Were the Church fathers Pre-trib or Pre-wrath? Part 2

We had previously written an article in response to someone making the assertion that the early church fathers taught that the church would be raptured before the “tribulation period”. In response to this we looked at one church father, Irenaeus, who was supposedly pre-trib according to the article we were refuting, and showed that he was clearly teaching he expected the church would go through the great tribulation and be required to be “overcomers” and be in the “last contest of the righteous”. This is the pre-wrath view of the end times.

Now we want to look at a document called the “Didache“, pronounced Did-ah-kay, which is also known as “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles“. This document is generally accepted as written in the first century and is probably the earliest Christian document outside the New Testament that is reliable. It was attested to by many of the early church fathers such as: Eusebius  (c. 324); Athanasius (367) and Rufinus  (c. 380) list the Didache among the apocrypha books. Generally, it is recognized by many scholars as one of the earliest and most reliable documents reflecting the theology of the early church fathers.

The part we want to look at is Chapter 16, which is the last chapter of the Didache. You will recognize that much of this chapter relates to Matthew 24. Here is the 16th chapter in its entirety:

(CHAPTER 16 Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, Translated by Charles H. Hoole  


16:1 Watch concerning your life; let not your lamps be quenched or your loins be loosed, but be ye ready, for ye know not the hour at which our Lord cometh.

16:2 But be ye gathered together frequently, seeking what is suitable for your souls; for the whole time of your faith shall profit you not, unless ye be found perfect in the last time.

16:3 For in the last days false prophets and seducers shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate;

16:4 and because iniquity aboundeth they shall hate each other, and persecute each other, and deliver each other up; and then shall the Deceiver of the world appear as the Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands; and he shall do unlawful things, such as have never happened since the beginning of the world.

16:5 Then shall the creation of man come to the fiery trial of proof, and many shall be offended and shall perish; but they who remain in their faith shall be saved by the rock of offence itself.

16:6 And then shall appear the signs of the truth; first the sign of the appearance in heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet, and thirdly the resurrection of the dead

16:7 — not of all, but as it has been said, The Lord shall come and all his saints with him;

16:8 then shall the world behold the Lord coming on the clouds of heaven.

{The End of the Didache}

First we can establish it is teaching about the church in the last times when it says, “unless ye be found perfect in the last time”, and for the reference to Jesus clear teaching in Matthew 24 about the timing of His return, “for ye know not the hour at which our Lord cometh” (cf Matt. 24:36, 42, 44). This whole document is written to the early church, so the apostles were teaching that this was for the church. There was no sense that the church would be rescued before this time. Clearly the teaching is that Matthew 24 is written for the church, and not just for the program for the nation of Israel in the last days, as the Pre-tribulationists teach.

Then in 16:3-4 it picks up several themes found in Matthew 24:9-24, which it is clearly relating to the church at this time. In 16:4 we have a very clear statement that the Antichrist, referred to there as “the Deceiver of the world”, will be here at the same time the church is going through these trials. Then there is a statement in 16:5 which can only be the apostles referring to the great tribulation of Matthew 24:21 as “the fiery trial of proof”.

In 16:6 we see a reference to the signs, first of Jesus’ appearance (cf Matt. 24:30).  Following this we see a very interesting reference to the “trumpet” and the “resurrection of the dead”. The trumpet has to do with the gathering which is the rapture/resurrection reference in Matthew 24:31. The resurrection is not explicitly stated as such in Matthew 24, but I believe is what is meant by His elect being gathered “from one end of the sky to the other”. It is the souls of the believing dead that are gathered at the time that the living believers are caught up. Of course they would have been familiar with Paul’s teaching that the rapture and resurrection occur together in 1 Thess. 4:15-17.

In the language of the Didache, there is the appearance of Jesus, a trumpet announcing the rapture and then the resurrection of the dead believers. That is precisely what the pre-wrath rapture view teaches. It is clear that they believed these three events would follow “the fiery trial of proof” in 16:5, which is obviously the great tribulation. That is not what the pre-tribulation rapture view teaches, but it is what the pre-wrath view teaches.

Verse 16:7 shows that the apostles understood that only the saints (elect) would be part of this resurrection. We know that the unbelievers will be part of the second resurrection at the end of the thousand years (Rev. 20:5). Finally they taught in 16:8 that the whole world would see Jesus coming in the clouds of heaven (cf Matt. 24:30).

The Didache shows that the teaching of the apostles was that the church will go through the great tribulation, and following that, the Lord’s return in the clouds would bring the rapture and resurrection. That is the pre-wrath view!


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