What can we say about God’s wrath and the Bride of Christ? Pretribulationists often declare that Christ doesn’t beat up on his Bride – therefore the rapture must occur before the Tribulation. Is that true?
One leading proponent of a non-pretrib view took exception to Ed Hindson’s declaration that the Savior doesn’t beat up on his Bride. This individual’s website – like numerous others of its kind – contains more articles against pretribulationism than defenses of the system it advocates. Websites and blogs set up to attack pretribulationism have become fashionable. It’s becoming increasingly unpopular to be a pretribulational premillennialist.
The complaint against Hindson was that he failed to make a distinction between the “Antichrist’s Great Tribulation” (GT) and the Day of the Lord’s Wrath (DotL). He claimed this was a characteristic flaw of pretribulationism. This person believes God will use the GT to sanctify the church and embolden it to become faithful. He charged pretribulationists for failing to distinguish between God’s disciplinary and retributive judgment.
Remember that the church is never promised exemption from tribulation. It has experienced it throughout history in varying degrees, and we’ve even been told to rejoice when it comes (James 1:2; Rev 1:9). The church is only promised deliverance from God’s wrath. In a previous article about imminency I concluded that if we can show that the 70th week of Daniel contains God’s wrath, then the rapture must occur before then. This will be discussed a little later. Meanwhile, the “disciplinary judgment” assertion breaks down under examination.
If Antichrist’s tribulation is ordained by God to refine the church then one wonders why Jesus advised His audience to flee Jerusalem and head for the mountains once they see the Abomination of Desolation (Matt 24:15-20). The process becomes so severe that the period has to be cut short otherwise no flesh will be saved alive (Matt 24:21-22). This fact alone demonstrates that the church is not in focus here. It wouldn’t matter if all Christians were martyred, as they are resurrected and glorified at the rapture. Even the woman (Israel) of Rev 12:12-17 flees from the devil’s wrath. Does it make sense that God should ordain a disciplinary process which He warns people to flee from, and then has to cut short to spare life?
The Apostle Paul contradicts the church refinement theory:
And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 2Thess 2:8-12
It is the cessation of the Restrainer’s activity which allows the appearance of the man of sin (2 Thess 2:6). This correlates with the opening of the first seal in Revelation. In his book Maranatha Our Lord, Come! Renald Showers demonstrates how God used agents as instruments of His wrath in the Old Testament. Just as God used Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon as the rod of His anger against Israel, the elements of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd seals are secondary agents of God’s wrath and anger against the world.
Dr. Alva McClain (The Greatness of the Kingdom pp 472-473) notes that the sealed book of Revelation must be understood as a title-deed similar to the one in Jer 32:6-15. McClain wrote:
The Lamb receives this book from the hand of God, and as He breaks its seals there fall upon the world with increasing severity the judgments of heaven…Thus biblically interpreted, the sealed document of Revelation 5 becomes a symbol of high importance; and the breaking of its seals by our Lord marks the first judicial assertion (in Revelation) of His legal rights, for the purpose of punishing and dispossessing the usurpers of His realm. In this sense, the first seal becomes a strong harbinger of the impending Kingdom.
Like Hindson’s critic, Prewrath Rapture founder Robert Van Kampen asserted that the 4th seal (Rev 6:7-8) is directed towards the church (and the Jews) in order to refine them. Van Kampen claimed this “judgment” excludes the unbelieving world and that it is Satan’s wrath. He understood that if God’s wrath is found in the 4th seal then the church must have been removed prior to it. Such a scenario contradicts his rapture timing theory. Hence his conclusion was based on need rather than what the text actually reads.
In one of his popular presentations, Chris White followed Van Kampen’s cue by suggesting that the context of “beasts” in Rev 6:8 refers to either the Antichrist or the False Prophet. He notes that the term beasts-therion is also used to describe these two individuals elsewhere in Revelation. But similarity of terms does not make them the same. This is another assumption based on need. The terms Death and Hades are never used negatively of the church – quite the contrary (Matt 16:18; 1 Cor 15:55). At the breaking of the 4th seal Death and Hades are given power over a fourth of the earth – not over the church.
Moreover, there’s a parallel between the four judgments in Ezek 14:21 and the four judgments of the 4th seal. Van Kampen was aware of it, yet claimed we needed more information before determining whether this was God’s wrath. We do have more information.
Other passages in Ezekiel provide evidence that the 4th seal is God’s wrath. Ezekiel 5:15-17 references each of the four judgments mentioned in the 4th seal. They’re referred to as God’s judgment, anger and fury. If that isn’t enough, in Ezek 7:3-19 we again find references to God’s anger, fury and wrath associated with famine, sword and pestilence (v 15) and in context to the Day of the Lord’s wrath (v 19). Given this evidence one must conclude that God’s wrath is also present in the 4th seal.
Non-pretribulationists have also raised alleged pretribulational problems associated with the 5th seal:
a) How can the 5th seal be God’s wrath when the saints are asking to be avenged? Doesn’t this mean that God’s wrath isn’t present yet?
b) The 5th seal is directed at believers who become martyrs. Therefore this cannot be God’s wrath.
We’ve seen that the opening of the seals is God’s judgment on this world. As this occurs some become believers and are killed for their faith. God’s wrath is present but He does not specifically avenge these martyrs’ deaths until the establishment of the Kingdom.
The 5th seal is not directed at believers, it reveals what has already taken place. Unlike the previous seals, there is no hierarchy of authority administering punishment through a rider and horse. The reason for the saints’ martyrdom is because of their testimony (Rev 6:9), not because of God’s wrath. Ironically, proponents of the midtrib, prewrath and posttrib views need saints to come to faith during God’s wrath in order for the millennium to be populated. Hence the second objection isn’t a problem for pretribulationism either.
Finally, let’s look at the Two Witnesses of Revelation:
Their ministry spans 1,260 days (42 months) of the 70th week. It’s a matter of debate whether they appear in the first or second half of the week. Nevertheless, of these, Robert L. Thomas notes that: “Their power to accomplish their mission is phenomenal” (Revelation 8-22 p 90). Fire proceeds from their mouths; they can stop rain; turn water into blood and strike the earth with plagues (Rev 11:5-6). The scope of their ministry is so broad and effective that “the peoples, tribes, tongues and nations who dwell on the earth” celebrate their deaths because of the torment inflicted upon them by these prophets (Rev 11:9-10). Fire, plague and water into blood hearken back to Old Testament examples of God’s wrath. The Two Witnesses are empowered by God and are instruments of His wrath.
In conclusion, there are compelling reasons for taking the view that God’s eschatological wrath occurs throughout the 70th week of Daniel. If this is the case, then the rapture must occur before the week commences. If the 70th week of Daniel is imminent, then so is the rapture of the church.