In Search Of The Origins Of The Pretrib Doctrine:
Part 1: Is Pretribulationism Found In The Early Church Father's Writings?

To the Posttribulationist, the most convincing historical fact is this: the early Church writers never proclaimed, or even hinted at, a belief in a pretribulational rapture of the Church. Their viewpoint was completely Posttribulational. In our study of the Pretribulational and Posttribulational beliefs, we found that Posttribulationism is based on doctrines in the word of God as they were understood during the first three hundred years of the Church's existence. In his summary of the historical argument, Bob Gundry states that

"the early Church received its doctrine directly from the apostles", [and] "all the early fathers who touch upon final events speak with an explicitly Posttribulational accent and assume this to be the universal language in orthodox Christianity."(1)

Pretribulationists also quote a few early writers that they say werer written in a Pretribulational stance, but upon close examination, these have been found to be either historicist, post-millennial, simply misunderstood Posttribulationists or taken out of their posttrib context. Addressing the pretribulational belief, Alexander Reese writes:

"Yet the undeniable fact is that this 'any-moment' view of Christ's Return only originated about 1830, . . . the mistaken theory of the Secret Coming and Rapture; but all down the centuries there had existed Christians who longed for the Revelation of Christ, whilst expecting that Antichrist would come first. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the first three centuries of the Church's history. The first view that we have of the Church after the close of the Apostolic Age is that of a Community of Christians suffering for the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, separated from the world, and waiting for God's Son from Heaven. But, consistent with this, they expected that Antichrist would be first revealed; and this idea that Christ's approaching Advent would be followed, not by the rise, but by the destruction, of Antichrist, has been held by the saints all down the centuries."(2)

I used the following in the series, "In Search Of The Origins Of The PreWrath Doctrine" found on my main page. I repeat it here with some additions as it pertains to the Pretrib doctrine. If you want to look further into the early Church Fathers in relation to the tribulation period, see Tim Warner's site, The Last Trumpet (now moved to http://www.answersinrevelation.org/). It was from Tim that I received the following email, which is self-explanatory:

Hey Ed,

I thought I would resurrect the Church Fathers in defending Post-trib against [Pretrib]. The following quotes where the Church Fathers made statements that contradict basic [Pretrib] beliefs, and confirm post-trib beliefs. Feel free to use these in your articles, or in your posting. These are just a few that I found, by just glancing through the passages that I had highlighted. I'm sure there is more, if someone wanted to do a thorough search.


THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS ESCHATOLOGY WAS
DEFINITELY POSTTRIBULATIONAL

Justin, Dialog with Trypho, CX

(There are only two comings not three. Pretrib believes in Christ
coming 2,000 years ago, again to rapture the Church to heaven before the tribulation
and then a third time to bring judgment on the nations.
The Christians will suffer during Antichrist's reign-Ed)

"[T]wo advents of Christ have been announced: the one, in which He is set forth as suffering, inglorious, dishonored, and crucified; but the other, in which He shall come from heaven with glory, when the man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us the Christians,..."


Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, XXV, 3

(Antichrist will reign 3-1/2 years and wear out the saints)

"'And its ten horns are ten kings which shall arise; and after them shall arise another, who shall surpass in evil deeds all that were before him, and shall overthrow three kings; and he shall speak words against the most high God, and wear out the saints of the most high God, and shall purpose to change times and laws; and [everything] shall be given into his hand until a time of times and a half time,' that is, for three years and six months, during which time, when he comes, he shall reign over the earth. Of whom also the Apostle Paul again, speaking in the second [Epistle] to the Thessalonians, and at the same time proclaiming the cause of his advent, thus says: 'And then shall the wicked one be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the spirit of His mouth, and destroy by the presence of His coming.'"


Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, XXV, 4

(Antichrist will persecute the saints for the entire half of the week)

"And then he points out the time that his tyranny shall last, during which the saints shall be put to flight, they who offer a pure sacrifice unto God: 'And in the midst of the week,' he says, 'the sacrifice and the libation shall be taken away, and the abomination of desolation [shall be brought] into the temple: even unto the consummation of the time shall the desolation be complete.' Now three years and six months constitute the half-week."


Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, XXV

(The Christian martyrs must wait until the Antichrist has completed
his war on the Church, and this includes the time of the vials of wrath.
Our "hope is" in the very end of the world [age])

"In the Revelation of John, again, the order of these times is spread out to view, which 'the souls of the martyrs' are taught to wait for beneath the altar, whilst they earnestly pray to be avenged and judged: (taught, I say, to wait), in order that the world may first drink to the dregs the plagues that await it out of the vials of the angels, and that the city of fornication may receive from the ten kings its deserved doom, and that the beast Antichrist with his false prophet may wage war on the Church of God; and that, after the casting of the devil into the bottomless pit for a while, the blessed prerogative of the first resurrection may be ordained from the thrones; and then again, after the consignment of him to the fire, that the judgment of the final and universal resurrection may be determined out of the books. 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,..."


Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 47

(The saints will be persecuted UNTIL the Beast is killed by Christ)

"For this is meant by the little horn that grows up. He, being now elated in heart, begins to exalt himself, and to glorify himself as God, persecuting the saints and blaspheming Christ, even as Daniel says, 'I considered the horn, and, behold, in the horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things; and he opened his mouth to blaspheme God. And that horn made war against the saints, and prevailed against them until the beast was slain, and perished, and his body was given to be burned.'


Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 61

(Antichrist will persecute the Church right up to the end of the 70th week)

"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,..."


Appendix to the Works of Hippolytus, XXV

Christians will be persecuted "in those days" [the half of the week]
the 3.5 years in which Antichrist is to reign)

"For when Daniel said, 'I shall make my covenant for one week,' he indicated seven years; and the one half of the week is for the preaching of the prophets, and for the other half of the week that is to say, for three years and a half Antichrist will reign upon the earth. And after this his kingdom and his glory shall be taken away. Behold, ye who love God, what manner of tribulation there shall rise in those days, such as has not been from the foundation of the world, no, nor ever shall be, except in those days alone. Then the lawless one, being lifted up in heart, will gather together his demons in man's form, and will abominate those who call him to the kingdom, and will pollute many souls."


Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, 20:1

(Antichrist will persecute the Church for the entire 3.5 years)

"The little season signifies three years and six months, in which with all his power the devil will avenge himself trader Antichrist against the
Church
."


Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Book VII, Sec. II, XXXII

(Christ's coming for His saints and the resurrection
occur at the same time when Antichrist is slain)

"For in the last days false prophets shall be multiplied, and such as corrupt the word; and the sheep shall be changed into wolves, and love into hatred: for through the abounding of iniquity the love of many shall wax cold. For men shall hate, and persecute, and betray one another. And then shall appear the deceiver of the world, the enemy of the truth, the prince of lies, whom the Lord Jesus 'shall destroy with the spirit of His mouth, who takes away the wicked with His lips; and many shall be offended at Him. But they that endure to the end, the same shall be saved. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven;' and afterwards shall be the voice of a trumpet by the archangel; and in that interval shall be the revival of those that were asleep. And then shall the Lord come, and all His saints with Him, with a great concussion above the clouds, with the angels of His power, in the throne of His kingdom, to condemn the devil, the deceiver of the world, and to render to every one according to his deeds. 'Then shall the wicked go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous shall go into life eternal,' to inherit those things 'which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, such things as God hath prepared for them that love Him;' and they shall rejoice in the kingdom of God, which is in Christ Jesus."

The consensus of these statements points to the Church progressing through the Tribulation to its very end. In all of these writings, there is not one mention of the pretribulational doctrine, which was not formed until much later. BECAUSE these early church writers were absolutely, unshakingly Posttrib, it is impossible to add a couple of early church writers who SUPPOSEDLY wrote in a Pretrib stance. When reading the early church fathers, one must read the few lines they might find in the context of the entire work. Pseudo-Ephraem is a prime example, which we will speak of separately.

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(1) Robert H. Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation, CEP edition (Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1973), p. 188.
(2) Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent Of Christ (Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids International Publications, 1975), p. 227 under special arrangements with the original publisher, Marshall, Morgan and Scott, London, 1937.