Eschatology, part 21
I remember reading a Peanuts cartoon a number of years ago in which Charlie Brown say, “I love the world, it is people that I can’t stand.” From a biblical perspective, it is the opposite; we love people and hate the world. But from an empirical perspective, Charlie Brown is right.
For example, I was on an elevator in New York City with one other person. I looked him in the eye and said, “Good morning.” He refused to answer, completely ignoring me. A couple of weeks ago I was walking down a street when a very large man, probably in his thirties, ran me off the sidewalk, bumping me as we passed.
I am confident you have had similar experiences: people cutting in front of you, being mean, surly, uncivil. Why is this so? I believe they perceive the world (not as a system, but as the place where people dwell) as hostile or a threat. Yet when you meet these same people in a different context, they are warm and gracious.
It is for this reason that changing society holds such an attraction for most people. We don’t like being threatened by the world. It is also why it appears reasonable to conclude that the material world is evil, the dualism characteristic of Gnosticism.
These two themes of seeing the material world as evil and seeking to change society, flowed together in an emerging church. One of the great influencers of thought during this period was Eusebius. Let’s briefly study him.
EUSEBIUS OF CAESAREA
Born in 264, Eusebius lived in Palestine in his youth, seeing the youthful Constantine there in the service of the Emperor Diocletian. The two things to remember about Eusebius are, his living in the eastern or Greek speaking part of the empire, and his being a contemporary of Constantine.
The major influence upon Eusebius at Caesarea was one Pamphilus who had migrated from Alexandria. He was a devoted Origenist, building around him at Caesarea a notable library and school, modeled after Origen’s. Eusebius accepted Origen’s hermeneutic, remaining loyal to it all his life, with this exception: His method of interpretation was based on the belief that the writers of the Old Testament wrote of Christ, whether they called Him David, Jacob, an angel, or Lord.
In April 313, having achieved a great military victory, Constantine issued an edict granting toleration to the Christians. Shortly thereafter, Eusebius was consecrated bishop of Caesarea. With the conversion of Constantine, the church gained notoriety, and with it a spectacular growth in membership. Both men shared a vision for building and expanding the church to accommodate the influx of new converts.
About this same time Eusebius became embroiled in the Arian controversy, the greatest doctrinal dispute of the early church. Arius taught that Christ was created by the will of the Father at a specific moment of time and was therefore neither eternal nor begotten of divine substance. Christ’s divine title was the result of adoption by the Father on account of His merits.
Although it is not completely clear where Eusebius stood in this debate, he did write letters requesting Arius’ reinstatement after the latter’s expulsion from the church. The dispute was finally settled against Arius and Eusebius at the Council of Nicea.
Eusebius shows an anti-Jewish bias throughout his works. The underlying movement of history was a progression from Abraham to Christ to Constantine. He believed the roots of Christianity to lay, not in Judaism proper, but with the patriarchs. In this era true religion was practiced, whereas with Moses on there was a decline from the primitive faith. Having survived the period from Moses to Christ, the pure faith reemerged in Christ.
“The conception here is not of individual but of corporate salvation, a conception of a whole people under God, dedicated to His service…There can be no separation of sacred from secular for such a people, for all is sacred in the life of a nation chosen by God…In embracing the era of the patriarch, the age of Promise, as his golden age, Eusebius was committing himself to this noble conception of human society….He was appealing not simply to a passage or two gleaned from the New Testament…but appealing to the goal and end towards which the whole Old Testament was pointing, from Genesis onwards. The fulfillment of the Promise was to be a theocracy which included all mankind, in Which God ruled His people and in which every part of the life of that people was dedicated to their God.”
Rome, which played a strategic role during Augustus in the coming of Christ, is seen as having a positive part to play in the divine purpose. Constantine appeared to Eusebius as a second Abraham. It is interesting that the words of Jesus in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world,” is quoted in his earliest works, but with the rise of the first Christian emperor, that verse was shelved.
“The Abrahamic dispensation did not merely prefigure the Christian: it was, as we have attempted to show in many quotations from Eusebius, identical….The essence of Eusebius’ view was that the clock had been put back, that history was repeating itself, with the qualification that now the ‘bright intellectual daylight’ had dawned there was no night to follow.”
Eusebius sees in Constantine the recipient of divine sovereignty. He suggests that his dispensation will endure for eternity, going so far as to apply to Constantine’s sons the prophecy of Daniel 7:18. His theme is that the chosen people shall exercise territorial rule, and in the empire under Constantine he sees the promise fulfilled in what was an extension of the kingdom of Heaven upon earth.
“Eusebius goes further than any of the other Fathers in his rejection of millenarianism and of the old realistic eschatology. For him prophecy finds an adequate fulfillment in the historical circumstances of his own age. The Messianic Kingdom of Isaiah is the Christian Empire, and Constantine himself is the new David, while the new Jerusalem which St. John saw descending from heaven like a bride adorned for her husband means to Eusebius nothing more than the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at Constantine’s orders.”
As we move toward the end of this series on eschatology, it is apparent that the various themes that produce an amillennial world view converge and blend. This can be seen in the life of Eusebius. Beginning with his hermeneutic patterned after Origen, he fell prey to the Arian heresy. You may reason that this is an unfair connection, but I suggest that a less than literal interpretation of Scripture opens you to heresy, as evidenced in 19th century rationalism in Europe, and latter in the US. Bultmann’s demythologizing is but an extension of this hermeneutic. I am not suggesting that amillennialism is heretical; rather that it embraces a hermeneutic that, as with Eusebius, easily leads to error.
Viewing Old Testament Israel as the church and carrying her mission into the New Testament, led to viewing Constantine as the answer to fulfilling the mission of the church. This resulted in the marriage of church and state, which became the model for all cultures that embraced Christianity, without exception, until the birth of the United States.
When the vision of the church is married to the temporal goals of the state, the people are led to expect some form of utopia, a dream doomed to failure. For this reason, Europe in large part is post-Christian; the failure of the state to produce was perceived as the failure of the church. Communism and Hitler’s Third Reich are aberrations of this world view.
The mission of the church, viewed from a purely New Testament lens, is the redemption and growth in Christ of individuals, encompassed in Christ’s Great Commission. Any addition or alteration of this mission is, to say the least, counter-productive.
Yours for the fulfilling of the Great Commission,
 The two Greek words for “world” are cosmos and aeon. Both have a negative connotation in the New Testament. Cf. I John 2:14-15 for the use of cosmos, and Mark 4:19 for the use of aeon. In the LXX translation of the Old Testament, cosmos and aeon are good.
 Wallace-Hadrill, D.S., Eusebius of Caesarea, London, A.R. Mowbray & Co., 1960, pages 172-173.
 ibid, page 183.
 A Monument to Saint Augustine, Essays on some aspects of his thought written in commemoration of the 15th centenary, Dawson, Christopher, St. Augustine and His Age, Sheed & Ward, London, MCMXXX, page 51.