Today, an objection to the rapture doctrine is that it’s new, even as late as the 19th century. The claim is that J.N. Darby (1800-1882) of the Plymouth Brethren invented it, and that C.I. Scofield popularized it.
To disprove this error, we cite the Church Fathers on an early belief in a pre-tribulation rapture. Indeed, this prophecy is already based on Scripture (e.g., Jn 14:1-3; 1 Thess 4:13-18; 1Cor 15:51-54, etc). But these extra-Biblical citations will show a ‘pre-Darby’ understanding in early Christianity.
Not all cited here had complete understanding as to the length of what we call ‘the tribulation period’. Our understanding today is a seven year duration as per Daniel’s 70th week (see Dan 9:24-27). We may misread them as teaching a ‘mid-trib’ rapture. But their view of its duration may have been only three and a half years, not understanding Daniel. The Scripture not using the exact term ‘the tribulation’ makes this understandable. Yet, the Bible refers to the second half of this period as ‘the Great Tribulation’ (Mt 24:21; Rev 2:22; 7:14). Nonetheless, their view of a rapture is pre-tribulation as they understood it.
The progressive nature of revelation should clue us about the Fathers’ partial understanding.
Again, forgetful, we lose revelation truth. We hope in future generations to recover it again. This was true of spiritual gifts, as recovered within Charismatic and Pentecostal circles. This same phenomenon of recovery is true about the doctrine of the rapture.
Christ purposed to teach His coming for the Church as imminent. But Augustinian allegorization of the Scriptures caused expectancy in this hope to fade.
Many scholars today reject the view that the rapture doctrine is only a recent invention. The narrative is that Margaret MacDonald (1815-1840) was the inventor of this teaching. Then, as the story goes, Darby received it from her, and developed it further. But Darby himself undermines this, as he saw her proto-Pentecostal experiences as demonic. It is therefore unlikely that he would’ve borrowed anything from her. Rather, Darby based his beliefs in a pre-tribulation rapture on his own Bible studies.
Church Fathers and the Rapture:
Epistle of Barnabas
“The last stumbling block is at hand, concerning which the Scriptures speak, as Enoch says. For the Master has cut short the times and the days for this reason, that his beloved might make haste and come into his inheritance. And so also speaks the prophet: ‘Ten Kingdoms will reign over the earth, and after them a little king will arise, who will subdue three of the kings with a single blow.’ Similarly Daniel says, concerning the same one: ‘And I saw the fourth beast, wicked and powerful and more dangerous than all the beasts of the earth, and how then horns sprang up from it, and from these a little offshoot of a horn, and how it subdued three of the large horns with a single blow.’ ”
~ Epistle of Barnabas (70-131 A.D.)
1. In the Epistle of Barnabas the citing of Enoch is important, as his translation was before the Flood.
2. Mention of His beloved coming into her inheritance is before the Antichrist beast-kingdom.
“Watch over your life: ‘do not let your lamps go out, and do not be unprepared, but be ready, for you do not know the hour when our Lord is coming.’
Gather together frequently, seeking the things that benefit your souls, for all the time you have believed will be of no use to you if you are not found perfect in the last time.
For in the last days the false prophets and corruptors [of the faith] will abound, and the sheep will be turned into wolves, and love will be turned into hate.
For as lawlessness increases, they will hate, persecute, and betray one another. Then the deceiver of the world will appear as a son of God and will ‘perform signs and wonders’, and the earth will be delivered into his hands, and he will commit abominations the likes of which have never happened before.
Then all humankind will come to the fiery test, and ‘many will fall away’ and perish; but ‘those who endure’ in their faith ‘will be saved’…
And ‘then there will appear the signs’ of the truth: first the sign of an opening in heaven, then the sign of the sound of a trumpet, and third, the resurrection of the dead- but not of all; rather, as it has been said, ‘The Lord will come, and all his saints with him.’
Then the world ‘will see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.’ “
~ The Didache 16:1-8, (late 1st century).
1.The Didache emphasizes what Christ taught referring to His return: preparedness and imminence. The issue of perfection is of concern because of the suddenness of His coming.
2. Note also that mention of His coming precedes the appearance of the Antichrist as a ‘Son of God’.
3. Again, in the order of the ‘signs of truth’ here in the Didache, we see two comings:
1) The opening in heaven, the sound of a trumpet (as in 1Thess 4:16-18; 1Cor 15:51-55), and the resurrection of the dead- but not of all (!). And why?
2) Because the world (left behind) will then see the Lord’s coming with all His (resurrected) saints.
Shepherd of Hermas
“The Fourth vision which I saw, brethren, twenty days after the former vision which came unto me, for a type of the impending tribulation…
“…behold I see a cloud of dust rising as it were to heaven… As [it] waxed greater and greater, I suspected that it was something supernatural.
“Then…behold, I see a huge beast like a seamonster, and from its mouth fiery locusts issued forth.
“…the beast was about a hundred feet in length, and its head was as it were of pottery.
“…I began to weep, and to entreat the Lord that He would rescue me from it…
“…Now the beast was coming on with such a rush, that it might have ruined a city.
“…it stretcheth itself on the ground, and merely put forth its tongue, and stirred not at all until I had passed by it…
“Now after I had passed the beast, …behold, there meeteth me a virgin arrayed as if she were going forth from a bride-chamber, all in white and with white sandals, veiled up to her forehead, and here head-covering consisted of a turban, and here hair was white. I knew from the former visions that it was the Church, and I became more cheerful.
“…She answered and said unto me, ‘Did nothing meet thee?’ I say unto her, ‘Lady, such a huge beast, that could have destroyed whole peoples: but, by the power of the Lord and by His great mercy, I escaped it.’
“[She said], ‘…Thou hast escaped a great tribulation by reason of thy faith, and because, though thou sawest so huge a beast, thou didst not doubt in thy mind. Go therefore, and declare to the elect of the Lord His mighty works, and tell them that this beast is a type of the great tribulation which is to come.”
~ The Shepherd of Hermas IV.1-3, (90-140 A.D.).
1. We see Hermas passing the beast from the sea (Rev 13) safely, a vision on escaping impending tribulation. The beast did not stir as he passed, so too the coming beast-kingdom will not rise until after the rapture.
2. The Church as a virgin coming from the bridal chamber, had already met the Bridegroom.
3. Hermas escapes the approaching beast, ‘…by the power of the Lord and by His great mercy, I escaped it.’
4. Scripture often conjoins the concepts of resurrection (rapture) and power (Rom 1:4; Phil 3:10).
5. The Church also said to Hermas, “Thou hast escaped a great tribulation by reason of thy faith.”
“Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, ‘Speedily will He come, and will not tarry’; and, ‘The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One, for whom ye look’… Let us consider, beloved, how the Lord continually proves to us that there shall be a future resurrection, of which He has rendered the Lord Jesus Christ the firstfruits by raising Him from the dead.”
“Let us therefore strive to be found in the number of those that wait for Him, in order that we may share in His promised gifts.”
~ Clement of Rome (95-96 A.D.), 1Clement 23:5; 24:1; 35:4 [and these follow previous chapters where Enoch, Noah, Lot and Rahab are examples of God’s saving deliverance].
In 1Clement we see the imminence of the Lord’s return as a prominent teaching. Indeed, Clement gives many examples of those delivered before coming judgment. Some of these examples are Enoch, Noah, Lot and Rahab the harlot.
“And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up [Gk. harpadzo, the very same word used in 1Thess 4:17, and translated into Latin as rapiemur, and from there into English as ‘rapture’] 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 (180 A.D.) a disciple of Polycarp, who was in turn a disciple of the apostle John, Against Heresies 5:29.
1. In Irenaeus’s quote, he uses the very same Greek word, ‘harpadzo’, that through the Latin rapiemur translates again as rapture in English.
2. Following the suddenness of the Church’s catching away, he mentions unparalleled tribulation. This is in agreement with Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (Mt 24:21). And though it may seem that the righteous go through it (last contest of the righteous), how it’s worded, but if we take it in context, the rapture preceding the tribulation, the righteous overcome precisely because they bypass what is to come.
“We who see that terrible things have begun, and know that still more terrible things are imminent, may regard it as the greatest advantage to depart from it as quickly as possible. Do you not give God thanks, do you not congratulate yourself, that by an early departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent? Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us hence, and sets us free from the snares of the world and restores us to paradise and the kingdom.”
~ Cyprian (258 A.D.), Treatise of Cyprian.
1. Cyprian mentions an early and quick departure. This escape is from the imminent disasters and shipwrecks to come.
2. The Lord delivers us from the snares of the world, snatched to our home above. These are the heavenly mansions (Gk. abodes) Christ promised at His return, taking us to where He is (Jn 14:1-3).
“We ought to understand thoroughly therefore, my brothers, what is imminent or overhanging. . . . Why therefore do we not reject every care of earthly actions and prepare ourselves for the meeting of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that he may draw us from the confusion, which overwhelms all the world? . . . For all the saints and elect of God are gathered together before the tribulation, which is 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.”
~ Pseudo-Ephraim (7th century), Sermon at the End of the World.
It could not be more clear here, on the continuation of Christ’s message of an imminent return. And that this occurs before we could see what will soon overwhelm the world.
The modern narrative spoon-fed to the Church is that the rapture is a recent invention. Also said, that the word ‘rapture’ isn’t even in the Bible! This of course is not true, though many believers in the doctrine acquiesce, as if it were true. But, it’s not like the word ‘Trinity’, that though the word is absent from the Bible, it’s teaching is irrefutably evident. Yet the word ‘rapture’ is in the Bible, just not this Anglicized version. Instead, the Greek word ἁρπάζω – harpadzo translated into English as caught up (1Thess 4:17).
The Church Fathers quoted above capture the essence and imminence of the Lord’s soon return, particularly as preceding the Tribulation Period, as they understood it.
My hope and prayer is that we are all found of Him spotless and ready at His coming.
Maratha– even so, come Lord Jesus.