FOR TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS I WAS A FIERCE PROPONENT AND DEFENDER OF THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE. NOW I HAVE A MORE REALISTIC UNDERSTANDING OF THE RAPTURE. HERE ARE CONTINUED EXCERPTS FROM MY BOOK*
(Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1887).
WHEN WILL THE WRATH OF GOD FALL ANYWAY?
Many people, certain that there will be a seven year tribulation, have the impression that the first day of that seven-year period-when the ink is still wet on Antichrist’s “peace deal” document, marks the start of the outpouring of God’s wrath, which will continue for the entire period until Jesus returns physically in power and glory. Are they right? If it’s God’s wrath which the rapture is to deliver us from, as many believe, we ought to be sure about when that prophesied wrath falls. We also might ask exactly how the wrath of God will be played out in our world, because whether it’s persecution or “natural” disasters such as giant hailstones, mega-earthquakes, pestilence and stars falling from heaven, the timing of the wrath of God may be a clue to the real timing of the rapture. What certainly does come from God in Revelation are the plagues and “natural” disasters, and the release of malevolent spirits which work to fulfill his will. These clearly come from the wrath of God, because we’re told they do, and there’s a statement in Revelation to that effect.
THE SIXTH SEAL
The sixth seal opens with a “great earthquake”. There’s something very different about this seal. It’s incomparably more devastating than those before it, because it affects the very foundations of our familiar physical universe. The sun and moon turn dark, stars fall from heaven, and the sky rolls up like a scroll (verses 12-14). It is at this point, when the sixth of seven seals with all its unprecedented events has been opened, that the leaders of the earth concede or recognize the fact that the day of God’s judgment has come:
They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’ (Revelation 6:15-17).
Is it only the sixth seal which begins the wrath of God, or was his wrath released in the previous five? Why do the “kings” of the earth only recognize and acknowledge God’s wrath upon the opening of the sixth seal? Is it because they just don’t want to face up to the fact before it, or is it because the sixth is so devastating and awesome that their spirits are finally broken? Is it perhaps because all previous seals were “business as usual” events common to the history of man, while this one is undeniably the outpouring of God’s wrath? Could it perhaps be that the previous seals were not actually the outworking of the wrath of God?
THE SEVENTH SEAL
Upon the opening of the sixth seal the heavenly bodies react in cosmic proportions, and “then” (verse 15) the kings of the earth declare to themselves that the time of God’s wrath has come. Following the sixth seal is the seventh, and I’m not trying to be funny. The seventh is opened in seven stages, each announced by trumpets. It details events which utterly devastate the earth: hail, fire, blazing mountains, the total pollution of the waters, the darkening of the sun and moon, and the final plagues on humanity.
This seventh seal, with its trumpets, is clearly an outpouring of God’s wrath. It aligns chronologically with certain prophesies in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, as will be explained later.
(“Death on the Pale Horse”, by Gustave Dore, 1865)
SEALS 1 TO 5: PEACE AND SAFETY?
It’s difficult for us to actually commit to the idea that people are realizing God’s wrath has come only when the sky has rolled up like a scroll, because we evangelicals have always been told that the beginning of the “seven year tribulation” marks the beginning of God’s wrath. However, we can surmise with certainty that people alive during the sixth seal aren’t coming to the realization of the arrival of God’s wrath during a time of peace and safety. Peace and safety are prescribed by pre-tribulation experts for the first half of the envisaged seven-year tribulation. They tell us that Antichrist will make a “peace deal” with Israel and its neighbors, beginning the seven year period, and that the world will think he’s a great man of peace and world order. Indeed, Paul did say, “When people are saying ‘peace and safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly” (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
WILL THERE BE SEVEN YEARS OF WRATH?
But wait a minute. What about those four horsemen of the first four seals? Aren’t they riding out to conquer, to take peace from the earth, and to bring pestilence, death and Hades? How can they take peace from the earth at the start of the “seven year” period if Antichrist is bringing peace to the world at that time?
“…and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many (Daniel 8:25 KJV).
Also, we’re told by Paul that Antichrist will be revealed when he enters the temple mount and not before. Why would people be hailing him as the great peacemaker before this temple appearance, since Paul tells us that his revealing occurs when he enters the temple? Granted, he may be at work making peace before the temple mount incident but not revealed in his true colors until that point. However, surely any saints holding to the testimony of Jesus at that time (Revelation 12:17) who have taken the trouble to read their Bibles and all the books on the rapture, and all the “Where We Have Gone” notes, would see this peacemaker and know-before the temple appearance-that he’s Antichrist, before Paul said they could know. They would recognize him before Paul said he could be recognized.
Antichrist’s revealing at the temple mount is commonly agreed to be three and a half years before the end of the tribulation. It’s at this point that “great distress” begins, according to Paul and Jesus. This means that all those terrible events associated with tribulation times, and the seven seals, cannot have yet begun. If they had, there would be no “peace”, particularly since the first seal unleashes a rider bent on conquest (Revelation 6:2). The beginning of “great distress” as described by Jesus and Paul would not be noticed if great distress were already taking place on the earth.
The second rider is given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other (7:4). How can the second rider taking peace from the earth square with Antichrist being viewed as a man of peace and safety, if the second rider takes that peace away before the revealing of Antichrist, three and a half years before the physical and glorious return of Jesus? How can these two conditions-peace and lack of peace-exist at the same time?
One answer may be that these four horsemen have been at large throughout history, and get temporarily “paused” by Antichrist. The other option is that they will only be at large after the revealing of Antichrist, who himself will bring devastation to the earth, quite apart from, or in conjunction with, what the second rider brings. Is he perhaps the manifestation of the work of the first two riders? Are these events concurrent? Is this why Revelation repeats a time period of three and a half years?
WHEN WILL THE DAY OF THE LORD BEGIN?
The day of the Lord is an important indicator of the onset of God’s wrath on the earth, in fact the two are perhaps synonymous. Paul, discussing “the day of the Lord” in his second letter to the Thessalonians gives as the first signs of its arrival a rebellion of some kind, and the revealing of Antichrist:
Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day (the day of the Lord) will not come, until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).
The day of the Lord cannot begin, says Paul, until after Antichrist is revealed, at the mid-point of that proposed seven-year period. Remember in conjunction with this that the sixth seal is opened before the kings of the earth recognize that the wrath of God has come. Surely, if the world had suffered a huge earthquake before the revealing of Antichrist, or if the stars had already fallen from heaven and the sky had rolled up, these would have been far more immediate and tangible signs for Paul to refer to as his onset of the day of the Lord? Knowledge of such disasters was not introduced as new revelation in later times by John, because Jesus spoke of them during his earthly ministry, and they’re mentioned in Old Testament prophesies.
No, those things will not yet have happened at the point Antichrist is suddenly revealed. All that will have happened, besides perhaps the increasing persecution of believers, is a rebellion. People will not yet have been begging the mountains to fall on them. Therefore the wrath of God has not yet fallen in the form of cataclysmic events.
*THIS POST IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY BOOK, “ALL LEFT BEHIND: THE CASE AGAINST THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE”, BY NICHOLAS FISHER, AVAILABLE ON AMAZON IN PAPER-BACK AND E-BOOK. PART 3 WILL APPEAR SOON.