February 22, 2009
I greet you once again in the Name of Jesus!
In last week’s edition of THE WEEKLY WORD you will recall that we shared that some in the Body of Christ object to the teaching of a pre-tribulation catching away or rapture because they say it is a recent teaching, and was not believed or taught by any in the early church. Again, the “early church” is considered to be approximately the first three centuries of the Christian Church. Those who are opposed to dispensational theology, and specifically a literalist, futurist position on eschatology; say that the idea of a “catching away” that would enable the people of God to escape all of the events of the Great Tribulation period, is an invention of relatively recent origin.
There are various explanations offered, but I suppose the most widely circulated is that the pre-tribulation rapture teaching was first taught on a large-scale basis by Anglo-Irish evangelist John Nelson Darby in the 1800’s. The rapture critics further postulate that Darby’s teachings were picked up by Bible teacher C.I. Scofield and included in the Scofield reference Bible notes in 1907. Since, the critics conclude that the teaching of the pre-tribulation rapture was not taught by the Apostles or any of their disciples in the early church, it is a non-Biblical doctrine. This sounds convincing I suppose, but is it true?
There is a very scholarly, authoritative volume available to be researched and studied, known as the Ante-Nicene Fathers. This volume basically contains a series of ancient manuscripts of the early Christian theologians who taught prior to the council of Nicea in 325. These informative writings were translated from Greek and Latin into English and assembled in a ten-volume set called the Ante-Nicene Fathers in Edinburgh, Scotland in the 1890’s. There is ample evidence in these writings that our modern views regarding the fulfillment of the prophecies are remarkably similar to those held by the Christians during the first three centuries following Christ.
Before we examine some statements of early Christian writers and scholars with respect to what they believed concerning the timing of the “catching away”, we need to consider how we should interpret prophecy. This is the most fundamental consideration when examining prophecy. Should we interpret the prophecies literally or allegorically? Our first court of appeal and final court of arbitration on this matter should be the method of interpretation used by the Church Fathers, some of whom personally knew the disciples of Jesus. Several writers from the first few centuries specifically addressed how we should interpret the scriptures.
For example, the second-century writer Irenaeus declared that the literal method was correct: “If, however, any shall endeavor to allegorize (prophecies) of this kind, they shall not be found consistent with themselves in all points, and shall be confuted by the teaching of the very expressions.” [Irenaeus, “Against Heresies”, Ante-Nicene Library Vol. 10] Another second century writer, Justin Martyr, also confirmed that we should expect those prophecies about the events in the Last Days to be fulfilled in the same manner as those predictions in the past. Justin wrote, “Since, then, we prove that all things which have already happened had been predicted by the prophets before they came to pass, we must necessarily believe also that those things which are in like matter predicted, but are yet to come to pass, shall certainly happen. For as the things which have already taken place came to pass when foretold, and even though unknown, so shall things that remain, even though they be unknown and disbelieved, yet come to pass.” [Justin Martyr, “First Apology”, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 10]
Virtually all serious scholars of Church history, regardless of their own eschatological views, acknowledge that the early Apostolic Church believed in an imminent Second Coming. For example: Professor Richard Rothe states, “The apostles unanimously expected the return of Christ, to enter upon this Kingdom (Chiliastic) on earth.” Professor James Donaldson, the respected editor of the Ante-Nicene Library, in his History of Catholic Doctrine and Literature, wrote about the belief of Justin Martyr in support of the premillennial doctrine: “The opinion just adduced is one in which the whole Church shared. All expected Christ to appear on earth, to raise His saints, to grant them the possession of the earth, and to bless them with uninterrupted happiness.”
Philip Schaff declared in the History of The Apostolic Church, “The expectation of the speedy return of Christ in glory, as probably one of Paul’s favorite themes; that he exhorts the Thessalonians ‘to be always ready to meet the Lord, who shall come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night, and warns them, for this very reason, among other errors, against presuming to calculate the day and hour of His Appearing.’ The French historian Professor Joseph Renan (1823 – 1892) stated, “The two Syriac words Maran-atha (the Lord is about to come) became the watchword of the Christians among them selves; the short, animated expression, which they passed from one another to encourage themselves in their hoping.” Notice again that last phrase, to encourage themselves in their hoping.
This aligns exactly with Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians when writing concerning the catching away, 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. [1 Thess. 4:18 NKJV] You and I are on solid historical and scriptural ground when we hold to a pre-tribulation rapture position.
I have much more to say on this, which we will pick up next time.
The Weekly Word is found in 1 John 3:2, 3. Here the Bible says,
2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. [1 John 3:2, 3 NKJV]
Until next time, this is THE WEEKLY WORD.
Pastor Kevin E. Johnson