Early Church Writings on the Last Days
Up until the last 180 years the Church has taught and preached that the Antichrist will come and persecute the Church during the Great Tribulation and then Christ will return at the end of the age, resurrect the Church - raise the dead and rapture those who are alive and left.
As you will see from the following quotes representative of the first 19 centuries of church writings, a Post-Tribulation view was the common view. They believed the clear teachings of Scripture, that the Church would face the Antichrist and go through the Great Tribulation before Christ returned. Read these examples and see for yourself.
Didache (AD 100) "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)1
Justin Martyr (AD 100-168) "Two 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, (First Apology of Justin, Chapter 110)2
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)3
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)4
Cyprian (AD 200-258) "[T]he Lord hath foretold that these things would come. With the exhortation of His forseeing word, instructing, and teaching, and preparing, and strengthening the people of His Church for all endurance of things to come. He previously warned us that the adversary would increase more and more in the last times." (Treatise 7) "For you ought to know and to believe, and hold it for certain, that the day of affliction has begun to hang over our heads, and the end of the world and the time of Antichrist to draw near, so that we must all stand prepared for the battle ... “The time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service…” Nor let any one wonder that we are harassed with increasing afflictions, when the Lord before predicted that these things would happen in the last times, (Epistles of Cyprian, LV, 1,2) 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)5
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
Augustine (AD 354-430) “... the kingdom of Antichrist shall fiercely, though for a short time, assail the Church... " (The City of God, XX, 23) 8
Roger Bacon (AD 1214-1274) " … future perils [for the Church] in the times of Antichrist... " (Opus Majus II, p. 634)9
Martin Luther (AD 1483-1546) "[The book of Revelation] is intended as a revelation of things that are to happen in the future, and especially of tribulations and disasters for the Church.... " (Works of Martin Luther, VI, p. 481)10
John Knox (AD 1515-1572) “the great love of God towards his Church, whom he pleased to forewarne of dangers to come ... to wit, The man of sin, The Antichrist... " (The Historie of the Reformation etc., 1, p. 76)11
Roger Williams (AD 1603-1683) "Antichrist ... hath his prisons, to keep Christ Jesus and his members fast " (The Bloody Tenent etc., p. 153)12
Morgan Edwards (AD 1722-1795) "[Antichrist] has hitherto assumed no higher title than 'the vicar general of Christ on earth'..."(Two Academical Exercises etc., p. 20)13
Charles Hodge (AD 1797-1878) "...the fate of his Church here on earth ... is the burden of the Apocalypse" (Systematic Theology, III, p. 827)14
Carl F. Keil (AD 1807-1888) " … the persecution of the last enemy Antichrist against the Church of the Lord ... (Biblical Commentary, YXMV, p. 503)15
Beginning in about 1832 a new teaching and theology began to creep into the churches. One of the first to teach this view was John Nelson Darby, the father of modern Dispensationalism. His theology was later picked up by C. I. Scofield and popularized in The Scofield Study Bible. Several evangelical schools adopted the Dispensational Theology and began to teach it and incorporate it into their doctrinal positions. Many wrote and taught versions of Dispensationalism, but the most popular idea promoted by this theology was a Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church. This idea is very appealing because it teaches that the Church will not have to face the tribulation of the last seven-year period prophesied in Daniel 9:27. Many authors and teachers have become incredibly popular promoting the idea of a Pre-Tribulation escape for the Church and have been able to sell millions of books. Today in Christian bookstores the most popular end times books, whether theological or fictional, promote this new teaching of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. There have even been feature length motion pictures released promoting this new doctrine.
The original and true teaching of Scripture is now maintained by a relatively small remnant of believers. They continue to hold to the clear statements of Scripture regarding the return of Christ. The Bible states that the resurrection of all believers will take place after the Antichrist when Christ returns to establish His Kingdom on the Day of the Lord.
Richard H Perry
1 - 15 Ages Digital Library – The Master Christian Library – Version 8