There are many Christians who question the purpose of the 1000-year reign of Christ on the Earth that is mentioned in Revelation chapter 20. Therefore, it is sometimes understood to be a metaphorical and hyperbolic reference to an indefinite reign of Christ through his body the Church, prior to his return to bring final judgment and “a new heaven and a new Earth” (Revelation 21:1). Also, some Christians question the true scientific age of the Earth and attempt to reconcile the records of the genealogies listed in scripture with the findings of scientists who believe that the Earth is several billion years old. However, the early church father, Hippolytus (circa AD 170-236), had some insights to share on both of those questions that are worth considering…
And why might we give Hippolytus some special credence? Well, he was a disciple of Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John. Clearly, that doesn’t make him infallible, but his writings record some of the earliest known expressions of the End Times prophetic beliefs of the early church.
So what did Hippolytus say? Let’s take a look…
For as the times are noted from the foundation of the world, and reckoned from Adam, they set clearly before us the matter with which our inquiry deals. For the first appearance of our Lord in the flesh took place in Bethlehem, under Augustus, in the year 5500 and He suffered in the thirty-third year. And 6000 years must be accomplished, in order that the Sabbath may come, the rest, the holy day “on which God rested from all His works.” For the Sabbath is the type and emblem of the future kingdom of the saints, when they “shall reign with Christ,” when He comes from heaven, as John says in his Apocalypse: for “a day with the Lord is as a thousand years.” Since, then, in six days God made all things, it follows that 6,000 years must be fulfilled.Coxe, A. Cleveland, and Alexander Roberts. “Ante-Nicene fathers: the writings of the fathers down to AD 325” (1995), Vol. 5, page 179. — “Hippolytus – Fragments from Commentaries.”
So what does this passage tell us?
First, Hippolytus is affirming that the age of the earth should be reckoned from Adam. Unfortunately, the second thing we learn is that Hippolytus mistakenly thought that the age of the Earth must have been 5500 years at the birth of Christ. And while that is a point against his credibility, he explains his reasoning in the text, showing that the idea probably originated with himself. He wrongly inferred that the sum of the dimensions of the Ark of Covenant had some symbolic association with the year when Christ would be born, i.e. that 5.5 cubits = 5500 years. [Oops!] I mention this to be transparent that everyone can make mistakes, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, because look what we learn next. Hippolytus also affirms that Christ was crucified in 33 AD (which is a nice nugget of information I’ll store away for another post or project in the future).
Most interestingly though, we read that Hippolytus believed that the six days of creation will be represented by 6000 years of world history, beginning with Adam. And finally, we can directly infer that Hippolytus expected the 1000-year reign of Christ on the Earth to be a literal 1000 years, completing the sabbatical model of 6-days of work and 1-day of rest. This means that Hippolytus (and others in his days) believed in a form of Premillennialism, i.e. the literal and future 1000-year reign of Christ on the Earth. I would also argue that the way Hippolytus says that “And 6000 years must be accomplished” implies that this was an idea handed down to him and was already known and accepted at the time, rather than being an idea that he developed himself.
Now, consider what it means that an early church father, writing between 100-130 years after the death of the Apostle John, believed there would be a literal millennial period where Christ will rule with his saints on the Earth. Consider, too, that there may be a lesson in the Sabbatical rest that helps us understand why this period will be precisely 1000 years, following 6000 years from the beginning of Creation.
If one makes a study of the genealogical records and dates given in scripture, across both the Old and New Testaments, and takes the accounts literally, the creation of the world must have been between 3960 and 4004 BC. [I could make that the subject of a future post, if people are interested in seeing that.] That means that right now, we are living in years 5980 to 6024 since Adam. Therefore, if Hippolytus was passing on a true tradition, then we have one more reason to believe that we are actually living in the last of the Last Days and Earth’s time is about to run out.
Furthermore, we have the testimony of an early church father who believed in a young Earth. Having investigated the question of whether a young Earth position is truly rational from a scientific perspective, I can ardently affirm that it is. And, most of what are called “scientific proofs” these days are actually just the opinions and conclusions of scientists, and therefore are not incontrovertible facts. [Check out my blog post: DO YOU BELIEVE IN SCIENCE?]
Consequently, most scientists simply assume an old Earth position, and then in a circular logic fashion, propose to prove that it is. However, young Earth scientists start by giving credence to the testimony of scripture and then set out to examine the data to see if there is anything that can truly contradict a young Earth hypothesis. [That is actually a very different approach, even if it may sound like it’s basically the same thing.] In every case, all claims that the old Earth hypothesis have been proven rely on assumptions that: 1) can’t be tested or proven and 2) are less reasonable than young Earth assumptions. If you’d like some good specific references on that point, check out: Answers in Genesis.
So what did we learn?
Now this doesn’t prove that the Tribulation is upon us, but it’s one more reason to be watching VERY closely.