Chiliasm is the doctrine that Christ will return bodily before the full establishment of His kingdom. This kingdom is not the final eternal state, and will last for (at least) 1000 years.
This will be a period in history, with human procreation and mortality continuing, but alongside vast geographical, political, governmental, natural, and religious changes. It will involve the revival and restoration of the nation Israel.
Implications of the doctrine:
It affects how we interpret Scripture. Should the New Testament interpret the Old, or should they be interpreted on their own terms? Should we allegorise Old Testament prophecy, or hold it literally?
It affects our view of creation and time. Will God achieve victory in human history or will it be wound up by an immediate entrance into the Eternal State?
It affects our understanding of human depravity. Is redemptive history a story of the Gospel conquering the world, an account of the dualistic battle of good and evil, or is it an account of how God graciously works with a fallen and rebellious race when they do not own Him as King?
It affects our understanding of Israel and the Jewish people. Are the Jews permanently set aside? Is the land tied to the people, and do the land promises remain intact? Does the church have a responsibility towards the Jewish people?
History of the doctrine
Chiliasm was held by many of the early church fathers: Papias (a disciple of John), Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, (1st & 2nd centuries), Tertullian, Commodian, Lactantius, Methodius (3rd & 4th centuries. By the time of Augustine (310) it was beginning to become a minority view, and was even condemned by some as a heresy. Even though some of these unfortunately held that the church had replaced Israel, they nevertheless understood that a future restoration would take place. During the Middle Ages, Augustine’s rejection of chiliasm mostly controlled the opinion of the day, and influenced the Reformers. During these centuries, the believers in chiliasm were almost entirely Anabaptists, Hugeunots and Bohemian Brethren. In the modern era, it was held by German pietists in the 18th century, by Puritans Increase and Cotton Mather. In the 19th century it experienced its greatest revival, including men such as George Muller, Andrew Bonar, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, and Charles Spurgeon.
Arguments for the doctrine:
a. Because of the promised reign of the saints with Christ. (2 Tim. 2:11-12 Rev. 5:9-10. Rev. 2:26-28, Rev. 3:21, Matt. 19:27-28)
b. Because of the promise of a future deliverance of the very created order itself (Rom. 8:17ff, especially vs. 22.)
c. The nature of God’s promises to Israel will predispose us toward premillennialism. (Rom. 11:1ff)
d. Because of Revelation 19:1-20:6
e. Because of Daniel’s prophecies
Chapter 2- the stone hits an existing earthly kingdom, the divided, weakened fourth kingdom, and becomes the fifth.
Chapter 7 – essentially the same thing – more explicit – the Son of Man comes.
Chapter 9:24 – the fulfilment of the seventieth week did not occur with Christ’s first coming
Chapter 11:36-ff – events which have no parallel in history, and culminate in an event that seems parallel to Revelation 20
f. Because of Judgments which appear before the kingdom
1. Judgment of the nation of Israel – seems to take place in two phases:
Phase 1 – Regathering of Israel (Ez. 20:34-38, Purging of the Rebels)
Phase 2 – All Israel (that is left) is saved (Rom. 11:26-27)
2. Judgment of the Gentile nations (Joel 3:1-2, Matt. 25:31-46 )
g. Because of the timing of the kingdom (Zech 14:1-6, 9) God’s promised kingdom is established after a time of terrible persecution.