End Times Theology in the Early and Modern Church

The pre-tribulation rapture doctrine and early church beliefs

Written by Ethan E. Harris


Tim Lahaye, and many in his populist camp, place great emphasis on the historical basis of Pre-Tribulational Dispensational Premillennialism.

The pre-tribulation rapture is an integral part of the Millennium to many in the Church today who would have us believe, according to Lahaye,

  • …the Rapture takes place before the Tribulation [and it] allows plenty of time for us to enjoy the Father’s house…before returning with Him to this earth when He sets up His one thousand year kingdom of peace. 1)

Citing Titus 2:13, Tim Lahaye claims the Apostle “Paul’s ‘blessed hope’ is the Rapture, for it is unique to the church.” 2)

The Rapture is not for everyone though. Lest someone mistake, Mr. Lahaye tells us “The Glorious Appearing, on the other hand, is not for the Christian but for the remnant at the end of the Tribulation.”He continues, “If Christ does not rapture His church before the Tribulation begins, much of the hope is destroyed, and thus it becomes a ‘blasted hope.’” 3)

The Pre-Tribulation doctrine is built on a house of theological presuppositions. Much has been done to argue for their position, placing great emphasis on early church teaching. Most of their eschatological persuasion will admit that the validity of that system does not necessitate an early-church origin, yet many of seem to be uncomfortable with the suggestion that their doctrines are relatively modern without a patristic basis. For example, Charles Ryrie deals admirably with the concepts underlying Dispensationalism:

  • In discussing the matter of the origins of dispensationalism, opponents of the teaching…say that dispensationalists assert that they ‘‘system‘‘ was taught in postapostolic time. Informed dispensationalists do not claim that. 4)

Ryrie cites (although this present work disagrees) Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, Joachim of Fiore, Poiret, Jonathan Edwards and Isaac Watts as examples where fundamental themes occur in earlier writings, but he admits the system itself is no older than John Nelson Darby.

The following chart depicts the most commonly accepted dependency of Dispensational views. All four brands of general Dispensationalism (classic, modern, progressive and ultra) are necessarily Premillennial in scope. These are distinct in detail from Historic Premill positions by defining sharp contrasts between the concepts of covenant/grace, law/gospel, and Israel/Church. This system arose chiefly in 19th and early 20th century North America through the work of Scofield and Lewis Sperry Chafer.

Dispensationalists may be categorized as believing of anywhere from three to eight dispensations in the outworking of the history of salvation. Further, those holding to the four brands of Dispensationalism may believe in a Pre, Mid or Post-Tribulational view of the Second Coming of Christ.

Is a belief in a pre-tribulation rapture occurring before a future 1000-year Kingdom of Christ a Christian mandate? Is Lahaye’s system based on the historical teaching of Christian writers of the last 2000 years? Does it even matter if premillennialism was taught in the first few centuries after the time of Christ?

What’s the Difference?


  • 1. The term ‘‘Chiliasm‘‘ is a reference to the Greek word for “one thousand years”. The Latin term is millennium. Some early Christians believed in a future millennial kingdom that equated periods of history with seven days of creation in Genesis. Many believed God’s rest on the seventh day corresponds to a future earthly kingdom of God. Seven days equal seven ages.
  • 2. ‘‘Premillennialism‘‘ or ‘‘Postmillennialism‘‘ refers to what form of literal Chiliasm takes in one’s theological belief system. The difference is whether the Second Coming of Christ and thus, His victorious coming is before (“pre-“) or after (“post-”) the millennium mentioned in Revelation 20.
  • 3. ‘‘Amillennialism‘‘ is a form of allegorical Chiliasm referring to this present age before the Second Coming without an actual, literal physical Kingdom realm.
  • 4. ‘‘Dispensationalism‘‘ views history, especially Biblical revelation, in a series of successive and distinct epochs wherein God deals differently with separate groups of people. Sometimes referred to by opponents as “different plans of God”. The book of Revelation is regarded as being wholly future in prophetic matter.
  • 5. ‘‘Dispensational Premillennialism‘‘ is the same as Dispensationalism by definition. A Dispensationalist believes, by theological necessity, in premillennialism.
  • 6. The ‘‘Tribulation‘‘ is a period referred to in Matthew 24:21: “For then shall be great Tribulation….” In Dispensational thought, this seven year period immediately precedes the Millennial Kingdom.
  • 7. ‘‘Pre-, Mid- or Post-Tribulation Rapture‘‘ are variations of Dispensational Premillennialism. Each holds to a different timing of the event of the Christian “rapture” during the period of the Tribulation.

Lahaye says “The truth of the matter is that premillennialism held sway during the first three centuries of the early church and was known as ‘chiliasm.’” 5) Yet this confuses the discussion. Premillennialism is not the matter of debate. It is a discussion of the style or brand of premillennial thought represented by Lahaye and the popularizers of modern tabloid eschatology. Misquoting his adversaries, Lahaye informs his reader that there are people today who believe the doctrine of premillennialism rose with the teaching of John Nelson Darby in the 1800’s. 6) This is extremely misleading.

Premillennialism is a general description of when the “1000 years” mentioned in Revelation 20 will occur in the outworking of salvific history. In a sweeping sense it means the Church today exists before the visibly physical future reign of Christ on earth.

There are many variations of pre-mill thought throughout early church history:

  • 1. Canonical Chiliasm.
  • a. Old Testament: Expectation of a future physical reign where ethnic Israel co-reigns with the Messiah.
  • b. New Testament: The nature, extent and duration of Christ’s Kingdom in which He conquers death and reigns with the Saints on Earth. The Kingdom is considered victorious in mission and may be regarded as literal (pre- or postmillennial) or figurative (amillennial).
  • 2. Noncanonical. Teachings of the Apocyrpha, Pseudepigrapha, Gnostic and Rabinic teachings during the Apostolic to post-Apostolic era. Some of these variations, especially Gnostic, were the key teachings behind the ecumenical councils’ condemnation of chiliastic systems of theology.
  • 3. Patristic (about 100-300 AD). The teachings of mainline Christian leaders following the Apostolic age.
  • 4. Nicene and Post-Nicene (about 300-450 AD). Considered by most scholars to have been the beginning of the reign of amillennial thought continuing in prominence until the Reformation.

The argument presented here, in the academic realm and popular vault of Dispensational criticism, is that the pre-tribulation rapture and dispensationalism are modern inventions dating to no older than two hundred years ago. Pre-millennialism by itself, however, is arguably the oldest view of the kingdom of Christ.

Although some advocates of Pre-Tribulational thought believe they can find evidence earlier, the commonly accepted date of origin is in the early 1800’s. Dispensational Premillennialism with its daughter doctrine of pre-tribulationism is quite different from the premillennialism found spattered through the history of Christianity.

But it is Tim Lahaye himself who defeats his own claim. On the same page as the above citation, we are told

  • Some in the early church taught that since there were six literal days of creation after which God rested, so there would be six thousand-year periods of time given to humanity upon the earth, after which they would rest for a thousand years of peace. This view was revived somewhat during the nineteenth century but has not been given wide acceptance…perhaps because…it has become impossible for that age day theory to be proven accurate. 7)

Is there one premillennialism that held sway in the early church or were there multiple views, accepted by some, rejected by others? Lahaye repeatedly confuses the terms “premillennialism” and “chiliasm” giving the reader the misconception that they are identical. 8) Lahaye’s dispensational premillennialism is quite a bit different from those views found in the early Church.

Instead of consciously ‘‘knowing‘‘ or ‘‘testing‘‘ his view, Lahaye dynamically asserts his position as if true beforehand. Boyd notes, “many writers assume the historical accuracy” of their premillennial lineage “without having done independent patristic exegesis to test” their validity. 9)

The Pre-Tribulation Rapture

The system of theology called ‘‘Dispensationalism‘‘ is the umbrella under which the pre-tribulation rapture is found. In that system, the pre-tribulation rapture depends on a future Tribulation. The future Tribulation requires a future Millennium. That future Millennium is a 1000-year period in which the promises made to Israel will be fulfilled. And in order for that to be true, there must be a distinction between Israel and the Church. Although this point is addressed in a later section, the concept of a Millennium will be addressed here.

One scholar of early church eschatology noted “Consistency is not one of the characteristics of the Fathers; and their lack of it is due primarily to one of their chief virtues a sincere desire to interpret Scripture faithfully” and to do so with full “regard to the Church’s established tradition of preaching and instruction.” 10)

We note the above in order to demonstrate that a simple belief in a future Millennium is much different than the belief in a ‘‘Dispensational Millennium‘‘. A belief in the D-Millennium is one where there is no Old Testament promise applied to the Church during this age. It is a belief that there is one plan for ethnic Israel distinct from the plan of God for the Church. It is a belief in a pre-tribulation secret rapture where Christ comes for the Christian Church, made of post-Pentecost believers only, and is absent from the world during the Tribulation, but it is a belief that the Rapture Coming is technically ‘‘not‘‘ the Second Coming. It is a belief that Daniel’s 70th week is a foresight of the entire Tribulation period. It is a belief that Matthew 24 covers the same period. It is a belief that ‘‘the‘‘ Second Coming of Christ, sometimes referred to as the Glorious Appearing, only occurs after the Tribulation. It is a belief in multiple resurrections and judgments separated by seven or 1000 years.

A belief in a simple future 1000 years does not make one a pre-tribulationist or dispensationalist. As cited above, Lahaye argues: “The truth of the matter is that premillennialism held sway during the first three centuries of the early church and was known as ‘chiliasm’”, perhaps in an attempt to make his view more palatable. 11) Lahaye’s comment is one from ignorance or else blind rejection of theological distinctions. His Dispensational Premillennialism is neither ‘‘historic premillennialism‘‘ nor is it ‘‘chiliasm. ‘‘He confuses the two in an attempt to gain credibility from a concocted historical fallacy.

We will turn now to study the position of the early Church Fathers in order to discover what they believed concerning eschatology in general. Granting that the following is not an exhaustive catalogue of patristic teaching on eschatological issues, we will use Boyd’s summary of findings as a guideline to walk us through the study: 12)

  • 1. Did the early Church Fathers consistently apply a “literal interpretation” of Revelation 20:1-8, or what did they believe about a Millennium, or of the national promises made to Israel?
  • 2. Is there a consistent distinction between Israel and the Church?
  • 3. What did they believe about the “Kingdom”?
  • 4. The Rapture?
  • 5. The Second Advent?
  • 6. Will the Church go through the Tribulation?
  • 7. What about the resurrection of Christians?
  • 8. What did they believe about judgment?

The “Fathers” on Eschatology

The most essential group to our study is the Post-Apostolic Fathers and commonly accepted writings from their time with the exception of Cerinthus, a Gnostic. This group includes Hegesippus (“a successor of the apostles” 13)), Clement of Rome (30-100 AD), Cerinthus (late 1st Century), the Epistle of Barnabas (100 AD), The Didache (“The Teaching of the Twelve” between 80-100 AD), Ignatius (30-107 AD), Papias (70-155 AD), the Shepherd of Hermas (160 AD), Polycarp (65-155 AD), Aristides (125 AD) and Justin Martyr (110-165 AD).

Other notable and early Christians, up to the third century, may be cited as additional sources to indicate opinion on particular doctrines in their time and also to provide an insight into the development of certain thought as the Church developed its theology in a more systematic and interpretive manner.

‘‘‘Clement of Rome‘‘‘. In ‘‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians‘‘, Clement comments on the coming of Christ: “Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, ‘Speedily will He come, and will not tarry;’ and ‘The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One, for whom ye look.’” 14)

Citing the above, one premillennialist claims Clement “combined premillennialism with a clear belief in the imminency of Christ's return.” 15)16) It is astonishing to realize the desperate exegetical conditioning that one must go through to strain at such a statement and find such a great teaching! There is absolutely no mention of a millennium in Clement’s words. Much less, there is lacking any evidence of “imminency,” meaning a concept of “any second” expectation. ‘‘Immediacy‘‘ may be a better term to distinguish events which are’‘ soon expected‘‘, but do not relate an “any moment” anticipation (i.e. “these things will shortly come to pass” versus “you will all fall away because of Me this night”).

Clement, a disciple and friend of the Apostle Paul and Luke, frequently used analogy to interpret Old Testament passages. In the ‘‘First Epistle to the Corinthians‘‘, Clement cites the Abrahamic covenant as an example of the moral obedience of Abraham neglecting the covenantal significance of the promise.

In chapter 32 of the same ‘‘Epistle‘‘, he applies the Abrahamic seed promise as one of ruling power in the progeny of the Kings descended from Abraham: “They were made great…through the operation of His will.” So the Kings were high of stature because of the will of God in the Abrahamic promise. Then he applies the same teaching to Christians and deduces that it is of faith “through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men,” clearly taking a spiritualized rendering of the Abrahamic covenant.

In chapter three, Clement identifies portions of Deuteronomy 32 as a prophecy of fulfillment in the condition of the Corinthian Church’s envy. In chapter 29, he refers to Deuteronomy 32:8 as a direct reference to how God has made Christians “partakers in the blessing of His elect.” Clement could be no clearer than here where he sees the post-Pentecost Church as “a nation out of the midst of the nations,” the fulfillment of Old Testament promise, the “Holy One” of God; to Clement, the Church is Israel through promise as he also teaches in 2 Clement 2-3.

Clement describes the post-Pentecost believer as belonging to (1) “the first Church, that is, spiritual, that hath been created before the sun and moon,” (2) “the Church of life,” (3) “the living Church [which] is the body of Christ,” (4) “the body of Christ,” and (5) “His elect.” 17) This body of believers is thought by him to be spiritual and originating “from the beginning.” That the Church is one group of believers throughout all of history flows from his argument based on Ephesians 5:22-23.

  • …the living Church is the body of Christ; for the Scripture saith, “God made man, male and female.” The male is Christ, the female is the Church. And the Books and the Apostles plainly declare that the Church is not of the present, but from the beginning…Now the Church, being spiritual, was manifested in the flesh of Christ…

In this same letter, Clement teaches an expectation of the inception of the “kingdom of God” as initiated by (1) “the day of the appearing of God,” 18) clearly a reference to the Second Advent, 19) and (2) the resurrection of believers, unbelievers and the judgment of the flesh. 20) Additionally, Clement finds all believers of all ages, “from Adam even unto this day,” participating in a single resurrection. Post-Pentecost believers “now possess a place among the godly, and shall be made manifest at the revelation of the kingdom of Christ.” 21)

We do not know whether there is a definite length of time in Clement’s kingdom concept. Likely, he refers to the eternal state, as it is “the next world” that “bids farewell “to” adultery and corruption, avarice and deceit;” that which is “to come” is “good and incorruptible,” and is the “royal residence of God.” 22) This is not a description of a Millennial concept involving rebellion, sin and rejection of Christ ending in utter destruction and judgment. This period of time, in Clement’s thinking, is characterized as one of rest for the believer in contrast to “eternal punishment” for those who reject God’s will.

In the ‘‘Second Epistle of Clement‘‘, “the day of judgment” comes on believers and unbelievers alike. Believing Christians will be “gathered together for life” on “the day of His appearing when he will come and redeem us each one according to his works.” 23) For Clement, Christians will be gathered together with Christ on the day of His appearing, which is the day of judgment of believers and unbelievers.

Clement knows no 7-year Tribulation period separated by multiple comings of Christ. He gives no indication of believing in the four-fold criteria of the modern pre-tribulation belief:

  • 1. Christ’s Second Advent, a physical departure from heaven, is to consist of more than one phase separated by a period of Tribulation.
  • 2. Christ will remove the Church before a Tribulation period.
  • 3. The resurrection of the just will occur in multiple phases.
  • 4. Israel and the Church do not share the same promises, “thus providing a rationale for a removal of Christians before God ‘again deals with Israel.’” 24)25)26-26)

Clement of Rome does not refer to a Chiliastic belief.

Clement of Rome stands opposed to Dispensational distinctions.

‘‘‘Ignatius ‘‘‘regards “the kingdom of God” as realized in the confession of Christ by the believer. He who believes in his heart is regarded righteous; the one who confesses “unto salvation.” The one who does both, Ignatius writes, “shall be great in the kingdom,” just as Christ set the example. 27) He also relates Christ’s kingdom as “from the beginning of time” because Christ “remains the same forever” and was “begotten by the Father” from the beginning. 28) The “kingdom of Christ” is used as a synonym for the “kingdom of God.” 29) Ignatius informs Polycarp that Christians should be diligent in obedience to Christ in order to be brought “into His kingdom,” giving us no indication of a millennial concept.

Ignatius teaches “it is absurd to speak of Jesus Christ with the tongue, and to cherish in the mind a Judaism which has now come to an end.” 30) His reasoning centers on the idea that Christianity is the true heir and child of Abraham; “where there is Christianity there cannot be Judaism” for the same reason that Christianity is the true development of Judaism and is therefore not a separate entity. There is only one group of believers of all time, it is “the children of Abraham, the friend of God; and in his seed all those have been blessed who were ordained to life in Christ.” 31)

Ignatius does not teach on millennial concepts.

There is no possibility of finding the necessary foundational teachings of a pre-tribulation rapture in the writings of Ignatius.

‘‘‘Polycarp‘‘‘. It is interesting to see how pre-millennialists struggle to find evidence of their teachings in early Christian writings. It is almost a “common understanding” that pre-millennialism is taught heavily by Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian. Here is one author’s attempt:

  • Polycarp asked two questions which reflected a belief in a literal, earthly reign of Christ and his saints: ‘But who of us are ignorant of the judgment of the Lord? Do we not know that the saints shall judge the world? as Paul teaches.’” 32)

This is an excellent example of reading one’s bias and blatantly inserting it into the teachings of those early Christians. There is no evidence in Polycarp’s statement about a physical reign of Christ on earth. And there is nothing there to suggest that the saints do anything but “judge the world.”

But that is far removed from the context anyway. Instead of speaking on the distant future and teaching a concept of the Millennium, Polycarp was actually admonishing the Church of Philippi for not judging a certain man named Valens “as one of the heathen.” 33)

Valens, Polycarp explains, was once a presbyter among the Philippians. But he did not understand “the place that was given him” and so Valens left their fellowship. Polycarp tells them that “judgment of the Lord,” which he identifies as the saints judging the world, is “neither seen nor heard of” among them. Polycarp goes on to speak of how he grieves for Valens and wishes “the Lord grant true repentance” to him and his wife. The Philippians should not “count such as enemies” but “call them back as suffering and straying members, that ye may save your whole body. For by so acting ye shall edify yourselves.” 34) They were to discipline (“judge”) those who departed and try to win them back as members of the body.

Definitely, Polycarp has no part in teaching some literal future earthly reign of Christ on earth. It is true that some will go to great lengths in an attempt to demonstrate authority in their premillennial heritage.

Writing of the Second Advent, Polycarp teaches that Christ “comes as the Judge of the living and dead,” so that the coming of Christ is one of judgment and resurrection. On the resurrection, he teaches an entrance into “the future world…’the kingdom of God’” if we live according to the Lord. 35)

When he was martyred, he exclaimed

  • I give Thee thanks that Thou has counted me, worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. 36)

To Polycarp, the resurrection was access to eternal life and therefore, because of the above instructions and beliefs of Polycarp, no basis for a pre-tribulation rapture is able to be discovered in the writings of this great martyr.

He does not explicitly teach 1000-year concepts, a pre-tribulation rapture or a distinction of the Church and Israel, all foundational to Lahaye’s thesis.

‘‘‘Papias‘‘‘ (70-155 AD). Although very few fragments survive, Papias is frequently cited as an ardent supporter of the belief in a future Millennium.

Although not found in the extant copies of his writings, Eusebius (260-340 AD), the Church Historian, alleges an account of Papias’ teaching on the Millennium.

  • The same person, moreover, has set down other things as coming to him from unwritten tradition, amongst these some strange parables and instructions of the Saviour, and some other things of a more fabulous nature. Amongst these he [Papias] says there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on this earth. 37)

We have here an early glimpse of premillennial teaching in the Apostolic Father, even though first recorded in writings almost two hundred years later.

Papias himself claimed that “the disciples of the apostles” (the “presbyters”) told him that “there is gradation and arrangement of those who are saved” so that “those who are deemed worthy of an abode in heaven shall go there, others shall enjoy the delights of Paradise, and others shall possess the splendor of the city.” Papias gathers that was what Christ meant by “In my Father’s house are many mansions.”

So here too, we see a doctrine of the Millennium that will probably be rejected by Dispensational Pre-Tribulationists. Why? Because Dispensational Pre-Millennialism advocates place all Christians in the city of Jerusalem during the Millennium. Not some. And certainly not some ‘‘based‘‘ on levels of obedience and fruit in their lives. Papias believed that some Christians live in heaven, some in Paradise and some in the “city.” This is definitely not the premillennialism of Lahaye.

Papias says nothing of a Tribulation or a pre-tribulation rapture, nor does he give evidence supporting the four-fold pre-trib distinctives.

‘‘‘The Didache‘‘‘ clearly identifies the Christian Church with Israel as receiving “the holy vine of David Thy servant, which Thou madest known to us through Jesus Christ Thy Servant” and through Old Testament identification.” 38)

In “the last days,” (1) false prophets rise, (2) sheep turn into wolves, (3) love turns to hate, (4) persecution will fall on Christians, and (5) the “world-deceiver” appears as the “Son of God” with signs and wonders. Then, and only then, will appear (1) “the sign of an out-spreading heaven, (2) the “sign of the sound of the trumpet,” (3) the “resurrection of the dead” and finally (4) “The Lord shall come and all His saints with him.” 39)

In the Didache, the Second Advent takes place in concert with the resurrection when all the Saints are found to be with Christ. There is no intermediary state between these events.

The pre-tribulation rapture find no home in the teachings of the Didache.

‘‘‘The Epistle of Barnabus‘‘‘ (100 AD). A teaching of a thousand year period in which the Lord will rest can be found in this letter. The writer equates the six days of creation in Genesis 1 with the duration of all time, so that on the seventh day, God will rest from His work because, the ‘‘Epistle‘‘ suggests, “for a day is with Him a thousand years.” 40)

But for that writer, the period of rest is a time when “wickedness no longer” exists “and all things having been made new by the Lord, [we] shall be able to work righteousness.” When Christ comes in His Second Advent, He “shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly…then shall He truly rest on the seventh day.”

Unfortunately, for the pre-tribulationist, ‘‘The Epistle of Barnabus‘‘ does not supply a description of a future 1000-year reign of Christ that is compatible with their views. In the ‘‘Epistle‘‘, the 7th Day of Rest is just that, it is a time of rest where evil has been vanquished and no longer exists. The unbeliever has been judged and the Christian has received the promise ‘‘before‘‘ the 7th Day of Rest begins (whatever that might be). As one writer agrees, “the most modern scholarship can do is to ‘‘assume‘‘ that the Seventh Day, in the writer’s thought, is a millennium since there is no ‘‘prima facie ‘‘evidence for it.” 41)

In chapter ten, the author of this ‘‘Epistle‘‘ equates the regulation of food in the Law as types of people to avoid.

  • “And thou shalt not eat,” he says, “the lamprey, or the polypus, or the cuttlefish.” He means, “Thou shalt not join thyself or be like to such men as are ungodly to the end, and are condemned to death.” In like manner as those fishes, above accursed, float in the deep, not swimming like the rest, but make their abode in the mud which lies at the bottom.

Is this the literal method of the early Church that we should hold in such high esteem and leads one to a belief in the pre-tribulational rapture or the Millennium?

Other places one may find this method of interpretation in ‘‘Barnabus‘‘ include the relation between the red heifer and Christ, the “boys who should take the ashes” of the sacrifice and the twelve apostles, and the stick with “purple wool along with hyssop” relates to the kingdom of Christ, “because in His kingdom the days will be evil and polluted in which we shall be saved, because he who suffers in body is cured through the cleansing efficacy of hyssop.” And a warning to those disagreeing with this interpretation is added: The ‘‘Epistle ‘‘says, “the things which stand thus are clear to us, but obscure to them because they did not hear the voice of the Lord. “42)

  • The purpose of the Epistle of Barnabas is to demonstrate that the Church is the heir of the covenant which YHWH made with the nation of Israel at Sinai. On the basis of this theological promise, the Epistle then proceeds to demonstrate that many aspects of the Old Testament cultus never had any relevance to Israel, but were only applicable to the Church. 43)

The ‘‘Epistle of Barnabas‘‘ stands in contradistinction to the foundation of dispensationalism: The Church is heir and fulfills the Old Testament promises.

In chapter four of the ‘‘Epistle‘‘, the “last days” are considered to have been entered. As proof that those were “the last days” resides in the testimony of the writer’s audience; they are to “reflect and behold, that after so great signs and wonders were wrought in Israel, they were thus abandoned,” but Christians are take heed lest the “wicked prince…should thrust us away from the kingdom of the Lord.” 44)

No pre-tribulation rapture is to be found in this writing, for the author thought himself a partaker in those last day events. This ‘‘Epistle‘‘ is incompatible with the four-fold pre-tribulation belief system by teaching a unity between Old Testament promises and New Testament faith, providing an excellent basis for amillennial principles.

Millennial thought is indeed to be found here, but likely a form unwelcome in Lahaye’s circles.

‘‘‘Justin Martyr‘‘‘ (110-165 AD). In ‘‘A Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew,‘‘ Trypho asks Justin Martyr,

  • do you really admit that this place, Jerusalem, shall be rebuilt; and do you expect your people to be gathered together, and made joyful with Christ and the patriarch, and the prophets, both the men of our nation, and other proselytes who joined them before your Christ came? 45)

Justin Martyr answers this question “I admitted to you formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion, and that such will take place…but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise.”

Further down in the citation, he claims “I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged” giving advocates of premillennialism their first solid, irrefutable claim to a legacy in eschatology. Unfortunately for them, he does not speak of a pre-tribulation rapture, nor is this the millennium they would probably want to own.

This teaching is also found elsewhere in Martyr’s writings where he directly translates Revelation 20 as a future “thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and, in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place.” 46) He did not believe inhabitants living in the Millennium will have children “who will be cursed; for they shall be a seed righteous and blessed by the Lord,” which, of course, does not fit well in the modern Dispensational Millennium.

Incredibly, Lahaye disagrees with this point, for he boldly teaches “unsaved people will be given a hundred years in which to receive Christ. If they reject Him, they will die on their hundredth birthday.” 47)

It is not commonly remembered or passed on what else Martyr had to say on the subject. In the ‘‘First Apology of Justin Martyr‘‘, he states:

  • And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom; whereas we speak of that which is with God, as appears also from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, though they know that death is the punishment awarded to him who so confesses. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ, that we might not be slain; and we should strive to escape detection, that we might obtain what we expect. 48)

In the mind of Justin Martyr, the New Jerusalem is not one of a physical reign of Christ in fulfillment of the Abrahamic or Davidic promises.

Justin Martyr’s millennium is not distinct from the eternal state, for Christ will “come again with glory, and receive the eternal kingdom over all the nations, every kingdom being made subject to Him.” 49) Justin Martyr believed “the land of Israel will be given to the Christians for an eternal inheritance, because Christians are the nation promised to Abraham.” 50)

There can be no pre-tribulation rapture concept laid on Justin Martyr; he denies the basic four tenets necessary for a dispensational system.

‘‘‘Hegesippus‘‘‘ claimed that Jude’s descendants (Jude, the brother of the Jesus) were called before Domitian to be executed for being descendants of David. Domitian asked “concerning Christ and his kingdom, of what sort it was and where and when it was to appear, they, answered that it was not a temporal nor an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly and angelic one, which would appear the end of the world, when he should come in glory to judge the quick and the dead, and to give unto every one according to his works.” 51)

The pre-tribulationist (or the Dispensational Pre-Millennarian) cannot accept their inheritance from this account either. According to Hegesippus, Jude’s descendants believed in a future kingdom, not a specific Millennium, of Christ that is “heavenly and angelic” not physical. Secondly, when this kingdom appears, Christ will judge all, both living and dead according to their works (Revelation 20:11-15). Third, this kingdom appears at the end of the world, not 1000 years before the end of the world. There is no Tribulation or pre-tribulation rapture and lastly, the Second Advent coincides with the establishment of a future heavenly and angelic kingdom.

Hegesippus cannot be said to agree with the four-fold pre-tribulation system.

‘‘‘Irenaeus‘‘‘ (130-202 AD), Bishop of Lyons, often cited as an advocate of premillennialism, believed that in the future kingdom “the resurrection of the just…takes place after the coming of Antichrist, and the destruction of all nations under his rule…” Then “the righteous shall reign in the earth….”52)

Irenaeus, probably reciting the teaching of Papias, also believed in gradations and different habitations for Christians in this future kingdom. Elsewhere, and by Irenaeus’ own admission, he received his teaching of a future time from Papias. Furthermore, it is in this time that “the lion shall feed on straw,” but it is a time begun with “the resurrection of the just.” 53) It is after “the kingdom” when “the judgment should take place.” 54)

Here, too, the pre-tribulationist would not likely own the beliefs of Irenaeus on the Millennium. First, he taught that the Antichrist precedes the resurrection of dead believers, which according to pre-tribulationists is reversed. Secondly, Irenaeus believed that in this kingdom, believers will cohabit “with the holy angels and union with spiritual beings.” Thirdly, Irenaeus believed that Christians may live in heaven, in Paradise or in the “city” of God. Lastly, the “resurrection of the just” takes place immediately preceding the kingdom which is the commencement of incorruption” and “the judgment should take place afterwards.”

But all of Irenaeus’ teachings on this subject in this section of his writings are based on the idea that Abraham did not receive “the inheritance of the land.” To Irenaeus, Abraham should receive the promise in full participation “together with his seed” and this will take place at the “resurrection of the just.” 55)

This subject is addressed in a later chapter, yet it would be interesting to see what Irenaeus would do with Galatians 3 in order to hold such a view: “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (3:29). The inheritance is realized in Christ (3:14, 16); Christians are the “Israel of God” (6:16)!

Regardless, this writer’s words do not comport with the four distinctive criteria for a belief in a pre-tribulation rapture. His timing of eschatological events is opposed to that teaching.

Irenaeus did believe in premillennialism, although it was a system unfriendly to Dispensationalism; Irenaeus explicitly taught the Old Testament promises “were not announced to the prophets and fathers alone, but to the Churches united to these from the nations…all the disciples of the Lord are Levites and priests…”.56)

‘‘‘Tertullian ‘‘‘(145-220 AD). This early Church Father, claimed by many to be a staunch premillennarian, believed the Davidic promise of an “everlasting covenant,” the “inheritance” promised to David are fulfilled in Christ’s First Advent and His resurrection.

Tertullian says: “Touching this promise of Him, there is the oath to David in the psalm, ‘Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.’” 57) Tertullian argues that it was not “David being here meant, rather than Christ; or for the ends of the earth being promised to David, who kingdom was confined the Jewish nation simply, rather than to Christ, who now embraces the whole world in the faith of His gospel.”

These things, he says, “were clearly predicted of Christ” and adds a rebuke: “It is impossible that should be said to be future, which you see (daily) coming to pass” because “it is Christ whom all nations now invoke” and not David. 58)

Tertullian also claimed “the region of Paradise, which as revealed to John in the Spirit lay under the altar, displays no other souls as in it besides the souls of the martyrs” and is the resting place of only those who have been killed in the name of Christ. 59) But isn’t this the image of the “Millennial Kingdom” so dearly placed after the supposed future Tribulation? This is a direct reference to John’s vision of the 1000 year period that is so much disputed in the early Church. Tertullian claimed it existed in some fashion already! According to him, the sword which guards the entrance to “Paradise” permits “none to go in thereat, except those who had died in Christ” and no others.

In another place, Tertullian explains that Christ “will come in glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh.”

The first thing that happens, in Tertullian’s thinking, is the resurrection of all people, believers or not. The second is Christ’s coming in glory to take the saints to everlasting life. The third is the condemnation of the wicked. This cannot possibly be a vision of the pre-tribulational “hope” that is so strongly urged on the Christian community today. Tertullian says that the above “was taught by Christ and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics.” 60)

Tertullian believed the “Davidic Throne promise” made to David was fulfilled in the Advent and Resurrection of Christ. Christ’s reign does not wait for a future millennium like Dispensationalists would have us believe. It doesn’t work with their system, because in the “Church Age,” an Old Testament promise has come to fruition. And that, of course, is a way in which the Church receives the blessings made to Israel.

But on the other hand, he believed that “But we do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven, only in another state of existence; inasmuch as it will be after the resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem, ‘let down from heaven.’” 61)

And so the premillennialist shouts with delight again at finding the teaching of a future millennium in the Fathers. But before too much celebration is enjoyed, we should read just seven lines down from this teaching:

  • This prophecy, indeed, has been very lately fulfilled in an expedition to the East. For it is evident from the testimony of even heathen witnesses, that in Judaea there was suspended in the sky a city early every morning for forty days… We say that this city has been provided by God for receiving the saints on their resurrection…. Of the heavenly kingdom this is the process. After its thousand years are over, within which period is completed the resurrection of the saints, who rise sooner or later according to their deserts there will ensue the destruction of the world and the conflagration of all things at the judgment: we shall then be changed in a moment into the substance of angels…and so be removed to that kingdom in heaven…62)

Hopefully, all Tertullian’s words were well digested. No commentary on the above should be necessary other than the following: (1) To ask if this is a belief that pre-tribulationists would like to associate themselves? (2) Who among premillennialists today think that the Millennium ended around the year 1200 AD? After all, it would be about 1000 years after Tertullian’s Millennium began. (3) But because some will undoubtedly claim identity with Tertullian’s 1000 years, we must remind them that in his view, the resurrection of believers was in stages throughout the period of the Millennium, which he thought he was a part of at that time.

Teaching on the promise to Abraham, Tertullian thought “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven” refers to the timing of the resurrection. Our bodies will rise again from the ground at the resurrection “therefore ‘one star differeth from another star in glory.’” 63) Is this the literal interpretation of the Old Testament promises that leads one to a distinction between Israel and the Church?

For Tertullian, the resurrection mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 is the same event described as the “second resurrection” in Revelation 20. The “falling away” of 2 Thessalonians 2 must take place before the second resurrection, which is bodily and is a judgment on the flesh. 64) The first resurrection is pictured as “the soul of the martyrs” beneath the throne in Revelation 20. The first resurrection is “a spiritual resurrection at the commencement of a life of faith,” the second resurrection is a “judgment of the final and universal resurrection” and applies to believer or unbeliever. 65)

The second resurrection takes place with the bodily resurrection of believers, the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and His gathering of the saints to Him. The “Christian hope” is a harvest to occur “in the very end of the world” and is not separated by multiple resurrections, phases of the Second Coming or any other event. 66)

Surely, Tertullian cannot be said to believe in the prerequisites of a pre-tribulation rapture!

‘‘‘Shepherd of Hermas‘‘‘. Hermas understands “the late Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament regarding Israel to the Church” developed in four categories: 67)

  • 1. The application of Isaiah 40:1-4 to the Church as “spiritual preparation of Israel for YHWH.”
  • 2. He applies “the late doctrine of Israel as the goal of creation to the Church.”
  • 3. The Church is identified as the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
  • 4. The use of phrases particular to “late Judaism” giving the Church the identity of the true Israel.

Old Testament Saints are grafted into the Church through “the seal of preaching” by the Apostles in ‘‘Similtudes 16. ‘‘In chapter 15 of the same book, Hermas describes the foundation of the Church as based in Adam to Noah, Noah to David and from David to Christ in the Patriarchs, Prophets and Apostles. 68)69)

To Hermas, the Church is represented as a woman with a book. This woman “was created first of all…for her sake was the world made.” 70) Believers of all ages are considered a part of one continuous body of the people of God; this body was built and continues to be built from creation onward.

Some have argued that Hermas believed in a future Tribulation, not just one of temporal persecution or struggle, but one of prophetic significance. In the sections where these statements are found, 71) the following insights must be made:

  • 1. The purpose of the Tribulation is to purify the Church, therefore, she will pass through it.
  • 2. Hermas, as a prototype of the Church, confronts the Beast, the prototype of the Tribulation (Vision 4.4.8-9).
  • 3. Vision 4.3.4 emphasizes the presence of the Church in the fire and the blood, i.e, in the judgment of the world. 72)

Finding teaching of a pre-tribulation rapture in the writings of Hermas is an exercise in futility. Not only is Hermas not in agreement with the four essential components of pre-tribulationism, but when he does teach on the Tribulation period, he teaches that the Church will go through it, disallowing any rapture beforehand.

‘‘‘Hippolytus‘‘‘ (170-236 AD). This early Christian believed that the Antichrist will arise “after the manner of the law of Augustus” in Rome and will “order incense-pans to be set up by all everywhere, that no man among the saints may be able to buy or sell without first sacrificing; for this is what is meant by the mark received upon the right hand.” 73) Throughout the next 18 chapters, Hippolytus details the events of persecution that are brought onto the Church.

Chapter 63 mentions “our gathering together” to the Lord taking place in tandem with the destruction of the “lawless one” citing 2 Thessalonians 2. The “abomination of desolation” and the “two prophets” will precede the “coming of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ from heaven, for whom we have looked in hope;” the Lord will then send His angels and gather the elect to Him. This event is the prophetically announced “judgment and coming of the Lord” where the “wrath of God is revealed” against the wicked. 74)

In chapter 65, he teaches “concerning the resurrection and the kingdom of the saints” as one where the dead in Christ receive the kingdom and the wicked are banished to everlasting fire in a general judgment of all mankind.

And in the last section, 67, Hippolytus regards the “blessed hope” and “appearing of our God and Savior” as the same timing with the resurrection of those who have died in Christ. It is at this point that we will rejoice with Christ, “glorifying the Father” in “the endless ages of ages.”

Hippolytus is decidedly ‘‘not‘‘ in agreement with pre-tribulationism, nor is he an advocate of pre-millennialism.

‘‘‘Caius‘‘‘ (180-217 AD), Presbyter of Rome, in his ‘‘Dialogue Against Proclus‘‘, writes of the Gnostic heretic Cerinthus. Cerinthus claimed to have received and written revelations from angels; he claimed to have been “a great apostle.” It is Cerinthus who believed and taught “that after the resurrection, the kingdom of Christ is to be on earth, and that the flesh dwelling in Jerusalem is again to be subject to desires and pleasures…he says that there is to be a space of a thousand years.” 75)

These teachings are said by Caius to be “marvelous things, which he [Cerinthus] pretends were shown to him by angels” and that since Cerinthus is “an enemy to the Scripture of God, wishing to deceive men” taught about the “space of a thousand years” in Jerusalem.

Although a heretic of magnitude, Cerinthus certainly taught premillennialism, though not a distinctly Dispensational version.

‘‘‘Victorinus‘‘‘, taught that the Church of Laodicea “should suffer for the Lord’s name tribulations and passions” in the events to come because “in these ways men return out of great destruction to great repentance…”76)

To this Church Father, the seven seals of Revelation 6 demonstrate a ranking of prophecy from the opening of the Old Testament to “the things to come in the last times,” from the beginning to the end. 77)

The first seal “is the word of preaching with the Holy Spirit sent into the world” and speaks of Christ ascending into heaven, where He sent the Holy Spirit to “the preachers.” The second seal signifies “the coming wars” of Luke 20:10. The third seal is a symbol of the famines of Luke 20:11. The fourth seal is one of “great pestilences and deaths” as in Luke 20:11. The fifth seal is a picture of the saints in Revelation 20:4, an event commonly cited by pre-tribulationists to be in the Millennium, not in the Tribulation. The sixth seal is the last persecution to fall on the Church: “this is that very last persecution…by the moon of blood is set forth the Church of the saints as pouring out her blood for Christ.” The “falling of the stars are the faithful who are troubled for Christ’s sake…when men are separated from the Church by persecution.” The “Church shall be taken away…that is, that the good will be removed, seeking to avoid the persecution.”

Commenting on Revelation 20:1-3, Victorinus believed the “thousand years” are “Those years wherein Satan is bound are in the first advent of Christ, even to the end of the age; and they are called a thousand, according to that mode of speaking” similar to “ that passage, ‘the word which He commanded for a thousand generations,’ although they are not a thousand.” 78)79)

So much for the universal belief in Revelation 20 as a literal future earthly millennium in the early Church!

Sadly though, Lahaye uses Victorinus as a proof that the pre-tribulation rapture was taught in the early Church.

  • In his commentary on Revelation, he compared the plagues of that period [a 7-year Tribulation] with the plagues of Leviticus and then said, “These shall be in the last time, when the church shall have gone out of the midst.”

Obviously Bishop Victorinus of Petau, a brilliant Bible scholar living in the third century, saw the church departing ‘‘before‘‘ the plagues during the time of God’s wrath, which from his commentary on Revelation 11 he took to be seven years. “[They] shall have gone out of the midst” was his way of describing the Rapture of the Church. 80)

This is highly deceptive and lacks even a hint of serious engagement with Victorinus’ statements.

Victorinus not only believed the Millennial began with the First Advent of Christ, so that no pre-tribulation rapture would have even been possible, but in the passage where “the Church shall have gone out of the midst” speaks nothing of the Church being absent from the earth. As proof, in the very next paragraph, Victorinus speaks of the Church as being present, standing “steadfastly in the faith upon their baptism, and having their confession in their mouth, that they shall exult in the kingdom before God.” 81)82)

The Church is nowhere said by Victorinus to be absent in the world during the Tribulation. Nowhere. Only that Christians will not be assaulted by the plagues on unbelievers. They will not be subjected to the wrath of God on unbelief. That is all that is ever said of the Church not participating in an event in this Tribulation. Victorinus writes that the Church is “flying from persecution” during this Tribulation period. 83) How could the Church flee from persecution if it is absent? It couldn’t. Victorinus taught that being “removed” meant “flying from persecution.” That is his definition of being out of the midst.

Right after the supposed proof that Victorinus believed in a 7-year Tribulation which the Church has no part of, Victorinus teaches that the “woman clothed with the sun…is the ancient Church of fathers, and prophets, and saints, and apostles” and that “being clothed with the sun intimates the hope of resurrection and the glory of the promise.” The moon is “the fall of the bodies of the saints under the obligation of death” and the “crown of the twelve stars signifies the choir of fathers, according the fleshly birth, of whom Christ was to take flesh.” 84)

Victorinus goes on to write of how Christ rides the White Horse (Revelation 19), that this is an image of “our Lord coming ‘‘to‘‘ His kingdom with the heavenly army” and that when He comes, He comes after the Millennium, which “Millennium” began at the First Advent of Christ! During this millennium, Satan “is bound and shut up, that he may not seduce the nations, the nations signify the Church.” Furthermore, Satan will be held in bondage until the thousand years are over. For Victorinus, the Millennium is now. Satan is bound, now. The Church will go through these events until the end when Satan tries to “entice war against the Church.” 85) The last judgment takes place immediately after the destruction of Satan, where a resurrection of believers “shall enter upon an eternal kingdom with an immortal King.” 86)

To Victorinus, there are not multiple resurrections separated by a 7-year Tribulation either. He clearly speaks of the first resurrection as occurring at the time of conversion. It is a spiritual resurrection from death into life “by the faith.” 87)

Repeatedly, Victorinus places the Church directly in the events of the Tribulation. Persecution will be felt, but the Church will attempt to flee from the midst of that wrath. Believers experiencing the Tribulation are said to be believers of all ages, made up from the patriarchs, prophets, saints and apostles. Victorinus nowhere allows for the four-fold distinctives of pre-tribulationism. He nowhere teaches a rapture of the Church apart from the end of the terrible events to come. To Victorinus, the Millennium has already begun, leaving Lahaye and his fellow-pre-tribers without room to insert their pre-tribulation rapture before a Millennium.

It is to this Lahaye writes: “The concept of a pre-Tribulation rapture was obviously known during the first three centuries of the church…”88) Can anyone honestly say that Victorinus agreed with the following criteria of a pre-tribulation rapture:

  • 1. Christ’s Second Advent, a physical departure from heaven, is to consist of more than one phase separated by a period of Tribulation.
  • 2. Christ will remove the Church before a Tribulation period.
  • 3. The resurrection of the just will occur in multiple phases.
  • 4. Israel and the Church do not share the same promises, “thus providing a rationale for a removal of Christians before God ‘again deals with Israel.’” 89)

Lahaye is irresponsible in his attestations. In an effort to gain a hearing as a scholar of the Bible and of history, he misquotes and misapplies the text.

‘‘‘Dionysius‘‘‘ (200-265 AD), Bishop of Alexandria. In response to the teaching of those who “insist very strongly, as if it demonstrated incontestably that there will be a (temporal) reign of Christ upon the earth,” stated that they teach contrary to “our Lord’s appearing in His glory and His true divinity, or of our own resurrection from the dead, and of our being gathered together to Him.” 90)

According to Dionysius, millenarians “endeavor to lead them [other Christians] to hope for things which are trivial and corruptible, and only such as what we find at present in the kingdom of God.”

In light of Dionysius’ statements, he should not be considered a part of Lahaye’s overwhelming and universal group of early Christians that believed in a future earthly millennium. With much scorn, he denied the teachings as anathema of those who believed in a physical premillennial Kingdom of Christ.

‘‘‘Commodianus‘‘‘ (240 AD), Bishop in North Africa. Believed that when a Christian died, they would rise “in His kingdom” to which is the “resurrection of the just.” 91)

Commodianus is unclear on the timing of the above events, but did think that the Antichrist, identified as Nero, precedes the appearance of Christ. Christ and His army will come to Jerusalem from Persia, where they had been living “in happy simplicity and virtue,” 92) a teaching which may have been gathered from Tertullian’s belief that the Millennial kingdom had already begun.

This is certainly not a great illustration of the conviction that “premillennialism held sway” in the early Church.

‘‘‘Methodius‘‘‘ (260-312 AD) believed “this world shall be terminated at the seventh thousand years, when God shall have completed the world” so that “God shall have ceased to form this creation” on the “great resurrection-day….”93) Because God rested on the seventh day, He will finish His work after 7000 years of history. Methodius understands a relation between history and the six days of creation and fails to mention a future Millennium preceding the “great resurrection-day.”

As further demonstration of his beliefs, we find him speaking of the “kingdom of heaven and the resurrection” as initiated at the same time when “again the body shall rise” in true, physical form. It is at this point, though, that “we shall receive eternal tabernacles” and remain in celebration with our Lord. 94)

This position is certainly not one to be found compatible with the teaching of Tim Lahaye. God’s rests from His work in the age to come, He does not wait for 1000 years and defeat Satan a second time. For Methodius, the kingdom of heaven begins with resurrection of the dead in Christ, when Christians receive their eternal habitation with the Lord.

Methodius does not teach premillennialism.

‘‘‘Lactantius‘‘‘ (260-330 AD), comments on the resurrection of believers being raised “to His kingdom and to perpetual life,” but does not intimate the timing of the resurrection of believers. 95)

Even from this, one may glean that he believed in a resurrection of believers that immediately preceded entrance into the eternal kingdom of God.

There is no room here for the pre-tribulational understanding of premillennialism and an order of multiple resurrections.

‘‘‘Hegesippus (About 375 AD) ‘‘‘The writer of this work was later cited by the commentators of the Geneva Bible (see below) as a reputable source concerning our topic. He appeared to have relied on a number of old histories. He was considered a chronicler.

In Book Five, Chapter 44 of his work, he recounts events transpiring during the sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

  • For through a year almost above the temple itself a comet burned, extending a certain likeness of fire and a sword announcing with iron and fire the coming destruction of the people and the kingdom and the city itself. 96)

This sign appeared for quite some time, being interpreted by the Temple priests as a symbol of the call to freedom from Rome. Christians at the time believed the contrary: A great trouble was about to come upon the head of the city of Jerusalem.

He continues by citing the event where a calf gave birth to a sheep at the altar on the Temple Mount. Other “signs of the stars even in the Gospels we are taught that there were signs in the sun and the moon and the stars” 97), listing numerous strange events occurring in Jerusalem.

The most incredible is an event where the people of Jerusalem were witness:

  • Also after many days a certain figure appeared of tremendous size, which many saw, just as the books of the Jews have disclosed, and before the setting of the sun there were suddenly seen in the clouds chariots and armed battle arrays, by which the cities of all Iudaea [Judea] and its territories were invaded. 98)

And although there are many other images that ring from the pages of the New Testament, most poignant was the Jewish belief in a physical Kingdom of God on earth. The Jews believed in a physical Kingdom in which they would be the favored children, rulers and participants. Early Christians, as seen in this study, were not so convinced. Early Christians were convinced that the Kingdom promised in the prophecy of Scripture spoke of a future Kingdom in the context of how Christ Himself described it: “My Kingdom is not of this earth.”

  • Among which that was most outstanding, which equally in the ancient literature, which they called sacred, remained impressed, that following that time there would be a man, who from their region would take up rule over the whole world. Which thing put them in a great frenzy, that not only freedom but even a kingdom was being promised to them. That some thought had to make reference to Vespasian, the wiser thought it made reference to the lord Jesus, who in the flesh born of Maria in their lands spread his kingdom over all the space of the world. And so with such great things foretelling this they were not able to avoid what was decreed from heaven. 99)

‘‘‘The Vision of Paul‘‘‘, a forgery reputed to have been written by the Apostle Paul, was probably written around 388 AD.

In chapter 21, we do find a teaching that comes much closer to what pre-tribulationists believe. The “prophet” was led by an angel from “the third heaven” to the “second heaven” and shown a river coming from the foundation of heaven itself. “Paul” asks the angel what it is and the angel tells him “Oceanus!”

The prophet leaves heaven and learns that the water is actually “the light of heaven,” so he asked the Lord what place it is that is so lit up by the light of heaven. “And he said to me, This is the land of promise.” We learn that the meaning of “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” is that “the souls of the just, when they have gone out of the body, are meanwhile dismissed to this place.”

When Christ comes back to reign, “the first earth will be dissolved and this land of promise will be revealed” and then Christ will come with all the Saints and dwell in it for 1000 years.

This millennium would probably not be accepted by pre-tribulationists. First, it is not part of the Bible. Second, it exists now. Third, believers who have died go straight to this kingdom. Fourth, the Earth is completely destroyed and the other kingdom is “revealed” from its hidden residence flowing from heaven. And lastly, there’s no pre-tribulation rapture of Christians, living or dead, before the Millennium and no mention of a Tribulation preceding the Millennium.

It is foolhardy to categorically lay a claim of consistency in the early writings of Christianity in the area of eschatology. There is no doubt that some in the early Church believed in what would be considered as a future Millennium. However, some defenders of the “early church was premillennial” proposition go to great pains to find evidence of their beliefs in the writings of early Christians as if that will lend them credibility in their modern pursuits or to imply that their modern system is heir to an earlier comprehensive system. An attempt to exercise that sort of claim in these writings is wrought with problems and misapprehensions of the Fathers.

What was that about a rapture and millennium?

If the pre-tribulation rapture is so important to modern futuristic beliefs and so essential to be called “the blessed hope” where is the teaching to be found in the early Church? The pre-tribulation rapture in no way can be considered the hope of the post-apostolic age. It is not mentioned one time in the writings of any church writer before the 18th Century. For over seventeen-hundred years, the Christian Church was utterly silent on this teaching.

It is the Apostle Paul himself in Titus 2:13 that deems the “appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” his “blessed hope.” Lahaye denies this. Lahaye believes “the blessed hope” is the pre-tribulation rapture and the “appearing of the glory” refers to the end of his Tribulation. He claims “the hope of our faith” is “that we will see each other again at the Rapture and then join our Lord in the Father’s house.” Our hope is not in Christ, he says. Our hope is the Rapture itself, for “Death is but a temporary separation from friends. That is the hope of our faith.” 100) Christ is an afterthought. The appearance of the glory “of our great God and Savior” becomes, to Lahaye, a fringe benefit of this pre-tribulation rapture doctrine.

Some of the Apostolic Fathers never commented on these issues in their extant writings. Justin Martyr is the only one of them who believed in a future, earthly 1000-year kingdom directly from Revelation 20. 101) A few even openly repudiated the teaching. Other Church Fathers relegated the initiation of the Millennium to their own day or flatly denied a future 1000 year kingdom preceding the eternal state.

Lahaye would have us believe the futurist interpretation that the book of Revelation stems from a literal interpretation of Scripture and that “this was the interpretation of the early church during its most evangelistic history, from the apostles until the fourth century.” 102) To Lahaye, not only were the “early Christians…almost unquestionably premillennialists” but this teaching was polluted by some “toward the end of the third century” when they started “spiritualizing and allegorizing” Scripture. 103)

Even the briefest surveys of early Christian writers disallow this thinking. The early writers did not “adopt a consistently applier literal interpretation” 104) if Lahaye means that “literal interpretation” implies a distinction between Israel and the Church. This issue is addressed more fully in a following chapter.

Of the Apostolic Fathers, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, the Didache, Ignatius, Hermas and Justin Martyr explicitly applied the national promises made to Israel to the Church. 105) Irenaeus and Tertullian also relate the Old Testament promises as fulfilled in the Church.

Almost unquestionably premillennialists” does not adequately explain the teaching of the early church.

What did they believe about the “Kingdom”?

Cerinthus the Gnostic and Papias both identify the “kingdom” of a 1000-year duration. But to Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius, Polycarp, Hegesippus, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Victorinus, Commodianus, Methodius and Lactantius there is placed no length of time in association with the kingdom.

The kingdom is said to follow immediately after a general resurrection accompanied by the Second Advent as is the case with Hegesippus, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Hippolytus and Victorinus.

What about the Rapture in the early Fathers?

Not one of the Fathers surveyed believed in a Rapture of the Church, “disqualifying any claim that pretribulational dispensational premillennialism existed ‘‘in any form‘‘ in the period.” 106) Why? (1) There is no distinction between Israel and the Church. (2) There is no concept of dispensations or dispensationalism at all, with the exception of Ignatius, who uses the term oikonomia applied to the life of Christ. (3) There is only a concept of the “gathering together” at the Second Advent without multiple phases of a future manifestation of Christ and with no corresponding multiple resurrections. (4) The “kingdom” is not the culmination of God’s plan for Israel. 107)

There is no concept of an “any second” coming of Christ as modern pre-tribulationists suggest. As we indicated earlier,

  • The use of the term ‘imminency’ has been deliberately avoided…because of its technical eschatological connotations in dispensational premillennialism. The use of a neutral term, like ‘immediacy’ is preferable since there is no possibility of demonstrating that these authors had a concept of a Rapture. Instead, their whole posture would lead one to believe that their expectation was the Second Advent, which was associated with the resurrection of believers, the Kingdom, and the Judgment. There is simply no ‘‘prima facie‘‘ for the Rapture in their thought, and therefore the use of ‘imminency’ is inappropriate. 108)

The Second Advent.

The Second Advent is not distinct from the Rapture in the Fathers as it is to Tim Lahaye: “These two episodes, the Rapture and the Second Coming, are so different that it is impossible to combine them.” 109)

The Didache, Hermas, Polycarp and Justin Martyr do not have a place for a rapture. The Second Coming is a time of the resurrection of believers, entrance into the kingdom, a time of judgment and in the case of Hermas is the completion of the Church.

Will the Church go through the Tribulation?

It doesn’t matter to Lahaye where the teaching appears as long as he can find traces of a pre-tribulation rapture in history. It is an eschatological quest for credibility to those in his camp to search out remnants of some secret rapture in earlier Christian writings.

In order to understand the Bible accurately, Lahaye gives us the two keys of Bible interpretation: “In fact, separating Israel and the church is one of the major keys to rightly understanding Bible prophecy. The second key is taking the prophetic Scriptures literally whenever possible.” 110)

Then, just sentences later, the reader is informed of the invaluable evidence to be found in Pseudo-Ephrem suggesting a pre-tribulation rapture. The document Lahaye cites is written, and to which Lahaye confesses, some time between the 4th to 7th century AD. But should he trust Pseudo-Ephrem? After all, it is Tim Lahaye who warns his audience that “toward the end of the third century the spiritualizing and allegorizing of Scripture began to take over theological thought”? 111) We certainly wouldn’t want to be influenced by the likes of Pseudo-Ephrem’s mishandling of the text!

To many early Church Fathers, the Second Advent occurs ‘‘after‘‘ the Tribulation in hand with the resurrection of believers as evidenced in the thinking of Clement of Rome, Papias, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Victorinus. The obvious implication is that to these men, the Church would go through the Great Tribulation.

What about the resurrection of Christians?

The pre-tribulation theory of multiple resurrections is not to be found among the early Fathers. Neither is the teaching of a difference between the resurrection of Old and New Testament believers to be discovered. There does not appear any difference in their teaching on the resurrection of believers contrasted to, or occurring at a different time than a resurrection of unbelievers.

To Clement of Rome, Barnabas, the Didache and Justin Martyr, the resurrection is an event that accompanies the Second Advent. It is an event taking place with one judgment after the Tribulation.

What did they believe about judgment?

There is no “chronological distinction between the judgment of believers and unbelievers.” The future judgment, and the only future judgment, is “related to the Second Advent,” and it is “related to the resurrection of the dead.” 112)


Pre-Tribulationism and its parent theology, Dispensationalism, have no grounds on which to claim heritage in the teachings of the early Fathers. The only point of similarity exists in a very simple view of a future Millennium. But lest that be confused as identification, the early Fathers had very different reasons for their beliefs in a future, and sometimes already existent, Millennium. To the pre-tribulationist, the Millennium is based on a distinction between promises for Israel and the Church, differing groups of believers throughout history, a continuation of the Old Testament economy and many other exclusively unique propositions.

The differences are not minor, as we will show in the following chapters. The distinctives of pre-tribulational thought are anathema to the early Fathers and are in stark contrast to their thought and teaching. One pre-tribulational pre-millennialist even suggested:

  • …the eschatological beliefs of the period studied would be generally inimical to those of the modern system (perhaps, seminal amillennialism, and not nascent dispensational premeillennialism ought to be seen in the eschatology of the period). 113)

Pre-tribulationists should heed the insight that particular author provides. They should cease attempting to quote second-hand sources who misappropriate the teachings of the early Church in their behalf.


  • Boyd, A.P. 1977. ‘‘A Dispensational Premillenial Analysis of the Eschatology of the Post-apostolic Fathers (until the Death of Justin Martyr)‘‘: Dallas Theological Seminary.
  • LaHaye, T., and T.F. LaHaye. 1998. ‘‘Rapture (Under Attack): Will You Escape the Tribulation?‘‘: Multnomah Publishers.
  • Lampe, Geoffrey William Hugo. 1957. “‘‘Early Patristic Eschatology‘‘.” ‘‘Eschatology: Four Papers Read to the Society for the Study of Theology‘‘ no. 2.
  • Ryrie, C.C. 2007. ‘‘Dispensationalism‘‘: Moody Publishers.

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1) (LaHaye and LaHaye 1998)‘‘ ‘‘11.
2) (LaHaye and LaHaye 1998)‘‘ ‘‘68-69.
3) LaHaye and LaHaye 1998)‘‘ ‘‘68-69.”
4) (Ryrie 2007) 62.
5) , 6) , 11) (LaHaye and LaHaye 1998)’‘ ‘‘333.
7) (LaHaye and LaHaye 1998)’‘ ‘‘333-334.
8) (LaHaye and LaHaye 1998)’‘ ‘‘333-335.
9) (Boyd 1977) 8n.
10) (Lampe 1957) Cited C in ((Boyd 1977)’‘ 22.‘‘
12) (Boyd 1977)’‘ ‘‘Appendix 1.
13) Eusebius. ‘‘Church History. ‘‘ANF: 2:1:120.
14) Clement of Rome. ‘‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians. ‘‘23. In ANF: 10:355.
15) Allen, D. Matthew. ‘‘Theology Adrift: The Early Church Fathers and Their Views of Eschatology.
16) ‘‘Unpublished manuscript. Chapter 5.
17) Clement of Rome. ‘‘Homily. ‘‘14. In ANF: 7:1029.
18) Clement of Rome. ‘‘Homily. ‘‘12. In ANF: 7:1027. Cf. ‘‘1 Clement, ‘‘50.
19) (Boyd 1977)’‘ ‘‘38.
20) Clement of Rome. ‘‘Homily. ‘‘9. In ANF: 7:1026.
21) Clement. ‘‘1 Clement. ‘‘50. In ANF: 10:371.
22) Clement of Rome. ‘‘Homily. ‘‘6. In ANF: 7:1024.
23) Clement. ‘‘2 Clement. ‘‘16-17. In ANF: 10:391.
24) Bell, William Everett. ‘‘A Critical Evaluation of the Pretribulation Rapture Doctrine in Christian
25) Eschatology. ‘‘Unpublished doctoral dissertation. (School of Education of New York University, 1967).
26) 27. Cited in ((Boyd 1977) 90n.
27) Ignatius. ‘‘Epistle to the Ephesians. ‘‘15.
28) Ignatius. ‘‘Epistle to the Magnesians. ‘‘6.
29) Ignatius. ‘‘Epistle to the Philadelphians. ‘‘3.
30) , 31) Ignatius. ‘‘Epistle to the Magnesians. ‘‘10. Shorter and Longer versions.
32) Allen. ‘‘Theology Adrift. ‘‘5.
33) Polycarp. ‘‘Epistle to the Philippians. ‘‘Chapter 11. In ANF: 1:74.
34) Polycarp. ‘‘Epistle to the Philippians. ‘‘Chapter 11. In ANF: 1:75.
35) Polycarp. ‘‘Epistle to the Philippians. ‘‘Chapter 5.
36) ‘‘Epistle Concerning the Martyrdom of Polycarp. ‘‘14.
37) ‘‘The Fragments of Papias. ‘‘6. In ANF: 1:284.
38) ‘‘Didache. ‘‘9, 14. In ANF: 7:761, 764.
39) ‘‘Didache. ‘‘9, 16. In ANF: 7:765.
40) ‘‘The Epistle of Barnabus. ‘‘15.
41) , 43) ((Boyd 1977)’‘ ‘‘Appendix 2.
42) ‘‘Epistle of Barnabus. ‘‘8.
44) ‘‘Epistle of Barnabus. ‘‘4. In ANF: 1:259.
45) Justin Martyr. ‘‘A Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, a Jew. ‘‘Chapter 80. In ANF: 1:462.
46) Justin Martyr. ‘‘Dialogue with Trypho. ‘‘81. In ANF: 1:463.
47) (LaHaye and LaHaye 1998)’‘ ‘‘344.
48) Justin Martyr. ‘‘First Apology of Justin Martyr. ‘‘11. In ANF: 1:298.
49) Just Martyr. ‘‘Dialogue with Trypho. ‘‘39.
50) (Boyd 1977)’‘ ‘‘85-86.
51) Eusebius. ‘‘Church History. ‘‘Book 3, chapter 20. ANF: 2:1:232.
52) Irenaeus. ‘‘Against Heresies. ‘‘Book 5, Chapter 35. In ANF: 1:1133.
53) , 55) Irenaeus. ‘‘Against Heresies. ‘‘Book 5, Chapter 32. In ANF: 1:1126.
54) Irenaeus. ‘‘Against Heresies. ‘‘Book 5, Chapter 32. In ANF: 1:1125.
56) Irenaeus. ‘‘Against Heresies. ‘‘Book 5, Chapter 34.3. In ANF: 1:564.
57) Tertullian. ‘‘Wherein Christ is Shown to be the Son of God. ‘‘20. In ANF: 3:612.
58) Tertullian. ‘‘Wherein Christ is Shown to be the Son of God. ‘‘20. In ANF: 3:613.
59) Tertullian. ‘‘A Treatise on the Soul. ‘‘55. In ANF: 3:422-423.
60) Tertullian. ‘‘Prescription Against Heretics. ‘‘13. In ANF: 3:449.
61) , 62) Tertullian. ‘‘Wherein Christ is Shown to be the Son of God. ‘‘24. In ANF: 3:619.
63) Tertullian. ‘‘The Five Books Against Marcion‘‘. Part Second, chapter 20.
64) Tertullian. ‘‘On the Resurrection of the Flesh. ‘‘Part Second, chapter 24.
65) , 66) Tertullian. ‘‘On the Resurrection of the Flesh. ‘‘Part Second, chapter 25.
67) (Boyd 1977)’‘ ‘‘67-70.
68) Hermas. ‘‘Similtudes. 15. ‘‘For more description on the above typology used in ‘‘Similtudes‘‘, see
69) Lawson, John. ‘‘A Theological and Historical Introduction to the Apostolic Fathers. ‘‘261. Cited in Boyd. 70n.
70) Hermas. ‘‘Visions. ‘‘Vision Second, chapter 4. In ANF: 2:19.
71) Hermas. ‘‘Visions. ‘‘2.2.7; 4.1.1, 5-10; 4.2.4-5 and 4.3.6.
72) (Boyd 1977)’‘ ‘‘111-112.
73) Hippolytus. ‘‘Dogmatical and Historical Treatise on Christ and Antichrist. ‘‘Chapter 49.
74) Hippolytus. ‘‘Dogmatical and Historical Treatise on Christ and Antichrist. ‘‘Chapter 64..
75) Caius. ‘‘Dialogue Against Proclus, ‘‘in ‘‘Fragments of Caius. ‘‘ANF: 5:1216.
76) Victorinus. ‘‘On the Creation of the World. ‘‘3:18. In ANF: 7:710.
77) Victorinus. ‘‘On the Creation of the World. ‘‘5:8-9. In ANF: 7:716.
78) Victorinus. ‘‘Commentary on the Apocalypse, ‘‘in ‘‘On the Creation of the World. ‘‘Chapter 17:11;
79) 20:1-3.
80) (LaHaye and LaHaye 1998)’‘ ‘‘111.
81) Victorinus. ‘‘On the Creation of the World ‘‘in ‘‘Commentary on the Apocalypse. ‘‘15:1-2. In ANF:
82) 7:731.
83) Victorinus. ‘‘On the Creation of the World. ‘‘12:5. In ANF: 7:727.
84) Victorinus. ‘‘On the Creation of the World. ‘‘12:1. In ANF: 7:726.
85) Victorinus. ‘‘On the Creation of the World. ‘‘19:1-3. In ANF: 7:734.
86) Victorinus. ‘‘On the Creation of the World. ‘‘20:8-10. In ANF: 7:735.
87) Victorinus. ‘‘On the Creation of the World. ‘‘20:4-5. In ANF: 7:735.
88) (LaHaye and LaHaye 1998)’‘ ‘‘112.
89) Bell, William Everett. ‘‘A Critical Evaluation of the Pretribulation Rapture Doctrine in Christian Eschatology. ‘‘Unpublished doctoral dissertation. (School of Education of New York University, 1967). 26-27. Cited in (Boyd 1977)’‘ ‘‘90n.
90) Dionysius. The Works of Dionysius. ANF: 6:154.
91) Commodianus. The Instructions of Commodianus. 33. In ANF: 4:409.
92) Commodianus. Elucidation. In ANF: 4:431.
93) Methodius. The Banquet of the Ten Virgins. Discourse 9, chapter 1.
94) Methodius. The Banquet of the Ten Virgins. Discourse 9, chapter 2.
95) Lactantius. The Divine Institutes. Chapter 23. In ANF: 7:449.
96) Hegesippus. Translated by Dr. Wade Blocker, 2005.
97) , 98) , 99) Ibid.
100) Lahaye. Rapture Under Attack. 69.
101) Justin Martyr. Dialogue with Trypho. 81. In ANF: 1:463. See also, (Boyd 1977) Appendix 1.
102) (LaHaye and LaHaye 1998) 19.
103) (LaHaye and LaHaye 1998) 331-334.
104) (Boyd 1977) 89.
105) Additional proofs appear in ((Boyd 1977) Appendix 2.
106) , 112) (Boyd 1977) Appendix 2.
107) Adapted from ((Boyd 1977) 49-50.
108) (Boyd 1977) 49n-50n.
109) Lahaye. Rapture Under Attack. 38.
110) Lahaye. Rapture Under Attack. 44. Also, Revelation Unveiled. 110.
111) (LaHaye and LaHaye 1998) 334.
113) (Boyd 1977) 91.

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