The Premillennialism of Tertullian

TertullianQuintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, referred to by Jerome as Tertullian, was the father of Latin Christianity and of western theology.  He was born somewhere between A.D. 145 to 160 in Carthage and died somewhere between A.D. 220 to 240.  Tertullian was a skilled theologian, with an aptitude for apologetics and polemics against various heresies.  His writings are extensive, many of which may not even be extant.  Cyprian, an influential Church father in his own right, said that he never let a day pass without reading something of Tertullian’s.[1] During the last phase of his life Tertullian joined the Montanists, a faction similar to that of modern day charismatics or Pentecostals.  It was Tertullian who wrote the oldest know formal exposition of the Trinity in Against Praxeas, for which the faithful owe him enormous gratitude.


In writing against the Marcionite heresy,[2] Tertullian’s Chiliasm or Premillennialism is revealed:

But we do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven, only in another state of existence; inasmuch as it will be after the resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem, “let down from heaven,” which the apostle also calls “our mother from above;” and, while declaring that our πολίτευμα , or citizenship, is in heaven, he predicates of it that it is really a city in heaven. This both Ezekiel had knowledge of and the Apostle John beheld.[3]

A future kingdom lasting one thousand years is expected to be established upon the earth, taking place after the resurrection of the saints.  This is common to traditional Premillennialism.  Tertullian confirmed several other standard tenants such as the rise and defeat of the Antichrist before the inauguration of the Millennium.[4]  Tertullian diverged where he taught that at the end of the Millennium the saints will be transferred to Heaven instead of occupying the new earth.  Also, he writes that it is during the Millennium and not after when the New Jerusalem will descend and be occupied.  The father interpreted Revelation 21 and 22:1-5 as not taking place after chapter 20, but as a supplement providing details on the Millennium.  Tertullian’s profession is not based on Revelation alone but at a minimum also draws from Ezekiel.

He provides a broad timeline and further details:

Of the heavenly kingdom this is the process. After its thousand years are over, within which period is completed the resurrection of the saints, who rise sooner or later according to their deserts, there will ensue the destruction of the world and the conflagration of all things at the judgment: we shall then be changed in a moment into the substance of angels, even by the investiture of an incorruptible nature, and so be removed to that kingdom in heaven…[5]

The New Jerusalem is considered to be the heavenly kingdom because it comes from Heaven.  There will be more than one resurrection of the saints.  In what resurrection a given saint is to partake in is based on the rewards he or she is due.  Because Tertullian interprets the final two chapters of Revelation as occurring during the Millennium, he is able to hold to the subsequent destruction of the world without any refinement or replacement.  The conflagration will accompany the judgment and only then will the saints will be made like angels.  Therefore, Tertullian understands Matthew 22:30 and Luke 20:36 as being fulfilled after the completion of the Millennium even though the resurrections will have already taken place.  This view would allow for even resurrected saints to procreate during the Millennium.  Tertullian’s variant beliefs testify to what a big tent doctrine Premillennialism really is.


In anticipating the Millennium and what follows, Tertullian explained that heavenly and earthly blessings are natural partners:

What appears to be probable to you, when Abraham’s seed, after the primal promise of being like the sand of the sea for the multitude, is destined likewise to an equality with the stars of heaven—are not these the indications both of an earthly and a heavenly dispensation?  When Isaac, in blessing his son Jacob, says, “God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth,” are there not in his words examples of both kinds of blessings?…So are we first invited to heavenly blessings when we are separated from the world, and afterwards we thus find ourselves in the way of obtaining also earthly blessings.[6]

Tertullian’s belief in Premillennialism did not result in him focusing on mere physical blessings while ignoring the spiritual.  On the contrary, Tertullian was able to properly appreciate the spiritual blessings precisely because he did not separate them from the physical.

[1] Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and Arthur Cleveland Coxe, eds., the Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume III – Latin Christianity (New York: Cosimo Classics, 2007), 5.

[2] In 144 A.D. Marcion of Sinope crafted a type of dualism that portrayed the God of Israel and the Old Testament as petty and separate from the more powerful and loving God of the New Testament.

[3] Ibid., 342.  Tertullian, Against Marcion, bk. III, ch. XXV.

[4] Ibid., 563.  Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh.  ch. XXIV.

[5] Ibid., 343.  Tertullian, Against Marcion, bk. III, ch. XXV.

[6] Ibid.  Tertullian, Against Marcion, bk. III, ch. XXV.


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