The Church is not Appointed Unto Wrath
Copyright 2010 by Raul E. Lopez, MD, MDiv
A similar but slightly different objection has to do with a verse which states that the church is not "appointed unto wrath" (I Thessalonians 5:9.)
8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
Now, the subject of the general context of these verses is the day of the Lord (5:2); however, the immediate context is "the hope of salvation" (v. 8.) There is no way to get around the fact that ultimately, the wrath of God is poured out upon the wicked in the Lake of Fire. Anything which we can possibly experience on Earth pales in comparison with the horrors of hell. This is a fact which many Christians forget, for if we truly understood how horrible hell is, we would show more compassion for the lost. Therefore, when the wrath of God is mentioned in the context of spiritual salvation, one has to assume that a contrast is being drawn between heaven and hell unless proven otherwise.
However, for the sake of argument, let us assume that the term ‘wrath' is a technical term that refers specifically to God's Earthly punishment upon unbelievers to destroy and remove from the scene hardened sinners who are obstacles to the salvation of others. Paul appears to use the term this way in his epistles to the Romans. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;" (1:18). The word ‘hold' actually means to hold down or to suppress. Using this definition, then it would appear that if the seventieth week is, indeed, a period of God's wrath upon all the inhabitants of the world, a strong case might be made that the church could not be present to experience this wrath. Even this argument has a number of holes in it, because the wrath might be localized or the church might be somehow protected. However, the weakest part of this assumption is the part about the whole seventieth week being the wrath of God. A detailed look at the use of the word ‘wrath' in the book of Revelation indicates that God's wrath consists of the seven vial judgments and the battle of Armageddon. Let us now look at the usage of this term in that book.
The term ‘wrath' appears in the book of Revelation 13 times (6:16,17; 11:18; 12:12; 14:8,10,19; 15:1,7; 16:1,19; 18:3; 19:5). In order to better understand the promise concerning our not being appointed unto wrath it is important to look at these passages, some quickly, some in detail. Of these thirteen passages, one refers to the devil's wrath (12:12) and two refer to the wrath of Babylon's fornication (14:8; 18:3). It is interesting that Babylon is destroyed at the middle of the seventieth week "And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire (17:6)) so her wrath operates only in the first half, the beginning of troubles. The devil is cast from heaven in the midpoint (12:6), so his "great wrath" (12:12) begins at the midpoint and continues to the end, through the great tribulation. This by itself seems to indicate that the first half of the seventieth week represents Babylon's wrath and the second half represents the devil's wrath. God's wrath comes at the end. The church is not exempt from human and demonic attacks. In fact we are promised persecution"Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (I Timothy 3:12) and "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33b).
The other ten passages refer to the outpouring of God's Earthly wrath. Two references to the wrath of God appear in chapter fourteen of Revelation. One of these (14:10) identifies the recipients of the wrath of God. It describes them as those who receive the mark of the beast and worship his image. The context of this verse (Revelation 14:9-11) states:
9 And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive [his] mark in his forehead, or in his hand,
10 The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:
11 And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.
This passage is a warning to those who might receive the mark of the beast and worship the antichrist. This, by its very nature places the outpouring of the wrath of God at a point in time after the imposition of the mark of the beast. This implementation of the mark probably occurs progressively throughout the second half of the seventieth week, which places the pouring out of God's wrath at the end of the seventieth week. This passage is also interesting in that it identifies two aspects or stages to the wrath of God. One is that which is "poured without mixture into the cup of his indignation" (v 10,) and the other is the torment of "fire and brimstone" (v:11). The first phrase might be referring to the bowl or cup judgments which are described in the following chapter of the book of revelation will be discussed below. However, the latter statement justifies the argument presented earlier that ultimately, the wrath of God is poured out in the lake of fire. Therefore, Paul's statement in I Thessalonians 5:9 could very well have this in mind and not an earthly event. However, we will continue our analysis of where in time the book of Revelation places the pouring out of God's Earthly wrath.
The last part of the chapter contains the next reference to the wrath of God (Revelation 14:19) and describes two harvests:
14 And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud [one] sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.
15 And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.
16 And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
17 And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
18 And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.
19 And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast [it] into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
20 And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand [and] six hundred furlongs.
It is interesting that this passage about the two harvests is immediately preceded by a blessing to the saints. This blessing seems to introduce the two harvests, so these harvests seem as though they are supposed to be a source of inspiration and comfort for all saints especially for those who are about to give their life for their savior. The blessing states: "Here is the patience of the saints: here [are] they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed [are] the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them." (14:12-13.) The first harvest, is "the harvest of the Earth" (v15) and is performed by one "like unto the Son of man" (v. 14.) The proximity of this blessing with the first harvest suggests that the term "harvest of the Earth" probably refers to a resurrection of those "dead which die in the Lord" mentioned shortly before (v. 13). The reason the "dead which die in the Lord" are blessed is that they will soon be resurrected. This harvest is not a preparation for the second harvest because this harvest is completely finished in verse 16 "and the earth was reaped."
The first harvest, that of the Earth, appears to be distinct from the next harvest, that of "the clusters of the vine of the earth" (v. 18) which follows it. The vine of the Earth might represent the world system. This imagery seems to evoke a contrast to the vine of Christ which is the church (John 15). This judgment is initiated by the angel of fire (v. 18) and refers clearly to the battle of Armageddon (v. 20). The area where this battle takes place is called the "the great winepress of the wrath of God" (v. 20) which means that the destruction of these forces is one important expression of the outpouring of God's wrath. This battle takes place at the end of the seventieth week immediately after Jesus Christ returns and plants His feet on the mount of Olives (see Zechariah 13-14).
Therefore, we see that another event which is called an expression of the wrath of God also occurs at the end of the seventieth week at the coming of Christ and is preceded by what appears to be a resurrection. Might this not be the resurrection that accompanies the rapture of the church?
Another of the thirteen references identifies another recipient of God's wrath " And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath" (16:19.) This time the recipient is Babylon the Great, which is probably a city different from the city Mystery Babylon which is destroyed in the middle of the seventieth week. This distinction will be discussed soon.
We have discussed seven of the thirteen verses in the book of Revelation which mention the wrath of God. There remain the most important six verses. Of these, three identify a group of judgments with the wrath of God, and another three are found in two verses which comment on the timing of this wrath. We will leave the last group to the end because these two verses are among those most commonly cited by Pretribulationalists as support for their position. We will see that their argument lies on shaky ground.
The book of Revelation does call certain judgments the wrath of God. These judgments are the seven bowl or vial judgments which are described in the chapters which follow the trumpet judgments and the two harvests. The vials are containers, and their content is pure unadulterated wrath. "And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God" (15:1,) "And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever" (15:7,) and "And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth" (16:1.) If one is looking for an event or period of time identified as the wrath of God, this is it, along with the battle of Armageddon.
So far, the seven verses which we have examined which speak of the wrath of God, identify Babylon and the worshipers of the beast as the recipient of God's wrath and identify the seven vials and the battle of Armageddon as the events during which God's wrath is poured out. These two event seem to be closely tied together. It is clear that the battle of Armageddon occurs either shortly before or shortly after the second coming of Christ, or perhaps straddles His comming. The vial judgments also appear to occur at the end of the seventieth week. In the book of Revelation they are placed after the seals and trumpet judgments in terms of the literary order. That is, as one reads through the book one first comes across the seals, then the trumpets, and then the vials. There is no reason not to believe that this literary order also implies a chronological order. These judgments also closely follow the two harvests in literary order. The two harvests are in a parenthetical section so it is harder to imply a strict chronology from this logical order, but it at least suggests some sort of chronological proximity. As we saw, the fist harvest is probably the resurrection of believers and the second is the gathering of the armies for the battle of Armageddon. Both of these events occur at the end of the seventieth week.
Everything we have seen so far places the outpouring of the wrath of God at the very end of the seventieth week. Therefore, even if the passage in I Thessalonians 5 can be correctly interpreted to mean that the church will not be physically present on Earth during the outpouring of God's earthly wrath, that interpretation only excuses her from the very end of the seventieth week, not the totality of the seventieth week. However, we are dealing with words, not technically defined and universally accepted terms, names or titles. Words often have fluid and multiple meanings. Therefore, Paul, in his epistle, could very well be using the term wrath to refer to the lake of fire, something technically different than the outpouring of God's wrath described by John in the Apocalypse, as has been discussed.
There are three verses which in English seem to imply that the wrath of God encompasses the totality of the seventieth week.
"And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" (6:16-17,) and "And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth" (11:18.) Verse 6:17 is often interpreted to mean "for the great TIME PERIOD of his wrath HAS come." The day of his wrath is interpreted to signify the whole seven years of the seventieth week. Calling seven years a day is an example of the very non literal way in which some people who call themselves literalists interpret passages of scriptures. If the Bible calls something a day, then it should be taken to mean something less than 48 hours unless the context clearly shows it to mean something else. We cannot automatically assume that a day is seven years.
Of more importance, is the meaning of the verb translated "is come." The Greek word here is ‘eilthon' which is the word for ‘come' in the Aorist tense. Unfortunately for English speakers, the Aorist tense does not exist in the English language. Doctors H. E. Dana and J. R. Mantey, authors of a textbook on Greek Grammar commonly used in conservative seminaries and Bible colleges, take some space in that grammar to discuss the description of the Aorist tense given by two other older experts on Greek Grammar:
"Robertson calls attention to the difficulty of obtaining an accurate translation of the aorist. To attempt to translate it invariably by the simple past of the English would, in the majority of cases, do violence to the real shade of meaning intended to be conveyed. We should take into consideration the significance of the tense, find its relation to the context, consider the nature of the verbal idea, decide upon the resultant meaning, and select the English idiom which will most nearly represent that meaning. Probably in no point have translators made more blunders than they have in rendering the aorist. Moulton regards the matter as "so important that no apology is needed for an extended inquiry." He proves his sincerity in this statement by devoting six pages to a discussion of the question (M. 135-140). He gives chief attention to the relation of the aorist to the English simple past and perfect. There are also instances in which the English past-perfect best represents the aorist (cf. Mt. 22:34). No better equipment for interpretation can be secured than an adequate understanding of this tense." (A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, pp. 199-200.)
This, of course, does not mean that the Greek Aorist tense can mean anything, it only means that it is difficult to reproduce its exact meaning using one or two English words. The Aorist is a past tense which focuses on the totality of the action. It has many uses, and it has different shades of meaning depending on its context. One interesting and unique use of the Aorist is called "the Dramatic Aorist." Doctors Dana and Mantey describe this use of the Aorist in the following way.
"The aorist may be used for stating a present reality with the certitude of a past event. This idiom is a device for emphasis. It is commonly used of a state which has just been realized, or a result which has just been accomplished, or is on the point of being accomplished . . . Now is the Son of man glorified. Jn. 13:31. . . Moulton thinks that "we have probably to do here with one of the most ancient uses of the aorist" (M. 135), and Robertson agrees describing this idiom as "possibly the oldest use of the tense" ( R. 841)."
The example given in this quote has an interesting context which sheds some light on the meaning of the passage we are analyzing. John writes about the events surrounding the departure of Judas from the upper room: "He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night. Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him" (John 13:30-31). By leaving, Judas had set in motion an unstoppable sequence of events which would result in Jesus and the Father being glorified. Therefore, John uses the broad past tense reflected by the Greek Aorist to describe the certainty with which Jesus expresses that future result. This also seems the most natural way to interpret the word translated "is come" in Revelation 6:17 and 11:18. When the sixth seal is opened a sequence of events is set in motion which even a casual observer immediately recognizes will result in a calamity which can only be considered to be the wrath of God.
One example of an event which would fulfill these conditions is the discovery of a relatively large asteroid or comet which is on a certain collision course towards the Earth, or the determination that a previously discovered asteroid or comet is now certain to strike the Earth or is no longer capable of being deflected. Since such a collision is sure to cause the near extinction of all life on Earth, an unbeliever living during that time could only conclude that God, if He exists, hates mankind or is very angry with it. The timing of this extremely rare event during a time when there is a vicious, on going, persecution of those who believe in the God of the Bible will help convince such an unbeliever that there is, indeed such a God and that He is, indeed, very upset by the actions of the majority of humanity.
If the unbeliever thinks that the wrath of God is fully displayed by impacting a large meteor into the Earth he has a surprise in store. God is much angrier than that. This fact is known to the twenty four elders around the throne of God in heaven. Some time later, when the seventh trumpet sounds, before the pouring of the seven vials of wrath, they say "And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth" (Revelation 11:18). The seventh seal sets in motion a series of events which bears witness to the inhabitants of the Earth that God is about to pour out His wrath upon the Earth. These events are not in themselves the wrath of God, but bear witness to the fact that God is angry. The seventh trumpet, on the other hand, sets in motion a series of events which results in the actual pouring out of the wrath of God in the seven vial judgments. Mankind did not repent of their sins even after calamities created by the impact of a large comet described in the trumpet judgments. The passage describing the sixth trumpet closes with this sad conclusion: "And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts" (Revelation 9:20-21). This is reminiscent of the passage which comments on the captivity of Israel in (II Kings 17):
13 Yet the LORD testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, [and by] all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments [and] my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets.
14 Notwithstanding they would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the LORD their God.
15 And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that [were] round about them, [concerning] whom the LORD had charged them, that they should not do like them.
16 And they left all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made them molten images, [even] two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.
17 And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.
18 Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only.
19 Also Judah kept not the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made.
20 And the LORD rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight.
In spite of the fact that God made his displeasure clear during the seventieth week and sent His children as His witnesses, mankind continued in its sin, slew God's witnesses and snubbed their noses at His chastisement. This results in the certain and total destruction of those who persist in their rebellion against God. These will be gathered into a valley in northern Israel and squashed like bugs and their souls will be thrown into an eternal lake of fire. That is the wrath of God, that is what the Church of Christ will escape.
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