Against Pre/Mid Tribulation Rapture: The Church Fathers on the Antichrist
St. Hippolytus on the two wings of the Great Eagle
The Church Fathers on the AntichristThe popular pretribulation rapture teaching claims that Christians will be snatched off the earth prior to the Antichrist’s reign. Advocates of this view claim that the early Christians held this view. But, in an earlier post, I showed how not one quotation can be furnished from before the 19th century supporting the pretrib rapture. On the other hand, every church father who wrote about the Antichrist assumed that Christians will be persecuted by him. Below, I present quotations from some of the earliest and most respected church fathers, showing their belief.
The Didache, also called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” was a popular text written in the late first or early second century that provided instruction for the Christian communities. It was so popular, in fact, that some of the church fathers at first thought it should be part of Scripture. But the consensus was that it was not inspired. Yet, the fact that it was so widely esteemed among Christians at that time shows that it was a good representation of their views.
The last section, chapter 16, addresses the subject of Christ’s return. It’s titled “Watchfulness; the Coming of the Lord.” It’s purpose is to warn Christians about the persecution and deception of the Antichrist that will precede Christ’s return and encourage them to “endure in their faith.” Here’s what it says:
Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come. But come together often, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you are not made perfect in the last time. For in the last days false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; for when lawlessness increases, they shall hate and persecute and betray one another, and then shall appear the world-deceiver as Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never yet come to pass since the beginning. Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but those who endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. And then shall appear the signs of the truth: first, the sign of an outspreading in heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet. And third, the resurrection of the dead — yet not of all, but as it is said: “The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him.” Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven. (See it here)
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Justin the Martyr was a Christian apologist (defender of the faith), born in Rome, who wrote about the middle of the second century. He had been a pagan philosopher who converted to Christianity. According to tradition, he was martyred for his faith.
Justin clearly believed that Christians would be persecuted by the Antichrist, as is evident from the following excerpt. But he thought the Antichrist’s persecution would not defeat true Christians — who were already undergoing severe persecution in his day. Here’s what he said on this topic in chapter 60 of his work titled, Dialogue With Trypho:
He [Christ] shall come from heaven with glory, when the man of apostasy [Antichrist], who speaks strange things against the Most High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us the Christians, who, having learned the true worship of God from the law, and the word which went forth from Jerusalem by means of the apostles of Jesus, have fled for safety to the God of Jacob and God of Israel; and we who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons,—our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage,—and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified; and sitting each under his vine, i.e., each man possessing his own married wife. For you are aware that the prophetic word says, ‘And his wife shall be like a fruitful vine.’ Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world. For it is plain that, though beheaded, and crucified, and thrown to wild beasts, and chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; but the more such things happen, the more do others and in larger numbers become faithful, and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus.
Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons, wrote at length about the Antichrist toward the end of the second century. He was a student of Polycarp, who, in turn, had known the apostle John. In his best-known writing, titled Against Heresies, Irenaeus said the Antichrist would persecute the Church, but God would use the time of tribulation to purify Christians. Here’s what he said (all three excerpts are quoted from Against Heresies, Book 5).
In a still clearer light has John, in the Apocalypse, indicated to the Lord’s disciples what shall happen in the last times, and concerning the ten kings who shall then arise, among whom the empire which now rules [the earth] shall be partitioned. He teaches us what the ten horns shall be which were seen by Daniel, telling us that thus it had been said to him: “And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, who have received no kingdom as yet, but shall receive power as if kings one hour with the beast. These have one mind, and give their strength and power to the beast. These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them, because He is the Lord of lords and the King of kings.” It is manifest, therefore, that of these [potentates], he who is to come shall slay three, and subject the remainder to his power, and that he shall be himself the eighth among them. And they shall lay Babylon waste, and burn her with fire, and shall give their kingdom to the beast, and put the Church to flight. After that they shall be destroyed by the coming of our Lord. (Book 5, Chapter 26)
Hippolytus, a leader of the church at Rome who was martyred for his faith, wrote about the Antichrist in the early third century in a document titled Treatise on Christ and Antichrist. In section 60 of the treatise, he interprets Revelation 12 as a description of the Church being persecuted by the Antichrist for a period of three and a half years:
Now, concerning the tribulation of the persecution which is to fall upon the Church from the adversary, John also speaks thus: “And I saw a great and wondrous sign in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And she, being with child, cries, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man-child, who is to rule all the nations: and the child was caught up unto God and to His throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath the place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. And then when the dragon saw it, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man-child. And to the woman were given two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast (out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast) out of his mouth. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the saints of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus.”And in section 61, he also speaks of the Antichrist’s persecution of the Church and how the Church flees from city to city and to the wilderness:
By the woman then clothed with the sun, he meant most manifestly the Church, endued with the Father’s word, whose brightness is above the sun. … “And the dragon,” he says, “saw and persecuted the woman which brought forth the man-child. And to the woman were given two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.” That refers to the one thousand two hundred and threescore days (the half of the week) during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the Church, which flees from city to city, and seeks conceal-meat in the wilderness among the mountains, possessed of no other defence than the two wings of the great eagle, that is to say, the faith of Jesus Christ, who, in stretching forth His holy hands on the holy tree, unfolded two wings, the right and the left, and called to Him all who believed upon Him, and covered them as a hen her chickens.
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