Irenaeus. The Greatest Teacher of Eschatology
Irenaeus. Dianelos Georgoudis,via Wikimedia Commons
Irenaeus was a Greek church leader who lived from about 130 AD to 202 AD. Originating from Smyrna, he had seen and heard the preaching of Polycarp who had seen and heard the teaching of the Apostle John. Irenaeus therefore had a close connection to sound apostolic teaching, uncluttered by much of the unsound doctrine that quickly invaded the church with the death of the Apostles.
He is best known for his work Against Heresies which countered the religious beliefs of the Gnostics who were calling themselves Christian but were actually inventing new doctrines. For example many of them believed that all material things were evil. The god of the Old Testament created the material universe and therefore he was evil. Jesus and his father were seen as spiritual beings and therefore good. Irenaeus is known for countering such false teachings but here we are concerned with his teachings about the end times.
The title page of the princeps edition of Irenaeus's Against Heresies, which was published by Erasmus at Johannes Froben's, Basel, 1526, via Wikimedia Commons
The Antichrist. Commentary on the Apocalypse by Beatus of Liébana, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
One of the arguments used against much prophesy teaching is that it is a modern invention and not sound biblical teaching. However Irenaeus is one of the oldest biblical teachers we have outside of the bible itself and his life was dedicated to combating false doctrine. His teaching about the end times, or last days, was just the same as you will find from many modern prophecy teachers.
The following passage from Book 5 of Against Heresies
contains some of the basic elements of bible prophecy that we still recognise today. The Antichrist will be on earth before the return of Jesus and will reign from Jerusalem for three and a half years (the second half of the seven year period that we know as The Tribulation). The Lord will return and the Antichrist will be placed in the bottomless pit. This will be followed by a period of rest, the hallowed seventh day that we now refer to as The Millennium.
But he indicates the number of the name now, that when this man comes we may avoid him, being aware who he is: the name, however, is suppressed, because it is not worthy of being proclaimed by the Holy Spirit. For if it had been declared by Him, he (Antichrist) might perhaps continue for a long period. But now as he was, and is not, and shall ascend out of the abyss, and goes into perdition, Revelation 17:8 as one who has no existence; so neither has his name been declared, for the name of that which does not exist is not proclaimed. But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day; and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance, in which kingdom the Lord declared, that many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Matthew 8:11
Against Heresies. Book 5, 30:4.
In books 5 of Against Heresies Irenaeus makes many references to the kingdom period which we know as the thousand year millennial era when Christ rules on earth.
For all these and other words were unquestionably spoken in reference to the resurrection of the just, which takes place after the coming of Antichrist, and the destruction of all nations under his rule; in [the times of] which [resurrection] the righteous shall reign in the earth, waxing stronger by the sight of the Lord: and through Him they shall become accustomed to partake in the glory of God the Father, and shall enjoy in the kingdom intercourse and communion with the holy angels, and union with spiritual beings; and [with respect to] those whom the Lord shall find in the flesh, awaiting Him from heaven, and who have suffered tribulation, as well as escaped the hands of the Wicked one.
Book 5, 35:1
Jesus Christ on the Throne.Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
So we see that after the return of Christ and the destruction of the Antichrist only the righteous shall remain on earth. That is, those believers who have come through the tribulation period. Irenaeus goes on to explain that those believers will go on to multiply upon the earth. The earth itself will be renewed by the glory of God and Jerusalem rebuilt
But in the times of the kingdom, the earth has been called again by Christ [to its pristine condition], and Jerusalem rebuilt after the pattern of the Jerusalem above.
Book 5, 35:2
After the time of the kingdom will come the final Day of Judgement also known as the Great White Throne Judgement. This will be the last day of this age when all things are judged.
Paradise. Jan Brueghel the Elder, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
And in the Apocalypse John saw this new [Jerusalem] descending upon the new earth. Revelation 21:2 For after the times of the kingdom, he says, I saw a great white throne, and Him who sat upon it, from whose face the earth fled away, and the heavens; and there was no more place for them. Revelation 20:11 And he sets forth, too, the things connected with the general resurrection and the judgment, mentioning the dead, great and small. The sea, he says, gave up the dead which it had in it, and death and hell delivered up the dead that they contained; and the books were opened. Moreover, he says, the book of life was opened, and the dead were judged out of those things that were written in the books, according to their works; and death and hell were sent into the lake of fire, the second death
Book 5, 35:2
Manuscript Leaf with the Last Judgment, from a Book of Hours. Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
A new heaven and new earth. Petrus van der Borcht, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
After this event all things are renewed
To the same purpose did the Lord also declare, Heaven and earth shall pass away. Matthew 26:35 When these things, therefore, pass away above the earth, John, the Lord's disciple, says that the new Jerusalem above shall [then] descend, as a bride adorned for her husband;
Book 5, 35:2
Irenaeus gives many details about the millennial period and the new age after it. Also in Book Five he addresses the age he is living in and shows that both the Apostle John and Daniel predict the existence of the Roman Empire (Babylon) before the return of Christ and its destruction.
John and Daniel have predicted the dissolution and desolation of the Roman Empire, which shall precede the end of the world and the eternal kingdom of Christ.
Book 5, Chapter 26
In every chapter of Against Heresies Irenaeus refutes heresies and bad doctrine that were prevalent in his time. In fact these heresies are still extant today in one form or another and will be until the return of the Lord.