By Rev. Bill Lee-Warner
“For the great day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand?”
— Revelation 6:17
The question above turns on the verb – “has come”. The pretribulationist concludes from this verse that the Rapture must have preceded the 6th Seal. It is concluded then that the Rapture is prior to the first Seal. Since Jesus taught in Luke 17:26-30 that the righteous are first rescued and then the wrath of God immediately follows, it necessarily follows that if the Rapture precedes the 6th Seal, and presumably also the 1st Seal, then the wrath of God has been in progress for at least the first 3 1/2 years of Daniel’s 70th Week.
When this verse is examined closely, the position the pretribulationist takes on Rev. 6:17 is incorrect.
1. The meaning of the verb has come in Rev. 6:17 does not mean that the wrath of God has already begun, sometime in the past, and is continuing to the present moment. If that were the case, the verb would have been in the perfect tense. The unaffected perfect tense, in the indicative mood, in the Greek language is generally used to show results existing in the present from some event in the past. The Greek word translated has come in Revelation 6:17 is a form of the Greek word elthen , “to come” or “to go” and is a transitive verb (an action verb requiring an object) in the aorist tense. The aorist tense in its unaffected form is, in essence, punctiliar. The context of the aorist, as any Greek verb, determines the tense or how it is to be understood. It can be understood to mean past or future, depending on the context. A.T. Robertson, in his book, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Research, says “The caution must be once more repeated that in these subdivisions of the aorist indicative we have only one tense and one root-idea (punctiliar actions)” (p. 835). Later he says of the aorist tense, as it relates to events that occur in the future: “It is a vivid transference of the action to the future by the ‘timeless aorist'” (p. 846). In other words, the aorist tense speaks to one particular issue that is timeless, the context clearly determining the tense of the action, as against the common belief of some who would make the aroist tense always a past completed action. In this case, the action of the people mentioned in verses 15 and 16 “men…(are [now] hiding) themselves in caves and among the rocks of the mountains” indicates that their action has been prompted by some determining factor. That factor is made known to us in verses 12 and 13 – the oft-repeated sign of the coming Day of the Lord’s wrath and the subsequent response of mankind indicated in verses 15-16.
A similar use of the same verb is found in Mark 14:41. Jesus announces to the disciples that the “hour has come [elthen]; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.” The exact same structure of the aorist tense found in Revelation 6:17 is used in this verse. From the context, it is clear that Jesus doesn’t mean that He has already been betrayed previously and is presently incarcerated. It means that the hour of His betrayal (by Judas) has now arrived and He’s about to be taken captive. This contextual information leads us to understand that the transitive verb has come and its object, the hour of His betrayal, is used in an ingressive sense. That is, the action where Jesus is betrayed “into the hands of sinners”, is about to be entered into, or ingressed. The same understanding applies to Rev. 6:17.
2. From the indication of the natural lights being extinguished in the heavens (Rev. 6:12-13), we are to understand that the Day of the Lord is about to come but has not yet come. In the Old Testament, the prophet Joel explicitly tells us that the Day of the Lord arrives after the natural lights in the heavens are extinguished and not before (Joel 2:31). The Day of the Lord is the time for God’s wrath upon all the earth (cf. Zeph. 1:14-18; Obadiah 15). With this clear teaching, we know that the wrath of God does not begin before the 6th Seal which is the sign of the arrival of the Day of the Lord.
3. Another reason for knowing that the wrath of God doesn’t begin before the 6th Seal (Rev. 6:12-17) has to do with the 1st Seal. If the 1st Seal – false christs (cf. Matt. 24:5) is included as part of God’s wrath, then God would be responsible for sending deception into the world and even deceive His own. If the Rapture begins sometime before Rev. 6:17, and presumably prior to the 1st Seal, as the pretribulationist says, then God would be guilty of martyring His own (Rev. 6:9 – the 5th Seal martyrs) who are persevering during a time of severe persecution. Unthinkable! Nowhere in all of Scripture is the persecution of the saints associated with the wrath of God. It is associated with the activity of Satan and during the 70th Week of Daniel, it is specifically associated with the activity of Satan through his minion, Antichrist. On the other hand, everywhere in Scripture the judgment of the wicked is associated with the wrath of God.
For prophetic, contextual and linguistic reasons, Revelation 6:17 cannot, and does not, teach that the Rapture of the church occurs before the 6th Seal.