Revelation in Late Antiquity and the Early Church.

Chiliasm. As Wainwright discusses, Chiliastic of Revelation interpretation predominated during the second and third centures of this era. Chiliasts (from the Greek for "thousand," chilioi) took a literal interpretation of Rev 20:4-5 and looked forward to a thousand year reign with Christ on earth. The word "millenarian" (from the Latin for "thousand year," mille annus), is used today for people who take a literal view of this passage. Chiliastic readings in the second century ce tended towards materialistic interpretation of the millennium kingdom and the wealth described in the New Jerusalem. Wainwright mentions a number of important early church figures who were also Chiliasts; chief among these are Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian (others, such as Hippolytus and Lactanius, are not as important for the development of Christian doctrine and dogma).

Justin Martyr is the first Christian author to write on the Apocalypse. In his "Dialogue with Trypho" chapter 80, he claims that all "right-minded Christians" believe that "there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declars." He goes on to write in chapter 81: "And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Chirst would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place."

Irenaeus, towards the end of the second century, also takes a Chiliastic interpretation of Revelation. In his "The Refutation (Detection) and Overthrow of Gnosis Falsely So-Called," usually called "Adversus Haereses" or "Against Heresies," he writes of the millenium:

"John, therefore, did distinctly foresee the first "resurrection of the just,"(7) and the inheritance in the kingdom of the earth; and what the prophets have prophesied concerning it harmonize [with his vision]. For the Lord also taught these things, when He promised that He would have the mixed cup new with His disciples in the kingdom. The apostle, too, has confessed that the creation shall be free from the bondage of corruption, [so as to pass] into the liberty of the sons of God. (8) And in all these things, and by them all, the same God the Father is manifested, who fashioned man, and gave promise of the inheritance of the earth to the fathers, who brought it (the creature) forth [from bondage] at the resurrection of the just, and fulfils the promises for the kingdom of His Son; subsequently bestowing in a paternal manner those things which neither the eye has seen, nor the ear has heard, nor has [thought concerning them] arisen within the heart of man,(9) For there is the one Son, who accomplished His Father's will; and one human race also in which the mysteries of God are wrought, "which the angels desire to look into;"(10) and they are not able to search out the wisdom of God, by means of Which His handiwork, confirmed and incorporated with His Son, is brought to perfection; that His offspring, the First-begotten Word, should descend to the creature (facturam), that is, to what had been moulded (plasma), and that it should be contained by Him; and, on the other hand, the creature should contain the Word, and ascend to Him, passing beyond the angels, and be made after the image and likeness of God.(11)

Problems with the Text. The other prominent line of ancient interpretation, particularly in the ancient Greek East, was allegory. At the end of the second century, Clement of Alexandria chastised Christian women who took the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 as a warrant for wearing jewelry (Paed. 2.12, 119.1 3). Clement, in his typical manner, points out the allegorical or spiritual meaning of the passage; the brilliancy of the stones signifies the brilliancy of the spirit.

By the third century, the Eastern Christian tradition (centered in Alexandria) was becoming increasing uncomfortable with the imagery of the Apocalypse and the literal interpretations of the visions by Chiliasts such as Irenaeus and Justin. The Christian historian Eusebius ofCaesarea records another debate over the imagery of wealth in Revelation that occurred in Alexandria in the third century ce, two generations after Clement. Eusebius reports that Nepos, an Egyptian bishop, wrote a text called "Refutation of the Allegorists," in which he held that "the promises which had been made to the saints in the divine Scriptures should be interpreted after a more Jewish fashion (ioudaikoteron)." In other words, Nepos took passages such as the vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 22 literally rather than allegorically. Nepos also described the millennium for the saints as a time of "bodily indulgence." The bishop Dionysius of Alexandria, in his "On Promises," attempted to refute the interpretation of Revelation by Nepos. In an excerpt of this book recorded by Eusebius, Dionysius defends allegorical interpretation and indeed the book of Revelation itself, which, he writes, had been impugned by others as unintelligible, illogical, and hardly the "unveiling" (apokalypsis) that the Greek title promises. Dionysius writes that "they" have claimed that the author of Revelation was neither an apostle nor a saint, but Cerinthus, labelled a heretic by the orthodox Christian party, who taught:

that the kingdom of Christ would be on earth; and he dreamed that it would consist in those things which formed the object of his own desires (for he was a lover of the body and altogether carnal), in the full satisfaction of the belly and lower lusts, that is, in feasts and carousals and marriages, and (as a means, he thought, of procuring these under a better name) in festivals and sacrifices and slayings of victims.

Acceptance of the text as scripture. The historian Eusebius, in the fourth century, records the debates over accepting Revelation into the canon. In his Church History (Historia Ecclesia) 3.25, he writes:

"The Divine Scriptures that are accept and those that are not. (1)

Since we are dealing with this subject it is proper to sum up the writings of the New Testament which have been already mentioned. First then must be put the holy quaternion of the Gospels; (2) following them the Acts of the Apostles. (3) After this must be reckoned the epistles of Paul; (4) next in order the extanfinal former epistle of John, (5) and likewise the epistle of Peter, (6) must be maintained. (6) After them is to be placed, if it really seem proper, the Apocalypse of John, (7) concerning which we shall give the different opinions at the proper time. (8) These then belong among the accepted writings. (9) Among the disputed writings, (10) which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James (12) and that of Jude, (13) also the second epistle of Peter, (14) and those that are called the second and third of John, (15) whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name. Among the rejected 4 writings (16) must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, (17) and the so-called Shepherd, (18) and the Apocalypse of Peter, (19) and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, (20) and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; (21) and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, (22) but which others class with the accepted books. (23) And 5 among these some have placed also the Gospel according to the Hebrews, (24) with which those of the Hebrews that have accepted Christ are especially delighted. And all these may be reckoned among the disputed books.

For more opinions, see Hist. Eccl. 7.24-25.

The Church Triumphant. As Wainwright discusses, a crucial turning point in the interpretation of the Apocalypse was the conversion of Constantine. Persecution of _mainline_ or "orthodox" Christians ceased, although as part of Constantine's policy of political orthodoxy, other types of Christianity were still persectued for hundreds of years. Note that Tyconius is a Donatist, a rigorous branch of Christianity that developed out of the third-century persecutions. With the established church, millenarianism was out of favor. The millenium had begun with the birth of Christ and was become successfully actualized in the life of the church. Origen, an earlier (third- century) Alexandrian theologian and biblical scholar who opposed literal chiliastic interpretations, had substititued an individual eschatology of the soul for the collective eschatology of the Apocalypse; in the Imperial Christian church, this view prevailed, for the idea that all earthly institutions would soon disappear did not fit well with Imperial theology and propaganda.

A second key interpretive point is Augustine's contention that the binding of Satan (Rev 20:2-4) had already taken place in the activity of the church. Augustine is as "spiritual" or allegorical as was Origen, but he anchors his interpretation of the Apocalypse in the Church in such a way that it dominated from 400 to 1200. Wainwright lists a number of interpreters in the West and the East who followed Augustine, but it is Augustines' notion of the Church as the City of God, which, after judgment by God (for not all Christians in the Church will stay in the City of God), will reign eternally with God. This is the major interpretation to be dealt with until the revised view of history by Joachim of Fiore.

The City of God, Book 20, Chapter 7:

The evangelist John has spoken of these two resurrections in the book which is called the Apocalypse, but in such a way that some Christians do not understand the first of the two, and so construe the passage into ridiculous fancies. For the Apostle John says in the foresaid book, "And I saw an angel come down from heaven. . . . 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."(1) Those who, on the strength of this passage, have suspected that the first resurrection is future and bodily, have been moved, among other things, specially by the number of a thousand years, as if it were a fit thing that the saints should thus enjoy a kind of Sabbath-rest during that period, a holy leisure after the labors of the six thousand years since man was created, and was on account of his great sin dismissed from the blessedness of paradise into the woes of this mortal life, so that thus, as it is written, "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,"(2) there should follow on the completion of six thousand years, as of six days, a kind of seventh-day Sabbath in the succeeding thousand years; and that it is for this purpose the saints rise, viz., to celebrate this Sabbath. And. this opinion would not be objectionable, if it were believed that the joys of the saints in that Sabbath shall be spiritual, and consequent on the presence of God; for I myself, too, once held this opinion.(3) But, as they assert that those who then rise again shall enjoy the leisure of immoderate carnal banquets, furnished with an amount of meat and drink such as not only to shock the feeling of the temperate, but even to surpass the measure of credulity itself, such assertions can be believed only by the carnal. They who do believe them are called by the spiritual Chiliasts, which we may literally reproduce by the name Millenarians.(4) It were a tedious process to refute these opinions point by point: we prefer proceeding to show how that passage of Scripture should be understood.(5)

The Lord Jesus Christ Himself says, "No man can enter into a strong man's house, and Spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man"(6)--meaning by the strong man the devil, because he had power to take captive the human race; and meaning by his goods which he was to take, those who had been held by the devil in divers sins and iniquities, but were to become believers in Himself. It was then for the binding of this strong one that the apostle saw in the Apocalypse "an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss, and a chain in his hand. And he laid hold," he says, "on the dragon, that old serpent, which is called the devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,"--that is bridled and restrained his power so that he could not seduce and gain possession of those who were to be freed. Now the thousand years may be understood in two ways, so far as occurs to me: either because these things happen in the sixth thousand of years or sixth millennium (the latter part of which is now passing), as if during the sixth day, which is to be followed by a Sabbath which has no evening, the endless rest of the saints, so that, speaking of a part under the name of the whole, he calls the last part of the millennium--the part, that is, which had yet to expire before the end of the world--a thousand years; or he used the thousand years as an equivalent for the whole duration of this world, employing the number of perfection to mark the fullness of time. For a thousand is the cube of ten. For ten times ten makes a hundred, that is; the square on a plane superficies. But to give this superficies height, and make it a cube, the hundred is again multiplied by ten, which gives a thousand. Besides, if a hundred is sometimes used for totality, as when the Lord said by way of promise to him that left all and followed Him "He shall receive in this world an hundredfold;"(1) of which the apostle gives, as it were, an explanation when he says, "As having nothing, yet possessing all things,"(2)--for even of old it had been said, The whole world is the wealth of a believer,--with how much greater reason is a thousand put for totality since it is the cube, while the other is only the square? And for the same reason we cannot better interpret the words of the psalm, "He hath been mindful of His covenant for ever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations,"(3) than by understanding it to mean "to all generations."

"And he cast him into the abyss,"--i.e., cast the devil into the abyss. By the abyss is meant the countless multitude of the wicked whose hearts are unfathomably deep in malignity against the Church of God; not that the devil was not there before, but he is said to be cast in thither, because, when prevented from harming believers, he takes more complete possession of the ungodly. For that man is more abundantly possessed by the devil who is not only alienated from God, but also gratuitously hates those who serve God. "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." "Shut him up,"--i.e., prohibited him from going out, from doing what was forbidden. And the addition of "set a seal upon him" seems to me to mean that it was designed to keep it a secret who belonged to the devil's party and who did not. For in this world this is a secret, for we cannot tell whether even the man who seems to stand shall fall, or whether he who seems to lie shall rise again. But by the chain and prison-house of this interdict the devil is prohibited and restrained from seducing those nations which belong to Christ, but which he formerly seduced or held in subjection. For before the foundation of the world God chose to rescue these from the power of darkness, and to translate them into the kingdom of the Son of His love, as the apostle says.(4) For what Christian is not aware that he seduces nations even now, and draws them with himself to eternal punishment, but not those predestined to eternal life? And let no one be dismayed by the circumstance that the devil often seduces even those who have been regenerated in Christ, and begun to walk in God's way. For "the Lord knoweth them that are His,"(5) and of these the devil seduces none to eternal damnation. For it is as God, from whom nothing is hid even of things future, that the Lord knows them; not as a man, who sees a man at the present time (if he can be said to see one whose heart he does not see), but does not see even himself so far as to be able to know what kind of person he is to be. The devil, then, is bound and shut up in the abyss that he may not seduce the nations from which the Church is gathered, and which he formerly seduced before the Church existed. For it is not said "that he should not seduce any man," but "that he should not seduce the nations"--meaning, no doubt, those among which the Church exists--"till the thousand years should be fulfilled,"--i.e., either what remains of the sixth day which consists of a thousand years, or all the years which are to elapse till the end of the world.

The words, "that he should not seduce the nations till the thousand years should be fulfilled," are not to be understood as indicating that afterwards. he is to seduce only those nations from which the predestined Church is composed, and from seducing whom he is restrained by that chain and imprisonment; but they are used in conformity with that usage frequently employed in Scripture and exemplified in the psalm, "So our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until He have mercy upon us,"(6)--not as if the eyes of His servants Would no longer wait upon the Lord their God when He had mercy upon them. Or the order of the words is unquestionably this, "And he shut him up and set a seal upon him, till the thousand years should be fulfilled;" and the interposed clause, "that he should seduce the nations no more," is not to be understood in the connection in which it stands, but separately, and as if added afterwards, so that the whole sentence might be read, "And He shut him up and set a seal upon him till the thousand years should be fulfilled, that he should seduce the nations no more,"--i.e., he is shut up till the thousand years be fulfilled, on this account, that he may no more deceive the nations.