The Non-Christian, Anti-cosmic Roots of Amillennialism (Realized Eschatology)

Sam A. Smith

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As the Church expanded into the Greek and Roman world, Christianity was, over time, quite literally transformed into a non-Jewish and somewhat anti-cosmic religion. While some modern religious scholars seem to be confused on this point, the Bible actually takes a very positive view of the physical world, at least in regard to both its origin and its ultimate future. At creation God declared His creation to be “good” (Gen. 1:31) The Old Testament view of the good life is clearly “pro” cosmic (i.e., the physical world was created for, and is adequate and suitable as an environment in which the promises and purposes of God for man can be fulfilled). The New Testament does not differ from this position, though it does see the need for a restoration, or re-creation, in order to completely ameliorate the effects of man’s sin and the curse brought upon the earth because of that sin. Both the gospels and the book of Revelation picture Christ as  returning to the earth to establish His kingdom; and Revelation describes the heavenly city as descending to rest upon the restored earth. Unfortunately, some students of the Bible mistake the physical world for the world powers of this present age (i.e., the world system), which are under the influence of the powers of darkness. According to the New Testament, the world is presently under the curse of man’s sin, and until that curse is lifted, the world is under the strong influence, and to some degree, the control of the powers of darkness (Rom. 8:18-23). Hence, the ways of the world are evil, but the physical world itself is not evil, it is only suffering the effects of the curse brought upon it by man’s rebellion against God (an extrinsic condition). There is then a distinction to be made between “the world-physical,” and “the world-moral.” Confusion on this point can lead, and has led, to an anti-cosmic worldview, by seeing what is physical as intrinsically inadequate to the purpose of God for man.

Owing to the influence of Platonism and Gnosticism in the early centuries of the Church, both of which are highly anti-cosmic, the gospel was reshaped according to the prevailing view that the physical world is inferior and unredeemable. This shift in worldview profoundly impacted every area of theology, especially the doctrines concerning the nature of God, Christ, original sin and salvation, and eschatology; and directly or indirectly gave rise to virtually all of the great theological disputes of the first four centuries of the Church. While the early Church eventually worked out most of the difficulties with respect to the nature of God (the Trinity), and original sin and salvation, eschatology fell victim to Greek philosophic and Gnostic influence. This happened because of the prevailing influence of Gnosticism in the early centuries of the Church, and because the non-literal, and heavily Platonic system of interpretation developed by the Jewish interpreter Philo of Alexandria was picked up by Clement of Alexandria, and passed to his student Origen, and through the influence of Origen this type of interpretation eventually influenced Augustine. Augustine, the last in this chain, owing to his great stature in church history, is responsible for codifying, in the Western Church, the non-literal interpretation of eschatological prophecy, which serves as the basis of Amillennialism (Realized Eschatology). There can be no doubt that the dual influence of Platonism and Gnosticism in the early church was clearly the major factor in the eventual rejection of Premillennialism.

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