Question: A friend doesn’t seem to buy the premil [pre-millennium] position yet. After reading Whatever Happened to Heaven? she comments, “Hunt asserts that the predominant position of the early church was premil....The fact is that all the eschatological positions develop over the course of history.” We have read little by the so-called church fathers....We have only gotten interested in eschatology since our bombardment years back with many Christians in our prior church who were frantic that we call legislators and sign petitions, and vote for “moral” Mormon candidates, etc. We just couldn’t find any justification for that activity in the New Testament. Please comment.
Response: Obviously there is something wrong with “eschatological positions [which] develop over the course of history.” The Bible doesn’t change, so why should eschatology change? To bolster their position, Catholics and Reconstructionists like to quote selectively from the church fathers. However, to know what the early church was taught by the Apostles and what it believed and practiced, we don’t turn to alleged church fathers but to the New Testament itself.
The elders of the church at Ephesus were personally trained by Paul over a period of three years. Yet he said to them, “...of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts:20:29-30). If elders whom Paul had trained went astray, so could other early church leaders. The only valid guide is Scripture itself.
As for the Rapture, Christ told His disciples that He was going to the Father’s house, from whence He would return to take them there to be with Him eternally (Jn:14:1-6). Paul told the Thessalonians that Christ himself would “descend from heaven” to resurrect the dead believers and to catch them up with those still alive to take them to heaven (1 Thes:4:13-18). Paul reminded the Philippians that their focus was heaven and that they should be constantly looking to heaven for the return of their Savior and the transformation of their earthly bodies to heavenly (Phil:3:20- 21). He commended the Thessalonians for waiting expectantly for Christ to deliver them from God’s coming wrath (1 Thes:1:9- 10; 2 Thes:1:7-10). The writer to the Hebrews said, “unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time” (Heb:9:28).
From these scriptures it is clear that the early church was taught to look for Christ’s return. That expectancy would not be appropriate if any event such as the revelation of Antichrist, the Great Tribulation or Millennium had to come first. Such verses teach imminency: that Christ could come at any moment. A post-anything rapture is not consistent with the attitude of the early church and was obviously developed later.
It also follows that the Rapture (Christ catching the church up to heaven) is distinct from and precedes the Second Coming (Christ returning to earth to rescue Israel at Armageddon). The former could occur at any moment but the latter cannot occur until Antichrist takes over the world. A major purpose of the Second Coming is to destroy Antichrist and his kingdom.
As for social or political action, it is very clear from the biblical record that in spite of political corruption and rampant injustice, neither Christ, His apostles nor the early church ever engaged in it. For us to do so today is to stray from both the teaching of Scripture and the example of Christ and the first Christians. We are not called to improve the world but to call people out of the world to heavenly citizenship through repentance and the new birth in Jesus Christ.
It is not only a waste of effort to attempt to persuade the unsaved to live moral lives, but it is counterproductive: it implies that God is pleased with outward behavior without an inner change of heart. In fact, the more righteous a person believes his behavior is, the less likely he is to realize that he is a sinner in need of a Savior. Christ said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Lk 5:32). That is our task as His followers.