The Early church on end time prophecy
Preterists often find some quotes from the early church, yet there are numerous quotes from those who were well known in the church that speak of a future tribulation and antichrist. Certainly to take the position that the early church believed it to be fulfilled goes against history. The real question that needs answering is: if it did take place why did they deny it, or not know it?
The early church did not believe the end time prophecies were fulfilled. John's vision goes far beyond a.d.70. As Peter writes "...no prophecy is of private interpretation". 2 Peter 1:20.
"Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" , not some of them. The early Christians did not believe they were in the tribulation, as is claimed by some. They considered the revelation of Antichrist to be entirely in the future, as well as the appearance of the two witnesses. They believed the Antichrist would defile and rule from the Temple in Jerusalem. At this time the Jews had been driven from Jerusalem and the Temple had been destroyed in AD. 70, and Roman law at the time forbid them from returning. What is clear is how they spoke of this event being in the future.
Philip Schaff wrote, "The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene Age [A.D. 100-325] is the prominent chiliasm, or millenarianism, . . . a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers, such as Barnabas, Papia, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church Vol. 2, p. 614.)
Didache (written between 80- 100 AD) was used as a church document "then shall appear the world-deceiver as Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, ...but they that endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. And then shall appear the signs of the truth; first, the sign of an out-spreading in heaven; then the sign of the sound of the trumpet; and the third, the resurrection of the dead; yet not of all, but as it is said: The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him. Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven." (Didache - Chapter 16)
Justin Martyr: (AD. 110-165)
"[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 , ... Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world. For it is plain that, though beheaded, and crucified, and thrown to wild beasts, and chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; but the more such things happen, the more do others and in larger numbers become faithful, and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus." [Dialog with Trypho, CX]
Tertullian (AD 150-220) that the beast Antichrist, with his false prophet may wage war on the Church of God; (On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 25)
Irenaeus (AD 140-202) and put the church to flight. After that they shall be destroyed by the coming of our Lord." (Against Heresies V, XXVI, 1
"Moreover, another danger, by no means trifling, shall overtake those who falsely presume that they know the name of Antichrist. For if these men assume one [number], when this [Antichrist] shall come having another, they will be easily led away by him, as supposing him not to be the expected one, who must be guarded against. These men, therefore, ought to learn [what really is the state of the case], and go back to the true number of the name, that they be not reckoned among false prophets. But, knowing the sure number declared by Scripture, that is, six hundred sixty and six, let them await , in the first place, the division of the kingdom into ten; then, in the next place, when these kings are reigning, and beginning to set their affairs in order, and advance their kingdom, [let them learn] to acknowledge that he who shall come claiming the kingdom for himself, and shall terrify those men of whom we have been speaking, having a name containing the aforesaid number, is truly the abomination of desolation. ... It is therefore more certain, and less hazardous, to await the fulfillment of the prophecy , than to be making surmises , and casting about for any names that may present themselves, inasmuch as many names can be found possessing the number mentioned; and the same question will, after all, remain unsolved. ... But he indicates the number of the name now, that when this man comes we may avoid him, being aware who he is : ... But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day; and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance, in which kingdom the Lord declared, that many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." [Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book V, XXX]
Irenaeus (AD120-202) :
"This he does, in order that they who do [now] worship the devil by means of many abominations, may serve himself by this one idol, of whom the apostle thus speaks in the second Epistle to the Thessalonians: 'Unless there shall come a failing away first, and the man of sin shall be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself as if he were God.' The apostle therefore clearly points out his apostasy, and that he is lifted up above all that is called God, or that is worshipped - that is, above every idol - for these are indeed so called by men, but are not [really] gods; and that he will endeavor in a tyrannical manner to set himself forth as God. 2. Moreover, he (the apostle) has also pointed out this which I have shown in many ways, that the temple in Jerusalem was made by the direction of the true God. For the apostle himself, speaking in his own person, distinctly called it the temple of God. Now I have shown in the third book, that no one is termed God by the apostles when speaking for themselves, except Him who truly is God, the Father of our Lord, by whose directions the temple which is at Jerusalem was constructed for those purposes which I have already mentioned; in which [temple] the enemy shall sit, endeavoring to show himself as Christ, as the Lord also declares: 'But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, which has been spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him that readeth understand), then let those who are in Judea flee into the mountains; and he who is upon the house-top, let him not come down to take anything out of his house: for there shall then be great hardship, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall be.'" [Against Heresies, Book V, XXV,1&2]
Irenaus spoke of this as future not past
but also by means of the events which shall occur in thetime of Antichrist is it shown that he, being an apostate and a robber, is anxious to be adored as God; and that, although a mere slave, he wishes himself to be proclaimed as a king. For he (Antichrist) being endued with all the power of the devil, shall come, not as a righteous king, nor as a legitimate king, [i.e., one] in subjection to God, but an impious, unjust, and lawless one; as an apostate, iniquitous and murderous; as a robber, concentrating in himself [all] satanic apostasy, and setting aside idols to persuade [men] that he himself is God, raising up himself as the only idol, having in himself the multifarious errors of the other idols. CHAP. XXV.-- IRENAEUS AGAINST HERESIES BOOK V.
Nor let any one of you, beloved brethren, be so terrified by the fear of future persecution, or the coming of the threatening Antichrist, as not to be found armed for all things by the evangelical exhortations and precepts, and by the heavenly warnings. Antichrist is coming… but immediately the Lord follows to avenge our sufferings and our wounds . (Epistles of Cyprian, LIII, p.722)
Cyprian: (AD200-258) " For even Antichrist, when he shall begin to come, shall not enter into the Church because he threatens; neither shall we yield to his arms and violence, because he declares that he will destroy us if we resist. ... It matters nothing to us by whom, or when we are slain, since we shall receive from the Lord the reward of our death and of our blood. Their concision is to be mourned and lamented, whom the devil so blinds, that, without considering the eternal punishments of Gehenna, they endeavor to imitate the coming of Antichrist, who is now approaching." [Cyprian, Epistle LIV, 19]
"Nor let any one of you, beloved brethren, be so terrified by the fear of future persecution, or the coming of the threatening Antichrist, as not to be found armed for all things by the evangelical exhortations and precepts, and by the heavenly warnings. Antichrist is coming, but above him comes Christ also. The enemy goeth about and rageth, but immediately the Lord follows to avenge our sufferings and our wounds. The adversary is enraged and threatens, but there is One who can deliver us from his hands. He is to be feared whose anger no one can escape, as He Himself forewarns, and says: 'Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.' And again: 'He that loveth his life, shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world, shall keep it unto life eternal.' And in the Apocalypse He instructs and forewarns, saying, 'If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead or in his hand, the same also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, mixed in the cup of His indignation, and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and the smoke of their torments shall ascend up for ever and ever; and they shall have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image.' [Cyprian, Epistle LV, 7]
Victorinus (AD 269-271) "He shall cause also that a golden image of Antichrist shall be placed in the temple at Jerusalem, and that the apostate angel should enter, and thence utter voices and oracles... The Lord, admonishing His churches concerning the last times and their dangers, ... three years and six months, in which with all his power the devil will avenge himself under Antichrist against the Church." (Commentary on the Apocalypse, 20:1-3) 6
Hippolytus (AD 160-240) " ... the one thousand two hundred and three score days (the half of the week) during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the Church …” (Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 61) 7
"As these things, then, are in the future, and as the ten toes of the image are equivalent to (so many) democracies, and the ten horns of the fourth beast are distributed over ten kingdoms, let us look at the subject a little more closely, and consider these matters as in the clear light of a personal survey. The golden head of the image and the lioness denoted the Babylonians; the shoulders and arms of silver, and the bear, represented the Persians and Medes; the belly and thighs of brass, and the leopard, meant the Greeks, who held the sovereignty from Alexander’s time; the legs of iron, and the beast dreadful and terrible, expressed the Romans, who hold the sovereignty at present; the toes of the feet which were part clay and part iron, and the ten horns, were emblems of the kingdoms that are yet to rise; the other little horn that grows up among them meant the Antichrist in their midst; the stone that smites the earth and brings judgment upon the world was Christ." [Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 27,28]
"Thus, then, does the prophet set forth these things concerning the Antichrist, who shall be shameless, a war-maker, and despot, who, exalting himself above all kings and above every God, shall build the city of Jerusalem, and restore the sanctuary. Him the impious will worship as God, and will bend to him the knee, thinking him to be the Christ. He shall cut off the two witnesses and forerunners of Christ, who proclaim His glorious kingdom from heaven, as it is said: 'And I will give (power) unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.' As also it was announced to Daniel: 'And one week shall confirm a covenant with many; and in the midst of the week it shall be that the sacrifice and oblation shall be removed' - that the one week might be shown to be divided into two. The two witnesses, then, shall preach three years and a half; and Antichrist shall make war upon the saints during the test of the week , and desolate the world, that what is written may be fulfilled: 'And they shall make the abomination of desolation for a thousand two hundred and ninety days.' [Hippolytus, On Daniel, II, 39]
I. But (2) there is another among these heretics, Marcus by name, who boasts himself as having improved upon his master. He is a perfect adept in magical impostures, and by this means drawing away a great number of men, and not a few women, he has induced them to join themselves to him, as to one who is possessed of the greatest
knowledge and perfection, and who has received the highest power from the invisible and ineffable regions above.
Thus it appears as if he really were the precursor of Antichrist. For, joining the buffooneries of Anaxilaus(3) to the craftiness of the magi, as they are called, he is regarded by his senseless and cracked-brain followers as working
miracles by these means. CHAP. XIII. THE MARTYRDOM OF THE HOLY MARTYRS
JUSTIN, CHARITON, CHARITES, PAEON, AND LIBERIANUS, WHO SUFFERED AT ROME.[TRANSLATED BY THE REV. M. DODS, M.A.]
The early Church believed that the Antichrist, the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, its defilement by the man of sin, the persecutions he was to bring, the commitment of the ten kings to this man and a final attack on Jerusalem and the Jews were to happen at a future time within the confined period of time known as Daniel's 70th week. What must be remembered is that the early Church fathers received what was handed down by the apostles AFTER the destruction of the Jewish temple and the dispersing of the Jews, yet spoke of the Antichrist and his evil system as in the future.
Ephraem the Syrian, lived from A.D. 306 to 373 Turkey was a writer and poet, and a major theologian of the early Byzantine Eastern Church . "For all the saints and Elect of God are gathered, prior to the Tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins " (On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World, by Ephraem the Syrian, A.D. 373).
Adolph Harnack said, "First in point of time came the faith in the nearness
of Christ's second advent and the establishing of His reign of glory on the
earth. Indeed it appears so early that it might be questioned as an
essential part of the Christian religion. . . . it must be admitted that
this expectation was a prominent feature in the earliest proclamation of
the gospel, and materially contributed to its success. If the primitive
churches had been under the necessity of framing a 'Confession of Faith,'
it would certainly have embraced those pictures by means of which the near
future was distinctly realized." (Adolph Harnack, "Millennium," The Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th Edition XVI, pp. 314-15).