When I was in school there were several ways to look at the timing of the Lord’s return. That Christ will return to earth in power and great glory is something which cannot be denied by anyone who reads the Bible in any literal sort of way.
The most prominent position among Bible-believers used to be “pre-tribulationalism” which taught that the Lord could return at any moment – following which would come the seven-year tribulation. That pre-trib appearing of Christ was in order to call away His saints which are living upon the earth. The calling-away is generally called “the rapture” although I prefer “the translation.” Some speak of “the rapture of the church,” but it is more correct to say “translation of the saints.” God’s saints will be instantly moved and changed from one sphere of life to another. Those Christians will be translated just like Enoch. Hebrews 11:5 – “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him.” Following the translation will come the tribulation, and after that Christ will return again with those translated saints to establish His one thousand year millennial kingdom.
The most common opinion among the liberal religionists – those denying a literal interpretation of the Bible – is a denial of the return of Christ at all, and a complete denial of a literal millennial kingdom. That is called the “a-millennial” position. “A” is a prefix negating something – “no millennium.” Related to “a-millennialism” because of their similar allegorical interpretations of the scriptures, some people believe Christ will return, but after the millennium. They were called “post-millennialists.” Then there are some who believe Christ would return before the millennium, but it would be either after the Tribulation, or perhaps in the middle of those seven years. They used to be called “post-tribulationists” and “mid-trib” people. Before we go on, I need you to understand the basic meaning of these terms – “pre-millennialism,” “pre-tribulationalism” and the “rapture” or the “translation” of the saints.
To me, a literal Bible interpretation demands the “pre-millennial” and “pre-tribulational” view. Christ will return to personally to establish His millennial kingdom, and He will come seven years before that to collect His saints. But obviously there are people who disagree, and it seems their numbers are growing. There is also a growing number of terms used to describe current opinions. There are words used which didn’t exist back in the 1970s, or at least they were given no ink or air time.
One of the newer terms has become so common that it has forced me to do some research on it. For a long time I had no idea what people meant when they called themselves “pre-wrath” believers. To my uneducated mind, it sounded like the same position that I hold – but that is not the case. This position has become so popular that it has become necessary that you be exposed to it.
Let’s begin with Revelation 6.
The pre-wrath rapture theory begins to differ from the pre-tribulation translation of the saints in the definition of “wrath.” According to the pre-wrath view, believers – you – will have to go through most of the tribulation, but not the time of God’s wrath. We will have to endure Satan’s fury and the uncontrolled wrath of wicked men, but we will be spared from the wrath of the Almighty. And often these people will point to the world’s current social climate saying, “See, it’s almost here.” Some might go so far as to say we are already in the tribulation. The problem is these folk are not quite as diligent as others in literally interpreting God’s Word. The pre-wrath rapture theory views Revelation 7–16 as “the wrath of God,” from which God’s saints are exempt. They say that none of us will personally experience those nine chapters of Revelation – praise the Lord. They rightly point to 1 Thessalonians 5:9 – “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” Did you hear that – “God hath not appointed us to wrath” – but did it say specifically “God’s wrath?” Then they take us to Revelation 6:17– “For the great day of his (God’s) wrath is come; and who shall be able stand?” Their conclusion is that you and I will not experience the wrath of God on earth which begins in Revelation 7, but we will have to face everything up to an including Revelation 6. We will not have to endure the seven trumpets or the seven vials of God’s wrath. But we will experience the opening of six of the seven seals, which are described in Revelation 6. Those six seals release the four horsemen – the conqueror, war, famine and death. The fifth seal reveals a multitude of martyrs, and the sixth involves the greatest earthquake in human history and astronomical disasters involving the sun, moon and stars. Two chapters later, the seventh seal is broken and the seven trumpets of God’s judgment blow.
I think that one of the problems with the pre-wrath theory is the very revelation of Revelation 6. They say that what is found here is all about the wrath of Satan and man. To some degree I can see that. The first and second horsemen are conquering nations through war. And I suppose that famine can be either man or Satan-caused. But I must wonder about the events of the sixth seal? These are definitely not man-made, but does Satan have this kind of power? “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.” Maybe Satan can cause this sort of thing, but most would say these are acts of God.
Another question involves an inconsistency – why are seals 1 through 6 not God’s wrath but seal 7 is? Then I have to ask our pre-wrath friends, who is it who opens these seals? In chapter 5:2 John “saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to pen the book and to loose the seals thereof?” John wept because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, until he was told to look and see the Lamb of God. Revelation 6:15 says, “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” Who is the Lamb? Isn’t it the Son of God? The Saviour? This is the One to Whom the Father hath committed all judgment. And then we return to verse 17 – “For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” Does this refer to what is coming up, or to what has just occurred? No sir, Mr. Pre-wrath, Revelation 6 is a part of the wrath of God, and the saints will not be there.
The pre-wrath people try to strengthen their opinion of Revelation 6 with Matthew 24.
They identify the first seal judgments – the human wrath – with Jesus’ description of the end times in Matthew 24:4-7. “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” Then they turn to verses 29 and 30 – “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
One of the basic problems of these well-meaning people is their confusion about the people of Matthew 24. They say Matthew is talking about you and me – or perhaps we should say “them” – the “pre-wrath folk.” But there are so many similarities between this chapter and dozens of Old Testament prophecies that there is no reason but to think that Christ in Matthew is referring to ISRAEL. Matthew 24 is not a revelation about the future of the Church or New Testament saints, but a prophecy about the future of Israel. “Oh, but that chapter refers to the elect,” say the pre-wrath people. I agree and point to the fact that Israel was chosen or elect from all the nations of the earth. I wonder how many Baptist pre-wrath proponents recognize and follow the Old Testament sabbath? The Lord says in verse 20, pray that when the when the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel takes place, it does not fall on the sabbath, when the Jew was forbidden to travel more than a mile.
Revelation chapters 1-4 help to dispel any doubts about a pre-trib verses pre-wrath translation.
After John’s introduction to the book and his re-introduction to the glorified Saviour, the Lord gives him a revelation about seven churches. At the time, they were seven actual congregations scattered around Asia and the Aegean Sea – Ephesus, Sardis, Pergamos, Philadelphia and so on. Many good scholars look on those seven churches as periods of religious history since the days of the Apostles until the time of the Translation. Others see representatives of these churches throughout history – any and all of them can be found on the earth today. Which every position is held, what no one can see, are any of these churches on earth during Revelation 4-20. They are gone. Not even hints of them. Specifically, there is no reference to them as existing churches in Revelation 5 or 6. I realize that arguments from silence are rarely conclusive, but in this case, based on other factors, their silence is at least instructive. And then again, are they totally silent?
In Revelation 4 we read: “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.” Verse 10 – “The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”
Who is the one sitting on the throne? He is the Creator. It is the Son of God, our Saviour. In Colossians, Paul said, In God’s Son, “who is the image of invisible God, we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins. For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.” Who is the One on the throne of Revelation 5? It is our Saviour. And who are the 24 elders who are worshiping the Saviour? Experts debate the meaning of the number 24, but most agree that these are God’s saints. They are clearly not angels. They say to the One on the throne, Thou “wast slain, and hast redeemed US to God by thy blood out every kindred, and tongue, and people and nation.” Who are the saints of Revelation 4 and 5? They are those whom the Lord translated at the conclusion of Revelation 3 when God’s churches cease to exist upon the earth.
Today’s saints will not be here when ANY of the seven seals are opened by the Son of God. The pre-wrath people are correct in saying that we will not have endure GOD’S wrath. But they are incorrect when they mis-diagnose the beginning of that wrath. God’s people will be translated before the first moment of the tribulation.
I can’t say that I have spent a hundred hours studying the pre-wrath ideas But what time I have spent has sustained the belief that I have held for 50 years. It is summarized by Paul in I Thessalonians. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 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. Wherefore (I am) comforted…with these words.”