After reviewing Irenaeus’ ‘Against Heresies’ Book 5, I have removed my original comment and am replacing it with this:
Book 5 does render the Antichrist to come as reigning for 3 1/2 ‘years’.
This given scripture only ever refers to the period as ‘three and a half times’ in the Aramaic and Hebrew.
Irenaeus in the same chapter says it is believed that the Antichrist will reign for a long time.
Again this to me doesn’t suggest a mere 3.5 literal years.
In regard to the millennium, it does seem to me that Irenaeus expects a millennial reign after the return of Christ, something I disagree with on several grounds and have discussed elsewhere.
Now it has also been asserted (correctly) that Irenaeus was a contemporary of Polycarp and John.
While he would have been a child and possibly a young man when John was still alive, I have yet to see a reference that suggests he ever met either of them.
Irenaeus (130 A.D. – 202 AD) was a bishop of the church in Lyons, France. He was an eyewitness to the Apostle John (who wrote the Book of Revelation) and a disciple of Polycarp, the first of the Apostle John’s disciples. Irenaeus is most-known for his five-volume treatise, Against Heresies in which he exposed the false religions and cults of his day along with advice for how to share the Gospel with those were a part of them.
In his writings on Bible prophecy, he acknowledged the phrase “a time, times and dividing of times” in Daniel 7 to signify the 3 ½ year reign of the Antichrist as ruler of the world before the Second Coming of Christ. He also believed in a literal Millennial reign of Christ on earth following the Second Coming and the resurrection of the just.
On the subject of the Rapture, in Against Heresies 5.29, he wrote:
“Those nations however, who did not of themselves raise up their eyes unto heaven, nor returned thanks to their Maker, nor wished to behold the light of truth, but who were like blind mice concealed in the depths of ignorance, the word justly reckons “as waste water from a sink, and as the turning-weight of a balance — in fact, as nothing;”(1) so far useful and serviceable to the just, as stubble conduces towards the growth of the wheat, and its straw, by means of combustion, serves for working gold. 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.”
Irenaeus in this passage describes the church leaving the sinful world just before unprecedented disasters. Note his use of the term “caught up” which is Rapture terminology as that is the meaning of harpazo, the term for “caught up” in the King James Bible describing the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4. He then quotes Matthew 24:21 where The Lord Jesus Christ says: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” And it is during this time that those who convert to Christianity during the final years will receive the incorruptible crown mentioned by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:25. In Irenaeus’ belief, the Rapture took place prior to the end times Great Tribulation.
Cyprian (200 AD – 258 AD) – Cyprian was Bishop of the church in Carthage. During his short stint as leader of the church, he guided the flock through intense persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire. In 258 AD after spending seven months of confinement to his home by order of Roman authorities, he was beheaded for his faith. Several of his works still exist today.
In Treatises of Cyprian he wrote in describing the end times Great Tribulation:
“We who see that terrible things have begun, and know that still more terrible things are imminent, may regard it as the greatest advantage to depart from it as quickly as possible. Do you not give God thanks, do you not congratulate yourself, that by an early departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent? Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us hence, and sets us free from the snares of the world and restores us to paradise and the kingdom.”
Again we see use of language commonly found in reference to the Rapture as Cyprian describes the judgments of the end times as “imminent.” And he makes his belief on the timing of the Rapture when he wrote that Christians will have an “early departure” and be “delivered” from the devastating global judgments that come during the Day of The Lord.
In line with the Apostle Paul who wrote that “God has not appointed us to wrath, but salvation..” Cyprian expressed joy and encourages the believing reader to rejoice that the Church will be “taken away” before the disastrous Great Tribulation. Just as The Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 24 used the same language of one “taken away” and the other “left.” Additionally Cyprian references the mansions which The Lord Jesus Christ promises to come back and take His believers to in John 14.
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” – John 14:1-3.
As Beginning and End detailed in our article “The Red Moon Rapture – The Biblical Timing of The Rapture”, in both the Matthew 24 passages (“one taken, the other left”) and in John 14 (“..receive you unto myself..”) the Greek work paralambanō is used for taken and receive. The meaning of that word is “join to one’s self” indicating that Jesus is coming to fully unify with His church – which takes place at the Rapture. Clearly Cyprian believed and taught that the Rapture takes place before the Great Tribulation.
Most who claim the pre-trib rapture position is recent, tell us it was started in 1830 by a man named J.N. Darby. In fact, that is what the Rev. John L. Bray believes and he offered $500.00 to anyone who could show that the pre-tribulation rapture was taught by anyone prior to 1830. Many produced the “proof” and it cost Bray a lot of money. In fact, he had to withdraw the offer.
According to Irenaeus, two friends known as Papias and Polycarp were both students of the Apostle John (who wrote the Revelation). Extant writings show these men believed in a pre-tribulation rapture. The Shepherd of Hermas in the year 150 AD preached a pre-tribulation rapture. Victorinus proclaimed it in the year 270 AD. Ephraim the Syrian in 350 AD said the church would be gone when the judgments in Revelation are on the earth. Following the thousand years known historically as the Dark Ages, Rev Dolcino declared it once again in 1315 AD. The pre-tribulation rapture continued to be taught in 1555 AD by Hugh Latimer who was burned at the stake said just before he died that Christians would miss the Tribulation. To this list we could also add: Joseph Mede in 1620, Cotton Mather in 1640, Peter Jurieu in 1697, Morgan Edwards in 1742, John Gill in 1748, James Macknight in 1763, and scores of others.
Now, I would not agree with all the theology of these men (any more than someone who takes the mid-trib or pre-wrath position would agree with everything that others who hold that position believe). The point to be made is that the pre-trib position is not ‘relatively new.’ It is older than all other eschatological positions as it reaches back to the first century church.
Corruption of the pre-tribulation rapture began when Paul was still alive, “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ” (2 Cor 2:17 cf. 2 Tim 2:18). It is also apparent that all of the Apostles had to deal with it, “…not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully…” (2 Cor 4:2). Peter states that all of Paul’s writings were Scripture and that to wrestle against them was at the cost of your own soul, “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things…which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).
Books containing false doctrine but claiming to be Scripture have been around since the first century (2 Thess 2:2). That’s why Paul would clearly warn, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:8).
THE REFORMATION CHURCH
Premillennialism began to be revived as a result of at least three factors. First, the Reformers went back to the sources, which for them was the Bible and Apostolic Fathers. This exposed them to an orthodox premillennialism. Specifically significant was the reappearance of the full text of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, which included the last five chapters that espouse a consistent futurism and cast the 70th week of Daniel into the future. Second, they repudiated much, not all, of the allegorization that dominated mediaeval hermeneutics by adopting a more literal approach, especially in the area of the historical exegesis. Third, many of the Protestants came into contact with Jews and learned Hebrew. This raised concerns over whether passages that speak of national Israel were to be taken historically or continued to be allegorized within the tradition of the Middle Ages. The more the Reformers took them as historical, the more they were awakened to premillennial interpretations, in spite of the fact that they were often labeled “Judaizers.” By the late 1500’s and the early 1600’s, premillennialism began to return as a factor within the mainstream church after more than a 1,000 year reign of amillennialism. With the flowering of biblical interpretation during the late Reformation Period, premillennial interpreters began to abound. Others began to speak of the rapture. Paul Benware notes: Peter Jurieu in his book Approaching Deliverance of the Church (1687) taught that Christ would come in the air to rapture the saints and return to heaven before the battle of Armageddon. He spoke of a secret Rapture prior to His coming in glory and judgment at Armageddon. Philip Doddridge’s commentary on the New Testament (1738) and John Gill’s commentary on the New Testament (1748) both use the term rapture and speak of it as imminent. It is clear that these men believed that this coming will precede Christ’s descent to the earth and the time of judgment. The purpose was to preserve believers from the time of judgment. James Macknight (1763) and Thomas Scott (1792) taught that the righteous will be carried to heaven, where they will be secure until the time of judgment is over Frank Marotta, a brethren researcher, believes that Thomas Collier in 1674 makes reference to a pretribulational rapture, but rejects the view,10 thus showing his awareness that such a view was being taught. Perhaps the clearest reference to a pretrib rapture before Darby comes from Baptist Morgan Edwards (founder of Brown University) in 1742-44 who saw a distinct rapture three and a half years before the start of the millennium.