I briefly went into Chiliasm in this article, but I would like to expound on it more. Chiliasm is the teaching that Christ will reign for a literal 1,000 years on earth. This was a heresy condemned at the Second Ecumenical Council that appeared in two main forms. The Gnostic Cerinthus advocated for this doctrine, as well as the Gnostic Sabellianism which said Christ’s kingdom will eventually end. This is why the Nicene Creed includes the words “Whose kingdom shall have no end” to refute this teaching. Is this not exactly what so many protestant fundamentalists believe? This heretical belief is circulating in churches of well-meaning Christians all across America – unknowingly espousing it.
“In recent times, it has been revived with certain peculiarities by the Anabaptists, the followers of Swedenborg, the Illuminati, and Adventists. One must be aware, however, that neither in it’s first or second form can the teaching of Chiliasm be accepted by an Orthodox Christian.”– Archbishop Averky Taushev & Father Seraphim Rose
Origins of Chiliasm
Chiliasm (also called Millennialism) is in summary the teaching that not long before the end of the world Christ will return to defeat the antichrist, then resurrect only the righteous and make a new kingdom on earth. As a reward for their struggles, Christ reigns with the righteous for 1,000 years, and they will enjoy all the good things in temporal life. It has two forms known as Chiliasm and Neochiliasm.
It originated in the first century from the gnostic Cerinthus, who attempted to introduce the doctrine into Christianity. In Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, Book III, Chapter 28, he cites from the writings of Caius, who lived in the second century, which gives us the following account of Cerinthus’s heresy: “But Cerinthus, too, through revelations written, as he would have us believe, by a great apostle, brings before us marvelous things, which he pretends were shown him by angels; alleging that after the resurrection the kingdom of Christ is to be on earth, and that the flesh dwelling in Jerusalem is again to be subject to desires and pleasures. And being an enemy to the scriptures of God, wishing to deceive men, he says that there is to be space of a thousand years for marriage festivities.” “One of the doctrines he taught was, that Christ would have an earthly kingdom.”
Modern Millennialist advocates are most often not aware of this origin, nor that the early church condemned such teachings as heresy, leading to the insertion of the “whose kingdom shall have no end” being included to the Nicene Creed. The book of Revelation is the primary source for Millennialist doctrine, which was written by the apostle John. But John calls Cerinthus “the enemy of truth.”
In Eusebius again he cites Ireneaus (whom was the student of Polycarp, and Polycarp the student of John), St. Ireneaus states that while John was at Ephesus, he entered a bath to wash and found that Cerinthus was within. St. John refused to bathe in the same bath house and exhorted those with him to do the same, saying, “Let us flee, lest the bath fall in, as long as Cerinthus, that enemy of the truth, is within.” (Eusebius’s Eccl. Hist., III. 28, 24 for apostolic succession). So we see the very author of Revelation did not agree with Cerinthus, nor his doctrines, nor his interpretations.
In 255 A.D. a bishop in Egypt named Nepos would try to teach this as well, but it was quickly denounced by the majority of Christians.“Though Millennialism had been suppressed by the early church, it was nevertheless from time to time revived by heretical sects.” (Phillip Schaff’s Church History, Page 299). At the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 A.D. this doctrine was officially declared a heresy. It was at one point in history possible to have chialistic ideas as a private opinion up until the Second Ecumenical Council. Such as Justin Martyr (155-165 A.D.) who held this as a private opinion, but who also acknowledges that many pious Christians of his time disagreed with him (Trypho, 80).
I’m going to be citing almost exclusively from Archbishop Averky Taushev for this section as to why Chiliasm cannot hold up as a truthful doctrine. 1.“According to the chiliast teaching, the resurrection of the dead will take place twice: the first, a thousand years before the end of the world – when only the righteous will be resurrected; and the second, at the very end of the world, when sinners also will be resurrected. However, Christ the Savior clearly only taught one universal resurrection of the dead, when both the righteous and the sinners will be resurrected and all will receive their final recompense (John 6:39-40, Matthew 13:37-43).” (1985, The Apocalypse – Teachings of Ancient Christianity, Archbishop Averky Taushev – page 256).
John 6:40, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” This verse indicates a raising of the dead on the last day, not on the last day for the righteous then another last day for the sinners. I would add further to the Eminence’s point with Acts 24:15, which expresses the resurrection of the dead, of “both the just and unjust.”
Further from Archbishop Averky Taushev, 2.“The Word of God teaches only two kingdoms of Christ: the Kingdom of Grace which will continue until the end of the world (1 Corinthians 15:23-26), and the Kingdom of Glory which will begin after the Last Judgement and will have no end (Luke 1:33, 2 Peter 1:11). Chiliasm, allows yet a third, as it were, a middle kingdom of Christ, which will last only a thousand years. 3. The teaching of a sensual kingdom of Christ clearly contradicts the Word of God, according to which the Kingdom of God is not “food and drink” (Romans 14:17); in the resurrection of the dead they do not marry nor are given in marriage (Matthew 22:30); the rites of the law of Moses had only a prefiguring significance and were forever done away with by the more perfect New Testament law (Acts 15:23-30; Romans 6:14, Galatians 5:6).”
How do we interpret the verses about Christ’s 1,000 year reign? St. Andrew of Caesarea interprets this by a thousand years it is meant “from the incarnation of Christ to the coming of Antichrist.” The definite number of 1,000 is used in place of an indefinite number, signifying the long period of time until the Second Coming of Christ. “The thousand year kingdom of Christ on earth is to be understood as the victory of Christianity over Paganism, and the establishment on earth of the Church of Christ.”
The thousand years is symbolic and is often used to signify a long period of time, as St. Augustine went to bat against Chiliasm in his time as well. In regards to Revelation 20:2 with the devil being bound for 1,000 years, he states “the binding of the devil is his being prevented from the exercise of his whole power to seduce men.” The ‘thousand years’ reign is now and as already pointed out, John the apostle did not agree with Cerinthus who first perpetuated the doctrine of Chiliasm.
The Bible. 1985, The Apocalypse – Teachings of Ancient Christianity, Archbishop Averky Taushev. Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, Book III, Chapter 28. Phillip Schaff’s Church History, Page 299. St. Justin Martyr, Trypho, 80. St. Augustine, City of God.