The Millennium in the Reformed Tradition

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I. John Hesselink

Abstract

In the Reformed tradition there is no consensus concerning the nature of the millennium referred to in Revelation 20. In fact, apart from one notable exception, one will find no references to the millennium in the sixteenth and seventeenth century Reformed confessions. That exception is found in the Second Helvetic (Swiss) Confession written by Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli's successor at the Grossmiinster in Zurich. There we read:

We further condemn Jewish dreams that there will be a golden age on earth before the Day of Judgment, and that the pious, having subdued all their godless enemies, will possess all the kingdoms of the earth. For evangelical truth in Matt., chs. 24 and 25, and Luke, ch. 18, and apostolic teaching in II Thess., ch. 2, and II Tim., chs. 3 and 4, present something quite different (Chapter XI).

The author of the article "Chiliasmus" in Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart even goes so far as to say that chiliasm, i.e., millenarianism" is basically incompatible with the Catholic and Lutheran concept of the church and "was quickly and energetically rejected by the reformers.''4 This statement is extreme, for the only support given for it is the Augsburg Confession (Confessio Augustana), 17 and the reference above from the Second Helvetic Confession. Moreover, the sixteenth-century reformers generally ignored the issue.

However, it was not only the magisterial reformers and confessions which had little interest in a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth prior to the consummation of all things. The word "millennium" does not appear in most histories of doctrine or standard theologies by Reformed theologians. Notable exceptions are the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Bavinck; and in the twentieth century the American Presbyterian theologians Loraine Boettner, Floyd Hamilton, and James Boice,  the Reformed Church in America theologian Albertus Pieters, and the Christian Reformed theologians D.H. Kromminga and William Hendriksen. The two most significant contemporary treatments of the various millennial views are G.C. Berkouwer's The Return of Christ, and Anthony Hoekema's The Bible and the Future. The most recent comprehensive treatment is The Millennial Maze: Sorting Out Evangelical Options, by the Baptist theologian Stanley Grenz.

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Keywords
Bible. Revelation; Millennium (Eschatology) -- Biblical teaching; Millennialism; Eschatology -- Biblical teaching; Eschatology -- History of doctrines; Bible. Revelation -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.; Reformed Church -- Theology
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