The Wrath of God: When Does It Start?
Much of the Church today believes one of three typical viewpoints regarding when the actual Rapture of the Church will occur. The three most commonly taught positions are: 1) the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, 2) the Mid-Tribulation Rapture, and 3) the Post-Tribulation Rapture.
Each of these positions, while taught by respected, godly saints across the globe, and each having some points of truth contained in their doctrine, also each come up short when considering all of the eschatological or "end-times" biblical texts.
There is only one biblical position, which, if considered without preconceived ideas or denominational traditions, will help one clearly understand the timing of God's Rapture of His saints.
This position has been coined the Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, because the Church will not suffer God's wrath. In the Scriptures, when considered from the Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulational positions, the Rapture of the Church is unclear at best.
However, when considering the Pre-Wrath Rapture point of view, the Scriptures clearly, unequivocally show the Rapture of the Church exactly when we expect to see it in God's end-times timeline. He clearly removes His saints by Resurrection or Rapture before His wrath is poured upon the Earth during the "Day of the Lord."
A Simple Chronology
1) The Antichrist, probably a relatively unknown but charismatic personality, will show up on the scene of history with a cadre of minions backing his efforts. Through negotiations, there will be some kind of peace covenant, seven years in length, orchestrated by the Antichrist with Israel and the rest of the world (Daniel 9:24-27; Matthew 24:4-5; Revelation 6:1-2). A False Prophet will also arise, possibly from Israel, who will assist in implementing this peace treaty and cause many across the globe to worship the Antichrist (Revelation 13:11-12).
2) The Antichrist will gain power as he exerts his will in the Middle East and, eventually, around much of the world. There will be some nations and individuals who resist his efforts, resulting in wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6-7; Revelation 6:3-4). There will also be a marking system, possibly biometric, instituted to identify those who are in allegiance with the growing world government and its collaborating religious system. There will be a deceptive promise by the False Prophet of good things for those who submit, make idols in honor of the Antichrist, and take the mark on their right hand or forehead (Revelation 13:13-17). Those who do not worship the Antichrist or receive his mark, who are caught, will be killed (Revelation 13:15), but those who do take the mark are doomed to eternal torment by God (Revelation 14:9-11).
Meanwhile, due to the peace covenant, Israel will feel like they are out of harm’s way. They will believe they will not be affected by the death and destruction going on around the world and, in essence, they won't be. They will enjoy about 3 1/2 years of peace and safety, but it will be short-lived (Isaiah 28:14, 18; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).
At the signing of the covenant, Israel will once again have access to their most holy site, the Temple Mount, and will be able to institute their ancient sacrificial worship system, which was abolished by the Roman army and its provincial soldiers at the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. Perhaps the Jewish people will start to worship on the Temple Mount using a simple Wilderness Tabernacle as described in the Tanakh. This ancient Hebrew text consists of the Torah (the Law), Nevi’im (the Prophets), and the Ketuvim (the Writings), what Christianity commonly calls the Old Testament. Eventually, however, a larger temple will likely be built on the Temple Mount (Revelation 11:1) but the presence of God will not indwell this temple.
3) Meanwhile, the Antichrist’s system will cause a lack of easily accessible food resources. Many will be starving, and the cost of food will be extremely high (Revelation 6:5-6a) with only the wealthy, who have supported the Antichrist’s rise to power, having resources to live well (Revelation 6:6b, “see thou not hurt the oil and the wine”). The rich leaders and merchants of the world who have aligned themselves with the Antichrist will prosper until late into the final seven years (Revelation 18).
4) Death in the streets will increase as war and famine take their toll, resulting in disease and, eventually, pestilence spreading across many parts of the world (Matthew 24:7; Revelation 6:7-8).
During the first 3 1/2 years of the seven-year covenant, there will likely be a full-fledged Jewish worship infrastructure completed on the Temple Mount. The Muslim Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque will remain on the Temple Mount with a wall built around the Jewish temple (Revelation 11:2).
5) At the 3 1/2 year mark, the Antichrist will insert his abomination, a statue, to defile the Jewish temple and cause it to remain desolate because the presence of God never indwelt this temple to begin with and the Jewish people will no longer worship there (Daniel 9:27 ; Daniel 12:11; Matthew 24:15).
At this time, the Antichrist will violate his own covenant of peace and begin his wrathful persecution of the Jewish people, first in Jerusalem and Judea, then expanding throughout the land of Israel and eventually as far as the world permits (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:16-20).
Here, at the 3 1/2 year mark, a time of great tribulation, brought on by the Antichrist, ensues, first against the Jews then against those who would be considered the spiritual children of the Jews, namely, Christians (Daniel 12:1; Jeremiah 30:4-7; Matthew 24:21). Many people will be killed as the Antichrist continues to enforce his marking scheme to identify those who are allied with him. Buying and selling will be limited to only those people who have this mark (Revelation 13:16-17). Those who are caught but refuse one last offer to take the mark because of their faith in Christ will lose their head and life, their soul going to a place of privilege beneath the altar of God in Heaven. Many believers will die at the hand of Antichrist’s evil empire.
God’s Wrath? Not Yet
It must be noted here that none of the events spoken of so far are God’s wrath.
Up to this point, though we have entered the 70th week spoken of by the prophet Daniel, have traversed at least 3 1/2 years of the final seven-year covenant, and have entered into the Great Tribulation, there has still been no Resurrection or Rapture of the saints.
The Church, despite many today who argue to the contrary, is still on earth.
Scripture is clear that believers will not suffer God’s coming wrath (Romans 5:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10); however, it does not say we will not suffer the wrath of Antichrist, or those who will do his bidding, leading up to and during the Great Tribulation.
How do we know the events mentioned up to this point are not the wrath of God? Let’s look to Scripture for our answer – rather than the desires of our heart to be “out of here” before this time of difficulty for Jews and Christians.
A clear verse on the topic of when God’s wrath begins is found in the little book of the prophet Joel:
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come (Joel 2:31).
Looking at the key words in this verse, we see a cosmic event involving our sun and moon (other verses include the stars as well, Joel 2:10, 3:15; Isaiah 13:9-10; Matthew 24:29, etc.). This cosmic event indicates “the terrible day of the Lord” has arrived and is about to begin. In other words, when you see this cosmic event – and, looking at all related verses to get the whole picture, it is not simply an eclipse – you know God’s wrath is about to begin because this cosmic sign occurs “before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.” So, until you see this cosmic event in Scripture, you know God’s wrath has not yet begun.
If, as pre-tribulation rapturists typically say, the Rapture occurs at Revelation 4:1 – where supposedly John represents the Church and is caught up in the Rapture to Heaven – we should see a cosmic event immediately preceding that verse. Such a reference cannot be found anywhere in the preceding three chapters in the book of the revelation of God’s end-time events.
As we look at world events today, many people feel God has removed His protection and is bringing His wrath even now against the unbelieving world, America included. If this is so – that God’s wrath, in some form, has begun – have we seen the prophesied cosmic sign in the sun, moon, and the stars? The answer, of course, is, “No.”
Is there any other evidence that God’s wrath has not begun during the opening of the seals in Chapter 6 in the Book of Revelation? Let’s consider the text in Revelation regarding the fifth seal, just before the very clear cosmic sign in the sixth seal. During the events of the fifth seal, we see the souls of God’s martyrs under His altar in Heaven: “And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10). Here, the saints under God’s altar are asking when He will judge and get revenge for their deaths. They are asking when He will begin to exercise His wrath against those who caused them to be killed.
If God had already been judging and avenging their slain blood, if His wrath was already under way, then these beloved saints do not understand the events that have occurred prior to the day they ask their question. No, the point is they DO understand what’s going on. They recognize God has not yet begun to exercise His wrath against those who are in league with the Antichrist. That’s exactly why they are asking Him when He will begin to avenge their deaths, because His wrath has not started.
Again, prior to the fifth seal we have not seen the cosmic sign we should expect indicating God’s wrath is about to begin. To these slain saints it’s obvious; God’s wrath has not yet started. These martyred saints are asking God when He will commence His judgment against those who are in league with Satan on the earth.
It is commonly acknowledged that these events of the fifth seal begin at the start of what the Bible calls the Great Tribulation – at the 3 1/2 year mark – and they continue until God brings things to an end at a later time because we are told: “white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season [more time is yet to come], until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were [more will be killed in the allotted time remaining ahead], should be fulfilled” (Revelation 6:11, italics added). Again, if the fifth-seal events begin at the 3 1/2 year mark, and the saints under the altar are told to wait longer, then God’s wrath, which hasn’t happened yet, must occur later, sometime after the 3 1/2 year mark has begun.
The Fearful and the Hopeful
Perhaps the following information is more convincing.
After the sixth seal, there are several passages indicating the world – not just believers – knows God’s wrath is about to begin. We see this in two passages immediately following a clear cosmic event in Scripture.
In the book of Matthew, we see the cosmic event indicating God’s wrath is about to begin followed by these words regarding those alive in the world at that time: “…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” (Matthew 24:30).
The inspired penman, Luke, handles it from the differing points of view of non-believers and believers. Of non-believers he says:
Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory (Luke 21:26-27).
In that same text, for believers, Luke says:
And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh (Luke 21:28).
God’s wrath is about to begin and the supporters of Antichrist are in fear, fretful of what is about to happen to them. For believers, who for the most part are undergoing persecution from Antichrist and his minions, the great home-going, the Rapture, is about to occur. Those who are mourning are aligned with the Antichrist. Those who are believers are excited because their suffering from the wrath of Antichrist – the time of Great Tribulation – is coming to an end.
The Book of Revelation adds additional evidence and detail regarding the thoughts of those living on the earth at the time of the cosmic event:
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? (Revelation 6:15-17, italics added).
Clearly, secular humanity knows they are about to suffer the wrath of God and would rather die or be hidden “from the face him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.”
Let’s take a look at the events of the first five seals in the Book of Revelation. Do these events really seem like they are indisputably God’s wrath?
First, we must understand that God is sovereign and all things are ultimately under His control. However, this does not necessarily mean He has directed all things to happen. God has His sovereign will, and also His permissive will. In other words, we know today God is sovereign, but He is not directing that Christians across the globe be persecuted or martyred because of their faith. This would be tantamount to God willingly killing His own children by some gruesome means.
We must acknowledge that God has His permissive will. For example, He permits us to reject His direction for our lives. He could force us to obey, but He doesn’t. Ultimately, God’s will prevails as Satan is defeated in the end-time scenario. While God is sovereign, it’s His permissive will that allows Satan to conduct the beginning of sorrows for mankind in the first five seals found in Revelation chapter 6.
In the first seal, God allows the white horse and rider onto the stage of history to accomplish what Satan is planning in his effort to defeat God (Revelation 6:2). Therefore, the Antichrist and his minions begin setting up their evil kingdom. God did not command them to attempt to defeat Him. However, His permissive will allows this.
In the second seal, as God’s permissive will allows the red horse and rider to depart, the Antichrist begins to exert force and gain power by taking peace from the earth (Revelation 6:3-4). He fights or threatens to fight. People and nations must submit to Satan’s Antichrist; some will, and some won’t. God’s permissive will allows this. Therefore, we see and hear of wars and rumors of wars.
If God was exercising His wrath, there would be no “rumors” of wars; there would simply be wars. For example, look at the battle of Armageddon, in which God forces the armies to gather against Him for the final war in which they are soundly defeated (Revelation 16:16-21). Here in the second seal, God is permissive. In the battle of Armageddon, God is sovereign.
In the third seal, as the black horse and rider are allowed to move forward, Antichrist is permitted to control food supplies, which will be used to control much of mankind (Revelation 6:6). Food will become scarce. This will drive up the cost to the point it will take a day’s wage to buy a day’s worth of staple foods. Those who want food will eventually be required to take the beast’s mark (Revelation 13:16-18). God’s permissive will allows Satan and his Antichrist to do this.
In the fourth seal, the pale horse and rider are allowed to step out. We see the consequence of Antichrist’s efforts. The exertion of Antichrist’s power through wars and controlled famine causes death to run amok throughout mankind (Revelation 6:7-8). God’s permissive will allows this, but all of these terrible things are not God’s wrath. They are Satan’s and his Antichrist’s wrath.
In the fifth seal, which we have discussed in some depth already, Satan uses his Antichrist to purposefully kill God’s people (Revelation 6:9-11). This is not through impersonal warfare against countries which may resist, or through impersonal starvation of the world’s population. Instead, this is deliberate, face-to-face hunting down and killing of those who are specifically Jewish or those who have placed their faith in the Messiah of the Jewish people, namely, Jesus the Anointed One.
If these souls under the altar of God are the result of God’s wrath, then God has lied against Himself. He clearly states that as believers in Jesus, we are “to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” Simply stated, it is impossible for anybody to show up under the altar of God if it is the result of God’s own wrath.
One side note here: As the scene of the fifth seal begins, the altar is already filled with martyrs. They are told to wait until more martyrs come to join them (Revelation 6:9, 11). Who are the martyrs found already under the altar? If the Great Tribulation begins and martyrs will be added under the altar in the days after the 3 1/2 year mark, then who are the martyrs who are already under the altar at the beginning of the Great Tribulation? This author would suggest that the first martyr who found himself under this altar was faithful Abel. He was martyred – for his obedience and faith in the true God – by his brother Cain. Countless Old Testament saints, such as the prophets of old whose lives were taken by kings who did not like their message, or people such as Stephen, who was martyred outside the gate of Jerusalem, or any of the innumerable saints who have lost their lives because of their faithfulness and testimony of Christ during all of history up until the day the Great Tribulation begins, are already under the altar waiting for God to take His vengeance for their martyred blood. Those who are martyred after the Great Tribulation begins will be added to those already under the altar at the beginning of the Great Tribulation.
God Describes His Wrath
Let’s look briefly at some of the prophetic verses describing the wrath of God.
Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.... Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger (Isaiah 13:9, 13).
If the wrath of God starts at the first seal, there is nothing occurring even remotely sounding like the passage above when the white horse and rider appear on the scene of history. We do not see the heavens shaking or the earth quaking until God’s sixth-seal sign in the sun, moon, and stars, which is exactly when we would expect it, as God announces His wrath is about to begin. Not until we see the trumpet judgments do we even begin to see events similar to the passage above occurring on the earth.
That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness... And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land (Zephaniah 1:15, 17-18).
Again, there is nothing even beginning to resemble God’s unleashed fury as described in the Zephaniah passage above during the opening of the seals on the scroll in the hand of the Lamb.
The confluence of prophetic Scripture – that is, passages flowing toward the same point in time – such as those passages regarding the “beginning of sorrows” or the “beginning of birth pangs” spoken of in Matthew 24, or, likewise, the first five seals spoken of in Revelation 6, when looked at objectively, without preconceived ideas or traditions, clearly show the days before the trumpet judgments, which begin in Revelation chapter 8, to not be God’s wrath but, instead, Satan’s and his Antichrist’s wrath against God’s people.
Sound the Alarm!
In the sixth seal of Revelation 6, when we see God’s sign in the sun, moon, and stars, which indicates His wrath is about to begin, we should certainly see Him either protecting or removing His children by that time at the latest. God is always just in time. We see, as we would expect, Him protecting His 144,000 Jews who are from the 12 tribes of Israel, and we also see a great multitude of resurrected/raptured saints showing up in Heaven.
With His children protected, all that remains on the face of the Earth are unbelievers, the recipients of His impending wrath, which begins immediately with the opening of the seventh seal and the unveiling of the Trumpet Judgments in Revelation 8.
May we be quick to warn our family and friends about the wrath to come while there is still time. God has been merciful, but even His mercy has a limit.