A careful study of Church history shows that the Pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching/doctrine has been around a lot longer than many folks want you to believe. I hold the view that posits that the Apostle Paul taught the Pre-Tribulation Rapture before any Church leader. In a previous post I noted that as best can be determined there are close to a hundred early Church leaders, apostle, bishops, authors, that are on record, writing known or attributed to a specific individual that taught or believed in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture idea.
I said that I would identify many of these, but not necessarily in chronological order. The reason for this I plan to intersperse Biblical evidence that corroborates the Pre-Tribulation Rapture doctrine. However, in this post I will share history and documentation of one of the earliest Christian of the post-Apostolic period, or early Patristic era [100 - 450 AD]. The individual that I want to discuss here is the Shepherd of Hermas (ca. 140 AD). We will share some of his writing concerning his belief in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture. His writings speaks of a possible Pre-Tribulation concept of escaping the Tribulation. While the Shepherd of Hermas clearly speaks of escaping the Tribulation, Pre-Tribulationists and non-Pre-Tribulationists agree that he does not articulate a clear message similar to modern Pre-Tribulationists; however, as Dr. John Walvoord points out that the writings of the Shepherd of Hermas writes about the doctrine of imminency was a prominent feature of the doctrine of the early Church. It is important that we recognize the early believers at times were ambiguous because they had limited under-standing of the Biblical message. That fact not withstanding, their communication revealed general under-standing as we know Pre-Tribulationism today. We have greater understanding because of the larger collection of writing by many others that articulate greater understanding and expression.
Some have thought that Irenaeus (c.180 AD) could be a Pre-Tribulationist because of a statement he made in which he actually speaks of the Rapture: "The Church shall be suddenly caught up from this [the Tribulation]," as noted below:
"And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, "There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be." For this is the last contest of the righteous, in which, when they overcome they are crowned with incorruption." At times, even Irenaeus reflects some confusion, something that should have been expected. The early Church was undergoing a metamorphos, in that they were clarifying and contextualizing doctrine. Irenaeus at times reflected different views; however, when his writings were collectivized the preponderance of his writings reflected strong Pre-Tribulationist leanings.
Pre-Tribulationists, such as Charles Ryrie define imminency as an event that is "impending, hanging over one's head, ready, to take place". An imminent event is one that is always ready to take place. Some have recognized that it is common for the ante-Nicene writers to speak of an imminent return of Jesus Christ, especially during the first century after the apostles. Patristic scholar Dr. Larry Crutchfield argues that the early church fathers believed in what he calls "immnent intra-tribulationism.
Post-Tribulationists like J. Barton Payne also admit that the early Church Fathers held to an imminent viewpoint.
He says, "It must therefore be concluded that the denial of the imminence of the Lord's coming n the part of post-tribulationists who have reacted against dispensationalism is not legitimate. Belief in the imminency of the return of Jesus Christ was the uniform hope of the early church; and it was only with the rise of detailed applications of Bible prophecy, at the close of the second century, to yet future history that its truth was questioned."
Anyone that is truly interested in Bible prophecy, all aspects of it, should get access to J. Barton Payne's book, 'Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy'. It is everything it's title claims. Dr. Payne has catalogued all the prophecies of the Bible. Dr. Payne stated the Bible contained 1,239 prophecies in the Old Testament and 578 prophecies in the New Testament. According to Dr. Payne's book, these prophecies encompassed 8,352 verses (27% of the Bible) that speak of things future in the Bible. Since the Bible is close to a third being prophecy you have to wonder why the majority of the Church today is either indifferent to or not interested in teaching its people about Bible prophecy. Do you suppose Satan's minions have sewn seeds of unbelief?
The list of Pre-Millennial teachers spans centuries and the Anti-Pre-Tribulation would prefer that you not know the truth. Before I have completed this series on Pre-Tribulation Truth, I expect to identify many of those who believed in a two-phased return related to Jesus Christ second advent.
At one time, I had both the hard-cover and paperback editions of this book. It's the definitive authority of every prophecy in the Bible. The fact that J. Barton Payne was not a Pre-Tribber but rather a Post-Tribulationist is perhaps not a result of his understanding of the Bible but more a result of the influence of the Jesuit Francisco Ribera. Payne lived much of his life or in the prime of his life in an era that was staunchly anti-Romanism (1922-1979).
Another possible Pre-Tribulation Rapture document was that of a sermon by the name of Pseudo-Ephraem, the Syrian, entitled "On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World" as early as the fourth through the seventh century AD. The sermon is considered to be "one of the most interesting apocalyptic texts of the early Middle Ages". The sermon contains about 1,500 Latin words. The name "Pseudo" Ephraem is given because we do not know his real full name. He was referred to as the Syrian because he lived in that region. Grant Jeffrey, to my recollection, was the first to write about this individual in the early 1990's. Professor Cameron Rhoades of Tyndale Theological Seminary in Canada translated the writings of Pseudo Ephraem of Syria for Grant Jeffrey. From what I know of him, he was a prolific writer, and also, that he was highly revered by Augustine and the early Roman Catholic Church.
Concerning the timing of the Rapture it reads, "We ought to understand thoroughly therefore, my brothers, what is imminent or overhanging ... Why therefore do we not reject every care of earthly actions and prepare ourselves for the meeting of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that he may draw us from the confusion, which overwhelms all the world? ... For all the saints and elect of God are gathered together before the tribulation, which is to come, and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins." Note closely that Ephraem taught that the saints will be taken to the Lord so they will not see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world, which is exactly what 1st Thessalonians 5:3-9 says. Ephraem believed in the imminency of the return of Christ and urged his fellow Christians to live godly lives in expectation of His return.
Pseudo-Ephraem the Syrian presents at least three important features found in modern Pre-Tribulationism:
1. There are two distinct comings: the return of Jesus Christ to rapture the saints, followed later by Jesus Christ's Second Advent to the Earth.
2. A defined interval between the two comings, in this case three-and-a-half years each, and,
3.A clear statement that Jesus Christ will remove the Church from the world before the Tribulation.
The fact that Pseudo-Ephraem the Syrian placed the rapture 3-1/2 years before the Tribulation is not an argument for Mid-Trib believers, even John Nelson Darby originally believed the rapture would occur 3-1/2 years before the Second Coming. Because we lack a great deal of background on the Pseudo-Ephraem document, it may have been delivered as early as 373 AD. Ephraem died in 373 AD and, Augustine then was just 19 years of age. In fact, Augustine initially held the "Literal" view of Scripture. That included the belief in Pre-Millennialism. I have noted that, with the Allegorical interpretation of Scripture and the "Spiritualizing" the text, everything went down the drain when it came to Biblical Truth. Things have never changed since in the Roman Catholic Church. Augustine is the Father of Amillennialism, and virtually all Protestant denominations that came out of the Reformation brought that baggage with them. Unfortunately, Martin Luther was so preoccupied with the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, he was oblivious to matters of the end times. Out of all that, over the past century, we have seen a decline in the "Mainline" Protestant denominations and an increase in Fundamental, Bible, and Independent churches that understand or interpret the Bible from a "plain sense" reading of the text, which is "Dispensational".
Keep in mind that throughout history, documents have disappeared, libraries burned, wars fought, incessant persecution of the Body of Christ, it is understandable concerning the preservation of relevant documents and writings. Grant Jeffrey was, before his death, a few years back, an incredible man who searched the shelves of old books throughout Europe and the Middle East. The 38-volume series, 'The Early Church Fathers' was edited by Dr. Philip Schaff. The first 10 volumes are devoted to the Ante-Nicene Fathers, the Patristic era from 100 to 450 AD. The later two [II & III] sections of 28-volumes (14-volumes in each section) are devoted to the Nicene and Post-Nicene period. As I recall, the first eight volumes of Section II are devoted almost exclusively to Augustine alone. For those of us in the Pre-Tribulation persuasion, the greatest interest is in the first 10 volume series. In twenty-five years I have yet to meet a person that has read the series through completely. I doubt seriously that Carl Gallup had the time to read the complete series on the Church Fathers to make his claims in his book 'Final Warning'. I have heard him on PPSimmons radio state that he could not find the Pre-Tribulation being taught in the Writings of the Early Church Fathers. That statement was at best a stretch of the imagination given what we already know from existing research.
In the mean time, get your house in order. The Middle East is on fire all around Israel. President Obama has double-crossed Israel, and we have seen the early stages of Jeremiah 25:15 and Joel 3:2 prophecy come to pass that ALL nations will be turned against Israel. The recent Israeli elections in March and the efforts on the part of President Obama to achieve regime change in Israel failed and thus we can only speculate what Obama will do in the remainder of his presidency to undercut the Israeli government and national destiny. The Psalm 83 War and Ezekiel 38/39 scenario may be so close together that we just might not spot the difference or miss a beat, that is if we are still here. Vladimir Putin said he would fight to get a Palestinian state for the people at the close of March 2015.
In the mean time, steady as you go. No need to panic. Hilton Sutton said it best, "When the bombs are descending, the saints will be ascending". There is just too much prophecy yet to be fulfilled in the next seven years!
Be in Christ,