Papias was the overseer of the congregation at Hierapolis, a city through which a major road carried many travelers. As Christians came through, Papias would ask them if they had known the apostles and if they knew any sayings of Christ. Around the year a.d. 130 he composed five volumes called Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord from what he had learned. Sadly his work did not survive until today, though we can get glimpses of it through the quotations of a few later Christians like Irenaeus and Eusebius. Here is an excerpt from that book:
The blessing thus foretold undoubtedly belongs to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous will rise from the dead and reign, when creation, too, renewed and freed from bondage, will produce an abundance of food of all kinds from the dew of heaven and from the fertility of the earth, just as the elders, who saw John the disciple of the Lord, recalled having heard from him how the Lord used to teach about those times and say: ‘The days will come when vines will grow, each having ten thousand shoots, and on each shoot ten thousand branches, and on each branch ten thousand twigs, and on each twig ten thousand clusters, and in each cluster ten thousand grapes, and each grape when crushed will yield twenty-five measures of wine. And when one of the saints takes hold of a cluster, another cluster will cry out, ‘I am better, take me, bless the Lord through me.’ Similarly a grain of wheat will produce ten thousand heads, and every head will have ten thousand grains, and every grain ten pounds of fine flour, white and clean. And the other fruits, seeds, and grass will produce in similar proportions, and all the animals feeding on these fruits produced by the soil will in turn become peaceful and harmonious toward one another, and fully subject to humankind.
(Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.33.3-4, trans. Michael Holmes)
Although it is impossible to say whether or not Papias’ saying really goes back to the historical Jesus, we should not rule it out completely because of its outlandishness. Consider, for a moment, that when the children of Israel first entered the Promised Land, two men carried a single cluster of grapes along with some figs and pomegranates on a rod between them (Numbers 13.23). In the kingdom age, this idea of incredible abundance gets amplified. Take a look at these prophecies from Amos and Joel:
Amos 9.13 [ESV]
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When the plowman will overtake the reaper And the treader of grapes him who sows seed; When the mountains will drip sweet wine And all the hills will be dissolved.
Joel 3.18 [ESV]
And in that day The mountains will drip with sweet wine, And the hills will flow with milk, And all the brooks of Judah will flow with water; And a spring will go out from the house of the LORD To water the valley of Shittim.
Furthermore, Papias’ statement about the taming of animals comes straight from Isaiah:
Isaiah 11.6-9 [ESV]
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. 9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
Whether or not Papias’ information really went back to Jesus does not affect the fact that Papias himself clearly believed in a kingdom coming to the earth in which the land would produce abundantly and animals would abstain from violence. Considering the fact that he wrote very early (around a.d. 130) and reportedly knew the apostle John, we cannot merely dismiss his testimony as one later Christian did when he wrote:
The same writer [Papias] has recorded other accounts as having come to him from unwritten tradition, certain strange parables of the Lord and teachings of his and some other statements of a more mythical character. Among other things he says that after the resurrection of the dead there will be a period of a thousand years when the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this earth. These ideas, I suppose, he got through a misunderstanding of the apostolic accounts, not realizing that the things recorded in figurative language were spoken by them mystically. For he certainly appears to be a man of very little intelligence, as one may say judging from his own words.
(Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.31.3, trans. Michael Holmes)
So Papias is silly to accept scripture at face value instead of interpreting everything allegorically, like later Christians. (To read more about how anti-kingdom Christians used allegorical interpretation to undermine the idea of an earthly kingdom, see this article.) Ironically, I believe Papias intended the quote above to be taken figuratively. Obviously a grape cannot cry out, “I am better” nor can a head of grain contain 10,000 kernels. However, what does the exaggerated language mean? The saying teaches that the produce and grain of the earth in the kingdom will grow prolifically and that everyone will have enough food. Rather than people fighting over who gets the food, the food will fight over who gets the people. It is Eusebius who doesn’t “get it,” not Papias.
In conclusion, Papias stands as a strong witness to an early vibrant faith in the coming kingdom on earth–a time when God heals our world and causes it to flourish abundantly. Like Amos and Joel before him, Papias envisioned the kingdom age in terms of agricultural abundance rather than a disembodied flight to the celestial realm.