Tuesday, October 13, 2009

1 Thessalonians 1:10

In the previous article I sought to defend the use of Revelation 3:10 as exegetically valid in the Grace Brethren Statement of Faith. The other verse in the Statement which has been challenged is First Thessalonians 1:10 - "and to wait for His Son from heaven, Whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, Who rescues us from the wrath to come."

Granted, genuine believers from varying eschatological viewpoints will either claim this verse as a proof-text or at least a text that fits within their approach. The critical discussion pivots around the extent of the meaning of the phrase "the wrath to come".

Is "the wrath to come" the "second death/lake of fire" poured out on unbelievers at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:12-15)? Probably all believers would say "Yes", that Jesus rescues us from the coming wrath of Hell. Those who are amillennial, postmillennial, or non-"tribulational"-premillennial would probably limit the extent of the meaning of "the wrath to come" to that. Of course, believers are already rescued from any present experience of God's wrath (John 3:36, Romans 8:1), but the issue in First Thessalonians 1:10 is future wrath, not present.

But, does the "wrath to come" only refer to the believer's rescue from Hell (and perhaps some pre-realized deliverance from present wrath), or does "wrath to come" include more? Those who understand Revelation chs 6-18 as describing a yet future sequence of events, see Revelation 6:17 as a crucial verse for this discussion - "the great day of their wrath has come". There will be a future time of God's wrath on earth, and it will happen during the six seals of Revelation 6 and extend beyond that. The verb "has come" (elthen) is aorist indicative, "referring to the previous arrival of the wrath, not something that is about to take place" (from Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 An Exegetical Commentary, Moody, 1992, p.457). Any attempts to make elthen into a futuristic aorist, draining any wrath out of the first six seals of Revelation 6, does so quite unnaturally, unusually, and incorrectly.

Thus, the entirety of the seven years of Revelation 6-18 contains the wrath of God. The "pre-wrath" deliverance from future wrath promised in First Thessalonians 1:10 includes deliverance from the wrath of God that will come within the first six seals of Revelation 6. Comparing this discussion with the one in the previous article indicates that what is being spoken of in Revelation 3:10 is also being spoken of in First Thessalonians 1:10.

Therefore, the Grace Brethren Statement of Faith has used First Thessalonians 1:10 properly, as it has Revelation 3:10.


  1. Thanks for writing this article, Keith.

    As you might know, the stumbling block for me is the sixth seal. Up to that point, I see no indication whatsoever of "God's wrath" in the first five seals, nothing that corresponds to Jesus or Daniel's description of great thlipsis like has never occurred before.

    As far as I can tell (having been taught otherwise since childhood), the first four seals disclose nothing that is not ordinarily happening today: rulers are bent on conquest; there are wars; there are famines and economic distress; and there is death, on a massive scale, resulting from famine, war and pestilence.

    Regarding the fifth seal, we know that martyrs have been pouring out their blood since the first century, and while the Lord tarries they continue to "wait a little while" while more are still being martyred in various quadrants of the world.

    So, I contend that there is nothing of God's wrath in the first five seals, and that the appearance of His wrath does not come into view until the sixth seal, exactly as the words of scripture state. I would further assert that God's wrath does not begin until after the seventh seal is opened, thus corresponding to the Old Testament prophets who speak explicitly about silence before the great Day of the Lord. And, sure enough, the trumpets and bowls which follow the seventh seal are terrible days of wrath - fundamentally different than the seven seals.

    Thus, I think the seals represent sovereignty of God over the affairs of man throughout all of history (particularly as history begins to unfold with Nimrod at Babel.) Man's functions are terminated by God's wrath, once the seventh seal is broken and the end of the age begins to close.

    We are absolutely saved from the wrath to come, but we are not promised any earthly protection from any aspect of the events which are characterized by ALL the seals - even through the opening of the seventh seal. I would argue that when the Church on earth sees the sixth seal, Christians should lift up their heads because their redemption is drawing nigh.

    In that sense then, I think the "pointer" of where the wrath of God begins belongs at the opening of seventh seal, not at the first seal.

  2. Thanks for the response, David. Just a few comments in reply.

    To make the opening of the seventh seal the beginning of the wrath of God in Revelation still ignores the aorist tense verb in Revelation 6:17. The only way around taking 6:17 seriously would be to disavow any chronological structure to a major portion of Revelation. For example, in Revelation, the opening of the seventh seal is chronologically future in relation to the sixth seal, but at the sixth seal (Rev. 6:17), the wrath is already spoken of as past.

    Revelation 3:10 does not limit the exemption of the Church to being exempt from wrath, but to exemption from a specific, future time of testing that will come upon the whole world. See my previous article.

    If the first five seals are an overview of past and present history, not future, then would not Matthew 24:4-14 (by comparative inference) also have to be about past and present history? Yet, Jesus speaks of those events as coming in the future (at least in relation to Himself; it could not be looking back all the way to Nimrod).

    If the opening of the seals occurs during the beginning(about the first quarter)of the seven years, then what happens as a result happens in a rather short period of time (several months perhaps). One fourth of the earth's population being killed within a few month period of time has never happened throughout past world history at any time. Would you then still view this as the normal course of events in a fallen world, or would you possibly see this a demonstration of the wrath of God?

    Who is the rider of the white horse in the opening of the first seal? Is that a past person, or is it someone yet to come? Is this a real person or a symbol? Could his activation not be a demonstration of God's wrath?

    The application of Divine wrath increases in intensity throughout the Book of Revelation (i.e.the trumpets are worse than the seals, the bowls are worse than the trumpets). Such does not imply there is no demonstration of wrath in the seal judgments, but that there is some and it gets progressively more severe.

  3. I have to break this down into two parts. I’m sorry that it takes so many words to try and view.

    1. If your view was correct, then the verb should be in the perfect tense. As you point out, Rev. 6:17 is in the aorist tense. The same verb form at Mark 14:41 would support my view that what has come begins at a punctual point, not before it. While God's wrath is, indeed, "timeless" and man is already under God's wrath (Rom. 1:18), the Day of the Lord's wrath is not past from point of view of the sixth seal.

    2. The sign of the sixth seal corresponds explicitly with Joel 2:31 (among other passages). According to Joel, it is explicit God's wrath begins after the great sign, not before it.

    Thus, given those two points, I think my view supports the chronology with far greater precision and accuracy, with Rev. 6:17 agreeing with Joel 2:31.

    You mention that the opening of the seals occurs during the beginning of the seven years, but this is a contrivance of pretribulational tradition. There is nothing in the Bible which encourages this view. Instead, Revelation gives us an explicit timetable of two periods of authority: the authority of the two witnesses, which is 42 months long, and the subsequent authority of the beast (who overcomes the witnesses at the midpoint) for another 42 months. There is our seven years, or what we call the “70th week of Daniel”. The text does not allow these 42 month periods to be parallel authorities: each has absolute authority during his allotted time. The midpoint, which inaugurates the Great Tribulation, is precisely determined by the destruction of the two witnesses by the beast, and all that follows that event.

    So I think it is far simpler and more consistent to support the 70th week of Daniel as beginning at the 6th or 7th seal than at the 1st. If you told me that Rev. 3:10 referred to protection from the future time of testing which comes upon the whole world, and you meant after the 6th or 7th seal, I could agree with you. As I have said before, the “pointer” for the beginning of the 70th week does not belong at the first seal. The seals are much larger in scope than Daniel 9:27.

    Again, there nothing in the first five seals with which we are unfamiliar today. In fact, there is nothing in Matthew 24:4-14 with which we are unfamiliar today. We live in the long time while the master is away; we live in “wait a while” of martyrs for the testimony of Jesus Christ. Other than for protecting an eschatological system there is nothing compelling in scripture to suggest that he seals are not God’s sovereign grace. Even as Matthew 24:14 states, the gospel is being preached in the whole world, as a testimony to all the nations.

  4. I think all four riders correspond to other prophetic examples found in Daniel and Zechariah, representing the rule of nations under God's sovereign direction. The progression of the first four seals is not one of wrath, but one of depravity. The unfolding of all nations was rooted in Babylon, and progressed through Persia, Greece and Rome. I would suggest that the "times of the gentiles" commenced with Rome sacking Jerusalem, and those times persist to this day awaiting a fundamental dispensational change, which is the 70th Week of Daniel.

    I do not see any reason to associate the introduction of the first rider with the activation of God’s wrath because the Bible explicitly tells me what the sign of the activation of God’s wrath is: it is the great sign in heaven, not a horseman bent on world conquest.

    The continuum along which the revelation to John occurs must not be constrained by a temporal framework of “earth time” because the view of John is outside of the temporal constraints of his native realm. In the timelessness of God’s sovereign rule in heaven (which john is a witness to), the seals are nothing less than epochs of God’s gracious sovereignty over His creation. The cumulative opening of the seals corresponds to the thousands of years that Jesus Christ is revealed to all creation. Had no one been worthy to break the seals and open the scroll, there would have been no grace upon the world: in fact, we would not be having this discussion. That’s why John weeps when no one is found worthy: without the opening of the scroll, everything is doomed.

    One is found worthy to break the seals and open the scroll. Which brings me to a crucial point I have become convinced of: breaking the seals and opening the scroll by a crucified Lamb is grace, not wrath. We know this because God did not need to make His Son worthy to open the scroll in order to pour out wrath upon the earth. The crucified Lamb is precisely what is necessary, however, for the scroll to be opened and for grace to be manifest. Thus, the breaking of seals and opening of the scroll cannot possibly be an exercise in wrath because crucifying Christ was not necessary to justify God’s wrath.

    Noah’s ark is the corresponding example of grace in view of certain justice. Destruction of the world by water did not require an ark, and did not require Noah. But because Noah was the recipient of God’s sovereign grace, the ark was provided for his salvation and God was forbearing that Noah should not perish, and gave him earthly time to build a floating household of faith. We are somewhere along the continuum of God’s plan of grace, and I suspect that the point we are living in is the “little while” of the fifth seal.

  5. David,

    Some points of disagreement - (1) The aorist tense has a variety of uses, and I have simply pointed out the normal use of the aorist indicative and made the point that it is without warrant to take this as a futuristic aorist. (2) It is not a given that Joel 2:31 (and others) refers to the same end-time cosmic event as Revelation 6:12ff. It is a given that the event of Joel 2:31 occurs before the Day of the Lord. (3) I have no idea why you find it necessary to say that inferring the opening of the seals corresponds to the beginning of the seven years/70th Week is a "contrivance of pretribulational tradition". It is an inference from the same material you are working with in the two 42 month periods, and a number of the "Pre-wrath position" adherents, as well as those who are post-tribulational and mid-tribulational would agree that this is when the seven years begin.

    Some points of agreement - (1) we agree that the two 42 month periods are where we get the seven years in Revelation, and that this corresponds to the 70th Week of Daniel, and further, that these are not chronologically parallel (others in both the "pre-trib" and "pre-wrath" camps would disagree with us). (2) Our understandings of Revelation 3:10 and First Thessalonians 1:10 seem to be essentially the same.

    A question - So if (let's say you are correct) the seven years/70th Week begins at the 6th or 7th seal, and if Revelation 7:14 is the rapture, and if what follows in chapters 8-19 is in essentially chronological sequence, then why would Revelation 7:14 not be representing a "pre-70th-week" rapture with the seven years extending to the Second Coming and doom of AntiChrist (the termination point of Daniel 9:27) which is in chapter 19? That could be a potentially defensible chronology of the book. To make the event of 7:14 and the event of 19:11-16 to be happening at basically the same time (somewhere after the mid-point of the seven years?), seems to be destroying the chronological backbone of the Book of Revelation.

  6. Keith,

    Robert Thomas and other pretrib teachers make the "Aorist is past tense" fallacy. Greek lingusts have repeatedly pointed out this error: Wallace, Porter, Fanning, McKay, Decker, et al.

    It is the context that determines the temporal time, not the tense-form.

    I have shown before that the aorist tense in Revelation 6:17 is clearly an impending arorist (and action that is about to happen).

    It is under point eight:


    Thank you,
    Alan K.

  7. Keith,

    When you say that "It is not a given that Joel 2:31 (and others) refers to the same end-time cosmic event as Revelation 6:12ff", I simply disagree. It is an insurmountably obvious to me that it is a “given” for at least four reasons: 1) the description of the cosmic event itself; 2) the expressed fear of the world; 3) the silence which precedes the ensuing trumpet judgments; 4) the election of 144,000 Jews.

    1. The “cosmic event” is described with precision in exactly the same way in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts and Revelation. Surely God’s Word is not capricious in something as obvious as this. The only cosmic relationship I have had to explain to students is between Rev. 6:12 and Rev. 8:12. (In that case, I take it that the cosmic sign of Rev. 6 is not a permanent condition, any more than the silence of the 7th seal is a permanent condition. Rev. 8:12 seems to indicate destructive and permanent judgment, as opposed to a sign, in the solar system.)

    2. Mankind’s fear is explicitly mentioned in the 6th seal (Rev. 6:15-16), and is likewise explicitly mentioned in the Old Testament along with the cosmic sign. (Ezek. 32:7-10; Joel 2:10-11.) In fact, Joel 2:11 expresses the exact same wonder of mankind as Revelation 6:17: “who is able to stand?”

    3. The 7th seal follows the cosmic sign, and brings about a period of "silence". This is precisely the chronology of the Old Testament minor prophets, who indicate that (a) the sign in heaven precedes the Day of the Lord (Isa. 13; Isa. 24; Joel 2), and (b) silence precedes the Day of the Lord (Amos 8; Zeph. 1; Hab. 2:20; Zech 2;13.)

    4. In the textual interlude between the 6th & 7th seal (obviously prior to the judgments of God beginning with the first trumpet), we see an explicit election of 144,000 Jews from 12 tribes. This occurs at the cosmic sign, something that Israel will not be able to ignore because it is a unique prophetic sign designed for this very moment. Thus, the chronology in Revelation 6 & 7 is precisely that of Joel 2: a cosmic sign (Joel 2:10), worldwide fear (Joel 2:11), solemnity (Joel 2:15), Israel is called back to God (Joel 2:16). Dispensationally, if one needs it, you also have the rapture right where it should be: a great multitude is simultaneously seen that no one can count, from every tribe, tongue and nation, who cry out in praise about their salvation.

    Other chronological commonalities exist between the Old Testament and Revelation 5. For example, the trumpet is blown at the Day of the Lord (Joel 2). I find it compelling that after the cosmic sign (6th seal), after the election of 144,000 Jews, after a great multitude in heaven, and after the silence (7th seal), that the silence itself is broken by a trumpet that initiates the judgments of God. The chronology is explicit, and in harmony with what the prophets said. We also observe chronological harmony with 1 Corinthians 15.

    So you have appealed to me for chronology, and I am offering it plain & simple: The Day of the Lord is preceded by a cosmic sign (6th seal), rapture (great multitude), silence (7th seal), and initiation of the 70th week of Daniel (144,000 sealed). The Day of the Lord commences (during the 70th week of Daniel) with the trumpets and concludes with the bowls.

    I will close my comments with this: I think that the nature of prophetic chronology demands consideration outside of the human inclination to limit a pattern to one sequence. In the sense of “already/not yet”, what I mean is this: I think there is an “already” sense in which the 5th seal is now “broken”, just as Paul tells us that there are already antichrists. However, as God’s plan plays out at the epoch of the parousia itself, I would not be surprised to observe what appears to be a “now” repeat of the first five seals: a localized ruler bent on conquest, war, pestilence, death and martyrdom. In the “already” sense, the 5th seal begins with martyrs. In the “now” sense, the 5th seal concludes with martyrs.

  8. Alan - Thanks for your clarification. I very much agree with your "demythologizing" of the aorist. So, by the way, would Robert Thomas. I agree that it is the context that would determine the use, not the form. I find it interesting, though, that Rev.6:17 does not get listed in the grammars as an example of a futuristic aorist - certainly Wallace does not. Coming at it from that standpoint, the discussion of the context could go on indefinitely without conclusion.

    David - Well, yes, we might disagree about Joel 2:31 and Revelation 6:12. That may be a topic for another day. In the mean time, our differences aside, you have just made an outstanding argument for the Pre-70th Week Rapture.

  9. Keith,

    That is not how one uses Greek Grammars. Grammars only give a _sampling_. Wallace does not list Revelation 6:17 under your understanding of the aorist tense either. The point, which you missed entirely, is that the aorist is not a past tense--it is no tense!

    Context must tell you what temporality it is in. And in this case, it is clear that the wrath of God is impending, not that it has been unfolding.

  10. It is certainly possible that I can miss an entire point - it wouldn't be the first time!! That the aorist can be timeless I understand. That the aorist is "no tense" at all is a new concept to me. The most common usage seems to be past.

    It does not seem that the context of Rev.6:17 makes the "impending" or "impending only" point so clearly that it must be in such stiff opposition to the "unfolding" point.

  11. The present, perfect, and imperfect tense-forms as well do not indicate _time_. Only context can lexeme can inform us on temporality. The future is the single exception--and even in the future tense-form there is some doubt that it indicates a future "time." Tense-forms indicate _aspect_, not time and kind of action.

    I refer you to the Greek grammars of Porter, Campbell, Decker, Mckay, et al. for studies in verbal aspect.

    Joel 2:31, Matthew 24, Luke 21 are consistent with the 6th seal--it is the celestial sign that the wrath of God is impending.


  12. Thanks again, Alan. I think that a look at such grammars will at least help clarify terminology for such conversations as this. Your first paragraph challenges Greek teachers in their presentation of these things on many levels. The difference between "time" and "aspect" seems like more of a philosophical discussion.

    That Joel 2:31, Matthew 24, Luke 21, and the sixth seal are "consistent with" one another is granted. That this means they are "the same as" one another, or that all of these are identically parallel passages, does not necessarily follow.

  13. Pastor Keith,

    Thank you for sharing and working through the various comments. Reading your blog has been incredibly helpful in allowing me sort through the piles of information I am currently shifting through. I am in the process of writing a defense for a pre-trib rapture in my prophetics class and I certainly feel blessed to come from such a strong Biblically based background. Thank you for your dedication of teaching the Bible.

    -Lindsey Fornwalt