The question is this: when on the prophetic timeline of Revelation does God’s wrath officially begin? Revelation 16, when the seven angels pour out the seven bowls of wrath? Revelation 6, when the trembling world declares God’s wrath at the 6th seal? Or is it right at the very beginning, seal 1, the rider of the white horse?
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s this:
“God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…” (1 Thessalonians 5:9)
Perhaps this is what the Lord Christ meant when He said to the Church of Philadelphia, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” (Revelation 3:10)
Will faithful believers be spared from having to go through the fearful last chapter of this age? If the whole world and all who dwell on it are to be tried by the fire of God’s anger, it would be inappropriate for a believer in Christ, not destined for wrath, to think that they are going to have to experience this dreadful hour in history, especially when Christ Himself promises the faithful otherwise.
According to that line of thought, the rapture and redemption of the Church must occur prior to God’s wrath—not after, not during, but before. So, when does wrath begin?
The Old Testament is where this violent final outpouring of God’s wrath on the world is first spoken of by the prophets. The old prophecies are full of clue-ridden passages that help us flesh out the details in Revelation. Consider this one, from Isaiah:
“Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. I will make people more rare than fine gold, and mankind than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place…” (Isaiah 13:9-13)
The Day of the Lord, the Day of His indignation. In that passage from Isaiah, it is twice referred to as God’s wrath, and describes it in a manner identical to a unique event we find in Revelation…
“When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 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?” (Revelation 6:12-17)
Just as in Isaiah 13, the 6th seal is marked by a catastrophic earthquake, a great disturbance in the heavens, and a darkening of the sun, moon, and stars. This is the horror that blares the commencement of God’s wrath. The 6th seal.
The seals preceding it, namely the 4 horsemen, bring disasters that parallel what Jesus describes in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24) as but “the beginning of the birth pangs”, not the wrath of God — “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray (1st horseman, false saviours). And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet (2nd horseman, war). For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places (3rd horseman, famine). All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death… (4th horseman, death).” (Matthew 24:4-9)
Tribulation? Yes. Birth pangs? Yes. But wrath really doesn’t begin until the 6th seal, which, by the way, is the place where it is first mentioned in the timeline, twice — “…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…” (Revelation 6:16-17)
Now, consider this passage from the chapter immediately following the 6th seal, Revelation 7:9-10 — “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, 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, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” — That’s the Church.
There’s a good reason why the Church suddenly appears in heaven between the 6th and 7th seal. The 7 seals are a numbered sequence. If the Church is in heaven between the 6th and 7th seal, then it is impossible to say that the Church enters heaven later in the 7 trumpet judgments or the 7 bowls of wrath; after all, it is the 7th seal that begins the 7 trumpet judgments and bowls of wrath, so in no way can we say that the seals are a mere preview of the judgments later described. The 7th seal must be opened to begin the 7 trumpet judgments. In fact, the 7 trumpet judgments are the 7th seal — “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them… Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.” — If the Church appears in heaven between the 6th and 7th seal, then it is safely hidden in heaven before the trumpet or bowl judgments even begin.
Now, in verse 13 (Revelation 7), it is further clarified by one of the heavenly elders 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.” — Many people take this to mean that the Church goes through the great tribulation and comes out the other side before appearing in heaven. However, seeing as the 7th seal has yet to command the 7 trumpeting angels in the next chapter, there’s no way the Church can be going through those 7 trumpet judgments—and therefore it is certainly not raptured during Christ’s descent at Armageddon, which is the very last judgment event! When the elder says that the countless multitude is “coming out of the great tribulation”, he means that it is being spared from it, coming out at the start of it. The Church does not obtain salvation partway into the wrath of God, nor after experiencing the entire length of it, but right before it even begins.
Knowing that the language here causes much confusion, let me corroborate this view by once more reminding you of the Lord’s promise to His faithful in Revelation 3:10 — “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you FROM the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.”
To be “kept from” the Day of the Lord is the same as saying that the Church is “coming out of the great tribulation.”
Scripture always answers itself.
Besides, when the elder tells John that the countless multitude in heaven is coming out of the great tribulation, is he referring to everyone in the countless multitude? Of course. And is that countless multitude not the whole Church? Of course! So how could every Christian who has ever lived over the last 2 millennia have gone through the great tribulation? Certainly our dead friends and relatives in Christ are counted among that countless multitude, yet they never experienced the great tribulation. The only conclusion that remains is that this countless multitude is the Church in its entirety, appearing in heaven before the 7 trumpet judgments begin, raptured before experiencing any of the great tribulation.
I believe that the Lord, prior to his wrath, will rapture His Church and hide it safely in heavenly chambers for the entire duration of his wrath on earth below — “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:2-3) — And to finish this point with a final word from the Prophet Isaiah, let’s read Isaiah 26:19-21 for a clarity on the order of events in this eschatological programme:
“Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead. Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the wrath has passed by. For behold, the Lord is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity…”