Good day! I hope you are all doing well.
Today we are going to look at some quotes by Irenaeus (125-202). Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp, who was himself a student of the Apostle John, which made him well suited to comment on John’s writings.
Our quotations come from a book entitled AGAINST HERESIES. Jesus, Peter, Paul and Jude all warned against the coming heresies; the wolves in sheep’s clothing who would move into the fold after they were gone. During Irenaeus’ time, the Gnostic heresies were engulfing the Church. AGAINST HERESIES is a five volume series written to refute every known heresy of Irenaeus’ time, and in doing so, he included John’s Apocalypse in his arsenal against the heresies. Our quotes come from Book IV.
The first quote includes a reference to Revelation. The importance of this is to show that Irenaeus, a second generation student of John’s, accepts Revelation and uses it in his apologetics.
“And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, ‘There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be.’ For this is the last contest of the righteous, in which, when they overcome, they are crowned with incorruption.”
Here, Irenaeus seems to be saying that the church will be raptured before the tribulation starts. This is implied in Rev. 4:1-2 (though we’ll get into all the arguments for and against that when we get there).
Irenaeus quoted from Mark and Matthew:
For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. (Mark 13:19; KJV)
For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. (Matthew 24:21; KJV)
The last line: “For this is the last contest of the righteous, in which, when they overcome, they are crowned with incorruption.” can only be a reference to Revelation. There are those who will be saved during the tribulation, they are the righteous, and this is the last chance for salvation, because after that comes the judgment.
This next quote comes from a section where Irenaeus is on a rant about people who are trying to guess the name of the Antichrist. He thinks they are just ridiculous. Then he starts guessing himself. And that’s where we come in:
“…Inasmuch, then, as this name ‘Titan’ has so much to recommend it, there is a strong degree of probability, that from among the many (names suggested), we infer, that perchance he who is to come shall be called ‘Titan’. We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.”
The part we are focusing on is: “for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.”
“Him who beheld the apocalyptic vision” is a reference to John and the Apocalypse, though, of course, he is not specifically named.
“For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.” This sentence is saying that John’s time was not that long ago (for Irenaeus) and that the visions occurred towards the end of Domitian’s reign. We will see other references to this sentence, and some people challenge “For that was seen” and think it should be translated as “For it was seen”, and then they challenge what the “it” is referring to. For instance, those who want the visions to have been seen much earlier say that the “it” refers to the book of Revelation itself, not the visions. I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing those arguments in some of the more modern books.
For a large part of history, and for many people today, this one quote has pretty fairly nailed down when Revelation was experienced and written. As I’ve said, we will explore the opposing points of view as we come to them.
In my list of topics from last time, you’ll perhaps remember that I am interested in seeing how the commentators see the symbology of Revelation. So, here’s a quote from Irenaeus regarding that:
“…If, however, any shall endeavor to allegorize (prophecies) of this kind, they shall not be found consistent with themselves in all points, and shall be refuted by the teaching of the very expressions (in question)…’”
So this sentence tells us what he thinks about symbology. He finds allegories about prophecies such as this to be internally inconsistent. And, I have to say that I’ve noticed that when people allegorize Revelation, they usually have to leave part of it out because it just won’t fit.
The last quote again ties Revelation to Isaiah, like Justin Martyr did.
“For, behold,’ says Isaiah, ‘the day of the Lord cometh past remedy, full of fury and wrath, to lay waste the city of the earth, and to root sinners out of it.’…Now all these things being such as they are, cannot be understood in reference to super-celestial matters; ‘for God’, it is said, ‘will show to the whole earth that is under heaven thy glory.’ But in the times of the kingdom, the earth has been called again by Christ (to its pristine condition), and Jerusalem rebuilt after the pattern of the Jerusalem above, of which the prophet Isaiah says, ‘Behold, I have depicted thy walls upon my hands, and thou art always in my sight.’ And the apostle, too, writing to the Galatians, says in like manner, ‘But the Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all’…And in the Apocalypse John saw this new (Jerusalem) descending upon the new earth. For after the times of the kingdom, he says, ‘I saw a great white throne, and Him who sat upon it, from whose face the earth fled away, and the heavens; and there was not more place for them.’ And he sets forth, too, the things connected with the general resurrection and the judgment, mentioning ‘the dead, great and small.’ ‘The sea,’ he says, ‘gave up the dead which it had in it, and death and hell delivered up the dead that they contained; and the books were opened…”
From this it is clear that Irenaeus not only accepted Revelation, but also saw it as prophecy.
That’s it for today. Next time we’ll finish with the second century writers and start the third century. Until then, stay safe, and I’ll be praying for your enlightenment. k