The “Terminus A Quo” of The Day of the Lord: The Deciding Argument forPretribulationism — By: Jerry M. Hullinger, JMAT 19:2 (Fall 2015)
After twenty years of study concerning the eschatological return of Jesus Christ for the joyous aerial reunion with his entire bride, we continue to marvel at the now thoroughly discredited defense of the view known as pretribulationism. It has changed very little despite the beating up it has received. As advocates of the PreWrath view, we remain on the lookout for anyone who seeks to present a compelling case for a pretribulational rapture. If PreWrath is not thought to be biblical, we want to be shown “why not?”
Thus, it was with heightened optimism that I received an article by Jerry M. Hullinger, professor of Bible at Piedmont International University, entitled, “The ‘Terminus A Quo’ of the Day of the Lord: The Deciding Argument for Pretribulationism.” At first glance, I thought this would be worth study, because by stating his case so dogmatically, the pretrib rapture view stands or falls on this solitary pillar, and Hullinger has put a big “bullseye” on his back. I reasoned that no person would do such a thing without incontrovertible factual evidence. Therefore, I assumed that someone had written a serious challenge to the PreWrath rapture position. After all, “The Deciding Argument for Pretribulationism” is a very compelling title and by implication means PreWrath is actually dead wrong concerning the timing of the Lord’s return to remove God’s elect before the Day of the Lord. As is always the case, a two-edged sword cuts both ways. The correct “terminus a quo” can either prove or destroy the pretribulational view.
Before we look at Hullinger’s arguments, we need to define two things: First, what does “terminus a quo” mean? It is a fancy Latin phrase scholars use to refer to “the beginning,” or the starting point of something. The second thing we need to define is the point that Hullinger makes. It is his contention that “the deciding argument for pretribulationism” is the terminus a quo of the Day of the Lord. In plain English, when the Day of the Lord begins in the sequence of end-time events, it thereby proves the pretrib rapture view to be correct.
Hullinger concludes his article with the following summary:
The Day of the Lord is a principal theme of Scripture and must be reckoned with when dealing with any aspect of eschatology. The data indicate that there have been historic days of the Lord when Yahweh manifested himself through judgment. These past days portend a future, extended Day of the Lord which will begin at the tribulation and extend through the kingdom age. The importance of this understanding is that it produces what could be the deciding proof for pretribulationism. Since the descriptions of the “night” portion of the Day of the Lord are virtually equivalent to the descriptions of the tribulation, this argues that the entire tribulation is a part of the Day of the Lord. Paul asserted in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 that believers will be delivered from the coming wrath. He then specifically identified this wrath as that of the Day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5:9. This line of reasoning shows that the pretribulational rapture is not merely an inference, as is often said, but an apostolic doctrine based on one of the primary teachings of Scripture. As such, the terminus a quo emerges as the deciding argument for pretribulationism, [Italics added] (JMAT 19:2 (Fall 2015) p. 116).
The most problematical statement above is this: the Day of the Lord starts at the beginning of the seventieth week of Daniel and ends at the conclusion of the millennial kingdom of Christ. Consequently, Hullinger places the terminus a quo of the Day of the Lord at the beginning of Daniel’s final week, and equates it with the (so-called) tribulation of seven years, which in itself is an all too common misreading of the specific duration given in scripture.
Without a doubt, the most frustrating part of dealing with pretrib rapturists is their refusal to admit error when they are shown to be wrong. If we prove that, the terminus a quo of the Day of the Lord cannot be and therefore is not the beginning of Daniel’s final week, then “the deciding argument for pretribulationism” is clearly mistaken, meaningless, and rendered void. So, as we have asserted in the past, the pretrib rapture theory has no biblical basis whatsoever. Remember, Hullinger speaks of “the deciding argument.” So if his position is shown to be wrong, the pretrib rapture has no “deciding argument” in its favor, and should be rejected by everyone.
Of course, we naturally accept the challenge to prove that the “terminus a quo” of the Day of the Lord is not the beginning of Daniel’s final week, nor is it equal to “the tribulation” or “a tribulation.” We digested Hullinger’s article with considerable disappointment. He states:
Among those who believe in a literal tribulation yet to come, the timing of the period is one of the key areas of debate when it comes to the subject of the Day of the Lord. The difficulty lies in the fact that the Bible does not explicitly state when the Day begins (JMAT 19:2 (Fall 2015) p. 95).
Question: is this statement true? Well, I think it depends on what one means by “explicitly”. It is indeed true that the Bible does not give a precise month, day or year for the beginning of the Day of the Lord, such as January 15, 2095. Still, in the sequence of end-time events, there is explicit sequencing. There are three passages in the Bible that we shall consider to resolve this matter.
The first passage that we will examine is Malachi 4:1-5. Regarding this text, Hullinger writes,
The final [O.T.] use of the phrase “Day of the Lord” is found in Malachi 4:5. Like many of the other prophets, Malachi is writing to Israel to enjoin them to faithfulness to the covenant in order to enjoy its blessings. The phrase occurs at the very end of the book in which Malachi speaks of the coming of Elijah before the Day of the Lord. It is not within the scope of this study to discuss the problems concerning Elijah other than to note that Malachi pictured the Day of the Lord in 4:1-5 as a time of judgment, desolation, and pain (JMAT 19:2 (Fall 2015) p. 84).
It is incredible that Hullinger’s somewhat superficial study of Malachi 4:1-5 did not call for a closer look regarding the timing of Elijah’s future ministry. Malachi 4:5 specifically says, “Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives.” Did you catch it? Obviously, Hullinger missed it. “Before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives,” God promises to send Elijah for a period of ministry. The little preposition “before,” singularly destroys Hullinger’s whole paper. There is very little need to continue, really!
This one verse destroys pretribulational imminency. Plainly stated, Elijah must come before the Day of the Lord begins. For Hullinger to be correct about the terminus a quo of the Day of the Lord, the ministry of Elijah must begin before Daniel’s final week begins—possible, but highly unlikely, since the future ministry of Elijah would occur during the church age, which pretribbers adamantly agree cannot happen. Particularly is this true given that the salvation of national Israel will not occur until Daniel’s final week concludes. Daniel 9:24-27 requires the completion of the final week before salvation occurs. It is seventy weeks until all is fulfilled and not sixty-nine and a half or three-quarters or nine-tenths. Thus, the ministry of Elijah would have to begin before the Day of the Lord begins and run to the end of Daniel’s final week because that is when national Israel’s deliverance from Gentile rule ends.
If pretribbers conclude that “the rapture is imminent,” (JMAT 19:2 (Fall 2015) p. 104), and they add that no events must occur before the “any moment” rapture of the church, then the ministry of Elijah cannot begin before the start of the Day of the Lord, because Hullinger teaches that the terminus a quo of the Day of the Lord begins on or very near the beginning of Daniel’s final week, which he teaches is the tribulation period. Therefore, either Malachi 4:5 is wrong or Hullinger’s conclusion is wrong. Which would you lay odds on?
Some pretribbers teach that days, a week, months or possibly over a year may occur even before the events of the end-time begin. However, there is no explicit basis or necessity for such speculation. Some do it to salvage an impossible position called pretribulationism. Since the only biblical requirement that governs the timing of the evacuation of the elect is the start of God’s wrath and Scripture teaches that God’s elect will face the persecution of Satan and his Antichrist, such conclusions about the time between rapture and wrath are unnecessary. Matthew 24:29-31 explicitly declares God will evacuate his elect after Satan’s wrath is cut short, which is a fact I have not proven in this paper.
The second passage, absent any serious discussion in Hullinger’s article, is Joel 2:30-31. In this passage, Joel wrote:
I will produce portents both in the sky and on the earth – blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The sunlight will be turned to darkness and the moon to the color of blood, before the day of the Lord comes – that great and terrible day!
Scripture again explicitly tells us that the beginning of the Day of the Lord follows the calamitous eschatological portents, which foretell this great and terrible day, which will have everyone’s undivided attention. Those in the sky will involve sunlight turned to darkness and the moon turned to the color of blood. The portents on the earth will involve blood, fire, and columns of smoke. Again, the preposition before is a powerful argument against Hullinger’s contention. These portents immediately precede the beginning of the eschatological Day of the Lord.
By his own admission, Hullinger admits that a comparison of Matthew 24 and Revelation 6 sets forth a similar chronological sequence. Antichrist, war, famine, death, martyrdom, cosmic changes, and divine judgment are the elements of the end-time sequences in the two passages referenced above. With this, Hullinger agrees (JMAT 19:2 (Fall 2015) p. 115). If received at face value, one would expect the rapture to occur between the cosmic changes and the beginning of God’s wrath, which is exactly what both Matthew 24 and Revelation 6 and 7 detail. There is no doubt that the portents detailed in the Old Testament that indicate the imminent out-break of God’s wrath are the essence of Matthew 24:29 and Revelation 6:12-14, which have an evacuation of God’s elect pictured in close proximity.
However, to get around what’s obvious, pretribbers argue for an unnecessary and false interpretation of the Revelation 6:17 use of the aorist verb ἤλθεν, which the NET, ESV, NASB, NRSV, LEB, and TNIV all translate “has come.” Hullinger insists that the correct interpretation of the aorist in Revelation 6:17, “suggests that the wrath has already been poured out rather than it would begin with the sixth seal,” (JMAT 19:2 (Fall 2015) p. 113). He also adds with the approval of Alford’s Greek Testament that this verb usage refers “to the result of the whole series of events past, and not to be expressed in English except by a perfect,” (JMAT 19:2 (Fall 2015) p. 114).
Suffice it to say, the wicked men and women on the earth did not get the memo that God’s wrath actually started earlier at the first seal, because they only begin to run in panic at the sixth seal. What then is the best interpretation of ἤλθεν at Revelation 6:17? Stanley E. Porter is helpful in his seminal work, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, regarding the function of the aorist in the N.T.
Porter states that a perfective aspect is the meaning of the aorist tense (Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 1999, p. 21). As such, a N.T. author focuses on the action as complete and undifferentiated. The aorist in and of itself does not express whether that action happens for an instant or occurs over time. That information can only be ascertained by other clues in the text. As Porter states, “In Greek the aorist is what some have called the ‘default’ tense; that is, it is the tense chosen when there is no reason to choose another,” (Porter, S. E. (1999). Idioms of the Greek New Testament (p. 22). Sheffield: JSOT.).
Perhaps, this explains why John uses the aorist 13 times out of the 16 times that verbs occur in Revelation 6:12-17. Therefore, John records the whole passage, i.e. Revelation 6:12-17, in past time. Consequently, the temporality of Revelation 6:12-17 is not determined by the aorist. Otherwise, it would be better to argue that all the events of Revelation 6:12-17 occur at the beginning of the seals. Both Joel and Malachi put the eschatological portents before the Day of the Lord begins.
Now to determine temporal sequence, we must look for temporal adverbs and contextual clues such as references to people, places, time, and other discourse features in order to make assertions about when events occur in narrative passages in the Bible. Hullinger’s attempt to push back the beginning of the wrath of the Throne-Sitter and his Lamb to the first seal meets with very difficult textual contradictions, which we will chronicle shortly.
The third and final passage that strikes at the heart of Hullinger’s claim is Revelation 6:12-17. Notice,
Then I looked when the Lamb opened the sixth seal, and a huge earthquake took place; the sun became as black as sackcloth made of hair, and the full moon became blood red; and the stars in the sky fell to the earth like a fig tree dropping its unripe figs when shaken by a fierce wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the very important people, the generals, the rich, the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?”
This passage devastates Hullinger’s claims. It establishes a timeline in which the beginning of the Day of the Lord must fit. Few would debate that the cosmic disturbances that both Malachi and Joel explicitly mention must happen before the Day of the Lord begins to occur in Revelation 6. The portents in the sky and on earth described in Revelation 6:12-14 are a summary of all the Old Testament passages that mention the cosmic signs in connection with the Day of the Lord. I hope I need not defend this point.
The sequence of Revelation 6:12-17 is correct—portents in the sky and on earth; then the wicked run to hide; then the wrath of God comes. Immediately following the appearance of God and his Lamb, we see the trumpets and bowl judgments, which are unmistakably the wrath of God. We add to this that seal five requests the wrath of God to come, seal six indicates the wrath of God is imminent, and seal seven releases the trumpet judgments, which few doubt are the manifestation of God’s wrath.
We offer six textual contradictions to Hullinger’s position that the wrath of God begins with the first seal of Revelation 6:
First, John specifically orders his vision around seven seals. Each seal has specific events. Each seal announcement begins the same without any grammatical indication of connectedness other than the fact that events follow the breaking of a seal. Events of subsequent seals may be the result of a previous seal, but to argue that events of subsequent seals occurred or are contained in previous seals, has no textual basis. It is an invention for theological necessity.
Second, authorization to allow an event is not the same as the authorization of an event. To suggest that because the Lamb breaks the seals (authorization to allow an event), the events of seals one through five are the wrath of God is an invention for theological necessity. There is no textual base for it and it contradicts the character of God. God does not authorize the abomination of his own temple, which one must argue if the Great Tribulation is the wrath of God.
Third and most compelling, seal five explicitly contradicts Hullinger’s claim that seals one through four are expressions of God’s wrath. The martyrs of seal five specifically ask God (O Sovereign Lord), “How long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth (Rev. 6:10, ESV)?” The NASB frames the question this way: “How long…will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Bratcher and Hatton, in A Handbook on the Revelation of John, suggest, “Please don’t wait any longer to condemn and punish those people on earth who killed us,” correctly reflects the sense of the question, (Bratcher, R. G., & Hatton, H. A Handbook on the Revelation to John ((1993), p. 116)). Taken at face value, the question of the martyrs can only mean that no evidence of God’s wrath occurs prior to the fourth seal.
Perhaps, one could argue that since the martyrs are dead, they are unaware of what is going on back on the earth. Yet, God instructs that the martyrs, “rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been,” (Rev. 6:11, ESV). With this note, we are convinced that the wrath of God has not begun on the earth.
Fourth, the prophet Joel promised that the Day of the Lord (the eschatological wrath of God) begins after the unique portents in sky and on earth occur. The grouping of these unique events occurs in Revelation 6:12-14 and are specifically named as such. No other occurrence of this unique set of events appears in the book of Revelation. The portents indicate that the out-breaking of God’s wrath is imminent. It is difficult to understand why John would put the indicator of God’s imminent wrath five seals later than its actual beginning. The idea that God’s wrath will begin imperceptibly and build to a great climax is an invention of theological necessity without a biblical base.
Fifth, the response of the earth-dwellers recorded in Revelation 6:15-17 argues against an earlier expression of God’s eschatological wrath. The notion that God’s wrath began earlier but the wicked did not know it until God appears in the sky makes little sense. The Olivet Discourse recorded in Matthew 24 makes no reference to God’s personal intervention until the portents occur in Matthew 24:29-31. The text indicates God’s intervention comes at a critical point to ensure the survival of some of God’s elect, (24:22). Yet, prior to the cutting short of those days, Matthew 24 does not suggest explicitly or implicitly that God’s wrath evidences itself on earth during “the great tribulation.” All suggestions to this affect have no textual evidence of support.
Sixth and lastly, the fifth seal requests God’s wrath; the sixth seal indicates the wrath is imminent; and the seventh seal evidences its arrival in the form of the trumpet judgments. In the book of Revelation, there is no indication of God’s retaliation against the earth until the trumpet judgments. Until the trumpets, the wicked evidence no painful consequences from God for their behavior.
In conclusion, we reiterate that the Day of the Lord cannot be imminent in a pretribulational sense. The terminus a quo of the Day of the Lord cannot be the beginning of Daniel’s final week. This effectively means that the concept of a pretrib rapture is an invention for theological necessity without a biblical base.