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Friday, April 24, 2009

What The Early Church Fathers Believed About The Rapture

As more people come out of the touchy-feely, God is love, easy believism theology and embrace the doctrines of the Reformation, many of these people fail to discard the errors that some of the Reformers were unable to discover in their limited lifetimes. They were too busy undoing all the damage done by the Popes to the scriptures, grace and God's glory to study prophecy. Mainly, the reformers could see Israel no where so that God could have a people to which He could deliver His promises in the Old Testament. They, wrongly, assumed that the church was a replacement for Israel. If one will look, Israel, never in its history, has ever possessed all of the land God had promised to Abraham. The Popes assumed that the church was replacing Israel and this unfulfilled promise would be fulfilled to the church. But the church and Israel are two separate entities.(Read Rom. chapter 11.)

Many of the Covenant Calvinists embrace the Roman Catholic ideology of amillennialism. Furthermore, many within this tradition, and even within the premillennial family, assert that the doctrine of a pre-trib rapture did not develop until the 1800s. Such statements are terribly inaccurate.

I agree with Dr. Richard Mayhue, and Dr. Wayne Brindle when they state: "The timing of the rapture is not a cardinal doctrine that should divide God's people, but those who interpret the Bible literally find many strong reasons to believe that the rapture will be pre-tribulational" (The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy, 289).

No matter whether one believes in a pre-trib rapture or not, there are historical statements that verify that people have indeed believed this teaching before the 1800s. It is clear that the early church immediately following the apostles held to a premillennial view of Christ's coming to earth. These theologians embraced two key truths concerning Christ's return to earth. The idea of an any moment return and a coming of Christ to rule as the political and spiritual king over the world were advocated by many of the earliest theologians. Here is a partial list of some of the theologians who embraced the doctrine of imminency and/or the future kingdom rule of Christ:

Papias (60-130)

Clement of Rome (90-100)

The Sherpherd of Hermas (96-150)

Ignatius of Antioch (98-117)

Barnabas (100)

The Didache (100-160)

Justin Martyr (110-165)

The Epistle of Barnabas (117-138)

Irenaeus (120-202)

Tertullian (145-220)

Hippolytus (185-236)
Cyprian (200-250)

Lactantius (260-330)


From these men we see the doctrine of Christ's soon return within a premillennial framework. The doctrine permeated the early church. And some of these men even had direct contact with the apostles and held to this belief. A little “individual research” rather than accept whole hog what one’s seminary professor teaches may be in order for most pastors today.

Two Pretribulational References in the Early Church
1. The Shepherd of Hermas (95-150)The Shepherd of Hermas was written between 96-150 AD. This document provides a statement that resembles a teaching of a pre-trib rapture doctrine. Though it is not exactly as found in modern day scholarly pretribulational writings, it still shows that an idea existed in some degree that God's people could escape the future tribulation that was to come on the whole earth. The text reads:
"You have escaped from the great tribulation on account of your faith, and because you did not doubt in the presence of such a beast. Go, therefore, and tell the elect of the Lord His mighty deeds, and say to them that this beast is a type of the great tribulation that is coming. If then ye prepare yourselves, and repent with all your heart, and turn to the Lord, it will be possible for you to escape it, if your heart be pure and spotless, and ye spend the rest of the days of your life serving the Lord blamelessly."
This is not a systematic teaching, nor does it answer all of the questions that one may have. But it does give a reference to the teaching that God's people can escape the great tribulation.”

2. Victorinus ( Well known by 270 and died in 303 A.D.)Victorinus wrote a commentary on the book of Revelation. In one place he made an interesting statement that reflects his idea that the church would be removed prior to the tribulation. Of course his ideas were not systematic, and some will argue that he contradicts himself in other places, which may very well be true. But even with such an admission it still serves us well to see that early in the church history someone taught in some sense that God's church could escape the tribulation period by being removed from the earth. His commentary notes in Revelation 6:14 indicate a pre-trib reference:
"And the heaven withdrew as a scroll that is rolled up. "For the heaven to be rolled away, that is, that the Church shall be taken away. "And every mountain and the islands removed from their places intimate that in the last persecution all men departed from their places; that is, that the good will be removed, seeking to avoid persecution.
This reference gives light into a developing idea in the earliest periods of the church. There was an idea that God's people could be spared the terrible time of wrath that God would pour out on the earth by removing the saints. The saint's departure from the earth would occur so they would not undergo the terible wrath at the beginning of the judgments of God upon the sinful unbelieving world.

Here Are Three Clear Summary Points from the Early Church Fathers' Teachings:
These early church fathers expected Christ to physically return to earth followed by a 1000 year kingdom rule on earth.
By many of the writings we can see they believed in the possibility of an any moment return of Christ with some statements that resemble a pre-trib view point.
Even though the early church was under heavy persecution these teachers believed there would still come a distinct time of great tribulation in the future.

Ephraem of Nisibis (306-373)Ephraem wrote an important sermon "On the Last Times, the Antichrist and the End of the World." As a prominent theologian and prolific writer of the Eastern Byzantine church, he advocated for a pretribulational rapture position for the church. Dr. Grant Jeffrey has noted that he had a profound love for the Scriptures. Below is a selected quote that concerns the escape of God's people from the horrible tribulation. He stated:
"We ought to understand thoroughly therefore, my brothers, what is imminent or overhanging. Already there have been hunger and plagues, violent movements of nations and signs, which have been predicted by the Lord, they have already been fulfilled, and there is not other which remains, except the advent of the wicked one in the completion of the Roman kingdom. Why therefore are we occupied with worldly business, and why is our mind held fixed on the lusts of the world or the anxieties of the ages? Why therefore do we not reject every care of earthly actions and prepare ourselves for the meeting of the Lord Christ, so that He may draw us from the confusion, which overwhelms the world? Believe you me, dearest brothers, because the coming of the Lord is nigh, believe you me, because the end of the world is at hand, believe me, because it is the very last time. Or do you not believe unless you see it with your eyes? See to it that this sentence be not fulfilled among you of the prophet who declares: "Woe to those who desire to see the Day of the Lord!" Because all saints and the Elect of the Lord are gathered together before the tribulation which is to about to come and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins. And so brothers, most dear to me, it is the eleventh hour, and the end of this world comes to the harvest, and angels, armed and prepared, hold sickles in their earth exists with blind infidelity, arriving at its downfall early. Commotions are brought forth, wars of diverse peoples and battles and invasions of the barbarians threaten, and our regions shall be desolated, and we neither become very much afraid of the report nor of the appearance, in order that we may at least do penance; because they hurl fear at us, and we do not wish to be changed although we at least stand in need of penance for our actions!”
Notice that there is a clear teaching on the rapture of the saints before the terrible tribulation period. This theologian admonishes the people not to desire to see the Day of the Lord? Why? Because in his mind to see the day of the Lord means a person is not a believer. The believers will be snatched away and taken to the Lord before this time period begins. Look closely at what he says again:
"See to it that this sentence be not fulfilled among you of the prophet who declares: "Woe to those who desire to see the Day of the Lord!" Because all saints and the Elect of the Lord are gathered together before the tribulation which is to about to come and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins."

Scholars Dr. Ice and James Stitzinger provide some other insights as to what this theologian taught concerning the end times. They note that Ephreum "develops an elaborate biblical eschatology, including a distinction between the rapture and the second coming of Christ. It describes the imminent rapture, followed by a three-and-half-year-long Great Tribulation under the rule of Antichrist, followed by the coming of Christ, the defeat of the Antichrist, and the eternal state. His view includes a parenthesis between the fulfillment of Daniel's sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks (Daniel 9:24-27)."

Keep in mind that this reference is 1500 years before the time that many critics of the pre-trib view claim this doctrine developed. Many falsely advocate that the idea of a pre-trib rapture view developed in 1800s through J.N. Darby or through some sects and mystics. Such a view does not hold water, though it is popular in many circles.

Ed Anthony

3 Comments:

Blogger Al said...

Ed, my friend...

Just one quick note on that last quote...

The "11th hour" has lasted for 1700 years now? hmmm...

al sends

4:43 PM  
Blogger Rocky2 said...

Amazing! You have found more pre-1830 pretrib "evidence" than even the late Dr. John Walvoord, longtime president of Dallas Seminary, could find. In fact, the closest Walvoord came to it was a trio of early Fathers. But even they didn't teach pretrib but only the sort of IMMINENCE that Walvoord felt could harmonize with pretrib. The ones who have desperately "found" pre-1830 "evidence" usually emphasize Pseudo-Ephraem and Morgan Edwards - but if you Google "Deceiving and Being Deceived" by D.M. you will find that those desperados have chosen to dispense with honesty!
(For more light on the same desperados, read "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" on the "Powered by Christ Ministries" site!) Rocky2

3:54 PM  
Blogger Lee Bradford said...

After about six months of intense reading of the revelation without any commentaries, I’ve discovered perhaps a new possibility; see what you might think brother, it seems to work.
51Behold, I tell you a mystery; at the last trumpet. Dead raised, all alive I Cor. 15: 51
Paul presents a mystery, that includes the “last trumpet” and the saints are changed.
Now go to Revelation 10 and read what happens when the 7th angel begins to sound:
7 But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.
The 7th trumpet begins to sound and the “mystery” of God is finished.
Now go to Revelation 11 and look what happens when the 7th trumpet is actually blown.
15 And the seventh angel sounded; voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. 18:and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and give reward to thy servants the prophets, and saints,
The 7th trumpet is blown and the Kingdoms of the world are now the Kingdoms of God, and the saints are rewarded.
Do you see my point.
Now just to add to that, wouldn’t it be great if we could find a place in Revelation where we literally have saints who are dead, and then those saints hear a “loud voice” and come alive, and then let’s throw in the voice saying “come up hither” the altogether most famous rapturists phrase, and then how about those saints being caught up in the clouds to be with the Lord. Wouldn’t that be great, if it could be that simple? And how about if we could include maybe a time frame somewhere of 3 and ½ days. So we had dead saints hearing a loud voice, 3 and ½ days, coming alive, standing up, rising into the air, and caught up in the clouds while the whole world watches. Well how about the verses:
Revelation 11:11-12 (KJV)
11 And after three days and a half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.
12 And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.
Could it really be that simple?
Brother Lee

2:39 PM  

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