Judging from some of the questions I’ve received lately, people are really getting impatient for the end times to begin in earnest. For years fringe groups have been claiming that the seal judgments have already begun, but it looks to me like this opinion is suddenly becoming more popular.
The Seal judgments are now being compared to the “birth pangs” of Matt. 24:4-8 by people who say the real end times judgments won’t begin until after the great multitude of Rev. 7:9 arrives in Heaven. They say these saints are the church, and claim that we’ll be raptured between the seal judgments and the trumpet judgments that begin in Rev. 8:6. There are several reasons why this cannot be correct, but perhaps the most obvious is that the destiny of these believers is not the same as that of the Church. According to Rev. 7:15 they will serve God day and night in His temple, but there is no Temple in the New Jerusalem where the Church will be (Rev. 21:22) and the Rev. 7 multitude is neither called kings nor priests.
What’s The Big Hurry?
Some of this impatience is undoubtedly prompted by the dissatisfaction people feel about the current condition of our world. In the US, a recent poll shows that only 32% of the population thinks our leaders are taking us in the right direction. People are beginning to realize that the lowest unemployment rate in 5 years doesn’t mean that more people are finding jobs. They know that the labor force participation rate, having been at or above 66% for most of the time between 2003-2008 has been dropping since 2009 and is now at 63.3%. Where is the rest of the workforce? Most have either accepted low paying and/or part time work or have simply given up on trying to find a job. Either way they’re no longer looking for work, so the government doesn’t consider them to be unemployed. People also understand from their own experience that the middle class is steadily losing economic ground, and that the dollars we have don’t buy as much as they used to.
And just this week one of our most highly respected prophecy scholars disclosed his belief that the time for praying the US out of our problems has ended. In effect, He said God gave us fair warning and we didn’t pay attention. He identified the recent presidential election as our response to God’s warning, and said it marked the point of no return for us. Citing passages from Jeremiah and Ezekiel where God told the prophets to stop praying for Israel because He had stopped listening, this scholar stated his belief that our judgment has also been irrevocably determined and prayer will no longer help. Based on these and other circumstances it’s no wonder that many people who read about the Seal judgments in Revelation 6 see indications that they’re already here.
Long time readers of my articles know that I don’t believe the United States can be prayed out of our situation either. For me it’s a matter of there being no place for a strong US in end times prophecy. I’ve said before that I believe people who are praying for America’s recovery are unknowingly praying against God’s plan for the end of the age. He never gave the Church a homeland on Earth and He never promised to save the USA, which He considers to be just another gentile nation.
But neither my esteemed colleague nor I believe we’re already in the Seal judgments. The circumstances we’re currently experiencing are certainly similar to the Seal judgments, although much milder, but certain specific conditions have not been met for them to have actually begun.
Now if you don’t believe that the Bible teaches a pre-tribulation rapture, and if you don’t believe that Israel and the Church have separate destinies, you may not see some of this the way I do. But based on my understanding of Bible prophecy, the events of the Book of Revelation will begin unfolding this way.
Have You Read The Book?
In Rev. 1:19 the Lord gave John instructions on writing the Bible’s most comprehensive prophecy of the End of the Age. He said, “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now, and what will take place later.” Many scholars believe these instructions effectively divide the book into three parts. The things John had seen are contained in chapter 1. The things that were in John’s present are described in chapters 2-3 and the things that will take place later begin in chapter 4 and fill the rest of the book.
Strictly speaking the seven churches of Rev. 2-3 were the only addressees of the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:11). Each one was an actual congregation that deserved both the commendations and the criticisms Jesus gave them. If you’ve visited the sites of these seven churches, as I have, you know that all them disappeared long ago. Why did Jesus choose them as opposed to other churches of the day?
Many scholars who have studied Rev. 2-3 see that with their particular challenges and viewed in the order in which they’re mentioned, these seven are not just a handful of long gone 1st century churches but are representative of the entire Church Age. They say the reason the Lord chose them was to provide this concise look at the Church’s past, present and future.
Accepting this view makes Rev. 2-3 instructive to the entire Church age, because the problems He identified there are still with us. It’s also consistent with the structure of the book, which is to render things in signs. In the Greek language of Rev. 1:1 John used the word “semaino”, which means “to give a sign, or signify”, to describe how he was commanded to write. It means that through out the book certain words and phrases are meant to signify something else. The dragon, the beast, and the woman who rides the beast are three obvious examples.
In his gospel, John used this same word on three occasions to explain that a particular phrase was intended to refer to something else. In John 12:33 Jesus used the phrase “lifted up” to signify his crucifixion. John 18:32 explains that one of the reasons the Jewish leaders took Jesus to Pilate is so he would be crucified, to fulfill the words He had spoken, signifying the kind of death He would die. (The Jewish method of execution was stoning.) And in John 21:19 Jesus told Peter he would stretch out his hands and someone would lead him where he did not want to go. According to John this was meant to signify Peter’s crucifixion.
Therefore seeing Rev. 2-3 as signifying the entire Church Age is a reasonable interpretation. That being the case, then the phrase “the things that will take place later” (literally, after these things) from Rev. 1:19 means that everything from Rev. 4 to the end of the book will come after the Church Age has ended.
After These Things
Rev. 4-5 contain a number of indications that these two chapters describe events that take place right after the rapture of the Church. First, the 24 elders of Rev. 4:4 don’t appear in any earlier description of the throne of God, so they’re new arrivals. In addition they’re sitting on thrones (meaning they’re rulers) wearing white (meaning they’re righteous) with crowns of gold on their heads. The word for crown John used is stephanos. It refers to a victory crown and is the crown of an overcomer.
In Rev. 3:11 Jesus cautioned us to hold on so that no one will take our crown, and in Rev. 3:21 He said, “To him who overcomes I will give the right to sit with me on my throne just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne.” Crowns and thrones.
Singing to God in Rev. 5:9-10 (NKJV) they declare, “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.”
This is a song only the church can sing.
I agree it would be a bit of a stretch to base our pre-trib conviction on such circumstantial evidence alone, but by putting other clear verses like Isaiah 26:19-20, 1 Thes. 1:10, and Rev. 3:10 with it, the evidence becomes much more concrete, and makes the pre-trib position more consistent with a literal interpretation of Scripture than any other rapture view.
Also, in Romans 11:25-26 Paul made it clear that Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of Gentiles has come in. Once that happens, Israel will have one final chance to receive the Lord’s salvation. We can also see this in Acts 15:13-18, where James explained that Israel was being set aside while the Lord took from the Gentiles a people for himself. After this He will turn His attention toward Israel again, their Temple will be rebuilt, and they’ll have a final chance to seek the Lord.
This final opportunity is known to us from Daniel 9:24-27 as Daniel’s 70th Week, the last half of which is called the Great Tribulation. Both Romans 11:25-26 and Acts 15:13-18 indicate that Daniel’s 70th Week will take place after the Lord has completed His plan to take for Himself a people from the Gentiles. There will be a certain number of Gentiles taken and when that number has been met we will be carried away to our ultimate destiny in the Lord’s house (John 14:2-3) After that, Daniel’s 70th week will begin. I believe Rev. 6-18 is a description of the events that take place during Daniel’s 70th Week.
So the first thing we see is that the rapture of the Church has to precede the Seal judgments. Since the Church is still here, the Seal judgments can’t have begun yet.
But Wait, There’s More
Rev. 6:1 tells us a rider on a white horse will appear after the events of Rev. 4-5 (the rapture). This rider is thought by most to be an early appearance of the anti-Christ. The world won’t recognize him as such, but will think of him as a great peacemaker. Daniel 8:25 says he will deceive many this way, and in 1 Thes. 5:3 Paul said the world will believe peace has arrived, but then destruction will come upon them suddenly. So at the beginning of the Seal judgments, there will be a short period of peace that the whole world will notice. That is not the case today and it hasn’t been the case for a number of years. I believe this peace will come right after Ezekiel 38-39, a war that God will use to draw Israel back into their covenant with Him. If so, then the Seal judgments can’t begin until after Ezekiel 38-39.
Suddenly peace will be taken from the world again, as Paul indicated, and people will be dying in large numbers (Rev. 6:4). Inflation and food shortages will become so acute that it will take everything an average person can earn in a day to buy one day’s worth of food (Rev. 6:6). One fourth of the world’s populated areas will suffer the effects of war, famine, and pestilence. Even wild animals will take part in the carnage (Rev. 6:8).
People will die for the Christian faith in large numbers. Their spirits will cry out to the Lord for vengeance but the death and destruction will get much worse before it’s over (Rev. 6:9). Finally there will be a great earthquake that sends the people of Earth running for cover. The Sun will turn black and the Moon will turn dark red (Rev. 6:12-14). Everyone from the world’s leaders to the humblest of men will look for a place to hide from God’s judgment (Rev. 6:15-17).
Please note that this doesn’t mean the coming wrath will begin at the end of the Seal judgments. The Greek words of Rev. 6:17 describe continuous and ongoing action. It means the post-rapture world will finally realize that what has been happening through out the seal judgments is that the great day of God’s wrath has already begun.
So, while many of the conditions affecting the world today appear quite similar to those described in the Seal judgments of Rev. 6, they are in fact much milder previews of what lies ahead. The full impact of this first cycle of judgments won’t be felt until after the Lord has made good on His promise to rescue us from the time and place of their occurrence, and Israel has returned from their long estrangement from God to once again be a covenant keeping nation.