One view of the Rapture says that the Church will be taken up BEFORE the AntiChrist and the Great Tribulation period take place on earth. Another view says that the Church will see the AntiChrist, and go through the Great Tribulation; the Church will be taken up AFTER the Tribulation.
What exactly did the early ‘Church Fathers’ believe?
We are not asking this because we are following men, but merely to establish that an alternate viewpoint may deserve some consideration. “And they [the early church fathers] continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine…” (Acts 2:42)Let's start with Irenaeus. The Apostle John, who saw the Revelation, personally discipled Polycarp, and Polycarp personally discipled Irenaeus.
Ø Irenaeus (AD 120-202)
o “they [the ten kings of Rev. 17:1-13] shall… give their kingdom to the beast [the Antichrist], and put the Church to flight.”
[Against Heresies V, 26, 1]
o “But, knowing the sure number declared by Scripture, that is, six hundred sixty and six, let them await, in the first place, the division of the kingdom into ten; then, in the next place, when these kings are reigning, and beginning to set their affairs in order, and advance their kingdom, [let them learn] to acknowledge that he who shall come claiming the aforesaid number, is truly the abomination of desolation. … It is therefore certain, and less hazardous to await the fulfillment of the prophecy, than to make surmises. …But he indicates the number of the name now, that when this man comes we may avoid him, being aware who he is:…”
[Against Heresies, Book V, XXX]
Just to make sure that this is what Irenaeus meant, let's look at what his disciple taught. (The Apostle John personally discipled Polycarp. Polycarp personally discipled Irenaeus. Irenaeus personally discipled Hippolytus.)
Ø Hyppolytus (AD 2nd-3rd Century)
o “Now, concerning the tribulation of the persecution which is to fall upon the Church from the adversary,…”
o “That refers to the one thousand two hundred and threescore days (the half of the week) during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the Church, which flees from city to city, …”
[Treatise on Christ and antichrist]
Hyppolytus taught that the Church would go through the Great Tribulation (the final 3 1/2 years of the Tribulation) and suffer persecution at the hands of the AntiChrist, the Adversary!
Ø Justin Martyr (AD 110-165)
o “[T]wo 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 Christians,…”
[Dialog with Trypho, CX]
Ø Tertullian (AD 150-220)
o That the tribulation situation will be such “that the beast Antichrist with his false prophet may wage war on the Church of God.”
[On the Resurrection of the Flesh XXV]
Ø Cyprian (AD 200-260)
o “Nor let any of you, beloved brethren, be terrified by the fear of future persecution, by the coming of the threatening Antichrist.”
[Epistle 55, 7]
That the Church should go through the Tribulation, and be Raptured AT the Revelation is not a ‘latter day doctrine of devils’ (I Tim. 4:1); it is a very early teaching.
However, there is NO record of an early ‘Church Father’ believing in a pre-trib Rapture.
Now that's something to think about!