Church Fathers And The Bride

Tonight we need a glossary of terms before we can start:

  • Resurrection is rising from the dead into the permanent physical glorified body all believers in Jesus will receive in order to live without sin for eternity.
  • The rapture is the event when Jesus transformsliving believers at His return. Because they never die they must be instantaneously changed in order to be caught-up to Heaven by the Lord.
  • The Great Tribulation is the most common name of the future 7yr period of God’s wrath being poured out upon the earth.
  • The Second Coming is the return of Jesus to earth.
  • The Millennial Kingdom, or the Millennium, is the Kingdom of God on earth that Jesus will establish and rule upon His return.
  • Pre-millennial means that Jesus will return to earth at the end of the Great Tribulation to establish His one-thousand year reign. His return precedes the kingdom.
  • A dispensation is a way of ordering things – an administration, a system, or a management. In theology, a dispensation is the divine administration of a period of time; each dispensation is a divinely appointed age.

For going on a year I’ve been encountering the growing popularity of post-tribulationism. This is the belief that the church will be resurrected and raptured after the Great Tribulation. The church will have to endure those seven years.

As I got a little bit deeper into it I discovered there is a resurgence of interest in what is called “historic pre-millennialism.”

What we believe the Bible teaches is called “dispensational pre-millennialism.” Let me give you a quick comparison:

  1. Historic pre-millennialism teaches that the church will be resurrected & raptured at the Return of Jesus, not before. Dispensational pre-millennialism sees in Scripture a pre-tribulation resurrection & rapture of the church. The church is kept from the Great Tribulation.
  2. Historic pre-millennialists do not make a sharp distinction between the nation of Israel & the church. One of the main contributions of dispensational pre-millennialism is acknowledging that God distinguishes between ethnic Jews, Gentiles unbelievers, and the church.

It’s called “historic” because they argue that all early church guys were premillennial, and no early church guy ever believed in the pretribulation rapture. Thus they are returning to what they believe was the historic doctrine of the early church. Some will go so far as to label our view as a false teaching.

It is relatively easy to show that for about the first 300 years of church history, everyone was pre-millennial.

Around AD 300 came two other approaches:

  1. Post-millennialism holds that Jesus Christ establishes His kingdom on earth through His preaching and redemptive work in the first century and that He equips His church with the Gospel, empowers the church by the Spirit, and charges the church with the Great Commission to disciple all nations. Eventually the vast majority of people living will be saved. Increasing Gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and of nations.

A-milennialists reject the view that Jesus Christ will physically reign on the earth for exactly one thousand years. Rather, they interpret the thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20 as a symbolic number, not as a literal duration of time. A-millennialists hold that the millennium has already begun and is simultaneous with the current church age. They do believe that Jesus will return in final judgment and establish a permanent reign in the “new heaven and new earth.

Augustine is an important guy in church history. in his early days affirmed pre-millennialism, but later changed to a-millennialism, causing the view to become popularized together with Pope Gregory the Great. Some protestant scholars call it the Roman apostasy.

Because the Roman church strongly condemned anything but amillennialism, it became dominant for about 1200 years. This started to change after the Reformation. Protestants returned to pre-millennialism. Some discovered the dispensational pre-millennialism taught in the Bible, including the pre-tribulation resurrection & rapture of the church.

The historic pre-millennial people I have encountered insist that there is no mention of a pre-tribulation resurrection & rapture until it was proposed in the 1800’s.

Even if that were true, it would not nullify the doctrine if it is taught in the Bible. But… Is it true?

Let’s consult two important early church guys: Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. They both were disciples of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John.

Wow! That’s big. Irenaeus wrote that he occasionally spoke with John. These guys were getting the good stuff right from the source.

Justin was born in Nablus, Israel, in AD 100. As a student of Polycarp, he wrote several works on various topics, including Bible prophecy. Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho is a discussion with a Jew regarding the superiority of Christ and Christianity. Trypho presents objections, and Justin answers them. (Some identify Trypho as a historical rabbi, and others believe that Trypho is a fictional character and that Justin simply used the dialogue as a literary device). He was eventually martyred in Rome in AD 165 for being a Christian.

Here are three quotes from him:

  • “The Man of Sin, spoken of by Daniel, will rule[three] times and a half, before the Second Advent.” Dialogue 32.
  • “There will be a literal one-thousand-year reign of Christ.” Dialogue 81.
  • “The man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against believers.” Dialogue 110.

Moving on to Irenaeus. According to Dr. Ken Johnson,

Irenaeus was born in in Smyrna in AD 130. He became a student of Polycarp and testified that he occasionally spoke to the very old apostle John. In approximately AD 170, Irenaeus wrote a five-volume work entitled Against Heresies. It deals mostly with the cults and heretics of his day but also touches on prophecy, especially when there was a cult that was misinterpreting a biblical prediction for its own purposes. He died in AD 202.

You can read Against Heresies on-line; it’s not hard to find. In fact, a simple Google search of any of these guys will reveal their writings translated into English.

Let’s highlight Irenaeus. All of the quotes can be found in Against Heresies. 

“There is a resurrection of the Just that takes place after the destruction of the Antichrist and all nations under his rule. Many believers will make it through the Tribulation and replenish the earth. In the Resurrection we will have fellowship and communion with the holy angels, and union with spiritual beings. The new heavens and earth are first created and then the new Jerusalem descends. These are all literal things, and Christians who allegorize them are immature Christians” (Against Heresies 5.35). This is very premillennial.

He makes a strong statement for the pre-trib Rapture. “When in the end that church will suddenly be caught up from this, then it is said, ‘There will be tribulation such as not been since the beginning, nor will be.’ ” (Against Heresies 5.29).

Irenaeus wrote this about he Number 666. “The name of the Antichrist equals 666 if spelled out in Greek. Do not even try to find out the number of the name until the ten kings arise. Titan is one Greek word that totals 666. (Against Heresies 5.30).

The Ten Nations: “Ten kings will arise from what used to be the Roman Empire. The Antichrist slays three of the kings and he is then the eighth king among them. The kings will destroy Babylon, then give the Babylonian kingdom to the Beast and put the believers to flight. After that, they will be destroyed by the coming of the Lord. Daniel’s horns are the same as the ten toes. The toes being part iron and part clay mean some kings will be active and strong while others, weak and inactive. And the kings will not agree with each other” (Against Heresies 5.26).

The Abomination of Desolation: “In Second Thessalonians, the ‘falling away’ is an apostasy and there will be a literal rebuilt temple. In Matthew [chapter 24], the ‘abomination spoken by Daniel’ is the Antichrist sitting in the temple as if he were Christ. The abomination will start in the middle of Daniel’s 70th week and last for a literal three years and six months. The little horn [11th] is the Antichrist” (Against Heresies 5.25).

Antichrist from the Tribe of Dan: “The Antichrist shall come from the tribe of Dan. That is why the tribe of Dan is not mentioned in the Apocalypse” (Against Heresies 5.30).

These writings are not inspired by God the Holy Spirit. They do give us insight into the teaching of the original apostles.

I should mention that the post-tribbers refute Irenaeus’ pre-trib resurrection & rapture statement. I think it’s strong. But let’s say they are right. Would we be wrong?

Irenaeus said this about the time of the end: “Daniel the prophet says ‘Shut up the words, and seal the book even to the time of consummation, until many learn, and knowledge be completed.’ For at that time, when the dispersion shall be accomplished, they shall know all these things. But Jeremiah also says, “In the last days they shall understand these things.” Jeremiah 23:20 For every prophecy, before its fulfillment, is to men [full of] enigmas and ambiguities. But when the time has arrived, and the prediction has come to pass, then the prophecies have a clear and certain exposition” (Against Heresies 4.26).

If Irenaeus was post-trib, or mid-trib, or pre-wrath, it isn’t clear either. What he just said here is perhaps more important. Some things in prophecy were “shut.. and sealed” until the “dispersion is accomplished.”

For centuries, the Jewish people were dispersed across different nations after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile in 586 BC and the subsequent Roman expulsion in 70 AD. However, in 1948, Israel was officially recognized as an independent state, marking the fulfillment of this prophecy as the Jewish people returned to their ancient homeland after almost 2000 years of dispersion.

If suddenly the doctrine of the pre-tribulation resurrection and rapture was understood having never been considered – well that is the kind of thing Daniel & Jeremiah meant could and would happen in the End Times.

Also consider that drawing a hard distinction between ethnic Jews, unbelieving Gentiles, and the church was something revealed much later. The church is something very special. It was not revealed at all in the Hebrew Bible. It was a mystery until NT times.

So, while all this is super interesting, we know what Jesus said & meant: “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10).

Something incredibly interesting I discovered about these guys. The idea that Jesus will return to set up His Millennial kingdom in the Jewish year 6000 is taught by many influential ancient church fathers.

Again quoting Ken Johnson,

The first coming of Jesus Christ was about 4000 years after Creation. These ancient church fathers taught the Second Coming would be about AD 2000. The most descriptive is in the Epistle of Barnabas which devotes an entire chapter on this issue. Remember, this does not mean they were correct; but if they believed and taught this, it proves the ancient Christians were premillennial. With the calendars being confused and inaccurate, we can’t say for certain when the year 6000 will occur. An approximate range would be between the years AD 2030 and 2067, although it could occur even earlier.

Barnabas: “Of the Sabbath He speaketh in the beginning of the creation; And God made the works of His hands in six days, and He ended on the
seventh day, and rested on it, and He hallowed it.
Give heed, children, what this meaneth; He ended in six days. He meaneth this, that in six thousand years the Lord shall bring all things to an end; for the day with Him signifyeth a thousand years; and this He himself beareth me witness, saying; Behold, the day of the Lord shall be as a thousand years. Therefore, children, in six days, that is in six thousand years, everything shall come to an end. And He rested on the seventh day. This He meaneth; when His Son
shall come, and shall abolish the time of the Lawless One, and shall judge the ungodly, and shall change the sun and the moon and the stars, then shall he truly rest on the seventh day” (Epistle of Barnabas 15:3-5).

Irenaeus: “The day of the Lord is as a thousand years; and in six days created things were completed. It is evident, therefore, they will come to an end in the six thousandth year” (Against Heresies 5.28).

Hippolytus: “The Sabbath is a type of the future kingdom… For “a day with the Lord is as a thousand years.” Since, then, in six days the Lord created all things, it follows that in six thousand years all will be fulfilled” (Fragment 2; Commentary on Daniel 2.4).

Commodianus: “We will be immortal when the six thousand years are completed” (Against the Gods of the Heathens 35). “Resurrection of the body will be when six thousand years are completed, and after the one thousand years, the world will come to an end” (Against the Gods of the Heathens 80).

Victorinus: “Satan will be bound until the thousand years are finished; that is, after the sixth day”(Commentary on Revelation 20.1-3).

Methodius: “In the seventh millennium we will be immortal and truly celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles” (Ten Virgins 9).

Lactantius: “The sixth thousandth year is not yet complete. When this number is complete, the consummation must take place” (Divine Institutes 7.14).

Christians are always terrified that we will be accused of date setting. In the first century, it made sense that God would provide information, specific information, about dates.

We believe, do we not, that it was possible to calculate the very day the Lord would make His triumphal entry into Jerusalem? Daniel lets us know it would be 483 years after the decree of the Persian king Artaxerxes to Nehemiah on March 5 of BC 444.

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 there were also many documents that were found in caves not far from the Dead Sea. Discovery was also made of buildings next to the Dead Sea. It has been argued that the buildings were where the Essenes lived and the scrolls found in the caves, the Dead Sea Scrolls, were placed there by the them.

The Essenes were an apocalyptic sect of Judaism. Although it can’t be proven, scholars suggest John the Baptist was an Essene.

They had their own calendar. It is claimed that they predicted His death in AD 32.

This quote is from a site that delves into the Essene calendar:

The Jewish calendar states that 2021 is the year 5781AM (Anno Mundi – year of creation) while

the Essene Calendar tells us it is the year 5946AM. There is a 165 year difference between them. The Essenes also said that the very last Jubilee, a 50 year period, will begin in 2025AD or, in their Calendar, 5950AM. With a “Day like a Thousand Years” we see the 6 days of Creation prophetically being finished according to the Essenes Calendar around 6000AM or 2075AD for us.