What does the “pre” refer to in the words pre-tribulation and pre-wrath? It refers to an event that occurs prior to an event. Specifically, it refers to the rapture, the removal of people from the earth, before either a 7-year tribulational period or a shorter period of wrath.
Information has come to light regarding many inconsistencies in the pre-tribulation position, which has caused many to depart from that doctrine to embrace the doctrine of the pre-wrath rapture. In his book, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, Marvin Rosenthal gives us several reasons why the pre-wrath rapture timing has convinced people of having a better foundation on the truth of God’s word.
1. In a word study on “tribulation” in dealing with the end times, five of the occurrences of the word (Greek: thlipsis) tells us something of the time of the tribulation. Each time it refers to a Great Tribulation, and each time it indicates that it starts at the middle of Daniel’s seventieth “week” (a period covering Earth’s final seven years before Christ’s kingdom is established). In contrast, pre-tribulational teaching tells us that the entire seven years is the tribulation period. Nowhere in the Word of God is this seven-year span referred to as a tribulation period.
2. In each instance where the Great Tribulation is used in a prophetical context, it always refers to a period of persecution of God’s elect (holy ones), never of God’s wrath on mankind. It is a period of man’s wrath against man. However, the pre-tribulational teachers teach that the entire seven-year period is a time of God’s wrath.
3. The Lord also said in Matthew 24:22 that “those days” shall be shortened. Those days refers to the period he just spoke about – the Great Tribulation. This means that the Great Tribulation will not last the entire final 3 1/2 years. Christ will cut it short and rapture his saints. In contrast, pre-tribulation believers hold that the entire final 3 1/2 years are of the Great Tribulation.
4. Pre-tribulational teaching asserts that the Day of the Lord (God’s wrath) begins with the beginning of the seven-year period, and the rapture occurs just before. Actually, the Day begins when the Great Tribulation is cut short, with the opening of the seventh seal of Revelation 8:1. In each of the descriptions of the Day of the Lord in the OT, they are of unbelievable darkness and destruction, which perfectly match the events following the seventh seal. There’s just no way for the Antichrist to do what he’s prophesied to do (make war, make a covenant with the Jews, demand all accept a mark for commerce, persecute Christians) while in the midst of wholesale destruction (trees and vegetation burned up, sun scorches the people, ungodly locusts torture the population, deadly sores erupt from all who take the mark, all water turns to blood). There must be a period of relative stability in the first several years of the “week” for the Antichrist to work. Once the Day of the Lord occurs, it is utter destruction and upheaval as the whole world reels under the wrath of God’s judgments.
5. When we follow the above sequence for the pre-wrath rapture, then the seals in the Book of Revelation line up perfectly with the sequence in Matthew 24. The first four seals are spread through the first 3 1/2 years. Seals 5-6 are in the Great Tribulation, then seal 7 starts the Day of the Lord (the wrath of God). As a matter of fact, after the sixth seal, the people cry, “For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Revelation 6:17). Immediately in the next chapter we find the 144,000 Jews protected from the wrath with God’s mark in their foreheads, and John sees an uncountable number of people arriving in heaven. They are not the martyrs from seal 5 under the altar, for he knows who they are. He can’t identify this crowd, so the angel informs him: “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
Look at the parallel sequence between Matthew 24 and Revelation more closely:
1. False christs come
For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
Revelation 6:1-2 (first seal)
And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
Revelation 6:3-4 (second seal)
And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
Revelation 6:5-6 (third seal)
And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
4. Tribulation and death
Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
Revelation 6:7-8 (fourth seal)
And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and @#!*% followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
Revelation 6:9-11 (fifth seal)
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: 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? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
6. Darkness and shaking
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
Revelation 6:12-14 (sixth seal)
And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
7. Son of Man seen
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: 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.
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?
And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
This parallel sequence teaches us that Christians in that time will experience the persecution of the Antichrist, the sun will darken, then the sign of the Son of Man will appear (causing the men on earth to wail over the coming wrath of God), believers will be raptured, and then the “Day of the Lord” commences, when God’s wrath is poured out on the world. Pre-tribulationists, however, teach that the entire tribulation period is the Day of the Lord, and there are no signs before an imminent rapture.
Why is learning of the timing of the rapture important? Because Christians are taught that we are not appointed to wrath, and that we’ll completely escape the coming persecution. As a result, too many Christians are not preparing their lives to withstand the temptations and trials to come. Living for this world and it’s luxuries, they’ll be sore pressed to resist the Antichrist figure who will demand all to receive a mark in their bodies, without which no one could buy or sell anything. Can you put off all self-pampering of the flesh to go to imprisonment and death? This is the actual attitude by which the saints will overcome him: “And they overcame him…” in this way: “…they did not love their lives to the death” (Revelation 12:11). If you are fortunate to meet any Christians undergoing persecution in countries hostile to the gospel, and talk to them, you’ll find them accepting the idea of going through tribulation, not escaping from it. They already do that every day.
Because many pre-tribulationists are having a hard time reconciling the word with their position, they are moving to the pre-wrath position. Marvin’s book gives many more details than those here.
Van Kampen, Robert, The Rapture Question Answered: Plain and Simple. (Fleming H. Revell, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1997.)