Whilst the division within the church on matters concerning the end times remains, I thought it would be useful to explore what the early church believed in the years that followed the Lord returning to Heaven. Fortunately, there are many historical documents, letters and papers written within the first couple of centuries, and in some cases only a few years after the ascension, which actually give great insight into eschatological viewpoints held at the earliest time of church history. Ultimately it is only the Bible that we uphold as scripture, even so, I think it is still relevant to at least have an awareness and understanding of what the early church believed. I won’t give my own interpretation here, but instead simply quote the text and allow the writing to speak for itself.
Didache (c 50 – c 120).
The Didache is also known as the “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”. It is believed to be the earliest Christian document other than the Bible, and serves as a treatise over a number of belief and practices within the very earliest church history. More information about the Didache can be found online, but as a summary here, the document is broken down into three main sections. The first section expounds upon the two ways, that is the way of life (chapters 1 to 4), and the way of death (chapter 5) , and gives numerous instructions directly from Scripture and the words of Jesus. The second section (chapters 6 – 15) gives instruction of the ordinances within the church, that of baptism, the Lord’s supper, church organisation etc. Then the third section (chapter 16) is on the things to come. The following is chapter 16
Didache Chapter 16
I said I wouldn’t give my own interpretation here, but only to point out in particular the sequence of events as stated above:
- False prophets and destroyers multiplied v6
- Lawlessness increases v7
- The anti Christ appears v8
- The great tribulation v9-11
- Those who endure in the their faith shall be saved v12
- The signs of truth, (a rift in Heaven, voice of a trumpet, resurrection of the dead) v 13-14
- When the world will see the Lord coming upon the clouds with all His saints v16-17
The Epistle of Barnabas (c 70 – c 130)
Epistle of Barnabas 4
The Shepherd of Hermas (c 70 – c 100)
The Shepherd of Hermas Second Vision Chapter 2
Justin Martyr (c 100 – c 165)
Justin Martyr – Dialogue with Trypho Chapter CX
Irenaeus (c 130 – c 202)
Against Heresies Book V Chapter XXVI
And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, “There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be.”(2) For this is the last contest of the righteous, in which, when they overcome they are crowned with incorruption.
Against Heresies Book V Chapter XXIX
3. It is therefore more certain, and less hazardous, to await the fulfilment 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. For if there are many names found possessing this number, it will be asked which among them shall the coming man bear. It is not through a want of names containing the number of that name that I say this, but on account of the fear of God, and zeal for the truth….
Against Heresies Book V Chapter XXX 3
4. But he indicates the number of the name now, that when this man comes we may avoid him, being aware who he is: the name, however, is suppressed, because it is not worthy of being proclaimed by the Holy Spirit.
Against Heresies Book V Chapter XXX 4
For all these and other words were unquestionably spoken in reference to the resurrection of the just, which takes place after the coming of Antichrist, and the destruction of all nations under his rule; in [the times of] which [resurrection] the righteous shall reign in the earth, waxing stronger by the sight of the Lord: and through Him they shall become accustomed to partake in the glory of God the Father, and shall enjoy in the kingdom intercourse and communion with the holy angels, and union with spiritual beings; and [with respect to] those whom the Lord shall find in the flesh, awaiting Him from heaven, and who have suffered tribulation, as well as escaped the hands of the Wicked one.
Against Heresies Book V Chapter XXXV 1