Christian historians acknowledge the absence and silence of the first generation of apostolic Christians after 70 A.D. It seems to be a huge enigma for many who delve into Eschatological studies. Perhaps you have been scratching your head and wondering why did all the intense mission work and writing of epistles with the establishment of new churches come to a sudden halt after 70 A.D?
Have you ever wondered why the book of Acts just stops abruptly at chapter 28? And then? Absolutely nothing. Just silence.
Unless the elect Christians who were still alive at His coming, the Parousia of Christ, (66-70 A.D) were in fact taken home, i.e. raptured just like the Apostle Paul had foretold there would be no other explanation that could provide a valid and sound answer. Yet, there were no physical bodies of flesh and bone floating up into the air. There were no corpses sucked out of tombs and graves turned to healthy living persons and consequently flying up into the sky. The event of the Rapture itself was nothing at all like the 16 futurist novels “Left Behind” by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, dealing with Christian dispensationalist “End Times” and the Movie with Nicholas Cage. That sensationalist presentation of the rapture of believers all around the globe suggests it would leave the world in utter chaos and destruction as millions of people suddenly disappeared from the face of the Earth. The movie shows airplanes without pilots crashing, vehicles without drivers colliding, and on and on. In that imaginary depiction it was clear to the left be hinders that people everywhere had just suddenly disappeared. If you like watching sensational dramatic action movies this might be very entertaining for you. Although it is a bit of a low budget bore in my opinion. The real rapture of the first century was nothing like that. It was in fact more of a covert operation. It happened instantly, and hardly noticed by those left behind.
Here is how J. Stuart Russell, author of “The Parousia”, written 1878, explained it in a small leaflet entitled, The Rapture of the Saints:
[“We have to consider the peculiar circumstances of the time, of the country, and of the people as they then existed. We are apt to measure things by the standard of our own time, and of our own experience, and to suppose that the same rule will apply to all times and circumstances. We naturally enough say, were such an event as the sudden and simultaneous disappearance of a number of prominent persons from our town, or village, or neighbourhood, to take place, what a sensation it would cause, what alarm and consternation. It would be reported all over the land, it would be the topic of conversation in every company. Very true; but suppose all this occurred when the country was in the occupation of a foreign army, when the invaders were marching through the land, leaving devastation and ruin everywhere in their track. Suppose the metropolis in a state of siege, captured, burnt to the ground; fire, famine and slaughter raging in every quarter; all social order convulsed amid the agonies of an expiring nation. What sensation would the disappearance of some of the members of a despised sect excite in such circumstances? Would they be missed? Or if missed, would it be thought unaccountable? Amidst the fearful signs and portents of that tremendous crisis, the disappearance of the Christians might pass without notice”.] [Quoted by Peter Bluer in his book: 373 A Proof Set in Stone. Manchester, England: Lexis Hannah Publishing, 2006.]
The Great Tribulation
Bible scholars and scholars of Church history have not been agreement with regards to the details of the Neronic persecution. Some say that the persecution was mainly localized in and around the city of Rome and was halted quickly. Then there is the view as indicated in Russell’s leaflet above that this persecution was widespread across the empire. Apart from convincing historical data upholding the second view, the internal Biblical data gives us an affirmative and strong argument regarding a persecution against Christians, which arose from Rome like a marauding beast throughout most of Asia minor. Most of the pre-70 A.D saints were either killed in that Great Tribulation, or fell away in the Great Apostasy, so that by the time of the Parousia there were not many true Christians left alive. It was only a small remnant of elect Christian believers who still “lived and remained.”
Matthew 24:10 King James Version (KJV)
10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
Matthew 24:21-22 King James Version (KJV)
21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
1 Timothy 4:1 King James Version (KJV)
4 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
In Jesus’ Parable of the Tares (Matt. 13:24-43), the wheat is gathered (raptured) into the barn first (66 A.D), and then the tares were burned in the 70 A.D. judgment. The Neronic persecution eliminated most remaining Christians. The few elect believers remaining went into hiding until the rapture. Jesus had already predicted this very scenario when he said,
Matthew 13:24-43 King James Version (KJV)
…38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
Luke 18:8 King James Version (KJV)
8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
We can safely conclude that it was not a large number of saints left on earth to be raptured, and if they were in hiding, running for their lives, the world around them would not have noticed their absence. It is more likely that they would have assumed that the Christians had either fled in the night to escape persecution, or they were rounded up by the Jewish and Roman authorities and taken away to be killed. During World War Two whole neighbourhoods of Jews in Nazi Germany and across Europe disappeared. At the time not many knew exactly what happened to them. They did not know for sure until years later when survivors of the holocaust resurfaced in foreign countries to tell their story. I am sure no one thought they were raptured. Yet, during their disappearance no one dared to go down to the local Gestapo to inquire about them, for fear of being arrested on suspicion. During the Neronic persecution, Christians were regularly disappearing. This was not strange to the non-Christians. Would they have gone to the local Jewish or Roman authorities to inquire where the Christians had gone? I think not. They would expose themselves to getting arrested being under suspicion of being a Christian themselves. Gentiles were generally not associating with the Christians. If they had noticed the absence of the Christians, they would certainly not have thought they were raptured and taken to heaven by their Jewish Messiah the leader of that sect called Christians. The idea of a rapture would never have crossed their mind.
Historical reconstruction (educated guesses), or historical revisionism?
It is my observation that in our day and information age people seem to already struggle with the historical facts of the last great II world war. Some even try to deny the holocaust. The chronological events of the more recent wars or the ones currently fought in different parts of the world are not always even reported accurately. We may not be aware of some war going on somewhere in a remote part of our world. What do you really know about your great, great grand parents who lived less than 200 years ago? Even if you have done the research, and you may hold an ancestral chart with some black and white photographs or paintings, the details are probably going to be vague. With that in mind it could be an even greater challenge to collate the accurate details and chronology of events of things which happened 2000 years ago in a part of the world and culture much less familiar for us who are part of a modern day western society.
We must take an unbiased approach toward extra Biblical evidence and apply a healthy level of critical thinking when it comes to accepting historical accounts from any school of thought and compare it with internal Biblical evidence. If we take the position that all scripture is God inspired, then the foretelling’s of Jesus and the Apostles should take pre-eminence when drawing our conclusions about the historical chronology of events. They made regular clear references to a coming great tribulation for the Christians, followed by a holocaust for the then apostate Jews in that generation. Should we allow a few sporadic reports of historic figures whose doctrine often contradicted scripture on key issues discredit the Word of God? Are we practicing accurate Exegesis which is the critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture? Or are we practicing Eisegesis, which is the process of interpreting a text or scripture in such a way as to introduce one’s own presuppositions, agendas or biases.
We will therefore carefully consider and handle the historic evidence as it is presented to us in light of the Holy Scriptures.
The Neronic Persecution
Was the Neronic persecution widespread across the Roman Empire? Futurist have downplayed the significance of the Neronic persecution and greatly exaggerated the persecution under Emperor Domitian in 95 A.D. The Domitian persecution however was a persecution of both Jews and Christians.
Orazio Marucchi, a Roman Catholic scholar, mentions several Roman and Italian sources who indicate that the Neronic persecution was not just confined to Rome or Italy. He states:
[“…extended throughout the length and breadth of the Empire. The burning of Rome was but a pretext, for the Christians were to be considered as enemies of the human race.” [Orazio Marucchi, Manual of Christian Archeology, p. 29]
Philip Schaff, in his classic eight-volume “History of the Christian Church”, cites both ancient and modern historians who believed the Neronic persecution was much broader in scope than just Rome and Italy:
[“The heathen historians, if we are to judge from their silence, seem to confine the persecution to the city of Rome, but later Christian writers extend it to the provinces: e.g., Orosius (about 400), Hist., VII. 7 . . . So also Sulpicius Severus, Chron. II. 28-29. . . . Ewald (VI. 627, and in his Commentary on the Apocalypse) and Renan (p. 183) very decidedly affirm the extension of the persecution beyond Rome. . . . C. L. Roth (Werke des Tacitus, VI. 117) and Wieseler (Christenverfolgungen der Cäsaren, p. 11) assume that Nero condemned and prohibited Christianity as dangerous to the state. Kiessling and De Rossi have found in an inscription at Pompeii traces of a bloody persecution [120 miles south of Rome“.]
[“The example set by the emperor in the capital could hardly be without influence in the provinces, and would justify the outbreak of popular hatred. If the Apocalypse was written under Nero, or shortly after his death, John’s exile to Patmos must be connected with this persecution. It mentions imprisonments in Smyrna, the martyrdom of Antipas in Pergamus, and speaks of the murder of prophets and saints and all that have been slain on the earth (Rev 2:9, 10, 13; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24). Peter, in his first Epistle warns the Christians in Asia Minor of a fiery trial which is to try them, and of sufferings already endured or to be endured, not for any crime, but for the name of “Christians” (1 Pet. 2:12, 19-20; 3:14-18; 4:12-19)”.]
[“Christianity, which had just reached the age of its founder, seemed annihilated… With Peter and Paul, the first generation of Christians was buried. Darkness must have overshadowed the trembling disciples, and a despondency seized them almost as deep as on the evening of the crucifixion, thirty-four years before. But the morning of the resurrection was not far distant. . . [and] “the gardens and circus of Nero on the Vatican, which were polluted with the blood of the first Christians, have been rendered still more famous by the triumph . . . of the persecuted religion”] [Gibbon, ch. 16].
[“None of the leading apostles remained to record the horrible massacre . . . This mysterious book [the book of Revelation] . . . was undoubtedly intended for the church of that age as well as for future ages, and must have been sufficiently adapted to the actual condition and surroundings of its first readers to give them substantial aid and comfort in their fiery trials. Owing to the nearness of events alluded to, they must have understood it even better, for practical purposes, than readers of later generations. John looks, indeed, forward to the final consummation, but he sees the end in the beginning. He takes his standpoint on the historic foundation of the old Roman empire in which he lived, as the visions of the prophets of Israel took their departure from the kingdom of David or the age of the Babylonian captivity. He describes the heathen Rome of his day as “the beast that ascended out of the abyss,” as “a beast coming out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads” (or kings, emperors), as “the great harlot that sitteth among many waters,” as a “woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns,” as “Babylon the great, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth” [Rev. 11:7; 13:1; 17:1, 3, 5; cf. Daniel’s description of the fourth beast in Dan. 7:7ff]. The seer must have in view the Neronian persecution, the most cruel that ever occurred, when he calls the woman seated on seven hills, “drunken with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Rev. 17:6), and prophesied her downfall as a matter of rejoicing for the “saints and apostles and prophets” (Rev. 18:2. cf. Rev. 6:9-11)”. [Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1; Accordance electronic ed. 8 vols.; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), n.p.]
[“The Great Fire in Rome started on July 19th (64 A.D), burned for six days, and then broke out again and burned for three more days. Out of the fourteen sections of the city, only four remained intact after the fire (Tacitus Annals 15:44). Most of the precious antiquities of Rome, including the decorated houses of its great leaders, its most sacred objects and temples, trophies, and antiques, all vanished in the flames. Nero was moved to blame the Christians, which unleashed a holocaust upon them, the terror and horror of which has never been seen before or since. Countless thousands died in Rome, but the carnage “extended throughout the length and breadth of the Empire.”] Orazio Marucchi (Manual of Christian Archaeology, p. 29)
Philip Schaff (History of the Christian Church) likewise cited numerous ancient and modern historians who believed it was much broader in scope than just Rome and Italy
This was the “great tribulation” that Christ and the Apostles had warned the Christian believers to prepare for. And it was the very event which provoked Christ to cut short the days of that persecution, rescue His elect saints, and avenge His martyrs by pouring out His full cup of wrath upon their persecutors.
Many Christians today are unaware of the historical circumstances surrounding the Neronic persecution, or the nature of the fulfillment of Jesus’ teachings and that of the Apostles on the Rapture, the Resurrection, the Coming of the Lord (Parousia) and Covenantal Judgment. Futurist will often ask preterists: “If the Parousia, Resurrection, Rapture and Judgment really happened in the first century, why was it not plain and clear to everyone who lived during that time? And why didn’t the remaining Christians claim it was fulfilled afterwards?”
Yet, the futurist has an even greater challenge when they ask this question. Without a first century rapture, they have no easy way to explain the failure of post-70 A.D Christians to provide any reports or documentation regarding these eschatological events. Why did the post 70 A.D Christians not say anything about any of these four big events? For several decades there is nothing but a deafening silence. Both preterists and futurists would agree that the level of expectation by the authors of the New Testament Epistles regarding the four big events intensifies significantly. Those Preterists who do not believe in a first century rapture, or Partial Preterists, and Futurists likewise all struggle to answer why we have this huge gap after 70 AD. If let’s say any of the mentioned four big events did not occur within the set time frame of 64-70 A.D then surely post 70 A.D Christians would have expressed their soul destroying disappointment. Before 70 A.D the believers that survived the persecution, arguably, the elect, had left behind their lives to follow Jesus. They staked everything on their faith in Christ’s return. Their properties, social status, their wealth, they left families behind, suffered persecution, and rejection in society. If post 70 A.D they realized none of what Jesus and the Apostles had promised came to pass, was it embarrassment that kept them from reporting about it?
We cannot ignore the fact that the Northern Kingdom was invaded by General Vespasian, then entered the Southern Kingdom of Judea, and came close to the walls of Jerusalem. We know that historical records prove the fact that Vespasian then retreated and whilst he went back to Rome to become Emperor, his son Titus continued the three and a half years of siege and finished the job and sacked the city of Jerusalem. Did the Christians who reportedly made it to the hills of Pella before Titus returned then viewed the calamity of that destruction just as another war like there had been so many? Did that event not clearly affirm specifically everything Jesus and the Apostles had explicitly foretold in detail according to Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, the Epistles and Revelation?
If those Christians were not embarrassed into complete silence, they would have spoken up, and expressed their sore disappointment, combined with anger and frustration. Some would have made it a point to declare Jesus and His Apostles as false prophets since the time statements of their foretelling’s were clearly applicable to their generation, not generations 2000 years later. Btw, how emotionally impacted would you be right now? How affected would you be right now? What immediate life changing decisions would you make right now, if you were told and guaranteed that two or maybe three thousand years from now a major event would take place upon Earth that could wipe out a large part of the population and only leave a remnant of people to rebuild a new society? I am sure we would all be a little concerned, but would we sense an immediacy of alarm? We might seek to make some necessary changes, but honestly? Would you leave family? Would you leave houses? Would you leave everything right now to try and secure a future for a generation 2000 or 3000 years from now? Can you see how your lack of immediate alarm does not match the intense urgency the Apostles communicated in their writings? Jesus came to preach that the Kingdom of God was near. He told them again and again that this event was to happen in the generation of those who were then listening to Him. From where I stand? I have been on this planet over half a century. I know from experience that ten years goes by like that. If I was guaranteed that within twenty or thirty years from now my whole world as I know it would change, then everything I do today would be impacted by that anticipation but not if this event would occur 2/3000 years from now.
Silence until the first known writings of the Church Fathers such as,
Clement of Rome: Bishop of Rome, holding office from 88 to his death in 99. The First Epistle of Clement is a letter addressed to the Christians in the city of Corinth. The common time given for the epistle’s composition is at the end of the reign of Domitian 96 A.D. or no later than 140 A.D. It ranks with Didache as one of the earliest—if not the earliest—of extant Christian documents outside the canonical New Testament. Alfred Firmin Loisy a French Roman Catholic priest, professor and liberal theologian maintains that the author of 1 Clement was a distinguished Roman elder who flourished 130-140 and that this Clement was named in the Shepherd of Hermas (Vision, 8:3), which is also to be dated to the mid second century. He suggests a second century date for 1 Clement.
Didache: A new consensus is emerging for a date c. 100 AD.
Ignatius of Antioch: Estimated Range of Dating: 105-115 A.D.
Justin Martyr: Estimated Range of Dating: 150-160 A.D.
Fragments of Hegesippus: Estimated Range of Dating: 165-175 A.D.
Irenaeus of Lyons: Estimated Range of Dating: 175-185 A.D.
Eusebius of Caesarea: Estimated Range of Dating: 260/265 – 339/340 A.D.
Although there are fragments of writings from heretical groups such as early gnostics, judaizers, hellenists and other groups who had fallen into herecy post 70 A.D they are not part of the canon of scripture as we have it today. It appears that the first Christian writings begin to appear possibly from 95 A.D possibly much later into 130 A.D. If any of the original Apostles had still been around as is alleged with regards to the Apostle John, then surely they would have confronted and corrected Christians such as Papias, Polycarp, and Ignatius who were saying that the Parousia was still future.
Irenaeus and the Date of Revelation
There are two conservative views as to when the book of Revelation was written: The idea that it was written in the late-90s A.D, toward the end of Domitian’s reign tends support Dispensational and futurist eschatology. The second view is that it was written sometime prior to 70 AD, during the reign of Nero. The first late date view seems to base its findings on quote by the Church Father Irenaeus, which was then later exacerbated by Eusebius who himself even doubted the authenticity of the book of Revelation.
Irenaeus from his writings “Against Heresies” is still external Biblical evidence. Nevertheless, modern Christianity seems to have given it undue weight of authority, possibly even above the authority of the divine inspiration of scripture.
What Irenaeus said, and what Eusebius thought Irenaeus said
In Irenaeus writings “Against Heresies” (130–202 AD) about the number and name of the Antichrist says:
[“Had there been any need for his name to be openly announced at the present time, it would have been stated by the one who saw the actual revelation. For it was seen not a long time back, but almost in my own lifetime, at the end of Domitian’s reign.”] (Against Heresies, 5.30.3)
The phrase “it was seen” is one Greek word: ἑωράθη. It could be a reference to “the revelation” which had just been mentioned. This would mean that Irenaeus was saying that John saw his apocalyptic vision at the end of Domitian’s reign, and would support the later date for Revelation (late-90s).
However, the same Greek word ἑωράθη is a third-person singular verb, which means the subject can be either he, she, or it. It can be translated as “he was seen.” There are numerous examples from Greek literature where the word ἑωράθη refers to a person who was seen rather than a thing or object. The context must determine whether ἑωράθη is to be translated as “it was seen” or “he was seen.”
Irenaeus’s point makes better sense if ἑωράθη is translated “he was seen.” This means that he was referring to John himself and not to the revelation that John saw. A paraphrase might look like this: “If Christians had needed to know the precise name of the Antichrist, John could have easily made it clear, seeing as how he was seen (i.e. he was alive) until very recently, almost in our own day.”
If ἑωράθη is referring to John and not his apocalyptic vision, then the statement from Irenaeus does not support the later date of Revelation.
Irenaeus also makes a profound comment by stating just before the above quote that the number 666 is “found in all the most approved and ancient copies” of Revelation (Against Heresies, 5.30.1).
These copies were ancient, which means they had been around an exceptionally long time, but they were copies and not original versions. Then Irenaeus, just a couple paragraphs later, speaks of something that “was seen not a long time back, but almost in my own lifetime,” this could not be a reference to the vision of Revelation. It would make no sense for Irenaeus to refer to copies of the apocalyptic vision as “ancient,” but also maintain that the vision itself occurred almost in his own lifetime.
Eusebius mis quotes Irenaeus
Eusebius projects his view onto Irenaeus’s statements:
[“There is ample evidence that at that time the apostle and evangelist John was still alive, and because of his testimony to the word of God was sentenced to confinement on the island of Patmos. Writing about the number of the name given to antichrist in what is called the Revelation of John, Irenaeus has this to say about John in Book V of his Heresies Answered:
‘Had there been any need for his name to be openly announced at the present time, it would have been stated by the one who saw the actual revelation. For it was seen not a long time back, but almost in my own lifetime, at the end of Domitian’s reign’”] (The History of the Church, 3.18).
Eusebius was unsure about the authenticity and authority of Revelation. He refers to the book of Revelation as “the Revelation of John,”. By doing so he project his doubt as to whether John wrote it. Significant to this is that Eusebius in his other writing’s places Revelation in the category of “spurious books” (3.25).
Eusebius claim that John’s confinement on Patmos occurred during the reign of Domitian. However, Irenaeus does not say anything about John’s confinement on Patmos in his quote. It comes across a bit like how some of our modern-day news reporters who add or take away from the facts to create their own narrative.
John 21:23 King James Version (KJV)
23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
Back to the point
Why do we not have any record of Christians post 70 A.D for several decades? How will we explain the silence for a significant time after the destruction of Jerusalem? In previous articles I have alluded that silence lasted almost 100 years. That would make it 170 A.D. Could this be a wrong estimate? I cannot say for sure. I am sure that there is much studying to be done much more than all the trolling through books and research sites I have gone through up until now. I would need a lot of time to do that and I intent to give it my best shot. The Biblical historians are in debate themselves of when to exactly date the earliest writings. Didache could be approximately 100 A.D and Irenaeus of Lyons wrote his Against Heresies c. 175-185 A.D. Eusebius of Caesarea published his “Church History” first in 313 A.D. which has also been called into question. What stands out to me is the fact in principle that there is an unexplained silence after 70 A.D for a significant period.
If any Apostles survived and lived on earth beyond 70 A.D why did they not speak up either confirming and rejoicing that everything came to pass just as Jesus and the Apostles foretold. They would have to correct and confront the spreading of unchecked heresies, or out of disappointment because of a major let down due to the unfulfillment of these expected events. Silence would however be irreconcilable and irresponsible for an Apostle still alive after 70 A.D.
If a rapture did take place, then it immediately easily explains the lack of documentation. They could not talk about it because they were no longer on earth.
Unlike the dispensational imagery which suggest that physical bodies would float up into the air, Paul says at the same moment the disembodied souls of the dead were raised out of Hades in the unseen realm, a spiritual dimension, the physical bodies of believers who were alive were transformed from mortal to immortal. This transformation instantly took them out of the visible realm, just like the disappearance of Enoch when God took him into the unseen realm. At that instant moment they were no longer in the visible realm when they were caught up. The bodily change which removed them from the physical material realm first, and then they were caught up together with those who were resurrected out of Hades to remain with Christ in the heavenly unseen realm forever afterwards.
1 Corinthians 15 King James Version (KJV)
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 King James Version (KJV)
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
For physical bodies to be floating up to the sky is pure futurist fiction. The reason no one saw the rapture occur is simply because it happened in the unseen realm.
According to the writings of Josephus, Tacitus, Yosippon, Hegesippus, and Eusebius, the people who witnessed the siege of Jerusalem 67-70 A.D did see and hear some incredible things at that time. They report how they had seen supernatural manifestations of chariots of fire in sky over the city and other like un-explainable things, but they did not understand what it was all about. The elect Christians knew what was happening and received the wonderful rewards for trusting their Christ, but those left behind remained puzzled and ignorant.