Did the early Church Fathers teach a rapture or a particular position of it?

 

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 EisegesisIsogesis, 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!

Revelation Historicist view

The fourth view is the Historicist view, started in the 13th century under Joachim of Floris (1202), and portrays Revelation as a template for principles of history. It is a panoramic depiction of the history and future of the Church.

This is an easy view to take as many events from Nero, the Roman papacy were all versions of the antichrist, as the Middle Ages, the French Revolution, and two World Wars to mention a few. All such events depict the outline that Revelation gives us. This is why so many Christians in those days said that those were the last days. Calvin and Luther held mostly to this view, too.

This view asserts that the prophecies of the Apocalypse are an outline of church history and take place over a 2000+ years period of time, climaxing with Jesus’ Second Coming. Its purpose is primarily to encourage Christians of any age. The problem is the images and themes become speculative and subjective and any interpretation becomes prejudiced to the currant news of the day.

Revelation Idealist view

The Third is the Idealist view, which came about under 19th century liberalism. This view maintains that the prophecies of the Apocalypse are not specific events or indicate any specific historical or future happening. Rather, they are only poetry and symbolisms.

This view ascertains principles and ideas of our war with Satan, and will repeat in various forms until the Second Coming. Its only value is teaching us that good will eventually have victory over evil. The problem is that those who hold this view refuse to associate the images with any specific future events, and miss the point that Revelation is written in an apocalyptic genre, and thus the language is clear, that the images and themes have or will have history and significance (Rev. 4:1).

The fact is that Revelation does teach us how Satan operates and we can use these principles for understanding and combating Spiritual Warfare. In addition, these principles have been in play and at work all through church history. However, this view ignores the veracity of prophecy.

The History of the Rapture

This doctrine is new; it was never taught or even discussed prior to the 1830’s. It seems to have first come from a “prophetic vision” by Margaret Macdonald, a woman in 1830, who was a part of the cult group the “Irvingites,” while having an emotional experience. Through a “mingled prophecy and vision” (breakdown), and saying “the power of the Holy Spirit,” she came up with this. She was very ill and delusional according to physicians and learned observers at the time. How, how, how did this get to doctrinal status? In spite of her condition, people believed her. Not ministers trained in the Word, not those who were pious Christians, not those with discernment, but those seeking a new fad and emotional experience, just as so many do today. By the way, she was a cultist! Then another cult group in England picked this up by the name of “The Catholic Apostolic Church,” headed by Edward Irving (1792-1834). After that, another cult group called the “Millerites,” predicted the return of Christ on October 22, 1844. It did not happen; that should have been a clue, but this would not die.

At the same time, this belief was then picked up by Irish born minister, lawyer, evangelist and author, John N. Darby in 1930, who took this new fad to America in 1862 to 1877. He was looking for a “hook” in his motivational Bible speeches to attract crowds in England and on his visit to the Americas, USA, and Canada. People who knew him said he was not well schooled in the Bible or original languages, read into the Bible all kinds of ridiculous ideas. Many people today still believe in him, especially Baptists who love this guy; he is a favored son.

I have his commentaries and find them insightful in places and they are also posted in our sister site http://www.withtheword.org/. But you have to be very discerning and know the Bible before reading them, so you can filter out the garbage to get to the pearls. He was, in fact, a failed lawyer who was very “intolerant to criticism” and prideful. This should be another clue. He managed to become an Anglican priest in 1826 and his theories were rejected by all in his denomination. He then developed a poor method of biblical interpretation called dispensationalism (The Problem with Dispensationalism!)—another clue.

But he is a testament on how God uses our foolishness. He founded the Plymouth Brethren Church and has been very popular amongst fundamentalists. The very popular commentary of the Bible he produced has many great insights and with great financial backing, he was able to give free copies to just about every preacher and minister in England and America who were starved for resources. Many only had a Bible and that was it. A well-done commentary, or so they thought, was received with open arms. And this spurred on countless sermons. But he did not do his homework in the Bible. It is filled with errors and illogical content amongst the good stuff, as he put in many of his not so well thought out ideas as fact. Then his theories were picked up by another great reference, the very first study Bible, given out to just about every preacher and evangelist beginning in 1909, and one we still have today, The Scofield Study Bible.

Where are the Bible passages for this? Is this not clear in Scripture? Many people think so, but take a look for yourself. The most popular Bible references are John 14:2–3; 1 Corinthians 15:49–55; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-7. The best thing to do is read the passages in their context and you will clearly see for yourself what they say. If you “read into” them, you can make them say anything as you “feel” the words. But God calls us to faith and to reason, as these texts also state!

What happened? How did this get all mixed up? Scofield took the Latin word, raeptius, which is an equivalent of the Greek word harpazo used in the 1 Thessalonians 4:17 passage. Harpazo means “caught up” as we previously saw and the Latin means more like “taken away”. It is believed he anglicized it to be the first to use the term Rapture. By the way “caught up” and “taken away” are used in most newer English translations of the Bible. The word caught up or taken away is correctly placed. But in the English, not knowing what this means may cause all sorts of runaway thinking.

Then this was further popularized the book, Jesus Is Coming by evangelist William Blackstone, who also sought hooks to motivate people and not so much the Lord, or it seems so from his writings. This work sold more than one million copies. Then the rapture gets a new day by in 1957, when respected Theologian from Dallas Seminary, Dr. John Walvoord, wrote a book called, “The Rapture Question.” He has done great work in Romans and I love what he did with Hebrews, but it seems he did not check his facts and read into the passage a presumption he saw as fact because it was in his favorite work, Scofield Study Bible. But he did not declare it a dogmatic fact, but left it open for further research and debate. Apparently he did not “exegete;” he “isogeted.” (By the way, his one volume commentary, The Bible Knowledge, is very well done, except he tends to read in ideas that are not there and he gets Revelation completely wrong.) Then, the rapture gets popular with the publication of Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth, which sold over 15 million copies; his other works and even other popular authors keep spinning this tail.

Some proponents such as Hal Lindsey have taught that Early Church Fathers such as and Origen even Augustine taught the dogma of a Rapture. This is just very bad scholarship at Clement best or lying at worst. I poured over their writings trying to prove a rapture and I never found it. Now with modern software it is easier to search, still not there. Then I asked for the references from the people who think the Church has taught this before; I looked them up; not there either. The emperor has no clothes; they never said it or even alluded to it.

So if someone insists this is a valid doctrine, ask for the Scripture references, then ask for any solid biblical scholarship on it. You will find none as I did not. Yes, many great people think this is true and teach it passionately. They get so caught up in it, pun intended, they do not look it up. Many have made grievous errors by thinking like this such as one of my heroes, Chuck Smith who dogmatically predicted that Jesus would return in 1981. Smith recanted and feels ashamed and forgiven.

I personally went to Hal Lindsey to interview him for this article, which in 1991 was a seminary paper. I was for the rapture view then. However, following that meeting, I knew it was as wrong as my professor had said. Hal was prideful and condescending; he also was not able to answer any of my questions, such as to exegete the key words in the 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 passage, and refused to look at the references he said taught this. I had copies with me. I was there to prove him right, but he proved himself wrong.

So the history of a rapture started out as a prophetic vision inspired by the emotional breakdown of a cultist, that then was picked up by emotional zealots and more cultists unconcerned for biblical truth. Furthermore, it was used as a hook by a prideful preacher who only wanted to give out his nonsensical theorems, then by other evangelists not concerned or trained in the Word. Afterwards, it creeps into the first study Bible, then popular books, and now is it is in the landscape of popular Christian thought.