This has been a common source to prove one’s position regarding end-time scenarios. See what the early church taught and assume it must be fact since they were closer to the original source, Christ, and were not convoluted by centuries of theology. This is actually a good way to see what a theological position is and how it can be measured. The problem is, many do not actually read the early writings, and when one does, he/she does not always understand the language and word meanings and thus may make assumptions that are not there.
Concerning articles and pre-tribulation-ism claiming proof from early church sources. My goal is not to mock these ministry, but to point out a common error. I assume their hearts are in the right place, but may be misguided by faulty thinking and unsound research. This is the typical, sloppy scholarship that has penetrated the Church at large and deceived (or better put, “distracted”) and preoccupied many people with the wrong things.
This is what is called Eisegesis / Isogesis, which means “to lead in” or “reading into” the sentence; in the Scriptures, it is inserting an opinion that is not there. An example would be to introduce into the text one’s own presuppositions, ideas, and thoughts…where the reader or Bible teacher seeks an answer to his opinion or position to be varied. Thus he/she looks for verification and finds a vague reference, then does not bother to do his/her homework to truly determine what is actually being said…
The question is, did the early Church Fathers teach rapture? The answer is a clear no! I diligently studied their writings trying to prove a rapture theory and I never found it. Did they teach that all Christians will escape the Tribulation through a gathering to the Lord, or that they would go through it? Either position is possible, but highly unlikely, as the context and subject of these quotes and others is off issue or on a different subject than the position being inserted into the text. Also, the terms used then are not the same as what we use today and thus we make assumptions that are not based on fact. In other words, we assume and do not check out the facts, and thus make a dogma out of speculations and nonsense; in so doing, we miss the main point of it all.
This is the classic quote that is often used for both positions:
The Shepherd of Hermas.
You have escaped from great tribulation on account of your faith, and because you did not doubt in the presence of such a beast. Go, therefore, and tell the elect of the Lord His mighty deeds, and say to them that this beast is a type of the great tribulation that is coming. If then ye prepare yourselves, and repent with all your heart, and turn to the Lord, it will be possible for you to escape it, if your heart be pure and spotless, and ye spend the rest of the days of your life in serving the Lord blamelessly.
Is this evidence of pre-tribulation-ism and/or a rapture, or is it a pre-tribulation escape from the Tribulation? First, one needs to learn how to read, not a quip, but when we read, ask the question, what is it? What did that term or name mean then to the original author and audience, not what does it mean to me nearly two thousand years later, filtered with preconceived theological bias or a desire to prove some theory. We also need to look at the context and word usages. The same is with the other quotes like Brother Dolcino and the Apostolic Brethren statements. They are not saying a rapture, but speculating what might happen with a view that is not in Scripture, but may have some distant semblance to modern speculations that are also not based on Scripture. And, if one did some basic research, they would find that Brother Dolcino and the Apostolic Brethren were quickly refuted by scholars who did their homework. (By the way, these issues are so minor it is absurd we argue about them. By doing so, we disservice our Lord and take the attention off what He has for us.)
The real issue in Revelation and what this quote in Hermas alludes to is all about loyalty. The author tells us what is important, to not doubt in the presence of such a beast (meaning to not lose faith or doubt because one’s circumstances are tough. Beast refers to your opposition by political force or personal sin or persecution). Then, he states: prepare yourselves (meaning grow in faith), and repent (escape false thinking and embrace Christ as LORD) with all your heart, (make Christ first and foremost in one’s life) and turn to the Lord (lead your life as what Christ would have me do). This is about the continuing theme of our faith and allegiance, and about the contest and contrast of the mark of loyalty versus disloyalty. It refers to the loyalty of the faithful contrasting with the disloyalty of those who desire evil over the Way of God. If we try to read into this an end-time scenario, we miss the main point and delude ourselves. Further, if we teach this nonsense, we distract people from what is really important. We become the false teacher so refuted by 2 Peter. Read Matthew 24 and see what our Lord said about this. The point here is that God sees and protects those who are His (Rev. 3:12; 7:3-8; 13:16; 14:1-1; 22:4).
The true question to us all is not what esoteric theory best suits us; rather, will our loyalty and faith be to ourselves and/or evil, being easily led by manipulations, or will our allegiance be to the Lord and marked by Christ? Will our faith be about Christ as LORD or will our time and energies be spent on gibberish, distracting us and others away from faith, obedience, spiritual maturity, character, and Fruit?
Our trust in Christ (salvation) is what delivers us and daily life with the choices we make. This is not about esoteric whims; rather, it is about the practice of faith and trust and obedience in harsh times while still being loyal to Christ. This is what the Revelation was telling those seven churches and what it is telling us now.
How would you contrast loyalty versus disloyalty in your faith? What about how your church is run? How do you display loyalty to God and others?
These are the real issues; when we make up these foolish inconsequential theories, we take our eyes off Christ and place them on ourselves or something worse….we end up serving Satan or becoming a false teacher and flutter for our redactors and opponents while we forget about our Living LORD!