The Early Church Fathers and the Last Days of the Jewish Age


The following resource was compiled by Bishop George Kouri, an author and the pastor of The King’s Church in Jacksonville, Florida. He references the stated beliefs of Barnabas, Clement of Alexandrea, Origen, Tertullian, Athanasius, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus concerning “the last days”, “the end of the age,” and Daniel’s 70th Week (Daniel 9). This is not exhaustive, and there’s no doubt that leaders in church history have held quite a variety of views about these and related topics in the field of eschatology. When researching their beliefs, though, it’s easy to see that many did not view the Biblical “last days” as being about the (alleged) end of world history, but rather as the last days of the old covenant age. Here are just a few examples, as provided by George Kouri (all emphasis in the original):

BARNABAS:

Written anonymously around 100 AD, the “Epistle of Barnabas” is the earliest extra-Canonical source we have. Although not included in the Canon of the New Testament, it is an incredibly early documentation of the early Church’s beliefs about the last days. The Apostle John was probably alive when it was written. And although the authorship is disputed, we will refer to Barnabas as the author.

The Epistle of Barnabas sets forth the common view held by the early Church that the seventieth week of Daniel ended with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, as Messiah’s Day dawned and Christ’s Church was born. Barnabas writes, “For it is written, ‘And it shall come to pass, when the week is completed, the temple of God shall be built…in the name of the Lord.’ I find…that a temple does exist. Having received the forgiveness of sins…in our habitation God dwells in us….This is the spiritual temple built for the Lord.” (EOB, 16:6)

Barnabas uses the expression “the week,” but does not mention Daniel. Yet scholars agree from the context that this is definitely a reference to Daniel’s 70th week. And it is assumed by many scholars that the prophecy of Daniel’s seventy weeks was so well known and so widely expounded in the early Church that it needed no further explanation. The early Church did not avoid Daniel’s prophecy.

This early Christian writer connects Daniel’s vision of seventy weeks with the prophecy of Haggai 2:7-9 and the building of a “spiritual temple,” the Church. The author of the Epistle of Barnabas obviously believed that Daniel’s 70th week was fulfilled with Christ’s first advent. This was when the Old Temple was destroyed and the new “spiritual temple” was initially established. Writing in 100 AD he clearly believed the 70th week of Daniel was already completed.

It seems clear from this passage in the Epistle of Barnabas that less than a century after Christ’s passion (remember that according to Daniel the Messiah would be cut off in the middle of the 70th week), it was the widespread belief of the Church that the 70th week of Daniel was completed. It is certain that Barnabas placed the end of the 70th week no later than 70 AD. His mention of the building of the Church (which was able to grow largely unimpeded after 70AD) makes it probable that Barnabas saw 67 to 70 AD and the destruction of Herod’s Temple as the end of the Jewish or Old Covenant Age and the dawning of Messiah’s Day. As David B. Currie writes in his book, Rapture, The End-Times Error That Leaves The Bible Behind, “He (Barnabas) assumes his readers will agree that the events of ‘the week’ led to the building of the Church”  (Page 422).

CLEMENT OF ALEXANDREA

Within a century of Barnabas, Clement became bishop of Alexandria until his death in 215 AD. Clement taught that the blessings of the New Covenant required the end of biblical Judaism within the 70 weeks of Daniel. Clement writes of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD in the prophetic language of Daniel’s seventy weeks, “Vespasian rose to the supreme power (Emperor of Rome) and destroyed Jerusalem, and desolated the holy place”  (STO, XXI, 142-143).

Clement of Alexandrea believed the Jewish Age, the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel and the great tribulation were behind, not ahead of the Church.

ORIGEN (185-254 AD)

A student of Clement of Alexandrea, Origen agreed that the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD marked the end of the Jewish Age and the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy regarding the 70 weeks. Origen writes,“The weeks of years up to the time of Christ the leader that Daniel the prophet predicted were fulfilled” (TPR, IV:1:5).

Like Clement, Origen also believed the Jewish Age, the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel and the great tribulation were behind the Church, not ahead of it.

TERTULLIAN

In 203 AD Tertullian wrote his famous treatise Against The Jews. This early Church father also taught that Daniel’s 70th week had been fulfilled in 70 AD: “Vespasian vanquished the Jews…and so by the date of his storming Jerusalem, the Jews had completed the seventy weeks foretold by Daniel”  (AAJ, VII; CID).

Contrary to modern postponement preachers and teachers, Tertullian believed the Jewish age, the abomination of desolation, and the great tribulation was behind, not ahead of the Church.

ATHANASIUS

Athanasius was bishop of Alexandria from 326 to 373 AD. Like the early Church fathers before him, he also taught that the 70 weeks of Daniel culminated and the Jewish Age ended in 70 AD: “Jerusalem is to stand till His coming (Daniel’s reference to Messiah’s appearing in His First Advent), and thenceforth, prophet and vision cease in Israel (the end of the Old Covenant or Jewish Age). This is why Jerusalem stood till then…that they might be exercised in the types as a preparation for the reality…but from that time forth all prophecy is sealed and the city and Temple taken” (INC, XXXIX:3-XV:8).

Athanasius clearly reflects the view of the entire early Church: once the Messiah had come, the role of the Temple in Jerusalem would be ended. “Things to be done which belonged to Jerusalem beneath…were fulfilled, and those which belonged to the shadows had passed away” (FEL, IV:3-4).

This important early Church father clearly believed that the Jewish age ended in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

IRENAEUS AND HIPPOLYTUS

Irenaeus was a contemporary of Clement of Alexandrea whose widely held view we dealt with above. Irenaeus and his pupil Hippolytus are the only two writers from the early Church period who believed in a still-future fulfillment of Daniel’s 70th week. They both placed the 70th week at the end of the gospel age and so are the first interpreters to postulate a gap between the 69th and 70th weeks (AG, V). Both predicted a specific date for the second coming that has long since come and gone.

But their belief in a future 70th week was never widely accepted! St. Jerome specifically pointed out that the number of years in their system did not coincide with the historical events they purported to cover. He wrote, “If by any chance those of future generations should not see these predictions of his (Irenaeus) fulfilled at the time he (Irenaeus) set, then they will be forced to seek for some other solution and to convict the teacher himself (Irenaeus) of erroneous interpretation”  (CID).

David B. Currie points out in his scholarly work, “As a point of history, the views of Irenaeus did give seed to premillennialism. But the early fathers of the Church strongly and universally denounced this concept. The early Church understood the presumptuous-parenthesis theory that rapturists employ…but they resoundingly rejected it”  (David B. Currie, Rapture, page 425).

The prevailing view of the early Church fathers was that Daniel’s vision of the 70 weeks was fulfilled in 70 AD. The final or 70th week began with the baptism of Jesus and his presentation to Israel by John the Baptist. The Messiah was cut off in the middle of the 70th week when Jesus was crucified. The abomination of desolation and the great tribulation spoken of by Daniel were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD.

These events marked the end of the Jewish age and the dawning of Messiah’s Day.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “The Early Church Fathers and the Last Days of the Jewish Age

  1. Hello Adam, great post. It’s interesting how dispensationalist will appeal to church fathers for a premillennial view. I was reading Eusebius account of church history, when I found a quote he made in chapter five: that the abomination of desolation spoken by the prophets was being fulfilled by its “total and final destruction”. It seems apparent that many church fathers saw the destruction of the temple as a fulfillment of Christ predictions in Matt.24 and its parallels.
    Thanks for sharing this…Jack.

    Like

    • Thanks, Jack, and you’re welcome. It is interesting, like you said, about the appeal to church fathers for a premillennial view (known as Chiliasm at the time). If I remember correctly, Augustine was one who denounced Chiliasm as “heresy.” Eusebius had a lot of interesting things to say. You may or may not have already seen these quotes from him:

      “And when those that believed in Christ had come thither [out] from Jerusalem [in obedience to Matthew 24:15-16], then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men (Proof of the Gospel, Book III, Ch. 5)… [When] the lamentation and wailing that was predicted for the Jews, and the burning of the Temple and its utter desolation, can also be seen even now to have occurred according to the prediction, surely we must also agree that the King who was prophesied, the Christ of God, has come, since the signs of His coming have been shewn in each instance I have treated to have been clearly fulfilled” (Proof of the Gospel, Book VIII).

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s