In 1994, (the late) Grant Jeffrey discovered a pretribulation rapture passage within a manuscript entitled, On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World, written by Ephraim the Syrian (sometimes spelled Ephrem), an early church father, who lived from A.D. 306–373. Grant Jeffrey and Tommy Ice asked Cameron Rhoades, a professor at Tyndale Theological Seminary, to translate the Latin work into English.
The passage reads, “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.”
This discovery thrilled pretribulational circles because it bolstered the evidence that many of the early church fathers were convinced pretribulationists. These patristic passages, of course, are not forwarded as proof of the pretribulation rapture. The proof can only be derived from the Bible. The pretribulation-rapture passages in the fathers are cited merely to expose as fraudulent the often-repeated reproach that the pretribulation rapture is a new doctrine. The truth is, many men before J.N. Darby held a pretribulation rapture, and so did many of the early church fathers.
My Discovery of Another Ephraim Passage
Now, a quarter of a century later, a similar discovery has been made. In March, 2021, while researching apostasia references in the early fathers for a book I am writing on 2 Thessalonians 2:3, I stumbled across a clear rapture passage in Ephraim of Syria’s Fifty-Five Beatitudes, one of his 150-plus Greek works that have, for the most part, never been translated into English. The nineteenth beatitude reads, “Blessed is he who unceasingly remembers the fear of Gehenna and hastens to sincerely repent in the Lord with tears and groans, for he shall be delivered from the great tribulation.”
I was stunned! I couldn’t recall seeing this passage mentioned anywhere in books, magazine articles, web articles, or teaching videos on the pretribulation rapture. I reviewed several sources which provide extensive lists of patristic pretribulation-rapture passages and didn’t find it mentioned. Now my interest was piqued even more. I wondered if there were more.
Combing Ephraim’s Works
Temporarily setting aside my apostasia research, I perused the titles of all of Ephraim’s Greek works on the TLG website (Thesaurus Linguae Graecae)—all in Latin—and selected about a dozen which suggested that the subject matter was prophetic. Then I began reading through them. Soon I had four rapture references. Then six. I felt like I had discovered a gold mine. When I finished reading through the original list of works, I made a list of the rapture terms that I had observed and searched for them in the entire body of Ephraim’s Greek works. The results were astounding.
Soon I had ten rapture references, then twenty, and the discoveries kept coming. I felt like I was walking in a dream. How had this many gems gone undiscovered?
When it was all said and done, I had discovered ten passages which were crystal-clear pretribulation rapture references and twenty more that were clearly rapture passages of the same mold but didn’t contain anything in the context which defined it as a pretribulation rapture—a grand total of thirty rapture references. Many of these I have not yet translated or made a full examination of the context. Much work yet remains.
Verifying Ephraim’s Eschatology
But I was hesitant to release the information to my associates in the prophecy world. What if I was overlooking some critical information that would put a different spin on these passages? I was concerned because some of the fathers taught a post-tribulation rapture where the church is taken up at the end of the time of tribulation and are only spared the day of wrath manifested at the second coming. What if I was reading pretribulation-rapture presuppositions into the Ephraim passages? I decided to carefully read through his prophetic works, take notes on the key points of his prophetic understanding, then compile these notes. I wanted a solid handle on his eschatology.
About a dozen works in, it became undeniably clear that Ephraim truly was a believer in a pretribulation rapture. This was especially evident in his work Sermon on the Advent, the End, and the Antichrist where he teaches the rapture, then details what will happen on earth during the tribulation after the church is gone. His handling of the great tribulation is remarkably similar to the modern understanding: 3.5 years in length, a literal antichrist and mark, and an onslaught of divine visitations like famines, earthquakes, and pestilences. He expressly states that the church will “be DELIVERED FROM the tribulation which is about to come upon the earth.” This he qualifies with further explanation which forbids anyone from twisting it into a statement of protection through the tribulation. He adds, “that he might not see it at all, nor the beast himself, nor even hear of its terrors.” Then he addresses the saints who will be saved during the tribulation through the ministry of Elijah and Enoch. They will be delivered from the dragon by taking advantage of hiding spots that God has prepared for them.
The distinction in deliverance language between the church and the tribulation saints almost jumps off the page. The church shall be “delivered FROM the tribulation about to come upon the earth” (rusthomen EK thlipsis), a promise which echoes Revelation 3:10, “keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world.” The tribulation saints, on the other hand, face an entirely different delivery. God will “PRESERVE them THROUGH that time” (DIAtereo autous).
Communicating the Ephraim Discovery
Once I was certain that Ephraim taught a pretribulation rapture and that I understood the general framework of his eschatology, I sent out a notice to everyone on my mailing list, informed a few friends and acquaintances in the prophecy world, and recorded a video for my personal social media channel.
For the benefit of my fellow prophecy lovers, I translated Ephraim’s Sermon on the Advent, the End, and the Antichrist — which clearly distinguishes the church saints from the tribulation saints — and posted it on my website (www.soothkeep.info). As far as I have been able to ascertain, my translation is the only one available in English. The ten Ephraim passages are also on my website in both the original Greek and my English translation along with sources and observations. I also posted an article that walks prophecy students through the main points of Ephraim’s eschatology.
The Ten Ephraim Passages
Here are the ten clear pretribulation rapture statements which I discovered. They are a strong addition to the body of evidence already garnered which demonstrates that pretribulationism was taught by many of the early fathers.
(1) Sermon on Repentance and Judgment and the Separation of the Soul from the Body
“For the elect shall be gathered prior to the tribulation, so they shall not see the confusion and the great tribulation coming upon the unrighteous world.”
(2) On the Fathers who Have Completed Their Course
“The holy and the just are chosen and gathered into the harbor of life that they should not see the tribulation and the snares (or stumbling blocks) coming upon us because of our sins. … when we see the saints in glory flying off in light in the clouds of the air to meet Christ, the king of glory, but see ourselves in the great tribulation, who shall be able to bear that shame and terrible reproach?”
(3) On the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ
“The grace of God strengthens and rejoices the hearts of the righteous; and they shall be siezed up in the clouds to meet him. While those who are lazy and timid like me shall remain on the earth, trembling.”
(4) Sermon on the Advent of the Lord, and the End of the Age, and the Coming of the Antichrist
“Watch always, praying continually, that you may be worthy to escape the tribulation and stand before God … for if anyone has tears and compunction, let him pray the Lord that he might be delivered from the tribulation which is about to come upon the earth, that he might not see it at all, nor the beast himself, not even hear of its terrors. For there shall be famines, earthquakes, and diverse pestilences upon the earth.”
(5) On Patience and the Consummation of this Age, and on the Second Coming
“Let us take up in our hearts the full armor … that we may be able to fight the good fight and tread down all the power of the enemy, that we might be delivered from the wrath coming upon the sons of disobedience.”
(6) Fifty-Five Beatitudes, #19
“Blessed is he who unceasingly remembers the fear of Gehenna and hastens to sincerely repent with tears and groans to repent sincerely in the Lord, for he shall be delivered from the great tribulation.”
(7) Sermon on the Resurrection of the Dead
“Count us worthy, Lord, of the rapture of the righteous, when they meet you the Master in the clouds, that we might not be tried by the bitter and inexorable judgment … The righteousness flight is swift, lifting the righteous from earth to heaven.”
(8) The Destruction of Pride
“Let us pray the Lord in great humility that he would take us out (remove us) from the coming fear, and count us worthy of that rapture (snatching away) when the righteous are raptured (snatched) in the clouds to the air to meet the king of glory.”
(9) How the Soul Ought to Pray to God with Tears
“Blessed are those who cry day and night that they should be delivered from the coming wrath.”
(10) On the Blessed and the Cursed
“Blessed are those who cry day and night because they shall be delivered from the coming wrath.”
Observations on these Ten Passages
Notice the variation in the terminology that Ephraim uses for describing the deliverance that we experience in the rapture: flying off in the clouds while the unsaved are left in the great tribulation, not see the tribulation, delivered from the tribulation, not even hear of the terrors of the tribulation, delivered from the wrath, not tried by the judgment, and taken out (removed) before the coming fear. These phrases demonstrate that he regarded the time of great tribulation to be identical with the time of the coming wrath or judgment. While he distinguished the persecution of the antichrist from the visitations which fell immediately from the hand of God, he regarded both as happening during the same time period. He made no artificial distinction, as some do today, between the time of tribulation under the antichrist and the time of wrath or judgment. He understood that the rapture delivered the church from both the wrath of God and the time of the antichrist. These two things occupied the same time span.
Value of the Discovery
This discovery of these Ephraim rapture passages brings two blessings. This first is that it nearly doubles the number of clear pretribulation-rapture passages from the early church fathers. The second is that it adds to our understanding of Ephraim. It was already established that he was the most important and prolific of the Syrian fathers in the late fourth century. Now it appears evident that he was a giant who maintained a premillennial and pretribulational testimony in the face of the juggernaut of replacement theology that was crushing all dissent in the church. And little is lost if someone tries to smear these passages with the tired argument that all of the Greek Ephraim material was written by a pseudo-Ephraim from a later century—an argument which I dispute. If these passages were penned by an anonymous author in the fifth or sixth century, then pretribulationism held out even longer against the heresy of replacement theory than generally suspected, which implies that the pretribulational testimony in the third and fourth centuries was even broader and deeper than previously thought.