charge of inconsistency or condemning the course which I have myself taken.  It is not, I believe, for nothing that I, like Abraham, have left my home and people.  But I do not presume to limit God’s omnipotence or to restrict to a narrow strip of earth Him whom the heaven cannot contain.  Each believer is judged not by his residence in this place or in that but according to the deserts of his faith.  The true worshippers worship the Father neither at Jerusalem nor on mount Gerizim; for “God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” “Now the spirit bloweth where it listeth,” and “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” When the fleece of Judaea was made dry although the whole world was wet with the dew of heaven, and when many car.  from the East and from the West and sat in Abraham’s bosom: then God ceased to be known in Judah only and His name to be great in Israel alone; the sound of the apostles went out into all the earth and their words into the ends of the world.  The Savior Himself speaking to His disciples in the temple said: “arise, let us go hence,” and to the Jews: “your house is left unto you desolate.” If heaven and earth must pass away, obviously all things that are earthly must pass away also.  Therefore the spots which witnessed the crucifixion and the resurrection profit those only who bear their several crosses, who day by day rise again with Christ, and who thus shew themselves worthy of an abode so holy.  Those who say “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord,” should give ear to the words.  of the apostle: “ye are the temple of the Lord,” and the Holy Ghost “dwelleth in you.” Access to the courts of heaven is as easy from Britain as it is from Jerusalem; for “the Kingdom of God is within you.”[23]


St. Athanasius sees the era of the Church as the Kingdom of God on earth:


“Now it is not too much to say that no one age of the Church’s existence has done full justice to the profundity and many-sidedness of the Christian idea of Redemption as effected in Christ and as unfolded by S.  Paul.  The Kingdom of God and His Righteousness; the forgiveness of sins and the adoption of sons as a present gift; the consummation of all at the great judgment;—Christian men of different ages, countries, characters and mental antecedents, while united in personal devotion to the Savior and in the sanctifying Power of His Grace, have interpreted these central ideas of the Gospel in terms of their own respective categories, and have succeeded in bringing out now one, now another aspect of the mystery of Redemption rather than in preserving the balance of the whole.  Who will claim that the last word has yet been said on St. Paul’s deep conception of God’s (not mercy but) Righteousness as the new and peculiar element (Romans 1:17, 3:22, 26) of the Gospel Revelation? to search out the unsearchable riches of Christ is the prerogative of Christian faith, but is denied, save to the most limited extent, to Christian knowledge (1 Corinthians.  13:9).  The one-sidedness of any given age in apprehending the work of Christ is to be recognized by us not in a censorious spirit of self-complacency, but with reverent sympathy, and with the necessity in view of correcting our own:”[24]


“The tenets we have been speaking of have been proved to be nothing more than a false guide for life; but the way of truth will aim at reaching the real and true God.  But for its knowledge and accurate comprehension, there is need of none other save of ourselves.  Neither as God Himself is above all, is the road to Him afar off or outside ourselves, but it is in us and it is possible to find it from ourselves, in the first instance, as Moses also taught, when he said : “The word” of faith “is within thy heart.” Which very thing the Savior declared and confirmed, when He said: “The Kingdom of God is within you.”  2. For having in ourselves faith, and the Kingdom of God, we shall be able quickly to see and perceive the King of the Universe, the saving Word of the Father.  And let not the Greeks, who worship idols, make excuses, nor let any one else simply deceive himself, professing to have no such road and therefore finding a pretext for his Godlessness.”[25]


Ambrose also sees the Kingdom of God as a Kingdom of the Heart and, within every Christian and present in the Church:


“The river flowing from the Throne of God is a figure of the Holy Spirit, but by the waters spoken of by David the powers of heaven are intended.  The Kingdom of God is the work of the Spirit; and it is no matter for wonder if He reigns in this together with the Son, since St. Paul promises that we too shall reign with the Son.

“153.  AND this, again, is not a trivial matter that we read that a river goes forth from the throne of God.  For you read the words of the Evangelist John to this purport: “And He showed me a river of living water, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.  In the midst of the street thereof, and on either side, was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of all nations.”

“154.  This is certainly the River proceeding from the throne of God, that is, the Holy Spirit, Whom he drinks who believes in Christ, as He Himself says: “If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink.  He that believeth on Me, as saith the Scripture, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.  But this spoke He of the Spirit.” Therefore the river is the Spirit.

“155.  This, then, is in the throne of God, for the water washes not the throne of God.  Then, whatever you may understand by that water, David said not that it was above the throne of God, but above the heavens, for it is written: “Let the waters which are above the heavens praise the Name of the Lord.” Let them praise, he says, not let it praise.  For if he had intended us to understand the element of water, he would certainly have said, Let it praise, but by using the plural he intended the Powers to be understood.

“156.  And what wonder is it if the Holy Spirit is in the throne of God, since the Kingdom of God itself is the work of the Holy Spirit, as it is written: “For the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” And when the Savior Himself says, “Every kingdom divided against itself shall be destroyed,” by adding afterwards, “But if I, by the Spirit of God, cast out devils, without doubt the Kingdom of God is come upon you.” He shows that the Kingdom of God is held undivided by Himself and by the Spirit.

“157.  But what is more foolish than for any one to deny that the Holy Spirit reigns together with Christ when the Apostle says that even we shall reign together with Christ in the kingdom of Christ: “If we are dead with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we endure, we shall also reign with Him.” But we by adoption, He by power; we by grace, He by nature.

“158.  The Holy Spirit, therefore, shares in the kingdom with the Father and the Son, and He is of one nature with Them, of one Lordship, and also of one power.”[26]


John Chrysostom believed that Genesis 12:3 and 7 were written of Christ and the Church:


“Ver.  14.  “That upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham.”

“How on the Gentiles? It is said, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed:” (Genesis 22:18; 26:4.) that is to say, in Christ.  If this were said of the Jews, how would it be reasonable that they who were themselves subject to the curse, on account of transgression, should become the authors of a blessing to others? an accursed person cannot impart to others that blessing of which he is himself deprived.  Plainly then it all refers to Christ who was the Seed of Abraham, and through whom the Gentiles are blessed.  And thus the promise of the Spirit is added, as Paul himself declares, “that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” As the grace of the Spirit could not possibly descend on the graceless and offending, they are first blessed the curse having been removed; then being justified by faith, they draw unto themselves the grace of the Spirit.  Thus the Cross removed the curse, Faith brought in righteousness, righteousness drew on the grace of the Spirit.

“Ver. 15.  “Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet when it hath been confirmed, no one maketh it void or addeth thereto.”

““To speak after the manner of men” means to use human examples.  Having founded his argument on the Scriptures, on the miracles wrought among themselves, on the sufferings of Christ, and on the Patriarch, he proceeds to common usage; and this he does invariably, in order to sweeten his discourse, and render it more acceptable and intelligible to the duller sort.  Thus he argues with the Corinthians, “Who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not the fruit thereof?” (1 Corinthians 9:7.) and again with the Hebrews, “For a testament is of force where there hath been death; for doth it ever avail while he that made it liveth?” (Hebrews 9:17.) One may find him dwelling with pleasure on such arguments.  In the Old Testament God does the same thing in many instances, as, “Can a woman forget her sucking child?” (Isaiah 49:15.) and again, “Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou?” (Isaiah 45:9.) and in Hosea, He represents a husband set at nought by his wife.  (Hosea 2:5, f.) This use of human examples frequently occurs in types also, as when the prophet takes the girdle, (Jeremiah 13:1-9.) and goes down to the potter’s house (Jeremiah 18:1-6.) The meaning of the present example is, that Faith is more ancient than the Law, which is later and only temporary, and delivered in order to pave the way for Faith.  Hence he says, “Brethren, I speak after the manner of men;” above he had called them “foolish,” now he calls them “brethren,” at once chiding and encouraging them.  “Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet when it hath been confirmed.” If a man, says he, makes a covenant, does any one dare to come afterwards and overturn it, or subjoin aught to it? for this is the meaning of “or addeth thereto.” Much less then when God makes a covenant; and with whom did God make a covenant?

“Ver. 16, 17, 18.  “Now to Abraham were the promises spoken and to his seed.  He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of One, And to thy seed, which is Christ.  Now this I say, A covenant, confirmed before hand by God the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years after, doth not disannul, so as to make the promise of none effect.  For if the inheritance is of the Law, it is no more of promise: but God hath granted it to Abraham by promise.”

“Thus God made a covenant with Abraham, promising that in his seed the blessing should come upon the heathen; and this blessing the Law cannot turn aside.  As this example was not in all respects appropriate to the matter in hand, he introduces it thus, “I speak after the manner of men,” that nothing might be deduced from it derogatory to the majesty of God.  But let us go to the bottom of this illustration.  It was promised Abraham that by his seed the heathen should be blessed; and his seed according to the flesh is Christ; four hundred and thirty years after came the Law; now, if the Law bestows the blessings even life and righteousness, that promise is annulled.  And so while no one annuls a man’s covenant, the covenant of God after four hundred and thirty years is annulled; for if not that covenant but another instead of it bestows what is promised, then is it set aside, which is most unreasonable.”[27]


It is simply baffling to me why any Premillennialist would call Philip Schaff as his witness.  Yet, consider the assertion made at the beginning of this chapter by one Old Testament arbiter:


         “…virtually all church historians [recognize the early church as having been] Premillennial (chiliastic) in its eschatology… This is verified by even liberal historians who have no Premillennial sympathies whatsoever, like Philip Schaff...”


Apparently, he was desperate to endow his views with theological and historic sophistication, and assumed that people like me never read church history.  This falls under the category of “suspicions confirmed.”

Nor is Schaff the only historian of honorable acclaim who acknowledges that the early Church was by no means Premillennial, and that the best theologians throughout the preponderance of Church history have not been either.

Adam Clarke (1760-1882) believed that the Church is both the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven:


“His Kingdom and glory] His Church here, for that is the Kingdom of God among men; and his glory hereafter, for that is the state to which the dispensations of grace in his Church lead.  The words, however, may...  signify his glorious kingdom.”[28]


“Verse 28.  We receiving a kingdom — The Gospel dispensation, frequently termed the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven, because in it God reigns among men, and he reigns in the hearts of them that believe, and his kingdom is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”[29]


Clarke believes that the Kingdom and the inheritance was wholly taken away from the Jews, never to return.


“…Christ and his apostles; the privileges of their election were still continued to them, even after they had crucified the Lord of glory; for, when he gave commandment to his disciples to go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature, he bade them begin at Jerusalem.  They did so, and continued to offer salvation to them, till at last, being everywhere persecuted, and the whole nation appearing with one consent to reject the Gospel, the Kingdom of God was wholly taken away from them, and the apostles turned to the Gentiles.  Then God appointed them to wrath; and the cause of that appointment was their final and determined rejection of Christ and his Gospel.  But even this appointment to wrath does not signify eternal damnation; nothing of the kind is intended in the word.  Though we are sure that those who die in their sins can never see God, yet it is possible that many of those wretched Jews, during their calamities, and especially during the siege of their city, did turn unto the Lord who smote them, and found that salvation which he never denies to the sincere penitent.

“When the Jews were rejected, and appointed to wrath, then the Gentiles were elected, and appointed to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, whose Gospel they gladly received, and continue to prize; while the remnant of the Jews continue, in all places of their dispersion, the same irreconcilable and blasphemous opponents of the Gospel of Christ.  On these accounts the election of the Gentiles and the reprobation of the Jews still continue.”[30]


“Yet that was the true meaning of the coming of the Son of man in the clouds of heaven.  For, while the Jewish nation continued in Judea, and observed the institutions of Moses, they violently opposed the preaching of the Gospel, by which the Messiah was to reign over all people, nations, and languages.  Wherefore, that the everlasting kingdom might be established effectually, it was necessary that Jerusalem and the Jewish state should be destroyed by the Roman armies.  Now, since our Lord  foretold this sad catastrophe in the words of the prophet Daniel, Matthew 24:30, ‘And they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory;’ and after describing every particular of it with the greatest exactness, seeing he told his disciples, Matthew 24:34, ‘This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled;’ can there be any doubt that the apostles, (who, when they wrote their epistles, certainly understood the true import of this prophecy,) by their Master’s coming and by the end of all things, which they represent as at hand, mean his coming to destroy Jerusalem, and to put an end to the institutions of Moses?[31] It is no objection to this, that, when the apostles heard Christ declare, ‘There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down,’ they connected the end of the world or age with that event; Matthew 24:3: ‘Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age?’ For as the Jewish doctors divided the duration of the world into three ages; the age before the law, the age under the law, and the age under the Messiah; the apostle knew that the age under the law was to end when the age under the Messiah began; and therefore by the end of the age they meant, even at that time, not the end of the world, but the end of the age under the law, in which the Jews had been greatly oppressed by the heathens.  And although they did not then understand the purpose for which their Master was to come, nor the true nature of his kingdom; nor suspect that he was to make any chance in the institutions of Moses; yet when they wrote their epistles, being illuminated by the Holy Ghost, they certainly knew that the institutions of Moses were to be abolished; and that their Master’s kingdom was not a temporal but a spiritual dominion, in which all people, nations, and languages were to be governed, not by external force, but by the operation of truth upon their minds through the preaching of the Gospel.”[32]


The renowned commentator Dr. Joseph Agar Beet (dates unknown, but earlier than Clarke) states plainly that the Jews have no more inheritance, having forfeited it by the rejection of Christ, and that Abraham’s children according to the promise are the Church — not natural Israel.


“THE ARGUMENT of 18, we will now endeavor to understand as a whole, and to estimate.

“Paul recognised (Romans 4:11f) in believers a spiritual offspring of Abraham, in whom, and in them only, will be fulfilled the promises to Abraham and to his seed.  Consequently, Abraham has a double offspring, the Jewish nation and the Christian Church, each looking up to him as father, and claiming inheritance through him.  The Jewish nation based its claim on ordinary bodily descent: the Christian Church owes its existence to supernatural power working out in those who believe it, a fulfillment of the Gospel promise.  And Paul has proved (e.g.  Galatians 3:10) that they whose claim rests on bodily descent are outside the blessings promised to Abraham; which are therefore reserved for those who are sons by supernatural birth.  All this recalls, and corresponds with, the historical facts of Abraham’s family.  For he had two sons, one born according to the ordinary laws of human generation, the other by the extraordinary power of God in one who had believed a promise: and the older was expelled from the home in order that the inheritance might belong only to the younger.  Consequently, the Jewish nation and the Christian Church correspond, in these particulars, to Ishmael and Isaac.

“Nay more.  The Jewish nation owes its spiritual life to the Covenant received from Sinai, a covenant which from its nature can produce only bondmen.  For, as Paul has proved, a spiritual life derived from law is helpless bondage.  Consequently, Mount Sinai may be called the mother of Judaism, a mother whose children are slaves: and Paul remembers that she raises her rugged head amid the scattered and disinherited sons of Hagar.

“Again, for many long centuries the Jewish nation had been looking up to Jerusalem as its mother-city.  And this ancient city gives form, not merely to the visions of the old prophets, but to the hopes of the Christian Church.  Even to this day we sing of “Jerusalem the golden:” and its foreseen glory and rest have been to Christians in all ages a refuge from fiercest storms.  But the city we look for is above.  And though actually a place of the future, it is nevertheless the birthplace of our present spiritual life, our home, and our mother.  That City and her children, wherever they be, are essentially and for ever free.  The wonderful and unexpected increase of her children in Paul’s day was the beginning of the fulfillment, of the only worthy fulfillment, of the glorious visions of Isaiah.  The Jerusalem above is, therefore, the city he beheld.

“This close parallel, like the similar argument in Romans 9:7-9, overthrows completely the claims of the Jewish disturbers in Galatia.  For their relation to Abraham is simply that of Hagar’s descendants.  And this reply is made the more crushing by the geographical position of the mountain whence they received the Law in which they trust.  The worthlessness of such claims is revealed by the expulsion from Abraham’s home, at the bidding of the mother of the true seed, of Hagar and her son.  So far then this historical comparison serves well a legitimate purpose.”[33]


John Wesley believed in the present Kingdom of God in the Church and the believer.


“Tues. 28. — My mouth was opened, and my heart enlarged, strongly to declare to above two thousand people at Bradford, that “the Kingdom of God” within us “is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” At Bath I once more offered Christ to justify the ungodly.  In the evening I met my brother, just come from London.  “The Lord hath” indeed “done great things for us” already.  “Not unto us, but unto thy name be the praise.””[34]


“Sun. 23. — I declared to about ten thousand, in Moorfield’s, with great enlargement of spirit, “The Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” At Kennington I enforced to about twenty thousand, that great truth, “One thing is needful.” Thence I went to Lambeth, and showed (to the amazement, it seemed, of many who were present) how “he that is born of God doth not commit sin.””[35]


“At four I preached at the Shire-Hall of Cardiff again, where many gentry, I found, were present.  Such freedom of speech I have seldom had, as was given me in explaining those words, “The Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” At six almost the whole town (I was informed) came together, to whom I explained the six last Beatitudes; but my heart was so enlarged, I knew not how to give over, so that we continued three hours.  O may the seed they have received, have its fruit unto holiness, and in the end everlasting life!”[36]


“Sat. 24. — We accepted an invitation to Exeter, from one who came thence to comfort my sister in her affliction.  And on Sunday, 25, (Mr.  D.  having desired the pulpit, which was readily granted both for the morning and afternoon,) I preached at St.  Mary’s, on, “The Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Dr.  W—— told me after sermon, “Sir, you must not preach in the afternoon.” “Not,” said he, “that you preach any false doctrine.  I allow, all that you have said is true.  And it is the doctrine of the Church of England.  But it is not guarded.  It is dangerous.  It may lead people into enthusiasm or despair.””[37]


“Now, in explaining those words of the Apostle, “The Kingdom of God” (or true religion, the consequence of God’s dwelling and reigning in the soul) “is not meat and drink,” I was necessarily led to show, that religion does not properly consist in any or all of these three things; but that a man might both be harmless, use the means of grace, and do much good, and yet have no true religion at all.  And sure it is, had God then impressed this great truth on any who before was ignorant of it, that impression would have occasioned such heaviness in his soul as the world always terms despair.

“Again, in explaining those words, “The Kingdom of God” (or true religion) “is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost,” I insisted, that every follower of Christ ought to expect and pray for that “peace of God which passeth all understanding,” that “rejoicing in hope of the glory of God,” which is even now “unspeakable and full of glory;” and above all, (as being the very life and soul of religion, without which it is all dead show,) “the love of God, shed abroad in” his “heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him.” But all this is “enthusiasm from end to end,” to those who have the form of Godliness, but not the power.

“I know indeed there is a way of explaining these texts, so that they shall mean just nothing; so that they shall express far less of inward religion that the writings of Plato or Hierocles.  And whoever “guards” them thus (but God forbid I should do it) will undoubtedly avoid all danger of either driving people into this despair, or leading them into this enthusiasm.”[38]


There are thirteen volumes of the complete works of John Wesley.  What I have given you covers about one third of the first one.

Thomas A. Kempis, in his classic The Imitation of Christ, sees the Kingdom as one of the heart, and the soul:


““THE Kingdom of God is within you,” says the Lord. Turn, then, to God with all your heart.  Forsake this wretched world and your soul shall find rest.  Learn to despise external things, to devote yourself to those that are within, and you will see the Kingdom of God come unto you, that kingdom which is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, gifts not given to the impious.

“Christ will come to you offering His consolation, if you prepare a fit dwelling for Him in your heart, whose beauty and glory, wherein He takes delight, are all from within.  His visits with the inward man are frequent, His communion sweet and full of consolation, His peace great, and His intimacy wonderful indeed.

“Therefore, faithful soul, prepare your heart for this Bridegroom that He may come and dwell within you; He Himself says: “If any one love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make Our abode with him.”

“Give place, then, to Christ, but deny entrance to all others, for when you have Christ you are rich and He is sufficient for you.  He will provide for you.  He will supply your every want, so that you need not trust in frail, changeable men.  Christ remains forever, standing firmly with us to the end.

“Do not place much confidence in weak and mortal man, helpful and friendly though he be; and do not grieve too much if he sometimes opposes and contradicts you.  Those who are with us today may be against us tomorrow, and vice versa, for men change with the wind.  Place all your trust in God; let Him be your fear and your love.  He will answer for you; He will do what is best for you.

“You have here no lasting home.  You are a stranger and a pilgrim wherever you may be, and you shall have no rest until you are wholly united with Christ.

“Why do you look about here when this is not the place of your repose? Dwell rather upon heaven and give but a passing glance to all earthly things.  They all pass away, and you together with them.”[39]


Modern commentators and historians also acknowledge that Premillennialism was not the dominant eschatology of the early church, it was not the doctrine of the medieval times, it was not the orthodox view of the middle ages, it was not the view of the reformation, and it is not the dominant view in the Christian world today, though it is much more popular in America than other lands.

Walter Elwell, in Medieval and Reformation Millennialism, says this:


“In the new age brought in by the acceptance of Christianity as the main religions of the Roman empire, it was Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, who articulated the Amillennial view which dominated Western Christian thought during the middle Ages.  The millennium, according to his interpretation, referred to the Church in which Christ reigned with his saints.  The statements in the book of Revelation were interpreted allegorically by Augustine.  No victory was imminent in the struggle with evil in the world.  On the really important level, the spiritual, the battle had already been won and God had triumphed through the cross.  Satan was reduced to lordship over the City of the World, which coexisted with the City of God.  Eventually even the small domain left to the devil would be taken from him by a triumphant God.

“Augustine’s allegorical interpretation became the official doctrine of the Church during the medieval period.  However, in defiance of the main teaching of the Church the earlier apocalyptic Premillennialism continued to be held by certain counterculture groups.  These millenarians under charismatic leaders were often associated with radical revolts...

“Perhaps the Minster episode led the Protestant Reformers to reaffirm Augustinian Amillennialism.  Each of the three main Protestant traditions of the sixteenth century — Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican...  both Luther and Calvin were very suspicious of millennial speculation.  Calvin declared those who engaged in calculations based on the apocalyptic portions of Scripture were “ignorant” and “malicious.”

“As popularity in Premillennialism and, postmillennialism rose to prominence...  Among the many theologians and preachers who were convinced by the arguments of Whestly was Jonathan Edwards... 

“Perhaps the leading early dispensational expositor among the Brethren was John Nelson Darby...  It was through Scofield[40] that dispensationalism became the norm for much of American Evangelicalism.””[41]


In spite of Elwell’s inability to distinguish between Amillennialism and the theology Augustine, he shows quite convincingly that Premillennialism was not the view of the Ante-Nicene, the medieval or the 16th century church.

I could continue on with a paper many times this large with quotations from the Nicene, Ante-Nicene, Post-Nicene, Medieval, Renaissance, Reformation and 17th to 19th century theologians to show that the statement that “virtually all church historians [recognize the early church as having been] Premillennial (chiliastic) in its eschatology,” is far out of harmony with the record.  But it seems to me that the point is made well enough for the moment.

“The End,” and Other Tidings of Great Joy


My answer to questions often posed to me on this subject are these:


  1. Jesus and the Apostles did not teach or look for a millennial reign of Christ after the Second Coming, or a future regenerating of National Israel.  All of them taught rather clearly (it seems to me) that the Second Coming is the end of the world.

  2. The early church did not have a consensus doctrine of Premillennialism.

  3. Philip Schaff does not state that this was the doctrine of the early church.

  4. Even so, Schaff is hardly the impartial observer you make him out to be, at least as I understand his comments.

  5. The doctrine of the Church through the centuries has not only not been Premillennial, but almost entirely free of that doctrine.

  6. All of the historians in my book case (Schaff, Eerdmans, J.D. Douglas, Walter Elwell, Bruce Milne, and Bruce Shelley) do not believe or write that Premillennialism was the eschatology of the early church.

  7. If the “scholars” often cited are actually real people and not straw men, they must be fools, which does not really surprise me about scholars in many instances.



[1]   Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol.  II, (WM.  B.  Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1910, repr.  1987), p.  614.

[2] Emphasis added.

[3] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. II, (WM.  B.  Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1910, repr. 1987), pp. 615-6.

[4] Emphasis added.

[5] Barnabas, The Epistle of Barnabas, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by A.  Roberts and J.  Donaldson, (The SAGE Digital Library Collections, SAGE Software Albany, OR, Version 1.0, 1996), p. 271.

[6] Emphasis added.

[7] Barnabas, The Epistle of Barnabas, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by A.  Roberts and J.  Donaldson, (The SAGE Digital Library Collections, SAGE Software Albany, OR, Version 1.0, 1996), p. 265.

[8] Barnabas, The Epistle of Barnabas, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by A.  Roberts and J.  Donaldson, (The SAGE Digital Library Collections, SAGE Software Albany, OR, Version 1.0, 1996), p. 270.

[9] Emphasis added.

[10] Schaff, Vol. II, pp. 616-7.

[11] Schaff, Vol. II, p.  618.

[12] Schaff, Vol. II, pp. 618-620.

[13] Emphasis added.

[14] Schaff, Vol. II

[15] Emphasis added.

[16] Clement of Rome, The Epistle of Clement, Philip Schaff, D.  D., LL.  D.,  The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by A.  Roberts and J.  Donaldson, (The SAGE Digital Library Collections, SAGE Software Albany, OR, Version 1.0, 1996), p.  43. 

[17] Emphasis added.

[18] Clement of Rome, The Epistle of Clement, Philip Schaff, D.  D., LL.  D.,  The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by A.  Roberts and J.  Donaldson, (The SAGE Digital Library Collections, SAGE Software Albany, OR, Version 1.0, 1996), p. 65

[19] Emphasis added.

[20]   Ibid, p.  96.

[21] Clement of Rome, The Epistle of Clement, Philip Schaff, D.  D., LL.  D.,  The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by A.  Roberts and J.  Donaldson, (The SAGE Digital Library Collections, SAGE Software Albany, OR, Version 1.0, 1996), p. 118.

[22] Jerome, A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church: St. Jerome: Letters and select works. (1912) Edited by Henry Wace, Philip Schaff, Christian Literature Company, p. 64

[23] Jerome, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series, Volume VI Jerome, Cosimo Classics, 2007, Edited by Philip Schaff, pp 119-20.

[24] Athanasius, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series Volume IV Anthanasius, Cosimo Classics, 2007, Edited by Philip Schaff, p. Ixix.

[25] Athanasius, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series Volume IV Anthanasius, Cosimo Classics, 2007, Edited by Philip Schaff, p. 20.

[26] Ambrose, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series Volume X Ambrose, Cosimo Classics, 2007, Edited by Philip Schaff, pp 156-57

[27] Chrysostom, John, A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church: Part II. Gregory the Great. Ephraim Syrus. Aphrahat. Christian Literature Company, 1914, edited by Henry Wace, Philip Schaff, pp 26-27.

[28] Clarke, Adam; The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments: Job to Solomon's Song, T. Mason & G. Lane, 1837, p. 544

[29] Ibid, p. 783.

[30] Clarke, Adam; The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments: Job to Solomon's Song, T. Mason & G. Lane, 1837, p. 553.

[31] Emphasis added.

[32] Clarke, Adam; The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments: Job to Solomon's Song, T. Mason & G. Lane, 1837, p 560.

[33] Beet, Joseph Agar, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, Hodder and Stoughton, 1903, pp 138-40.

[34] Wesley, John, The Works of John Wesley, Volume I, Zondervan, 1872, p.  221

[35] Wesley, John, The Works of John Wesley, Volume I, Zondervan, 1872, p.  226

[36] Ibid, pp. 233-34.

[37] Wesley, John, The Works of John Wesley, Volume I, Zondervan, 1872, p.  250

[38] Wesley, John, The Works of John Wesley, Volume I, Zondervan, 1872, p.  250-51.

[39] Kempis, Thomas A, The Imitation of Christ, p. 35-36.

[40] This is the same Scofield who abandoned his wife and daughters and later married again, not telling his second wife that the was already married and that he was a bigamist, who falsely claimed to have been a heroic soldier of the South, wounded in battle, when in fact he was kicked out of the army after a very short time and never saw battle, who abandoned his post at his church in Dallas for long periods of time to go up and move in on Moody, convincing Moody that the was overworked and that he needed help to put out the Scofield  Bible with notes plagiarized from Darby, while never giving Darby a footnote  but that is another story.

[41] Elwell, Walter A, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker Publishing Group, 2001, pp. 771-72.

God’s Point of View ©2023

bottom of page