Chapter 5

The Revelation Problem

There are several passages in the book of Revelation supporting the idea that the Church will face the Antichrist’s persecution just before the rapture, and that both the rapture and the Day of the Lord, will not begin until after the midpoint of the 7-year period. This is all, of course, contrary to the traditional Pretrib model which teaches that the rapture will occur before the 7-year period begins.

In the book of Revelation most of the events that take place in the book correspond to various stages of a symbolic scroll being opened. For example, there are 7 seals on the scroll, and each time a seal is removed, a prophetic event takes place. After all seven of the seals are removed, seven angels with seven trumpets are introduced. And one at a time each angel blows their trumpet and a new prophetic event takes place until finally seven angels with seven bowls of wrath appear and seven more events take place.

There are a variety of different viewpoints in Pretribulationism as to the exact timing of the events that correspond to these seals, trumpets, and bowls. The main difference between Pretribulationism and Prewrath in this regard, is that most Pretribulationists believe that all the seals in Revelation chapter six, as well as the trumpets and bowls found in later chapters, are events that take place during the Day of the Lord’s wrath.

Prewrathers believe the seven seals on the outside of this proverbial scroll are not the Wrath of God, but rather only the contents of the scroll, represented in the book by the trumpets and bowls, are the Day of the Lord’s wrath.

Ryan Hebbena: “And so these seven seals are preconditions that need to be met before the scroll is opened. It is only after all seven seals are broken that the scroll can be opened and then the Wrath of God unfolds. And this is exactly what we see in the flow of Revelation 6-8.”

Prewrathers point out that the events that take place during the seals are mostly things that are the direct result of the Antichrist’s evil workings, not the result of Gods Wrath. For example, the first seal is the introduction of the Antichrist as the rider on the white horse, the second seal is about the wars that the Antichrist will fight as he gains power. Then in the next two seals you have famines, and people being killed in large numbers quote “with the sword.”

The 5th seal is an interesting one, and this is where many Prewrathers begin their argument that these seals cannot be a part God’s Wrath.

Charles Cooper: “The martyrs that are depicted in the revelation at the fifth seal, in my opinion, is one of the strongest arguments for the Prewrath position.”

Alan Kurschner: “Pretribulationists claim that the seals on the scroll, the seven seals scroll, the seals are all God's Wrath, but that's contradicted by the fifth seal. In Revelation 6:9 it says,

[Reading]: ‘Now when the lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been violently killed because of the word of God and because of the testimony they had given. They cried out with a loud voice saying, ‘How long, Sovereign Master, holy and true, before you judge those who live on the earth and avenge our blood?’ Each of them was given a long white robe. And they were told to rest for a little longer until the full number was reached both their fellow servants and their brothers who were going to be killed just as they had been.’”

Charles Cooper: “‘But they ask God, when are you going to start your wrath on the people on the earth who are responsible for our death?’ Now that, that is powerful in my opinion, because to me that explicitly declares that the Wrath of God, that eschatological wrath has not begun.”

Alan Hultberg: “‘How long? Oh, lord, until you vindicate our blood on those who dwell in the earth.’ In other words, it hasn't been happening yet up to the fifth seal. They're told to wait a little while until the rest of your brethren are killed. And then the sixth seal is open, and the great day of God's Wrath has arrived.”

There are very few Pretrib responses to this issue, but one example is from Robert Thomas who, though he doesn’t say it directly, implies that what the martyrs were actually doing is crying out for God’s Wrath to finish. In other words, the martyrs are crying out for the end of Gods Wrath, not for God’s Wrath to begin.

The problem of course is that the plain reading in both the Greek and English of this phrase, “How long before you judge and avenge our blood?” means that no judgment of any kind has begun at that point. This is reiterated in the next verse when God tells them to wait a little while longer until the full number of Christian martyrs are killed. Both grammatically and contextually, God has not begun his judgement on the wicked at this point, which is probably why we found so few Pretrib commentators willing to try to explain this passage at all.

This causes another problem for Pretribbers, because if God’s wrath has begun by this point as they say, it would mean that these Christian martyrs in the 5th seal had been going through God’s Wrath, which contradicts the doctrine that Christians will not go through the Wrath of God derived from 1st Thessalonians 5:9 and other places, a doctrine that is agreed upon by all sides of this debate.

Alan Kurschner: “God promises that, that believers will not have to experience the Wrath of God—the Day of the Lord's Wrath. And yet Pretribulationists contradict themselves when they say that the fifth seal is God's wrath. You can't have both!”

David Rosenthal: “Is God superintending the martyrdom of His faithful chosen followers? Of course not! And so, we're not in the Wrath of God at this point.”

Pretribulationists try to get around this by calling these Christians “Tribulation Saints.” They define “Tribulation Saints” as people left behind in the rapture who become Christians during the Day of the Lord.

Alan Kurschner: “Well, a common argument that I hear often is that, ‘Oh, well, these believers, they're not, quote unquote, part of the Church. They're their quote unquote “Tribulation Saints.” And that they’ll even go to the extent, not all of them, but some of them will actually say, ‘You know, because they didn't accept Christ before the rapture this is like a certain a certain judgment on them.’ I'm sorry, that's absurd! And it also, again, it contradicts what Paul says in 1st Thessalonians 5 is that we are promised exemption from God's Wrath.”

Some Pretribulationists, Bill Salus for one, have proposed an entirely new theory which removes the 5th seal from the 70th week altogether. Salus places the first five seals before the 7-year period, which avoids the 5th seal martyr problem, but this model is almost unheard in Pretrib circles. While many Pretribbers argue about where to put the first three seals, and some Pretribbers do, in fact, put the first three seals before the seven-year period begins, placing the 4th and 5th seals before the seven years is fairly radical, because they have such strong ties to the midpoint of the 7-year period. But it does have the one benefit of keeping these 5th seal martyrs out of the Wrath of God, and thus avoiding this major contradiction.

The next bit of evidence to which Prewrathers point to show that the Wrath of God has not begun during the seals, is the celestial disturbance sign found in the next seal, the 6th seal. This is the sign which Joel 2:31 says will occur “before the Day of the Lord.” So, if this sign in the sun, moon, and stars in Revelation 6 is the same one that Joel talked about, then the Day of the Lord cannot have begun by this point because this sign happens before the Day of the Lord begins.

We see evidence that this cosmic disturbance sign in Revelation 6 is in fact the same one that announces that the Day of the Lord’s wrath, because as a result of people seeing this sign in the heavens, we see the following reaction:

“Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb,for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” (Rev. 6:15–17).

Here again, a plain reading shows that the people of the earth believe that the Wrath of God is about to begin at the 6th seal.

Ryan Hebbena: “The earth dwellers are diving into the rocks because it is now time for the day of recompense, for the day of repaying the world for persecuting the people of God.”

In an attempt to deal with this damning evidence that the seals cannot be the Wrath of God, Pretribbers will typically argue about the tense form of the Greek word for “has come” in Revelation 6:17.

Many Pretribbers say thatsincethe phrase“has come” isin the Greek aorist tense form,it is in the past tense.In this case, they would prefer a translation such as the Wrath of God“has been occurring."

Alan Hultberg: “Pretribulationists generally want to argue [the] Day of Lord began with the first seal. And so, when people say the great day of God's Wrath has arrived. All they're doing is finally recognizing that they've been experiencing the great day of God's Wrath.”

A growing number of Greek scholars strongly disagree with this idea, pointing out that the reason any Greek word is rendered in the past, present, or future tense, is chiefly determined by the context, not from Greek tense form. This can be seen by reviewing other instances in the Bible, including in Revelation 19:7 where theaoristindicative tenseformis clearly not supposed to be translated in the past tense.It says, “The wedding of the Lambhas come.” Which is obviously not supposed to be translated, “The wedding of the Lamb has already come.”

Charles Cooper:“Take the text at face value. Allow the text to speak. The fact that the aorist is used more than 11 times in that 6th seal, all of a sudden, just the one occurrence of it, though, has such high and important significance. Seems to me to betray the very system you're trying to build.”

Also,consider the actions of the people in this verse. They are hiding themselves in the rocks because they saw the very same sign Joel said would herald the Wrath of God. These people didn’t hide themselves during the first five seals. What has changed other than the celestial announcement that the Wrath ofGodwas about to begin?

Another line of evidence for the Prewrath position in Revelation 6 comes from the recognition that the six seals line up perfectly with the teaching of Christ during his Olivet Discourse.

Ryan Hebbena:“Revelation 6 is a revelation to a lot of people when you start to compare it to Matthew 24, the Olivet discourse. And this is a very key part of Prewrath rapturism that is actually something that was key to me really coming into the position. Juxtaposing both the flow of Matthew 24 and Revelation 6 shows a lot of parallels.”

Alan Hultberg: “The opening of the seals is parallel to the elements of Jesus' discussion in Matthew 24. So, the rider on the White Horse corresponds to false Christs. The rider on the Red Horse is war. The Black horse is famine, the Sickly horse is death. And then there's [the] martyrs….”

Alan Kurschner: “The first three seals, these are corresponded to Jesus’ beginning birth pains. The fourth seal is correlated to the persecution of the Antichrist’s Great Tribulation. And the fifth seal is part of the Great Tribulation, too, but it’s showing the result of the persecution and as martyrdom. That's why it's called the fifth seal martyrs.”

In case there is any doubt we are on the right track, the next thing mentioned after the persecution in Matthew 24 is the celestial disturbances sign in the sun, moon, and stars which we now know means the Day of the Lord is about to begin.

We see this exact same sign in the 6th seal, which all but confirms that this parallel between Matthew and the seals in Revelation 6 is correct.

David Rosenthal:“In the Book of Revelation, in exactly the right location, as you're reading it sequentially, you'll find a clear discussion of something happening to the sun, the moon, and the stars. This is the clear identifier indicator that God's Wrath is about to commence. It is about to pour down on a wicked world.”

Ryan Hebbena: “Now, the reason why this is so key is because in both the Olivet discourse and the Book of Revelation, we have this sign occurring. And that which occurs in the wake of this sign is an indication of deliverance. It is immediately after the distress of those days that Jesus appears in great power and glory and gathers His elect from the four winds.”

What so few people realize is that you can see the rapture directly after the sun, moon, and stars sign in Revelation, as well. Though there is a kind of interlude after the sign and before the Wrath of God. For example, the very next thing we see is an angel saying:

“Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”

Then, these angels go about sealing the 144,000 to protect them from the wrath that is about to come.

Alan Hultberg: “You get this interlude in Chapter 7. And the interlude is explicitly centered around protecting people from God's judgment. And so, it says, ‘Hold on. Before don't let any wind blow on the trees and things like that. But before any of that happens, we want you to seal the servants of God on their forehead.”

Directly after the 144,000 are sealed, we see the result of the rapture from the viewpoint of heaven:

“A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9b).

We are given the final proof that the Prewrath view of this timeline is correct a few verses later when the angel tells John exactly who this group is:

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14b).

Remember, the Great Tribulation is not a 7-year period. Theologically speaking, it is the persecution that begins just after the midpoint and extends until it is “cut short” by the rapture. This phrase “out of the great tribulation” then, confirms the Prewrath timeline, and it means that the Day of the Lord will not begin until after the 6th seal, and that the rapture occurs at some point after the midpoint of the 70th Week of Daniel, and finally that the Church will face the persecution of the Antichrist before the rapture.

Alan Hultberg: “There is a depiction of the Church’s appearance in heaven, apparently as a means of protecting them from God's Wrath. Between the arrival of the Great Day of God's Wrath and the actual execution of the great day of God's Wrath. That's a Prewrath rapture.”

Regarding this multitude in heaven, Pretribbers would emphatically declare that this group is not the raptured Church but rather the so-called “Tribulation Saints.” But if you press them about why they must be Tribulation Saints and not the Church, they will answer with a classic circular argument—"they don’t believe the Church will be in the Great Tribulation. So, this group can’t be the Church.” There are as far as I know, no other arguments for the existence of the “Tribulation Saints” view.

You may be wondering why Pretribulationists believe that the seals in Revelation 6 have to be a part of the Day of the Lord’s wrath, especially in light of all this evidence to the contrary. Do they have some prooftext I’m not telling you about?

Not really. The most common defense Pretribulationists offer is that the seals are the Wrath of God because, “Jesus opens them.” This argument comes from Revelation 5:9 which says:

“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’”

They argue , essentially, that since Jesus was the only one worthy to break the seals and open the scroll, the seals as well as the scroll must be judgment, since in other places in the Bible, Jesus is said to be the only one worthy to judge the world.

The problem of course is that it doesn’t logically follow that just because Jesus is the only one worthy to break the seals and open the scroll that the seals on the scroll are judgment. This verse in Revelation 5:9 would make just as much sense in the Prewrath view in which the scroll’s contents, not the seals of the scroll, are the actual judgment.

This is often the sole argument from Pretribulationists to prove that the seals are the Wrath of God. And In my opinion, it’s rather weak, especially when you compare it to the actual explicit biblical evidence we have seen here—that the Wrath of God and the rapture will not begin until after the 7th seal is broken.

And that brings us to something we have referenced many times in this film but have yet to fully explain, the Pretrib doctrine of imminence.