The blessed hope of Christianity is that one day those believers who have preceded us in death will be raised to life again. At the same time, those of us who are alive will be raptured and join those saints around the throne of God.
…from the archives of J.R. Church – April 1995
While attending the Florida Prophecy Conference recently, I heard Grant Jeffrey talk about his upcoming book, FINAL WARNING, due out in a few weeks. He refuted the claims of those who hold a mid or post tribulation rapture theory by relating two discoveries of ancient writings, in which the pretribulation rapture was taught. I was delighted to hear about his discovery.
You may have heard about Dave McPherson’s book, THE INCREDIBLE RAPTURE COVERUP, in which he suggested that John Darby first came up with the teaching of a pretrib rapture in 1820. He claimed that Darby’s view came from a Scottish girl, Margaret MacDonald, who supposedly had fallen into a trance and had a vision. The truth of the matter is that Margaret MacDonald said that her vision revealed a mid-trib rapture of only the most holy! John Darby had preached his view of the pretribulation rapture long before Margaret had her so-called vision.
On the other hand, another post-tribber, John Bray of Lakeland, Florida, wrote that a Jesuit priest, Emmanuel Laconza, originally came up with the theory of a pretrib rapture in his book, THE COMING OF MESSIAH IN GLORY AND MAJESTY, written in 1812 – eight years before John Darby espoused his view. According to Bray, McPherson’s attempt to pin the origin of the rapture on John Darby was a bit too hasty. The fact of the matter is that both men are wrong. Early church leaders believed and taught a pretribulation rapture. They also taught the imminency of the rapture – that is that the rapture can occur without notice at any moment. If anything at all has to occur before the rapture, then it cannot be imminent.
To prove his point, Grant Jeffrey cited two sources from the early writing of Christian theologians. They were the Shepherd of Hermes, published in A.D. 110, and two books written by Ephraim the Syrian, published in A.D. 376. They are ANTICHRIST AND THE END OF THE WORLD and CAVE OF TREASURES. According to Grant Jeffrey, these two books by Ephraim the Syrian were translated into English only recently.
The Shepherd of Hermes (A.D. 110)
In 1844, a bound volume of New Testament books was found in an excavation at the Saint Catherine monastery located near the foot of Mount Sinai. It is called the Sinaiticus. It contains all 27 New Testament Books, plus two others – the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermes.
In the Shepherd of Hermes, the author relates a vision. He said, “I saw a huge beast [corresponding to the beast of Revelation 13]. The beast has four colors [corresponding to the colors of the four horsemen of Revelation 6]. It is 100 feet long. But I escaped, thanks to the grace and power of God.”
Then he meets a virgin dressed in white who says, “Thou hast escaped a great tribulation because thou hast believed and at the sight of such a huge beast, have not doubted. Go therefore, and declare to the elect of the Lord His mighty deeds and say to them that this beast is a type of the Great Tribulation which is to come. If you, therefore, prepare yourselves and with your whole heart turn to the Lord in repentance, then you shall be able to escape it.”
Regardless of the stylized circumstances related in his reported vision, Hermes, nevertheless, taught a pretribulation rapture. Though the book has never been accepted as inspired scripture, it at least shows the prevailing theology of one of the most prominent theologians in those few short years following the writing of John’s Revelation in A.D. 96. Furthermore, his view must have followed a reading of the book of Revelation. It was evidently a commentary on this last book of the New Testament. The Shepherd of Hermes was considered important enough to be included in the collection of New Testament writings at the Sinai monastery of Saint Catherine – built in the fourth century.
Ephraim the Syrian (A.D. 376)
Also in the fourth century, Ephraim the Syrian wrote a small book entitled, ANTICHRIST AND THE END OF THE WORLD. He published this and other works in A.D. 376. His works remained in relative obscurity throughout the centuries in their native language. They were only recently translated into English.
In ANTICHRIST AND THE END OF THE WORLD, Ephraim said, “We ought to understand thoroughly, therefore my brothers, what is imminent or overhanging. Already there have been hungers and plagues, violent movements of nations and sins, which have been predicted by the Lord. Prepare ourselves for the meeting of the Lord Christ so that He may draw us from the confusion which overwhelms the world. Believe you me, dearest brothers, because the coming of the Lord is nigh. Believe you me because the end of the world is at hand. Believe me because it is the very last time.
Because all Saints and the elect of the Lord are gathered together before the Tribulation which is about to come and are taken to the Lord in order that they may not see at anytime the confusion that overwhelms the world because of our sins. And so brothers most dear to me, it is the eleventh hour, and the end of this world comes to the harvest and angels armed and prepared hold sickles in their hands awaiting the empire or kingdom of the Lord…
“When therefore the end of the world comes, that abominable, lying, and murderous one who is born from the tribe of Dan….He is conceived from the seed of a man and from a most vile virgin mixed with an evil or worthless spirit.
“Therefore, when he receives the kingdom, he orders the Temple of God to be rebuilt for himself which is in Jerusalem who, after coming into it, he shall sit as God in order that he may be adored by all nations.
“Then all people from everywhere shall flock together to him and the holy city shall be trampled on by the nations for 42 months. Just as the holy apostle says in the Apocalypse which becomes 3 and 1/2 years – 1260 days.
“Then when the 3 and 1/2 years have been completed, the time of antichrist through which he will have seduced the world, after the resurrection of the two prophets, in the hour which the world does not know and on the day which the enemy or son of perdition does not know, will come the sign of the son of man. And coming forward, the Lord shall appear with great power and much majesty with the sign of the word of salvation going before Him.”
Ephraim the Syrian also wrote another book, CAVE OF TREASURES, in which he elaborated upon the antichrist:
“The Jews have no longer among them a king or priest or prophet or Passover. Even as Daniel prophesied concerning them saying, ‘after two and sixty weeks Christ shall be slain and the city of holiness shall be laid waste until the completion of things decreed.’ At the end of the world and at the final consummation, suddenly the gates of the north shall be open. They will destroy the earth and there be none able to stand before them. After one week they will all be destroyed in the plane of Joppa. Then will the Son of Perdition appear of the seed and tribe of Dan. He’ll go into Jerusalem, will sit on the throne, etc.”
First, please note that Ephraim the Syrian taught a pretribulation rapture. Evidently, he was not encumbered by the writings of Roman theologians, Origen (185-254) and Augustine (354-425).
Origen was the first to become discouraged with prophecy, turn from a literal interpretation of the Bible, and espouse an allegorical method of interpretation. He corrupted early Christian theology in Rome with the idea that Gentile Christianity had replaced the Jews as God’s Chosen People.
A literal view points to Israel as the heir to the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. Since the holyland had been destroyed and the Jews scattered to the slave markets of the world, it seemed only natural to view the Scriptures from a new perspective. Origen thought that God was finished with the Jews and had turned over their inheritances, which He had promised to Israel, to the church instead.
Church historian A.H. Newman wrote, “Origen was the first to reduce the allegorical method of interpretation to the system….His method of Scripture interpretation was soon adopted throughout the church, and prevailed throughout the middle ages. In this particular, Origen’s influence was bad, and only bad.”
Augustine followed Origen’s theology and developed the alegorical view into a theology that has dominated European Christianity until this very day.
Over the centuries, however, some have continued to hold to the original view – a literal interpretation of Scripture, in which the Jews are promised a return to their land in the last days. With the reformation, some 400 years ago, theologians began to return to a literal interpretation and, eventually, the pretribulation rapture view was revived.