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The "Pre-Wrath Rapture Teaching" Evaluated

- by R. Totten, MDiv - '99

Within the last ten years, a new teaching concerning the timing of the rapture, known as the "Pre-Wrath" rapture position, has been publicized. This position is presented in The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, by Marvin Rosenthal, and in The Sign (Crossway, '92), by Robert Van Kampen -----who are currently the two major proponents of this viewpoint.

In its favor, the pre-wrath rapture position correctly recognizes that the "Day of the Lord" begins soon after the end of the great tribulation, which is in agreement with the combined teachings of Matthew 24:29-31 along with Joel 2:30-31. In addition, the pre-wrath position is a return in a more scriptural direction (as compared to a pre-tribulational position), since the pre-wrath position recognizes that the Church (the body of Christ) will go through the time of the great tribulation on earth, during which it will face the persecutions of the Antichrist -----which is certainly the case, as is demonstrated elsewhere on this web-site. For those who read the scriptures using a normal, straight-forward (literal) hermeneutic, the pre-wrath view is a welcome recovery of some of the ground lost in the popularization of the pre-tribulational viewpoint, and (in fact) the Pre-Wrath position is essentially a sub-category of the Post-Tribulational rapture position. ----- However, on the other hand, some important scriptural ground has not been re-gained by adopting the pre-wrath view some of its failings will next be explained.

The "Parousia"

Similar to the pre-tribulational viewpoint, the pre-wrath teaching separates the time of the rapture by a period of months from the time of Christ's glorious 2nd coming to earth (when he starts his millennial reign). The pre-wrath position paints a picture of an initial phase of Jesus "coming" near the earth in a "fly-by" operation at his "Parousia" (right after the 6th seal), to rapture the church off of the earth to take it away to heaven for about 6 months or more (during which the trumpets of Rev. ch.8 & 9 occur, as well as the bowls of wrath), before Jesus later "comes" back in a final phase to actually stand on the Mt. of Olives and stay on earth for his millennial reign. -----In fact, Van Kampen's pre-wrath position portrays Jesus as coming and going to and from earth's vicinity several times in such near-earth "fly-bys" (during the time of "wrath" and "reclamation") before Jesus finally comes to land on the earth to set up his millennial kingdom (see Van Kampen's book The Sign, p.298, 340, & chart in back).

Like the pre-trib view, the pre-wrath teaching ignores the basic and straight-forward meaning of the word "Parousia," and renders it a somewhat muddled concept. However, a study of the Greek word "Parousia," as it is used in the New Testament, will give us a clearer and more consistent picture of Christ's Second Coming :

The New Testament Greek word "Parousia" (pronounced "pah-roo-SEE-ah"), when used concerning Christ, is a specialized or "technical" term, since it speaks "nearly always of his Messianic advent in glory to judge the world at the end of the age" (Greek-English Lexicon by Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, p.635); -----in fact, 16 of the 17 usages are like this. In English translations of the Bible, Christ's Parousia is usually translated as his "coming" or "presence," but it necessarily includes the idea of his gloirous "arrival" to earth in order to be personally with people on earth.

This word, "parousia," was used in NT times to indicate the coming of a ruler or official who was just arriving at outskirts of a city in order to be "present" with the people in that city. It never meant that the ruler merely drew near to the city, only to pass it by without entering in. This picture of "parousia" rules out the "fly-by" concept where the Lord does not continue his descent to complete his arrival to be present with people on earth.

Next, considering several verses which speak of Christ's Parousia, is highly informative on his Second Coming and the rapture.

In 1 Cor. 15:23, Paul brings out that the resurrection of believers in Christ will happen "at his Parousia" ("when he comes"). Then in 1 Thes. 4, where Paul describes the Parousia ("coming") of the Lord (v.15), we read that this is the time of the saint's resurrection and rapture (v.16,17). The resurrection and rapture of the saints (born again believers) is connected to, and is part of the Parousia.

Adding to this concept, historically, : "When a dignitary paid an official visit or parousia to a city in Hellenistic times, the action of the leading citizens in going out to meet him and escorting him on the final stage of his journey was called the apentesis..." (F.F.Bruce, in New Bible Commentary, '70, p.1159) (my emphasis).

In harmony with this historical picture, Paul states in 1Thess.4:17 that the resurrected and transformed saints will be caught up (raptured) to "meet (Gk=apentesis) the Lord in the air", in order to escort him on the last little portion of his arrival to earth at the Parousia (which is the glorious Second Coming and arrival to earth). ---If Jesus were to snatch these people away from the earth, it would not fit with the picture portrayed by these two Greek words, "parousia" and "apentesis". In 1 Thess. 3:13, it is because of Christ's catching up of believers to meet him in the air, followed immediately by their escorting (apentesis) of him as he completes his arrival to earth, that Paul says the Parousia (coming) of our Lord Jesus is "with all his holy ones," as he descends to the earth.

In 2 Thess. 2:8, Paul looks ahead to the end of the Great Tribulation as he mentions the destruction of the Antichrist "whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his Parousia (coming)." ...This verse clearly tells us that the Parousia (which includes the saint's resurrection and rapture) will be the powerful and glorious event of "splendor" which will destroy the Antichrist at the end of the Great Tribulation. Jesus also depicts his Parousia as glorious and powerful: "For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the Parousia of the Son of Man" (Mat. 24:27). The Parousia will be gloriously visible to the whole world. We should see it that way in our mind's eye.

-----So, it is clear from all of this, that the reign and authority of Antichrist will extend right up to, and be ended by, Christ's glorious Parousia. Any gap of 6 months or more in the middle of the Parousia is disruptive and nonsensical to the meaning of the Parousia event. The Parousia is Christ's powerful and glorious Second Coming -----during which the Antichrist is destroyed and the rapture of believers will also occur.

The "Epiphany"

The NT Greek word "Epiphany" means the glorious "visible appearance of the Lord Jesus on earth at the end" of the age (New Int'l. Dict. of N.T. Theology, Vol.3, Colin Brown, p.319) (my emphasis). To those ancient Greek-speakers and listeners, the basic connotation of this word "epiphany", is the glorious appearance of God on the earth, so that men actually see God standing there. This "epiphany" of Jesus can be nothing other than the glorious and visible post-tribulational Coming of Christ when he ends up standing on the Mount of Olives and on the earth.

In 2Thess.2:8, Paul declares that it is the "epiphany" of Christ's "parousia" which destroys the Antichrist. Therefore, combining these two terms in this verse, it is the time of Christ's glorious arrival (parousia) and epiphany (appearing) as the glorious Deity arriving to stand on earth which brings about the destruction of the Antichrist.

Since the rapture occurs at the time of the parousia (which is the word "coming" in 1Thess.4:15), along with the epiphany (2Thess. 2:8), ---the time of Antichrist's destruction is also the time of the rapture.

Next, we also read that Paul exhorts Timothy to "keep this commandment without spot or blame until the appearing (epiphany) of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Tim.6:14). Paul says to persevere faithfully until the big goal is reached : the post-trib "epiphany." Thus, we must logically deduce and realize that Timothy's (and the church's) struggle against sin and the flesh will not come to an end (by being glorified at the rapture) until the same time when the Antichrist is destroyed by Christ's glorious "epiphany" (as we saw in 2Thess. 2:8).

Therefore, in contradiction to the pre-wrath position, the church's rapture and glorification will not occur some 6 months prior to the day of Antichrist's destruction (as the pre-wrath rapture position teaches).

In addition, Paul tells Titus: "we wait for the blessed hope ----the glorious appearing (epiphany) of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13). Thus, the "blessed hope" we look to and wait for is not some secret disappearance 6 months before the destruction of Antichrist (as in the pre-wrath rapture teaching), but rather, our "blessed hope" is the glorious and visible epiphany of Christ's Coming to earth, at which time we will be raptured and the Antichrist will also be destroyed. There is no good scriptural reason to posit a longer period of 6 months or more between the rapture and the destruction of the Antichrist.

The Seals, Trumpets & Bowls

It is important to the pre-wrath position, that the Seals, Trumpets and Bowls of the book of Revelation run consecutively, however this is not necessarily the best way to envision their occurrence. Instead, there is good reason to believe that they run somewhat concurrently.

In his book, The Church and the Tribulation, (Zondervan, 1973), Robert Gundry brings out that in all three series ---the Seals (Rev.6), Trumpets (Rev.8-11), and Bowls of Wrath (Rev.16)--- the seventh item in each series occurs at the Second Coming of Christ. Gundry points out that this arrangement is favored by the "Semitic style of Revelation ...according to which the seals, trumpets, and bowls will find somewhat concurrent fulfillment." Also, the fact that later descriptions "add more detail is a well-recognized feature of narratival style in Semitic literature" (Gundry, p.75).

The above situation would be very much like leading up to the start of the New Year, by giving three series of seven things:

Now, the above three series run concurrently, and end together, even though they were described in separate and successive descriptions. This is analogous to the series in Revelation which describe the Seals, Trumpets and Bowls. We should realize that the Semitic literature used such methods of description. It is because of such a Semitic descriptive method, that when we come to the sixth seal of Revelation (Rev.6:12-14), we have just come out of the great tribulation (Mat.24:29-31), where the Seals and Trumpets are about all finished, and the wrath of the Lamb is about to begin (Rev.6:16,17). It is at this point that the rapture occurs (Mat.24:29-31) ---which is part of the parousia and epiphany of Christ--- while the bowls of the wrath of God take place, and could happen in less than a day.

In view of this very acceptable interpretation of the Scriptures, it is unnecessary to posit a more than six-month period between the rapture and the glorious return of Christ to the earth, as the Rosenthal/VanKampen pre-wrath position holds. Indeed, the word studies given above, steer us away from such a position.

More Word Studies and Issues

There are other pertinent word-studies that could be carried out, which would bring us to the same conclusions as the above word-studies of "parousia" and "epiphany", however, for the sake of time and brevity the reader is encouraged to also look at the studies of the Greek words "apokalypse" and "phaneroo," found in this web-site's article entitled "The Church, Tribulation and Rapture" (link is below).

Proponents of the pre-wrath position bring up other issues which we address on this site -----such as the Church being subject to God's wrath if it stays on earth during the trumpets----- where the answers also turn out to be essentially the same as those given to pre-tribulationists.


In several ways, the pre-wrath viewpoint (which puts the rapture after the great tribulation) is quite similar to the post-tribulational view, and is a welcome development as compared to the pre-tribulational view, -----but so far as the pre-wrath view portrays the coming of Christ as being split up into phases of "the rapture" and "the glorious" coming (and even other little "comings" inbetween), the pre-wrath viewpoint develops some of the same sorts of weaknesses and failings that pre-tribulationism (& mid-trib) has. It would seem apparent that if these problems are corrected, many who have been considering the pre-wrath view, will finally end up adopting the post-tribulational viewpoint.

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Link to Site With Pre-Wrath Position:

Current Events And End Times Prophecy - by Wes Peters

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Questions or Comments? :

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