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God’s Wrath, the Lamb Slain, and the Tribulation Period




At What time in the future will God unleash His eschatological wrath? This has been a question of considerable debate in the past few years and deserves a Biblical answer.

God’s Wrath, the Lamb Slain, and the Tribulation Period

A major point that pre-tribulation adherents must come to grips with is how to answer mid-tribulationists, pre-wrathers, and post-tribulationists concerning the fact that the church will be kept from the hour of trial and the wrath of God poured out during the coming tribulation period. For pre
tribulationists this is our defining moment – our blessed hope. The issue surfaces when those of other camps who are purists to their eschatological persuasion agree in principal that all Christians will be protected from God's wrath. The difference is, they (mainly pre-wrathers and post-tribulationists) for the most part and among other reasons, teach that God has placed the seal of the Spirit upon all believers as a protection from God's wrath during the tribulation period. This seal of protection keeps them from taking the mark of the beast, shields them from God’s wrath, man’s wrath, and Satan’s wrath which allows them to endure to the end to be saved and raptured at their given time.[1] Since 18 percent of the church (and growing)[2] is now claiming a post-tribulationist position the antagonism toward pre-tribulationists is growing.

Caught in the fray of these false teachings is the pre-tribulation position that we are raptured prior to the confirmation of the seven-year covenant with Israel and the many of Dan. 9:27. When we put forth the position that we will be "kept from the wrath to come" they agree with us in principal. Then feeling they have the upper hand; they begin to show the pre-tribulationist that his/her position is flawed. Some even get angry over this. Well, how can we best refute our position?

First, just quoting the following, 1 Thessalonians 1: 9-10, 5:9, and Revelation 3:10 is not always enough to convince them.

*1 Thes 1:9-10 “For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, (10) and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

*1 Thes 5:9 “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

*Rev 3:10 “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.”

Most informed post-tribulationists will not argue this point, but they will argue our understanding of the rapture occurring before the tribulation period and that we are not exempt from tribulation … as if we do not know this. When pressed, the tribulation they refer to is that which in their view occurs during the tribulation hour which they ascribe to either man or Satan.

Secondly, if these verses are used to justify why we believe we will not endure the tribulation period then we must be able to define when the eschatological wrath of God is poured out. Does it only happen during the latter half of the tribulation as Mid-tribulationists believe? Is it after the seventh trumpet as pre-wrathers and post-tribulationists believe? Or does it occur during the whole seven-year tribulation?

In order to avoid confusion concerning the wrath of God in the present age and the eschatological wrath of God, I am including a couple definitions of God's wrath.

God's Wrath in the Present Age:
a.
Present wrath of God that continues into the future. This wrath is what God pours out on the sinner who never turns in repentance to Christ. In his/her lost state, they are currently "under the wrath of God" (John 3:36), and that wrath will only cease when the sentence of eternal punishment is given. Hell is a judgment this person is sentenced to because they are under God's wrath and because they have refused to turn to Jesus for grace, mercy, forgiveness, and redemption. The late Norman Geisler writes:

The New Testament word for “wrath” is orge. It carries the meaning of “strong desire,” “violent passion,” and “ire” (see Eph. 2:3; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 5:9; Rev. 6:16). As applied to God, wrath means His anger at and hatred of sin, His righteous indignation at all evil, and His jealous execution of judgment on unrighteousness. However, wrath, while rooted in God’s essential nature as just, is not an attribute, but an act that flows from His unchanging righteousness.[3]

In Col 3:6 we read, “Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” -- ἔρχεται - VPUI3S – “is coming” is a verb, present, middle or passive indicative, 3rd person singular. Important: In the present tense, the middle and passive are identical in form. The verb is also a Deponent verb which means this is a verb that is middle or passive in form but active in meaning. The disobedient are presently in a state of "orge" (wrath). Rom 2:5 “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God”

b. The eschatological wrath of God. This occurs in the future. 1 Th 1:10; Eph 5:6. It is the wrath of God that is coming during a set period in the future. Olander states:

The day of the Lord (which includes His eschatological wrath) should not be confused with particular divine wrath which has come in different ways even today (Rom. 1:18–19). What is of major concern here is the day of the Lord, specifically His future wrath defined biblically as the day of the Lord, and the exact time of His coming to the earth that is the second coming. The day of the Lord, primarily His eschatological wrath, will come as a thief in the night on an unsuspecting and unbelieving world (1 Thess. 5:2). Christ’s second coming will be in wrath and during the day of the Lord. The wrath of the Lamb will be poured out during that time. [pre-tribulationist] The church cannot go into the day of the Lord in any sense, and this is made perfectly clear in the Scriptures. The day of the Lord is biblically defined wrath which will be poured out on a God rejecting world and Satan’s eschatological kingdom."[4]

We also read: "This [wrath] is clearly eschatological and refers to the dreadful and unavoidable judgment of God in the 'day of the Lord' at the end of the age."[5] (brackets mine)

In these simple definitions we can preclude that "God's Wrath" 1) is executed against all those who reject the Lord Jesus and has a final judgment which is Gehenna, or the Lake of Fire, 2) Reserved for the future Day of the Lord and will be poured out in ways spoken of by the prophets, the Lord Jesus, and the apostles. There are other facets of God's wrath revealed in both the OT and NT that do not need to be discussed here.

The Hour of Trial: The old Testament refers to the tribulation as "Jacob's time of trouble" (Jer 30:7). Daniel referred to it as a seven-year period (Dan 9-24-27, the seventieth week) and Jesus referred to the final period (last 3.5-years) when the wrath intensifies as the Great Tribulation. It is agreed this occurs after the Antichrist desecrates the rebuilt Jewish temple at the mid-point of the seven-year period.

Almost all persuasions would agree the “hour of trial” refers to the coming Tribulation period. However, where disagreement occurs is when God’s wrath is poured out. Some would say it is the last 3.5 years of the tribulation while others would say it is the whole seven-year period. Mid-tribulationists would fall into the final 3.5-year category and pre-wrathers after the seventh trumpet. Ed Hindson and Mark Hitchcock write:

Mid-tribulationists believe the wrath during the first half of the final seven years is from man and Satan, while the wrath in the second half comes from God. The church will be raptured at the midpoint of the tribulation, before the wrath of God is expressed. Pre-wrath rapturists hold that all the judgments before the sixth trumpet in Revelation 6 are human and satanic in origin, so the Day of the Lord (God’s wrath) begins with the seventh trumpet. They locate the rapture about three-fourths of the way through the tribulation, between the sixth and seventh trumpets.[6]

Pre-trib rapture adherents clearly view the wrath of God as being the whole seven years.

The Seven Seals and God’s Wrath
It is here that we can begin to defend the Pre-trib position. To do that we need to consider what the Bible tells us about the Seven Seals.

Revelation chapter 5 opens with a scene in heaven where God on His throne is holding a precious scroll. So important is this scroll that no one can be found on earth or in heaven that has the authority to open it and reveal its content.

Rev. 5:1-3
1 And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it.

We are told in vs. 4 that John weeps because there is no one able to open the scroll. More insight is given by W. A. Criswell:

[John’s tears] represent the tears of all God’s people through all the centuries. Those tears of the Apostle John are the tears of Adam and Eve, driven out of the Garden of Eden, as they bowed over the first grave, as they watered the dust of the ground with their tears over the silent, still form of their son, Abel. Those are the tears of the children of Israel in bondage as they cried unto God in their affliction and slavery. They are the tears of God’s elect through the centuries as they cried unto heaven. They are the sobs and tears that have been wrung from the heart and soul of God’s people as they looked on their silent dead, as they stand beside their open graves, as they experience in the trials and sufferings of life, heartaches and disappointments indescribable. Such is the curse that sin has laid upon God’s beautiful creation; and this is the damnation of the hand of him who holds it, that usurper, that interloper, that intruder, that alien, that stranger, that dragon, that serpent, that Satan-devil. ‘And I wept audibly,’ for the failure to find a Redeemer meant that this earth in its curse is consigned forever to death. It meant that death, sin, damnation and hell should reign forever and ever and the sovereignty of God’s earth should remain forever in the hands of Satan [Expository Sermons on Revelation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969), 3:69-70][7]

Thankfully, of the twenty-four elders nearby, one reassures John that there is One who can open that scroll – One who will ensure that God’s plan of redemption moves forward and will be completed.

Rev 5:5-7
5 But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.” 6 And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.

What follows is one of the most amazing displays of worship and praise found in Scripture! The 24 elders fall down prostrate in humble worship and sing of the glory of the Lamb underscoring the meaning behind the single, most important act in History, the redemptive work of the cross. As they do the prayers of the saints of the ages are remembered. These prayers represent the earnest desire of God to bring to fruition the promises found throughout scripture that accompany salvation and the special blessings God promised those who believe. Also included is the commencement of the vengeance He promised against all that was and is evil—because there could be no reign on earth without the subjugation of the god of the world, thus all that is evil (see Isa 61:2-3).

Rev 5:8-10
8 Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
10 And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.”

Notice the emphasis on the cross where Christ was slain, the precious blood that cleansed the sins of believers around the world, and the fulfillment of our rule and reign with Him in the coming kingdom. All of this would become a reality because the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world was obedient to the mission of the Father (see Heb 10:5-7).

Following this triumphant celebration of praise is the resounding praise of an infinite number of divine beings in a cacophony of ascriptive praise to the Lord Jesus. What a scene this is that we are blessed to be privy to!

Rev 5:11-14
11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice:
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:
“Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”
14 Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.

The redemption Jesus paid for us has no price tag. By it alone every creature in heaven and on earth simultaneously sing with the greatest harmony in the History of created life of the blessing, glory, and honor that only Jesus can be the recipient of. No other has or ever will retain that glory. Everyone who understands the impact of Revelation chapter five should now be shouting for joy.

Three Words that Implement the End of this Dispensation
Mal Couch writes:

The Jews traditionally divided all of world history into two ages: the present age and the age to come. Their experience of persecution had convinced them that history could not be understood from within the present perspective of suffering and injustice. It could only be understood from the vantage point of the final consummation when God would cataclysmically break in to judge evil and establish His kingdom.[8]

So what does all of this mean in relation to the wrath of God? Very simply this, in order for all things promised and prophesied concerning the coming Millennial Kingdom rule and reign of Christ with His saints, Satan’s final hold on this world must be terminated. Look at Rev. 6:1:

1 Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals …

These Three words “the Lamb Opened” should be enough for any pre-tribulationist believer to show any doubter that God’s wrath, which includes all of the cataclysms from heaven or on earth, whether it be war, earthquake, flood, or astronomical disturbance, as being initiated by the Lamb of God who opens the seals unleashing the events that follow. It is the final stages of the consummation where God’s wrath against sin is unveiled and His final seven (yrs.) of working with Israel begin.

Got Questions ministry is clear when they define the fallacy of post-tribulationism by recognizing that: “the post-tribulational view distinguishes ‘Satan’s wrath’ (or ‘man’s wrath’) from ‘God’s wrath’ in the book of Revelation. Satan’s wrath is directed against the saints, and God allows it as a means of purifying His faithful. On the other hand, God’s wrath is poured out on the Antichrist and his godless kingdom, and God will protect His people from that punishment.”[9]

Scripturally and honestly, this viewpoint cannot be reconciled with the three words “the Lamb opened” of Revelation 6:1. God in His divine authority and sovereignty can use any vehicle to deliver His wrath, be it mankind or the hellish principalities of Satan. But rest assured the commencement of all that God ever promised Israel and His triumph over all evil begins with those three words. All evil He will stamp out and bring to justice any person in the ages since creation who has suffered unjustly because of any type of sin. We will no longer have to ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Knowing when the wrath of God commences and why so, the believer can now confidently quote 1 Thessalonians 1: 9-10, 5:9, and Revelation 3:10; for it is TRUE—the heavens ring out it is TRUE—Let all earth ring out it is TRUE – It is Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come!

[1] Some post-tribulationists believe they are raptured just prior to Armageddon. (see Robert H. Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 63.) Pre-tribulationists are not adherents to man’s wrath and Satan’s wrath as stand alone during the tribulation period. Rather, the wrath of man and the wrath of Satan fall under the sovereign hand of God and are confined under God's wrath. Hitchcock writes:
We do not believe the church will escape persecution, trials, and testing. She has always been the object of the wrath of Satan and the wrath of man. But, we do not believe she will be the object of the wrath of Christ (1 Thessalonians 5: 9). Nor do we believe she will be “purified” by the tribulation period in some kind of “Protestant purgatory.” It seems incredulous to us that Christ would beat up His bride and then take her to the marriage supper. Our view of the bride (those who are “in Christ”) is that she holds a unique place in God’s eternal plans and will rule with Him in His earthly kingdom." Hitchcock, Mark; Hindson, Ed. Can We Still Believe in the Rapture? (Kindle Locations 2807-2812). Harvest House Publishers. Kindle Edition.
[2] Billy Hallowell, “Is the Rapture Really Biblical? Pastors Reveal Exactly Where They Stand on Revelation, Eschatology and ‘Left Behind’ Theology,” The Blaze, May 3, 2016, http:// www.theblaze.com/ stories/ 2016/ 05/ 03/ is-the-end-times-rapture-really-in-the-bible-pastors-reveal-exactly-where-they-stand-as-the-eschatology-battle-forges-on/. From Hitchcock, Mark; Hindson, Ed. Can We Still Believe in the Rapture? (Kindle Locations 3522-3524). Harvest House Publishers. Kindle Edition.
[3] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 397.
[4] David Olander, The Greatness of the Rapture: The Pre-Day of the Lord Rapture, ed. Kenneth R. Cooper and Christopher Cone (Ft. Worth, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2009), 90–91.
[5] Hans Scharen, “Part 2 (of 2 Parts): Gehenna in the Synoptics,” Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (1992): 467.
[6] Mark Hitchcock; Ed Hindson, “Can We Still Believe in the Rapture?” (Kindle Locations 2264-2269). Harvest House Publishers. Kindle Edition.
[7] Anthony C. Garland, A Testimony of Jesus Christ: A Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Galaxie Software, 2006), Re 5:4.
[8] Mal Couch, Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (Kregel Publications, 1996).
[9] Got Questions Ministries, Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2002–2013).
 

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