I can remember reading Marv Rosenthal’s book, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, for the first time. I was fascinated by this presentation of end time events which I hadn’t read anywhere else. I “devoured” it reading some portions several times. I can remember shortly after thinking, “I believe in a Sixth Seal, Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church.” I had already been studying end times Bible passages searching for answers, but everything I was reading in the scriptures contradicted the Pre-Trib rapture notes I had in all my Bibles.
I also remember reading about Rosenthal’s presentation of the parallel between the birth pains of Matthew 24:4-8 and the first four seals in Revelation 6. I thought it was interesting and compelling, and for quite some time, I believed in that parallel seeing that those two sets of events occurred within the same time frame. Later, on a discussion board, one guy was arguing against that parallel while several others supported the view that Rosenthal presents in his book on page 151. Part way through the discussion, I realized that there was a lot more to this issue than what was presented in Rosenthal’s book.
To be sure, the celestial signs of Matthew 24:29 are the same as those that occur when the sixth seal is opened in Revelation 6:12-14. These celestial signs occur after the great tribulation and function as a harbinger for the coming of the Son of Man and the Day of the LORD. The reaction of the nations in Matthew 24:30 is a direct parallel of the reaction of the men of the earth in Revelation 6:15-17. The Greek word kopto, which in this case means to wail or lament, is used in Matthew 24:30; and in Revelation 1:7 it is also used to describe the reaction of all kindreds of the earth when every eye sees Him coming with the clouds. It only makes sense that Revelation 6:15-17 is describing that lamentation because every eye can see Him coming. This also has a parallel in Matthew 24:30 where it states, “they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven…” In Matthew 24:31 the elect are gathered from one end of heaven to the other. Mark 13:27 also includes the phrase “from the uttermost part of the earth.” The parallel in Revelation is that immediately after this there is a great multitude before the throne of God that has come out from the great tribulation, see Revelation 7:9-17. That would show that in both Matthew 24:29-31 and Revelation 6:12-7:17 we have an account of the celestial signs, then every eye sees Christ, then the nations mourn and wail, then the rapture occurs.
I mention all of this up front to show that I believe there are parallels between the events of the Olivet Discourse and the events described in the book of Revelation. I also show the basic foundation for the Pre-Wrath Rapture in the paragraph above. The great tribulation begins at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week; it is cut short before the end of Daniel’s 70th week by the celestial signs, the coming of Christ, and the rapture of the church; then after this comes the Day of the LORD when the wrath of God is poured out upon the ungodly. I also mention this to show that the birth pains/seals parallel is not a necessary component of the Pre-Wrath Rapture. It is a side issue and can be debated without affecting the integrity of the Pre-Wrath position.
Here is Rosenthal’s chart to show how he views the two passages as parallels. He believes that the events of Matthew 24:4-8 and Revelation 6:1-8 both occur during the first half of Daniel’s 70th week.
|THE LORD’S DESCRIPTION OF THE 70TH WEEK||THE APOSTLE JOHN’S DESCRIPTION OF THE 70TH WEEK|
|“For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:5).||THE FIRST SEAL is the white horse and rider. He is understood to be false religion personified in the Antichrist who conquers by deception (Rev. 6:1-2).|
|“And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matt. 24:6-7a).||THE SECOND SEAL is the red horse and rider. He is given a sword and has power to conquer through war (Rev. 6:3-4).|
|“And there shall be famines” (Matt. 24:7b).||THE THIRD SEAL is the black horse and rider. He is given a scale to measure the food supply. He will bring famine (Rev. 6:5-6).|
|“And pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matt. 24:7c-8).||THE FOURTH SEAL is the pale horse and rider. He represents death and pestilence. He kills with sword, hunger, and beasts of the earth (Rev. 6:7-8).|
There is very little explanation in Rosenthal’s presentation. In his article titled Opening the Seals of Revelation, published in Zion’s Fire magazine, Vol. 19, NO. 5 (September-October 2008), he goes into a little more detail, but not much. For the most part, Rosenthal is just assuming this parallel. Now let’s look at the text and see what Matthew 24:4-8 has to say about these birth pains.
The Birth Pains
Matthew 24:4-8 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
The disciples are asking about a sign for (#1) the coming of Jesus Christ and for (#2) the end of the age. People can debate about the destruction of the temple all they want; it is obvious in Christ’s response to the disciples that he is addressing those two issues here in Matthew. I think it is important first of all to examine what Christ is commanding here in this section. #1- Do not be deceived. #2- Be not troubled, or do not raise a false alarm. #3- Because the end is not yet. The disciples have asked for a sign and Christ is giving a list of things not to be alarmed at because they are not signs of the end or of His coming.
In practical terms, Christ is saying, when a false Christ comes, don’t be deceived. When you hear about a war, it’s not a sign of the end. When nations rise up against each other and empires change hands, when famines, pestilences, and earthquakes happen, note that these are the beginning of birth pains. Earthquakes are not a sign of the end, yet I see so many people on alert when an earthquake occurs. I even see people drastically misquoting this passage. They say, “The Bible says that earthquakes are a sign of the end of the world.” That’s simply not true. They are the beginning birth pains and that is all.
So when will these birth pains occur? Rosenthal and others believe that the things in this list start at the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week. There is no proof for that in this passage. In fact, Christ distances all these things from the end of the age. The beginning of birth pains happen, but don’t raise a false alarm because the end is not yet. Let’s look at another passage which describes birth pains and see a parallel there.
Romans 8:18-23 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
This passage in Romans 8 describes birth pains which were occurring during Paul’s day. Creation is under bondage because of the sinfulness of man. Once the true sons of God step forward to rule over creation, that bondage will be over. But for now, all of creation is groaning in pains of child birth. This is an ongoing condition of creation. This passage in Romans doesn’t say it won’t get worse, but these birth pains were not future according to the Apostle Paul. In like manner, the birth pains in Matthew 24:4-8 have been occurring throughout history. They may get worse, just like birth pains tend to do, the closer we get to the end. This would be the reason for Christ saying that these ongoing birth pains are the beginning birth pains. But there is no beginning point that Christ gives for when they begin.
It is interesting to note the use of the word throeo in Matthew 24:6, translated troubled in KJV, frightened in NASB, and alarmed in ESV. It only occurs three times in the scriptures. Two of them are parallels in the Olivet Discourse, the other appearing in Mark 13:7. It is the third that should make Pre-Wrathers sit up and take notice. In II Thessalonians 2:2, Paul is instructing believers to not be falsely alarmed about the Day of the LORD. The idea is that believers are not to cry aloud, be frightened, or sound an alarm that the Day of the LORD has come because it will not happen until after the apostasy and the revealing of the man of sin, see II Thessalonians 2:1-3. The instruction in Matthew 24:4-8 is the same, and Paul may have been modeling his instruction after Christ’s very words. When earthquakes happen, do not sound an alarm about Christ’s coming. When wars happen, do not be frightened that the coming of Christ is near. Famines, pestilences, false Christs, none of these things are signs of the end.
The question should be asked, are we seeing these things now? Were the disciples seeing these things in their day? Will we continue to see these things in the future? The answer to all these questions is “yes”. When the dearth of Acts 11:27-30 began, they knew it was not to be associated as a sign that Christ would return. Instead, they fed the poor and continued their ministry. When Titus of Rome marched against Jerusalem, they followed Christ’s instructions, left Jerusalem, and continued to preach the gospel. They knew Jesus Christ was not yet returning. We shouldn’t be sensationalizing things that are not signs of the end, like earthquakes, famines, and wars. All these things have been occurring all throughout history and will continue to happen.
The Persecution and the Great Persecution
Let’s start this section where I have some common ground with Rosenthal and other Pre-Wrathers. Beginning with Matthew 24:15 we have a description of the abomination of desolation and the ensuing great tribulation which occurs at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week. Matthew 24:15-28 specifically describes that period of time, note that the church will go through it. Only after the great tribulation will the church be raptured before the wrath of God at the time when the elect are gathered in Matthew 24:31.
What do we make of the persecution and tribulation described in Matthew 24:9-14? There are many who believe that this persecution describes the great tribulation even before Christ mentions the abomination of desolation. I believe that this tribulation mentioned here is ongoing persecution for the church even before the great tribulation. There are three basic reasons why this is the more compelling view. #1- Christ has already warned of persecution for association with the name of Jesus Christ when the 12 were first commissioned in Matthew 10. #2- The use of the word “then” in Matthew 24:9 links it to the same time frame as the ongoing birth pains. #3- The time frame is the entire scope of the preaching of the gospel from that time until the end of the age.
#1- Matthew 10 is one of the most significant passages in the gospels concerning the preaching of the gospel and persecution. Many of the verses in this chapter are paralleled in the Olivet Discourse. In this passage, Jesus promised them that the disciples would be hated of all men for the sake of His name. He also foretold that the one who endures to the end would be saved. Both of these sayings are also in the Olivet Discourse. He also foretold that family members would betray each other and that the preaching of the gospel would actually divide some families rather than unite them. If you really want to do a parallel study, compare Matthew 10:17-22 with Luke 21:12-17 noting that Luke 21 is the precursor to the Olivet Discourse. The fact is that the persecution that Jesus is describing in Matthew 24:9-14 is ongoing persecution (not limited to the great tribulation at the end of the age) which was already promised back in Matthew 10. Other New Testament scriptures which show ongoing persecution for all believers are Acts 14:22, II Timothy 3:12, and I Peter 4:12-14. So rather than separate Matthew 24:9-14 to describe an end time group of people suffering, this is describing persecution for all believers because of the blatant parallel with Matthew 10. Note that because of the continuity between Matthew 24:9-14 and the elect which suffer the great tribulation in Matthew 24:21-24, we can safely say it is the same group of people that are suffering the persecution, namely disciples of Jesus Christ, better known now as the church.
#2- Jesus states as He transitions from talking about birth pains throughout history to persecution for His disciples that they are essentially occurring during the same time frame. He states, “Then,” meaning at that time. So whenever the birth pains are occurring, which is all throughout history, disciples of Christ should expect persecution. Notice there is no mention of any transition to some end times scenario yet in Matthew 24. Christ warns against people saying that false Christs, wars, or earthquakes are signs of the end. Now He tells His followers to expect persecution for believing on His name. It is interesting that some who believe in the birth pains/seals parallel would actually concede this point. The problem is that they use circular reasoning to determine that both the birth pains and the persecution of Matthew 24:9-14 are occurring during Daniel’s 70th week. It goes something like this. “How do you know that the birth pains are occurring during the first half of Daniel’s 70th week?” Answer, “Oh, that’s easy. Because of the word ‘tote’ which means at that time. Since the birth pains are linked to the great tribulation, we know that those birth pains are occurring right before that.” Then the second half goes something like this, “How do you know that the persecution spoken of in Matthew 24:9-14 is the great tribulation and not ongoing persecution throughout the church age?” Answer, “Simple. It states ‘at that time’ so we know that the persecution in Matthew 24:9-14 is the great tribulation because it is happening in conjunction with the birth pains.” There is nothing in either Matthew 24:4-8 or Matthew 24:9-14 to suggest that either occurs within the confines of Daniel’s 70th week. It is only when we arrive at the sign of the abomination of desolation that we know that Christ is describing the second half of Daniel’s 70th week. There is very little in scripture about the first half of Daniel’s 70th week except the confirming of a 7 year covenant. That is conspicuously absent from the context.
#3- Throughout this persecution and tribulation described in Matthew 24:9-14, Christ states that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the entire world. Now maybe some dispensationalists would like to separate this preaching of the gospel from the gospel that the church is preaching right now simply because of the phrase “gospel of the kingdom”. I’m not a dispensationalist so I don’t give two definitions for the gospel within the same book. If you turn to Matthew 28:18-20, it is universally accepted that this gospel here is the gospel that the church is to preach in the here and now. This gospel is to be preached until the end of the age, and so is the gospel mentioned in Matthew 24:14. It states that this gospel must be preached in all the world, and then shall the end come. What end? The end of the age, of course. Remember the question the disciples asked at the beginning? What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? Christ is still talking generally about conditions until the end of the age and not a specific sign until He mentions the abomination of desolation in Matthew 24:15. Here it states that the gospel must be preached throughout the entire world and after that period of time the end of the age will come. So why would we make two different gospels and two different ends of the age? They must be the same. Again, Matthew 24:9-14 is describing persecution for the word of God as the gospel is being preached all throughout history until the end of the age. That’s the plain, common-sense view.
Before I examine the first four seals, I want to lay down a handful of principles that most Pre-Wrathers adhere to. #1- The revealing of the man of sin mentioned in II Thessalonians 2:3-4 occurs at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week at the same time as the abomination of desolation. #2- When the man of sin sits in the temple showing the world that he is God as described in II Thessalonians 2:4, this is further insight into the abomination of desolation. #3- The Satanic power, signs, and lying wonders described in II Thessalonians 2:8-10 occur after the man of sin is revealed at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week. #4- The antichrist is Satanically empowered for 42 months beginning at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week, see Revelation 13:2, 5-7. I hope you noticed the theme in all of those principles which pinpoint the timing of the antichrist with the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week (which is exactly 3 ½ years after that final 7 year period begins at the end of the age.)
So when we come to the first seal where most Pre-Wrathers are saying that this represents the antichrist, why would we place this at the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week? If this is the antichrist going forth to conquer, we should place this at the midpoint. If the first four seals all represent some type of Satanic empowerment for the antichrist, this belongs to the period of time after the antichrist has been revealed. Above in Rosenthal’s chart, he states his belief that at the first seal the antichrist is conquering by deception. I remind readers of one of the commonly accepted principles concerning the antichrist that his ability to supernaturally deceive is limited to the second half of Daniel’s 70th week. Further, it is arbitrary to place the first seal at the beginning of the 7 year period because of association with the antichrist and even runs contrary to the belief that at the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week that the antichrist is making a peace treaty. (Not all agree with this but Rosenthal teaches it so I make it a point.) So how can the antichrist be making a peace treaty while he is going forth conquering?
Allow me to present my view on the first four seals. Each of these seals represents a facet of the antichrist’s authority. The living creatures are calling out “Come!” to each rider as they ride forth. This supernatural power is allowed by Christ to arise here on the earth. In short, the actions that are occurring are Conquering, Killing, Food Rationing, and Death. This power is manifested at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week. There is no reason to believe that the antichrist’s authority is revealed before that time. Every other passage links it to the abomination of desolation and the final 42 months. Why would this be any different? Some may say that it is implied that the antichrist is the one making the peace treaty at the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week so he must be “on the scene” but that does not in any way address the scriptures or principles above. The antichrist receives his supernatural power at the midpoint for a period of 42 months. There is no way around that.
To say that the antichrist has supernatural power at the first seal should immediately steer us to the idea that the first seal is opened at the midpoint. The second seal represents peace being taken from the earth, and it has been pointed out that in the Greek it states “the peace” is taken from the earth. This may refer to the false peace, or false peace treaty previously established at the onset of Daniel’s 70th week. Again, this would place it at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week. Food rationing is occurring at the third seal. Some would say this is famine. However, looking at the passage it should be clear that the primary focus is the authority over food control signified by the scales and establishing the food prices. Yes, these prices are high. Does the passages state why the prices are high? No, it does not. It could be because of famine. Then again, it could be because some authoritative figure is in charge now and is manipulating the food supply of the world. The voice calls out that the oil and wine are not to be hurt. These luxury items are available, but the average person who wants bread is going to pay more. If we see a parallel with antichrist’s authority here, it should remind us that the false prophet will not allow anyone to buy or sell without the mark of the beast, see Revelation 13:16-17. Again, this would be an event associated with the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week rather than the first half. The fourth seal shows that there is authority over one fourth of the earth to kill with whatever means necessary. Death rides forth and can kill with the sword, starvation, and wild animals. I would again say this coincides with antichrist’s authority, specifically during the great tribulation. He will have supernatural (Satanic) power to put people to death however he chooses. That authority is expanded over one fourth of the earth. Briefly on the fifth seal, this shows the result of all the deaths throughout all history including those during the great tribulation. The first four seals have been broken resulting in great tribulation on the earth. Now the church is crying out for vengeance. “Just a little longer,” they are told.
Let’s look at the parallel again. This time let’s see if the birth pains of Matthew 24:4-8 really match up with the first four seals. The following is not Rosenthal’s chart, but my substitutions of what the passages actually say to contrast my view with his view.
|THE LORD’S DESCRIPTION OF THE BIRTH PAINS||THE APOSTLE JOHN’S DESCRIPTION OF THE FIRST FOUR SEALS|
|Many false Christs throughout history. (Matthew 24:5).||THE FIRST SEAL is the white horse and rider. This is the one final Antichrist who conquers (Rev. 6:1-2).|
|Do not raise a false alarm when you see wars and rumors of wars. Nation will rise against nation but the end is not yet. (Matt. 24:6-7a).||THE SECOND SEAL is the red horse and rider. He is given a sword, takes the peace from the earth, and has power to conquer through war (Rev. 6:3-4).|
|“And there shall be famines” (Matt. 24:7b).||THE THIRD SEAL is the black horse and rider. He is given a scale to control the food supply. He will exercise authority over food prices (Rev. 6:5-6).|
|“And pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matt. 24:7c-8).||THE FOURTH SEAL is the pale horse and rider. He represents death by sword, hunger, and beasts. Pestilence is not in the text. (Rev. 6:7-8).|
You can see how the parallel breaks down once you look at the actual text. Let me say though, that there is nothing preventing us from seeing these first four seals as birth pains. These types of things have existed all throughout history, but are now intensified as we draw closer to the end of the age, being in the last half of Daniel’s 70th week. The conquering, the war, perhaps famine, all these things will get more intense as we draw close to the end. But Christ’s intent in describing the birth pains was not to describe a progression of events during the first half of Daniel’s 70th week. He was describing events that are ongoing not to be confused with signs of the end.
Allow me one more paragraph (those that have made it this far) to show the actual parallels that exist between the Olivet Discourse and the seals of Revelation. The birth pains were occurring in the days of the early church. Many false Christs, wars, famines, earthquakes, and plagues have occurred throughout history. Persecution for the word of God and being associated with the name of Jesus Christ has occurred throughout church history as well. When we see, when the church sees, the abomination of desolation as described by Daniel the prophet, then the great persecution occurs. At the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week, which is when the abomination of desolation occurs, the first five seals on the scroll are broken revealing the antichrist in all of his despicable power. The great tribulation will begin at the midpoint in conjunction with the abomination of desolation. The deception that will occur during this time will be so great that if it were possible, the very elect, the disciples of Jesus Christ, would be deceived. Those that are martyred will be crying out to God for vengeance before God. When the sixth seal is broken, that will end the great tribulation and trigger the events surrounding the coming of Jesus Christ. Those events are described in Matthew 24:29-31 and Revelation 6:12-17.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman
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