Messiah In the Feasts and Their Eschatological Implications, Part 7/7 (Chialism in Ancient Jewish & Christian Thought)

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Up to this point we have seen how the Messiah’s fulfillment of the Spring feasts was exact, precise, and in successive order, on the actual Feast days.  We also looked at the Fall Feasts, which remain unfulfilled, and how the Messiah will likely fulfill these as well.  I argued that, based on a plain reading of passages such as Zechariah 14:16, it would seem that Tabernacles will be fulfilled at the end of a literal thousand year reign of the Messiah, on the earth, when the New Jerusalem comes down out of Heaven.

So what of the belief that the millennial Kingdom described in Revelation 2o is literal?  Was this chapter written in a vacuum?  Is there any evidence from within the corpus of 2nd temple Judaism that would suggest such an expectation among the ancient Jews?  And how did the early church view the idea of a thousand year reign?  Did they primarily see it as literal or figurative?  As we shall see, the belief in a literal thousand year reign of God/Messiah (known as “chialism”) goes back to before the time of John’s writing of Revelation.  The chief “appointed time” from which they formed this belief is not one the 7 annual Feast days of the Lord but the weekly Sabbath, which comes at the end of the 7 day week, as well as the 7 year shmita cycle.

The “Six Thousand Year” Tradition and the Millennium

While the following traditions are not canonical, they reflect the dominant ancient Jewish & early Christian/Messianic understandings of eschatology – some of these traditions predating the disciples by hundreds of years (such as Rabbi Elias).  The quoting of these traditions serve to simply present the backdrop against which John, and perhaps even Zechariah, were writing in reference to a future period of divine rule upon the earth.  Given the clear layout of events found in Zechariah 12-14, the following references seem to fit beautifully within a traditional premillennial scheme.katina

  • Rabbi Elias, who lived 200 years before Jesus, wrote: “The world endures 6000 years: two thousand before the law, two thousand with the law and two thousand with the Messiah.” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 96b-99a)
  • Rabbi Kattina in the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 96b-99a:  “The world endures 6000 years and one thousand it shall be laid waste, that is, the enemies of God shall be laid waste, whereof it is said ,’the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.’ As out of seven years every seventh is a year of remission, so out of the seven thousand years of the world, the seventh millennium shall be the 1000 years of remission, that God alone may be exalted in that day.
  • Reiterated in Sanhedrin 97a: “Rabbi Kattina said: six thousand years shall the world exist, and one thousand it shall be desolate, as it is written, and the Lord shall alone be exalted in that day (a reference to Isaiah 2:2).  It has been taught in accordance with Rabbi Kattina: just as the seventh year is one year of release in seven, so is the world: one thousand years out of seven shall be fallow, as it is written and the Lord shall alone be exalted in that day.”

If John, writing the book of Revelation, wanted to simply convey an undefined “long period of time” during which Jesus would reign spiritually from Heaven, why would he borrow language from an already established tradition that existed within Judaism which anticipated a literal/physical 1,000 year reign of YHWH on the earth?  Would this not confuse those familiar with this tradition into believing that John was affirming the same kind of earthly, tangible, physical millennial reign?  But there’s more.  The earliest writings of the church fathers, with rare exception, also affirm this belief.  One such example is the Epistle of Barnabas, written between 70-135 AD.

barnabas2The Epistle of Barnabas is an early non-canonical book that was greatly esteemed by many of the early church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, & Eusebis.   While the rabbinic traditions reflect a chialist belief among rabbinic scholars even before the time of Jesus, the Epistle of Barnabus reveals how this belief was shared by the earliest Christians.

“And God made in six days the works of his hands; and he finished them on the seventh day, and he rested on the seventh day and sanctified it. Consider my children what that signifies, he finished them in six days. The meaning of it is this: that in six thousand years the Lord God will bring all things to an end. For him one day is as a thousand years…therefore children, in six days, that is in six thousand years, shall all things be accomplished…then he shall rest on the seventh day (seventh millennium).

According to the most ancient Jewish and early Christian understandings of eschatology – without citing commentary on passages such as Revelation 20 – there is to be a future 1,000 year period of rest and Divine rule on the earth.  I contend that this chialist view is the backdrop of Revelation 20, and it is hinted at in the words of the Jewish prophets.  Having laid this issue to rest, let us return to the relevance of the Feasts of the Lord in understanding both eschatology, and the God we serve…

What Do the Feasts of the Lord Mean for the New Covenant Believer?

The analogy has been used of a professional pool player.  When you play pool against a true professional, they call the shots before they make them.  In this way all who are watching, including their opponent, knows that the shot was intentional and purposeful – putting the skill of the professional on display.  In like manner, when God flung our galaxy into being, initiating His appointed times, He was calling the shots thousands of years in advance…on this day my Son will die for the sins of many…On this day I will raise Him from the dead….On this day I will pour out my Holy Spirit…On this day I will return to wage war on the ungodly and save those who trust in my Son….On this day I will cleanse Israel from their sin….On this day I will make all things new and bring down my heavenly tabernacle – New Jerusalem.

It’s laid out so intricately, the disciples couldn’t have made this stuff up!

What does this mean for us?  It means we can rest upon the accuracy of Scripture and the plan of God.  It means the Messiah is coming back with the sound of the trumpet and we must be ready.  It means we must live in a way that reflects appreciation for our Redemption.  Therefore let us go and preach the Gospel, and live in a way that pleases our Lord.

Let the people of God respond : “AMEN”