By Rev. Charles Cooper
Pretribulation or Prewrath?
For those who are truly interested in the Scriptures and are willing to search them, I offer the following response to Ron Graff’s article that appears on his website. After several individuals approached our ministry about responding to Graff’s article, I took a closer look at his arguments only to be disappointed again. His attempt to refute the prewrath position is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction so typical of pretribulationists who speak loudly, but say very little that has explicit scriptural support.
Graff begins his assessment of the Prewrath position by offering his view of Problems With The Pre-Wrath View. Based on Mr. Graff’s writings in this article, I am not convinced that he read the works of Robert Van Kampen before offering a word of advice to others. He repeatedly misrepresents Mr. Van Kampen’s position. Anyone who reads Mr. Graff’s work and does not check the original sources, certainly would not be included in the camp of the Bereans who checked Paul’s teachings against the Scriptures.
Under Graff’s heading: 1A – Antichrist will persecute the Church, He writes,
After carefully studying both of Van Kampen’s books (The Sign, and The Rapture Question Answered), I believe that this statement of the “core truth” of the prewrath view really does represent the key differences between their position and the pretribulation position. It identifies several questionable elements of their theology. These debatable assumptions are:
1A – Antichrist will persecute the Church.
2A – Satan’s wrath ends at the Rapture and then God’s wrath begins.
3A – The Rapture takes place when Christ returns in great glory.
Graff makes a blatant error. Pretribulationists insist on describing the Rapture and the Second Coming as two different events. “When Christ returns in great glory” is a pretribber’s way of referring to the Lord’s return at Armageddon. Van Kampen does not use such language. Graff is combining pretrib language with Van Kampen’s position and is misrepresenting Van Kampen in the process. Pretribulationists describe the Lord’s return at Armageddon as coming in great glory down to earth. However, Scripture does not make such an explicit distinction. Show us the Scriptures, Mr. Graff.
Point 3A above should say, The Rapture takes place when Christ cuts short the persecution of Satan/Antichrist and initiates the Day-of-the-Lord’s-wrath. Van Kampen teaches at least a six-month gap between the Rapture and Armageddon (Dan. 12:11 and Rev. 9:5). No one really knows how much time will elapse between the Rapture and Armageddon. However, it must be long enough to allow for the salvation of Israel at the end of Daniel’s Seventieth Week (Dan. 9:24 and Rom. 11:24-26) and those Gentiles who enter the kingdom of God following the sheep and goat judgment in Matthew 25:31ff.
Graff either has not read Van Kampen’s works or is purposely attempting to distort the record for personal advantage.
The prewrath position does acknowledge the separate existence of Israel and special treatment by God during the Tribulation when she is driven into the wilderness (Rev. 12), but it assumes that they are not saved until the very end, when they think the 144,000 are sealedÉ
This is blatantly false. The prewrath position teaches that the 144, 000 are sealed immediately after the Rapture, occurring just before the breaking of the seventh seal, which must be at least 6 months before Armageddon. Revelation 9:5 indicates that the fifth trumpet lasts for five months and Daniel 12:11 indicates Antichrist will suffer destruction 30 days after the Seventieth Week of Daniel ends–that’s at least six months. How much longer, we do not know. Daniel 9:24 demands that the salvation of Israel cannot occur before the end of the Seventieth Week. The prophecy was determined to be 490 years, not 483 or 487 and a half. The sealing of the 144, 000 occurs long before the salvation of national Israel, which occurs at the end of Daniel’s Seventieth Week as Daniel 9:24 says. Where does Graff get his information?
The big problem with prewrath theology is the assumption that the “elect” which are also “saints” of the Tribulation period are basically the same as the Church. There are two main difficulties with this view. First, the Church is missing.
That the church is missing (i.e. raptured), is a clear assumption on Graff’s part. Notice he offers no explicit scriptural support for his claim. If the church is missing, then why does Revelation 14:13 pronounce, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!” Graff, John F. Walvoord and other pretribulationists all teach that only the church can be described as “in the Lord.”
Of equal importance, this seven year Tribulation period is definitely the last “week” of Daniel 9:27, and, as such, is a final segment of Israel’s history before the Millennial Kingdom. According to the book of Revelation, the events of the period revolve around Israel, The Temple, Jerusalem, the Two Witnesses, and the 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel.
This is so typical of pretribbers who cannot see “the forest for the trees.” This is an example of dispensationalism taken to an unnecessary extreme. This argument is based on two false notions: (1) God cannot deal with Israel and the church at the same time, and (2) the Old Testament is about Israel and not the church.
The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (a direct fulfillment of Matthew 24:2), thirty years after the beginning of the church, proves God can and does work with both Israel and the church at the same time. The second false notion stated above is based on the following logic. Pretribulationists insist that the church is a mystery in the Old Testament, which means no information is given about it or its future. Therefore, any discussion about Daniel 9 excludes the church. Pretribulationists would further argue that the absence of the term “church” in Revelation 4-19 proves their point. This is called an argument from silence. The absence of the “term” church does not prove the church is missing. However, what is really missing is explicit scriptural proof.
In a clear case of circular reasoning, Graff argues: the church is a mystery in the Old Testament. Therefore, it is unseen and no information is given concerning it. Therefore, the Old Testament is about Israel only. Since, they argue, this is the case, then the Old Testament cannot be used to say what will or will not happen to the church. That’s circular reasoning.
The problem with this, however, is that the New Testament writers did apply certain Old Testament Scriptures to the church. Peter used Joel 2:28-32 to prove that the church begins at Pentecost (Acts. 2:17-21). Notice also Daniel 7:27, “Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints (holy ones) of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.” This passage clearly refers to the church since she will reign with Christ for the kingdom period.
Whether certain Old Testament passages apply to the church cannot be determined from the Old Testament. Only revelation from God through the Apostles or prophets can show what passages apply to the church and what passages do not. Many would not have applied Joel 2:28-32 to the church, but the Apostle Peter did. Since God has not shown how all the prophetic passages of the Old Testament apply to the church, it is a bit premature for pretribbers to be basing their position on scriptural silence.
Under his second heading: 1B – Failure to distinguish between Israel and the Church, Graff writes,
The fact is, when Jesus gave His explanation of future events, known as the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24 and 25), the Church had just been announced (Matthew 16:13-18), but it’s composition and destiny, including the Rapture, was still a mystery. This information would later be revealed to the Apostle Paul. If Christ had discussed the course of the Church age and the Rapture, it would have been very confusing to the disciples at that time. The Church came into existence on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and little by little, the organization took shape. All of the early believers were Jewish, and the new Church was seen as a continuation of their Old Testament beliefs.
This is too good to pass up. Notice his statement: “If Christ had discussed the course of the Church age and the Rapture, it would have been very confusing to the disciples at that time.” One wonders how Graff could make such a ridiculous statement! Is this how pretribulationists argue their position – with presumption and irrational arguments?
This is a classic “smoke and mirror” argument. In John 14:1-3, Jesus promised to come again and receive the Disciples to Himself. Who doubts that John 14:1-3 is a promise of the Rapture? Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse two days before his death, but John 14 was given the night before His death. A careful reading of the Gospels demonstrates that the Disciples were confused about everything, yet Jesus taught them. Whether the Disciples did or did not understand was not the determiner of what Jesus taught them.
Graff also states,
Van Kampen complains that when the pretribulation teachers relegate the events of the Olivet Discourse to Israel, they fail to teach the entire Gospel message. (Rapture, p. 103) We agree that students of the Word should accept that all Scripture is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16), and that all of it should be taught. However, not all sections apply to all people. Everything in the Gospels is important and instructive to the Church, but some portions are about the history of Israel, beyond the age of the Church. To fail to make that distinction is to do a great disservice to the Bible student.
If Matthew is the Jewish gospel, then why is the Olivet Discourse included in Mark and Luke’s gospels, which are clearly Gentile gospels. A greater disservice to the Bible student is the pretribulationists’ foolish attempt to argue from silence (no explicit scriptural support) while at the same time arguing as if the issues are spelled out in black and white.
The issue is not whether some of the New Testament applies to Israel and some to the church. The issue is which portions apply to Israel and which apply to the church, a decision which God alone determines. Pretribulationists are of very little help on this question because they draw too sharp a distinction between national Israel and the church, which leads to false conclusions. One of these false conclusions is the idea that the disciples who received the Olivet Discourse represented Israel and not the church or that Jesus did not teach the disciples truth about the church until after Pentecost. Matthew 16:18 and 18:15-20 should settle matter.
Under his third heading: 2B -Failure to distinguish between the Church and the “saints” of the Tribulation, Graff writes,
The prewrath Rapture theory equates Church with the “elect” of Matthew 24:31 who are gathered by angels when Christ returns in power and glory (Rapture, pp. 80-81). There are serious problems with this view. The glorious visible return of Christ as King of Kings is quite different from the promised Rapture of the ChurchÉ
This is the fundamental error of the pretrib position. The term “elect” as used in Matthew 24:31 in context can only refer to one groupÑthe church. There are only two elect groups in the Bible. One is physical electionÑnational unsaved Israel and the other is spiritualÑsaved Jews and Gentiles who compose the church. Matthew 24:24 states that the deceptive program of Antichrist will be so good that “if possible, even the elect” would be deceived by them. This proves that national Israel is not the “elect” of Matthew 24:24 because the nation will very much be deceived by Antichrist.
It cannot refer to the saved remnant of Israel because Revelation 12:6 states that the woman (the remnant of Israel) will flee into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand, two hundred and sixty days (during the great tribulation). So if the remnant of Israel is in protective custody and the majority of Israel is deceived by Antichrist, then the “elect” of Matthew 24:22, 24, and 31 must be the church.
But pretribulationists argue that the Jews and Gentiles saved after the Rapture are not a part of the church. Yet, the apostle Paul makes no distinction between the “elect” before the Rapture and the “elect” after the Rapture. If Matthew 24:22, 24 and 31 refers to any other group other than the church, it would be the only place in the New Testament where the term “elect” is used and does not refer to the church, Christ or angels. The burden of proof lies with those who say the term does not apply to the church. They must prove it.
The church is not named once in the entire account of the Tribulation period in the Book of Revelation Chapters 4-19. This is all the more noticeable since the word is used repeatedly in the first three chapters, where Christ is seen walking among the churches, and then sending messages to seven specific churches. The best explanation for this is that the true Church, the bride of Christ, is taken from the earth at the Rapture. At chapter 4, the Apostle John is told to “Come up here.” For the remainder of the vision, he is in the presence of the Lord, looking down on the dreadful events of the Tribulation. This is symbolic of the Rapture of the Church.
Graff fails to mention that when he makes the statement, “There are serious problems with this view” that the “serious problems” are his opinions. He offers not one explicit passage of Scripture to support his positions. He uses the classic pretrib argument of silence. The term “church” is not used in Revelation 4-19 so pretribbers conclude the church has been raptured. John is supposedly a symbolic representation of the Rapture of the church in Revelation 4. Such a view displays a total disregard for a consistent method of interpretation. What else is John symbolizing in the book? What is to stop us from using symbolic representations in other areas of Scripture?
These arguments are old and sad. Craig A Blaising, who taught at Dallas Theological Seminary, states in the book Three Views of the Millennium and Beyond, “Progressive dispensationalists see these “saints” as part of the body of Christ, thus a part of the church as it is defined in the New Testament.” (page 210). Now most progressive dispensationalists are pretribbers, but at least they recognize that pretribbers who argue that “saints” in Revelation 6-20 are not members of the body of Christ are fundamentally in error.
Pretribulationists try to get extra mileage out of the fact that the term “church” does not appear in chapters 4-19 of Revelation. At first, this argument from silence seems to be a slam-dunk for the pretrib position. But closer examination of the book of Revelation reveals a problem. The term “church” does not appear again in the book of Revelation after chapter three until the concluding note of chapter 22. It is conspicuously absent in chapters 20 and 21. Does that mean that the church is absent during the millennial reign of Christ (Revelation 20)? Does this mean that the church is absent during eternity (Revelation 21)? Of course, it does not!
The fact that the term “church” does not appear in Revelation after chapter 4 is a very important question. The church does not show up on earth and neither does it show up in heaven. The fact that it does not show up in heaven is an even greater problem for pretribbers. According to pretribulationists, John symbolizes the church in Revelation 4. Well, if John can symbolize the church in Revelation 4, perhaps there are other symbols of the church in chapters 6-20. Who is to say? This is laughably sad. Is this the best pretribbers can do?
There is one reason that the term “church” is not used in Revelation 4-21. It maintains the very important point of Matthew 24:36. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” The mystery of the timing of the Rapture is maintained throughout the New Testament and especially the book of Revelation. No one can explicitly discern the timing of the Rapture in the book of Revelation. We know it comes before the wrath of God begins in chapter eight, but there is not one explicit direct reference to the most important event in the future of the church. Why? It protects the anonymity of the Lord’s return, as He wanted.
During the Tribulation, however, there are “saints.” They are also called the “elect.” They are undoubtedly true believers in Jesus Christ, because there has been “no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 (NIV) Just as it has always been, they may be Jews or Gentiles who have decided to receive Christ as Savior. As the story unfolds in the book of Revelation, these believers will undergo great persecution, and many of them will be martyred for the cause of Christ. Those who die are the subject of the Fifth Seal (Revelation 6:9-11). Those who survive to the end will be gathered together by angels (Matthew 24:31) and will undoubtedly be the mortals who populate the Millennial Kingdom (Revelation 20).
Graff’s use of the words “undoubtedly” and “may be” indicate a lack of explicit scriptural support. He can not be dogmatic because he does not have Scripture to support his claims.
Under the heading: 3B – An unfair test (Rapture or Armageddon?), Graff writes,
Van Kampen suggests a test he has given to prophesy classes he has taught over the years. First read the following Biblical passage:
27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
29 “Immediately after the distress of those days “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.
33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.
34 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;
39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.
Van Kampen has them read verses 27, 30-31 and 37-40, then asks, “Now, decide which event Christ had in mind when He gave this specific instruction to His disciples. Does this passage refer to the battle of Armageddon as recorded in Revelation 19:11-21, or does it refer to the rapture of the saints as recorded in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17?” (Rapture, pp. 106-107) He then states that everyone in his classes has always thought it was about the Rapture.
Graff has purposely skewed Van Kampen’s illustration to serve his purpose. Van Kampen asked his students to read both Matthew 24 and Revelation 19.
And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war. And His eyes are a flame of fire, and upon His head are many diadems; and He has a name written upon Him which no one knows except Himself. And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God; in order that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, assembled to make war against Him who sat upon the horse, and against His army. And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat upon the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.
Van Kampen then asks his audience to vote on whether the two passages are alike or unalike.
The question itself is flawed. There is no reference in these verses [Matt. 24:27, 20-31 and 37-40] to any battle, much less the specific battle of Armageddon.
That’s the point Mr. Graff! There is no battle mentioned in Matthew 24. Matthew talks about a gathering of the “elect.” Revelation talks about a battle of destruction for the wicked. There is no gathering of God’s elect mentioned in Revelation 16-19. Matthew 24 does not mention a battle between God and Antichrist.
If the question were to be worded fairly it should ask, “Does this passage refer to the glorious return of Christ as recorded in Revelation 19:11-21, or does it refer to the rapture of the saints as recorded in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.” In that case, knowledgeable students would be most likely to choose the Glorious Return (Italic added).
So now at issue with Mr. Graff is one’s “knowledgeableness.” If a person concludes that Matthew 24:31 and Revelation 19:11 are not referring to the same event, the person is not a “knowledgeable student.” But if one is “smart,” he or she will immediately see that Matthew 24:31 and Revelation 19:11 refer to the same event. This is foolish and nonsensical.
Van Kampen wouldn’t word the question in this way because he evidently does not believe that there are two separate events. In fact, he ridicules the pretribulation view as teaching that the Church should be looking for the second coming, but Israel should be waiting for the third coming. (Rapture, p. 95) Of course, this is not what is taught by pretribulation teachers. It is easily provable that there are two distinct events coming – The Rapture and The Glorious Return. (See “Failure to distinguish between the Rapture and The Glorious Return of Christ” below) Pretribulation scholars refer to both events as “The Second Coming,” just as the many events of Jesus’ earthly sojourn were all part of His “First Coming.”
Pretribulationists must maintain a separate glorious return from the Rapture or else they would have no position. The fact that they have no explicit scriptural foundation for their view seems to escape their attention.
Matthew 24:3 indicates that the Disciples asked the Lord, “what would be the sign of Your coming?” The term “coming” is the Greek word parousia. It is used three times in Matthew 24. Now in order to get around the obvious meaning of this term, pretribulationists maintain that the word refers to two comings: Christ comes for His own (the Rapture) and Christ comes with His own (glorious return at Armageddon). The only problem with this conclusion is its lack of explicit scriptural support.
Christ has two parousias. His first parousia occurred two thousand years ago. His second parousia will occur some time in the future. It will start with the Rapture and conclude with Armageddon. The amount of time between the Rapture and Armageddon will be no longer than three and a half years and no less than six months. See Revelation 9:5 and Daniel 12:11. Van Kampen clearly indicates that the Rapture and Armageddon are not the same event. Rather, the Rapture and Armageddon are two halves of the same event separated by an undetermined length of time.
Under the heading: 2A -Satan’s wrath ends at the Rapture and then God’s wrath begins. Graff writes,
Using Revelation 12:12, and 13:4-7, Van Kampen says that Satan’s wrath is the persecution of God’s elect. (Rapture, p. 58). These verse (sic) state:
Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”
Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?” The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. Revelation 13:4-7(NIV)
When one studies this passage, it is clear that Satan’s wrath is a reaction to God’s wrath. God punishes Satan by casting him down to earth. This makes him angry. He is, in fact given power to persecute believers (“the saints”) during the last half of the Tribulation (42 months). The proper way of seeing the Tribulation is that it is the time of both God’s wrath and Satan’s wrath as he struggles against the sovereignty of God. Even in this present time we can see the same thing, to a lesser degree. Peter says that the Devil is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, and causing persecution of believers. (1 Peter 5:8-9)
Graff purposely obscures the distinctions between the Day of the Lord’s wrath and the temporal wrath of God that abides on the wicked every single day. God’s Day of the Lord wrath is unique and must be seen in the context of the end-times. God allows Satan three and a half years of persecution. No where, and I do mean no where, does Scripture say that God’s Day-of-the-Lord-wrath runs concurrent with Satan’s wrath. Scripture states just the opposite. Matthew 24:22 indicates that God will cut the great persecution short. The reason God gives for cutting the persecution short is to save the lives of the elect. If the wrath of God has already started why would God save some elect and not others. The fact is God cuts the persecution shortÑdelivers the righteous and begins the punishment of the wicked.
Given the fact that faithful followers of Jesus Christ will be beheaded during the great tribulation, no sane person would credit such a slaughter to God. Yet, this is exactly what one must do if he or she makes the great tribulation the wrath of God.
The great tribulation begins with the wrath of Satan against God’s elect, but it ends with God’s wrath against Satan’s Antichrist and those who take his mark.
Under the heading: 1B – Artificial shift from Satan’s wrath to God’s wrath, Mr. Graff writes,
Using the illustrations of the days of Noah and the days of Lot in Luke 17:22-30, Van Kampen concludes that the Rapture will occur on the very day that God’s wrath begins, thus ending the wrath of Satan. (Rapture, pp. 56-59). The passage does not refer to the Rapture, but to the Glorious Return of Christ. The worst expression of God’s wrath will be delivered at that time because the battle of Armageddon is fought. But that is not to say that the earlier part of the Tribulation is not also the result of God’s wrath.
Graff does not recognize that Revelation 12:12 indicates that Satan comes down to earth with great wrath against Israel and her offspring. The amount of time Satan is given is exactly three and a half years, which is exactly how long the great tribulation runs and the exact amount of time Satan empowers Antichrist to persecute the people of God. Therefore, the period labeled “the great tribulation” must be the wrath of Satan against God’s people.
There is not one passage of Scripture that indicates God’s wrath is poured out during the first three and a half years of Daniel’s Seventieth Week.
Under the heading: 2B – Assumption that God’s wrath does not begin until Christ returns. Graff writes,
The prewrath assumption that God’s wrath does not start until just before the battle of Armageddon does not fit the facts revealed in the book of Revelation.
This is a purposeful distortion of the prewrath position. At no point, does the prewrath position teach that the wrath of God begins at Armageddon. I defy Mr. Graff to show the reader in writing one statement that supports his claim that Mr. Van Kampen ever taught such a position.
In Revelation 3:10 the Church at Philadelphia was given the promise that they would be kept “from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” The implication is clear that God’s wrath would be poured out on the whole evil world as He had done at the time of the flood. In Chapters 4 and 5, future events are seen as emanating from God’s sovereign throne. Jesus Christ, as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Lamb who was slain, is the only one worthy to open the seals of the scroll. Starting with chapter 6, Jesus opens the seals, one at a time, and each time, events transpire which represent God’s wrath and judgment, usually on the whole earth.
Where in Revelation 5 and 6 does it say that the seals are the wrath of God? As a matter of fact, the fifth seals martyrs’ question to God proves that seals 1-4 are not the wrath of God. They ask God, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth.” (Rev. 6:10).
If the “hour of testing” is the wrath of God, it cannot have started yet, given the question of the martyrs. Their questions states that God has and is refraining from judging and taking vengeance on the wicked. Notice the Lord’s answer, “Éthey were told that they should rest for a little while longer, untilÉthere fellow servants and brethren who were to be killedÉwould be completed also.” The wrath of God against the wicked that are alive on the earth has not yet stated. Plain and simple.
In chapter 7 God holds back the strong angels who have power to harm the earth until the 144,000 can be sealed.
This proves that God’s wrath has not started. If the wrath of God had started, He would have sealed the 144, 000 before the seals begin.
In chapter 12, as mentioned before, Satan’s wrath is displayed, but it is the result of God’s wrath leveled against him.
Where is Graff’s proof for this statement? Scripture does not indicate that the wrath of God begins before Michael and his angels throw Satan out of heaven. This is an assumption without biblical support.
At the midpoint of the Tribulation, when people must decide whether or not to receive the “mark of the beast,” it is said that God’s judgment has come. Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth– to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” A second angel followed and said, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.” A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.” Revelation 14:6-11
Graff has based the above statement on an assumption of which the reader may not be aware. He assumes that Revelation 14 describes events that transpire at the midpoint of the Seventieth Week of Daniel. Revelation 14:1 places Jesus and the 144, 000 standing on Mount Zion. Surely, this cannot be at the midpoint of Daniel’s Seventieth Week. After the Rapture, according to pretribulationalists, Jesus does not come back to the earth until Armageddon. Proof please, Mr. Graff!
Under the heading: 3A -The Rapture takes place when Christ returns in great glory, 1B – Failure to distinguish between the Rapture and The Glorious Return of Christ, Graff writes,
The key passage for the prewrath view is the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24 and 25). There is only one return of Christ in view there, and that is at the end of the sequence of events describing the Great Tribulation. Matthew 24:30 states that, “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.” Van Kampen says this is the Rapture. However, there are many differences between the Rapture and the Glorious Return of Christ. Here are some of these differences:
|The Rapture||The Glorious Return|
|Christ comes for His own|
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
|Christ returns with His own|
|Believers taken to Father’s House|
|Believers come to Earth|
|Seen only by believers|
1 Corinthians 15:4
|Every eye will see Him|
Revelation 1:7; 19:11-16;
|No reference to Satan||Satan bound|
|Earth not judged||Earth judged|
1 Corinthians 15:51
|Foretold in Old Testament|
Zechariah 12:10; 14:4
|Chart by Ron Graff|
Graff must think that his readers are either mentally challenged or he maybe he assumes that he determines the meaning of Scripture. Graff’s statement that Matthew 24-25 describes only one return of Christ is purposefully misleading. Matthew 24:31 describes Christ coming together the elect. Matthew 25:31 describes Christ coming to judge the nations. There is nothing to stop the reader from seeing Matthew 24:31 as the beginning of the Lord’s parousia and Matthew 25:31 as the end of the Lord’s parousia. One describes the Rapture and the other describes the sheep and goat judgment that immediately follows Armageddon.
At first glance, the above chart appears convincing, but a closer examination reveals error after error.
First, Revelation 19:14 does not say the church will return with Christ at Armageddon. It says the Lord returns with “his armies.” “His armies” clearly applies to angels. However, whether the church is included is debatable. The church is not mentioned directly or indirectly in Revelation 20 and 21.
Second, Matthew 24:30 does not in any way, shape, form, or fashion, state that believers are returning with Christ. Just read it! “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.”
Third, 1 Corinthians 15:52 does not state that believers will be the only ones to see the Lord return at the Rapture. This assumption is stated as fact! Where does Graff get his material?
Fourth, the binding of Satan for one thousand years is only mentioned in Scripture one time.
Fifth, earlier Graff indicated that the wrath of God begins at the Rapture, which would certainly indicate that the earth receives judgment. Yet, his chart says, “earth not judged” at Rapture. Which is it? That’s called a contradiction. Paul states in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 that God’s wrath is connected to the Rapture. He writes, “Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him that you not be quickly shakenÉ that the day of the Lord has come.” That’s Rapture and wrath tied together.
The sixth and final error in Mr. Graff’s chart concerns the mystery of the Rapture. According to Graff, the Rapture is a mystery, but the glorious return of Christ is predicted in the Old Testament. If the Rapture is a mystery in the Old Testament, then one will not find information about it in the Old Testament. However, that does not mean that the Rapture and the glorious return of the Lord are not connected. That information must be obtained from the New Testament. Graff has not shown one NT passage that supports his conclusion. Not one!
Under the heading: 2B – Who is left to populate the Millennial Kingdom, Graff writes,
If the Rapture were to take place just before the battle of Armageddon, and all the believers were taken just before the final events of the Tribulation, what people would become believers at the very last moments so that there would be godly people to populate the Millennial Kingdom? Van Kampen’s thought is that this is where the 144,000 come in. (Rapture, pp. 53-54)
Given Graff’s familiarity with Van Kampen’s writings, I can only assume that he is purposefully trying to distort Van Kampen’s position in order to win his argument. Van Kampen has never directly or indirectly taught that the Rapture occurs “just before the final events of the Tribulation.” Van Kampen would argue based on Daniel 12:11 and Revelation 9:5 that the Rapture must occur at least 6 months before Armageddon. The chart in Van Kampen’s book, The Sign, clearly shows that the salvation of Israel and the sheep and goat judgment must follow the Rapture. Where does Graff get his material?
Under the heading: 3B – The Judgment of the Sheep and Goats, Graff writes,
According to Matthew 25:31-46, there will be a judgment of “sheep” and “goats” based on how people treated Israel. In the pretribulation view, surviving believers of the Tribulation period will qualify as the “sheep.” In the prewrath view, all believers would have been taken at the Rapture and only a remnant from Israel itself would become believers at the very end. It is difficult to imagine that these new converts could be the “sheep” who acted kindly toward Israel.
This is not Van Kampen’s view. Graff confuses the prewrath position with traditional posttribulationism. Please read the book!
Van Kampen offers a very unorthodox explanation of this dilemma. Since it is obvious that these Gentile survivors have not yet accepted Christ (or they would have gone up at the Rapture shortly before this time), he says that they will have trusted Christ when they saw Him face to face “when the Son of Man comes in His glory.” (Matthew 23:31) (Sign, pp. 403-405) I didn’t notice any mention of this theory in his later book, probably because of difficulties in supporting this view.
This is not Van Kampen’s view! The particular pages referred to in the above paragraph deal with the sheep and goat judgment not the Rapture of the Saints.
Under the heading: 4B – The Parable of the Wheat and Tares, Graff writes,
The Parable of the Wheat and Tares also refers to the separation of believers from non-believers at the end of this age. This parable make good sense from a pretribulation point of view because it is similar to the Judgment of Sheep and Goats. In both cases, there are many believers and many non-believers. This takes place at “the end of the age” and the agents are angels. It is difficult for the prewrath position because that view does not allow for a large number of believers at the end of the age.
This is a misrepresentation of Van Kampen’s view. Van Kampen takes the position that the Parable of the Wheat and Tares is the Rapture. God will separate the righteous and the wicked by removing the righteous to heaven and punishing the wicked that remain on earth.
Again, I did not notice the use of this parable in Van Kampen’s later book, The Rapture Question Answered, but is used repeatedly in The Sign. This passage is listed at least 15 times in the Scripture Index of that book. In The Sign, the author usually listed this passage as a proof for the Rapture, saying, for instance, As we continue, we will see that when believers are received by Christ in the clouds at the Rapture of the church, it will be the angels of God who “gather the wheat into My barn” (Matt. 13:30) and who “gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other” (Matt. 24:31), and that “we who are alive and remain shall be caught up [by God’s angels] together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17) (Sign, p. 296)
The reason Van Kampen did not use this passage in The Rapture Question Answered was due to space limitations and he did not feel the argument was necessary to prove his case. However, he used this passage in The Sign, which presents his position clearly.
Notice the mixing of expressions from this parable with the classic passage about the Rapture. This passage simply can not refer to the Rapture, because it is stated that it takes place “at the end of the age,” and even more importantly, the weeds, or tares, are collected FIRST, bundled for burning (presumably at a later time – The White Throne Judgment), and THEN the wheat is gathered into the barns.
Please notice Matthew 13:39 states, “and the harvest is the end of the age.” Then again, Matthew 13:40, “so just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age.” Jesus states that the “harvest” “is the end of the age.” The harvest is the consummation of the age. That is the time when God will separate the righteous from the wicked. This is the point of the parable. The separation of the righteous and the wicked will begin at the Rapture and continue until the Sheep and Goat Judgment, which follows Armageddon.
The “end of the age” is not a point in time, but rather covers a period months or maybe even years. Only God knows how long He will allow the persecution of Antichrist to run before He cuts it short with His wrath (Matt. 24:22, 24). “The end of the age” will start with the Rapture and continue until the Sheep and Goat Judgment, which immediately precedes the beginning of the millennium.
However, what the order of that separation will be is not the primary point of the parable. That this is the case is easily proven. The disciples asked Jesus in Matthew 24:3, “What will be the sign of Your coming (parousia) and of the end of the age?” This indicates that the coming of Christ and the end of the age are tied together. Jesus answers the question in Matthew 24:29 and 30. The sign of the Son of Man immediately follows the sign that signals the “end of the age.” The sign that Jesus gives that indicates the “end of the age” is the same sign repeatedly given to indicate the beginning of the Day of the Lord. Even a limited reading of the Old Testament will demonstrate that sign in the sun, moon, and stars signal the coming of God’s wrath.
Therefore, the “end of the age” must cover a period of time because the fifth trumpet of Revelation 9:1-11 covers a five month period. No one doubts that the fifth trumpet is part of the wrath of God. The fact that John indicates that the sign in the sun, moon, and stars will occur at the sixth seal means that the wrath of God begins at the seventh seal. Thus, the trumpets and bowls are the wrath of God. This is Van Kampen’s position which is very different from what Graff says.
Pretribulationists make a big deal of the fact that the Lord says that the wicked (tares) will be gathered first, and then the righteous will be gathered after them. Yet, there is not one passage in the whole of the N.T. that teaches that the wicked will be gathered first at the Lord’s return unless Matthew 13:36-43 can be shown to do so. Matthew 24:31 which pretribulationists argue is the return of the Lord at Armageddon does not mention a gathering of the wicked.
The parable of the wheat and tares is just thatÑa parable. One must be careful to not say more than the parable intended to teach. Clearly, the Lord does not mean the reader to understand that the harvest of the righteous and wicked at the end of the age will be just like a wheat harvest in every sense of the word. For example, the wheat is cut with a sharp knife. The wheat is put on a floor and beaten. Tares are burned up completely. They no longer exist after the burning. In the culture of that day, tares were pulled up by the root long before the harvest. But the Lord changed the figure of speech. The tares would remain until the harvest.
The sheep and goat judgment (Matt. 25) indicates that the righteous and wicked are gathered together and separated by the Lord, not angels. Therefore, Matthew 13 cannot be talking about the sheep and goat judgment. The only other possibility is the Rapture.
I have noticed that a surprising number of young pastors have adopted the prewrath position. One possible reason for this is the normal desire of each generation to “go beyond” the previous one. It is actually a good thing for young scholars to test what they have been taught, and especially to compare it to the Scripture.
Implication of Graff’s statement: if one takes the prewrath position he is young and naive. They simply want to “go beyond” the previous one.” Graff assumes pretribulationism is correct and “young pastors” want to simply “go beyond” the truth.
Another possible reason for the wide-spread interest in the prewrath theory comes from the fact that most pastors are really not up to speed in eschatology. They realize that nearly one third of the Bible is prophecy, but they have not invested the time to know it well. Van Kampen himself says that he spent nine thousand hours of Bible study and research during eight years to develop his eschatology. (“Join the club, Robert! Every serious prophecy teacher has invested many years in concentrated study). What he did though that gives a huge boost to his teaching, is to give free copies of his large and colorful book to pastors. Hopefully, most of them will continue to read other works to balance their knowledge.
Implications of Graff statement:
First, pastors are adopting the prewrath position because they simply do not know eschatology.
Second, when pastors get smarter, they will abandon the prewrath position for the right position–pretribulationism.
Third, a free book has made pastors take the position. The Jehovah Witnesses ought to love that one.
What difference does it make whether we accept the pretribulation or the prewrath viewpoint? To Van Kampen, the stakes are great. He says, “your view of end times may determine whether you, your children, or your grandchildren survive the onslaught of Antichrist or die at his hands.” (Rapture, p. 131) Just like the postribulation (sic) view, the bottom line for the prewrath folks is survival. By contrast, the bottom line for the pretribulation view is evangelism and holy living. But let’s admit that godly prewrath believers can be just as evangelistic as their pretribulation brothers and sisters. And shouldn’t we all be wise enough to prepare for the future? In any case, Jesus expects us to love one another.
This is an over simplification of Van Kampen’s position. Survival is not the primary objective of the prewrath position. Truth is!
Ron Graff, like so many others, attempts to argue the faults of the prewrath position by showing the strength of the pretribulation position. But they consistently defeat themselves because they have no explicit scriptural basis for their position. It would be better to simply compare the two positions and allow each reader to make up his or her own mind. One could conclude that the reason none are willing to do this is fear, a fear, which certainly does not come from God.