Early Christians’ Order of the Last Things

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One of the very first things my wife Lea learned about me was my terrible habit of easily forgetting where I last place my wallet, keys and mobile phone. Helping me end this habit, she often would, with great love and patience, ask me to rework as much as possible my that-day  routine, every time I lost these items. She taught me to take a backward walk into my day’s past to look for what I had lost. Reading Church history is traveling back in Christians’ family story to learn, relearn or discover some of the lost Christians wisdom.

This series of article covers what the early Christians believe about the future time where Christ Jesus returns. Since early Christians strongly and passionately fond great consolation beholding this hope of future glory in a period where they were persecuted by the Jews and pagans, it is worthy to know what they believed about the unfolding of end-times.  It is a fact that this hope brought them unimaginable consolation through those hard times. As Apostle Paul, they considered their suffering not worth compared to the future glory that the whole creation is eagerly longing for (Rom. 8:22). How the future glory’s events would be unfolded is what this series attempted to investigate, mainly in the writings of Pseudo-Barnabas, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Papias, Hermas, and Tertullian.

Into The Past: The Past’s Views of the Present’s Future Hope

Expositing Genesis 1-2 days of creations as an allusion to God’s over-all history of salvation, Barnabas perceived the seventh day as the coming millennium of rest, which the church will enter. He understood each day of creation to signifying a thousand years. A millennium. Thus, in six thousand years all things, God’s creation, restoration, and recreation, will be finished.

Before the righteous enter into seventh day, a thousand years of Sabbatical rest, which is a future millennial of visible reignship of Christ Jesus on earth, Christ will return to destroy the reignship of the unrighteous and render justice to those who rejected God. For Barnabas, God will make a beginning of an eighth day. This is a period where God will begin recreating a new world. It would be the “beginning of another world”. (Barn. Epist. 15).

A similar yet enhanced view to that of Barnabas’ is that of Irenaeus. Irenaeus taught that the reignship of Roman Empire and those against Christ’s, the unrighteous, will be dethroned at Christ’s visible second advent. Satan will be bond and Jerusalem rebuilt. The martyrs will be raised and together with righteous living will enter the millennial of sabbatical rest. At the end of this rest, Satan will briefly be unbound just to be victoriously defeated. The unrighteous resurrected to face judgment. When all that has pass, God will create the new heavens and the new earth where He will forever be with His people (Ire. Adv. Haer. V. 24–36.).

A reinforced view to that Barnabas’ and Irenaeus’ came from Justin Martyrs[1] reading of Micah 4:1-5. Justin believed that this passage was speaking about Christ, in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew. Justin explained that the second coming of Christ Jesus is unlike the first advent, which He came to be suffering servant, be dishonored and be crucified. On His second advent, Christ Jesus will come as a heavenly glorious and honored King to pass judgment to the unrighteous (Just. Dial.c. Tryph. 109).

Discerning that not all true catholic Christians, who are of pure and pious faith, held premillennialism, Justin contended that prophesies of Ezekiel and Isaiah and other prophets will be fulfilled at the second coming of Christ Jesus. The righteous would be resurrected and Jerusalem not only be rebuilt but also embellished and expanded (Just. Dial.c. Tryph. 80), in those thousand years of Christ’s and his bride earthly reignship.

A similar view is found in the works of Papias but with one major distinction. Papias held that the resurrection of Jesus was a parousia of the beginning of thousand years reign (Pap. Adv. Haer. 5. 33,) while Justin believed it to begin at Christ Jesus second coming (Just. Dial.c. Tryph.  32; 51; 110).

Next: Element of Surprise: Early Discrepancy Of the Future Hope


[1] In his earlier work Dialogue Justin’s views are more of premillennialism but in later works, Apologies, his views are more of amillennialism.

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One thought on “Early Christians’ Order of the Last Things

  1. Great post.

    I would agree that the Old Testament prophets did not make clearly the distinction between the two comings. This can be seen in Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7 and Zechariah 14:4. As a result of the prophecies seeming to speak of two individuals, many Jewish scholars believed there would be both a suffering Messiah and a conquering Messiah. Yet there is only one Messiah and He will fulfill both roles.

    After Jesus ascended into heaven, the angels declared to the apostles, “‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’”

    I have been studying Revelations and found a good resource to understand it’s message.

    http://www.discoverrevelation.com/Rev_Links.html

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