Eschatology in the Didache: Early Church Teaching, Part 1 :: By Ron Ferguson


The Examination of a Section. PART 1


At the start, we take a general look at what the Didache is: This is taken from “Living Faith.”

The Didache (Greek, “The Teaching”) [Sometimes called “The Teaching of the Twelve Disciples”] is an ancient Christian writing generally dated towards the end of the 1st Century AD. For centuries its existence was only known through sporadic references in the works of the early church fathers, and scholars believed it was lost forever.

In 1873, Greek Orthodox bishop Philotheos Bryennios discovered an 11th Century Codex Hierosolymitanus during his tenure at the Patriarchal School of Constantinople. Within its pages, he found a copy of the Didache, and scholars were able to study it for the first time.

The Didache provides a guide to Christian living and the organization of the church. It affirms essential doctrines and provides detailed instructions on morality, baptism, fasting, the memorial meal, and ministry.”

Joan Hazelden Walker, “Reflections on a New Edition of the Didache,” Vigiliae Christianae (1981) wrote this: “The discovery of the Didache in 1873 has been acclaimed in many a eulogy, in many a language, and by many a scholar. And rightly so. For this work has cast a spell over even the most cautious who, finding its magic irresistible, seek time and again to prise its secrets. For however else can one explain the unending fascination expressed in such an abundance of words for a work written with so few – a bibliography which exceeds any reasonable expectation?”


The date of the Didache is put down as anywhere from the third quarter of the first century to the early second century. It represents some of the earliest teaching and practice of the Christian church, if not the earliest. Conservative scholars tend to favor an earlier date and the odd one as late as 150 AD.

The Didache means “the teaching” (of the 12) and is actually a very valuable volume as to the practice of the primitive church in one area, with Syria or Egypt being suggested, but it seems to have been known universally.

William Varner, Professor of Biblical Studies, The Master’s College, wrote: “Though scholars have occasionally proposed a very early date (prior to AD 70) for the writing, it seems safer to follow Lightfoot and a number of other scholars in recognizing that it is a document that reflects views of a group of Jewish(?) Christians who lived and ministered during the last decades of the first century. The strongest arguments for a first-century date are, (1). The primitive simplicity of the Didache’s teaching on Jesus and the church’s leadership, and (2). Its silence about any persecution experienced by its readers or writer(s). An even earlier date, however, is still possible.”


Here is the translation from the Greek by J B Lightfoot for that whole section:


1 Be watchful for your life;

2 let your lamps not be quenched and your loins not ungirded, but be ye ready;

3 for ye know not the hour in which our Lord cometh.

4 And ye shall gather yourselves together frequently, seeking what is fitting for your souls;

5 for the whole time of your faith shall not profit you, if ye be not perfected at the last season.

6 For in the last days the false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate.

7 For as lawlessness increaseth, they shall hate one another and shall persecute and betray.

8 And then the world-deceiver shall appear as a son of God;

9 and shall work signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands;

10 and he shall do unholy things, which have never been since the world began.

11 Then all created mankind shall come to the fire of testing, and many shall be offended and perish;

12 but they that endure in their faith shall be saved by the Curse Himself.

13 And then shall the signs of the truth appear;

14 first a sign of a rift in the heaven, then a sign of a voice of a trumpet, and thirdly a resurrection of the dead;

15 yet not of all, but as it was said:

16 The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him.

17 Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.

That represents an accumulation of memory fragments and texts copied from oral tradition, passed from one to the other, and written down by the writer as remembered.

It forms no exact chronological order and appears to us as disorganized, though there is a general progression of events of sorts. With the lack of scripture in those very early days and no real texts to refer to, apart from Matthew maybe, most teaching was oral. This obviously is an oral recall.

What I want to explore in this article is the section of the Didache that deals with eschatology. We note that there is no reference whatever to any event in Revelation, and the eschatology is derived mainly from Matthew 24 and Paul’s epistles to the Thessalonians, though references from other portions were known. That suggests that Revelation had not yet been written, which makes the pre-AD 90 date all the more likely. It is obvious that at the time of writing, Matthew and some of Paul’s letters formed the texts that were known. Remember too that copies of the scriptures then were extremely rare and only included portions; most people were illiterate, and much of what was carried forward was by word of mouth. There could be a reference to 1Corinthians 15. I want to examine this eschatological section according to its paragraphs.

Paragraphs 1-3

1 Be watchful for your life;

2 let your lamps not be quenched and your loins not ungirded, but be ye ready;

3 for ye know not the hour in which our Lord cometh.

Eschatology is all about the Lord’s coming, which is related to last things. In these early days, hardly any writers distinguished between the two future comings and had them merged or confused (as quite a number do today). In fact, apart from small references here and there in the Church Fathers, this whole area remained confused and unknown until the early 19th century when God chose to make it so much clearer to His people, the Christians of the last 200 years of the Church age.

We must be very careful here not to be arrogant and puffed up with knowledge as if thinking these people should have known more. They did not, and did not have the complete scriptures, and had to do their best to define what all these things meant and how they applied. I think they did a remarkable job with what they had. Us “modern people” have the benefit of 1,900 years of accumulated knowledge, whereas these Christian folk back then were only in the elementary stage of comparing scripture with scripture and trying to come to some decisions with their exegesis.

The thing they did know for sure was that there were events to happen in the last days.

The background for the first three paragraphs is found in Matthew 24 and 25. It draws on the parable of the 10 virgins that ends with {{Matthew 25:13 “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”}}

Also include {{Matthew 24:50 “The master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know,” and Matthew 24:42 “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”}} Both those Matthew chapters are set towards the end of the Tribulation, and it is the faithful Jewish remnant that is waiting, those Tribulation saints. Those chapters are totally unrelated to the Church (NO Rapture being in Matthew 24 and 25), but there was no such distinction in those very first days when deciphering the New Testament scripture had hardly begun.

In fact, they would have known only one coming, possibly because the truth of the Rapture was not revealed until Paul wrote 1Thessalonians to reveal the mystery that had remained sealed up in all human history, and that book was possibly unknown to this group of Christians, only certain received texts from word of mouth.

The introduction to this section in the Didache is, {{“Be watchful for your life”}} (another translation – {{“Watch for your life’s sake”}}), and that is of great importance. For whether it be Christians in the Church age waiting for the Rapture or the Jewish saints at the end of the Tribulation waiting for the Messiah, we all need to be watchful. This injunction in the Didache was to encourage the believers to live proper lives and not be careless. When we all have before us the “any day coming” of the Lord’s return, then we ought to live more consistent and sanctified lives. More than ever in these days, we need to be living as if the Lord is coming tomorrow.

Paragraph 2 speaks about having one’s loins not ungirded. That means all girded up, ready for action, “not unloosed” as another version says. The word is used in the KJV translation – {{Luke 12:35 “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning”}} where almost certainly that reference is taken from. Paul uses the same imagery for his verse, {{Ephesians 6:14 “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness.”}}

Paragraphs 4-5

4 And ye shall gather yourselves together frequently, seeking what is fitting for your souls;

5 for the whole time of your faith shall not profit you, if ye be not perfected at the last season.

Here there is a strong encouragement to continue in the fellowship with other believers in their community, and the reason for that is to be “perfected at the last season.” Christians in isolation may not be as enthused as Christians in combined fellowship. The writer of the Didache suggests that it is useless if the Christians then were not prepared for the Lord’s coming (which I think is meant by “perfected for the last season”) even though they were in the faith.

Another translation uses the words, “unless you have made yourselves perfect,” but I don’t think it is looking at sinless perfection, rather being an all-round Christian, following the first three paragraphs in this section. The Greek word for perfect means complete, for when something is complete, it is viewed as perfect. An alternate translation is, “for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you be not made perfect in the last time.”

I don’t think the “gather yourselves frequently” has any reference to what Paul wrote to the Hebrews about not forsaking the gathering of themselves together. Earlier in this writing, the Christians were told this: “And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.” The maintenance of holy fellowship was important to them.

Paragraphs 6-7

6 For in the last days the false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate.

7 For as lawlessness increaseth, they shall hate one another and shall persecute and betray.

Alternate translation – “For in the last days false prophets and corrupters will be plenty, and the sheep will be turned into wolves, and love will be turned into hate. When lawlessness increases, they will hate and persecute and betray one another.”

The mention of “last days” certainly puts us into the future, but a careful reading of the New Testament applies that term to the Church age; and the Old Testament references to that term (the last days) make it the end of the age, which is what the disciples asked the Lord in Matthew 24. The end of the Church age is the Rapture, and the end of the age is the end of man’s government forever, the Second Coming of Christ. Sadly, these are terribly confused.

The last days of the Church age = {{2Timothy 3:1 “Realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come . . .”}} and the last days of the age, i.e. the Tribulation leading to the Second Coming = {{Matthew 24:3 “As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?'”}} The Didache writer would not have distinguished all that, as it was in the nebulous “last days” without defining references.

The next known fact (Paragraph 6) was that in the last days, there is going to be an influx of false teachers and deceivers and wolves making their appearance. These would be corrupters, and as a result, some of the sheep will be deceived and would become wolves themselves. Hate will abound. What was known to these people was the following – {{Matthew 24:4 “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘See to it that no one misleads you….” Matt 24:11-12 “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many, and because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.”}}

(We know that will be in the Tribulation, for it comes from Matthew 24). Peter speaks of a similar thing in the Church age, but this was not the source for what the writer of the Didache was stating. {{2Peter 2:1-2 “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned.”}}

There is a statement here in the Didache that causes some thought. It says, “sheep will be turned into wolves.”

Another translation says, “sheep will be perverted and turn into wolves.”

In the Tribulation, to remain faithful to the Messiah will be a tough battle, and is why Jesus said, most people’s love will grow cold.” In the cauldron of persecution many/some fail.

I have been reading about the great persecutions, the horrific tortures and trials against the believers in France, Germany and England in the 1500s by the Roman Catholic church in Miller’s Church History, and even there, a few of them (praise God, only a few), under great trial, renounced the faith and themselves became persecutors. Such is the wickedness of human nature.

Paragraph 7 says they (people, both unsaved and professing) persecute and betray one another because of lawlessness. This would be true because, in the Tribulation, lawlessness will be rampant because the man of lawlessness has control.

Those times will be so bad, which is why Jesus has promised to “shorten the time” – {{Matthew 24:22 “and unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved, but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short.”}}

That will do for this article, and I will do the rest the next time.


Remember, those who may read and are not saved, once the true Church is taken up in the Rapture, the most terrible times will come on the earth in what is known as The Great Tribulation, which will be a time of God’s wrath on a sinful world that ignores God and blasphemes Him. You do not want to be part of that. Jesus’ offer of forgiveness is still open, so repent and turn to Him with faith for salvation. Give your life fully to the Lord Jesus Christ, for the Rapture must be quite close.