3.3.3. The Millennium
Millenarism, millennialism, millenarianism (Latin: mille anno – “a thousand years”) or chiliasm (Romanized Greek: chilia etē – “a thousand years”) is the belief that between the Second Coming and Final Judgment there will be a golden age of 1,000 years (the Millennium) within which Christ will reign over all the earth. The existence of a future Millennium is repeatedly expressed in Revelation 20: “and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished” (Revelation 20:4-5).31 Given the fact that the Millennium will be established through the Second Coming of Christ, it was inevitably identified with the end of the world and became the subject of apocalyptic speculations.
Millenarism is not an exclusively Christian concept. It refers to any social, political or religious belief that promotes a fundamental and almost instantaneous transformation of society for the better, without a necessary limitation in time. In this case, the Christian Millennium is the opposite of the periods of evil and suffering; inside this temporal frame the sinners and the saints will be clearly delimited, with punishment for the first ones and rewards for the latter. Millenarist views are divided into three large categories: premillenarism, postmillenarism and amillenarism.
Premillenarism says that the return of Christ will be preceded by certain signs such as preaching the gospel to all nations, the apostasy, wars, famine and the advent of the Antichrist. Likewise, the Second Coming precedes the Millennium, Parousia and Final Judgment being two distinct events, separated by the length of the 1,000 years. The return of the Lord will be followed by a period of peace and prosperity just before the end of the world, a period in which Christ will reign physically, directly and personally. The Kingdom of God arises ex abrupto, through a revolutionary process that interrupts the chain of natural and historical causalities. The transformation is the exclusive outcome of divine intervention, human actions having no influence over it. The new era will bring the conversion of Jews to Christianity and harmony in nature to such a degree that the desert will flourish as a rose and wild beasts will be tamed. Evil will be quenched through the power and goodness of Christ and believers will be revived in glorified bodies. But, according to the Bible, despite these ideal conditions, some people will not be satisfied and will launch one final rebellion against God and his adepts. The final manifestation of evil will be suppressed by Christ and then Final Judgment will begin.
Postmillenarism depicts the Second Coming as posterior to the Millennium, followed immediately by Judgment Day. The reign of Christ (during the Millennium) will be spiritual through the Church. Thus, the Kingdom of God will be established as the world converts to Christianity and an environment of general peace and prosperity emerges. The Kingdom of God is progressively established, through practical human means such as religious awakenings or social reforms. People have the possibility to work on their own destiny and on the course of mankind. This conception assumes a linear evolution and a historical continuity between what was before and what will be after the Second Coming. The personal and physical coming of Christ is not denied, but it is conditioned by the consummation of certain earthly events. In other words, the Second Coming will happen only when mankind progresses spiritually and materially through its own powers to a utopian level of existence. The Millennium is established, therefore, after (post-) this collective human effort, so that the transition from the old order to the new one will take place almost insensibly. The Millennial Age will not be essentially different from the current one and it will take shape as more and more people adopt and apply the Christian precepts. Evil will not be eliminated, but its influence will be significantly diminished. All mankind’s problems will be solved through a healthy attitude of the individuals toward society, nature and God. The Millennium will end with Parousia, Armageddon, the resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgment.
Throughout history hundreds of groups have tried to implement their vision of the millenary life inside their communities. Premillenarism involves a risk of sectarian tendency. When the members of a group believe that they are divine instruments, they isolate themselves from the decayed society and interpret in a paranoid manner any outside opposition. The negative attitude toward the decayed society can take extreme defensive forms, such as collective suicide, or offensive, such as the purification of the world through bloody purges. Instead, the postmillenarist sects adopt a positive attitude toward society, offering a model of living expressed through a strictly followed set of rules, charitable activities or non-aggressive proselytism. Nevertheless, postmillenarist groups tend to grant to visionary leaders the status of prophet, at the risk of a dictatorship. In this context the role of the prophet signifies rather the ability to articulate certain biblical interpretations, and not necessarily divine revelations.
Finally, amillenarism denies the existence of a future Millennium, being considered only a metaphor of the Church evolution. Other amillenarist perspectives condemn the idea of a Millennium as being an imitation of the Jewish Messianic Age. The reign of Christ manifests itself through the Church, but evil and good will coexist until Parousia, when the dead will be revived and Final Judgment will begin.
Each view had its moment of apogee. In the early centuries and in the Middle Ages amillenarism was prevalent in the Greek East because the church was under the protection of the Byzantine Empire. Instead, the Latin West was dominated by premillenarism. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire the establishment of the Millennium became a hopeful image to those disappointed by ecclesiastical corruption and the collapse of society. And postmillenarism gained strength in 17th-century America, when the colonists felt that they could forge their destiny through their own forces, free from the European crowns.
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