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Millennialism (from millennium, Latin for "a thousand years") or chiliasm (from the Greek equivalent) is a belief advanced by some religious denominations that a Golden Age or Paradise will occur on Earth prior to the final judgment and future eternal state of the "World to Come".


Christianity and Judaism have both produced messianic movements which featured millennialist teachings—such as the notion that an earthly kingdom of God was at hand. These millenarian movements often led to considerable social unrest. [1]

Similarities to millennialism appear in Zoroastrianism, which identified successive thousand-year periods, each of which will end in a cataclysm of heresy and destruction, until the final destruction of evil and of the spirit of evil by a triumphant king of peace at the end of the final millennial age. "Then Saoshyant makes the creatures again pure, and the resurrection and future existence occur" (Zand-i Vohuman Yasht 3:62).

Scholars have also linked various other social and political movements, both religious and secular, to millennialist metaphors.

Baha'i Faith

Bahá'u'lláh mentioned in the Kitáb-i-Íqán that God will renew the "City of God" about every thousand years, [2] and specifically mentioned that a new Manifestation of God would not appear within 1,000 years (1852–2852 CE) of Bahá'u'lláh's Dispensation, but that the authority of Bahá'u'lláh's message could last up to 500,000 years. [3] [4]


Most Christian millennialist thinking is based upon the Book of Revelation, specifically Revelation 20, [5] which describes the vision of an angel who descended from heaven with a large chain and a key to a bottomless pit, and captured Satan, imprisoning him for a thousand years:

He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years and threw him into the pit and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be let out for a little while.

Revelation 20:2-3 [6]

The Book of Revelation then describes a series of judges who are seated on thrones, as well as John's vision of the souls of those who were beheaded for their testimony in favor of Jesus and their rejection of the mark of the beast. These souls:

came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years

Revelation 20:4-6 [7]

Early church


During the first centuries after Christ, various forms of chiliasm (millennialism) were to be found in the Church, both East and West. [8] Premillennialism held by the Early Church is called "historic premillennialism", [9] and it was supported by in the early church by Papias, [10] Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, [11] Tertullian, [12] Polycarp, [13] Pseudo-Barnabas, [14] Methodius, Lactantius, [15] Commodianus, [16] Theophilus, [17] Melito, [18] Hippolytus of Rome, Victorinus of Pettau, [19] [20] Nepos, Julius Africanus, Tatian [21] and Montanus. [22] However, the premillennial views of Montanus probably affected the later rejection of premillennialism in the Church, as Montanism was seen as a heresy. [21]


In the 2nd century, the Alogi (those who rejected all of John's writings) were amillennial, as was Caius in the first quarter of the 3rd century. [23] With the influence of Platonism, Clement of Alexandria and Origen denied premillennialism. [24] Likewise, Dionysius of Alexandria (died 264) argued that Revelation was not written by John and could not be interpreted literally; he was amillennial. [25]

Justin Martyr (died 165), who had chiliastic tendencies in his theology, mentions differing views in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew , chapter 80: [26]

"I and many others are of this opinion [premillennialism], and [believe] that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise." [26]

Augustine in his early days affirmed premillennialism, but later changed to amillennialism, causing the view to become popularized together with Pope Gregory the Great. [27] [28]

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that the 2nd century proponents of various Gnostic beliefs (themselves considered heresies) also rejected millenarianism. [29]

Reformation and beyond

Comparison of Christian millennial interpretations Millennial views.svg
Comparison of Christian millennial interpretations

Christian views on the future order of events diversified after the Protestant reformation (c.1517). In particular, new emphasis was placed on the passages in the Book of Revelation which seemed to say that as Christ would return to judge the living and the dead, Satan would be locked away for 1000 years, but then released on the world to instigate a final battle against God and his Saints. [30] Previous Catholic and Orthodox theologians had no clear or consensus view on what this actually meant (only the concept of the end of the world coming unexpectedly, "like a thief in a night", and the concept of "the antichrist" were almost universally held). Millennialist theories try to explain what this "1000 years of Satan bound in chains" would be like.

Various types of millennialism exist with regard to Christian eschatology, especially within Protestantism, such as Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Amillennialism. The first two refer to different views of the relationship between the "millennial Kingdom" and Christ's second coming.

Premillennialism sees Christ's second advent as preceding the millennium, thereby separating the second coming from the final judgment. In this view, "Christ's reign" will be physically on the earth.

Postmillennialism sees Christ's second coming as subsequent to the millennium and concurrent with the final judgment. In this view "Christ's reign" (during the millennium) will be spiritual in and through the church.

Amillennialism sees the 1000 year kingdom as being metaphorically described in Rev. 20:1–6 in which "Christ's reign" is current in and through the church. Thus, while this view does not hold to a future millennial reign, it does hold that the New Heavens and New Earth will appear upon the return of Christ.

The Catholic Church strongly condemns millennialism as the following shows:

The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1995 [31]

19th and 20th centuries

Bible Student movement

The Bible Student movement is a millennialist movement based on views expressed in "The Divine Plan of the Ages," in 1886, in Volume One of the Studies in the Scriptures series, by Pastor Charles Taze Russell. (This series is still being published, since 1927, by the Dawn Bible Students Association.) Bible Students believe that there will be a universal opportunity for every person, past and present, not previously recipients of a heavenly calling, to gain everlasting life on Earth during the Millennium. [32]

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Christ will rule from heaven for 1,000 years as king over the earth, assisted by the 144,000 ascended humans. [33]

The Church of Almighty God

Also known as Eastern Lightning, The Church of Almighty God mentions in its teachings the Age of Millennial Kingdom, which will follow the catastrophes prophesied in the Book of Revelation. [34]


Millennialist thinking first emerged in Jewish apocryphal literature of the tumultuous Second Temple period, [35]

Gerschom Scholem profiles medieval and early modern Jewish millennialist teachings in his book Sabbatai Sevi, the mystical messiah, which focuses on the 17th-century movement centered on the self-proclaimed messiahship (1648) of Sabbatai Zevi [36] (16261676).


The Theosophist Alice Bailey taught that Christ (in her books she refers to the powerful spiritual being best known by Theosophists as Maitreya as The Christ or The World Teacher, not as Maitreya)[ clarification needed ] would return “sometime after AD 2025”, and that this would be the New Age equivalent of the Christian concept of the Second Coming of Christ. [37] [38]

Social movements

Millennial social movements, a specific form of millenarianism, have as their basis some concept of a cycle of one-thousand years. Sometimes[ quantify ] the two terms[ which? ] are used[ by whom? ] as synonyms, but purists regard this as not entirely accurate.[ citation needed ] Millennial social movements need not have a religious foundation, but they must[ need quotation to verify ] have a vision of an apocalypse that can be utopian or dystopian. Those associated with millennial social movements are "prone to be violent",[ citation needed ] with certain types of millennialism connected to violence. [39] [40] In progressive millennialism, the "transformation of the social order is gradual and humans play a role in fostering that transformation". [41] Catastrophic millennialism "deems the current social order as irrevocably corrupt, and total destruction of this order is necessary as the precursor to the building of a new, godly order". [42] However the link between millennialism and violence may be problematic, as new religious movements may stray from the catastrophic view as time progresses. [43] [ need quotation to verify ]


The most controversial interpretation of the Three Ages philosophy and of millennialism in general involves Adolf Hitler's "Third Reich" ("Drittes Reich"), which in his vision would last for a thousand years to come ("Tausendjähriges Reich") but ultimately lasted for only 12 years (1933–1945).

The German thinker Arthur Moeller van den Bruck coined the phrase "Third Reich" and in 1923 published a book titled Das Dritte Reich . Looking back at German history, he distinguished two separate periods, and identified them with the ages of the 12th-century Italian theologian Joachim of Fiore:

After the interval of the Weimar Republic (1918 onwards), during which constitutionalism, parliamentarianism and even pacifism dominated, these were then to be followed by:

Although van den Bruck was unimpressed by Hitler when he met him in 1922 and did not join the Nazi Party, nevertheless the Nazis adopted the term "Third Reich" to label the totalitarian state they wanted to set up when they gained power, which they succeeded in doing in 1933. Later, however, the Nazi authorities banned the informal use of "Third Reich" throughout the German press in the summer of 1939, instructing it to use more official terms such as "German Reich", "Greater German Reich", and "National Socialist Germany" exclusively. [44]

During the early part of the Third Reich many Germans also referred to Hitler as being the German Messiah, especially when he conducted the Nuremberg Rallies,[ citation needed ] which came to be held annually (1933-1938) at a date somewhat before the Autumn Equinox in Nuremberg, Germany.

In a speech held on 27 November 1937, Hitler commented on his plans to have major parts of Berlin torn down and rebuilt:

[...] einem tausendjährigen Volk mit tausendjähriger geschichtlicher und kultureller Vergangenheit für die vor ihm liegende unabsehbare Zukunft eine ebenbürtige tausendjährige Stadt zu bauen [...].
[...] to build a millennial city adequate [in splendour] to a thousand-year-old people with a thousand-year-old historical and cultural past, for its never-ending [glorious] future [...]

After Adolf Hitler's unsuccessful attempt to implement a thousand-year-reign, the Vatican issued an official statement that millennial claims could not be safely taught and that the related scriptures in Revelation (also called the Apocalypse) should be understood spiritually. Catholic author Bernard LeFrois wrote:

Millenium[ sic ]: [...] Since the Holy Office decreed (July 21, 1944) that it cannot be safely taught that Christ at His Second Coming will reign visibly with only some of His saints (risen from the dead) for a period of time before the final and universal judgment, a spiritual millenium is to be seen in Apoc. 20:4–6. St. John gives a recapitulation of the activity of Satan, and the spiritual reign of the saints with Christ in heaven and in His Church on earth. [45]


The early Christian concepts of millennialism had ramifications far beyond strictly religious concerns during the centuries to come, as various theorists blended and enhanced them with ideas of utopia.

In the wake of early millennial thinking, the Three Ages philosophy developed. The Italian monk and theologian Joachim of Fiore (died 1202) saw all of human history as a succession of three ages:

  1. the Age of the Father (the Old Testament)
  2. the Age of the Son (the New Testament)
  3. the Age of the Holy Spirit (the age begun when Christ ascended into heaven, leaving the Paraclete, the third person of the Holy Trinity, to guide the faithful)

It was believed[ by whom? ] that the Age of the Holy Spirit would begin at around 1260, and that from then on all believers would live as monks, mystically transfigured and full of praise for God, for a thousand years until Judgment Day would put an end to the history of our planet.

Joachim of Fiore's divisions of historical time also highly influenced the New Age movement, which transformed the Three Ages philosophy into astrological terminology, relating the Northern-hemisphere vernal equinox to different constellations of the zodiac. In this scenario the Age of the Father was recast[ by whom? ] as the Age of Aries, the Age of the Son became the Age of Pisces, and the Age of the Holy Spirit was called the Aquarian New Age. The current so-called "Age of Aquarius" will supposedly witness the development of a number of great changes for humankind, [46] reflecting the typical features of some manifestations of millennialism. [47]

See also

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  1. Some examples are given by Gerschom Scholem in Sabbatai Sevi, the mystical messiah (London: Routledge, 1973). The whole book profiles a Jewish group of this kind centered on the person of Sabbatai Zevi, but in part 1 Scholem also gives a number of comparable Christian examples, e.g. p. 100 - 101.
  2. The Kitáb-i-Íqán, pg. 199.
  3. McMullen, Michael D. (2000). The Baha'i: The Religious Construction of a Global Identity. Atlanta, Georgia: Rutgers University Press. p. 7. ISBN   0-8135-2836-4 via Google Books.
  4. The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, gr. 37.
  5. Revelation 20
  6. Revelation 20:2–3
  7. Revelation 20:4–6
  8. Theology Today, January 1996, Vol. 53, No. 4, pp. 464–476. On-line version here.
  9. Blomberg, Craig L.; Chung, Sung Wook (2009-02-01). A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to "Left Behind" Eschatology. Baker Academic. ISBN   978-1-4412-1056-2 via Google Books.
  10. Davies and Allison. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Volume 1, ICC. p. 13.
  11. "Historic Premillennialism". Monergism. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  12. Chung, Sung Wook; Mathewson, David L. (2018-08-27). Models of Premillennialism. Wipf & Stock Publishers. ISBN   978-1-5326-3769-8 via Google Books.
  13. Chung, Sung Wook; Mathewson, David L. (2018-08-27). Models of Premillennialism. Wipf & Stock Publishers. ISBN   978-1-5326-3771-1 via Google Books.
  14. ”Among the Apostolic Fathers Barnabas is the first and the only one who expressly teaches a pre-millennial reign of Christ on earth. He considers the Mosaic history of the creation a type of six ages of labor for the world, each lasting a thousand years, and of a millennium of rest, since with God ‘one day is as a thousand years.’ Millennial Sabbath on earth will be followed by an eight and eternal day in a new world, of which the Lord’s Day (called by Barnabas ‘the eighth day’) is the type" (access The Epistle of Barnabas here). Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, n.d.) 382.
  15. Insruct. adv. Gentium Deos, 43, 44.
  16. According to the Encyclopedia of the Early ChurchCommodian (mid 3rd c.) takes up the theme of the 7000 years, the last of which is the millennium (Instr. II 35, 8 ff.).” M. Simonetti, “Millenarism,” 560.
  17. Against Marcion, book 3 chp 25
  18. Simonetti writes in the Encyclopedia of the Early Church “We know that Melito was also a millenarian" regarding Jerome's reference to him as a chiliast. M. Simonetti, “Millenarism,” 560.
  19. Note this is Victorinus of Pettau not Marcus Piav(v)onius Victorinus the Gaelic Emperor
  20. In his Commentary on Revelation and from the fragment De Fabrica Mundi (Part of a commentary on Genesis). Jerome identifies him as a premillennialist.
  21. 1 2 Foster, K. Neill; Fessenden, David E. (2007-02-01). Essays on Premillennialism: A Modern Reaffirmation of an Ancient Doctrine. Moody Publishers. ISBN   978-1-60066-959-0 via Google Books.
  22. Foster, K. Neill; Fessenden, David E. (2007-02-01). Essays on Premillennialism: A Modern Reaffirmation of an Ancient Doctrine. Moody Publishers. ISBN   978-1-60066-959-0 via Google Books.
  23. Eusebius, 3.28.1–2
  24. De Principiis, 2.11.2-3
  25. Eusebius, Church History , 7.24.3; 7.25
  26. 1 2 "Philip Schaff: ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus - Christian Classics Ethereal Library". Retrieved 2022-11-06.
  27. Olson, Roger E. (2005). The SCM Press A-Z of Evangelical Theology. Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. ISBN   978-0-334-04011-8 via Google Books.
  28. G. Folliet, “La typologie du sabbat chez Saint Augustin. Son interpretation millénariste entre 386 et 400 Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine ,” REAug 2 (1956):371-90. Referenced in David R. Anderson, “The Soteriological Impact of Augustine’s Change From Premillennialism to Amillennialism: Part One,” The Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Vol. 15 (Spring 2002), 27. Johannes Quasten also writes "Augustine made a “short shrift of millenarianism after having accepted it at first himself ( De civ. Dei 20, 7; Serm 259.2) by explaining Apoc. 20:1-5 in an allegorical sense (it regards the spiritual resurrection of the body – real bodies even though no longer corruptible)" (De civ. Dei 22, 1-28).” Johannes Quasten, Patrology, Vol. 4 (Westminster, Maryland: Christian Classics, Inc.), 452.
  29. Kirsch J.P. Transcribed by Donald J. Boon. Millennium and Millenarianism
  30. Revelation 20:1–6
  31. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Imprimatur Potest +Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Doubleday, NY 1995, p. 194.
  32. Studies in the Scriptures, Volume One, The Divine Plan of the Ages, Study IX, "Ransom and Restitution," pp. 149-152
  33. "Who Goes to Heaven?". Jehovah's Witnesses . Archived from the original on 29 May 2021. Retrieved 19 July 2021.
  34. Dunn, Emily (27 May 2015). Lightning from the East: Heterodoxy and Christianity in Contemporary China. ISBN   9789004297258 via Google Books.
  35. Compare: Tabor, James D. (2011). "13: Ancient Jewish and Early Christian Millennialism". In Wessinger, Catherine (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism. Oxford Handbooks (reprint ed.). New York: Oxford University Press (published 2016). p. 254. ISBN   9780190611941 . Retrieved 2019-02-05 via Google Books. Millennialism, as it developed in emerging forms of Judaism around 200 B.C.E., was a response to a much older conceptual problem and a specific historical crisis brought on by a program of Hellenization initiated by the Macedonian ruler, Antiochus IV (r. 175-164 B.C.E.), a successor of Alexander the Great (256-323 B.C.E.), who had conquered Syria-Palestine in 332 B.C.E.
  36. Gerschom Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi, the mystical messiah (London: Routledge, 1973). Scholem also gives examples of other Jewish millennialist movements.
  37. Bailey, Alice A. The Externalisation of the Hierarchy New York:1957 Lucis Publishing Co. Page 530
  38. Bailey, Alice A. The Reappearance of the Christ New York:1948 Lucis Publishing Co.
  39. Bromley, David G. (2003). "Violence and New Religious Movements". In Lewis, James R. (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements. Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology. Vol. 1 (reprint ed.). New York: Oxford University Press (published 2008). p. 148. ISBN   9780195369649 . Retrieved 30 August 2020 via Google Books. Groups with millennial/apocalyptic expectations have been proposed to be prone to violence due to their fiery rhetoric condemning the existing social order and separation from that order. [...] However, there does not appear to be any simple connection between millennialism and violence. [...] While millennialism as a general form may not be linked to violence, there have been several suggestions that specific types of millennialism may be so connected.
  40. Compare: Walliss, John (2011). "Fragile Millennial Communities and Violence". In Wessinger, Catherine (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism. Oxford Handbooks Series (reprint ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press (published 2016). p. 224. ISBN   9780190611941 . Retrieved 30 August 2020 via Google Books. Like all religious groups, Wessinger argues, millennial groups possess an 'ultimate concern' [...] When this concern - or 'millennial goal' - is threatened in some way, a group that possesses a radically dualistic perspective may in some cases seek to preserve or fulfill their goal through acts of violence. [...] By contrast, revolutionary millennial movements are likely to engage in pre-emptive, offensive actions, believing 'that revolutionary violence is necessary to become liberated from their persecutors and to set up the righteous government and society' [...]. [...] Finally, [...] Wessinger adds the category of fragile millennial groups, where violence stems from a combination of internal pressures and the perception or experience of external opposition.
  41. Bromley, David G. (2003). "Violence and New Religious Movements". In Lewis, James R. (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements. Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology. Vol. 1 (reprint ed.). New York: Oxford University Press (published 2008). p. 148. ISBN   9780195369649 . Retrieved 30 August 2020 via Google Books. With progressive millennialism, transformation of the social order is gradual and humans play a role in fostering that transformation.
  42. Bromley, David G. (2003). "Violence and New Religious Movements". In Lewis, James R. (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements. Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology. Vol. 1 (reprint ed.). New York: Oxford University Press (published 2008). p. 148. ISBN   9780195369649 . Retrieved 30 August 2020 via Google Books. Catastrophic millennialism deems the current social order as irrevocably corrupt, and total destruction of this order is necessary as the precursor to the building of a new, godly order.
  43. Lewis (2004). Lewis, James R. (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements. Oxford University Press. ISBN   0-19-514986-6.
  44. Schmitz-Berning, Cornelia (2000). Vokabular des Nationalsozialismus [Vocabulary of National Socialism] (in German). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG. pp. 159–160 via Google Books.
  45. LeFrois, Bernard J. Eschatological Interpretation of the Apocalypse. The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. XIII, pp. 17–20; Cited in: Culleton R. G. The Reign of Antichrist, 1951. Reprint TAN Books, Rockford (IL), 1974, p. 9 and in: Culleton, R. Gerald (1951). The Reign of Antichrist. TAN Books (published 2009). ISBN   9781505102918 . Retrieved 30 August 2020 via Google Books. [...] Since the Holy Office decreed (July 21, 1944) that it cannot be safely taught that Christ at His Second Coming will reign visibly with only some of His saints (risen from the dead) for a period of time before the final and universal judgment, a spiritual millenium is to be seen in Apoc. 20:4–6. St. John gives a recapitulation of the activity of Satan, and the spiritual reign of the saints with Christ in heaven and in His Church on earth.
  46. Bogdan, Henrik (5 September 2012). "Envisioning the Birth of a New Aeon: Dispensationalism and Millenarianism in the Thelemic Tradition". In Bogdan, Henrik; Starr, Martin P. (eds.). Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism. Oxford: Oxford University Press (published 2012). ISBN   9780199996063 . Retrieved 30 August 2020 via Google Books. The New Age was commonly also defined in astrological terms, with the Age of Pisces said to be supplanted by the Age of Aquarius. The consequent evolutionary leap in the development of humankind was often portrayed as heralding a fundamental change in the understanding of the relationship between human beings and the universe. Such thought culminated in the blossoming of the New Age movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, with its characterization of the Age of Aquarius as the embodiment of holistic principles [...]. [...] the New Age would be marked by peace and harmony.
  47. Compare: Landes, Richard (2006). "Millenarianism and the Dynamics of Apocalyptic Time". In Newport, Kenneth G. C.; Gribben, Crawford (eds.). Expecting the End: Millennialism in Social and Historical Context. Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press. p. 11. ISBN   9781932792386 . Retrieved 30 August 2020 via Google Books. Transformational millennialism tends to foster programs of radical and often unrealistic social change [...]. [...] Currently, the most prominent form of transformational millennialism comes from the New Age movements set in motion by the millennial wave of the 1960s: environmentally harmonized communes.