During the Protestant Reformation period, the Anabaptists believed that at Christ’s second coming, he would destroy evil and establish his literal millennial kingdom. This view led some Anabaptist leaders to stir up apocalyptic rebellions and wars with the goal of ushering in the millennial golden age. Eventually, the Anabaptist settled on the idea that the New Jerusalem would be established in the city of Münster, and so they took over the city. They expelled Catholics and Moderate Protestants from the city and destroyed everything connected with traditional belief and worship. When some inhabitants of the city became tired of the excesses of the leaders, they opened the gate to the bishop and his joint Catholic-Protestant army which resulted in the end of revolution at Münster. The Anabaptist revolutionary movement in Münster led to a strong negative view of premillennialism. In fact, Luther and Calvin emphatically rejected and were critical of Anabaptist premillennialism. Concerning the Anabaptists’ view of the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth, Calvin wrote that this was “a fiction too puerile to need or to deserve refutation.”
Post-Reformation Eschatology (C.E. 1600-1800)
The post-reformers followed the traditional eschatological views of Christ’s return, a general bodily resurrection, the last judgment, eternal punishment and the new heavens and the new earth with a few differences from that of the reformers. During the post-reformation era, there was a move away from the amillennialism posited during the medieval period and by Luther and Calvin. There was a renewed interest in premillennialism because of theologian Johann Heinrich Alsted’s defense of premillennialism in his book entitled, The Beloved City. Also, the Puritan scholar and writer named Joseph Mede followed Alsted’s premillennialism views and popularized them in his book entitled, The Key of the Revelation. Thus, the thought and works of Alsted and Mede sparked a return to the premillennial position of the early church.
Moreover, the idea of millennialism was prevalent during the English Civil War (1638-49) particularly among the “Fifth Monarchy Men,” which was a group in London who declared that the millennium was near when Christ would return as king to rule over the earth. With the recent Thirty Years War and the present English Civil War, they believed that they were involved in the wars of the last days, and so it was incumbent upon them to usher in this new and fifth monarchy in order to change the social order by promoting justice and equality. They believed that “the immediate duty of the saints was to prepare for the kingdom, by making the existing government accord as closely as possible with the rule of Christ. To this end none but godly men should sit in the seats of the mighty, tithes should be abolished, and the existing laws replaced by the law of God.”
Puritans Thomas Bright-man, John Cotton and John Owen posited a doctrine of the “latter-glory” which was a preface to what has been described as a postmillennialism view. They believed at the end of history there will be a time marked by the power of the Kingdom of God when many people will convert to Christianity and the church will be pure in all aspects while experiencing support from governments worldwide. After this period of expansion, peace and prosperity, Christ will return. This view became unsustainable during the political turmoil in England during the seventeenth and eighteenth century; however, it was adopted and developed in New England by Daniel Whitby and Jonathan Edwards.
Whitby and Edwards believed that Christ will return after the millennium, which was characterized by the radical spread of the gospel and the conversion of scores of people throughout the world. During this time, the Jews will be restored to the Holy Land and there will be universal peace and blessing. According to Whitby and Edwards, the reformation had set in motion many events that would lead to the demise of the papacy, which was identified as the Antichrist, and the ushering in of the millennium. They believed that the outpouring of revival during their time was a sign of the approaching thousand-year golden age.
Furthermore, many post-reformers addressed the eschatological doctrines of final judgement and eternal punishment. While acknowledging the “two results of judgment—the blessings of eternal life and the torment of eternal punishment,” John Andrew Quenstedt expounded on both by using the terms “privative” and “positive.” As for the blessings of eternal life, “privative” blessings involve the removal of weakness and evil from the Christian experience, and “positive” blessings involve internal and external enrichment of the Christian experience. Turning to the torment of eternal punishment, “privative” torments involve the forfeiture of the beatific vision of God and separation and exclusion from all that is good, joyous and heavenly, and “positive” torments involve internal anguish and torture of the soul and external punishment that is “most painful and burning without being consumed.”
Jonathan Edwards addressed the eschatological doctrines of final judgement and eternal punishment often through his sermons. Referring to the final judgment, Edwards states, “When that day comes, all mankind that have died from off the face of the earth shall arise; not only the righteous, but also the wicked.” Then he describes the final judgement of the wicked by stating,
When Christ comes in the clouds of heaven to judgment, the news of it will fill both earth and hell with mourning and bitter crying. We read that all the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him, and so shall all the inhabitants of hell; and then must the souls of the wicked come up to be united to their bodies, and stand before the Judge.
At this point the wicked, “with all its guilt, and in all its filthiness, a vile, loathsome, abominable creature, an enemy to God, a rebel against him, with the guilt of all its rebellion and disregard of God’s commands, and contempt of his authority, and slight of the glorious gospel,” will enter into eternal punishment.
Edwards affirmed the traditional eschatological doctrine of eternal punishment in his most famous sermon entitled, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. He writes,
There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long forever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all… your punishment will indeed be infinite.
Thus, according to Edwards, there is no hope for the wicked in hell because they will be unable to defeat or appease God that they might break free or be delivered. They will have no friends or advocates who will help them or pity them, and there is nothing that will ever relieve them of their extreme torment.
As for the righteous, Edwards explains that they will be in heavenly glory with the triune God forever, where they will experience him without hindrance or obstacle. In heaven, the righteous will bask in God’s fountain of love. Edwards writes,
There this glorious God is manifested, and shines forth, in full glory, in beams of love. And there this glorious fountain forever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight, and these rivers swell, as it were, to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love!
Moreover, Edwards explains that the saints will be perfected in love, holiness and peace. The heavenly community will be in harmony with God and with one another. Edwards writes,
Every saint in heaven is as a flower in that garden of God, and holy love is the fragrance and sweet odor that they all send forth, and with which they fill the bowers of that paradise above. Every soul there, is as a note in some concert of delightful music, that sweetly harmonizes with every other note, and all together blend in the most rapturous strains in praising God and the Lamb forever. And so all help each other, to their utmost, to express the love of the whole society to its glorious Father and Head, and to pour back love into the great fountain of love whence they are supplied and filled with love, and blessedness, and glory.
The Post-Reformers affirmed the eschatological doctrines of the new heavens and the new earth, but like previous eras there was some disagreement regarding the process. Theologians David Hollaz, Quenstedt, and Edwards held an annihilation perspective arguing that the entire fabric of the heavens and the earth will be conflagrated to nothing, and at this point, God will create and establish the new heavens and the new earth. In opposition, theologians William Ames and Francis Turretin opted for a transformative perspective arguing that the present heavens and earth undergo alteration or change orchestrated by God into the new heavens and new earth.
Footnotes: Continue reading “Anabaptist and Post-Reformation Eschatology”