Rapture: Three Fascinating Discoveries!
by Grant Jeffrey
Over the last 30 years I have been fascinated with Bible prophecy because it
authenticates the Scriptures as God's inspired Word and it points to the
imminent return of Jesus Christ to usher in the Messianic kingdom. I am
always delighted when God leads me to new information that confirms His
Word. In my ongoing research into recent archaeolological discoveries and
into writings of Early Church leaders I have made several exciting new
discoveries that I want to share with my readers.
In this chapter we will
explore a number of interesting discoveries about the following subjects: the
finding of a teaching about the pre-Tribulation Rapture from the first
centuries of the Early Church; the archaeological discoveries of the tombs of
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus that prove the historical accuracy of the Gospels;
and the proof that miraculous healings, raising of the dead, and the
charismatic gifts were common among believers during the first three
centuries following the resurrection of Christ.
The Pre-Tribulation Rapture Was Taught
by the Early Church
Obviously, the truth about the timing of the Rapture will
ultimately be found only in Scripture. The Protestant Reformation was based
essentially on this return to the authority of the Bible. The Latin phrase Sola
Scriptura, meaning "Scripture Alone," became the rallying cry of the
reformers who ignored centuries of tradition and church councils in their
insistence that truth could only be discovered in the Word of God. While the
ultimate resolution of this discussion must be based on our interpretation of
Scripture, it is important to answer the errors of our opponents who disparage
"the blessed hope" of the Rapture with misinformation about the modem
rediscovery of the truth about the pre-Tribulation Rapture.
Many post-tribulationist writers have attacked the pre-Tribulation Rapture
doctrine by claiming that it cannot be true because no Church writer or
reformer ever taught this doctrine until approximately 170 years ago. While
the real question for sincere students of Scripture must be whether or not the
Bible truly teaches this doctrine, the argument that no one ever saw this
"truth" throughout the 1,800 years of Church history has been very effective,
causing many Christians to abandon their belief in the pre-Tribulation
Rapture. The only problem with their argument is that they are totally wrong.
Many contemporary writers claim that the pre-Tribulation Rapture theory first
originated around A.D. 1820. They ascribe the theory's initial creation to
either Emmanuel Acurnza (Ben Ezra, 1812), Edward Irving (1816), or Margaret
Macdonald (1830), and finally to John Darby (1830). For example, Dave
MacPherson in The Incredible Cover-Up, written in 1975, stated, "Margaret
Macdonald was the first person to teach a coming of Christ that would
precede the days of Antichrist."' Before 1830 Christians had always believed
in a single future coming, that the catching up of I Thessalonians 4 will take
place after the Great Tribulation of Matthew 24 at the glorious coming of the
Son of Man when He shall send His angels to gather together all of His
elect." Reverend John Bray, in The Origin of the Pre- Tribulation Rapture
Teaching (1980), declared, "People who are teaching the pre-Tribulation
Rapture today are teaching something that never was taught until 1812.... Not
one of those Early Church fathers taught a pre-Tribulation Rapture.... I make
the offer of five hundred dollars to anybody who will find a statement, a
sermon, article in a commentary, or anything, prior to 1812 that taught a
twophase coming of Christ separated by a stated period of time, such as the
pre-Tribulation rapturists teach.
Those writers, among others who despise the teaching of the
pre-Tribulation Rapture, dogmatically assert that it was taught for the first
time in 1830 by John Darby and the Plymouth Brethren or one of the other
individuals mentioned above.
A number of these authors will have to drastically revise the next edition of
their books based on two remarkable textual discoveries that conclusively
prove that a number of Christian teachers, centuries before John Darby
rediscovered this biblical teaching, clearly taught that the Rapture would
occur before the tribulation period. During the summer of 1994, after more
than a decade of searching, I discovered several fascinating manuscripts that
contain clear evidence of the teaching of the pre-Tribulation Rapture in the
Ephraem's Teaching on the Pre-Tribulation Rapture
"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" (On the Last Times, the Antichrist,
and the End of the World, by Ephraem the Syrian, A.D. 373).
The early Christian writer and poet, Ephraem the Syrian (who lived from A.D.
306 to 373), was a major theologian of the early Byzantine Eastern Church. He
was born near Nisbis in the Roman province of Syria, near present-day
Edessa, Turkey. Ephraem displayed a profound love of the Scriptures in his
writings as illustrated by several of his written comments quoted in Works of
Nathaniel Lardner (vol. 4, 1788). "1 esteem no man more happy than him who
diligently reads the Scriptures delivered to us by the Spirit of God, and thinks
how he may order his conversation by the precepts of them." To this day his
hymns and homilies are used in the liturgy of the Greek Orthodox and Middle
Eastern Nestorian Church. While the 16-volume Post-Nicene Library includes
a number of homilies and psalms by Ephraem the Syrian, the editors noted
that he also wrote a large number of commentaries that have never been
translated into English.
Ephraem's fascinating teaching on the Antichrist has never been published in
English until now. This critically important prophecy manuscript from the
fourth century of the Church era reveals a literal method of interpretation and
a teaching of the pre-millennial return of Christ. More importantly, Ephraem's
text revealed a very clear statement about the pre-tribulational return of Christ
to take His elect saints home to heaven to escape the coming Tribulation. In
addition, Ephraem declares his belief in a personal, Jewish Antichrist, who will
rule the Roman Empire during the last days, a rebuilt temple, the two
witnesses, and a literal Great Tribulation lasting 1,260 days. It is also
fascinating to note that he taught that the war of God and Magog would
precede the tribulation period. I discovered another text by Ephraem called
The Book of the Cave of Treasure that revealed he taught that Daniel's
seventieth week will be fulfilled in the final seven years at the end of this age
that will conclude with Christ's return at the Battle of Armageddon to
establish His kingdom.
The following section includes key passages from Ephraem's important text,
written about A.D. 373, and translated by Professor Cameron Rhoades of
Tyndale Theological Seminary at my request.
On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World
1. Most dearly beloved brothers, believe the Holy Spirit who speaks- in us.
Now we have spoken before, because the end of the world is very near, and
the consummation remains. Has not the first faith withered away in men? ...
2. We ought to understand thoroughly therefore, my brothers, what is
imminent or overhanging. Already there have been hunger and plagues,
violent movements of nations and signs, which have been predicted by the
Lord, they have already been fulfilled, and there is not other which remains,
except the advent of the wicked one in the completion of the Roman
kingdom. Why therefore are we occupied with worldly business, and why is
our mind held fixed on the lusts of the world or the anxieties of the ages?
Why therefore do we not reject every care of earthly actions and prepare
ourselves for the meeting of the Lord Christ, so that He may draw us from
the confusion, which overwhelms the world? Believe you me, dearest
brothers, because the coming of the Lord is nigh, believe you me, because
the end of the world is at hand, believe me, because it is the very last time....
Because all saints and the Elect of the Lord are gathered together before
the tribulation which is about to come and are taken to the Lord, in order
that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the
world because of our sins [italics added]. And so, brothers, most dear to me,
it is the eleventh hour, and the end of this world comes to the
harvest, and angels, armed and prepared, hold sickles in their hands,
awaiting the empire of the Lord....
3. When therefore the end of the world comes, there arise diverse wars,
commotions on all sides, horrible earthquakes, perturbations of nations,
tempests throughout the lands, plagues, famine, drought throughout the
thoroughfares, great danger throughout the sea and dry land, constant
persecutions, slaughters and massacres everywhere....
4. When therefore the end of the world comes, that abominable, lying and
murderous one is born from the tribe of Dan. He is conceived from the seed
of a man and from a most vile virgin, mixed with an evil or worthless spirit....
5. But when the time of the abomination of his desolation begins to
approach, having been made legal, he takes the empire.... Therefore, when he
receives the kingdom, he orders the temple of God to be rebuilt for himself,
which is in Jerusalem; who, after coming into it, he shall sit as God and order
that he be adored by all nations ... then all people from everywhere shall
flock together to him at the city of Jerusalem, and the holy city shall be
trampled on by the nations for forty-two months just as the holy apostle
says in the Apocalypse, which become three and a half years, 1,260 days.
6. In these three years and a half the heaven shall suspend its dew; because
there will be no rain upon the earth ... and there will be a great tribulation, as
there has not been, since people began to be upon the earth ... and no one is
able to sell or to buy of the grain of the fall harvest, unless he is one who
has the serpentine sign on the forehead or the hand....
7. And when the three and a half years have been completed, the time of
the Antichrist, through which he will have seduced the world, after the
resurrection of the two prophets, in the hour which the world does not
know, and on the day which the enemy or son of perdition does not know,
will come the sign of the Son of Man, and coming forward the Lord shall
appear with great power and much majesty, with the sign of the word of
going before him, and also even with all the powers of the heavens with the
whole chorus of the saints .... Then Christ shall come and the enemy shall be
thrown into confusion, and the Lord shall destroy him by the Spirit of his
mouth. And he shall be bound and shall be plunged into the abyss of
everlasting fire alive with his father Satan; and all people, who do his wishes,
shall perish with him forever; but the righteous ones shall inherit everlasting
life with the Lord for ever and ever.
To summarize the key points in Ephraem's text on the last days:
manuscript lays out the events of the last days in chronological sequence.
Significantly, he began with the Rapture, using the word "imminent," then he
described the Great Tribulation of three and a half years duration under the
Antichrist's tyranny, followed by the second coming of Christ to earth with
His saints to defeat the Antichrist.
2. Significantly, at the beginning of his treatise in section 2, Ephraem used
the word "imminent" to describe the Rapture occurring before the Tribulation
and the coming of the Antichrist. "We ought to understand thoroughly
therefore, my brothers which is imminent or overhanging."
3. He clearly described the pre-Tribulation Rapture: "Because all saints and
the Elect of the Lord are gathered together before the tribulation which is
about to come and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at
any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins."
4. He then gives the purpose of God rapturing the Church "before the
tribulation" so that "they may not see at any time the confusion which
overwhelms the world because of our sins." Ephraem used the word
"confusion" as a synonym for the tribulation period.
5. Ephraem described the duration of the "great tribulation" (the last half of
the seven-year tribulation period) in sections 7, 8, and 10, as follows: "forty-
two months" and "three and a half years," and "1,260 days."
6. He summarized: "There will be a great tribulation, as there has no been
since people began to be upon the earth," and described the Mark of the
7. He declared that Christ will come to the earth after the "three and a half
years" tribulation period in section 10: "And when the three and a half years
have been completed, the time of the Antichrist,
through which he will have seduced the world, after the resurrection of the
two prophets ... will come the sign of the Son of Man, and coming forward
the Lord shall appear with great power and much majesty."
Dr. Paul Alexander, perhaps the most authoritative scholar on the writings of
the early Byzantine Church, concluded that Ephraem's text on the Antichrist
taught that the Lord would supernaturally remove the saints of the Church
from the earth "prior to the tribulation that is to come." Ephraem wrote that
the saints will be "taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to
overwhelm the world because of our sins." Dr. Alexander believed this text
was written by some unknown writer in the sixth century, but he concluded
that it was derived from an original Ephraem manuscript (A.D. 373). Other
scholars, including the German editor Professor Caspari, who wrote a German
commentary on this Latin manuscript in 1890, believed that Ephraem's
manuscript was written by the genuine Ephraem in A.D. 373. Professor
Cameron Rhoades translated Ephraem's Latin text into English at the request
of my friend Dr. Tommy Ice and myself.
Ephraem and Daniel's Seventieth Week - the Tribulation Period
A question naturally arises in the mind of Bible students about how long
Ephraem believed the Tribulation would last. While Ephraem correctly
describes the "great tribulation" as three and a half years, his other writings
revealed that he believed the whole tribulation period, "that sore affliction,"
would last "one week" of seven years. Ephraem's book, The Book of the
Cave of Treasures, taught about the genealogy of Christ. He wrote that the
sixty-ninth week of Daniel 9:24-27 ended with the rejection and crucifixion of
Jesus the Messiah. He stated, "The Jews have no longer among them a king,
or a priest, or a prophet, or a Passover, even as Daniel prophesied
concerning them, saying, 'After two and sixty weeks Christ shall be slain,
and the city of holiness shall be laid waste until the completion of things
decreed' (Dan. 9:26). That is to say, for ever and ever" (italics added, The
Cave of Treasures, page 235). In Daniel's prophecy he foretold that Jerusalem
would be rebuilt "even in troublesome times" during the initial period of
"seven weeks" of years (49 years). Daniel's prophecy declared that this initial
period of seven "weeks" of years would be immediately followed by a further
period of 62 "weeks" of years ending with the cutting off of the Messiah (483
years). The combined total of 69 weeks of years (7 weeks plus 62 weeks) was
to conclude with the rejection of Christ. As
quoted above, Ephraem taught that Jesus Christ was slain at the end of the
combined 69 weeks of years.
However, in the section of his book dealing with the future war of God and
Magog, Ephraem wrote about the final (seventieth) week of Daniel as
follows: "At the end of the world and at the final consummation ... suddenly
the gates of the north shall be opened. ... They will destroy the earth, and
there will be none able to stand before them. After one week of that sore
affliction [Tribulation], they will all be destroyed in the plain of Joppa. . . .
Then will the son of perdition appear, of the seed and of the tribe of Dan....
He will go into Jerusalem and will sit upon a throne in the Temple saying, 'I
am the Christ,' and he will be borne aloft by legions of devils like a king and a
lawgiver, naming himself God.... The time of the error of the Antichrist will
last two years and a half, but others say three years and six months" (italics
added). Although there are some curious elements in his description of
prophetic events, it is clear that Ephraem believed that the seventieth final
week of Daniel's prophecy of the 70 weeks will finally be fulfilled during the
final seven years of this age when the Antichrist will appear. This evidence
of a belief in a "gap" or "parenthesis" between the sixty-ninth and seventieth
week of Daniel 9:24-27 from the fourth century of the Christian era is
significant. It is worthwhile to note that the teaching that there would be a
"gap" or parenthesis between Daniel's sixty-ninth week and the seventieth
week of years was also taught by others in the Early Church, including the
epistle of Barnabas (A.D. 110) and the writings of Hippolytus (A.D. 220).
Dr. John Gill Taught the Pre-Tribulation Rapture in 1748
Dr. John Gill, a famous eighteenth-century Baptist theologian, published his
commentary on the New Testament in 1748. He is considered a serious
Calvinist scholar who wrote many volumes on theology. In his commentary
on I Thessalonians 4:15-17, Dr. Gill points out that Paul is teaching a doctrine
that is "something new and extraordinary." Gill calls the imminent translation
of the saints "the rapture" and calls for watchfulness because "it will be
sudden, and unknown before-hand, and when least thought of and
expected." This is a clear, detailed 1748 teaching on the imminent pre-
Tribulation Rapture (80 years prior to John Darby in 1830).
"For this we say to 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"
(I Thess. 4:15). Gill's commentary on this
passage is: "The Apostle, having something new and extraordinary to
deliver concerning the coming of Christ, the first resurrection, or the
resurrection of the saints, the change of the living saints and the Rapture
both of the raised, and living in the clouds to meet Christ in the air
expresses itself in this manner" (italics added).
"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" (I Thess. 4:17). In commenting on this verse Gill revealed that he
understood there would be an interval of time between the Rapture and the
return of saints with Christ at Armageddon.
Suddenly, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, and with force and power;
by the power of Christ, and by the ministry and means of the holy angels;
and to which rapture will contribute the agility, which the bodies both of the
raised and changed saints will have; and this rapture of the living saints will
be together with them; with the dead in Christ, that will then be raised; so
that the one will not prevent the other, or the one be sooner with Christ than
the other; but one being raised and the other changed, they'll be joined in
one company and general assembly, and be rapt up together: in the clouds;
the same clouds perhaps in which Christ will come will be let down to take
them up; these will be the chariots, in which they'll be carried up to Him; and
thus, as at our Lord's ascension a cloud received Him, and in it He was
carried up out of the sight of men, so at this time will all the saints ride up
in the clouds of Heaven: to meet the Lord in the air; whither He'll descend...
here Christ will stop and will be visible to all, and as easily discerned by all,
good and bad, as the body of the sun at noonday; as yet He will not
descend on earth, because not fit to receive Him; but when that and its
works are burnt up, and it is purged and purified by fire, and become a new
earth, He'll descend upon it, and dwell with His saints in it: and this
suggests another reason why He'll stay in the air, and His saints shall meet
Him there, and whom He'll take up with Him into the third heaven, till the
general conflagration and burning of the world is over, and to preserve them
from it: and then shall all the elect of God descend from heaven as a bride
adorned for her husband,
and He with them ... then they shall be with Him, wherever He is; fist in the
air, where they shall meet Him; them in the third heaven, where they shall
go up with Him; then on earth, where they shall descend and reign with Him
a thousand years; and then in the ultimate glory to all eternity.
To summarize Dr. Gill's 1748 pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching about the
sequence of prophetic events it is vital to note that he declared:
1. The Lord will descend in the air.
2. The saints will be raptured in the air to meet Him.
3. Here Christ will stop in the air and will be visible.
4. As yet, He will not descend on earth, because it is not fit to receive Him.
5. He'll take up the saints with Him into the third heaven, till the general
conflagration and burning of the world is over.
6. He will preserve them from it.
7. And then shall all the elect of God descend from heaven to earth with
Gill then summarizes the sequence:
1) They shall be with Him, wherever He is; first in the air, where they shall
meet Him, then Him; then
2) In the third heaven, where they shall go up with
3) On earth, where they shall descend and reign with Him a thousand years.
Therefore, in addition to Ephraem's pre-Tribulation teaching from the fourth
century, we have another clear statement of this doctrine from Dr. John Gill,
more than 80 years before John Darby in 1830. Those who have stated that
the pre-Tribulation Rapture was never taught throughout the entire history of
the Church until 1820 are simply ignorant of these important Christian texts.
The French writer Joubert once wrote, "Nothing makes men so imprudent and
conceited as ignorance of the past and a scorn for old books."
Why is it important to teach the doctrine of the pre-Tribulation
Rapture? The apostle Peter warned that many people would challenge our
Lord's promise of His second coming in the last days. "Knowing this first;
that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts,
and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming?'
(2 Pet. 3:3-4).
What does the Bible teach us about the proper attitude of a Christian on the
subject of Christ's return? Paul tells us, "So that you
come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus
Christ" (I Cor. 1:7).
One of the distinguishing characteristics of a true follower of Jesus is that of
a faithful, waiting, and watching servant. Dr. Klink, one of the great students
of the faith of the Early Church, wrote, "This constant expectation of our
Lord's second coming is one of the characteristic features of primitive
Christianity." Paul also commends a constant expectation of the Rapture in
Philippians 3:20 where he said, "For our citizenship is in heaven; from which
we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."
The great reformer John Calvin wrote of the vital importance of the hope of
the Second Coming: "It ought to be the chief concern of believers to fix their
minds fully on His Second Advent." Martin Luther, in his Sermon of
Consolation, declared that the hope of Christ's return is an absolute
necessity for a Christian: "If thou be not
filled with a desire after the Coming of this day, thou canst never pray the
Lord's prayer, nor canst thou repeat from thy heart the creed of faith. For with
what conscience canst thou say, 'I believe in the resurrection of the body and
the life everlasting,' if thou dost not in my heart desire the same? If thou didst
believe it, thou must, of necessity, desire it from thy heart, and long for that
day to come; which, if thou doest not desire, thou art not yet a Christian, nor
canst thou boast of thy faith."
Throughout the New Testament we read continual exhortations to hold the
hope of our Lord's soon return as the focus of our spiritual
life. Far from being an unimportant issue, interesting only to students of
prophecy, the "blessed hope" of the Rapture should be a cornerstone of
every Christian's spiritual life.
The message and hope of the imminent second coming of Christ to rapture
the saints has the following purposes:
1. - It calls us to constant watchfulness for His return
(I Thess. 5:4-6).
2. It motivates Christians to witness to unbelievers in
light of His imminent coming (John 9:4).
3. It reminds us to walk in holiness in an immoral world while we await His
return (I John 3:3).
4. It comforts the saints by reminding them of their eternal destiny with Christ
5. It warns of the coming judgment on those who reject His salvation (2 Thess.
6. It inspires us to persevere against opposition in light of His reward (2 Tim.
7. It encourages sinners to repent and accept the Lord while there is still time
The promise in the Scriptures of the imminent second coming of the Messiah,
Jesus Christ, is the last best hope of mankind. It is the promise of the ultimate
vindication of God's plan to redeem mankind and the earth from the curse of
sin and death. The final realization of Jesus Christ's claim that He is the
promised Messiah, and the fulfillment of prophecies about the coming
kingdom of God will culminate when the heavens open to reveal Christ coming
in all His glory at the Battle of Armageddon. However, the Scriptures teach
that another event will occur before Christ comes to defeat the Antichrist and
the armies of the world at Armageddon at the end of the sevenyear tribulation
period. This separate and earlier event is often called the Rapture. Throughout
the Bible the passages that detail the revelation of Christ at the end of the
tribulation period describe a totally different event than those passages
describing the coming of Christ in the air to take the saints home to heaven.
The longing for the Rapture and the return of Christ has motivated
generations of Bible students to examine the Scriptures in a search for clues as
to the exact timing of His glorious appearing. Unfortunately, despite clear
scriptural warnings against date-setting regarding the time of His return, many
have indulged in unhelpful speculation about the time of the Rapture. Harold
Camping's book 1994, for example, claimed that Christ would return on
September 17, 1994. Millions of followers of these writings have been deeply
disappointed when their foolish predictions proved false. However, despite
these disappointments, we must not abandon our hope for an imminent
Rapture. We must simply be obedient to Christ's command that "Now when
these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your
redemption draws near" (Luke 21:28).
John Wesley de Fletcher wrote a fascinating letter to Charles
Wesley in 1755 that expressed the proper attitude we should have toward the
return of Christ. "I know that many have been grossly mistaken as to the year
of His return, but, because they were rash, shall
we be stupid? Because they say 'Today!' shall we say, 'Never!' and cry 'Peace,
peace,' when we should look about us with eyes full of expectation?"
The Bible warns us to live in holiness because Christ could return at any
moment, without warning. Jesus, in Luke 12:37 and 40, admonished, "Blessed
are those servants, whom the master, when he comes, will find watching ....
Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do
not expect." Peter, in his second epistle, said, "You therefore, beloved, since
you know these things beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own
steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked" (2 Pet. 3:17). We
must live in a dynamic spiritual balance. While we are commanded to live in
holiness and urgently 'witness as though He will return before the
dawn, we are called to plan and work to fulfill the Great Commission as if He
will tarry for another hundred years. We are to "do business ['occupy' in the
Authorized Version] till I come" (Luke 19:13),
fulfilling Christ's Great Commission to "go therefore and make disciples of all
the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the
Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all
things that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20).
This discovery of texts written before 1820 brings us to the conclusion that a
remnant of the faithful, from the beginning of the Early Church until today,
have upheld the great precious biblical truth of pre-Tribulation Rapture.
Ephraem the Syrian's A.D. 373 manuscript On the Last Times, the Antichrist,
and the End of the World, along with Dr. John Gill's 1748 Commentary on the
New Testament refute the dogmatic declarations of a post-Tribulation Rapture.
In my earlier book, Apocalypse, I quoted from the early Christian writing
called Shepherd of Hermas (A.D. 110), proving it taught the preTribulation
Rapture as the hope of the Church.
The Discovery of the Tombs of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus
Some writers have claimed that there is virtually no archaeological evidence to
back up the historical claims of the Gospels. The truth is that tremendous
archaeological evidence has been discovered in
Israel that proves the accuracy of the New Testament!
Over a century ago a French Christian archaeologist, Charles Claremont-
Gannueau, wrote a little-known report, dated November
13, 1873, from Jerusalem to the Palestine Exploration Fund. In this report he
told of his monumental discovery, in a sepulchral cave near Bethany, of a
group of Jewish ossuaries (stone coffins) from the first century of the
Christian era. To his great surprise, Claremont-Gannueau found that these
ancient Jewish stone coffins contained the names of numerous individuals
mentioned in the New Testament as members of the Jerusalem Church.
Despite its importance, this report was not published in the newspapers of
the day. As a result, it was virtually lost to history. Several years ago I
purchased a book, from a rare book dealer in London, which contained this
obscure report by Charles Claremont-Gannueau. The 1874 report, published
by the Palestine Exploration Fund, included his translation of several of these
inscriptions, which indicated that he had discovered the tombs of Mary,
Martha, and Lazarus, as well as numerous other Christians from the first-
century church. A Christian newspaper from Israel, the Jerusalem Christian
Review, has carried several fascinating articles in the last few years about the
wonderful archaeological discoveries that confirm the historical accuracy of
the Gospel account.
In the spring of 1873, Effendi Abu Saud, while constructing his house on the
eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives near the road to ancient Bethany,
accidentally discovered a cave that proved to be an ancient burial catacomb.
Inside, he found 30 ancient stone coffins. Professor Charles Claremont-
Gannueau examined the ossuaries in this ancient family sepulchral cave
carved out of limestone rock. The Jews in the first century buried their dead
either in the ground or in a tomb. Several years later they would clean the
bones of the skeleton and re-bury these bones in a small limestone ossuary,
often 45 inches long, 20 inches wide, and 25 inches high. The lids of these
ossuaries are triangular, semi-circular, or rectangular. Inscriptions containing
the name and identification of the deceased were painted or engraved on the
sides or on the lids of the ossuaries, in Hebrew or Greek. Claremont-
Gannueau was excited to note that several ossuaries were inscribed with
crosses or the name "Jesus," proving that these Jewish deceased were
Christians. Although he was unable to take photographs, he did take
squeezes with a special cloth of the ornamented surfaces as well as of the
Engraved on the sides of three of these ossuaries from this cave were the
names of "Eleazar" (the Hebrew form of the Greek name "Lazarus"),
"Martha," and "Mary." These names were followed by the sign of the cross,
proving they were Christian. In the Gospel of
John we read the touching story of Christ raising His friend Lazarus from the
dead. "Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary
and her sister Martha" (John 11: 1).
Claremont-Gannueau noted that this was one of the most important
archaeological discoveries ever made concerning the origins of the early New
Testament Church. He wrote, "This catacomb on the Mount of Olives
belonged apparently to one of the earliest families
which joined the new religion of Christianity. In this group of sarcophagi,
some of which have the Christian symbol and some have not, we are, so to
speak, [witnessing the] actual unfolding of Christianity. Personally, I think
that many of the Hebrew-speaking people whose remains are contained in
these ossuaries were among the first followers of Christ.... The appearance of
Christianity at the very gates of Jerusalem is, in my opinion, extraordinary
and unprecedented. Somehow the new [Christian] doctrine must have made its way into the Jewish system.... The association of the sign of the cross with (the name of Jesus) written in Hebrew alone constitutes a valuable fact."
The 1874 report contained the following additional inscriptions found on
1. Salome, wife of Judah, engraved in very small
characters ... a cruciform sign.
2. Judah, with the cross. Perhaps the husband of
3. Judah the Scribe. On another face of the sarcopha
gus, Judah, son of Eleazar the Scribe.
4. Simeon the Priest (Cohen).
5. Martha, daughter of Pasach. Perhaps the name is
Jewish as well as Christian.
6. Eleazar, son of Nathalu. The form "Nathai" for
Nathan is not uncommon.
7. Salamtsion, daughter of Simeon the Priest. The
name of the woman, Salam Sion, is of the greatest interest.
It is the name Salampsion of Josephus (daughter of Herod).
1. Jesus, twice repeated, with the cross
2. Nathaniel, accompanied by a cross.
It is interesting to note that Claremont-Gannueau also found in
one of the ossuaries "three or four small instruments in copper of bronze,
much oxidized, consisting of an actual small bell, surmounted by a ring. The
Arabs thought they were a kind of castanets. Can we trace here the equivalent
of the bells hung on the robe of the high priest? And do these omaments
come from the sarcophagus of our Simeon?"
The French archaeologist realized that there is a high degree of probability
that these tombs belonged to the family of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, the
close friends of Jesus. Claremont-Gannueau wrote, "What gives additional
value to these short inscriptions is that they furnish a whole series of names
found in the Gospels, in their popular and local Syro-Chaldaic forms. The
presence of the names of Jesus and Martha, of which we only knew
historically that it was the feminine form of the Aramaic, would alone be
sufficient to make this collection important from an exegetic point of view. By
a singular coincidence, which from the first struck me forcibly, these
inscriptions, found close to the Bethany road, and very near the site of the
village, contain nearly all the names of the personages in the Gospel scenes
which belonged to the place: Eleazar (Lazarus), Simon, Martha ... a host of
other coincidences occur at the sight of all these most evangelical names."
In addition, the Italian scholar P. Bagatti discovered another catacomb holding
100 ossuaries on the western side of the Mount of Olives, opposite the
Temple Mount, near the Catholic chapel called Dominus Flevit. Coins minted
by Governor Varius Gratus (A.D. 16) proved that these tombs were used for
burial of Christians before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Several of the
coffins in the cave belonged to a family of priests buried in the first century.
Based on the inscribed crosses and the name "Jesus," Baggati concluded that
several of these priests were followers of Jesus Christ. Bagatti found many
ossuaries containing the following names inscribed on their sides, together
with the sign of the cross or the name of Jesus: Jonathan, Joseph, Jarius,
Judah, Matthias, Menahem, Salome, Simon, and Zechariah. Many of these
names appear in the New Testament records of the Early Church at Jerusalem.
One ossuary contained the Greek inscription "Iota, Chi and Beta," which read
"Jesus Christ, the Redeemer."
Without question, the most fascinating ossuary was the one inscribed with
crosses and the name "Shappira." This is a unique name which has not been
found in contemporary Jewish literature
outside the New Testament passage of Acts 5: 1. Luke recorded the death of
this woman and her husband when they lied to God and the Church (Acts 5:1,
5-10). "But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a
possession. . . ."
During the fall of 1945, Dr. Eleazar Sukenik of Hebrew University investigated
another first century Jewish catacomb at the southem end of the Kidron Valley
on the road to Bethlehem. He found several ossuaries with the sign of the
cross, Greek inscriptions, a coin minted in A.D. 41 for King Herod Agrippa 1,
proving the tomb was sealed by A.D. 42. Professor Sukenik concluded that
the ossuaries "contain almost the whole dictionary of names in the New
One coffin had a surprising dedication in Greek to "Jesus" followed by the
exclamation "Y'ho," meaning "Jehovah" or "the Lord." The inscription reads:
"[To] Jesus, the Lord." In light of the A.D. 42 date for the sealing of this tomb,
the presence of this dedication to "Jesus, the Lord" attests to the acceptance
by Christians of Jesus Christ as God within ten years of the death and
resurrection of Jesus. Christian theologian Professor Alexander Hopkins
commented on this significant inscription as follows: "The inscription which
was hidden for almost 2,000 years and inscribed at least two decades before
any part of the New Testament was written. . . bears a personal testimony of
faith ... a message from the past with a very modem meaning for the present."
Several years ago they found another Jewish Christian ossuary in Jerusalem
that contained the inscription "Alexander, son of Simon of Cyrene." The
Gospel of Mark refers to this person as follows, "Now they compelled a
certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was
coming out of the country and passing by, to bear his cross" (Mark 15:21).
Miracles, Healing, and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit Continued for Centuries
Many Christians have been told that the miracles, healings, and charismatic
gifts of the Holy Spirit, enumerated in I Corinthians 12, were given to the early
Christians solely to launch the Church, and that these supernatural signs
ceased when the apostles died. Several writers have declared that a search of
the writings of the Early Church confirms that there are no references to these
"gifts" continuing in operation beyond A.D. 100. 1 recently acquired a CD-
ROM computer disk that contains the writings of the Early Church writers
time of Christ until the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, known as the Ante-
Nicene Fathers. After an exhaustive search of these early Christian writings, I
can confirm that God continued to manifest His supernatural power in the
display of miraculous hearings, raising from the dead, and other charismatic
gifts of the Holy Spirit for the next three centuries following the resurrection
There are brief references to these gifts still continuing in the Early Church
manual known as the Testimony of the Apostles - the Didache (11: 10- 13,
11:20) composed in A.D. I 10. Additional references are found in the Letter to
the Corinthians (2:1-5) by Clement, bishop of Rome, written in A.D. 100, and
the Shepherd of Hermas (43:9; 24-33; 52-54), written in A.D. I 10. However, in
addition to those above there are a number of significant references to these
supernatural gifts continuing in the Church for centuries following Christ's
Irenaeus - Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called
The Christian teacher Irenaeus wrote a treatise called Refutation
and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called in A.D. 185 that
mentioned the continued operation of miraculous powers that were
exercised by believers in his day. He demonstrated clearly that right
down to his own time, manifestations of divine and supernatural
power were witnessed in some churches. "Some drive out demons
really and truly, so that often those cleansed from evil spirits believe
and become members of the Church; some have foreknowledge of the
future, visions, and prophetic utterances; others, by laying-on of
hands, heal the sick and restore them to health; and before now, as I
said, dead men have actually been raised and have remained with us
for many years. In fact, it is impossible the gifts which throughout the
world the Church has received from God and in the name of Jesus
Christ crucified under Pontius Pilate, and every day puts to effectual
use for the benefit of the heathen, deceiving no one and making profit
out of no one." In addition, Irenaeus wrote, "Similarly, we hear of
many members of the Church who have prophetic gifts and by the
Spirit speak with all kinds of tongues, and bring men's secret thoughts
to light for their own good, and expound the mysteries of God."
Justin Martyr - Dialogue with Trypho
Justin Martyr wrote his Dialogue with Trypho in A.D. 165 and referred clearly
to many gifts of the Holy Spirit appearing in the daily
life of the second century Church (chapter XI). In chapter XXXIX he wrote,
"Daily some of you are becoming disciples in the name of Christ, and quitting
the path of error; who are also receiving gifts, each as he is worthy, illumined
through the name of this Christ. For one receives the spirit of understanding,
another of counsel, another of strength, another of healing, another of
foreknowledge, another of teaching, and another of the fear of God."
Tertullian - The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas
Tertullian was a major theologian and Christian writer from Carthage, North
Africa. In A.D. 215 he described these supernatural visions and prophetic
gifts of the Holy Spirit as operating normally in the third century Church:
"And thus we who both acknowledge and reverence, even as we do the
prophecies, modem visions as equally promised to us, and consider the
powers of the Holy Spirit as an agency of the Church for which also He was
sent, administering all gifts in all, even as the Lord distributed to every one."
Origen - Against Celsus
Origen was a Christian theologian who lived and taught in Alexandria, Egypt,
from A.D. 185 to 254. In his book Against Celsus, written in A.D. 250, Origen
described the gifts of the Holy Spirit as still appearing, but he notes that
these miraculous signs are beginning to diminish. "Traces of the Holy Spirit
who appeared in the form of a dove are still preserved among Christians.
They charm demons away and perform many cures and perceived certain
things about the future according to the will of the Logos" (book I, chapter
In book VII, chapter VIII of his book Against Celsus, Origen noted that these
charismatic gifts were diminishing, although some "traces of His presence"
are still evident. "Moreover, the Holy Spirit gave signs of His Presence at the
beginning of Christ's ministry, and after His ascension He gave still more; but
since that time these signs
have diminished, although here are still traces of His presence in a few who
have had their souls purified by the Gospel and their actions regulated by its
Novatian - Treatise Concerning the Trinity
In A.D. 270, Novatian of Rome wrote a strong defense of the doctrine of the
Trinity and died as a martyr during the second last wave of persecutions of
the pagan Roman emperors. Novatian wrote toward the close of the third
century of the Church Age about the key role of the Holy Spirit in
empowering the Church. "They were henceforth
armed and strengthened by the same Spirit, having in themselves the gifts
which this same Spirit distributes, and appropriates to the Church, the
spouse of Christ as her ornaments. This is He who places prophets in the
Church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, gives powers and healings, does
wonderful works, offers discrimination of spirits, affords powers of
government, suggests counsels and orders, and arranges whatever other
gifts there are of charismata; and thus make the Lord's Church everywhere,
and in all, perfected and completed."
These documents from the first three centuries of the early Church Age tell
us that God continued to empower the saints with supernatural gifts and
healing miracles to demonstrate that the Holy Spirit's power was
How You Can Be Assured of Eternal Life in Heaven
Someday each of us will meet Jesus Christ face to face: "It is appointed for
men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). God declares that
"all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). It is
impossible for a Holy God to allow an unrepentant sinner into a sinless
heaven. In light of the many signs that His return is very near, each of us
must make our final choice. Every day their sinful rebellion is leading men
and women inexorably toward hell and an eternity without God. "For the
wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our
Lord" (Rom. 6:23). However, God loves us so much that He sent His Son
Jesus the Messiah to suffer the punishment for our sins for everyone who
would confess his sin and ask forgiveness. In the Gospel of John the prophet
declared: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become
children of God, even to those who believe in His name" (John 1: 12).
Final Warning - Final Choices
The Holy Scriptures declare that the choice regarding eternal salvation is
very clear. Who will be the god of your life? Jesus Christ or you? Either you
will admit you are a sinner in need of a pardon and will accept Jesus to
become your Lord, or you will insist on remaining the god of your life, even
though that decision will lead you to hell. If you insist on being your own
god, you will succeed, but at the awful cost of an eternity in hell. Pride is the
first and greatest sin. Sinful pride is displayed in the stubborn attitude of
many people who insist on having their own way, even at the cost of an
eternity without God.
Milton declared in his epic poem, "Paradise Lost," that in the end, either we
shall say to God, "Thy will be done," or in the end God will say to us, "Thy
will be done." Finally, it is your choice. Ultimately, you must choose heaven
or hell as your eternal destination. If you choose to commit your life to Jesus
Christ you will be assured that you will meet Him at the Rapture as your
Saviour. If you reject His claims to be the Lord of your life, you will have
chosen to meet Him as your final judge at the end of your life. The apostle
Paul quoted Isaiah when he said, "Every knee shall bow to Me, and every
tongue shall confess to God" (Rom. 14:11; Isa. 45:23).
The New Testament recorded the crisis which prompted the jailer of the
Philippian prison where Paul and Silas were imprisoned, to make his final
choice. God used an earthquake to break the chains that bound the two
preachers and to open the prison doors. When the jailer awoke he was afraid
that the prisoners had escaped. As he drew his sword to commit suicide, the
apostle Paul announced that the prisoners were still there. The frightened
jailer recognized the power of Jesus Christ to save His servants. He called
out, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Paul gave him the key to eternal life:
"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your
household" (Acts 16:30-31). The Bible confirms that this man and his family
found faith in Christ. "He rejoiced, having believed in God with all his
household" (Acts 16:34).
Jesus Christ's invitation to salvation remains open to anyone who is willing
to repent of their sins. There is still time to accept Jesus as your personal
Saviour. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any one hears My voice,
and opens the door, I will come in to him, and dine with him, and he with Me.
To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also
overcame and sat down with My Father in His throne. He who has an ear, let
him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev. 3:20-22).
For those who have already chosen to follow the Lord, I encourage you to
obey the Great Commission of our Lord and Saviour. In Matthew 28:19-20
Jesus commanded, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and
lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Our knowledge of the nearness of the return of Jesus Christ should awaken a
renewed love of Christ and a passion to witness to
those around us while there is still time. The purpose of this book is
to introduce non-believers to faith in Christ and to encourage Christians in their faith. In addition, my goal is to provide believers with
prophecy material that they can give to their friends and neighbors
who do not yet have a personal faith in Christ. The incredible events
of the last decade are causing many to ask what lies ahead for the earth.
There is a growing fascination in North America with Bible prophecies regarding the last days. This tremendous interest provides us with
the greatest opportunity to witness in our lifetime.
The Lord has not left us in darkness concerning the general time
of Christ's return. Although we cannot know "the day nor the hour in
which the Son of Man is coming" (Matt. 25:13), the fulfillment of
three dozen prophecies in our generation indicate that He is coming
back to earth in our generation. Someday soon the heavens will open
with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of
God" (I Thess. 4:16) announcing to the Church the awesome news
that our time of waiting is finally over. At that moment Jesus Christ
will appear in the clouds to receive His bride, His faithful Church,
rising supernaturally in the air to meet their Lord and King.
Despite the dangers that lie ahead for mankind, those who love
Jesus Christ as their Saviour can rest in the knowledge that all these
events are in the Lord's hands. The apostle John concluded his
prophecy with the great promise of Christ. "He who testifies to these
things says, 'Surely I am coming quickly.' Amen. Even so, come,
Lord Jesus!" (Rev. 22:20).