Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Elder Cleopa on the Thousand Year Reign of Christ (Chiliasm)

Inquirer: There are those who maintain that between the Second Coming of the Lord and the end of the world Christ will reign upon the earth, governing, Himself, along with His elect for a thousand years. What is the truth of the matter, Father?

Elder Cleopa: This idea is an ancient one. In the first centuries of Christianity it was endorsed by the so-called Chiliasts or Millenialists. Against them rose the entire ancient Church and its most important representatives.

The divine Fathers of the Church indicated in their writings that the one thousand year reign referred to in the book of Revelation signifies an infinite number of years, i.e. a kingdom that shall have no end. This we know well since from Holy Scripture it is clear that the Kingdom of Christ is not of this world (Jn. 18:36). In Holy Scripture it is clearly indicated that the Kingdom of Heaven is also the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Christ, in so much as both Saint John the Forerunner and Christ Himself called it so. This Kingdom of Christ will be spiritual and will reign over the internal world of man, while externally being revealed in the righteousness, peace and joy of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). Christ Himself established this kingdom and explained in His parables how it will appear, who it will include and what power it will possess. His reign will not endure for a thousand years, but eternally (Lk. 1:33). Its inhabitants will include all faithful Christians from all the peoples of the world (Ps. 116:1-2), it will reign over all creation, and it will be a kingdom of righteousness (Dan. 7:13-14). It will be a kingdom made up of souls (Mt. 28:18) — souls that have already entered and lived within it in this present life.

This kingdom of Christ, derived not from this world, constitutes the Church, or the Body of Christ, of which the head is Christ Himself (Eph. 1:22). The adoption and entrance into this kingdom takes place only through the laver of regeneration (Titus 3:5) or birth from above (Jn. 3:3). No one can enter into this reign of God except through Baptism (Rom. 6:3), which is to say by being born again from above or being born of water and the Spirit, according to the word of the Savior: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (Jn. 3:5). This heavenly birth by the power of the All-holy Spirit is a true resurrection from the dead (Col. 2:12-13), and hence the reason why Baptism is so often referred to as resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5). Thus, also, it is that the Orthodox Christian Baptism is a renewal of life and a resurrection from the dead. When the Apostle Paul writes "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Eph. 5:14), he has in mind precisely this internal regeneration and resurrection through Christian Baptism, for no one can enter the kingdom of Christ unless he has first been brought out from among the dead by Christian Baptism.

Holy Scripture speaks to us about the thousand-year reign in prophetic and symbolic terms, corresponding to that which we spoke of above. Here is what Saint John the Evangelist says in his Revelation:

And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, 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. And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgement 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. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 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. And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, 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. 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. 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 forever and ever. 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. 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. 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. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death (Rev. 20:1-14).

From this passage we can ascertain the following:

1. The thousand-year reign of Christ is a period in which Christ has bound the power of the devil over men. (vv. 1-2)

2. At the end of this period the devil will again be lord over men and oppress them, but only for a season. (v. 3)

3. The members of this kingdom will be those alone who do not submit to the beast and accept his engraved seal, and who have a part in the first resurrection. (vv. 4-5)

4. Those who were not worthy of this resurrection will be raised at the end of the thousand years, that is at the second resurrection, as this resurrection, relative to the first, is the second. (v. 5)

5. Death will have no power over the sharers in the thousand-year reign. (v. 6)

6. At the end of these thousand years and after a gruesomely violent persecution against the saints, the devil and his followers will be cast into the lake of fire — the second death. (vv. 4-15)

From this it should be abundantly clear that the thousand-year kingdom is nothing else but the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven, and this is clear seeing that:

1. In the period of this reign, the devil was bound and loosed, receiving power over men. Christ entered into His dominion and bound the devil, that is, by the redemption of humanity by His Blood He bound and restrained his power over mankind.

2. The entrance into this kingdom presupposes the first resurrection, that is, none other than holy Baptism itself, often, in fact, called by the name of resurrection, or being born again from above or simply regeneration. This resurrection through Baptism is the first, in comparison to the second, the general one, of the body, which is also called the last resurrection, as when Martha spoke to Christ concerning her brother: "I know that he shall rise again at the resurrection on the Last Day" (Jn. 11:24).

3. At the end of this kingdom or reign, the devil will again be let loose to deceive the people and with power and mania to assault and oppress holy Christians in the person of the antichrist, the beast or false prophet. (Rev. 13:1-11)

4. The duration of this period will be brief and yet it will constitute one of the signs signalling the immediacy of the Second Coming of Christ. (Mat. 24:22; Rev. 13:5, 20:3)

Therefore, it should be clearly known that the first resurrection is the baptismal resurrection and the second resurrection is that which we await on the last day, the last resurrection. Furthermore, it should also be clear that the first death is the natural one or the separation of the soul from the body, while the second death is the eternal torment [of hell] (Mt. 18:8), so called due to its opposition to the blessed life of eternity (Jn. 5:24). It should also be clear that this second death has no power over those made worthy of the first resurrection. Likewise, from this it follows that the first death, from which not even the saints are delivered, is the natural or bodily death.

In Holy Scripture someones sinful condition is also compared to a kind of death. It is with this meaning that the Savior says to one of His disciples who had asked leave to first go and bury his father, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead" (Mat. 8:22). Likewise does He speak with this in mind when saying, "He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" (Jn. 11:25). The Apostle also had this meaning in mind when he wrote, "Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:11, 8:10). Moreover, with this meaning as well is it written to the angel (επίσκοπο) of the Church in Sardis: "I know thy works, and that thou hast a name that thou livest, but thou art dead" (Rev. 3:1). This does not, however, constitute the first death, as the baptismal resurrection constitutes the first resurrection, considering that this death is a condition that leads to but is not already the fact of death. When we spoke of resurrection and death above we had in mind not merely a condition or state but a specific action or event — of resurrection and of death respectively.

Although the duration of the reign of Christ is designated on the whole as a thousand years, we should understand this to signify an era immeasurable and undesignated. Therefore, its length is nothing else except the period between the first and second comings of the Lord, or more precisely, the period of the consolidation of the Kingdom of God until His Second Coming. This is the explanation of the Kingdom of God and its duration upon this earth.

Inq.: Father, recently I had a very disturbing conversation with some people concerning this question and came away with the opinion that the thousand-year reign could only be understood in earthly terms. This must be the case seeing that: it will be inaugurated at the Second Coming, will be preceded by the resurrection of the righteous who in turn will reign with Christ for a thousand years, after which will occur the resurrection of sinners, the judgement and the end of the world.

This interpretation seems to me to proceed from the twentieth chapter of Revelation that you read earlier. It can be deduced from that chapter that there will be final resurrections: the first resurrection of the righteous at the beginning of the thousand years and the second resurrection of the sinful at the end of world. (vv. 4-5)

During the period of a thousand years the active power of the devil will be restricted up until just before the end when, after a brief but horrible flurry of aggression, he will be thrown into Hades together with all of his servants (vv. 7-14). Afterward, they will be resurrected, judged and condemned to eternal punishment (vv. 12-15). After the first period we will pass through to the end of the world (v. 11). This is, for example, what the Apostle Paul says when writing to the Christians of Thessalonica: "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first" (1 Thess. 4:14-16). Consequently, at His Second Coming Christ will raise those who have died faithful to Him, i.e. those which, as the Apostle says, shall rise first, hence the first resurrection. The resurrection of the dead, or the second resurrection, will follow later — He does not tell us exactly when — but according to Revelation it will be after a thousand years. Listen to what Saint Paul says about this: "But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits" (1 Cor. 15:23); afterward they that are Christs at His coming. In other words, the Just join the choir of the Righteous at the beginning of the thousand-year reign and the sinful an assembly of their own at the end of the thousand-year period. Is this not the truth of matter, Father?

EC: As I explained to you earlier, the true Church of Christ understands the millennium of Holy Scripture secretly and symbolically to mean an indeterminate number of years. Do you think that Scripture only in this passage speaks in a secret and veiled manner, or could it be that many hard to comprehend sujects are approached in this way? Are there not, in fact, many secret, symbolic and allegorical expressions or events that cannot be explained literally (Rev. 5:1) but carry exalted and spiritual meanings often completely different from that readily apparent? How can we explain the book of Revelation literally when it is bound with seven seals? (Rev. 6:4) What is the red horse that is like unto fire? And what of the seven angels who were given seven plagues? (Rev. 15:1-7) How should we understand them?

There are those who speak of two resurrections at the end of the world, and thus, according to them, somehow a third coming of the Lord must take place. However, such a thing is surely not true. It was shown above that the first resurrection is realized through Christian Baptism and the second is the last (εσχάτη) or general resurrection [of the body]. Saint John the Evangelist renders precisely the words of the Savior concerning the two resurrections: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live" (Jn. 5:24-25). As this passage concerns the resurrection of those who will hear the voice of the Son of God, i.e. that resurrection which now is, this cannot be interpreted as referring to the last resurrection, but only to the present resurrection of those who are raised from the death of sin to the life of Christ, to the new life of Christian faith entered, as the Apostle and Evangelist himself relates elsewhere, through Christian Baptism (Jn. 5:24-25). This is the first resurrection referred to in the book of Revelation.

Further on the Savior speaks about another kind of resurrection, a resurrection which even now is and yet will, however, happen at the end of the world, which is not of the soul but of the body, and specifically of the dead in the graves. "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (Jn. 5:28-29). In other words, marvel not at the power of Christ to raise spiritually (i.e. in the first resurrection), for indeed He will raise all the dead from the graves as well. This passage excludes outright the possibility of their being a period of a thousand years between the resurrection of the righteous and the resurrection of the sinful, for it shows clearly that the last or general resurrection is one and only and will happen to all. This is the second resurrection. As for the first, we saw that it is that resurrection which now is, the present resurrection, and not the general or last.

Thus, through an analysis and comparison of the passages of Holy Scripture, we see how their meaning is clarified and elucidated, and how the possibility of an interpolation of a one thousand-year period between the two resurrections is ruled out. According to the teaching of the true Church of Christ, the one thousand-year period should be understood as extending between the first resurrection, which happens in Christian Baptism, and the second or last resurrection.

This is, in fact, what we find in Saint Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 4:14-16), where he speaks only of one resurrection and not a second or last resurrection. It is true that here Saint Paul is referring to the resurrection of the Just who have fallen asleep in the Lord and not to the resurrection of sinners. However, this is not because they will be raised later, after a thousand years, but simply because the Apostle Paul and his listeners are only concerned about the fate of those asleep in Christ. The fact that he makes no reference to sinners does not mean that they will be raised a thousand years later. The Apostle is not in the least concerned here with other questions, for his aim in this epistle is to comfort his readers (v. 18), that they be not sorrowful, anxious or in ignorance concerning the fate of those reposed in Christ.

In his first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:23), Saint Paul speaks of there being orders. The Chiliasts wrongly interpret this passage as referring only to two orders, namely of the Just and of the Sinful, whose resurrections will be separated by a period of one thousand years. In truth, Saint Paul is speaking here of many orders, analogous to the degree of holiness or sinfulness (for one differeth from another in glory — see vv. 39-41) with which they will be revealed.

Holy Scripture is explicit and categorical in many places concerning the Second Coming of Christ, namely, that it will be one single date for all, righteous and sinners alike, without there being a period of one thousand years between the resurrection and judgement of some and that of others. The Savior said: "For the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (Jn. 5:28-29). Hence, there will be one voice alone announcing the resurrection of all. In another place the Lord also says:

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world ... Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire ... (Matt. 25:31-46).

Here the Savior speaks with precision and clarity concerning His Second Coming and future judgement. In this most glorious parable He communicates the following certainty: there will be one harvest for the wheat and the tares alike (Mat. 13:30, 42-43), the Bridegroom will come for all the virgins at one and the same time (Mat. 25:1-13), and in the same hour will a reckoning be sought for the work done by the servants entrusted with the talents (Mat. 25:14-30). Therefore, one is the last advent of Christ, one the resurrection and appearance of all before the King and Judge, and one the judgement of mankind.

Inq.: I read in a brochure that the date of the beginning of the millennium can be determined, and that it will not be identical with the date of the Second Coming, and that it represents the end of the era of idol-worship. Does this have any validity?

EC: First of all, know with absolute assurance that there does not exist any such millennium with the meaning conveyed in that brochure. If the date of the Second Coming of Christ cannot be determined, as neither the angels nor even the Son of Man, as man, have been informed of it (Mat. 24:36-44), then surely neither can the date of the beginning of the millennium be determined.

We know that in that which pertains to salvation, the history of the world can only be divided into two periods: that of the Old Testament and that of the New Testament. Another age will begin with the Second Coming of our Lord, but this will be the last and everlasting age. In the history of the world there existed other lesser episodes which subdivided the two great periods without thereby constituting two or three more periods. Ages or epochs that we have with this meaning include that of the patriarchs, the apostles, the persecutions and so on.

Concerning the passages of the Old Testament, these cannot be understood as if they were magical, but are either factual or symbolic like the book from which they are derived. How can someone know that the six days of creation were, in actuality, some seven thousand years and that they each represent a great duration of time for humanity or even one thousand years?

Nowhere does it say in Holy Scripture that one day is equal to one thousand years, but only that before the creation of the visible world time did not exist. Time, for God, is not fixed or appointed, but, rather, one day before God is considered as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day or as a night watch (2 Pet. 3:8). It does not follow from this that figures from Holy Scripture represent a certain number of days, which we then reckon as years. In this way precisely would we then also be able to consider that which they represent as a thousand years. Conversely, we would also be able to say, with the same logic, that the thousand years of the millennium really means one day. And in this case, what would remain any longer of the calculations and analysis of the Millennialists? All their calculations are contradictory and refuted by the truth of things.

Inq.: With respect to that which is said in the Symbol of Faith [The Nicene-Constantinople Creed - 325 & 381 A.D.] "And His kingdom shall have no end," the Chiliasts say that the Lord will come before the Future Judgement to rule with them a thousand years, and that afterward he will raise the sinners to be judged. Isn't it true that the Lord will rule endlessly after the final judgement?

EC: The true Church tells us that the kingdom of the Lord will have no end. The Reign of Jesus Christ, as man, and His Glory will never come to an end, but will endure eternally. For, on the one hand, Jesus is not only human, from whom God could someday take His glory, while on the other hand as the Son of God He will never deny His human nature. His being a man, so filled with divine glory, will never come to an end.

The everlasting Reign of Jesus Christ was announced in advance by the Archangel Gabriel. It is true, as Saint Paul says, that Christ will be subjected in everything to the Father and afterward that He will subject everything to Himself (Lk. 1:33). Yet, this means the submission of the entire world before the Father and the cessation of His redemptive activity (1 Cor. 15:25-28), as it is His own work, which He assumed at His incarnation.

So, let the Chiliasts know that they cannot make human calculations and determinations for mysteries that are unknown to the angels, and even, in His humanity, to the Son of God Himself.

From The Truth of Our Faith: A Discourse from Holy Scripture on the Teachings of True Christianity, Ch. 16, by Elder Cleopa of Romania (Greece: Uncut Mountain Press, 2000).