For many years post-tribulationists and amillenialists have claimed that the pre-tribulational viewpoint is a recent teaching (circa 1800's) in the almost 2000 year history of the Church. And many claim that this lack of teaching by the early forefathers of the Church indicates that it is not a valid teaching because it would have been carried down in the Church writings.
Well that has all changed now with the recent translations of the writings of Ephraem the Syrian, circa 373 A.D. Ephraem was a major theologian and Christian writer of the Byzantine Church. He lived from approximately 306 A.D. to 373 A.D. Until recently a large number of his writing had yet to be translated into English.
In 1994, Grant R. Jeffrey discovered some ancient manuscripts of Ephraem. Following are some key excerpts of that text. The translation was done by Professor Cameron Rhoades, of Tyndale Theological Seminary, at the request of Mr. Jeffrey.
The excerpts are taken from Grant Jeffrey's recent book, Final Warning, published by Frontier Research Publications, Inc., Box 120, Station "U", Toronto, Ontario M8Z 5M4.
You can find it in most Christian bookstores. I highly recommend it as there are many other items of eschatological interest, including some excerpts of Ephraem's writings on Daniel's 70 weeks prophecies.
I wish to acknowledge and thank Mr. Jeffrey for his permission to post the following information from his book for the Church to see.
Ephraem's Teaching on the Pre-Tribulation Rapture
"For all the saints and Elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins" (On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World, by Ephraem the Syrian, A.D. 373).
The early Christian writer and poet, Ephraem the Syrian, (who lived from A. D. 306 to 373) was a major theologian of the early Byzantine Eastern Church. He was born near Nisbis, in the Roman province of Syria, near present day Edessa, Turkey. Ephraem displayed a profound love of the Scriptures in his writings as illustrated by several of his written comments quoted in the Works of Nathaniel Lardner, Vol. 4, 1788). "I esteem no man more happy than him, who diligently reads the Scriptures delivered to us by the Spirit of God, and thinks how he may order his conversation by the precepts of them." To this day, his hymns and homilies are used in the liturgy of the
Greek Orthodox and Middle Eastern Nestorian Church. While the sixteen-volume Post-Nicene Library includes a number of homilies and psalms by Ephraem the Syrian, the editors noted that he also wrote a large number of commentaries that have never been translated into English.
Ephraem's fascinating teaching on the Antichrist has never been published in English until now. This critically important prophecy manuscript from the fourth century of the Church era reveals a literal method of interpretation and a teaching of the pre-millennial return of Christ. More importantly, Ephraem's text revealed a very clear statement about the pretribulational return of Christ to take His elect saints home to heaven to escape the coming Tribulation. In addition, Ephraem declares his belief in a personal, Jewish Antichrist, who will rule the Roman Empire during the last days, a rebuilt Temple, the two witnesses and a literal Great Tribulation lasting 1,260 days. It is also fascinating
to note that he taught that the War of Gog and Magog would precede the tribulation period. I discovered another text by Ephraem, called The Book of the Cave of Treasure, that revealed he taught that Daniel's Seventieth Week will be fulfilled in the final seven years at the end of this age that will conclude with Christ's return at the Battle of Armageddon to establish His kingdom.
The following section includes key passages from Ephraem's important text, written about A.D. 373, and translated by Professor Cameron Rhoades, of Tyndale Theological Seminary, at my request.
On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World
"1. Most dearly beloved brothers, believe the Holy Spirit who speaks in us. Now we have spoken before, because the end of the world is very near, and the consummation remains. Has not the first faith withered away in men? ...
"2. We ought to understand thoroughly therefore, my brothers what is imminent or overhanging. Already there have been hunger and plagues, violent movements of nations and signs, which have been predicted by the Lord, they have already been fulfilled, and there is not other which remains, except the advent of the wicked one in the completion of the Roman kingdom. Why therefore are we occupied with worldly business, and why is our mind held fixed on the lusts of the world or the anxieties of the ages? Why therefore do we not reject every care of earthly actions and prepare ourselves for the meeting of the Lord Christ, so that He may draw us from the confusion, which
overwhelms the world? Believe you me, dearest brothers, because the coming of the Lord is nigh, believe you me, because the end of the world is at hand, believe me, because it is the very last time.... Because all saints and the Elect of the Lord are gathered together before the tribulation which is to about to come and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins (italics added). And so, brothers, most dear to me, it is the eleventh hour, and the end of this world comes to the harvest, and angels, armed and prepared, hold sickles in their hands, awaiting the empire of the Lord ....
"3. When therefore the end of the world comes, there arise diverse wars, commotions on all sides, horrible earthquakes, perturbations of nations, tempests throughout the lands, plagues, famine, drought throughout the thoroughfares, great danger throughout the sea and dry land, constant persecutions, slaughters and massacres everywhere ....
"6. When therefore the end of the world comes, that abominable, lying and murderous one is born from the tribe of Dan. He is conceived from the seed of a man and from a most vile virgin, mixed with an evil or worthless spirit ....
"7. But when the time of the abomination of his desolation begins to approach, having been made legal, he takes the empire.... Therefore, when he receives the kingdom, he orders the temple of God to be rebuilt for himself, which is in Jerusalem; who, after coming into it, he shall sit as God and order that he be adored by all nations ... then all people from everywhere shall flock together to him at the city of Jerusalem, and the holy city shall be trampled on by the nations for forty-two months just as the holy apostle says in the Apocalypse, which become three and a half years, 1260 days.
"8. In these three years and a half the heaven shall suspend its dew; because there will be no rain upon the earth and there will be a great tribulation, as there has not been, since people began to be upon the earth and no one is able to sell or to buy of the grain of the fall harvest, unless he is one who has the serpentine sign on the forehead or the hand
"10. And when the three and a half years have been completed, the time of the Antichrist, through which he will have seduced the world, after the resurrection of the two prophets, in the hour which the world does not know, and on the day which the enemy or son of perdition does not know, will come the sign of the Son of Man, and coming forward the Lord shall appear with great power and much majesty, with the sign of the word of salvation going before him, and also even with all the powers of the heavens with the whole chorus of the saints.... Then Christ shall come and the enemy shall be thrown into confusion, and the Lord shall destroy him by the Spirit of his
mouth. And he shall be bound and shall be plunged into the abyss of everlasting fire alive with his father Satan; and all people, who do his wishes, shall perish with him forever; but the righteous ones shall inherit everlasting life with the Lord for ever and ever."
To summarize the key points in Ephraem's text on the last days:
1. Ephraem's manuscript lays out the events of the last days in chronological sequence. Significantly he began with the Rapture using the word "imminent," then, he described the Great Tribulation of three and a half years duration under the Antichrist's tyranny, followed by the second coming of Christ to earth with his saints to defeat the Antichrist.
2. Significantly, at the beginning of his treatise in Section 2, Ephraem used the word "imminent" to describe the Rapture occurring before the tribulation and the coming of the Antichrist. "We ought to understand thoroughly therefore, my brothers what is imminent or overhanging."
3. He clearly described the pre-tribulation rapture: "Because all saints and the Elect of the Lord are gathered together before the tribulation which is to about to come and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins."
4. He then gives the purpose of God rapturing the Church "before the tribulation" so that "they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins." Ephraem used the word "confusion" as a synonym for the tribulation period.
5. Ephraem described the duration of the "great tribulation" (the last half of the seven year tribulation period) in sections 7, 8 and 10 as follows: "forty-two months" and "three and a half years" and "1260 days."
6. He summarized: "There will be a great tribulation, as there has not been since people began to be upon the earth" and described the Mark of the Beast system.
7. He declared that Christ will come to the earth after the "three and a half years" tribulation period in Section 10: "And when the three and a half years have been completed, the time of the Antichrist, through which he will have seduced the world, after the resurrection of the two prophets... will come the sign of the Son of Man, and coming forward the Lord shall appear with great power and much majesty"
Dr. Paul Alexander, perhaps the most authoritative scholar on the writings of the early Byzantine Church, concluded that Ephraem's text on The Antichrist taught that the Lord would supernaturally remove the saints of the Church from the earth is prior to the tribulations that is to come." Ephraem wrote that the saints will be "taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins." Dr. Alexander believed this text was written by some unknown writer in the sixth century but he concluded that it was derived from an original Ephraem manuscript (A.D. 373). other scholars, including the German editor Professor Caspari
who wrote a German commentary on this Latin manuscript in 1890, believed that Ephraem's manuscript was written by the genuine Ephraem in A.D. 373. Professor Cameron Rhoades, professor of Latin at Tyndale Theological Seminary, translated Ephraem's Latin text into English at the request of my friend Dr. Tommy Ice and myself.