Thursday, May 8, 2008

Tribulation Wrath Begins in Revelation 6

When does the tribulation wrath begin in the book of Revelation; and, does the church suffer under any part of this "wrath" of God that comes upon the earth?

While there was a period when some premillennial/dispensational scholars thought that Revelation 6 started the second half of the tribulation, almost all today who are really knowledgeable of God's Word hold the correct view, and that is that this chapter actually begins the terrible events of the seven year period of horror on earth. It is clear from 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 and 5:9 that the church will not go under that terrible period nor will the church experience the persecution of the antichrist. While he may be alive and have some kind of political position he does not begin his evil work until the peace pact is made with the Jews. He is seen as a savior for humanity and for the Jewish people.

Since the time of the rapture is not revealed in Paul's epistles, it is seen as imminent or certain even to the early church. In other words the rapture could potentially have taken place at any time. This would be the perspective of the believers living during Paul's day.

Paul writes to the Thessalonians how he was told they had "turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and TO WAIT for His Son from heaven, whom [God] raised from the dead that is Jesus, who will deliver us OUT FROM (ek) the WRATH (orgas) that is coming" (1 Thess. 1:9b-10). There is no mention of the church saints experiencing the diabolical work of the antichrist. One would think that if the church was going to go under his persecution, Paul would have told them how they might survive and escape his evil intentions. And one would think in the book of Revelation there would be some kind of mention as to the work of the church during the tribulation period. Instead, the most prominent witnessing body mentioned in the book is the 144,000 Jews, not church saints! They believe in the Lord and were then sealed as the tribulation began (Rev. 7:4). We know the tribulation was going on when they believed and were sealed. John writes that an angel cries out with a loud voice to the four angels, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads" (v. 3). While these are believing Jews they are never called members of the church or seen as part of the body of Christ, or said to be "in Christ."

There are some important points to note as I point out in my Greek commentary (The Hope of Christ's Return, AMG) on 1 Thessalonians 1:10:

Who delivers us. This is a Present Active Participle from ruomai that should be translated "the one who is rescuing." Some commentators have translated it as a timeless substantive (that denotes characteristics of the noun), "the Rescuer Jesus," or "Our Deliverer" (Alford). "He is our Savior (Matt. 1:21) true to His name, Jesus. He is our Rescuer (Rom. 1:26, ho ruomenos, from Isa. 59:20)" (Robertson).

Ruomai actually comes from the Classical Greek word eruo but in Koine the e is dropped. In Classical Greek, eruo can be translated "drag, draw," implying force of violence as in "drag away the body of a slain hero," or "drag away, rescue friends" (L&S). Vincent translates ruomai with the force of the Middle Voice, that is, "to draw to one's self, with the specification [from] evil or danger." The Present Participle could have the force of a prophetic future: "The One who will drag us [to Himself]."

From the wrath to come. Wrath (orges) in the Thessalonians context, as a divine act, refers to the "coming" or "approaching" Tribulation that will immediately follow the rapture of the church. As Paul is using it here there is no room for the church to go through part of the seven year tribulation period and witness the work of the antichrist. Paul makes his argument clean, neat, and a complete rescue from the entire period. This wrath is the final seven year period of earth's judgment; it is the wrath of Daniel's Seventieth Week that purges Israel and also becomes a judgment upon the entire world as seen beginning in Revelation 6:12-17.

The church, the body of Christ, is rescued by Jesus before that day comes (1 Thess. 5:9): "For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." Here Paul describes salvation as a rescue from the earthly wrath, the Day of the Lord (5:2) that comes upon the world. This wrath "is a title for the [entire] period just before Messiah's kingdom on earth, when God will afflict earth's inhabitants with an unparalleled series of physical torments because of their rejection of His will" (HBC). This truth "teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ will return to the earth, and it leads the soul to wait for his appearing" (Barnes).

The wrath "coming" is a Present Active Participle of erchomai. It is a coming wrath! The Present Tense "is frequently used to denote the certainty of a future event" (Lightfoot). Some say "the Wrath absolutely" (Vincent), or some translate it "the Wrath absolutely, the Coming!" Another translation is "the Wrath is on its way someday to the world" (Ellicott).

The wrath has absoluteness about it. It is certain and even moving in this direction though it will not arrive until after the rapture. The church will not experience its terrors and therefore will certainly not experience the evil of the antichrist.

I Thessalonians 5:9 adds to this:

For God has not destined us for wrath. If the church does not go under any part of the wrath neither will it experience the work of the antichrist or see him at work during this wrath/tribulation time. For (hoti) introduces the reason for the anticipation of deliverance. Believers in Christ are not "assigned" to the wrath that is on its way (see 1:10). Destined (tithemi, Aorist Middle Indicative) can be translated "to place, position, firmly fix, determine, make something happen" (EDNT). The clause here might be translated, "God has [not] Himself assigned, appointed us for being recipients of His wrath." With the Aorist Tense and Middle Voice, the apostle is giving a firm, absolute soteriological promise, the keeping and protecting of which will be a sovereign act of the Lord. The promise is given without conditions: "God, according to His own good will and pleasure has decreed that we shall escape the outpouring of His wrath" (Ritchie). No idea of going through the tribulation for a cleaning up of wayward believers, or of a "moral sanctification" or of a partial rapture is found here. No believer who belongs to the body of Christ in this present dispensation will be placed under this wrath!

But what about those who become believers during the tribulation after Revelation 5? They are tribulation believers but they are not described as: "The body of Christ," "Saints in Christ," "In Christ," "The church." No church officers are mentioned, "elders," "deacons." No congregations are mentioned or described. The church is not here; it is gone in the rapture!

The resurrection that takes place just a split second before the rapture describes the resurrected as those God will cause Jesus to "bring with Him, those who have fallen asleep IN JESUS" (1 Thess. 4:14). They are the DEAD IN CHRIST (v. 16). These are technical descriptions of church saints. And we the living church saints join the resurrected church saints. Paul makes this clear by writing "For this we say TO YOU ... who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord" (v. 15).

The "last trumpet" of 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 is not the 7th trumpet of Revelation 11:15-19. 1 Corinthians 15 is similar to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, speaking of both the resurrection and the rapture of "those in Christ." That trumpet is blown to call the workers home from the fields. It is a harvest trumpet.
The "wraths" of the book of Revelation are spread throughout the book. Wrath (orges) is mentioned in 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:10; 16:19; 19:15. The entire tribulation is described as "the wrath" right up front in Revelation 6:16-17. This is the "wrath of the Lord" i.e. "the great day of THEIR (the Father and the Lamb) came; and who is able to stand up under it?"
In Jeremiah 30, the birth pangs is "Jacob's distress" (za'rah, Hebrew, that can be translated tribulation) (v. 7). It is the Day of the Lord (v. 8). "Alas! for that DAY is great" (v. 7). The birth pangs of Jeremiah 30:6 is the Day of the Lord which the church saints will not go under (1 Thess. 5:2). It is the period when THEY, the world, will say "peace and safety" (v. 3). "They shall not escape" (v. 3), but "you, brethren (church saints), are not in darkness, that the day (of the Lord) should overcome you like a thief" (v. 4). You are sons of light, of day, and are not in darkness, "for God has not destined US for wrath but for obtaining deliverance through our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 9). Why do I translate sozo deliverance when it is often translated "salvation"? Because in the context the discussion is about the escaping the Day of the Lord. Paul's discussion is not about spiritual salvation. Smart people interpret the Bible by CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT!

The best of premillennial Bible teachers know that the entire tribulation begins at Revelation 6. There the tribulation is called "the wrath". Verse 17 calls it "the great day of their wrath" (of the Father and the Lamb) and notes that "it came" (Aorist Tense). It was already there in the events of chapter 6. The best of scholars understand this. Even a non-dispensationalist like Bruce Metzger writes: "with the sixth chapter, the main action of the book may be said properly to begin." The author of the best commentary on Revelation, Dr. Robert Thomas, says of chapter 6: "the commencement of the revelation proper, the first five chapters [of Revelation] having been introductory." Thomas is one of the best living Greek scholars today, and on 6:17 he writes:

John Sproule raises the possibility, without endorsing it, that "came" is a dramatic

Aorist that would give no time indication for the beginning of the great day of wrath. ... The only time an aorist indicative speaks of something future or something about to happen, however, is if it is a dramatic aorist (Dana & Mantey). ... Some contextual feature must be present to indicate clearly these exceptional usages. No such feature exists in the context of the sixth seal, so these special uses are not options here.

Rosenthal (Prewrath Rapture) cites a use of the same verb form in Rev. 19:7 to demonstrate its futuristic connotation (PreWrath Rapture, pp. 166-67), but this usage is in one of the heavenly songs that often in the Apocalypse utilize proleptic aorsts (e.g. Rev. 11:15-19). His citation of "has come" in Mark 14:41 is not relevant to the sixth seal, because the historical context of that passage clearly refers to Christ's coming crucifixion. The verb in Rev. 6:17 must be a constative aorist looking back in time to the point in the past when the great day of wrath arrived. (Revelation, I: 460)

Conclusion: The Day of the Lord, the wrath of God, begins in Revelation 6. The church saints will not be here!

Most of the greatest scholars point out that the tribulation begins in Revelation 6, and that by 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9, it is clear the church will not go under the wrath, therefore, the church will not be a witness to the evil of the antichrist. Here are some who hold that position:

R. H. Charles
Bruce Metzger
Ed Hindson
Robert Thomas
Walter Scott
Henry Morris
Leon Tucker
Stewart Custer
William Newell
Hal Lindsey
Tom McCall
Tim LaHaye
John Walvoord** (I know for a fact in interviewing him he held this view at the end of his life)

--Dr. Mal Couch