“There are many others who will have preconceived ideas man has planted in their minds that will inherently block their vision or understanding on most I am about to say. To that person, this will be as the analogy given in scripture of the new wine put in old skins… I am not bringing ‘new wine’ to the table in the sense that this is new theology or a new revelation. No. This has been around for centuries.”
This is a very simple post today that’s not really going to require a lot of extra thinking to grasp. Yet, it’s very necessary and I hope it’s encouraging as well. Yes, the scriptures are our ultimate source of truth. Yes, scripture alone speaks enough to validate everything we have already discussed regarding end times, particularly as it relates to the timing of the rapture (post-trib, pre-wrath). But it should also be encouraging to see that we are in good company in our beliefs. As we break down this segment, we are going to show who else shared in this view regarding end times. Is this new wine? Is this new theology? Or have we merely lost touch with our early church leaders and been deceived by men like Nelson Darby and C. I. Scofield with their twisted pre-trib eschatology? Let’s break it down.
Acts 4:36 speaks of a man named Barnabas, who just a few verses earlier was named an apostle. It is stated that he is a Levite from Cyprus. Unlike the other examples we are going to mention later, Barnabas knew all 12 of Jesus’ disciples. He traveled with Paul to evangelize among gentiles. Later on, he wrote his own epistle, the Epistle of Barnabas. Unfortunately, because he was born about 7 years after Christ, therefore not directly being taught by him, his epistle could not be considered Biblical canon. Though, like every other person we are about to mention, that doesn’t mean they don’t speak Biblical truth. Barnabas spoke with the apostles himself. He learned under Paul. The writing of early church leaders like him speaks volumes. There was much less time for variance in the message to occur while being directly influenced by the 12 and Paul. In chapter 4 of his Epistle, Barnabas writes,
“The final stumbling-block (or source of danger) approaches… We take earnest heed in these last days; for the whole [past] time of your faith will profit you nothing, unless now in this wicked time we also withstand coming sources of danger… Take heed, lest resting at our ease, as those who are called of God, we should fall asleep in our sins, and the wicked prince, acquiring power over us, should thrust us away from the Kingdom of the Lord.”
The wicked prince he is referring to is undoubtedly Satan, or particularly, the antichrist because he is speaking in the context of the end. We must “take heed” and not “fall asleep in our sins” so that when the wicked prince/antichrist comes and “acquires power over us” we are not “thrust away from the Kingdom of God.” Basically, this is a warning about apostasy and the Great Tribulation/Final stumbling block – both prophesied signs of the end. Notice the words, “our”, “we”, and “us” used throughout this passage. Barnabas infers that these events could happen even to them. He counts himself as one who could potentially experience this. He speaks as being part of the body of Christ, undivided. There is no mention that this will happen to another group of “tribulation saints” that will emerge after he and his fellow believers are caught up to be with the Lord. He knew that when the antichrist comes, it will be bad news for Christians, even potentially himself.
Justin Martyr: (100-165)
Next on our list is Justin Martyr, not to be confused with Justin/Justinus the gnostic. Justin Martyr, as you can see attributed to his name, was martyred after refusing to offer sacrifices to Roman gods and renounce his faith. He was a respected early Christian apologist who was also a philosopher. He was a contemporary of Polycarp: an apostle of John who also knew Barnabas. In his Dialogue with Trypho, 110, he states this:
“The man of apostasy…shall venture to do unlawful things on the earth against us, the Christians.”
Very similar statement as Barnabas. And likewise, very clear that he expected the “man of apostasy”, aka, the “antichrist” to persecute Christians. Therefore, implying that “we”, believers, haven’t gone anywhere yet.
Irenaeus is probably one of the more common names on this list. He is known for his great work developing Christian theology. He also had much to say regarding the various heresies arising during his day. This also required him to properly define orthodoxy. Irenaeus was also Polycarp’s disciple/apostle and knew Justin Martyr. Not surprisingly, he also had much to say regarding eschatology. In one of his more popular pieces of literature, Against Heresies, V 26, he says this:
“And the ten kings…shall give their kingdom to the beast, and put the Church to flight.”
One of the most common arguments I hear people say who believe in a pre-tribulational rapture is that after the letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3, there is no more mention of the word, “church”. I might go into this more in detail at a later time, but the word, “church”, is not the only word in the Bible meaning God’s people. All throughout the Bible, New Testament included, believers/Christians are referred to as “saints”, or “the elect” as well. Saying that the rest of Revelation does not mention the church until after/during Armageddon is quite an unbiblical stretch. The words “saints” and “elect” are scattered throughout Revelation as well. Its talking about Christians like you and me, just like every other time it is brought up in scripture. The Bible defines itself. It is its own dictionary. And Irenaeus seemed to agree as well because he saw no problem with referring to these “saints” enduring the Great tribulation/persecution as the church being put to flight. Furthermore, he says this:
“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.” –Irenaeus Against Heresies, 558.
Just in case his last quote wasn’t clear enough, he specifies that this IS in fact, the Great Tribulation. It’s the last contest of the righteous. “From this”, the Great Tribulation, we shall be caught up. Not caught up in avoidance of it, but through the endurance of it, to be crowned with incorruption. I know someone is going to say, “it says caught up from this! That means we will miss it.” According to the context of the statement, that is not the case. Irenaeus is continuing his point using scripture. The word, “this” is an arrow pointing toward the scripture reference, which proceeds to tell us that we will, in fact, endure the tribulation. The scripture he quotes affirms that “from this” more accurately means “from the midst of this” because it is the “last contest” to which believers will “overcome” and be “crowned with incorruption”. We should not have to overthink this. Finally, Irenaeus says this:
For all these and other words were unquestionably spoken in reference to the resurrection of the just, which takes place after the coming of Antichrist, and the destruction of all nations under his rule” –Against Heresies 5:35:1
This is by far the most unmistakable statement he makes here. This can’t possibly be talking about the second resurrection at the second coming of Christ at Armageddon because Irenaeus specifies that he is talking about the “resurrection of the just”. The resurrection of the just is unquestionably the rapture/first resurrection of Christ’s church; when the dead in Christ rise first, then we who remain will be caught up into the air to be forever with our Lord. But unlike the first quote mentioned by him here, Irenaeus also mentions that this resurrection of the just takes place after the antichrist destroys the nations under his rule. There’s a problem for pre-tribbers here. In scripture, this all takes place when opening the first and second seals in Revelation 6. Therefore, it makes it obvious that Irenaeus is still on par with the understanding that believers are caught up well after these things take place. No pre-trib rapture here.
Tertullian was (still is) a well-known Christian writer from Carthage, in the Roman Province of Africa. We are still only in the first few centuries, which makes these accounts even stronger. During his time, he was an apologist and a polemicist who strongly opposed heresy, like Irenaeus, who he a contemporary of. Tertullian is commonly known as “The Father of Latin Christianity”, or “The Founder of Western Theology”. He stated this regarding Revelation 6:9-11 –
“The souls of the martyrs are taught to wait [Rev.6:9-11] …That the beast Antichrist with his false prophet may wage war on the Church of God… Since, then, the Scriptures both indicate the stages of the last times, and concentrate the harvest of the Christian hope in the very end of the world.” – On the Resurrection of the flesh, 25
Once again, the word “church” is used indiscriminately here when describing “the souls of those who had been slain for the testimony which they held.” Or specifically, those who remain on earth not yet killed during the Great tribulation. This is now talking about the 5th seal. Still, the harvest of Christians via rapture has not taken place even up to this point. Tertullian understands.
Hippolytus was one of the most important Christian theologians during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. He, also, was a disciple of Irenaeus. Hippolytus is widely known for being not just a theologian, but also a commentator. Irenaeus must have really taught his disciples well because Hippolytus came out sounding just like Tertullian and himself. In his Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 61, Hippolytus states:
“Now concerning the tribulation of the persecution which is to fall upon the Church from the adversary. That refers to the 1260 days (the last half of the “week”) during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the Church.”
I mean, they just keep getting more blunt. Do you think Hippolytus thought that the Church would avoid the Great Tribulation? No. Can you make the argument that he is just talking about general tribulation, not the Great Tribulation? No. This is the last 1260 days the Great Tribulation is within, prophesied in Daniel’s 70th week. It’s the last half of the “week”, or “seven”, properly interpreted as a 7-year period during the end. For the elect’s sake/church’s sake, those days are shortened, else all would be killed. – Matthew 24:22
The Shepherd of Hermas: (170)
“Happy ye who endure the Great Tribulation that is coming.”
During the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the Shepherd of Hermas became widely known and appreciated by Christians. The author is not known, which is the primary reason why it is not considered Biblical canon today. It was considered highly at the time. I can already hear people commenting on this one and of Barnabas, saying, “You’re using a non-canonical/non-biblical text to support your end-time belief! You’re a crazy heretic!” Well, like I said, the Bible alone speaks for itself on the matter, and it’s very clear. But just because a non-canonical source supports my eschatology, doesn’t make it untrue. That’s called a fallacy. Plus, if every non-canonical source is terrible and bad, then every Christian book written by respected Christian authors should also be labeled terrible and bad. That’s silly. Again, the Bible alone has plenty enough to prove itself. This merely shows that the early church culture had a good understanding that the rapture is post-trib, pre-wrath. We/Christians “endure” the Great tribulation/persecution to then be caught up on the day of the Lord, prior to God’s Wrath being poured out.
For the sake of simplicity, I will just state here and now that the next few historical people are contemporaries of either Hippolytus or of each other down the line. As we do some rapid-fire, we will see that each of them speaks the same message as well.
“The day of affliction has begun to hang over our heads, and the end of the world and the time of the Antichrist to draw near, so that we must all stand prepared for the battle…” – (Epistle, 55, 1).
I didn’t hear, “The rapture has begun to hang over our heads, and the “Tribulation” that we are to avoid is drawing near.” We must prepare for battle! The antichrist is coming to “make war with the saints! (Rev. 13:7)
Ephrain the Syrian (306-373)
“Nothing remains then, except that the coming of our enemy, Antichrist, appear…” – (Sermo Asceticus, I).
“I told you that Christ would not come unless Antichrist had come before.” – (Epistle 21).
I’m starting to think the antichrist is the next prophetic figure to come…
“…the time of Antichrist…will be a sign of the coming of Christ…” – (Homilies on II Thessalonians 2:2-3)
There we go! Here is some encouragement. Jesus says in Matthew 24:34 –
“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”
“What’s this passage talking about, Brad? That generation he was talking to already died a long time ago.” Yes, but he wasn’t talking about his audience. Otherwise, that would make Jesus a liar. This is Matthew 24, the passage I harp on all the time because Jesus himself is talking about the end. He just told them about everything that should be expected in the future. That’s where verse 34 comes in, “This generation”, means, “this generation that I am speaking about” will not pass until all these things take place. There is hope for us if we see the antichrist declare himself as god and sit in the temple, (the abomination of desolation). If we see this, we have hope because this generation will not pass. We will either die a martyr’s death or live to see Christ and be caught up in the air with him. The antichrist is the sign that the finish line is near!
“But he who reads this passage [Daniel 12:1-13], even half asleep can not fail to see that the kingdom of Antichrist shall fiercely, for a short time, assail the church…” – (The City of God, XX, 23).
Augustine has jokes. “Even if you were half asleep you couldn’t possibly miss what this passage is saying!” There is a massive connection between the prophecies of Daniel, (specifically referring to 12 here) and Matthew 24, as well as others in Revelation we have already gone over. Daniel 12 can’t possibly be talking specifically about Jews, as some may try to suggest, because of the unmistakable connection to other scriptures and its context itself. That’s why Augustine has no problem referring to the people of that passage as “the church”. I kinda feel like he’s probably right and we, if we try to say otherwise, are wrong.
Martin Luther (1483-1546)
And finally, we jump ahead to Martin Luther, who needs no introduction.
“[The book of Revelation] is intended as a revelation of things that are to happen in the future, and especially of tribulations and disasters for the Church…” – (Works of Martin Luther, VI, p. 481).
In the Bible, “tribulation” is always centered around believers. It is not feared. It is not preached to be avoided. It is unmistakably distinct from God’s wrath. We have gotten away from this basic understanding and gone on rabbit trail after rabbit trail chasing all these different end-times views based on a flat-out wrong definition of a word. It’s actually crazy how simple the fix is. Literally, everything changes when we define this one word correctly. Everything in a pre-trib interpretation hinges upon this one word: tribulation. That is no exaggeration. What does it truly mean according to ancient Greek and how the Bible uses it elsewhere in scripture? When that switch takes place in your mind and you see the proper definition of it, the truth is obvious.
There is so much evidence on the table. Now we see that even the early church fathers correctly defined the world as well, and because of that, they all understood what is to be expected next for the Church. This is not new wine. This isn’t recently made-up nonsense in an attempt to draw attention. This isn’t presented to be rebellious or different. This is an honest approach to the controversy regarding end times. They got it. We need to get it too.