God, Sovereignty and Revelation’s Seals
In Defense of the Faith
Friday, December 16, 2016
By Alf Cengia
Some time ago a scholarly friend wrote a series on getting the rapture right on his blog. While I didn’t agree with everything, I liked that he wasn’t dogmatic. He came to his pretribulational conclusion in logical and humble fashion.
You can rarely post an article on the pretrib rapture without someone correcting you. Some people didn’t like his conclusion. One fellow’s long, preachy assertions were familiar. I was impressed with my friend’s patience. Patience isn’t a strong point of mine.
Here are some common objections to pretribulationism I’ve read recently:
You believe man’s lies rather than the Bible. Man’s wrath and Satan’s wrath precede God’s wrath. The church isn’t exempt from the first two. God’s wrath occurs after the 6th seal where the context of Rev 6:17 is future.
The first comment is often used by people who have just read a book purporting to rectify man’s errors or a traditional view. Notably Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons have used the same line.
Ironically, the preachy fellow who lectured my friend originally got his information from Rosenthal and Van Kampen. It has been my experience that a lot of these people are zealous to convert yet highly sensitive to criticism of their views.
As an example, one pretrib pastor took Marvin Rosenthal to task for how he dealt with God’s sovereignty in relationship to the opening of the seals of Revelation. It elicited an elaborate response from a leading defender of that view.
In The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church (p 142), Rosenthal asserted that if the 2nd, 3rd and 4th seals can be attributed to God, then so must the first one. This being the case, God is responsible for a counterfeit religious system and the emergence of the Antichrist. Rosenthal claims this is preposterous because God isn’t in opposition to Himself.
His objections are confusing.
The only One worthy to open the seals is the Lamb. Judgment issues when the seals are opened. Most prewrathers (Rosenthal, Van Kampen etc) agree that the rider of the 1st seal is the Antichrist. Logically, then, Antichrist cannot ride forth until the Lamb releases him. It isn’t that difficult.
Paul further affirms that the Antichrist is sent as a judgment upon the world (2 Thess 2:6-11). Even if one assumes Michael is the restrainer, God’s sovereignty is clear. Michael obeys God.
God is not in opposition to Himself. He initiates and uses these circumstances to achieve His sovereign will. The conclusion that God is responsible for the arrival of the Antichrist is indisputable.
Leading prewrath teachers have acknowledged that God sovereignly uses man as an instrument of His wrath. But they equivocate on the seals. The problem for their model is that God’s wrath cannot be present before the 7th seal as this would mean the church must be raptured before then.
In order to preserve his model, Van Kampen said the 4th seal judgment only involves Jews and Christians. In the case of the latter, it is to test their faith (The Rapture Question Answered p145). Accordingly, the 4th seal does not affect unbelievers.
Although the judgments in the 4th seal are similar to Ezek 14:21, he claimed one shouldn’t assume God’s wrath is present. Proponents have suggested that although authority is given to Death and Hades over a quarter of the earth (meaning Jews and Christians), it doesn’t mean it will be exercised to that extent. Van Kampen asserts all this because his system associates the 4th seal with the “Antichrist Tribulation.” Therefore he can’t have God’s wrath there.
In fact God grants authority to Death and Hades. Rev 6:7-8 states that this authority is over the earth, not uniquely over Jews and believers. There’s no reason why this authority won’t be exercised fully and one wonders why this is even questioned.
Parallel references to the 4th seal judgments are found in Ezekiel 5:15, 17 (anger, wrath). In Ezek 7:3-19 we find references to God’s anger, fury and wrath associated with famine, sword and pestilence (v 15) and this time in context to the Day of the Lord’s wrath (v 19). Could it be any clearer?
Another alleged pretribulational problem is the 5th seal. As it goes, if the 5th seal is directed against believers who end up martyrs; so, logically believers are being killed via God’s wrath. How could this be?
This is pure semantics because even in Van Kampen’s model, believers are martyred through the testing of their faith. Recall also that Paul tells us the Antichrist-delusion is God’s specific judgment on this world (2 Thes 2:8-12).
Aside from this, the 5th seal doesn’t initiate martyrdom, it reveals an event. The reason for the saints’ martyrdom is their testimony (Rev 6:9). This has historically been the case. Hence this isn’t a problem for pretribulationism.
After the prewrath rapture we find the converted 144,000 experiencing the Day of the Lord’s wrath. An angel also preaches the everlasting gospel to the earth dwellers (Rev 14:6). This suggests people will come to faith at that time. Otherwise, who survives the Goat-Sheep judgment to go into the millennium?
So it’s beside the point whether one refers to these believers as Christians or pretribulation saints. There’s no promise that these people will be miraculously preserved from the consequences of God’s judgment on the world. Note also that Antichrist is given authority to continue for 42 months, no less (Rev 13:5-7).
Finally, the arguments regarding the phrase “has come” involving the timing of the God’s wrath in the 6th seal passage (Rev 6:17) can be convoluted. We’ve already seen how God’s wrath in Ezekiel parallels the 4th seal. Also compare Isaiah 2:10-21 and Isaiah 13:9-13 with Rev 6:12-17.
One doesn’t have to be a sleuth like Columbo to see the fingerprints of God’s wrath all over the seal judgments. On the other hand, elaborate refutations inevitably run around in circles.
God’s wrath and tribulation coexist. The church has always experienced tribulation (Rom 5:3; John 1:9). But there will come a period of seven years in which God’s wrath will bring intense tribulation. What is commonly referred to as “man’s wrath” or “Satan’s wrath” is God’s judgment on the world.
Personally, I see a beautiful simplicity in the fact that the church is promised to be kept from the hour of trial which will come upon the whole world in chapter 3. Then in chapter 6 we are provided a summary of the nature of these coming tribulations.
There are no hidden clauses, stipulations or provisions in Rev 3:10. The faithful church is promised exemption from the tribulations which God sends, and through which He will save Israel and inaugurate the millennial kingdom.
Keep looking up!