The Premillennialism of Lactantius

Lucius LactantiusLucius Caelius Firmianus Lactantius was a theologian and the spiritual advisor to Constantine I.  He helped shape some of the emperor’s theology and even tutored his son Crispus.[1]  The father may have been given the name Lactantius because of the milky softness of his skin.  He was a master of rhetoric, achieving far greater fame than his teacher Arnobius.[2]  Lactantius’ style was of such clarity, elegance and dignity that he was known as the Christian Cicero.[3]  His cardinal work the Divine Institutes is the first example of a systematic theology.  He lived from about 240 to about A.D. 325, the same year in which the First Council of Nicaea convened.  How fitting it is then that the Church father who represents the end of the ante-Nicene age strongly held to Premillennialism.

Lactantius’ summary of future events opens with an admission that there is a superabundance of Biblical data on the subject:

These are the things which are spoken of by the prophets as about to happen hereafter: but I have not considered it necessary to bring forward their testimonies and words, since it would be an endless task; nor would the limits of my book receive so great a multitude of subjects, since so many with one breath speak similar things…But he who wishes to know these things more accurately may draw from the fountain itself, and he will know more things worthy of admiration than we have comprised in these books.  Perhaps some one may now ask when these things of which we have spoken are about to come to pass?  I have already shown above, that when six thousand years shall be completed this change must take place…[4]

Lactantius’ reluctance to provide exegesis on everything the prophets had to write concerning the coming kingdom speaks to the vast breadth of information available.  After all, this is a man who provided extensive treatment on all other major areas of theology throughout his writings.  And Lactantius had already written more than many theologians had concerning the end times in earlier chapters.  After following his advice to read all the prophets, the student may wonder where to place so many of their glorious prophecies which have not yet come to pass.  The father reveals that they will come about after the six thousand years are over.  This is a reference to the sexta-septamillennial construct, which Lactantius covered previously.[5]  Thus, the prophecies will take place during the Millennium and after.


Many of the prophecies are concerned with the future state of man, animals and the environment.  Lactantius connects these with the overall theme of Edenic conditions being restored:

And as then a mortal and imperfect man was formed from the earth, that he might live a thousand years in this world; so now from this earthly age is formed a perfect man, that being quickened by God, he may bear rule in this same world through a thousand years.[6] 

Like Justin Martyr, Lactantius too understood that the Millennium will demonstrate that the sin and death of Adam during the first thousand years has been overcome.  In the same world where an imperfect man failed, men made perfect by God will not only succeed in living for a thousand years, but will do so as rulers.

The heavens and the earth are to be freed from darkness and return to their former state:

…the moon will receive the brightness of the sun…but the sun will become seven times brighter than it now is; and the earth will open its fruitfulness, and bring forth most abundant fruits of its own accord; the rocky mountains shall drop with honey; streams of wine shall run down, and rivers flow with milk: in short, the world itself shall rejoice, and all nature exult, being rescued and set free from the dominion of evil and impiety, and guilt and error.[7]

Lactantius envisions an augmented world where the production of fruit will reach astonishing levels.  He partially quotes Joel 3:18 and adds that the mountains will also drip honey.  The description of the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey (Ex. 3:8; Ezek. 20:15) is seen by the father as having world-wide application in the Millennium. This is brought on by creation celebrating its freedom from sin.

Lactantius continues with what this means for animals:

Throughout this time beasts shall not be nourished by blood, nor birds by prey; but all things shall be peaceful and tranquil.  Lions and calves shall stand together at the manger, the wolf shall not carry off the sheep, the hound shall not hunt for prey; hawks and eagles shall not injure; the infant shall play with serpents.[8]           

Isaiah 11:6-9 is among the most common passages to be understood as being fulfilled in the Millennium.  It is no different with Lactantius.


Lactantius’ Premillennialism was especially focused on the future binding of Satan and the rule of the saints:

We have said, a little before, that it will come to pass at the commencement of the sacred reign, that the prince of the devils will be bound by God.  But he also, when the thousand years of the kingdom, that is, seven thousand of the world, shall begin to be ended, will be loosed afresh, and being sent forth from prison, will go forth and assemble all the nations, which shall then be under the dominion of the righteous, that they may make war against the holy city…Then the last anger of God shall come upon the nations, and shall utterly destroy them…[9]      

Here we are introduced to Lactantius’ novel name for the Millennium: the sacred reign.  This period is distinctly identified as the kingdom, lasting for one thousand years.  The millennial kingdom will commence with the binding of Satan.  During which time the nations will be under the governmental authority of the saints.  It is only at the end of the Millennium when Satan will be freed to gather an army to come against Jerusalem.  He and his army will then be devoured by God’s wrath.  In short, Lactantius affirmed the plain meaning of Revelation 20:1-10.

In another chapter, Lactantius expanded with:

Then they who shall be alive in their bodies shall not die, but during those thousand years shall produce an infinite multitude, and their offspring shall be holy, and beloved by God; but they who shall be raised from the dead shall preside over the living as judges.  But the nations shall not be entirely extinguished, but some shall be left as a victory for God, that they may be the occasion of triumph to the righteous, and may be subjected to perpetual slavery.  About the same time also the prince of the devils, who is the contriver of all evils, shall be bound with chains, and shall be imprisoned during the thousand years of the heavenly rule in which righteousness shall reign in the world, so that he may contrive no evil against the people of God.   After His coming the righteous shall be collected from all the earth, and the judgment being completed, the sacred city shall be planted in the middle of the earth, in which God Himself the builder may dwell together with the righteous, bearing rule in it.[10]       

Lactantius wrote that after a period of great tribulation, Jesus would descend and judge the Antichrist and destroy his forces.[11]  However, here we see that Lactantius held that some unbelievers would survive God’s wrath to enter into the Millennium.  The purpose for which is that that the saints will have people to exercise their authority over.  Satan being bound is not just incidental but allows for the righteous to reign without having to contend with the Devil’s influence over the world.  Jerusalem is to be the capital of the world where Jesus will live among His saints.

Though the saints will have great authority, it is Jesus who rules over all:

Therefore men will live a most tranquil life, abounding with resources, and will reign together with God; and the kings of the nations shall come from the ends of the earth with gifts and offerings, to adore and honour the great King, whose name shall be renowned and venerated by all the nations which shall be under heaven, and by the kings who shall rule on earth.[12]


The father concludes with what is to take place after the Millennium, including the vitally important resurrection of the unjust:

But when the thousand years shall be completed, the world shall be renewed by God, and the heavens shall be folded together, and the earth shall be changed, and God shall transform men into the similitude of angels, and they shall be white as snow; and they shall always be employed in the sight of the Almighty, and shall make offerings to their Lord, and serve Him for ever.  At the same time shall take place that second and public resurrection of all, in which the unrighteous shall be raised to everlasting punishments.[13] 

Lactantius also took after Tertullian in teaching that the saints would receive angelic bodies only after the Millennium.  However, unlike Tertullian and Methodius, Lactantius understood the Eternal State to be on a renewed earth and not in Heaven.  Also taking place just after the Millennium is a second resurrection.  Those partaking in this resurrection will be raised only to face eternal punishment for their sins, joining Satan and his servants in perpetual fire.[14]  Lactantius interpreted Revelation 20:4-6 and 20:10-15 in a way that results from a natural reading.  If there is no earthly millennial reign of Jesus then there should not be two different resurrections of the dead bookending the thousand years.  This is why opponents of Premillennialism typically believe in only one general resurrection of the dead.  In affirming a final resurrection of the dead after the Millennium, Lactantius was strongly advocating Premillennialism.  On this point, the editors of the Ante-Nicene Fathers footnoted, “This clearly proves that the better sort of Chiliasm was not extinct in the Church.”[15]

[1] Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and Arthur Cleveland Coxe, eds., the Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VII – Fathers of the Third and Fourth Century, 6.

[2] Ibid., 5.

[3] Ibid., 7.

[4] Ibid., 220.  Lactantius, the Divine Institutes, bk. VII, ch. XXV.

[5] Ibid., 211-212.  Lactantius, the Divine Institutes, bk. VII, ch. XIV.

[6] Ibid., 212. Lactantius, the Divine Institutes, bk. VII, ch. XIV.

[7] Ibid., 219. Lactantius, the Divine Institutes, bk. VII, ch. XXIV.

[8] Ibid. Lactantius, the Divine Institutes, bk. VII, ch. XXIV.

[9] Ibid., 220. Lactantius, the Divine Institutes, bk. VII, ch. XXVI.

[10] Ibid., 219.  Lactantius, the Divine Institutes, bk. VII, ch. XXIV.

[11] Ibid., 215.  Lactantius, the Divine Institutes, bk. VII, ch. XIX.

[12] Ibid., 220.  Lactantius, the Divine Institutes, bk. VII, ch. XXIV.

[13] Ibid., 221.  Lactantius, the Divine Institutes, bk. VII, ch. XXVI.

[14] Ibid. Lactantius, the Divine Institutes, bk. VII, ch. XXVI.

[15] Ibid.

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