The First Six Seals Are Not God’s Wrath…

Filed in Pretribulationism, Prewrath, Revelation by on June 13, 2009

I have written about this subject in the past, but I think it is worth noting again.

Many Pretribulationalists have wrongly assumed that the six seals are God’s wrath and thus part of the Day of the Lord. This is simply assumed and necessary for the Pretrib system because they cannot allow any prophesied events to unfold before the rapture because that would undermine imminency.

The seals are not God’s wrath but precursors to the Day of the Lord. The following is not meant to be an exhaustive explanation of this supposition, but an outline of salient points.

First, the Cosmic Disturbances of the sixth seal announce God’s wrath upon the ungodly, “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” (Joel 2:31) And this is what we have at the sixth seal.

Second, both the responses from the martyrs in the fifth seal and the ungodly in the sixth seal reveal that God’s wrath is soon to come–they have not viewed it already in the past. The fifth seal martyrs are asking when God will pour out his wrath; and the ungodly in the sixth seal are running to the caves and crying out about the impending wrath.

Third, the fact that there are two groups of people, one group being sealed and the other delivered, just before the seventh seal suggests strongly that they are being sealed and delivered from something looming that will come upon the whole world.

Fourth, the nature of the events in the first four seals are “natural” (but intense) catastrophes (wars, famines, etc.) carried out by “horsemen.” This is in contrast to when the seventh seal (supernatural contents) is opened up and the unmistakable wrath of God is mediated directly by angels via the trumpet and bowl judgments against the ungodly. (By the way, a fourth of mankind is not killed in the fourth seal; there is only, “power over a fourth of the earth.”)

Fifth, the first five seals in Revelation chapter six parallel Jesus’ teaching about this being the “beginning of birth pangs” in Matthew 24:5-8.

Sixth, obviously the fifth seal is not God’s wrath because it specifically speaks of the martyrdom of believers. And since believers are promised protection from the Day of the Lord’s wrath, to argue that the fifth seal is God’s wrath is contradictory.

Seventh, when the seventh seal is opened, immediately it says that there was silence in heaven for about a half an hour. The most plausible explanation for this silence is for all the members of the heavenly court to observe the grave and profound significance of the event that is to follow: The Eschatological Day of the Lord’s wrath. Immediately after this silence it says,

Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”

This unprecedented dreadful opening act of God’s wrath is then followed by how the Old Testament prophets characterized the Day of the Lord: fire and destruction. And this is realized in the trumpet and bowl judgments.

Eighth, pretribulationists argue that the sixth seal indicates that God’s wrath already started in the past, thereby proving that the seals are God’s wrath. For example, Mal Couch writes:

[I]n Revelation 6:16-17, the world cries out…”Hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the WRATH of the Lamb; for THE GREAT DAY OF THEIR WRATH “HAS ARRIVED” (Aorist Tense…) and who is able to stand [up under it].

Couch invokes the Greek tense called the “Aorist” suggesting that God’s wrath has already been happening. That understanding of the aorist tense is in error. In Greek there is a common tense called the “aorist” which we do not have in English. Contrary to popular thought the aorist tense is the least significant tense in Greek. Strangely one will hear pastors often preaching and making a big deal about this or that word in the “aorist.” I personally think this misunderstanding is due to the fact that it is not found in the English grammatical system so it seems mysterious to those who do not know Greek.

Let me demythologize the aorist tense. The aorist does not denote “past time” as some commonly understand it; and it does not denote a “once-for-all action.” Some wrongly believe that it is a past tense because it can often be found in a past action context. Though it is commonly in past action, it can also be an action in the present, future, or just timeless. Only context — not the fact it is aorist — tells us what time the action occurs.

The aorist is what is called the “undefined” tense. It does not tell you the type of action such as specifying its duration, nor again does it tell the time that the action takes place.

The aorist is often known as the “background” or “snapshot” or “summary” tense (there are some nuances to those notions). Sometimes it is thought of as the “default” tense in Greek, but that may be too much of an understatement of its function. An author would choose the aorist tense to represent the action of the verb as a complete whole — i.e. stating an undefined action without giving specific information of the type of action such as focusing on the beginning, duration, or ending of the action, or whether it is repeated or not. That information about the action of the verb can only come through lexical, grammatical, or other contextual indicators, and not its tense.

So going back to Couch’s claim that the wrath of God has been unfolding because “has come” (ἦλθεν, elthen) is simply in the aorist tense is fallacious and does not account for context that indicates that the ungodly are fleeing to the caves because of the impeding wrath of God.

The aorist tense-form is used frequently in “impending or ingressive action” contexts. A few good examples that context determines the meaning of this tense:

The same exact verb in the aorist tense is used in Rev 19:7, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come (ἦλθεν, elthen) and His bride has made herself ready.” Here, the context is that the marriage of the Lamb is about to happen (ingressive aorist).

As well in Rev. 14:15b, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come (ἦλθεν, elthen), for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”

Another example where the exact same word in the aorist is found with the idea of an ingressive or impending action,

In Mark 14:41, Jesus says, “the hour has come (ἦλθεν, elthen); behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” The context clarifies that Christ is speaking of impending or ingressive action.

Context determines meanings, not an isolated use of a tense-form.

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