Home > Literalism, The 1,000 years > Lactantius & the thousand years

Lactantius & the thousand years

November 17, 2011

Lactantius (ca. 240 – ca. 320) was a  teacher of Latin, born in Africa, who became a friend of the Emperor Constantine. He was the author of The Divine Institutes (Divinarum Institutionum) in which he pointed out the futility of pagan beliefs and sought to establish the reasonableness and truth of Christianity. Patrick Healy says of this work, “The beauty of the style, the choice and aptness of the terminology, cannot hide the author’s lack of grasp on Christian principles and his almost utter ignorance of Scripture.”

Lactantius famously argued against the idea of a spherical earth, ridiculing it as a pagan notion, requiring belief in the  “antipodes” where men walk with their “feet higher than their heads.” [1]

Today the opinions of Lactantius on cosmology are thoroughly discredited. Lactantius was not only ignorant of Scripture, but also of the natural world. His cosmological beliefs have been “burnt up” like chaff, and are widely recognized as nonsense.

Lactantius was also a champion of belief in a thousand year Millennial reign, and his writings on that topic were equally flawed. In Book VII of The Divine Institutes, ‘Of a happy life,’ Lactantius quoted the oracles of the Cumaean and Erythraean Sibyls, to support his views about the conditions on the earth during the Millennium, which were also based upon his extremely literal approach to several Old Testament prophecies. See Chap. XXIV.–‘Of the renewed world;’ [2] and Chap. XXVI.–‘Of the loosing of the devil, and of the second and greatest judgment.’ [3]

The apostle Peter wrote,

2 Peter 1:19
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:

Peter said that prophecy is a light meant to guide us, until the “day” dawns in our hearts; it is intended to bring us to that condition. The figure of the day star or the sun rising in out hearts may be compared with the statement of Jesus, in the parable of the tares:

Matthew 13:43
Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

The saints shining as the sun in the kingdom of God follows the removal and destruction of the tares sown by the wicked one; it has nothing to do with a Millennium. The doctrine of Lactantius about reigning for a thousand years on earth, belongs in the same category as the tares in the parable of Jesus.

Day and night are figurative in the saying of Jesus: “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” [John 9:4]

Here, day alludes to the light of the Gospel. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” [1 Thessalonians 5:5]

Those who believe in Christ and walk in the truth are “children of the light and children of the day,” while unbelievers are “of the night,” and “darkness.”

Peter exhorted Christians to consider the words of the prophets, and wrote:

2 Peter 3:3-4
Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.

Peter stated that the Scriptures declare that the old world was destroyed by water, and that the heavens and the earth of today are “reserved unto fire against the day of judgment.” He gave no hint of the prospect of a thousand year interval between the heavens and the earth, which are now, and the day of judgment.

2 Peter 3:5-9
For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

In the above verses Peter made no mention the ark, by means of which Noah’s family was saved; instead he alludes to the manner of the earth’s creation, and the waters within the earth as the source of the flood waters. Jesus compared his coming to the time of Noah, [Matthew 24:37] suggesting that the flood is analogous to the judgment of the world, which, Peter said, will be by “fire.” But fire is symbolic of the word of God. Jesus said, “I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?” [Luke 12:49] Peter wrote:

2 Peter 3:10
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

In the day of the Lord, judgment falls upon the deceived people who come against the camp of the saints. It is a fire from heaven. [Revelation 20:8-9] Not literal fire, but a metaphor, representing God’s word.

Peter’s prophecy about the heavens passing away with great noise was fulfilled in the scientific revolution, when the concept of planetary spheres of the old cosmology, and belief in the revolutions of the heavens around the earth, were set aside. In space, there is no air, and so it is completely quiet; literal noise can’t be heard. In the scientific revolution, the dirurnal rotation was assigned to the earth. Aristotle, who believed in geocentrism, had proposed a system of 57 spheres to account for the motions of the heavenly bodies. The idea of a rigid firmament of heaven, that dominated men’s thinking about the heavens for centuries, was abolished in the eighteenth century. It was accomplished amid a great commotion, or “noise,” often referred to as the “enlightenment.” Much of the “knowledge” of the ancient world, along with the works of those who admired and embraced it, has indeed been “burnt up” and abandoned, as Peter’s prophecy foretold. These events are all included in “the day of the Lord.”

2 Peter 3:8 refers to a thousand years in connection with “the day of the Lord.” Peter said that with God, a thousand years is as a day, and a day is as a thousand years. Since the saints are “children of the day,” they may also be called “children of the thousand years.” They are the ones who are figuratively “beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God;” they don’t worship the beast, or receive his mark in their foreheads, or their hands. [Revelation 20:4] “They live and reign with Christ a thousand years;” that is, for the same period in which Satan is bound, and remains in his bottomless pit. The saints are those who “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.” [Revelation 14:4]


1. Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus Lactantius. The works of Lactantius, Volume 1. Tr. by William Fletcher. T. & T. Clark, 1871. pp. 196-197.

2. Ibid., p. 478-480.

3. Ibid., p. 481-484.

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