4 Truth Ministry

What Did the Early Church Believe About Eschatology? (Part 1)

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By David Sheldon

Last Updated: February 25, 2024

Early Church Eschatology

Christians today have many different views about eschatology (the study of end times). There is historic premillennialism, amillennialism, post-millennialism, and dispensational premillennialism. Such views hold rather contrasting ideas about things like the Antichrist, the False Prophet, the mark of the beast, the abomination, the tribulation, the rapture, and the millennium. So, what are we to believe regarding eschatology (such as that found in Daniel and Revelation)?

Have you ever considered what the early Christians and church fathers believed about the end times? Did you know they held to one main eschatological view?

In 90-96 a.d., the Apostle John received the Revelation of things to come (see When was Revelation Written?). After receiving the revelation and writing it down, he taught and bore witness to those prophecies. One man who sat under his teaching was named Polycarp (69-155 a.d.). Polycarp was a bishop in his hometown of Smyrna and an instrumental church father. He discipled a man named Irenaeus (130-202 a.d.).

Did you catch that? Irenaeus was discipled by Polycarp, who was discipled by the Apostle John! (See Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 3.4) We would do well to pay attention to what these men believed!

Eschatology of Early Church

Using Irenaeus’ very influential book, Against Heresies (180 a.d.), we have compiled this two-part article (see Part 2). Please know this is not a comprehensive study of Against Heresies. But we highlight some of Irenaeus’ quotes in an attempt to answer several commonly asked questions regarding eschatology. Quotes have been provided with hover links or can be read in full context online – Book V, Chapters 25-36 of Against Heresies.

As always, please have your Bible open while reading our articles. We want you to see what God says, not what we (or Irenaeus) have to say!

1. What will the Antichrist and final world kingdom be like?

Irenaeus believed that a literal person called the Antichrist would be the world ruler at the end of this present evil age. He will have total power and demand total worship (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, Revelation 13:1, 3-5, 7-8). Irenaeus referred to him as an apostate, a king, and a robber (Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 25.1).

The Antichrist will be supported in his rule by others as seen in Daniel 7:7-8. This vision in Daniel involves a ‘fourth beast’ (kingdom) with ‘ten horns’ (kings) which Irenaeus viewed as the final world kingdom. It will be ruled by ten kings and somehow be related to the Roman Empire (Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 26.1).

It is amid these ten kings’ rise to power that the Antichrist (‘little horn’), will arise and uproot three of them. He bolsters his position of authority by those ten kings which are somehow reduced to seven and subjected to him. He is described as an “eighth” among the seven. (Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 25.3)

Please Note: How do we know Irenaeus viewed the man in Daniel 7 (‘little horn’) as the Antichrist? Irenaeus calls him the ‘son of perdition’ which is also ‘son of destruction’ in Scripture. These terms are used for what we popularly call ‘Antichrist’ (from 1 John 2:18). There are several other terms as well including the man of lawlessness, little horn, king, and beast. Interestingly, the ‘son of perdition/destruction’ is also used for Judas (John 17:12), the disciple who betrayed Jesus.

For more information on this:
The Beast from the Sea Part 1: Seven Heads
The Beast from the Sea Part 2: Ten Horns
The Beast from the Sea Part 3: The Antichrist

2. What will the False Prophet be like?

Irenaeus called the False Prophet the Armor Bearer of the Antichrist in looking at Revelation 13:11-18 (Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 28.2). The False Prophet will use demonic weapons to perform signs ensuring the whole world follows after the Antichrist. The False Prophet will implement both an ‘image to be worshiped’ and a ‘mark of the beast’ as signs of sole allegiance and economic purchasing power.

Please Note: A universal economic system of immediate total control like the one pictured would have been a foreign idea for the ancient world up through most of the twentieth century. However, in our day and age, a universal economic system is quite plausible with our current growing technology. Unprecedented “feats of wonder” seem quite feasible, but would have been unthinkable in the first century! And yet, Irenaeus fully expected that these prophecies would be literally fulfilled.

For more information on this topic:
The Beast from the Earth Part 1: The False Prophet

3.What should we think about the number 666?

The number 666 has intrigued Christians over the centuries. Revelation 13:18 tells us it is the number of the beast (Antichrist). But how so? Does it represent something about him? Or does it reveal his actual name? Irenaeus thought it could be both.

Irenaeus spoke of things in Scripture related to the number 6. The flood, due to man’s wickedness and rebellion, occurred in the 600th year of Noah’s life. The measurements of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, which arose because of man’s idolatrous worship, was 60 cubits by 6 cubits (Daniel 3). Irenaeus viewed the Antichrist (as 666) as the culmination and embodiment of all this – rebellion, judgment, idolatry – when he demands sole worship (Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 29).

Please Note: Many people think the number 6 symbolizes fallen wicked mankind; and as such, the three sixes represent mankind’s rebellious worship of the Antichrist who is attempting to supplant the triune God. Also, some believe Revelation 13 describes the “evil trinity” – Satan/Dragon (father), Antichrist/Beast (son), and False Prophet/Beast from the Earth (spirit).

In another instance, Irenaeus viewed 666 as quite literal. In ancient Greece, letters were assigned number values. This is called gematria. It is a literal “calculating” of the number associated with a name. Irenaeus believed it would be reasonable to determine the identity of the Beast (Antichrist) using this system. But because many names have added up to 666 that were not the Beast, Irenaeus says we should not waste our time calculating names, but rather “await the fulfillment.” God will give us the needed wisdom at that point in time (Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 30).

Please Note: John didn’t receive the actual name of the beast but was only given a clue by God. In the same regard, we don’t necessarily need to know in advance, since it will only be important when the Antichrist comes to power.

Addendum: Scholars use this portion of Irenaeus’ writings to pinpoint when the Apostle John had the vision of Revelation. He says it was not that long ago, towards the end of the reign of Domitian who was the emperor of Rome from 81-96 a.d. So this is why we believe the Apostle John wrote Revelation somewhere around 90-96 a.d. This puts to rest the notion that Revelation was written before 70 a.d. and was somehow already fulfilled in events with the fall of Jerusalem at that time.

For more information on this topic:
The Beast from the Earth Part 2: The Image and Mark

4. What is the Abomination of Desolation and when will it occur?

Irenaeus believed that the Abomination of Desolation is a literal event that will occur midway through the final 7 years (referred to as ‘week’) of this present evil age. What the actual abomination is, he did not say. But it will involve the Antichrist presenting/doing something so offensive and evil that it causes people to scatter (Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 25.4).

Please Note: Some people believe the abomination of desolation occurred in 70 a.d. with the destruction of the Jewish temple. But notice in Daniel 9:27 that the abomination of desolation involves other specific events as well: firm covenant, stop to sacrifice and grain offering, and eventual destruction of the Antichrist. These events do not fit what occurred in 70 a.d. when the temple was destroyed. Nor was there an agreement made between an antichrist and the Jewish people in 70 a.d.

Furthermore, Irenaeus wrote Against Heresies in 180 a.d. and he anticipated the abomination was yet future. Not to mention, we do not find anyone anytime soon after 70 a.d. who believed or taught the abomination was already fulfilled. (This line of thinking is referred to as preterism or partial-preterism.) This is a case and position from silence, but still very important.

On the other hand, what Jesus describes in Matthew 24:1-2 and Luke 19:41-44 does fit with the destruction of the temple/Jerusalem in 70 a.d. The Luke passage tells us it was destroyed as judgment due to the Jew’s rejection of their Messiah. The Matthew text places the temple destruction as the start of many judgments that would unfold throughout history until the Second Coming of Christ.

For more information on this topic:
What are the Seventy Weeks of Daniel?

Continue With Part 2

Part 2 is where you will find four more questions/answers regarding the rapture of the church, the Second Coming of Christ, and the Millennium.

Reference

Irenaeus’ quotes are taken from his book Against Heresies, Book V, Chapters 25-36 which is available for download or to be viewed.

What Did the Early Church Believe About Eschatology? (Part 2)

Christians today have various views on eschatology. The early church held ONE main view. What did they think about the rapture, Second Coming, & millennium?

Todd Friel on the Israel-Hamas War

Watch this video by Todd Friel of Wretched regarding what Christians should know regarding the Israel-Hamas war.

Who Are Gog and Magog?

Gog and Magog are found in an Old Testament prophecy of a war against Israel in Ezekiel 38-39. The following breakdown gives insight into the meanings of these names.

Is The War of Ezekiel 38-39 The Same War As The Battle of Armageddon?

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War On Israel – Ezekiel 38-39

With the tremendous turmoil currently taking place in the world, we should consider an Old Testament prophecy some Bible scholars think is yet to be fulfilled. Ezekiel 38 & 39 speaks of a war against Israel in the last days.

Are You Prepared? The Coming Global System

As we approach the final days as described in Daniel and Revelation, it is important that pastors speak up and sound the warnings of what to expect and look for!

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