Eschatology, the Study of Last Things
by James T. Bartsch
The Nature of the Rapture
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
by James T. Bartsch, WordExplain
Reason 6. Wrath
A Post-Tribulation Rapture Exposes the Church to the Wrath of God, Contrary to Scripture
6. Wrath. A Post-Tribulation Rapture is not credible because it demands that Church-Age believers be exposed to the wrath of God, when the New Testament clearly exempts them from His wrath.
The Book of Revelation details an extensive time of the wrath (orgê, 3709) of God which is to come upon the world. This wrath is exhibited during the time of the Great Tribulation (Rev. 6:1-18:24). At Christ's breaking of the Sixth Seal (Rev. 6:12-17), there will be a great earthquake; the sun will become black as sackcloth; the whole moon will become like blood (Rev. 6:12); the stars of the sky will fall to earth (Rev. 6:13); the sky will split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up; and every mountain and island will be moved out of their places (Rev. 6:14). In response to these catastrophic celestial and terrestrial phenomena, kings of the earth, "great" men, chiliarchs, the rich, the strong, the slave and the free man will hide themselves in caves and among the rocks of the mountains (Rev. 6:15). They will beg the mountains and the rocks, "Fall upon us, and hide us from the face of the One sitting upon the throne, and from the wrath (orgê, 3709) of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath (orgê, 3709) came (aorist tense of erchomai, 2064), and what person is able to stand?" (Rev. 6:16-17, JTB translation). Both Christ and God exhibit wrath on this "great day," which is to be identified with "the Day of the Lord." The most notable feature of the Day of the Lord is the Tribulation period.
Prewrath Rapturists take the position that the first six seals are not God's wrath. In the article here cited, its author, Alan Kurschner, argues that the aorist tense of erchomai (2064) used in Rev. 6:17 is an ingressive aorist, and should be translated "for the great day of their wrath is about to come, and who is able to stand?" (emphasis mine). He argues that the context of Rev. 6:16-17 "indicates that the ungodly are fleeing to the caves because of the impeding [sic - he means impending] wrath of God." But Kurschner is, I believe, in error. A much more likely explanation of the actions of the ungodly is that they have already been experiencing the wrath of God and of the Lamb. That is precisely why they are already hiding and pleading for death! Labeling the aorist here an ingressive aorist conveniently fits in with his prewrath rapture position, but it does not do justice to the context. After all, it is Christ Himself who has opened each of the six seals and will open the seventh. To say that God's wrath does not begin until after the sixth seal simply does not square with the evidence. The Day of the Lord, the Tribulation period, begins in Revelation 6:1-2 with the Lamb's breaking of the First Seal. Already by the end of the Fourth Seal (Rev. 6:7-8), a staggering one fourth of the earth's population has been killed. In today's terms, that would mean 1.82 billion fatalities! And that isn't the wrath of God? A more likely assessment is that the aorist tense in Rev. 6:17 is a simple point action in past time. The wrath of God came already at the breaking of the First Seal (Rev. 6:1-2).
A third use of the word "wrath" in the Apocalypse is to be found in Rev. 11:18. There the 24 elders fell on their faces and worshiped God (Rev. 11:16). They said, "We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign" (Rev. 11:17). "And the nations were enraged (Aorist tense of orgizô, 3710), and Your wrath (orgê, 3709) came (Aorist tense of erchomai, 2064), and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth" (Rev. 11:18). Notice that the NASB here correctly translates both aorists as simple point action in past time. That is the same way it should be translated in Rev. 6:17. The whole Tribulation period, the Day of the Lord, is the time of God's wrath.
After witnessing the despotic, anti-God rule of the global dictator, the Beast (Rev. 13:1-18), John hears an angel saying with a loud voice, "...If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath (thumos, 2372) of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger (orgê, 3709); and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb" (Rev. 14:9-10). Here, the wrath of God includes the (temporal) punishment and disaster at the hand of God in the remainder of the Tribulation period, but it also includes eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire and Brimstone.
When the seventh angel poured out his bowl of the wrath (thumos, 2372) of God (Rev. 16:1) upon the air, a loud voice from the throne of the temple in heaven thundered, "It is done" (Rev. 16:17)! There was lightning and thunder and a record-setting earthquake (Rev. 16:18). "The great city (likely Jerusalem, see Rev. 11:8) was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath" (orgê, 3709) (Rev. 16:19). This action of God is summarized in Rev. 17:16, where the Beast and his confederate kings turn on the Prostitute, Babylon the Great, who had been riding astride it (Rev. 17:1-6), and desecrate her, eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. The burning of Babylon and the dismayed reactions of the earth's kings, merchants, and mariners is recorded in Rev. 18:1-24. The joy in heaven is recorded in Rev. 19:1-4. This pouring out of God's wrath upon Babylon will occur during the Tribulation period.
The final occurence of "wrath" in the book of Revelation is found in Rev. 19:15. This verse describes the Warrior Christ about to wage holy war on His opponents gathered on earth below. His robe is dipped in blood (Rev. 19:13), and He is accompanied by his armies (Rev. 19:14). From His mouth protrudes a sharp sword with which He will strike down the rebellious nations, "and He Himself treads the wine press of the wine of the rage (thumos, 2372) of the wrath (orgê, 3709) of God the Almighty" (JTB literal translation). This, of course, refers to the event that will terminate the Great Tribulation -- the Second Coming of Christ. His return will prove catastrophic for all the enemy combatants of the nations of the earth gathered against Him (Rev. 19:15-21).
The point we are making is that the entire Tribulation period, beginning with the opening of the Seven Seals (which begin at Rev. 6:1) clear until and including the Second Coming of Christ (Rev. 19:11-21) is a time of the wrath of God. There is no portion of the Tribulation that is not a venue for the display of God's wrath.
Preservation from the Wrath of God
What is significant in regard to the Church-Age Christian and the wrath of God is that he is promised an exemption. Jesus instructed the Apostle John to write to the "angel" (the word is aggelos, 32, which probably here means a human messenger) of the church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7). Among other things, Jesus told the church, "Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth" (Rev. 3:10). Though Jesus' promise obviously had to mean something to the church of Philadelphia of the First Century, the language goes beyond that local church. This testing is to come upon the entire "inhabited earth" (oikouménē, 3625). This appears to be a global testing. This understanding is confirmed by the next phrase: the purpose of this hour of testing is "to test the ones living upon the earth" (gē, 1093). This speaks of the eschatological global Tribulation period. It is the time when God will put mankind all over the globe to the test for how they have responded, or failed to respond to Him. And most of earth's population will fail this test miserably.
Yet there is a promise made to the global Church prior to the time of this global testing. Jesus will preserve the church from this hour of testing. This, I believe, speaks of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture which removes the church from the earth prior to the horrific Tribulation period. (Note the cautious approach of Daniel B. Wallace.)
The two epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians are key in this whole discussion. 1 Thess. 4:13-18 is the only passage in all of Scripture which implies the transformation of the mortal bodies of Christians alive at Christ's return into immortal bodies, and also speaks of transformed and resurrected believers being snatched up (harpazô, 726) to meet the Lord in the air. Without using the identical language, Paul does refer again to the same event in 2 Thess. 2:1. Also contained in both epistles is a discussion of the Tribulation period. Paul refers to the Tribulation period by its synonym, "The Day of the Lord" in both letters (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:2). He describes the Day of the Lord as coming on the world suddenly "like a thief in the night" (1 Thess. 5:2, 4). He says that the Day of the Lord cannot come until there is first "the apostasy," and the "Man of Lawlessness" is revealed (2:3), elsewhere known as "the Beast" (Rev. 13:1-18; 14:9, 11; 16:2, 10, 13; 17:3, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 17; 19:19, 20; 20:4, 10) and once as "the Antichrist" (1 John 2:18). The Day of the Lord will be inaugurated by the revelation of the "Lawless One" (2 Thess. 2:3, 8). This "Son of Destruction" (2 Thess. 2:3) will oppose all other gods and religions, and will take his seat in the rebuilt Jewish Temple of God as himself being God (2 Thess. 2:4)! His coming (parousia, 3952) will be in accordance "with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders," (2 Thess. 2:9) "and with all deception of wickedness for those who perish" (2 Thess. 2:10).
Yet Paul repeatedly reminded the Thessalonian Christians that they would not have to endure the wrath of God, whether during the Tribulation period or by being doomed to the Lake of Fire. They were waiting for God's Son from heaven, Jesus, "who rescues us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1:10). The Thessalonians were not in darkness so that the day of the Lord would overtake them like a thief (1 Thess. 5:4). Rather, they were "sons of light and sons of day" (1 Thess. 5:5). God had not destined them for wrath, "but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 5:9). They were not to be "shaken" from their "composure" or disturbed "by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us" to the effect that the "Day of the Lord" (including the Tribulation) had already come (2 Thess. 2:2). God had "chosen" them "from the beginning for salvation" (2 Thess. 2:13). Clearly, Paul taught a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. He taught the Thessalonian believers that they were exempt from the wrath of God that would come upon the earth during the "Day of the Lord," the Tribulation.
Conclusion: A Post-Tribulation Rapture is not credible, because, in contradiction to Scripture, it demands that Church-Age Christians will be forced to endure the wrath of God exhibited on the entire world throughout the Tribulation Period. A Pre-Tribulation Rapture simply fits in better with Scripture.
Prepared by James T. Bartsch
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)