Concerning things of the Last Days, the esteemed Fathers of the Early Centuries clearly laid out the expectation of perpetual persecutions of the believers in Christ. It is only in the last three centuries, starting with the dawn of 19th century, the Scriptures began to be abused to prove that interpretation of pre-tribulation rapture is to be expected. This is done at the expense of doctrine which were formulated over the centuries, defended and upheld by numerous Church Councils throughout the ages.
The spread of pre-tribulation rapture theory have led to numerous confusion, often conflicted interpretations, and public, embarrassing battles from the pulpits and arena of debates.
From the official teaching of the Catholic Church:
Since the Ascension Christ's coming in glory has been imminent, even though "it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority." This eschatological coming could be accomplished at any moment, even if both it and the final trial that will precede it are "delayed." CCC 673.By quoting the exact words of Christ from Acts 1:7, the Church clearly established the expectation that we are to be watchful and waiting while being occupied (Luke 19:13) in carrying out His Commission to "Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature," (Mark 16:15). To not do the works of the Lord is to brand oneself as the dreaded lazy servant whom the Master, when He comes to settles account, will punish quite severely as He warned.
Further, the Catechism of the Church continues:
Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil "the mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glories himself in place of God and of His Messiah come in the flesh. CCC 675.The Roman Catholic Church is not alone in believing in a tribulation of persecution of the saints. Eastern Orthodox Church, likewise, hold to the expectation of intense period of persecution.
A writing by a St. Tikhon of Zadonsk had this to say:
This is written for you concerning the second coming of Christ, of which we spoke briefly when you visited me. Is end you this letter and advise you to do that which is written therein. Christians (especially in this last time, when 1,780 and more years have already passed since the first coming of Christ), Christians, I say, should every day expect the last judgment and prepare for it with fitting penitence. When an earthly king plans to visit a city, and the city is informed of his coming, all the citizens await him and prepare to receive him. The heavenly king, Jesus Christ, intends to descend to earth a second time. This He Himself declared when He lived on earth, and His servants, the holy Apostles, announced as much, and Holy Church awaits His coming.
The saint goes on to say that every day each one of us are drawing closer and closer to when Christ comes again to judge and to render to each one of us our rewards for our deeds. Let us tremble! Let us not forget that Jesus, being fully God, sees all things, knows every secret thoughts, and all things will be laid bare for all to see! Let us confess urgently our sins! Let us never forget to cross ourselves and repeat, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner!" often as necessary!
Let us haste to read the earliest writings on record what the early Church taught of the Last Things before the dreaded and awesome Day of the Lord!
Generally accepted to be written before 150AD, it is the oldest written record of the teaching of the apostles before the Scriptures were canonized by the Synod of 397 at Carthage.
The Didache thus says of the Last Time:
Be watchful over your life; never let your lamps go out or your loins be ungirt, but keep yourselves always in readiness, for you can never be sure of the hour when our Lord may be coming. Come often together for spiritual improvement; because all the past years of your faith will be no good to you at the end, unless you have made yourselves perfect. In the last days of the world false prophets and deceivers will abound, sheep will be perverted and turn into wolves, and love will change to hate, for with the growth of lawlessness men will begin to hate their fellows and persecute them and betray them. Then the Deceiver of the World will show himself, pretending to be a Son of God and doing signs and wonders, and the earth will be delivered into his hands, and he will work such wickedness as there has never been since the beginning. After that, all humankind will come up for their fiery trial; multitudes of them will stumble and perish, but such as remain steadfast in the faith will be saved by the Curse. And then the signs of the truth will appear: first the signs of the opening heavens, next the sign of the trumpet's voice, and thirdly the rising of the dead - not of all the dead, but, as it says, "the Lord will come, and with him all his holy ones." And the whole world will see the Lord as He comes riding on the clouds of heaven... Chapter 16
Very clearly, the Didache made plain that, in consistency with Paul's epistles, the Christians were expected to behave godly and make regular assembly for worship. In addition, it is not said, but reading between the lines, confession of our sins is expected since the Lord Jesus Christ has authorized His apostles the power to forgive or retain sins, "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained," (John 20:23).
Second, the Didache made plain that in the last days, believers will be seduced by false teachings which have exploded in the last three centuries. While it is true the Church, whilst in infancy, battled heretics of their days, today have seen sky-rocketing apostasy from the Faith. Never have so many false teachings become so rampant in the Church, from self-appointed councils to preachers who are unlicensed to preach starting their own church, to multitudes of interpretations that falls more into science-fiction/fantasy realm than sound doctrine!
Third, the Didache makes plain that the Deceiver of the World, that is Antichrist, will arrive who will deceive and lead many astray, thus fulfilling the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels when He gave the Mount Olive discourse. Fourth, the Didache made plain that fiery trials is to be expected, many will be stumble and be destroyed, fulfilling the prophecy told by Daniel, but as the Lord promised, He will save them for He said, "And unless the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh should be saved: but for the sake of the elect which he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days," (Mark 13:20).
Finally, the Didache, in lockstep with the Lord Jesus Christ, predicts the resurrection of the dead, the arrival of Christ Himself, and after that is the glorious reign of Christ!
Justin Martyr - AD110-165
Arguably the first true apologetic for Christ and a philosopher who debated with philosophers of his days had this to say regarding the Second Coming of Christ and the arrival of Antichrist:
O unreasoning men! understanding not what has been proved by all these passages, that two advents of Christ have been announced: the one, in which He is set forth as suffering, inglorious, dishonoured, and crucified; but the other, in which He shall come from heaven with glory, when the man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us the Christians, who, having learned the true worship of God from the law, and the word which went forth from Jerusalem by means of the apostles of Jesus, Chapter CX, Dialogue with Trypho.In his First Apology, he had to say:
And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom; whereas we speak of that which is with God, as appears also from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, though they know that death is the punishment awarded to him who so confesses. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ, that we might not be slain; and we should strive to escape detection, that we might obtain what we expect. But since our thought are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since also death is a debt which must at all events be paid. Chapter XI.Students of the Scriptures should recall the words from Hebrews how the Christians shun the world and sought to live their faith even though it was in the desert and cave. To them, the world was unworthy. The writer of Hebrew also revealed that "But now they desire a better, that is to say, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city," (Hebrews 11:16).
Justin also made it clear that the Christians prefer death over the temporal kingdom that would fade, be conquered by powerful enemies, and eventually, we all will die at some point, some sooner than later. The theme is stressed again the appearing of Antichrist, intense persecution, and the Second Coming of Christ.
St. Irenaeus, AD120-202.
Probably the most prolific writer of the Ante-Nicene period who provided defense of the divinity of Christ and a host of other teachings the Catholic Church continues to uphold, such as the Literal Body and Blood of Christ of the Eucharist, through his voluminous five books Against Heresies, refuting the heretics of his days.
And continuing with arguing for the belief of intense persecution, the arrival of Antichrist prior to the Second Coming, St. Irenaeus detailed:
It is manifest, therefore, that of these [potentates], he who is to come shall slay three, and subject the remainder to his power, and that he shall be himself the eigthth among them. And they shall lay Babylon waste, and burn her with fire, and shall give their kingdom to the beast, and put the Church to flight. After that they shall be destroyed by the coming of our Lord. Against Heresies: Book V, Chapter XXVI, 1.Reading St. Irenaeus' works in the Fifth Against Heresies book from Chapter XXV, XXVI, and XXVII, the great saint painstakingly detailed, from the apocalyptic vision of Daniel and John, confirmed the coming Antichrist kingdom that will devour Christians, destroying much, setting himself up as if he was a god, only to be utterly defeated by Christ at His Second Coming.
While I could go in great details on what every Church Fathers have written, it should suffice to say that it is very clear the esteemed Fathers of the Early Church taught, affirmed, and upheld the doctrine that, prior to the Second Coming of Christ, a period of intense persecution will follow the arrival of the Antichrist, and as the Lord have promised, He will make those days short in order to preserve the saints.
Nonetheless, it does not absolve us of our responsibilities to continue to occupy our activity in service of the Lord, whether we labor in trade, in professional setting, in academic, or whatever else, we must strive to do for the Lord as the apostle says in Colossians 3:17, "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father."