In the 17th century, at one of the high points of the Hebraic Movement in Christian Holland and Great Britain there was a widely embraced expectation that the Messiah would return in the Hebrew year 1655/56, based on a theory that the prophecies related to Revelation 12:6 would be fulfilled 1,260 years from the fall of the Roman Empire. In hindsight it was, of course, a false prophecy, but, at the time, the widespread belief in it fostered unprecedented unity and cooperation among Christians and Jews who prepared for it together from the early 1600s. Among its chief Christian proponents was Scottish millennialist, early Puritan theologian and friend/agent of Oliver Cromwell, John Dury (1596-1680), who attempted to establish a College of Jewish Studies in London (despite the ban on Jews living openly in England). The primary Jewish proponent of millennialism was Manasseh Ben Israel (1604-1657), the renowned “Rabbi of Amsterdam,” arguably the most influential Jew of the Renaissance era.
The common denominator in the theology of these men was the Judeo-Christian doctrine of a future, earthly thousand-year Millennial Kingdom to be established by the coming of the Messiah: a second coming to the Christians; a (perceived) first coming to the Jews. Undergirding this remarkable movement was what I have called “the most important forgotten truth of the Bible,” the “two-house covenant,” in which the House of Judah is defined by Judaism, and the House of Israel is defined by Christianity. If you do not know this doctrine in its original pristine form, and recognize its absolute centrality to Bible history and prophecy, then stop reading this article until you read this short summary first.
Millennialism was the great divider of the Romanized form of Christianity that slowly emerged after the Apostolic Age ended, but has always been the great unifier of Bible-based Yahweh-worshipers (both Christians and Jews) who embrace a literalist view of Bible prophecy. Roman Catholicism largely expunged the doctrine from Christendom under Constantine, formally codifying the Roman revisionist view in the doctrine of “Amillennial”-ism (literally “no millennial” kingdom) by treating millennial passages as purely metaphorical. Eleven centuries later, some branches of Protestantism continued to reject millennialism, adopting a new doctrine called “post-millennialism,” contending that the millennial kingdom had come and gone starting with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (Why the next thousand years looked nothing at all like the prophecies describe is a question that never seems to get asked – but that’s a matter for another day.)
But there was always a remnant of millennialists in Christendom who emerged from time to time to the great irritation of the Roman Catholic Church. One very prominent emergence occurred in the 1400s in the Spanish Empire, becoming a leading motivator of the Spanish Inquisition’s campaign of forced conversions and brutal treatment of the Jews. Among other things, the Jews were accused of “Judaizing” the Christians by seeking common ground with them in the millennial doctrine. While there had been many anti-Jewish pogroms in Christian history (just as followers of Jesus faced anti-Christian persecution at the hands of the Jews in the early years of the church), the Spanish Inquisition appears unique in that it triggered a sea-change in Jewish thinking, convincing them that their best defense against anti-Semitism going forward was to facilitate the breakup of the Roman Catholic monopoly in Christendom through the support of breakaway Christian sects that had also been targeted in the Inquisition. The most obvious faction to cultivate a partnership with was the Christian millennialists.
The most important early figure in the rise of what would later be called Protestantism was the Catholic theologian Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522), on par with Erasmus in terms of eminence and scholarship. Unfortunately for him, Reuchlin was haled before the Inquisitors under charges of heresy leveled by certain Catholic Dominicans because of his successful lobbying on behalf of the Jews against a ban on all Jewish books by Emperor Maximillian I of the Holy Roman Empire (who rescinded it). He won the trial but endured vicious “cancel-culture” persecution for the rest of his life. That drama (and his preeminent scholarship on the Hebrew origins of the Old Testament) heavily influenced the young Martin Luther (then a staunch philo-Semite because of Reuchlin). Significantly, Luther published his 95 Theses that launched the Protestant Reformation in 1517 just one year after Reuchlin’s acquittal.
Ground Zero for millennialism and the Hebraic Movement was Leyden, Holland, where many Jews had fled over the prior century to escape the Inquisition. Leyden became a base of operation for building a partnership with Christians in Great Britain, whose national anti-papal Anglican Church had become the strongest theological bulwark against the Church of Rome and whose increasingly constitutionalism-tolerant government had become the strongest political rival to the Spanish Empire. Although Jews had been banned from England since 1290, the Hebraic perspective of the Bible had already swept through the British Isles like wildfire in the form of Presbyterianism. Luther’s reassertion of “the priesthood of all believers” (in direct contradiction to the ecclesiastic hierarchy of Catholicism and Anglicanism) had found fertile soil in John Knox’s Scotland, where the world-changing movement of “Scottish Covenanters” and their development of self-governance through covenantal oaths (e.g. the Mayflower Compact and Declaration of Independence) pioneered the political and theological ideals that would eventually define American constitutionalism.
Along that road, those ideals made possible the “Republican Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland” under Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s, and triggered the Glorious Revolution in 1688. Not accidentally, Cromwell’s tenure marked the formal start of Anglo-Zionism – the political partnership of British Christians and Zionist Jews – which included a parallel theological track called British Israelism, rooted in millennialism. Cromwell’s inner circle included both John Dury and John Sadler, the latter of whom wrote one of the foundational documents of British Israelism. Both of these Christian millennialists heavily lobbied Cromwell to end the ban on Jews living in England, which he did in 1656. After the Glorious Revolution (to oust the Roman Catholic King James II) had merged the Protestant British and Dutch monarchies (unifying the very two nations that were the power-bases of millenialism) the British Empire began a rapid geographic and geo-political expansion that only peaked in the early years of the 20th Century with 24% of the world’s surface under its control.
Also along that road traveled the Pilgrim Separatists who landed one fateful day in November 1620 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, after a sojourn with the Jews in Leyden, Holland. Interestingly, the very first church built in Plymouth (a building I once spent a night in) is still standing there, on Leyden Street, a monument to the blessings of Anglo-Zionism most Christians know almost nothing about.
Among those blessings of Anglo-Zionism was the astonishing transformative spread across the globe of Jewish-tolerant Protestant Christianity by the British Empire (and concomitant diminution of paganism), the establishment of the first, best and longest lasting constitutional republic in the history of the world (the United States), and the worldwide normalization of the concept/practice of self governance under the rule of law, not men.
This article is the first of a series called “The History of Judeo-Christian Millennialism.” Some of the facts cited in this series are drawn from the book “Jewish Christians and Christian Jews: From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment” edited by Richard H. Popkin and Gordon M. Weiner, which I highly recommend. I also recommend the book “Judah’s Scepter and Joseph’s Birthright” (1902) by JH Allen, which I consider to be the best basic summary in print of the two house covenant (though I do not endorse its claims regarding the doctrine/history of British Israelism itself, about 80% of which I believe are debunked.) For a deeper dive into the two house teaching, see my book “The Prodigal Son Prophecy.”
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