Guest Article: Why Study Church History, Terry Cropper #2
Be sure to read the first installment in this two part article by Terry Cropper. He does an excellent job documenting how church history proves that some of the very earliest of writers– influential and prominent writers – believed that some of the key eschatological prophecies, were fulfilled in AD 70. This is important information, so be sure to save it! (DKP)
There were a number of early writers who made significant preterist statements (i.e. Eusebius, Athanasius, Origen, Melito, and Odes of Solomon etc). (Eusebius and Athanasius). These two writers were very much involved in the formation of the Nicene Creed. They are not on the fringe of Christian leadership but it is not said these two writers are “inconsistent with the overwhelming majority of opinion in the early church. Here are a few examples of preterist statements found in their writings.
Eusebius says that the abomination of desolation (i.e.the antichrist, man of sin and beast of Revelation) occurred at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D “…(Eusebius’ Esslesiastical History, Book 3, Ch5).
Eusebius records the statement that James (brother of Jesus, writer of the book of James) made just before (c. 63 A.D.) He was pushed off the temple to the pavement below when he was being martyred for his faith in Jerusalem: “Why do ye ask me respecting Jesus the Son of Man? He is now sitting in the heavens, on the right hand of great Power, and ( is about to come on the clouds of heaven).” Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, Book 2 Ch. 23:cf James 5:8,9)
Eusebius says that the abomination of desolation i.e. (the antichrist, man of sin and beast of Revelation) acurred at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD: “…these facts, as well as the whole tenor of the war, and each particular of its progress, when finally the abomination of desolation, according to the prophetic declaration, stood in the very temple of God, so celebrated of old, but which now was approaching its total downfall and final destruction by fire; all this, I say any one that wishes may see accurately stated in the history written by Josephus.” (Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Ch.5
Eusebius says this about the destruction of Jerusalem: “All this occurred in this manner, in the second year of the reign of Vespasian 70 .D., according to the predictions of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…. On comparing the declarations of our Savior with the other part of Josephus work, where he describes the whole war, how can one fail to acknowledge and wonder at the truth divine and extraordinary foreknowledge and prediction of our Saviour?” (Eusebius’ Esslesiastical History, Book 3, Ch7)
Eusebius also declares that the Great Commission had been accomplished by the time Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D 70 (cf. Matt. 24:14): “Of whom Christ, indeed at this very time, ‘(the sound of the holy apostles went throughout all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world).’” (Eusebius; Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Ch. 8 cf. (Romans 10: 18; Colossians 1:23).
DKP– Additional note on Eusebius. He believed that the Biblical reference to “the last days” was referent to Israel’s last days:
“For we must understand by ‘the end of the days’ the end of the national existence of the Jews. What, then, did he say they must look for? The cessation of the rule of Judah, the destruction of their whole race, the failing and ceasing of their governors, and the abolition of the dominant kingly position of the tribe of Judah, and the rule and kingdom of Christ, not over Israel but over all nations, according to the word, ‘This is the expectation of the nations.’” (Eusebius, Demonstratio Evangelica, VIII, ccclxxv; Ferrar ed .; See his discussion of Genesis 49 in Bk VIII, 93ff )
Athanasius: “For now that ( He has come ) to our real, and taken up his abode in one body among His peers, henceforth the whole conspiracy of the enemy against mankind is checked, and the (corruption of death which before was prevailing against them is done away). For the race of men had gone to ruin, had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to meet ( the end of death).” Athanasius’ On the Incarnation of the Word , Section 9 Verse 4; cf.1 Cor. 15:21-26)
In reference to the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and their interpretation of the seventy weeks of Daniel 9, Athanasius has this to say: “Perhaps with regard to the other “prophecies” they may be able even to find excuses and to (put off what is written to a future time). But what can they say to this, or can they face it at all? Where not only is the Christ referred to, but He that is to be anointed is declared to be not man simply, but Holy of Holies; and “(Jerusalem is to stand till His coming), and thenceforth, prophet and vision cease in Israel.” (Athanasius; On the Incarnation of the Word, Section 39 Verse 3; cf. Dan. 9:24ff).
Athanasius: “FOR He raised up the falling, healed the sick, satisfied those who were hungry, and filled the poor, and, what is more wonderful, ( raised us all from the dead; having abolished death), He has brought us from affliction and sighing to the rest and gladness of this feast, a joy which reacheth even to heaven…. how must all its hosts joy and exult, as they…look on sinners while they repent…and finally on the enemy who lies weakened, lifeless, bound hand and foot, so the we may mock at him; ‘Where is thy victory, O Death? [/b] were is thy sting, O Grave?’ Let us then sing unto the Lord a song of victory.. The Lord gives to them at the right hand, saying, ‘Come ye blessed, [b] inherit the kingdom prepared for you.’ Wherefore let us not celebrate the feast after an earthly manner, but as keeping festival in heaven with the angels.” (Athanasius’ The Feast Letters, Letter VI. No. 9-12)
The church fathers back that far did not write much about the Parousia and destruction of Jerusalem, However the ones that did give us some real gems of the thinking of that time.
Eusebius says that the apostolic writings about eschatology were meant to be taken in a mystical or figurative way. James seemed certain that Christ was about to come on the clouds of heaven in 63 A.D ( James 5:8-9) The abomination of desolation (the beast, antichrist or man of sin) occurred at the destruction of Jesusalem in A.D.70. They knew Matt. 24 and all of its parallel and related passages had been fulfilled at 70 A.D. The Great Commission given to the apostles was fulfilled just before most of them died in the late 60’s. They knew Christ had conquered “the last enemy” (death). Prophecy and vision inspired revelation were to cease at 70 A.D. when Jesusalem was destroyed. The OT things were types of the reality that Christ brought through His work, and Christ left nothing unfulfilled. They knew that the feast we celebrate now is a spiritual communion with God in the heavenly spirirual realm, not just a physical feast, and that now we are to sing the new sons in the Jerusalem which is above. The “Jesusalem above” was already accessible. The knew they had been raised from the dead and had inherited the kingdom.
Additional note by Don K. Preston– In addition to the early writers cited by Cropper above, it should be noted that Chrysostom, a very prominent fourth century writer, understood the tribulation to refer to “the terrors and tragedy of the Roman anti-Jewish universal campaign (under Vespasian and Titus) were unprecedented.” (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 76:1). In fact, he is adamant that Jesus’ description of that catastrophe was not mere hyperbole. He likewise said that during that time there were many antichrists. Not only that, he posited the fulfillment of Daniel’s seventy weeks in AD 70.
DKP– As anyone can see, there is merit and value in the study of church history. But, we should never imagine that church history is the ultimate source or authority. Scripture and scripture alone is the final and ultimate authority, no matter what church history may say.