What Did the Early Church Fathers Teach on the Timing of the Second Coming?

 
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This presentation on what the early church taught was given last October in O'Fallon Missouri at an eschatology forum. There are three speakers who had twenty minutes each to give their case: Steve Gregg (Preterist), Charles Cooper (Prewrath), Thomas Ice (Pretribulational).

I have included Steve Gregg's presentation because I want you to hear what a preterist case sounds like. It goes something like this:

"Ok, I grudgingly admit that preterism was never taught in the first three hundred years by a Church Father. But who knows!...maybe one day someone may stumble upon in the sands of Egypt an early Church document with preterist teachings, so therefore we can never be too sure what the early Church taught on this subject."

What Gregg also does is he invokes sparse preterist writings from the Church Fathers from AD 300-700 to cast doubt on what the early Church taught, as if they have the same weight as futurist writings from the first and second generations of the Church!

In the second presentation, Cooper demonstrates that the early Church clearly taught that the Church would encounter the Antichrist's Great Tribulation. Cooper even cites in support the authoritative church historian Larry V. Crutchfield, who, himself is a pretribulationalist!

In the third presentation, Ice focuses on the premillennial issue. Prewrath is premillennial as well so we can agree with Ice's points on that issue.

However, Ice makes a false claim by asserting that the early Church Fathers believed in imminency. They certainly did not believe in imminency in the pretribulational sense that the Church would be raptured before the Antichrist's Great Tribulation. And some believed that the Church would be raptured soon because they thought that they were in the midst of the Great Tribulation! So Ice's statements are misleading and incorrect.

The only early citation that Ice attempts to produce is a statement from The Shepherd of Hermas, in which he reads his pretribulational system into this ancient document. He (selectively) cites a statement from Vision 4 that says that if someone has enough faith they can escape a great tribulation. What Ice does is anachronistically reads "escape" as a rapture. But there is nothing in the text that suggests a rapture. In fact, the "escape" in that context indicates a physical escape leaving the person on earth (see Vision 4:2). Nor does Hermas place the Return of Christ before the Great Tribulation. Further, Hermas actually makes statements of enduring the Great Tribulation:

"Blessed are those of you who patiently endure the coming great tribulation and who will not deny their life." (Vision 2:2)

"Therefore those who endure and pass through the flames will be purified by them...The white part is the age to come, in which God's elect will live because those chosen by God for eternal life will be spotless and pure...You have also the foreshadowing of the great tribulation that is coming" (Vision 4:3)

It should also be mentioned that like so many of the other early Church Fathers' exposition of Scripture, this document instead is not didactic intending to interpret what the Bible teaches on the Second Coming -- it is part of a vision. The fact that this is the only citation that Ice can produce within the first four hundred years of Church History is very telling.

Ice also invokes a later Church document called Pseudo-Ephraem and purports that there are pretrib statements. This has been thoroughly refuted in this Parousia Newsletter.

In summary, the term "Prewrath" is new, but its essential teaching goes back to the early Church writers, contra preterism, pretribulationism, and amillennialism.

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