Christian Churches of God
The Millennium and the Rapture
(Edition 2.0 19950311-20000107)
This paper examines the early millennialist position of the Church against the modern theories of the rapture. The early doctrines are developed from the early writers. The origins of the rapture doctrine are discussed. The production of the modern doctrines and also the activities of the Jesuit priests Ribera and Bellarmine are discussed. The activities of Samuel Maitland in the production of this false doctrine are also discussed.
The Millennium and the Rapture
The original doctrines of the early Church were millennialist. The Church looked forward to the return of Christ and the resurrection of the saints at his return. The saints would then rule the Earth for one thousand years, after which the Second (or General) Resurrection would occur, and the judgment would follow from that thousand-year period.
There are many Old Testament Scriptures that go to Revelation 20 verses 1-15 and interrelate with those verses. Unless we understand the resurrection and the Millennium we cannot understand what is happening at the return of the Messiah. For instance we cannot understand Zechariah 14:16-19 in the establishment of the Feast of Tabernacles and the requirement to send advocates to Jerusalem. The Seventh Day Adventists cannot understand those Scriptures. They cannot understand Isaiah 66:20 and the restoration of the Sabbath and the New Moons, because they have a heavenly Millennium. They cannot make any sense out of the prophecies of the Old Testament relating to the return of the Messiah, because they do not understand the situation that will be established at his return.
Most people out there are misguided, and the problem with their theology stems from the scenario that they place the Earth in, at the coming of Messiah. Satan has attacked this doctrine as a fundamental source of error for 2,000 years. This doctrine marks the true Church and it has been used to attack the Church and Christianity and subvert the understanding of the Bible.
We will now look at Revelation 20:1-15.
Revelation 20:1-15 And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, 3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
Here we see that Satan has deceived the nations all the way up until the Millennium and the return of Jesus Christ. One of the doctrines that he attacks, and with which he deceives the nations, is the structure of God’s government in the Last Days. That’s why he is placed in the bottomless pit, because he is a deceiver and false religion flows from him.
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
This text was the major source of the confusion. It was determined by some of the early Church millennialists that this resurrection of the dead and the rulership was only given to the martyrs. That is, one had to be beheaded for the witness of Jesus to take part in the First Resurrection. That was a doctrine of an element of the Church in the first century. However, it can be read it in such a way to say that those who are beheaded are separate from those who had not worshipped the beast. Those are the ones who take part in the First Resurrection.
That means that the beast power must be ongoing for 2,000 years, otherwise the saints are not tested over the entire period, and a great number of the saints cannot take part in the First Resurrection, only the martyrs. So the beast power must be conjoint. The beast power must not be a futurist interpretation of the Last Days only. The beast power must have been ongoing as well, so that the beast must be that which is conjoint with the false religious structure. So the end-time beast power must be an extension of the false religious structure, but one which destroys the false structure in the Last Days.
5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
So it is quite clear that there are two resurrections; the rest of the dead are at the end of the Millennium. In the First Resurrection are only those who are martyred and those who refuse to take the image of the beast. So it is quite clear we have to be tested by martyrdom, or the mark of the beast, to be in the First Resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
That is pretty clear. They are going to be priests of God and of Christ and reign with Christ a thousand years. They are going to be priests to something. One can’t be a priest to or of God, unless one has something to be a priest to and for, as a congregation.
7 And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, 8 And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
Obviously there are forces out there that are physical forces. At the end of the thousand years there have to be physical people who will take up arms and march against the saints.
9 And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. 10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
The beast and false prophet are an administrative system, and a system of false prophecy. They are not individuals. The concepts of these texts are dealt with in the papers The Resurrection of the Dead (No. 143) and The Judgment of the Demons (No. 80). People are not thrown into the lake of fire, except for the dead bodies of those who refuse to be saved. There are no tormented spiritual beings in the lake of fire.
11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
There is no third resurrection from verse 13. That is a manufacture of some of the Churches of God and their doctrine of fear (see the paper The Fallacy of the Third Resurrection (No. 166)).
14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
There are concepts being burnt in the lake of fire. Simply, it is the whole structure of the Earth and its physical processes that are being destroyed.
15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (KJV)
That was given by God to Jesus Christ and written down under dictation by the apostle John. It is supported by texts in Isaiah and Zechariah and the Gospels, yet, by and large it has been thrown out.
The views of the return of Messiah became distorted, and the original views of the Church came to be labelled pre-Millennialism. The doctrine of the Millennium as Millennialism or Chiliasm was the constant view of the Sabbatarian Church. It came to be opposed and altered and even the name itself seized by false doctrine and the Trinitarian Theology.
The view that the ruling saints were only those who had been martyred was not the view of the New Testament Church. Paul stated that those who were alive would not precede (or prevent in the KJV English) the dead in Christ, but will be gathered with them to be with the Lord on a permanent basis (1Thes. 4:15-18). This was the original millennialist view of the Church.
Millennialist or so-called Premillennialist writers were Apollinaris, Commodianus, Hippolytus, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Lactantius, Methodius (who saw the Millennium as a day of judgment), Montanus, Nepos, pseudo-Barnabas, Tertullian and Victorinus. The theory of the delayed 70th week relating Daniel 9:25 to Christ was first introduced by Hippolytus.
This doctrine was developed into what is called Chiliasm, which is basically the doctrine of so-called Premillenialism. Millennium is the term for a thousand years and there is also another term called a Chiliad and this also means a thousand years. But they were two separate terms. Chiliad was later applied to the doctrines of a thousand-year Millennium, which had excessive physical aspects to it. The Gnostics started to develop Chiliasm where there was an excessively physical and carnal form of living for the thousand years. It fell into disrepute because of the Gnostic writers.
Satan attacked the Millennium by using its truth to excess, by applying a physical aspect to it in extraordinary ways. The millennialist doctrines varied under Chialiasm from the martyred saints ruling the Earth with Christ, being expanded often in later Chiliastic writings to include all Christians alive when Christ comes, rather than those dead in Christ or martyred. Later Chiliastic writings, especially those of Lactantius and his era, fell into disrepute for the excesses they attributed to the earthly reign from Jerusalem, and some became rather carnal with writing borrowed from non-biblical sources.
The later Catholic Church held the Millennium to be Jewish apocalyptic and denies the literal intent of Revelation.
Though it is difficult to focus sharply the pictures used in the Apocalypse and the things expressed by them, yet there can be no doubt that the whole description refers to spiritual combat between Christ and the Church on the one hand and the malignant powers of hell and the world on the other. Nevertheless, a large number of Christians of the post-Apostolic era, particularly in Asia minor, yielded so far to Jewish apocalyptic as to put a literal meaning into these descriptions of John’s Apocalypse; the result was that millennialism spread and gained staunch advocates not only among the heretics but among the Catholic Christians as well. (Catholic Enc.,Vol. X Millennium, p. 308)
That shows us the levels of the distortion. Of course the early Church was millennial. The reason the Roman Church did not want this Jewish apocalyptic is because its power was based in Rome and the Roman Empire did not like (in the end) the idea of a thousand years of world government going to Jerusalem. The thought of Christ ruling this planet for a thousand years from Jerusalem is the inherent problem with these Christians in Europe. They do not want Christ to be a Jew and rule the world from Jerusalem. That is why these people deny the literal intent of the Bible in the establishment of the Millennium.
The Gnostic Cerinthus painted the pictures of the Millennium in gross, sensual colours (C.E. ibid.) (Caius in Eusebius, “Hist. Eccl.”, III, 28; Dionysius Alex. in Eusebius ibid., VII, 25).
The Bishop Papius of Hierapolis, a disciple of John was an advocate of Millennialism. He is claimed as a Catholic by J.P. Kirsch CE. (ibid.); however that is impossible given the formation of the Athanasians as a church. Both Papius and Irenaeus claimed to have learnt the doctrines of the Millennium from John. Irenaeus notes that other Presbyteri, who had seen and heard the disciple John learned from him the belief in Millennialism as part of the Lord’s doctrine.
So here we have two witnesses. Irenaeus is saying quite clearly that all the other bishops and the heads of churches that had seen and heard John learned the doctrine of the Millennium from him. There is an eyewitness. Somebody who had seen John had learnt from him, and his disciples. They had John teaching the doctrines of the Millennium as part of the Lord’s work, and they then said that that is the doctrine of the early Church.
According to Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., III, 39), Papius, in his book, asserted that the resurrection of the dead would be followed by a visible earthly glorious kingdom of Christ, and according to Irenaeus (Adv. Her V, 32-33), he taught that the saints too would enjoy a superabundance of earthly pleasures during the Millennium (see also Cath. Enc. op.cit.). So even the earthly saints are able, according to Irenaeus, to assume physical form and take part in that structure.
The Epistle of St. Barnabus is also held to have millennial ideas. The ideas of the weekly six days and Sabbath rest are seen to extend to the six thousand years of the Plan of God’s work, and the thousand-year rest of the Millennium. Thus the seven thousand years is a concept of the early Judaic Christian structure.
The early Church understood that the weekly Sabbath was representative of the six thousand years of Satan’s rule and God’s work, and the seventh day was representative of the thousand years of the Millennium. This has been a feature of God’s Church for 2,000 years and that’s why it was attacked. The doctrine is under attack all the time, because we understand it. That’s why the Sabbath is attacked, because the Sabbath also pictures the Millennium.
The martyr Justin of Rome in his dialogue with Trypho (Ch. 80-81) espouses the biblical millennial position. He notes that even then there were many espousing Christians who did not believe it.
Melito, bishop of Sardis in the second century, espoused millennial doctrines and followed Irenaeus in his views.
The Montanists were also staunch Millennialists. Tertullian the protagonist of the Montanists expounded the doctrine in his now lost De Spe Fidelium and in Adv. Marcionem, IV.
The rejection of Millennialism came initially from Gnosticism (see also Cath. Enc. op. cit.). However, the real basis of the rejection is simple anti-Semitism. It was also opposed by the Alogi in Asia Minor, and they rejected not only the Revelation (attributing it to Cerinthus) but also the Gospel of John. The battle against Millennialism went hand in hand with the battle against the Montanists. A heresy rose up which espoused Millenniumism. Satan works on this premise all the time. He will establish a group with a gross heresy and with a truth, join them together then everyone attacking one attacks the other. So we have truth mixed with error and the truth gets swept out with the error.
Towards the end of the second century and the beginning of the third century, the Roman presbyter Caius attacked Millennialism with Hyppolytus of Rome coming to its defence.
The most powerful opponent of Millennialism was Origen of Alexandria. Thus the emergence of the doctrines in Alexandria, which attacked the Godhead, also attacked the literal intent of the Scriptures.
In view of the Neo-Platonism on which his doctrines were founded and of his spiritual-allegorical method of explaining the Holy Scriptures, he could not abide with the Millennarians. He combated them expressly, and, owing to the great influence which his writings exerted on ecclesiastical theology especially in Oriental countries, millennarianism gradually disappeared from the ideas of Oriental Christians (Cath. Enc. ibid., p. 309).
Nepos, bishop in Egypt, opposed the allegorical position of Origen in the third century defending millennial doctrine, establishing the position in Arsinoe. It was through neo-platonism that the doctrine of the Trinity began to be expounded. Origen was a neo-platonist. So we have these errors coming into the Church attacking these doctrines, which establish Christ’s rule on this planet. That is the real subject of their attack. Dionysius of Alexandria seemingly persuaded the Millennialists to abandon their views to avert a schism (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. VII, 14).
Millennial doctrines remained in Egypt for some time and Methodius, bishop of Olympus and a principal opponent of Origen defended Millennialism in his Symposion (IX, 1, 5, in Migne, Patr. Graec, XVIII, 178 sqq.). Apollinaris, bishop of Laodicea, defended Millennialism in the later half of the fourth century. So this battle has now gone on from the first century to the fourth century. The writings are referred to by Basil of Caesarea (Epist. CCLXIII, 4, in Migne, Patr. Graec.XXXII, 980); see also Epiphaneus (Her. LXX, 36, in Migne loc. cit. XLII, 696); and Jerome (In Isa. XVIII, in Migne Patr. Lat. XXIV, 627). Jerome also states that Millennialism was a prevalent doctrine, but after that the Church effectively discouraged the viewpoint. It was a doctrine found in the West, eg. Commodian (Instructiones 41,42,44 Migne ibid. V, 231 sqq) and Lactantius (Institutiones VIII, Migne ibid. Vi, 739 sqq.) who also drew on the Sybilline prophecies, which are by early Church Millennialists. The Sibilline prophecies are basically listed in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. They are Messianic. Whether or not they are Christian is anybody’s guess. They are Judaic-Messianic and they refer to the physical rule of Messiah. The doctrine is found particularly in the Unitarian Church also.
Because of the serious errors of the modern churches concerning the return of Christ and the millennial restoration, many modern theologians, tend to debunk the Old Testament promises applying to the restoration as fantastic, and many confuse the term Israel and the Jews. They do not understand that the Jews are only part of Israel and that the lost ten tribes are out there and these tribes form an organisation, and there is a general Bible view of the whole world ultimately becoming Israel.
They tend to rationalise God's promises in the Old Testament, as further evidence of Etruscan and Persian influence on the doctrines and hence, downgrade their inspired nature. Invariably, when writers downgrade the Old Testament Scriptures their conclusions become fanciful and non-biblical. As we have seen many times, the Scriptures are in fact the Old Testament and the gospels are attached to them. The apostles only had the Scriptures i.e. OT from which to teach. Paul’s writings had not been collected and his writings are not Scripture over and above the Bible. They are merely addendums to the Bible. We need to get that very clear.
In order to attack the Millennium, they really had to get rid of the Book of Revelation. That was opted for as a solution and for a period they took the Book of Revelation out of the Bible. There is little that is ambiguous about Revelation. It is very clear and specific and very condemnatory of the false religious systems, and it is very clear on what Christ is going to do with the world.
Omission of Revelation from the Canon
It was due to some of the excessive claims of Chiliasm that the Apocalypse (or Revelation) was omitted from the Sacred Canon for a short period of time, although the real reason is most probably that the Mithraic traditions were superimposing themselves on the Church and Revelation was too clear and precise a statement. At the close of the second century the Revelation was acknowledged as apostolic and authoritative throughout the Church, except in the Syriac version. It fell temporarily into discredit, because of opposition to Chiliastic Millennialism by Dyonisius of Alexandria (died 265). Both Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 368) and Gregory of Nazianzus (d 389) excluded the Apocalypse from their catalogues of the New Testament books and Chrysostom (d. 407) nowhere quoted it (cf. the paper Consubstantial with the Father (No. 81)).
Who are these people? Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nissa and Basil of Caesarea, were the three people who formulated the doctrine of the Trinity. These people specifically developed the doctrine of the Trinity and developed their opposition to these positions in order to develop (as Basil says himself) as God. They were the founders of the Catholic Church.
The Council of Laodicea (ca. 366) omitted it from the Canon list.
Canon 29 of this council stated Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on the Sabbath, but shall work on that day; but the Lord's Day they shall especially honour, and, as being Christians shall if possible, do no work on that day. If however they are found Judaizing, they shall be anathema from Christ.1
Note 1. Hefele in A History of the Councils of the Church, Volume 2, page 316 has rendered the Sabbath as Saturday and used the term "shut out from Christ".
So the council banned Revelation and it banned the Sabbath. That gives the Bible student a fair idea of the spiritual intent of the Council of Laodicea.
Other Canons of the Council provided for reading the Scriptures offering Lenten bread; and commemorating martyrs on the Sabbath as well as Sunday. This council, while keeping the Sabbath as a holy day, effectively made it a workday and encouraged Sunday as the day of rest.
That completed the errors at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE which were set in motion by Constantine from 321 CE. Victory was not total, however, because Athanasius in 367 CE included it in his enumeration and the Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397) declared it Canonical.2
Note 2. Details of the troubled history of Revelation are included in Bishop B F Westcott's A General Survey of the History of Canon of the New Testament 1875 Ch.2C.
They had won the battles they needed to win and in 367 the year after the Council of Laodicea, Athanasius who was one of the founding fathers of the Catholic Church (they are called Athanisans because they are Trinitarians) then put Revelation back into the Canon.
Constantine destroys the Faith
It was also Constantine that hastened the abandonment of (pre) Millennialism and the sad demise of our original Faith occurred. Increasingly materialistic, Chiliasm prompted opposition and it first appeared in the form of Origen of Alexandria. By spiritualisation and allegorisation he set the Church on the downhill road. The concept that God's everlasting Kingdom is the dominant Church established on Earth came on the scene in the writings of Tichonius and was introduced by Eusebius following Constantine's "conversion" to Christianity. Constantine was baptised by Eusebius of Nicomedia on his deathbed. He was baptised a Unitarian (a so-called Arian or Eusebian) and not a Catholic. Constantine was never a Catholic and denied their faith and was in fact called a Eusebian. He was a Unitarian. Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, in anti-chiliastic fervour introduced in his writings the spiritualisation of the Millennium based on the recapitulation theory espoused by Tichonius. Simply, this states that Revelation repeats itself covering the Christian era under the symbols of the seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, the beasts and then the Millennium. So with these men and the legacy of Constantine, Satan's counterfeit was born and the doctrine of postmillennialism emerged.
Simultaneous with the emergence of postmillennialism was the argument by Jerome that the Millennium was heavenly, not earthly. This premise was based on allegory and obviously influenced Augustine in his writings. It exists even now and to enable the mental gymnastics involved, we have to ignore most of the Old Testament prophecies.
It is curious that Augustine was first a Millennialist, or so-called premillennialist (City of God, XX, 7). However, he seemingly asserted the Millennium after the Universal resurrection and is perhaps more spiritual (Sermo, CCLIX, in Migne, ibid., XXXVIII, 1197). He is also credited with the support of the postmillennialist position and is also accredited by some eschatologists with originating the amillennialist theory. A lot of people go back to Augustine and claim support for their views from him.
At the Reformation all went to Augustine and did not go back to the original Church. That’s why the Reformation failed. The Reformation is still peopled by Trinitarians (Sunday-worshippers), because they did not go back past Augustine. Postmillennialism did not become an official position of the Roman Catholic Church, until Thomas Aquinus championed its cause and it was not generally accepted until after 1700. The new Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, 1953 p.1207 counsels its readers to "regard the chaining of Satan and the reign of the Saints as the whole period subsequent to the Incarnation".
From the assertion of Christ incarnate and Christ resurrected, and the consequent production of the Church, the Roman Catholic Church claims government and authority and control now. Their position is that they are the ruling authority, and the Millennium (the Kingdom of God) is here.
Amillennialism is a quite fanciful and erroneous doctrine. This teaches that Revelation 20 is simply teaching spiritual truths in symbolic language. It claims there is no actual millennial reign, or else it is regarded as the entire Christian era. The two resurrections are fused into one and Christ comes at the end of the age to judge the world. This form of rationalisation is becoming prevalent amongst western ministers and Trinitarians generally.
The difference between postmillennialism and amillennialism is very slight, but nevertheless distinct.
Changes in Postmillennialism
Postmillennialism went through various changes, and at 1190, Joachim of Flores and the Joachimite Spirituals, looked to the establishment of a pure church. The excesses of the Church of Rome prompted those who aspired to a life in Christ to look to something else. With the carnage and carnal excesses of the princes of the Church and the performance of the Vicar of Christ, one could not but hope that there was some other explanation of the Plan of God above and beyond postmillennialism, which assumed that the highest aspirations of mankind were reflected in the Government of the Church of Rome.
The Trinity and the Pure Church Doctrine
The new pure church was, however, based on a Trinitarian dispensational concept: the age of the Father, the age of the Son and the age of the Spirit. Joachim held that the age of the Spirit would begin before 1260 CE on the year-day principle. A future age of the Spirit was also espoused by the Franciscan Spirituals. At this time the Church was becoming involved in proving the existence of the Trinity both naturally and by revelation. The verse at 1John 5:7 in the Textus Receptus and hence the King James which says: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one," was a forgery. It was included in the later writings, because there was no verse in the Bible that supported the concept of the Egyptian triads, which had been incorporated into Roman Christianity. Three is also significant in the ancient earth mother religion, which was evident as a feminine subculture involving nature worship and other forms of naturalism, later identified with witchcraft. So having no biblical basis for the Trinity they forged one.
The basis of the spiritualists’ reaction was from the decadence of the medieval church. The Franciscans, headed by Pierre Jean D’Olivi (d.1298), who identified the hierarchical church as the apocalyptic Babylon, and Ubertino of Casale (c.1312) who identified a pope with the apocalyptic Beast, together with the Joachimites, were so nauseated with the depths of depravity to which the Church had sunk, that they saw the need for reform. So great was this drive that many labelled the popes as Antichrist. This was a cry echoed by the Protestant Churches, urging that they come out of apostate Babylon.
The theological error of the Protestants was that they did not go further back in their quest to restore the true simplicity of the Church than Augustine of Hippo and hence could not free themselves from the errors of the councils of Nicea, Laodicea, Constantinople and Chalcedon. Hence they did not restore the Christianity of the early Church.
The counter-cry to cleanse the Church of these early heretics was sounded by Milicz of Kremsier (d.1374) before the consummation could be effected.
Edward Gibbon states on detailing the extent of' the Vatican influence, "during ten centuries of blindness and servitude, Europe received her religious opinions from the oracles of the Vatican, and the same doctrine, already varnished with the rust of antiquity was admitted without dispute into the creed of the reformers who disclaimed the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff”. The Synod of Chalcedon still triumphs in the Protestant Churches. They reformed the façade, but did not return to keeping the Commandments and to this day still profane the Sabbaths, with no authority other than that of the Bishop of Rome.
Arnold of Villanova who died in 1313 expecting an internal reform of the Church, would probably have been nauseated by the counter reformation that was received in its place, which, headed by the Inquisition, murdered untold thousands of God's people by the most horrible means of which man was then capable. The pure Church Millennialists gradually faded away under persecution. They came to be represented by fringe groups such as the Anabaptists.
The opposition to the Roman system was found in Europe among the Sabbatati who were Unitarians (see the paper The Role of the Fourth Commandment in Historical Sabbath- keeping Churches of God (No. 170)). Initially the Waldensians were part of the Sabbatati and were Millennialist Unitarians. Rejection of the Trinity was one of the "heresies" of the Waldensians, (Rev. A.C. Shannon - The Pope and Heresy in the Thirteenth Century, p.7).
Millennialism went into the doldrums after this, especially amongst Protestant reformers who viewed the zeal of the Chiliasts with dismay. Particularly notable were the Munsterites on the Continent, and later the Fifth Monarchy men in England who attempted to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth by political and military means in their own time.
This Chiliastic view, however, was to permeate into the Congregationalists and later the Baptists, some of whom went to America. Some of the Baptists were Sabbath-keepers from which stem the Seventh Day Baptists. From this group the Seventh Day Adventists (SDAs) and the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God are descended. Of these, the SDAs are not Chiliast, but rather have adopted the Jeromite view of the heavenly Millennium, no doubt prompted by the failure of William Miller's prophecies and Ellen G. White’s support and expectation of the 22 October 1844 advent.
Re-emergence of Truth and Changes in Concepts
A glimmer of truth reappeared with Joseph Mede, who reintroduced the historic view of premillennialism, no doubt to counter the Roman Church position of postmillennialism.
A new type of postmillennialism was introduced by Daniel Whitby in 1703, which holds that the second Advent can only come after a thousand years plus or minus, where the world has increasing peace, righteousness and the general goodness of man, whereby the whole world is generally converted to Christianity. No doubt this is prompted by a clean living world, which will vanquish Satan, convert the Jews, Islam and everybody else and put an end to all wars. Jonathan Edwards and Samuel Hopkins introduced the doctrine into America and by 1800 it had become the dominant view. These writers held that the binding and loosing of Satan are figurative but that Satan’s power may triumph for a short period before Christ's coming. The remaining wicked are to be destroyed after his coming and then the Eternal Kingdom will be established.
The Christadelphians hold that Satan does not exist, save in the mind, and hence would logically fall into this viewpoint, but with quite different teachings related to premillennialism.
Views of the resurrection are similarly blurred by these followers of Whitby. Whitby and Vitringa argue that the New Jerusalem is blessedness of the earthly Church during the Millennium, whilst those such as Brown and Faber hold it to be the company of saints after the Millennium.
The theory was rather damaged in the 20th century when World War 1 broke out. As can be imagined, when 1914 came on the scene and we went to war – The Great War for civilisation – then all of a sudden the whole theory was shot to ribbons. We are into the wars and the prophecies of the Last Days. They did not want to face the fact that these prophecies were clear and that they were going into the wars of the end and that man was incapable, without the Holy Spirit, of developing a new system and a new planet and running this place under Jesus Christ. They were going to do it without Jesus Christ. Perhaps it was predicted as far back as 1139 when St. Malachi named the Pope of the period "Religio Depopulata" or Religion Devastated. However, the wars are the subject of biblical prophecy (see The Fall of Egypt: The Prophecy of Pharaoh’s Broken Arms (No. 36)).
Whitbyists had said that man had made too much progress ever to have another war. All postmillennialists from Augustine to Whitby face the problem that the world doesn't live up to their prognostication and their propositions are contrary to biblical teaching. The Bible is quite clear about what is to happen. We have joy to look forward to because we understand what will happen. In developing our relationship with God we have found our safety in God, and joy in the way we live together.
The failure of all these doctrines caused a resurgence of premillennialism. Those who looked at what the Bible said and quoted it were promptly branded as literalists as opposed to the former spiritualists, but as usual, fanciful notions crept in with people ignoring the written word and interpreting the message. The problems stem from people not taking the text as saying what it means.
Later doctrines have included the Secret Rapture which was introduced by Edward Irving, who founded the Catholic Apostolic Church in 1832. He was removed from the pulpit in 1832 and deprived of his status as a clergyman of the Church of Scotland in 1833. Many of his followers went with him to the new Church. He was removed from the Church of Scotland because of a tract he wrote inferring that Jesus possessed a fallen human nature. He taught that the great tribulation was to occur between the Resurrection of the Righteous and the Rapture of the Saints and the overthrow of Satan, which was to be followed by the millennial reign of Christ. Variations on this rapture theme have arisen since, but the basis is the same. The real aim seems to be to avoid the tribulation.
All of these rapture doctrines, including the place of safety doctrine in the Armstrongite Churches, have the same rapture doctrine under different names. It’s all a way of getting away from the tribulation and dodging any unpleasantness that comes, because we are unwilling to modify our human behaviour (see also the paper The Place of Safety (No. 194)).
When followers of these doctrines do have to face the tribulation, they and the churches they belong to will have difficulty retaining their position and their people. Both teachers of the pre-tribulation rapture, J.N. Darby and Irving, have had a significant influence on fundamentalist premillennialism of the present day. Irving died of tuberculosis in 1834.
Many branches of the latter day premillennialism grew out from divergent views such as:
1. The Millerites, who advocated a non-temporal and in their words, non-Jewish Millennium (which appears to demonstrate their lack of understanding of the nations and the role of Israel);
2. The Plymouth Brethren, who tend to a futurist pre-tribulationist, dispensationalist teaching.
Variations on pretribulationalism and Amillennialism increase, one could say, almost daily.
Irving’s doctrine of the Secret Rapture appears to have originated from a spiritist vision of Miss Margaret McDonald in March 1830, who spoke in a trance from a so-called vision of the Advent of Christ. This was an hysterical experience translated into rumour, which then became teaching. It has no scriptural foundation. It penetrated the Plymouth Brethren through John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) who introduced it into general prophetic interpretation. We therefore have a mainstream theory of Dispensationalism espoused by millions as Scriptural prophecy, which in fact has no basis other than the hysterical ravings of a young woman in a trance in March 1830, during a period when it was fashionable to have such experiences. Fortunately not all the Plymouth Brethren were deceived and Dr. S.P. Tregelles named it for what it was in 1864 (Tregelles, The Hope of Christ’s Second Coming, pp. 34-37).
I am not aware that there was any definite teaching that there should be a Secret Rapture of the Church at a secret coming until this was given forth as an 'utterance' in Mr. Irving's church from what was then received as being the voice of the Spirit. But whether anyone ever asserted such a thing or not it was from that supposed revelation that the modern doctrine and the modern phraseology respecting it arose. It came, not from the Holy Scripture, but from that which falsely pretended to be the Spirit of God."
Darby is termed the father of modern Dispensationalism, so in all fairness he should be blamed for the spread of the nonsense. He was ordained a deacon in the Church of England in 1825, but due to the fundamental lethargy of the Anglican clergy at the time, he and other disenchanted-worshippers joined together and a new movement was formed at Dublin, but developed its centre at Plymouth and therefore became known as Plymouth Brethren.
It was via this new movement that Darby spread Irving’s doctrines based on Miss McDonald’s “utterances” but many, in addition to Tregelles, rejected it. These were among others B.W. Newton, Charles Spurgeon, William Booth and George Millar, but this did not stop the spread into the United States and Canada in the 1860s and-1870s. As Darby himself visited the US six times, the movement may have been taught as early as 1840, but this is uncertain.
If something is quoted often enough people begin to believe it is true, and after the writings of Charles Henry Mackintosh (1820-1896) people began accepting it generally. He is still being read. He, together with William Blackstone and the other Darbyists such as Malachi Taylor and J.H. Brooks, had a profound influence on Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921).
Scofield eulogised Darby as the most profound Bible scholar of modern times. (Dr C.I. Scofield's Question Box, p. 93) and after serving in the civil war as a soldier, he gained an appointment as US attorney to Kansas during Grant’s Administration. He became a Congregationalist minister in 1882.
Through his production of the Scofield Reference Bible, and in particular his notes on prophecy, he assisted in the perpetuation of a doctrine that is unsound scripturally and does great harm to the fundamental acceptance of Scripture. That both Darby and Scofield were brilliant dedicated men is undoubted. (Darby's 30 works is testimony to that.) That they diverted from Scripture is regrettable.
Man-made Religion and Reformation
The development of this man-made theology, which is removed from the teachings of the Apostles, had occurred over 18 centuries. The traditions of men have obscured and clouded the Faith.
It is of interest to note the comments of Luther in regard to the basis of the Faith. When summoned to appear before the Diet at Worms, Martin Luther gave the following answer when asked to recant of his works,
Since your most serene majesty and your high mightiness’s require from me a clear, simple and precise answer, I will give you one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the Pope or to the councils, because it is clear as the day that they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture or by the clearest reasoning, unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted, and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the word of God; I cannot and I will not retract for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other; may God help me. Amen. (J.H.Merle D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century. Book 7, Ch.8.)
The reformation did not go far enough; the churches pulled up short of true renunciation. In some cases reforms were reversed. In 1542 Henry VIII proscribed the observance of Christmas as the Pagan festival it was. The festival was restored in 1554 after the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor took the throne. Elizabeth 1 lacked the resolve to reverse that decision again. Cromwell proscribed Christmas also for 12 years, but this was reversed by the Stuarts and the heresy continues.
We are concerned here with the gradual decline of the teachings of the Church relating to the advent and Christ's reign.
In relation to the Antichrist, the teaching of the rapturists varies. The various themes are that Antichrist is an atheist or infidel, or apostate Jew. These comments are incorrect. These teachings seem to date from the Dark or Middle Age Church prophets and it is perhaps an inaccurate ruse to divert attention from the real source of the tribulation.
In 1534 the Anabaptists set up in Munster, Westphalia, the new Kingdom of Zion, which advocated sharing property and (allegedly) women in common, as a prelude to the new Kingdom of Christ (Cath. Enc. loc. cit.). Their excesses caused the Augsberg (art. 17) and the Helvetian (ch. 11) Confessions to disown the doctrines and thus Millennialism found no admission into the Lutheran and Reformed theologies (ibid.).
Satan again set up an heretical organisation using wrong anti-Christian principals, and then set up with it, or in it, the doctrine of Millennialism. It was then ultimately rejected by the conference because they had no idea what the early Church was teaching and they did not take the Bible literally.
The arguments of the Reformation became so intense over the identification of the Antichrist as the Papacy, that in 1516 the Fifth Lateran Council passed a resolution forbidding anybody to write or preach on the subject of the Antichrist. Because of the damage done to the Church by the Protestant reformers on the question of the identification of the Antichrist, a counter-interpretation had to be found. The theologians of the Society of Jesus produced that counter-interpretation.
The author was Francisco Ribera (1537-1591) of Salamanca Spain, who published a 500-page commentary in an endeavour to counter the Protestant teachings that the Papacy was Antichrist. This man is the logical founder of the Futurist School of Interpretation (see also Encyclopedia Brittannica, 11th Edition, Vol. 23, p.213, article ‘Revelation’ for further comment on the Futurist School).
The whole doctrine of the rapture is an apology, found not only amongst the theologians who propounded it but also amongst those it was intended to refute.
The doctrines of Ribera were further developed by Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) of Italy, a Jesuit Controversialist who stated that Daniel, John, and Paul had omitted any reference to Papal power whatsoever and that their prophecy and teaching referred to a future Antichrist.
The ex-Catholic priest Joseph Zacchello says that: “the Jesuits sought to divert men’s minds from perceiving the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Antichrist in the Papal church. The Jesuit Ribera brought out the futuristic system, which asserts that the Antichrist is yet to appear”. To this statement he adds, “Protestants who advocate the futuristic system are pleasing the Pope and are playing into the hands of Rome” (J. Zacchello - Who is the Antichrist - quoted also by Woodrow).
The truth is that they are ongoing. The Bible is quite clear that there are many Antichrists. Antichrist was with John’s Church in Ephesus. They are ongoing until the last days.
Futurism and the basic tenets of the rapture were Catholic doctrine until the Librarian to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Samuel R. Maitland (1792-1866) over the period 1826-30 became the first Protestant to accept the Futurist interpretation of the Jesuit Ribera. He was followed in 1832 by Edward Irving who developed the doctrine of the Secret Rapture. Maitland was a high church unionist who viewed the hard won battles of the Reformation with contempt. This man in his some 50 works did irreparable damage to the Church of England and to the Reformed Churches in general and assisted in furthering non-scriptural propaganda to the point that it has captivated millions.
The basic motivation behind the popularity of the Rapture theory is that it is escapism. People are unable to face the truth and become dependent upon the mercy and intervention of God. Romans 8:7 shows the enmity against the Law. However, that is accompanied by an inability to face truth. They will repent or face a hard fate.
Some Rapturists are predicting the rebuilding of Babylon in these Last Days in an attempt to centre the futurist interpretation away from Rome. Babylon presently exists only as an extensive ruin near the modern town of El Hillah, Iraq. The Babylon of Revelation quite clearly was in existence from Christ, down over the last two thousand years and exists today.
For a group of people to argue that the Church and the Spirit of God have to be removed before one billion people can be converted to Christ in a period of three and one half year’s tribulation is astounding. This is a greater effort than the Church has been capable of in its history. The further conclusion is also intimated that there must be a power greater than the Spirit of God or these people are not converts, or the argument is a fraud. There is no doubt that the argument is exactly what history indicates; a piece of Jesuit propaganda, aided and abetted by apologists of the like of Maitland, Irving, Darby, Scofield, Estep and more modern writers of significantly lesser calibre.
The Rapturists may be more correct than they think, in that they will avoid the tribulation only to face the plagues of the wrath of God, because they do not have the Seal of God on their foreheads, or on their right hands (Deut. 6:8), being continually in breach of the Law. The Rapturists are undoubtedly sincere, seeking Christ and troubled about the future. Following fables, however, will not make their burden any lighter; it only leads them into following false doctrines and into apostasy.
“The New Testament makes no distinction between the parousia, the apocalypse, and the epiphany of Jesus Christ. These terms signify one single, indivisible advent of Christ” (Hans K. La Rondelle, The Israel of God in Prophecy, p. 188).
The structure of the Millennium will be established. The Bible is literally true and unless we take the Bible and understand the millennial structure and the reign of Christ from Jerusalem for a thousand years, we cannot understand the Plan of God. We cannot understand what is being done in that Plan and we cannot understand what is going to happen in the prophecies of the OT. Nor can we understand the prophecies of Zechariah, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. It is important that we are not deceived by these people, and that we understand and look to our hope in Jesus Christ that we have a glorious future together.
We are protected. It is a matter of walking in faith with God and doing our job as well as we can. All of us have our own place of safety, which is God. God is our rock and our strength and our salvation. We need nothing else. We need each other in order to group together, so that we might better worship the One True God. Do not lose faith in the literal intent of the promises of God.