Early Church Teaching On Pre-Tribulation
by the Late Grant Jeffrey
"A Noted Byzantine Scholar That Taught The Pre-Tribulation Rapture in A.D. 373" Quote by: Grant Jeffrey'
Over the last thirty years I have been fascinated with Bible prophecy because it authenticates the Scriptures as God's inspired Word and it points to the imminent return of Jesus Christ to usher in the Messianic Kingdom. I am always delighted when God leads me to new information that confirms His Word. In my ongoing research into recent archeological discoveries and into writings of early Church leaders, I have made several exciting new discoveries that I want to share with my readers. In this chapter we will explore a number of interesting discoveries about the following subjects: the finding of a teaching about the Pre-Tribulation Rapture from the first centuries of the early church; the archeological discoveries of the tombs of Mary, Martha and Lazarus that prove the historical accuracy of the Gospels; and the proof that miraculous healings, raising of the dead, and the Charismatic gifts were common among believers during the first three centuries following the resurrection of Christ.
The Pre-Tribulation Rapture Was Taught by the Early Church
Obviously, the truth about the timing of the Rapture will ultimately be found only in Scripture. The Protestant Reformation was based essentially on this return to the authority of the Bible. The Latin phrase Sola Scriptura, meaning "Scripture Alone" became the rallying cry of the reformers who ignored centuries of tradition and church councils in their insistence that truth could only be discovered in the Word of God. While the ultimate resolution of this discussion must be based on our interpretation of Scripture, it is important to answer the errors of our opponents who disparage "the blessed hope" of the Rapture with misinformation about the modern rediscovery of the truth about the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.
Many post-tribulationist writers have attacked the Pre-Tribulation Rapture doctrine by claiming that it cannot be true because no church writer or reformer ever taught this doctrine until approximately 170 years ago. While the real question for sincere students of Scripture must be whether or not the Bible truly teaches this doctrine, the argument that no one ever saw this "truth" throughout eighteen hundred years of Church history has been very effective, causing many Christians to abandon their belief in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture. The only problem with their argument is that they are totally wrong.
Many contemporary writers claim that the Pre-Tribulation Rapture theory first originated around A.D. 1820. They ascribe the theory's initial creation to either Emmanuel Lacunza (Ben Ezra, 1812), Edward Irving (1830), or Margaret Macdonald (1830), and finally to John Darby (1830). For example, Dave MacPherson in The Incredible Cover-Up (1975 stated); "Margaret Macdonald was the first person to teach a coming of Christ that would precede the days of Antichrist . . . . Before 1830, Christians had always believed in a single future coming, that the catching of I Thess. 4 will take place after the Great Tribulation of Matthew 24 at the glorious coming of the Son of Man when He shall send His angels to gather together all of His Elect." Reverend John Bray, in The Origin of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Teaching (1982) declared; "People who are teaching the Pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching today are teaching something that never was taught until 1812 . . . . Not one of those early church fathers taught a Pre-Tribulation Rapture . . . . I make the offer of five hundred dollars to anybody who will find a statement, a sermon, article in a commentary, or anything, prior to 1812 that taught a two-phase coming of Christ separated by a stated period of time, such as the Pre-Tribulation rapturists teach." These writers, among others who despise the teaching of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, dogmatically assert that it was taught for the first time in 1830 by John Darby and the Plymouth Brethren or one of the other individuals mentioned above.
A number of these authors will have to drastically revise the next edition of their books based on two remarkable textual discoveries that conclusively prove that a number of Christian teachers, centuries before John Darby rediscovered this biblical teaching, clearly taught that the Rapture would occur before the Tribulation period. During the summer of 1994, after more than a decade of searching, I discovered several fascinating manuscripts that contain clear evidence of the teaching of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture in the early church.
Ephraem's Teaching on the Pre-Tribulation Rapture
"For all the saints and Elect of God are gathered, prior to the Tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins" (On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World, by Ephraem the Syrian, A.D. 373).
The early Christian writer and poet, Ephraem the Syrian, (who lived from A.D. 306 to 373) was a major theologian of the early Byzantine Eastern Church. He was born near Nisbis, in the Roman province of Syria, near present day Edessa, Turkey. Ephraem displayed a profound love of the Scriptures in his writings as illustrated by several of his written comments quoted in the Works of Nathaniel Lardner, Vol. 4, 1788. "I esteem no man more happy than him, who diligently reads the Scriptures delivered to us by the Spirit of God, and thinks how he may order his conversation by the precepts of them." To this day, his hymns and homilies are used in the liturgy of the Greek Orthodox and Middle Eastern Nestorian Church. While the sixteen-volume Post-Nicene Library includes a number of homilies and psalms by Ephraem the Syrian, the editors noted that he also wrote a large number of commentaries that have never been translated into English.
Ephraem's fascinating teaching on the Antichrist has never been published in English until now. This critically important prophecy manuscript from the fourth century of the Church era reveals a literal method of interpretation and a teaching of the Pre-Millennial return of Christ. More importantly, Ephraem's text revealed a very clear statement about the Pre-Tribulational return of Christ to take His elect saints home to heaven to escape the coming Tribulation. In addition, Ephraem declares his belief in a personal, Jewish Antichrist, who will rule the Roman Empire during the last days, a rebuilt temple, the two witnesses and a literal Great Tribulation lasting 1,260 days. It is also fascinating to note that he taught that the War of God and Magog would precede the Tribulation period. I discovered another text by Ephraem, called The Book of the Cave of Treasure, that revealed he taught that Daniel's Seventieth Week will be fulfilled in the final seven years at the end of this age that will conclude with Christ's return at the Battle of Armageddon to establish His kingdom.
The following section includes key passages from Ephraem's important text, written about A.D. 373, and translated by Professor Cameron Rhoades, of Tyndale Theological Seminary, at my request.
On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World
"1. Most dearly beloved brothers, believe the Holy Spirit who speaks in us. Now we have spoken before, because the end of the world is very near, and the consummation remains. Has not the first faith withered away in men? ...
"2. We ought to understand thoroughly therefore, my brothers what is imminent or overhanging. Already there have been hunger and plagues, violent movements of nations and signs, which have been predicted by the Lord, they have already been fulfilled, and there is not other which remains, except the advent of the wicked one in the completion of the Roman kingdom. Why therefore are we occupied with worldly business, and why is our mind held fixed on the lusts of the world or the anxieties of the ages? Why therefore do we not reject every care of earthly actions and prepare ourselves for the meeting of the Lord Christ, so that He may draw us from the confusion, which overwhelms the world? Believe you me, dearest brothers, because the coming of the Lord is nigh, believe you me, because it is the very last time . . . . Because all saints and Elect of the Lord are gathered together before the tribulation which is about 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 (Italics added). And so, brothers, most dear to me, it is the eleventh hour, and the end of this world comes to the harvest, and angels, armed and prepared, hold sickles in their hands, awaiting the empire of the Lord . . .
"3. When therefore the end of the world comes, there arise diverse wars, commotions on all sides, horrible earthquakes, perturbations of nations, tempests throughout the lands, plagues, famine, drought throughout the thoroughfares, great danger throughout the sea and dry land, constant persecutions, slaughters and massacres everywhere . . .
"6. When therefore the end of the world comes, that abominable, lying and murderous one is born from the tribe of Dan. He is conceived from the seed of a man and from a most vile virgin, mixed with an evil or worthless spirit . . .
"7. But when the time of the abomination of his desolation begins to approach, having been made legal, he takes the empire . . . . Therefore, when he receives the kingdom, he orders the temple of God to be rebuilt for himself, which is in Jerusalem; who, after coming into it, he shall sit as God and order that he be adored by all nations . . . . then all people from everywhere shall flock together to him at the city of Jerusalem, and the holy city shall be trampled on by the nations for forty-two months just as the holy apostle says in the Apocalypse, which becomes three and a half years, 1260 days.
"8. In these three years and a half the heaven shall suspend its dew; because there will be no rain upon the earth . . . . and there will be a Great Tribulation, as there has not been, since people began to be upon the earth . . . . and no one is able to sell or to buy of the grain of the fall harvest, unless he is one who has the serpentine sign on the forehead or the hand . . . .
"10. And when the three and a half years have been completed, the time of the Antichrist, through which he will have seduced the world, after the resurrection of the two prophets, in the hour which the world does not know, and on the day which the enemy or son of perdition does not know, will come the sign of the Son of Man, and coming forward the Lord shall appear with great power and much majesty, with the sign of the word of salvation going before him, and also even with all the powers of the heavens with the whole chorus of the saints . . . . Then Christ shall come and the enemy shall be thrown into confusion, and the Lord shall destroy him by the Spirit of his mouth. And he shall be bound and shall be plunged into the abyss of everlasting fire alive with his father Satan; and all people, who do his wishes, shall perish with him forever; but the righteous ones shall inherit everlasting life with the Lord for ever and ever."
To summarize the key points in Ephraem's text on the last days:
1. Ephraem's manuscript lays out the events of the last days in chronological sequence. Significantly he began with the Rapture using the word "imminent," then, he described the Great Tribulation of three and a half years duration under the Antichrist's tyranny, followed by the second coming of Christ to earth with his saints to defeat the Antichrist.
2. Significantly, at the beginning of his treatise in Section 2, Ephraem used the word "imminent" to describe the Rapture occurring before the Tribulation the coming of the Antichrist. "We ought to understand thoroughly therefore, my brothers what is imminent or overhanging."
3. He clearly described the Pre-Tribulation Rapture: "Because all saints and the Elect of the Lord are gathered together before the Tribulation which is about 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."
4. He then gives the purpose of God rapturing the church "before the tribulation" so that "they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins." Ephraem used the word "confusion" as a synonym for the Tribulation Period.
5. Ephraem described the duration of the "Great Tribulation" (the last half of the Seven Year Tribulation Period) in sections, 7, 8, and 10 as follows: "forty-two months" and "three and a half years" and "1260 days."
6. He summarized: "There will be a Great Tribulation, as there has not been since people began to be upon the earth" and described the Mark of the Beast system.
7. He declared that Christ will come to the earth after the "three and a half years" Tribulation Period in Section 10: "And when the three and a half years have been completed, the time of the Antichrist, through which he will have seduced the world, after the resurrection of the two prophets . . . will come the sign of the Son of Man, and coming forward the Lord shall appear with great power and much majesty.
Dr. Paul Alexander, perhaps the most authoritative scholar on the writing of the early Byzantine Church, concluded that Ephraem's text on The Antichrist taught that the Lord would supernaturally remove the saints of the Church from the earth "prior to the tribulations that is to come." Ephraem wrote that the saints will be "taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins." Dr. Alexander believed this text was written by some unknown writer in the sixth century but he concluded that it was derived from an original Ephraem manuscript (A.D. 373). Other scholars, including the German editor Professor Caspari who wrote a German commentary on this Latin manuscript in 1890, believed that Ephraem's manuscript was written by the genuine Ephraem in A.D. 373. Professor Cameron Rhodes, professor of Latin at Tyndale Theological Seminary, translated Ephraem's Latin text into English at the request of my friend Dr. Thomas Ice and myself.
Ephraem and Daniel's Seventieth Week - The Tribulation Period
A question naturally arises in the mind of Bible students about how long Ephraem believed the Tribulation would last. While Ephraem correctly describes the "Great Tribulation" as three and a half years his other writings revealed that he believed the whole Tribulation Period, "that sore affliction," would last "one week" of seven years. Ephraem's book, The Book of the Cave of Treasures, written about A. D. 373, taught about the genealogy of Christ. He wrote the sixty-ninth week of Daniel 9:24-27 ended with the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus the Messiah. He stated, "The Jews have no longer among them a king, or a priest, or a prophet, or a Passover, even as Daniel prophesied concerning them, saying, 'After two and sixty weeks Christ shall be slain, and the city of holiness shall be laid waste until the completion of things decreed.' (Daniel 9:26). That is to say, for ever and ever." (italics added, page 235, The Cave of Treasures). In Daniel's prophecy, he foretold that Jerusalem would be rebuilt "even in troublesome times" during the initial period of "seven weeks" of years (forty-nine years). Daniel's prophecy declared that this initial period of "seven weeks" of years would be immediately followed by a further period of sixty-two "weeks" of years ending with the cutting off of the Messiah (483 years). The combined total of sixty-nine weeks of years (seven weeks plus sixty-two weeks) was to conclude with the rejection of Christ. As quoted above, Ephraem taught that Jesus Christ was slain at the end of the combined sixty-nine weeks of years.
However, in the section of his book dealing with the future of Gog and Magog, Ephraem wrote about the final (seventieth) week of Daniel as follows. "At the end of the world at the final consummation . . . suddenly the gates of the north shall be opened . . . . They will destroy the earth, and there will be none able to stand before them. After one week of that sore affliction (tribulation), they will all be destroyed in the plain of Joppa . . . . Then will the son of perdition appear, of the seed and of the tribe of Dan . . . . He will go into Jerusalem and will sit upon a throne in the Temple saying, 'I am the Christ,' and he will be borne aloft by legions of devils like a king and a lawgiver, naming himself God . . . . The time of the error of the Anti-Christ will last two years and a half, but others say three years and six months" (italics added). Although there are some curious elements in his description of prophetic events, it is clear that Ephraem believed that the seventieth final week of Daniel's prophecy of the seventy weeks will finally be fulfilled during the final seven years of this age when the Antichrist will appear. This evidence of a belief in a "gap" or "parenthesis" between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week of Daniel 9:24-27 from the fourth century of the Christian era is significant. It is worthwhile to note that this teaching that there would be a "gap" or "parenthesis" between Daniel's 69th week and the 70th week of years was also taught by others in the early church including the Epistle of Barnabas (A.D. 110) and the writings of Hippolytus (A.D. 220).
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