The teaching of a pre-tribulation rapture has been taking quite a beating over the past couple decades. It comes from teachers that have abandoned ship and embraced the popular view which insists that the Church will go through the Tribulation. I, however, am not among this number.
This is not because you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Serious Christians do not stop learning until they are called Home, whether by death or by the rapture. This is not because I blindly follow pre-trib teachers. Some of the arguments that men use to defend this position are unsound and harm the very cause they are trying to help. This is not because I have never investigated the other positions. While several sound plausible at first investigation, they lack theological consistency and contain fatal flaws.
So why do I still believe in a pre-trib rapture? It would be far too much material to present all the reasons, so let us address the nature of the seals in Book of Revelation, one of several exegetical reasons for a pre-trib rapture.
The Nature of the Seals
Various versions of the pre-wrath rapture position and the pre-trib rapture position agree that the Church will not be on earth during the time of God’s wrath (eschatological judgment). But they disagree on when this time begins. Pre-tribulationalism observes that all of the visitations of the seventieth week are judgment. The pre-wrath advocates, on the other hand, insist that the first five seals are not judgment. They regard the persecution, wars, and famine which they introduce as more of the same man-caused problems that have roiled the world since the beginning of time. In keeping with this view, the pre-wrath rapture advocates typically locate the rapture at either the sixth seal or the seventh trumpet.
So who is correct? Are the first five seals judgment? I answer with a resounding, yes. This point is not that difficult to establish if we let the testimony of Scripture have a fair hearing in the court of theology.
First of all, the seals are qualitatively different than the man-caused problems that have plagued the world during the course of this age. Observe that only the Lamb is worthy to open the seals. No one else in heaven, or on earth, or under the earth is worthy to open them (Rev. 5). Man cannot open them and introduce their contents. Nor can the fallen angelic realm. Only the Lord Jesus Himself can open them. This is not more of the same man-caused problems that have occurred for the past 3500 years. This is a series of transcendent visitations appointed for the last times.
For instance, with the opening of the first seal, God removes His restraint on the mystery of iniquity and unleashes a strong delusion (2 Thess. 2:8-12)—a humanistic “messianic” delusion—that shall engulf the entire globe. This is retributive judgment. The world rejected the true Messiah who shed His own blood for the world, so God will send them an anti-messiah who will spill a river of blood.
The other four seals also involve God relinquishing the restraints that he has graciously exercised over wickedness and the mystery of iniquity throughout the age. This removal of restraint is not, as some have supposed, an argument against the seals being judgment. It is an argument that they are judgment. Make no mistake, this change from restrained evil to unrestrained evil is the qualitative difference between the non-eschatological visitations of this age and the eschatological visitations of the seals which shall be unleashed in the seventieth week. The seals introduce troubles far beyond those permitted during the course of the age.
Secondly, the Scriptures demonstrate a quantitative difference between the first five seals and the man-caused problems that have plagued the world during the course of this age. The fourth seal alone takes twenty-five percent of the world’s population. If we assume a population of eight billion, this would be a death toll of two billion. That is twenty times higher than the death toll for the most devastating war in the history of the world—World War II.
On top of this, the second seal brings a great sword which takes peace from the earth. If we assume that a meagre five percent of the world’s population is killed by this seal—likely an underestimate—that comes to another four hundred million lives, which is four times the death toll of World War II. And we have not even hazarded a guess for the death tolls that shall arise with the first seal, which is the rise of the antichrist to world domination (we know he conquers three of the ten toes), and the third seal, which is world-wide famine.
Furthermore, the fifth seal brings a time of great tribulation beyond anything that has been seen since the beginning of the world. It is worse in its intensity than Hitler’s persecution of the Jews, and it covers the whole-world, not merely Nazi-held territory. There is nowhere to run or hide.
Now those that oppose a pre-tribulation rapture cannot get rid of the fifth seal as a judgment of God by appealing to the distinction between persecution and judgment. While these are distinct ideas, they are not mutually exclusive. The antichrist’s persecution of the people of God is plainly described as war against the saints (Rev. 12:17; 13:7), a war that culminates with all the nations of the earth gathered against Jerusalem. In times past, God often used war and persecution against His people to judge them — queue up Babylon, the Philistines, and Assyria. In the last days, he will again employ these terrible trials against Israel as judgment.
The qualitative and quantitative differences between the normal course of troubles throughout this age and the visitations unleashed with the opening of the seals cannot be swept under the rug. The seals involve a removal of the divine restraint that characterizes this age. And they are vastly worse in their extent and degree, and much closer in their proximity, than the visitations mankind has faced in the centuries past. These facts are fatal to the pre-wrath rapture and every other rapture theory that challenges the pretribulation rapture. It is reckless, ad hoc exegesis to claim that the seals are not eschatological judgment.