Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 2003
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 6: New Truths of the Kingdom Aristocracy
Chapter 5 – The Destiny of the Church
Lesson 217 – Unique Features of Three-Quarter Tribulationism; Redefining the Wrath of God
20 Feb 2003
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We’re going to continue with our discussion on the different views on the Second Advent of Christ. Again to review some of the vocabulary, remember we are talking about basically three different approaches to prophecies. You should know these words because these words help you think; they are like handles and they give you tools. So let’s look at some of the tools. One word was futurism; another word is preterism and a third one is historicism. All views of prophecy can be classified in one of these three areas.
Futurism is quite clear; it means that the prophecies concerning the Lord Jesus Christ are going to come in the future. They are not things that have come to pass in the past; they are not things that are going on right now. There are different views of futurism, but that’s a large class of views. Then we talked about preterism; that’s a word that means past. So that’s the label for the view, widely prevalent now in Reformed circles, that the Book of Revelation is actually a code book written prior to AD 70 and describes in symbolic form the fall of Jerusalem and God’s judgment upon Israel. If that is the case, then preterism must teach that we are in the Millennium or the Millennium is coming to pass. Of course, we’ve all recognized that we live in the Millennial Kingdom, no more wars, etc., everything is getting better. That’s the logical result of preterism.
The third thing is historicism. We haven’t touched much on that because frankly it’s not really a competitor now. Historicism was very big in the days of the Protestant Reformation and the reason was the Protestants thought of the Pope and Roman Catholicism as the antichrist. And that made them see the book of Revelation as though it was going on in the 1500s. So historicism has always felt that prophecy is happening now, the Book of Revelation; those kind of things. One of the characteristics of historicism is that anyone who tries to date the return of the Lord Jesus Christ (date setter)—date-setters are actually historicists. That is, the only way you can get material to make a date setting scheme is to pull it out of the 1,240 days or whatever is going on in the Book of Revelation. If you’re a futurist, you believe that’s the future, that’s not happening now. So in order to use those tools to compute some date they’ve got to take them out of those future prophecies, bring them into present history and then do their computations.
From the point of view in our country, the United States had its own brand of historicism. The most famous example of it is 1844 when William Miller got everybody up on a hill in New York State thinking Jesus was going to return, and obviously Jesus didn’t share the same date as William Miller. That was the start of what we now call the Seventh Day Adventists. That’s where they came from; Adventism means the coming. And there was a cult that had formed out of Seventh Day Adventism with Seventh Day Adventism backgrounds and one of them was the Wacko from Waco that got massacred by the police. That man, Koresh, that the American press never understood, just labeled him like he was a kooky Christian or something, just can’t think through the fact that people have different beliefs because they’re not sophisticated enough to detect this, totally missed it. If you knew historicism and you knew Adventism you would have understood what was going on in the mentality of that group, that cult that formed around Waco. But we can’t expect our American press at this point in history to have an understanding of those kinds of things. That’s historicism and we’re not concentrating on that.
We’ve looked at preterism so we’ll forget that one. We’ve looked at one view, we haven’t talked about all the historical permutations and variations of preterism, we’ve basically talked about the view that’s popular today, namely that the book of Revelation and Matthew 24 all depict the judgment on Jerusalem in AD 70. We’ve gone through the problems with that view, that it’s based on a non-literal hermeneutic, that it forces the book of Revelation to be dated prior to AD 70. It has a number of problems.
We started to look at the different views of futurism. The first view and the one we’ll finish tonight is post-tribulationalism. As this word means, post-tribulationalism means after the Tribulation. This nomenclature, we’ll get into post, three-quarter, mid, and pre, the nomenclature here is not talking about the return of Christ over against the Millennium. That’s not like post-millennialism, premillennialism, amillennialism. This pre, post, “a,” mil, three-quarter is talking about the Rapture versus the return. I’m going to use those two vocabulary words and I warn you that technically it’s not correct to use the word “return” the way I’m using it, scripturally, because if you look up the word “return,” the return of Christ encompasses the whole complex of events. But for pedagogical purposes to classify these and make it clear so we understand what the differences are, I’m going to use these two words “return” and “rapture.” By “return” I’m talking about when Jesus comes out of the clouds and puts His feet on the ground, when Jesus returns to the earth. That’s what I mean when I use that vocabulary word. I’m using it in a more specialized way than the New Testament text uses it.
So by the return we mean Jesus comes down and He sets up His Kingdom. By “rapture” I’m talking about those texts, 1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Corinthians 15, addressed to the church that speak of this momentous event when the dead in Christ will rise to meet Him and the people who are on earth who are believers at that point in time will rise to meet Him in the air. Rapture and return.
Post-tribulationalism says, it’s positioning this Rapture and return, and by post-tribulationalism we mean that the Rapture comes post-tribulation, means after the Tribulation. So the picture we have is the Tribulation goes on, seven year period, comes down to the end and we have R&R together. That is post-tribulationalism. We’ll review some of the problems that post-tribulationalism has. One of the problems, as we said, is that post-tribulationalism has to—in order to make its case tight—it has to show that it’s impossible to separate the Rapture and the return; that the scriptural data are so interwoven that you can’t pull them apart and make two separate events out of them. No one has yet shown that, and the reason it’s hard to show closure and make these identical is this: passages that speak of the return of Christ go all the way back into the Old Testament. And as such, this is why we spent so much time going through the Old Testament, going back into the Old Testament looking down the corridors of time at the Messiah, the ideal King who would come and set up His Kingdom, a king has to have a kingdom, and when the Messiah comes He’s going to set up a Kingdom. Prior to that there would be a time of tribulation. All of that was defined in the Old Testament. The very word “tribulation” is defined in the Old Testament.
The Tribulation that is to precede this, this period of time in here, was considered to be so bad that the Jewish rabbis said we’re happy that the Messiah is going come, but we don’t want to live to witness this; this is going to be a very bad time. They didn’t want to live through it because they realized it was an ordeal. The Tribulation, according to the Old Testament, basically has two functions. The first function of this Tribulational period is to prepare Israel for the return of the Messiah, get her in spiritual shape to do that. What do we mean “get her in shape?” It means so that the Jews, of their own volition, without coercion, will say “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord,” because Jesus said until you say that, you will not see Me again. So Israel has got to get in shape so that at least the remnant, there will be a remnant on positive volition toward the Lord Jesus Christ. They will look forward to Him. It’s not secular Israel of today, it’s a long way away spiritually from this.
So there has to be this horrible suffering. There are adumbrations of this in the Old Testament; the discipline on the Northern Kingdom, the discipline on the Southern Kingdom, the exile, all that stuff, that was the same pattern of God trying to get their attention, hey folks, come on!!! That’s one purpose of the Tribulation, but obviously there are more nations in the world than Israel so what about all the other nations? What happened during the time of the prophets as they looked forward to the exile, and by the way, oftentimes in the prophetic passages they don’t distinguish the exile from the Tribulation period, it’s kind of all mish mashed together. If you want to get the picture in your head, here’s the picture that helps me. I always think of an accordion, how you pull it out; that’s the way history looks. In other words, when the accordion is all pushed together that’s the way a lot of the prophecy is in Jeremiah and Isaiah, they’re all packed together. And as the clock ticks off and as the calendar years go by, and as history comes at us, the accordion expands, we now see more.
You get the same perspective when you drive out west and you see the mountains. The first thing you do when you see Colorado you see the Rocky Mountains and it looks like it’s just one big wall of rock; then after you drive some more miles you realize oh, there’s an individual mountain here and there’s a valley between them and there’s another one beyond it, etc. From a distance it all looks like a cluster, but as you get up to it you realize it’s not a cluster. So that’s the way it is in prophecy. One of the problems that the Old Testament prophets had to deal with is what do you do with the nations that God is using to whack His nation. In other words, He’s using the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Moabites and it’s like here’s God’s sovereignty, He’s reaching down; He’s using these nations to discipline His nation. The problem with it is that as these nations are used to do that, they don’t see the hand behind them; they only see…oh, we’ve got the power, and they get very arrogant and very cocky. So God has to deal with that.
So the second function of the Tribulation is to produce an atmosphere of willingness to look at Israel as God’s nation. It goes back to the Abrahamic Covenant. Again, the three things in the Abrahamic Covenant: a land, a seed, and the third thing, a worldwide blessing. Think about it, the worldwide blessing consists of several parts. What is one thing that Israel has given the world? Before Jesus Christ, most of it was given before Jesus; the thing you hold in your lap, the United States didn’t give it to the world, the rest of the Middle Eastern nations didn’t give it, Europe didn’t give it, the Asian nations didn’t give it. God’s Word was given through Israel. What that means is that Israel is the mediatorial nation in human history. It doesn’t mean they are better than anybody else, it just means that they were chosen by God to be a channel of blessing to the world, in spite of themselves… in spite of themselves! The Bible is quick to point out all the warts in Israel, so it controls any kind of arrogance. But Israel was selected to be a channel.
So Israel has given blessing number one, what you hold in your lap tonight. Blessing number two that Israel gave to history is the Lord Jesus Christ, thoroughly Jewish … thoroughly Jewish! Why do we know? Because how do the Gospels always start? So-and-so begat so-and-so, who begat so-and-so, who begat so-and-so, who begat so-and-so. What’s all that about? To show He’s of Jewish genes. The third thing which Israel will give to the world, she hasn’t given it yet, is world peace. The Millennial Kingdom isn’t here, there’s not any world peace. That’s a blessing yet to come but that’s not going to come until Israel gets right with the Messiah, and that’s the battle that goes on.
So the second reason for the Tribulation is to get the nations to understand once again that whatever blessing is received it will come through the mediation of the nation Israel. Those are the two functions of the Tribulation in the Old Testament. Now we come down to the New Testament and what post-tribulationalism tries to do is to take prophecies that are speaking of the Rapture, which are given to the church, and to combine those with prophecies given to Israel. You have to watch time and place of prophecy in Scripture. Context is everything. You have to look at not only the literary context but the temporal context; where in time and sequence was this revelation given.
Post-tribulationalism does what many people do when they get into the Mount Olivet Discourse and claim that what we have there is the Rapture because one is taken and one is left and all the rest, all the stuff going on there. Wait a minute, was the church in existence when Jesus spoke the Olivet Discourse. The answer is no because the church started at Pentecost. The church wasn’t there then. So He was talking to the disciples as the representative of the nation Israel. So number one in our critique of post-tribulationalism is that it tries to so weave the return and the Rapture together that it really creates a lot of confusion. It’s like in the Old Testament trying to weave the First and Second Advents of Jesus together and coming out with confusion.
Then we said a second problem with post-tribulationalism is that if the Rapture and the return are combined, look at the problem that you have. That’s what often happens and we’ll see it tonight with three-quarter tribulationalism, you start off with these views and at first it looks real good, and then you begin to see my goodness, now I’ve created secondary and tertiary problems; I’ve created more problems in the end than I started to solve. And one of the problems that post-tribulationalism has is if you have the Tribulation here, and the Rapture and the return both happen together, one second after the Rapture, how many believers are left on earth in natural bodies? None! But if you combine the Rapture and the return and the return is talking about the Lord Jesus Christ setting up His Kingdom in natural bodies, where does He get these believers in natural bodies from? Well, post-tribulationalism had to come up with some things here, and they’ve made proposals. They’ve thought that the 144,000 might be … the martyrs really weren’t believers so they weren’t raptured and then suddenly after the Rapture they become believers. It’s from that 144,000 that you get the people for the Kingdom. The problem is, without going into the birds and the bees, they’re all males. Where are the girls; you can’t make babies without them. The point is that doesn’t work as a device to overcome this problem.
Some have said well, they used repentant Jews, and they quote a verse in Matthew 24, but if the Jews are repentant, if those people in Matthew 24 are repentant and the passage on the Rapture isn’t until beyond that point in the text, which it is, then if they’re repentant before the Rapture they’re going to be raptured. So they’re gone, now who do you have left? The last thing is that the prophecy says there’s actually a little gap here, about 75 days from the time the Lord Jesus Christ returns until the time the Millennial Kingdom begins and everything gets straightened around and cleaned up, there has to be garbage cleaning at the end of this thing, Jesus gets things straight and it takes Him a couple of months to do this, so maybe people became believers during that period. The problem with that is, what do you see Jesus do in Matthew 25? You see Him go with the judgment of the sheep and the goats. He’s already divided who is going to enter the Kingdom. So it creates a big bunch of problems here and that’s why this view, I believe, is illogical.
The third problem with it is that if the Rapture and the return are at the end of the Tribulation, that means that you have the church going through the Tribulation, until it is raptured. But if the church is going through the Tribulation, that means the church is exposed to the wrath of God. So now post-tribulationalism has to come in with another patch-up device, and the patch-up device is that somehow God is going to shield the church like He shielded the Jews during the Exodus. That’s one way and they have other things. The problem with that is if you read Exodus, when the Jews were shielded, what does it say about the judgment on Egypt versus the judgments in Goshen? There was a clear cut distinction, wasn’t there? There were judgments physically that afflicted part of the real estate of Egypt and didn’t affect the real estate over here. There was a distinction in real estate, or location of the judgment. Yet when you read through the book of Revelation, do you find any of that in the book of Revelation? Is there anything in the text that talks about a distinction on who gets it? It says the whole world gets judged, and the church is going to be scattered all over the whole world, so the church is exposed to that judgment.
Some post-tribulationalists say yeah, I know, that doesn’t really work so we’ll try something else. Now what they do, and I want to discuss this because they actually started post-tribulationalism and when Rosenthal started three-quarter tribulationalism he brought one of these little devices with him over to his view and that is they redefine tribulation so as not to be the wrath of God. So one way to make the church safe here is to say that all this stuff that’s going on here, it really isn’t the wrath of God. The wrath of God happens just a few minutes after the Rapture and it’s confined to that. So we redefine the nature of the Tribulation.
The reason all this has to happen is … it’s not that people are trying to be cute here, believers are trying to sort this stuff out and as I prefaced this whole thing 5 or 6 weeks ago, you’ve got to understand and be patient that at this point in church history this is the period when the Holy Spirit is working all these eschatology things out, and just like it took the Reformation a couple of centuries to get the gospel clear, it took the church in the Middle Ages a couple of centuries to argue about what Jesus really did on the cross, it took the church centuries to discern who is Jesus, is He God, is He man, is He both, if He’s both do they get mixed, etc. It takes time to sort through this but I believe as the Church Age goes on there’s a pedagogical lesson plan that the Holy Spirit is executing. That’s why the prayers for the maturity of the body of Christ, if you look at all the prayers in the New Testament praying for maturity, it centers on understanding God’s revelation. Yeah, it’s talking about Christian character, but if you look at those prayers; it’s prayer that you might know something, it’s prayer that the light would dawn in your heart, it’s prayer that you would know the Lord. Knowing the Lord means knowing His ways.
So as the church gets mature down through the corridors of time it’s building the body of Christ, the body of Christ is getting bigger as the church goes down through time, this body is getting more mature, because parts of the body … think about this. Let’s imagine you went to Heaven tonight. Think of yourself as going to Heaven tonight, you go out and have an accident or something, but let’s suppose God calls you home tonight for some reason. And you get in Heaven and after you get adjusted to things you’re sitting around and there’s a believer out of the 3rd century. Can you imagine the interesting conversation; you both know the Lord Jesus Christ but do you think there’d be kind of an interesting exchange because he’s going to wonder, gee, what was it like in the 20th century; what was going on then. And you’re going to say well what was going on with the Romans, were you one of the guys they threw in the coliseum? So there’s a trans-cultural conversation that goes on with the body of Christ.
On earth what we see as the church is only part of the body of Christ. Where is the rest of the body of Christ tonight? It’s already in heaven, all the saints that have gone before us and died, they’re with the Lord; to be absent from the body is to be face to face with the Lord. So we’re a part of the body of Christ but in this moment of history, if we pass off the scene and the Lord doesn’t come there will be another generation of believers and they’ll have their own unique history. What I’m getting at it is this, that every moment of history is sovereignly administered by the Holy Spirit to train the body of Christ. And in this period of time training the body to appreciate eschatology truth is probably the last part of the edification of the body of Christ. In other words, basically every doctrinal area has been covered. The tools that the Holy Spirit inevitably uses to teach us corporately, the body of Christ, is the same kind of tools He used to teach us individually.
How do you learn most spiritually? It’s usually when you’re under pressure, when you’re suffering, when you’ve had an adversity and you pick yourself up off the floor of some disaster and then you come back to the Scriptures and say did it really say that, oh yeah, gee, why didn’t I see that one before. It’s the same thing with the body of Christ corporately. What the Holy Spirit is doing in our period of history is He’s forcing the church to get the big picture of where history is going.
Have you noticed that in the past 200 years the major heresies on the world scene have all been eschatological? Think of it for a moment. Adolf Hitler, what was the nickname of his kingdom? The Third Reich. Why was it the third and not the second or the fourth? Because it was a careful scheme that he had worked up, he thought of it as the great third kingdom of history to come. Think of communism. You couldn’t have had a more elaborate eschatology than what Karl Marx gave communism. And today the fervent fundamentalists Muslims have a fervor, a Shari`ah, they’re going to establish a kingdom of God on earth, a theocratic kingdom … a theocratic kingdom, God is ruling through the strict code, the Shari`ah.
It seems that in the middle of all this the Lord is saying to the church now see the guys out there, they’re all struggling for an answer to where history is going; now I’ve given you the answers, they are all there in the Word, so how about just cooling it for a while and just studying the Scripture and understanding what I’m trying to do in history. And I believe that’s what we’re trying to do here. So we have all these views and you can’t get discouraged because there are all these views. We happen to live in that era of church history.
As part of the issue for the post-tribulationalist, he has the church going through here, he redefines the wrath of God, and finally we said one of the problems is that when he pushes everything down to this one local event, what then happens is that we have a problem locating where the Bema Seat judgment occurs and the wedding feast, because the wedding feast for the bride who is made ready, presuming the Bema Seat judgment has already happened, comes with Christ at the return. So you’ve got to have a heck of a lot of stuff going on here in a few milliseconds or minutes between the Rapture and the return. That’s the weakness of post-tribulationalism; it tries to compress too many things together. If you think about the larger picture, what it’s really doing, it’s mixing the church and Israel together; that’s structurally what’s going on here.
In the notes on page 129 we come to three-quarter tribulationism. Let me draw this picture on the board, Figure 8 in the notes.
Figure 8. The Three Quarter Tribulation Scenario of Van Kampen and Rosenthal that divides the period into three parts. The Rapture occurs half-way through the second 3.5-year period of the 7-year span of Daniel’s 70th Week.
Three quarter tribulationalism was promoted by two men, Van Kampen who was a very wealthy Christian publisher; if you invest in mutual funds you probably recognize that name. Rosenthal was a man in the Friends of Israel, who for many years was a pre-tribulationalist and became three-quarter tribulationalist. Now I am deliberately labeling it as three-quarter tribulationalism and not pre-wrath. Let me tell you why. As I say in the footnote on the bottom of page 129, all the views are pre-wrath; it’s a little gratuitous to label this view as pre-wrath. The post-tribs believe in pre-wrath because those who have redefined the Tribulation not to be a wrath of God are pre-wrath. The mid-trib people don’t believe that the wrath of God happens the first half, so they’re pre-wrath, and pre-tribs are pre-wrath, so everybody in this controversy is pre-wrath. So the book really isn’t even named properly.
To understand the view, on Figure 8, this view has several unique features that the other views don’t have. One of the views that it has is that the Tribulation, instead of being divided in half, because traditionally scholars, all of the futurists views have always held the tribulation to be halves, two parts. And of course, the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, occurs here. The Tribulation begins with a covenant that the antichrist makes with some in Israel. Three and a half years later you have the antichrist who desecrates the temple in a pattern that seems to parallel what Antiochus Epiphanies did a century or two before Jesus. So you have that abomination.
Then you have all the events in the return of Jesus here. So you have this two-fold division, normally speaking, of the Tribulation. This two-fold division is very inherent in the literary text. If you do an analysis, like you diagram sentences and you go through the Mount Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, you will actually see that it’s chiastic structure in there. By chiasm we mean the text, you get this kind of a pattern in chiasm, A, B, C, C prime, B prime, A prime. In other words, an author will do one topic, and then he’ll do a second topic, and a third topic and he does the third topic, the second topic and the first topic. Where that division is, there’s a relationship between A and A prime, B and B prime, C and C prime. And right there, that center point is what he’s trying to emphasize. It’s a literary device; you see it sometimes in the New Testament epistles. When you have a chiasm you really want to understand, find out what he’s structuring his chiastic structure around; it’s got a pivot point.
And it turns out when you do that, diagram it out, it turns out when you do that, diagram it out, the pivot point in Matthew 24 is the abomination of desolation. That, plus the traditional division, that’s why scholars have traditionally divided the Tribulation in half.
This view divided the Tribulation actually into three parts, and that’s why in Figure 8 we have a third part which is halfway through the second half. So instead of one and two we have section I, section II and section III. Logically speaking what this view does is, it’s an improvement over the post-tribulational position. Why do we say that? Because it distinguishes the Rapture and the return as two events. It doesn’t cluster them together at the end; it pull them apart and says that the Rapture happens right here, the return happens over here. So correctly it does distinguish these two things.
Judging from what we did with the post-tribulation position, can you guess, knowing no more than the diagram I just drew, there’s a structure to all these things? Think of it, look at the diagram carefully, look where the Rapture is, look where the return of Christ is and ask yourself the question, where must the wrath of God be located in this view. If it’s going to protect the church from the wrath of God, where must the wrath of God be? It must be in the third section, and that’s what they do. Between the Rapture and the return there’s this period of one half of three and a half years which is the wrath of God. Now, if that period is the wrath of God, and periods one and two are not the wrath of God, what is this view doing about the rest of the tribulational judgments? It either has to trivialize them or turn them into something other than the wrath of God. So as we go through this we want to look for that because in each one of these positions you’re going to have to track where the wrath of God is and where it isn’t, because the church is separating the two.
The wrath of God is in period three but not period one and not period two. Moreover, the authors, particularly Mr. Rosenthal, likes to make a point and he’s correct factually in making this particular point, and that is that the word “Tribulation” in the New Testament is used technically to refer to the Great Tribulation which normally is this part. Jesus uses that expression, Great Tribulation. Rosenthal faults the rest of us in the futurist schools for using the word “Tribulation” to describe the full seven year period. He says it shouldn’t be done because the Scripture text doesn’t permit that. Well not actually. Remember I said last time that here’s where vocabulary gets to be a problem. You can have tribulation or you can have Tribulation. The common noun “tribulation” refers to normal trials and tribulations, and that goes on through the whole Church Age. “In the world you shall have trials and tribulations.” No one is denying that, and no one is trying to get the church to escape those tribulations. It’s not an escape hatch problem; it’s a wrath of God problem here.
The word “Tribulation” has, and he’s correct in pointing out the Tribulation technically isn’t applied to the full seven year period; its synonyms, however, are. So it’s not factual that it’s totally clean. I’ll show you in a minute. But the word Tribulation has been applied to this whole period because of Old Testament theology that originally said the whole period of time is to get Israel ready for that Tribulation. When we introduced this weeks ago, what did we say was one of the great metaphors of the Tribulation that happens to women who have babies? Labor pains. Now, if you remember the night I said that, I went to Matthew 24. At the beginning of the Tribulation, the seven year period, what did Jesus say? These are the beginning of birth pangs. So Jesus is using labor pains to include both the first and the second half of the Tribulation. So while the word Great Tribulation itself, just the words, is only used for this half, theologians have tended to use Tribulation for the whole period because of these metaphors, because of Old Testament theology. It’s not like they sat in a closet and said we’re going to deceive somebody. It’s that that’s the natural flow. So understand that background.
Looking on page 130 of the notes, follow in the second paragraph. “Such an arrangement requires a unique view of the Book of Revelation.” What I mean by “such an arrangement,” I’m talking about this three tripartite division of the Tribulation. “Such an arrangement,” the tripartite arrangement, requires a unique view of the book of Revelation. Since the ‘wrath of God’ is mentioned in Revelation 6:17 in connection with the sixth seal judgment, that seal must be pushed forward into the second half of Daniel’s 70th week.” Why? Just from what we’ve said so far why must the seventh seal be pushed all the way to the three-quarter point? Because in their interpretation, if the sixth seal is the beginning of the wrath of God, it can’t precede the Rapture of the church. So what happens is is that the Book of Revelation, the sixth seal, starts here or if you look carefully on the diagram you’ll see that actually it’s at the end of period two.
Turn to Revelation 6:17, this is a picture of one of the seal judgments; we’ll talk about seals in a moment; these are seals that are on a parchment, this is not animals. The sixth seal, I was talking to someone who was teaching this one time and you know how when people listen to you sometimes you think you’re so clear, and then afterwards, “Man, did I miss that one!” Whoever this person was they were sitting there and they thought the seal judgments meant the seals were coming of the ocean or something. No, we’re not talking about those seals; we’re talking about seals on a parchment.
In Revelation 6:17, here is a statement of the wrath of God, let’s back up to verse 15 and look at the context of this verse. “And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains;  and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and 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 come; and who is able to stand?” At that point we’re involved with this sixth seal. If you look in verse 1 you begin to have the Lamb breaking the seven seals and it goes on through all the sequence, etc., and verse 12 he gets to the sixth seal. And when he breaks the sixth seal “there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood;  and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind.  And the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.”
We’re talking big time global geophysical catastrophe at this point. And the people that are left, by the way, are these people believers or unbelievers? What tells you they are unbelievers? They are hiding from the wrath of the Lamb, just like Adam and Eve, what did they do after they sinned in the Garden? They hid. There are no atheists here, everybody knows God is there. So even here at this point they are not atheists, they don’t believe … and by the way, either they actually see this, the Lamb, or they know of it through the preaching of whatever contact they’ve had with the Word of God. But the point is that when they see this happen they say “the day of their wrath has come.”
What the three-quarter Tribulation people do with this verse is say that that means that the wrath is now going to start, it hasn’t started yet, it is going to start. So verse 17 becomes a future statement, i.e., it’s a prophecy in a sense, that the next … [blank spot] … of verse 17.
The other problem is, okay, we move all the wrath down into the third period, but the problem is that we have this Great Tribulation in period number two. Can period number two have any wrath of God in it? The answer is no, not in this scheme. So the Tribulation, the Great Tribulation has to be distinguished from the wrath of God somehow. You have to make this bifurcation of meaning between these two terms. But once you do that, since there are passages that say the Great Tribulation is going to be three and a half years, how can the Great Tribulation be three and a half years and yet get cut short. It looks like period two is shortened. How they do this is they turn to Matthew 24:22. What is said is, “And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short.” This school of interpretation believes that Matthew 24:22 says that the Great Tribulation is not three and a half years, it’s been cut short. So since it’s been cut short it can now all be compressed and dropped into that second (Roman numeral II) age. That’s the outline of the position.
Here’s what follows from that; there are some problems with it. This is why this view, while it was popular in 1990, after a lot of people have looked at it they have some questions. We’ll have time to get into at least one, maybe two, of the key issues that flow out of this. Let’s look at the last paragraph on page 130 and we’ll talk about it.
“Three-quarter Tribulationism starts, unfortunately, with some careless exegesis and theology that causes it to create problems of interpretation that” didn’t exist before it got started; it’s creating problems. Let me give you an example. “After trying to resolve these derivative problems, the view ends up with a series of additional problems in setting the church vis-à-vis the Tribulation. A prime example concerns the concept of ‘tribulation.’ From Table 8 we observed that Israel looked forward throughout the Old Testament with dread to a time of tribulation. Old Testament revelation supplies sufficient information to understand clearly the meaning of the term.” We went back to Deut. 4 where the term “tribulation” is first used. “During Old Testament history God caused various judgments that prepared Israel for the ultimate judgment or tribulation yet to come. As we pointed out in discussing Table 8, these Old Testament divine interventions consisted of both human armies and geophysical catastrophes.”
Examples: when God wanted to discipline Israel in David’s day He used sickness, a plague, but He also used the armies of Babylon. In the Northern Kingdom He used the armies of Assyria. And this is what He said. Let’s go back and recall what we studied; we studied how this all got started in the Old Testament. Let’s go back to those two passages, Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26 and let’s look at the tools of His wrath. Deuteronomy 28:15 is an enumeration of the judgments of God upon the nation. “But it shall come about, if you will not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments, and His statutes which I charge you today, that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.  Cursed shall you be in the city,” and he has a series of curses. Verse 20, “The LORD will send upon you curses, confusion, and rebuke, in all you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken Me.  The LORD will make the pestilence cling to you until He has consumed you from the land, where you reentering to possess it.” Is that a human agency or is that a supernatural agency? It’s a supernatural agency.
Verse 22, “The LORD will smite you with consumption and with fever and with inflammation and with fiery heat,” is that human agency or is that some providentially mediated agency? Mediated agency. “…and with the sword and with blight and with mildew, and they shall pursue you until you perish.” The sword is human. Verse 23, “And the heaven which is over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you, iron.” Geophysical catastrophes. Verse 24, “The LORD will make the rain of your land powder and dust; from heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed.  The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies,” is that human? He’s human agency, and we could go through this text, but the whole theology of the Old Testament tells you that the wrath of God has both human elements as well as nature. Man and nature; remember we went back to creation; there are three categories, God, man and nature. And God is the God of both man and nature. So when God gets mad, guess what tools He can use? He can use people or He can use nature; it goes back to creation. And it’s reiterated throughout the Old Testament.
My point is that in this scheme of Three-quarter Tribulationalism in order to get the wrath of God confined to that Roman numeral III area, you’ve got to scrape it out of area II and I. Then what about the judgments that are happening in areas I and II? Three-quarter Tribulationalism says that all these judgments that happen in here are the result of human means, and the ones that in category III are divine means.
Let’s understand, why do they have to say this? Because if they’re by natural means we’ve got the wrath of God, but if the wrath of God is at the beginning and earlier, now the Rapture must have to be beginning earlier, or else we’ve got the church exposed to the wrath of God. Do you get the logic? If I locate the Rapture there, and if it’s true that the church is not going to be exposed to the wrath of God, there can’t be any wrath of God in areas I and II. But we have prophecies of some pretty nasty stuff going on in I and II. So what the proponents of this view argue is that yeah, but the things that we see in those other seal judgments are all things that are human caused, they are the results of man. Well, turn to Matthew 24; everyone agrees that Matthew 24, all schools agree that Matthew 24 is talking about this future period of Tribulation. This is the Mount Olivet Discourse. Revelation is an expansion of Matthew 24.
At the beginning of Matthew 24 when Jesus is talking about early things that are happening in the Tribulation, He says, verse 5, “For many will come in My name, saying ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.  And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened,” we’ve got a lot of frightened people in this country right now, worried about war, and they always turn in this anti-war business, because it looks like… now I’m not accusing everybody that’s against war, there are some very godly people that historically are pacifists, I respect that, but by and large I observed during the Vietnam era the people that were always anti-war were people who did not want to be personally disturbed and they masked it with some sort of morality. I saw some of the drug-heads, fornicators and people of violence rioting against the war in Vietnam on “moral” grounds. Excuse me! It’s not moral grounds; it’s just that they don’t want to personally have the courage to handle the problem. They are like parents who have a brat and don’t do anything about it and then wind up with a disaster for the rest of their life, because it takes courage to stand against evil. And it takes courage to stand to a bully, and we all know from school what you have to do to handle bullies, you have to knock their block off or at least even if they whip you you cause so much hurt on them that they pick an easier target next time.
This is the way it is, this isn’t a fallen world, this isn’t the Kingdom of God, we don’t live in the Millennium. Of course there are going to be wars and right here is a classic text, there are going to be “wars and rumors of wars.” Who said this? Jesus did. And what does He say, “see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place but that is not yet the end.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom,” now that’s human, those are human agencies. What’s the next clause, “and in various places there will be famine and earthquakes.” That’s nature; that’s not human, that’s nature.
Now here’s verse 8 where He’s talking about Tribulation, “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.” So this is at the beginning of the Tribulation, because no matter, whether they’re Three-quarter trib or post-trib, they don’t put the Rapture until you get way down, later on in the text, yet here it is, ahead of that passage, and we’re talking about birth pangs and the very word is the word for “tribulation,” there’s no difference in the Greek here. There you have Tribulation and there you have human and divine agencies inter-mixed.
So that’s one of the problems with Three-quarter Tribulationalism. When you want to put the Rapture here you’ve got to keep all the wrath of God on the right side of it, but when you do that you have to unload the wrath of God from the front end, and the only way you can do that is by some device. The post-trib people do it because God is somehow going keep the church intact all through it, or you redefine wrath of God. And in this view the device is to redefine the wrath of God as to be natural based judgments, not human based judgments.
Finishing off that paragraph, there is a series of additional problems. “Therefore, Three-quarter Tribulationism’s attempt to separate the 70th week events into purely human invasions and persecutions that occur in the first two sections of Figure 8 and divine geophysical catastrophes that occur only in the third Day-of-the-Lord section is artificial and unbiblical. This view fails to explain how earthquakes that occur in the first section (Matthew 24:7) are caused by man and not geophysical judgments caused by God.” Now I want to conclude and before I read that next sentence I want you to see the text in Revelation 6, so turn there. We have those seals; we’re going to find out what the seals are in Revelation 6:1. Before you even get to Revelation 6:1 what’s happened. Think about it, if you’ve read Revelation before. What’s going on in chapter 4 and 5? Who is being honored there? Who is the one who is worthy? It’s the Lord Jesus Christ. And what’s the basis of His declared worthiness?
Look at how chapter 5 starts out, “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals.  And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?’ And no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look into it.” This is God the Father, holding up this thing and it’s got seven seals on it and He says Who, Who is qualified to open this! And you know, the angels are looking at each other, well, I’m not qualified to do that, and the people who are believers who are in Heaven say we’re not qualified to do that, it has to be a perfectly sinless person and one who has attained rank. Who has the rank to do this? So it’s not just moral perfection but it’s also a ranking.
If you’ve been around military headquarters, an interesting example, I can remember when I was involved with the Strategic Air Command years and years ago, you walk into this headquarters to give a briefing and you’d have to go through all these scanners and everything else because inside this room all the generals are going to be making… the battle staff are sitting there making big decisions. So they scan you, etc. and you go through and there’s a big sign. I never forget the sign, it says: “By order of the commander, lethal force is authorized.” What that announces, if you walk by that sign, you’re saying that you give up your right, you can be shot from that point on if you are out of line; that’s how serious it is. In our command post it would always be you pass that sign and you take your life in your hands because lethal force will be used.
That’s the picture here in heaven, God holds this thing up and He says who’s got the rank to do this? So everybody is talking to one another, verse 4, John realizes what’s going on and he starts to weep, because he realizes that the Father is holding up the key to history. Somehow he knows that this is going to end the story. But it’s like a drama and the character isn’t there. “And I began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it,  and one of the elders said to me, ‘Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” Notice He has overcome. So whatever happens in chapter 4, up to this point the Lord Jesus Christ has attained a position that qualifies Him to walk into the command post of God the Father and take the orders in His hands.
Verse 6, “And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.” This is a tremendous picture, almost an angelic picture of the Lord Jesus Christ here. Verse 7, “And He came, and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.” So the Son approaches; as God-man the Son walks into the presence of God the Father.
He takes “it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.  And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
It goes on, in verse 12, the angels, it talks about an innumerable company, there are millions and millions of these angels, it’ll be fascinating to see these things someday. But there are millions of them all around us, out into the depths of the universe. [Verse 11, “And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders and the number of them was myriads and myriads, and thousands of thousands.”] These are the guys who in verse 12 are “saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb, [that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” So now the angels join in in this choir and they say [13, “And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying,] ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’” When they say that, “dominion forever and ever,” that’s the signal. Because that’s what the seals are about. Jesus Christ will now assert His dominion.
So in Revelation 6:1 “I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, ‘Come.’” So there begins judgment. Now how you can separate the seven seals, some into non-divine judgments that are caused by men and others, the seal number seven, as divine judgments, I don’t know. They are all caused by the Lord Jesus Christ executing His throne rights, and He begins to peel those seals off, and every time He peels a seal off, boom, we get another judgment on earth. And He says okay, that’s enough for number one, now I’m going to try number two; boom, He breaks the second seal, bam, all kinds of things happen all over the earth. Okay, that’s done, let’s go to three, boom, He breaks the third seal. So that’s what triggers all these things.
Both divine and human agencies are now triggered in a tremendous escalating wrath of God. And it becomes highly artificial to separate these first six seal; moreover, to conclude, at the end when we say, verse 17, when these unbelievers say the “wrath of God has come,” it’s an aorist verb in the Greek. The aorist is kind of loosey-goosey when it comes to tenses, so you have to take it from the context. But it’s a lot more natural to take this as past tense than a future tense, because these people aren’t prophets, they’re unbelievers, they’re not like they’re saying okay, now we know the wrath of God is going to come; they’ve just seen the wrath of God and they’ve concluded the wrath of God has come. So verse 17 is best taken as retrospective, not prospective. And that would link these seven seal judgments together as an exposition of the wrath of God.
We’ll have to stop there because we ran out of time, we’ll continue with this. But don’t get discouraged by all this. God has a reason for allowing the church to dig around here just like He allowed the church to dig around about Christology, Trinity and all the rest. He wants us to know Him.
Question asked: Clough replies: You wouldn’t be making that distinction in the first place if people just carried forward very simply from the Old Testament pictures. This is not … a lot of this revelation here is just details; the overall outline is all there in the Old Testament. It’s not like this is radical new stuff here. And that’s true he was just saying is God is impartial toward all people and what He’s saying is you’re sinners, and it’s eleventh hour time, the game is over. See that’s something else that, even this concept has gotten screwed up. I was just reading an article about the redefinition of grace. Before I get involved in that, let me carry on with what we were talking about. We talked about the game is over, so forget all the little details about which pre-trib, post-trib, the big picture is the game is going to be over.
By saying the game is going to be over, what do we mean? We mean the day of opportunity to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ goes away, that the day of grace is not an endless period of time, it is only a period that is marked off by the beginning of the gospel announcement, which was graciously given in the Garden of Eden when the Lord walked into the Garden and He could have said bang-bang, you’re dead, and that would have been it, no day of grace. When does grace show up? When He killed an animal in front of Adam and Eve and they, for the first time in their lives they saw death. They saw God slaughter an animal; they’d never seen anything bleed like that before, they’d never saw an animal with its eyes looking at you one minute and then they go blank because the animal is now dead; what a horrible thing that must have been for Adam and Eve, shock. When God did that He promised them, and that was the protevangelium, that was the beginning of the day of grace.
So we have a day of grace bounded on one end by the Garden of Eden; bounded on the other end by the end of history, and it has periods, the Millennial Kingdom ends a certain period of history, and I know all that, but just think in terms of beginning and end; grace is limited. Unfortunately we have prominent Christian authors now suddenly using the word “grace” as a synonym for general blessing and love-theme nature of God. That’s a little slippery and greasy because before the fall did God love His creatures? Sure He did, but after sin started and there was rebellion against God, the question is, what does love and justice do now that we’ve got sin, and grace is the answer. There’s a new revelation of God’s character that begins after the fall and we’ve talked about this before; apparently there’s no redemption for angels.
Apparently they had a time to choose one way or the other, and it’s locked up; their destinies are locked up. And it’s probably very horrible if you think about it, for a demon, for Satan even, to look at us and just sit there and smolder when he looks at us, that’s probably one reason why he hates us, look at that, those creatures get a second chance and I didn’t. Think of it just from a creature who knows no grace, who has utter concept of grace, totally out, that grace is behind a glass wall, he can look in there and he can see it operate but he never can come into the room. He’s excluded forever from God’s grace. What a horrible thing and what a privileged thing it is to be able, as creatures of God, to be enjoying His grace. But we have to be careful; grace does not mean leniency. Grace is reinterpreted as God being lenient; He’s not being lenient, the basis of grace was the death of His Son. It wasn’t very lenient on Jesus on the cross for three hours while He bore the sins of the world; that wasn’t lenient.
So be careful when you read and you see the word g-r-a-c-e to understand that it is not just a word for sweetness, for leniency, for God is a God of love. Yeah, He’s a God of love, but He’s also a God of justice. Grace is the name of the plan of salvation and it’s going to come to an end. That’s why these passages that we talked about are so… people don’t like to discuss this business and the reason is because behind it, regardless of the individual view the idea that history is going to end in this business of God’s not going to be lenient any more, that’s right because He never was lenient. He was allowing man an opportunity to respond to Him but that allowing period is only a period of time, it’s cut off and bounded.
The other side of the coin is that grace has such corollary to it, that in allowing this day of grace God allows evil to manifest itself also. Consider what we always, in our fallen nature, want to do. We see something and we want to stop the pain, we want to stop the evil, why is God so unjust to allow this evil to go on? See, God gets damned whatever He does. If He postpones judgment, now He’s a bad God because He’s let evil go on and people say oh, He’s a bad God, look at those babies that die, deformed babies, what about these people that die in war, boy God, you ought to be embarrassed. These are the very words that I’m using from atheists that I’ve heard; God ought to be ashamed of Himself.
I remember when Greg Bahnsen was debating the lead attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in Los Angeles and this guy got up there and he just railed at God, he just said I’ll tell you about your God, if God is there, hey God, you ought to be embarrassed by Auschwitz, because he was a Jewish person that had lost his family at Auschwitz. So he spouted off so Greg Bahnsen’s time to respond to him and the guy’s name was Edward Tabash. He said, Mr. Tabash, you can be very thankful that God’s gracious and He didn’t answer your request tonight when you asked for judgment, because you’re not ready for judgment and half the people in this room aren’t ready for judgment; you know not what you ask for. Do you want to end history, do you really want to end history, you want to end it, okay, God will end it and He’ll end it in a judgment. And if you’re not prepared for that judgment, you’re going to have a real hard time because from that point on you’re locked out of the Kingdom.
Isn’t it interesting that if God postpones His judgment He’s blamed for allowing evil to go on? If he does judge, He’s blamed for being a nasty God who judges. Come on, it’s one way or the other, but either way it’s God’s fault. See how perverse we as a fallen human race are to throw our fist n the eyes of God and blame Him for letting grace go on because evil happened, and then when He stops the evil, now He’s a bad God for stopping it. That’s the background involved in all of this. I don’t want you to lose the forest for the trees. The big idea in all this judgment is that God is serious, as the God of the universe; He’s going to straighten it out. We have messed it up; we messed up His creation and it’s His creation, not ours. He owns the atoms and the molecules; He owns this ground, not us. We’re responsible to Him and He’s going to show that.
That passage in Revelation 5 is a wonderful passage; it’s so empowering. When you get somewhat a distorted picture of who Jesus is sometime, by reading the Gospels and the Gospels and the Gospels, and the Gospels, sometimes you forget the cosmic side of the Lord Jesus Christ as the ascended Savior and Judge. There God is revealed in Revelation 5-6; just prayerfully read through that text and visualize what John saw, that here comes out of all the universe, from one end of this universe to the other there wasn’t one creature who had the rank to walk into the throne of God and take that scroll. Only one, and there were millions and millions of creatures present to watch that, and these were all godly creatures that watched it. The godly angels and the believers, and no one, NO ONE had the rank to go take that out of His hand. And then all of a sudden Jesus shows up, I’ll take it. And then He begins to peel those seals off, it’s a scroll actually. Scholars think that the words from that text is that they had these big scrolls and they would roll part of it up and then seal it, and then they’d roll some more up and then seal it, etc. So when Jesus peels off the first seal, He’s breaking only the first part of that scroll and He’s unrolling a certain part of it. And as He unrolls that scroll, apparently, the Scriptures lead you to infer that that’s His dominion license, He’s taking back, now it’s His, and He’s taking it back by force. There’s a good balancing picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what’s going to happen. It doesn’t matter who doesn’t like it, nobody has the rank, nobody can walk into the throne room and take it.
So it’s a great picture of just thinking in terms of who our Savior is. What a mighty Judge He is too. And that’s the thing that you want to get back, to know the Lord as we go through all these little details. They are just attempts by Christians, by believers, to try to get some of these facts in line so they fit together. That’s the battle.
Question asked: Clough replies: That’s a good question, there are seven seals in chapter 6, how do you spread that out through the whole Tribulation when it seems like it’s the Trumpet judgments and the Vial judgments, etc. There is a lot more that goes on in the Book of Revelation, and that’s the point. If you wait until three-quarters of the way through and you’ve got six of those seal judgments, you’ve only got the seventh one left and that is just that last chunk, that’s why most of the other views don’t do that. They put the seal judgments earlier, precisely because of that problem, and the problem that you have with this view is less of a problem you have with the post-trib view. The post-trib view is a real mess because they’ve got to get those vial judgments out of the way, the trumpet judgments out of the way and do it all very quickly. And they’ve compressed it so far they’ve just got about that much room to get all those judgments in so you’ve got to go very slow; it’s like music that plays very slow through those first seal judgments and them boom, it goes through and gets all the other things. It just doesn’t fit the flavor of the Book of Revelation.
Even in this view what happens is by pushing the sixth seal so late in the period we wind up with just the seventh seal, now you’ve got vial judgments, and in fact, there’s not room in this position for the vial judgments. What the Three-quarter trib people have to do is to take the vial judgments and project them out in that 75-day period, because they just can’t compress it all in the seven year period. So these are things that have to work out, there are lots of details here; it’s not easy to track.