Is The 'Futurist' Interpretation Of Prophecy Found In The Writings Of The Church Fathers?

Home >  Full Study List >  Is The 'Futurist' Interpretation Of Prophecy Found In The Writings Of The Church Fathers?

Question / Comment - The 'Futurist' Interpretation Of Prophecy Is Not Found In The Writings Of The Church Fathers. 
I believe in the Historical interpretation of prophecy. You are a futurist. There are three basic ways to interpret prophecy (only one is correct). The three ways are: Historicism, Futurism, and Preterism. The interesting thing is just where and when these methods of interpretations originated. Historicism was widely accepted up to the early 1900’s but futurism has gradually become the widely accepted method of interpretation today. I encourage you to check it out. You will not find futurism in religious literature prior to the writings of Francisco Ribera (1537-1591).You will find Historical interpretations dating back at least as far as 200 AD.”
JPN Reply:

Note for the above:

The preterist (past) believes that most, if not all prophecy has already been fulfilled, usually in relation to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
The historicist (present) sees much of the church history as equal to the tribulation period. Thus, prophecy has been and will be fulfilled during the church age. This approach takes a more 'spiritualized' approach to prophecy.
(future) believe that virtually all prophetic events (such as Matthew 24 and the majority of the book of Revelation) will take place in the future tribulation, Second Coming, or Millennium. This approach takes a more 'literal' approach to prophecy.

I have done a bit of research as you suggested and have found the following quotes to be quite telling. All of the quotes below from early church fathers can be seen online from the following links – (Note that some of these pages are quite large and will take some time to load.)


Justin Martyr

Hippolytus - Appendix to the Works of Hippolytus

Hippolytus - Treatise on Christ and Antichrist



The following quotes are from Irenaeus:

These are important as he was taught by Polycarp who in turn was discipled by the Apostle John himself.

1. For he (Antichrist) being endued with all the power of the devil, shall come, not as a righteous king, nor as a legitimate king, [i.e., one] in subjection to God, but an impious, unjust, and lawless one; as an apostate, iniquitous and murderous; as a robber, concentrating in himself [all] satanic apostasy, and setting aside idols to persuade [men] that he himself is God, raising up himself as the only idol, having in himself the multifarious errors of the other idols. This he does, in order that they who do [now] worship the devil by means of many abominations, may serve himself by this one idol, of whom the apostle thus speaks in the second Epistle to the Thessalonians: "Unless there shall come a failing away first, and the man of sin shall be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself as if he were God." The apostle therefore clearly points out his apostasy, and that he is lifted up above all that is called God, or that is worshipped -- that is, above every idol -- for these are indeed so called by men, but are not [really] gods; and that he will endeavour in a tyrannical manner to set himself forth as God.

2. Moreover, he (the apostle) has also pointed out this which I have shown in many ways, that the temple in Jerusalem was made by the direction of the true God. For the apostle himself, speaking in his own person, distinctly called it the temple of God. Now I have shown in the third book, that no one is termed God by the apostles when speaking for themselves, except Him who truly is God, the Father of our Lord, by whose directions the temple which is at Jerusalem was constructed for those purposes which I have already mentioned; in which [temple] the enemy shall sit, endeavouring to show himself as Christ, as the Lord also declares: "But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, which has been spoken of by Daniel the prophetstanding in the holy place (let him that readeth understand), then let those who are in Judea flee into the mountains; and he who is upon the house-top, let him not come down to take anything out of his house: for there shall then be great hardship, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall be." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chp. 25)

Points from the highlighted parts:

  • Irenaeus believes that the ‘temple of God’ from 2 Thes 2 is speaking about the temple in Jerusalem. After quoting 2 Thes 2 he says that the temple in Jerusalem was made by the direction of God, and the apostle Paul distinctly calls it the temple of God. He does not ‘spiritualize’ this passage away as you would attempt to do, but is quite literal in his interpretation.
  • He says that ‘the temple which is at Jerusalem was constructed…’ and ‘in which the enemy shall sit, endeavoring to show himself as Christ.’ This obviously is exactly as futurists believe. A literal temple, a literal antichrist, a future literal placing of himself in the temple to be proclaimed as God.
  • To show that the antichrist will sit in the temple in Jerusalem, he quotes from Matt 24:14 where Christ speaks of the abomination of desolation. Clearly, like futurists, Irenaeus saw this as a future event and not related to 70AD as you would.

3. Then, further on, in the interpretation of the vision, there was said to him: "The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall excel all other kingdoms, and devour the whole earth, and tread it down, and cut it in pieces. And its ten horns are ten kings which shall arise; and after them shall arise another, who shall surpass in evil deeds all that were before him, and shall overthrow three kings; and he shall speak words against the most high God, and wear out the saints of the most high God, and shall purpose to change times and laws; and [everything] shall be given into his hand until a time of times and a half time," that is, for three years and six months, during which time, when he comes, he shall reign over the earth. Of whom also the Apostle Paul again, speaking in the second [Epistle] to the Thessalonians, and at the same time proclaiming the cause of his advent, thus says: "And then shall the wicked one be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the spirit of His mouth.”
(Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chp. 25)

  • According to Irenaeus, the rule of the antichrist would last three years and six months, and his rule would be over the entire earth. No 1260 years here like you would have. Again, he took the prophecies literally as a futurist does and didn’t spiritualize them.

4. The Lord also spoke as follows to those who did not believe in Him: "I have come in my Father's name, and ye have not received Me: when another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive," calling Antichrist "the other," because he is alienated from the Lord. This is also the unjust judge, whom the Lord mentioned as one "who feared not God, neither regarded man," to whom the widow fled in her forgetfulness of God -- that is, the earthly Jerusalem -- to be avenged of her adversary. Which also he shall do in the time of his kingdom: he shall remove his kingdom into that [city], and shall sit in the temple of God, leading astray those who worship him, as if he were Christ. To this purpose Daniel says again: "And he shall desolate the holy place; and sin has been given for a sacrifice, and righteousness been cast away in the earth, and he has been active (fecit), and gone on prosperously." And the angel Gabriel, when explaining his vision, states with regard to this person: "And towards the end of their kingdom a king of a most fierce countenance shall arise, one understanding [dark] questions, and exceedingly powerful, full of wonders; and he shall corrupt, direct, influence (faciet), and put strong men down, the holy people likewise; and his yoke shall be directed as a wreath [round their neck]; deceit shall be in his hand, and he shall be lifted up in his heart: he shall also ruin many by deceit, and lead many to perdition, bruising them in his hand like eggs." And then he points out the time that his tyranny shall last, during which the saints shall be put to flight, they who offer a pure sacrifice unto God: "And in the midst of the week," he says, "the sacrifice and the libation shall be taken away, and the abomination of desolation [shall be brought] into the temple: even unto the consummation of the time shall the desolation be complete." Now three years and six months constitute the half-week.
(Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chp. 25)

  • Again he mentions that the antichrist shall be in Jerusalem (and he even states ‘earthly Jerusalem’ so that there is no mistake or allegorizing of the passage) and that the antichrist shall sit in the temple there.
  • And you will like this one… Irenaeus speaks also of the tyranny of the antichrists rule and quotes from our favorite passage Daniel 9:27. Three points can be made from this -
    1. He applies Dan 9:27 with the sacrifice being taken away to the antichrist, not to Jesus as you would.
    2. He places the event as yet to occur. It is during the tyranny of the antichrists rule, not when Jesus died on the cross.
    3. He again correctly specifies the length of time of the antichrists rule as three years and six months.

5. From all these passages are revealed to us, not merely the particulars of the apostasy, and [the doings] of him who concentrates in himself every satanic error, but also, that there is one and the same God the Father, who was declared by the prophets, but made manifest by Christ. For if what Daniel prophesied concerning the end has been confirmed by the Lord, when He said, "When ye shall see the abomination of desolation, which has been spoken of by Daniel the prophet" (and the angel Gabriel gave the interpretation of the visions to Daniel, and he is the archangel of the Creator (Demiurgi), who also proclaimed to Mary the visible coining and the incarnation of Christ), then one and the same God is most manifestly pointed out, who sent the prophets, and made promise of the Son, and called us into His knowledge.
(Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chp. 25)

  • From this passage, Irenaeus again emphasis the fact that when Jesus quoted from Daniel in Matt 24:15, it was a prophecy concerning the end times, not 70AD as you would try have me believe.

6. But he indicates the number of the name now, that when this man comes we may avoid him, being aware of who he is:...But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple in Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day; and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance, in which kingdom the Lord declared, that "many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." –
(Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chp. 30)

  • This passage again brings it out very clearly. Irenaeus says that the antichrist will come, he will reign for three years and six months, and will sit in the temple in Jerusalem. The Lord himself will destroy him and then bring in the times of the Kingdom.

Justin Martyr

The following quote from Justin Martyr (110-165 AD.) is also clear -

"But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem,which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare."
(Dialogue of Justin, Chp. 80)

  • According to Justin Martyr, a right minded Christian is one who believes in the resurrection of the dead, a thousand years in Jerusalem – and then, to clarify exactly what he means by Jerusalem (cos we wouldn’t want ‘some’ to spiritualize this away now would we?) he adds that Jerusalem will then be built, adorned, and enlarged as the prophets declare.


The following quotes from Hippolytus (AD. 170-236) are again conclusive.

1. "For when the threescore and two weeks are fulfilled, and Christ is come, and the Gospel is preached in every place, the times being then accomplished, there will remain only one week, the last, in which Elias will appear, and Enoch, and in the midst of it the abomination of desolation will be manifested, viz., Antichrist, announcing desolation to the world...."
[Hippolytus, On Daniel, II, 22]

  • Hippolytus believed that the 70th week was separate to the other 69 weeks and would remain until the gospel had been preached in every place.
  • He ties Daniel’s 70th week in with the appearance of the two witnesses and clearly says that in the midst of this last week the antichrist will manifest the abomination of desolation. He was a futurist, not a historicist.

2. "Thus, then, does the prophet set forth these things concerning the Antichrist, who shall be shameless, a war-maker, and despot, who, exalting himself above all kings and above every God, shall build the city of Jerusalem, and restore the sanctuary. Him the impious will worship as God, and will bend to him the knee, thinking him to be the Christ. He shall cut off the two witnesses and forerunners of Christ, who proclaim His glorious kingdom from heaven, as it is said: 'And I will give (power) unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.' As also it was announced to Daniel: 'And one week shall confirm a covenant with many; and in the midst of the week it shall be that the sacrifice and oblation shall be removed' - that the one week might be shown to be divided into two. The two witnesses, then, shall preach three years and a half; and Antichrist shall make war upon the saints during the test of the week, and desolate the world, that what is written may be fulfilled: 'And they shall make the abomination of desolation for a thousand two hundred and ninety days.'
[Hippolytus, On Daniel, II, 39]

  • Hippolytus believed that the antichrist would rebuild the city of Jerusalem and restore the sanctuary.
  • He confirms that Daniel’s 70th week is split between the two witnesses preaching for three and ½ years, and the antichrist making war upon the saints. Again, he did not believe that the last week was fulfilled in Jesus’ ministry and the three and ½ years following.
  • The abomination of desolation was to last 1290 days. There is no strange conversion to years here!

3. "And at first, indeed, that deceitful and lawless one, with crafty deceitfulness, will refuse such glory; but the men persisting, and holding by him, will declare him king. And thereafter he will be lifted up in heart, and he who was formerly gentle will become violent, and he who pursued love will become pitiless, and the humble in heart will become haughty and inhuman, and the hater of unrighteousness will persecute the righteous. Then, when he is elevated to his kingdom, he will marshal war; and in his wrath he will smite three mighty kings, - those, namely, of Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia. And after that he will build the temple in Jerusalem, and will restore it again speedily, and give it over to the Jews. And then he will be lifted up in heart against every man; yea, he will speak blasphemy also against God, thinking in his deceit that he shall be king upon the earth hereafter for ever; not knowing, miserable wretch, that his kingdom is to be quickly brought to nought, and that he will quickly have to meet the fire which is prepared for him, along with all who trust him and serve him. For when Daniel said, 'I shall make my covenant for one week,' he indicated seven years; and the one half of the week is for the preaching of the prophets, and for the other half of the week - that is to say, for three years and a half - Antichrist will reign upon the earth. And after this his kingdom and his glory shall be taken away. Behold, ye who love God, what manner of tribulation there shall rise in those days, such as has not been from the foundation of the world, no, nor ever shall be, except in those days alone. Then the lawless one, being lifted up in heart, will gather together his demons in man's form, and will abominate those who call him to the kingdom, and will pollute many souls."
[Appendix to the Works of Hippolytus, XXV]

  • In this different work of Hippolytus he again confirms that the antichrist will build the temple in Jerusalem and give it to the Jews.
  • Again he shows that when Daniel was said the covenant would be made for one week, it was a reference to the end when the antichrist reigned on the earth… not Jesus’ ministry.

4. Now Daniel will set forth this subject to us. For he says, And one week will make a covenant with many, and it shall be that in the midst (half) of the week my sacrifice and oblation shall cease. By one week, therefore, he meant the last week which is to be at the end of the whole world of which week the two prophets Enoch and Elias will take up the half. For they will preach 1,260 days clothed in sackcloth, proclaiming repentance to the people and to all the nations. For John says, And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. [Hippolytus - Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 43]

  • Here is another work of Hippolytus where he again confirms that Daniel’s last week is ‘at the end of the whole world’
  • The two witnesses take up the first half of this week and they preach for a LITERAL 1260 days. Again, no strange conversion to years here.



So to recap, from the above quotes I can say that these prominent church fathers believe that -

  • ‘Daniel’s 70th week’ was still future and at ‘the end of the whole world’.
  • Daniel’s 70th week was separated from the other 69 weeks.
  • The covenant spoken of in Daniel 9:27 deals with the antichrist, not Jesus.
  • In the midst of this last ‘week’, the antichrist would put himself in a literal temple, in the literal city of Jerusalem.
  • Matt 24:15 which speaks of the abomination of desolation is future and is connected with the desecration of the Jewish temple by the antichrist in the last week of Daniel's 70 weeks.
  • Antichrists reign would last 3 ½ years, or 1260 days. Not a strange 1260 year period as you would have it.
  • There is a literal 1000 year kingdom reign in Jerusalem still to be fulfilled just as the prophets of old prophesied.

By anyone's definition, this is what 'futurists' believe. These church fathers were not ‘historicalists’ but believed in a literal future fulfillment of these prophecies.

May God bless. All the best.