Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Concerning the Meaning and Application of the Word Translated “Pardon” in the Concordant Literal New Testament

Note: The following article began as a footnote for an older article that I was in the process of updating (see part four of my study on the two evangels). However, the footnote began to get so lengthy that I decided it would make for a better stand-alone article. As it stands now, it could be considered an appendix to my articles on justification and the two evangels (which, for those who haven’t read the articles, may provide some helpful background information on the subject matter covered in this article).

According to A.E. Knoch (and those students of Scripture who have adopted his view on this subject), the word aphesis (“pardon” or “forgiveness”) and the word dikaiósis (“justification”) have mutually exclusive meanings, and refer to two irreconcilably different states or conditions. According to Knoch, “forgiveness” or “pardon” involves a blessing that is exclusively for saints outside of the body of Christ (e.g., those who constitute the “Israel of God”), while justification is a blessing that is exclusively for the saints in the body of Christ (at least, until the consummation, when all mankind will be justified). Although I do think there is an important difference between the pardon/forgiveness that is for believing Israelites and the justification of those in the body of Christ, I don’t think the difference is found in the inherent meaning of the word translated “pardon” and “forgiveness.”

Knoch seemed to assume that, because a believing Israelite could lose his or her “forgiveness” or “pardon” through unfaithfulness, the word aphesis must inherently refer to “a temporary respite which may be forfeited or withdrawn” (see, for example, Knoch’s remarks on Acts 13:38 on page 200 of his Concordant Commentary on the New Testament). Similarly, on pages 257-258 of The First Idiot in Heaven, Martin Zender contrasts pardon/forgiveness with justification by stating that, unlike justification, “pardon can be revoked” and “withdrawn,” and that its permanence “depends on the conduct of the one receiving it.”

I have tremendous respect and admiration for both A.E. Knoch and Martin Zender, and have greatly benefited from their teaching (having learned, and been confirmed in my understanding of, many important scriptural truths as a result of their labors). And although I think there is some truth to what both men have written concerning the pardon/forgiveness of believing Israelites and the justification of those in the body of Christ, I also think they have erred in seeing “pardon” and “justification” as mutually exclusive in meaning. I also believe that their understanding of “pardon”/“forgiveness” becomes highly problematic when we come to certain verses in which these words are applied to the saints in the body of Christ.

The main verses I have in mind as being especially problematic for the view referred to above are Acts 26:18, Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14. In each of these verses we find the word aphesis being used (which, again, is the same word used when the “pardon” or “forgiveness” of Israelites is in view). However, it is also clear that the sins and offenses which are said to be “pardoned” or “forgiven” in these verses are those which have been committed by saints in the body of Christ.

Let’s consider Acts 26:18 first (for context I’ll include the three verses preceding it).

Acts 26:15-18
Now the Lord said, “I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting.But rise and stand on your feet, for I was seen by you for this, to fix upon you before for a deputy and a witness both of what you have perceived and that in which I will be seen by you, extricating you from the people and from the nations, to whom I am commissioning you, to open their eyes, to turn them about from darkness to light and from the authority of Satan to God, for them to get a pardon of sins and an allotment among those who have been hallowed by faith that is in Me.

Notice that the “pardon of sins” is spoken of by Christ as something which would be received by those among the nations who would be saved through Paul’s apostolic ministry (i.e., those destined to be in the body of Christ). Either Christ understood what he was saying and spoke truthfully when he declared these words to Paul, or he didn’t. If he did, then it follows that those to whom Christ commissioned Paul (i.e., the nations) did, in fact, receive the “pardon of sins” by their faith in the evangel which Paul heralded to them. And if that’s the case, then the “pardon of sins” that Christ declared would be received by believing gentiles as a result of Paul’s commission is perfectly consistent with their being justified by faith. Any perceived inconsistency or contradiction must, therefore, be due to a misunderstanding of what “pardon of sins” actually means. In A.E. Knoch’s remarks on Christ’s words here (see page 221 of his commentary), we find no explanation as to how Christ’s use of the word “pardon” in Acts 26:18 can be reconciled with Knoch’s understanding of the meaning of the word “pardon.”

Let’s now consider Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14 (as with Acts 26:18, I’ve included some preceding verses for the sake of context):

Ephesians 1:3-8
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who blesses us with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ, according as He chooses us in Him before the disruption of the world, we to be holy and flawless in His sight, in love designating us beforehand for the place of a son for Him through Christ Jesus; in accord with the delight of His will, for the laud of the glory of His grace, which graces us in the Beloved: in Whom we are having the deliverance through His blood, the forgiveness of offenses in accord with the riches of His grace, which He lavishes on us; in all wisdom and prudence…”

Colossians 1:12-14
“…at the same time giving thanks to the Father, Who makes you competent for a part of the allotment of the saints, in light, Who rescues us out of the jurisdiction of Darkness, and transports us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in Whom we are having the deliverance, the pardon of sins…”

What’s interesting is that, in the immediate context of both Eph. 1:7 and Col. 1:14, Paul used two Greek words that were also used by Christ in Acts 26:15-18: the word translated “forgiveness”/“pardon” and the word translated “allotment” (see Col. 1:12 and Eph. 1:18). I strongly doubt that this is a mere coincidence, but I won’t press the issue here. What I do want to emphasize is that Paul used the word aphesis not once but twice in his “later epistles” in reference to the saints in the body of Christ. If the word aphesis really has the meaning that Mr. Knoch and others have claimed that it has, why would Paul so freely use it to refer to the present status of those who are in the body of Christ?

Knoch seems to be aware of there being at least a potential problem with Paul’s use of aphesis in Eph. 1:7, but I’m not entirely sure of what to make of his remarks on this verse. On page 289 of his commentary we read, “’Pardon’ of sins becomes forgiveness when associated with offenses” (emphasis his). It would appear that Knoch interpreted aphesis as meaning something different than “pardon” when associated with the word “offenses” (rather than “sins”) in Eph. 1:7. As I’ve agued elsewhere, however, I don’t think scripture supports the idea that “sins” and “offenses” are two separate (or separable) things; rather, they seem to be simply two ways of describing a single thing (Paul certainly seemed to use the words interchangeably in other contexts; see, for example, Romans 5:12-21). With no good reason to believe otherwise, I think it can be reasonably concluded that every “sin” is also an “offense” (in the scriptural sense of the word), and that every “offense” is also a “sin.” Apparently, whether Paul referred to something as one or the other simply depended on what he wanted to place the emphasis on. So for Knoch to try and give aphesis a different shade of meaning in Eph. 1:7 (by translating it “forgiveness” rather than “pardon”) simply because Paul used the word “offenses” rather than “sins” is, I believe, somewhat dubious and unhelpful (it's certainly not as "concordant" as it could've been!). Regardless of whether one wants to translate the word as “forgiveness” or “pardon,” the fact remains that Paul clearly had no problem with using the word aphesis in reference to those in the body of Christ.

Things get a little more complicated (unnecessarily so, I believe) when we come to Knoch’s comments on Colossians 1:13-14. Rather than taking the words of Paul at face-value and then simply reconsidering the meaning of aphesis in order to accord with its inspired usage by Christ and Paul, Knoch (working under the assumption that aphesis inherently and necessarily referred to a state that was “temporary” and which could be “withdrawn”) was forced to ascribe a figurative meaning to what Paul wrote. In his commentary on Col. 1:13-14 (see page 303), Knoch remarks as follows: “The kingdom of His Son is a figurative allusion to the kingdom of Christ. Messiah’s kingdom is literal and future and destroys and displaces earth’s kingdoms (Dan. 2:44). The kingdom of the Son here spoken of is a present spiritual power. We are not rescued from earth’s governments but from the powers of Darkness which direct and dominate them. The term “pardon” is borrowed from the kingdom phraseology to accord with this figure.”

In other words, Paul’s use of aphesis in Col. 1:14 was “figurative,” and simply an extension of his “figurative” usage of the word “kingdom” in verse 13. There are, I believe, a few problems with Knoch’s interpretation of Paul’s words here. First, it’s simply not the case that, when understood literally, the expression “kingdom of the Son of His love” (along with the expression “kingdom of God,” which refers to the same future kingdom during the eons to come) must refer exclusively to Christ’s kingdom on the earth (i.e., the kingdom which we’re told will be restored to Israel). Scripture is clear that, in addition to being on the earth, Christ’s kingdom will be established in the heavens and among the celestials, as well (Rev. 12:9-12), thus making the “kingdom of God” a future reality that pertains to the body of Christ just as much as it pertains to Israel (1 Cor. 6:9-10; 15:50; Eph. 5:5; Col. 4:11; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Tim. 4:18).

Since those in the body of Christ will, in fact, be enjoying an allotment in the kingdom of God (which, again, is the “kingdom of the Son of His love” during the eons), the only figurative language being used by Paul in v. 14 is his use of the present tense. But this can simply be understood as an example of the figure of speech prolepsis (which is fairly common in Paul’s letters, especially when Paul has in view the eonian allotment of those in the body of Christ). In any case, the mere fact that Paul’s “kingdom phraseology” in Col. 1:13 need not be understood as having anything to do with Israel completely undermines Knoch’s reason for ascribing a figurative meaning to Paul’s use of the word “pardon” in v. 14.

So if there’s no good reason to believe that Paul had in mind the kingdom of God on earth in Col. 1:13, was Paul’s use of the word aphesis in v. 14 merely a figurative, rhetorical flourish, thrown in as a somewhat random allusion to Israel’s “salvation program?” I don’t think so. I don’t think Paul intended his readers to understand his use of the term aphesis in a figurative way, because I don’t think Paul believed that the word aphesis meant what Knoch understood it to mean. Instead, I believe that the meaning of the word aphesis is simply neutral with regards to whether one’s deliverance from the consequences of one’s sins/offenses is to be understood as conditional and “probationary” in nature, or as unconditional and permanent. But if that’s the case, then what is the meaning of the word?

The word from which aphesis (FROM-LETTING) is derived is aphiemi (FROM-LET). Like aphiemi, the word aphesis conveys the idea of a person’s sins or offenses being “sent away” from them, and of God’s no longer reckoning their sins and offenses to them. Thus, for people’s sins/offenses to be “pardoned” or “forgiven” by God can simply be understood to mean that God is not reckoning their sins/offenses to them. He is, in other words, relating to them as if they’d never committed them. 

In support of this understanding of what it means to be “pardoned,” consider David’s words in Psalm 32:1-2: “Happy he whose transgression is lifted away, whose sin is covered over! Happy the human to whom Yahweh is not reckoning depravity, in whose spirit there is no deceit!”[1] When, in Romans 4:7-8, Paul quotes these verses from Psalm 32, he follows the Septuagint (LXX) and translates the Hebrew nâśâ' nâsâh (“lifted away”) with the word aphesis. It’s evident, then, that these verses refer to David’s happiness following the pardoning, or forgiveness, of his transgressions by God. What, exactly, this pardoned status involved is clear from the ideas that David linked together. It involved (1) a person’s transgressions being “lifted away” or “pardoned”; (2) their sin being “covered over”; and (3) Yahweh’s not reckoning depravity to a person.[2]

We find the same general idea expressed by David in Psalm 103:8-14:

Yahweh is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

Psalm 85:2-3 also seems to covey the idea that the pardon of sins involves God’s ceasing to reckon a person’s sins to them, and his ceasing to relate to them as if they had sinned: “You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. Selah
You withdrew all your indignation; you turned from your hot anger.”

It’s clear from other verses that for God to pardon/forgive someone’s sins involved his “blotting out” their sins from his sight (Neh. 4:5; Ps. 51:1, 9; Jer. 18:23; Isa. 43:25; 44:22; Acts 3:19) and his no longer remembering their sins (Jer. 31:34; Isa. 43:25; Ez. 33:16; Heb. 8:12). And this, I believe, involves nothing less than a deliverance from the negative consequences, or “penalty,” of one’s sins/offenses (which, as I’ve argued elsewhere, is ultimately death). 

The pardoning or forgiveness of sins has nothing inherently to do with a conditional state or status that can be “revoked” or “withdrawn” based on one’s conduct. The word aphesis does not, in itself, tell us why God is not reckoning one’s sin and offenses to a person, or whether or not there are any conditions that must be met by the one pardoned in order for them to stay pardoned. When used in reference to a believing Israelite (whose salvation is conditional, and depends on their present perseverance in faith and good works), “pardon”/”forgiveness” is a conditional state dependent on their own conduct (at least, relatively speaking). However, when used in reference to those in the body of Christ, “pardon” or “forgiveness” is to be understood as unconditional and permanent, and as having nothing to do with our conduct. Our pardon/forgiveness takes place when we believe Paul’s evangel, and (like our justification) is a “once for all time” deal.

When we understand the word aphesis as being inherently “neutral” with regards to the conditional or unconditional nature of a believer’s deliverance from sin’s penalty, it does not need to be understood as being in necessary conflict with the meaning of “justification.” Being pardoned and being justified need not be understood as mutually exclusive states or conditions, but rather as “two sides of the same coin.” As noted earlier, David described the state of those who have been pardoned as one in which God is not “reckoning depravity” to them (Ps. 32:2). Significantly, Paul used similar language in 2 Cor. 5:17-19 to describe the status of those who have been conciliated to God: So that, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: the primitive passed by. Lo! there has come new! Yet all is of God, Who conciliates us to Himself through Christ, and is giving us the dispensation of the conciliation, how that God was in Christ, conciliating the world to Himself, not reckoning their offenses to them, and placing in us the word of the conciliation.”

Moreover, there is, I believe, indisputable scriptural evidence that justification is just as “neutral” in meaning as is the word “pardon,” and that it can apply to both saints in the body of Christ and to saints outside of the body of Christ (I go into more depth on this subject in my study on justification). Many who see justification and pardon as mutually exclusive terms seem to forget the fact that Paul was not the only inspired author to use the word “justified” when writing to a group of saints! James, in his letter to the twelve tribes, used the word three times (2:21, 24, 25). However, the justification he had in view was a declared righteous status that is based on the faith and works of those to whom he wrote, and was something that could be lost if one’s conduct ceased to involve the faith and works that are necessary to receiving eonian life in the kingdom of God. In contrast to this, the justification of which Paul wrote is a declared righteous status that is based solely on the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:24; Gal. 2:15-17).

For one to be “justified” simply means that one has been declared “just” or righteous by God. The word “justification” does not, in itself, tell us why (i.e., on what basis) a person has been declared “just” or righteous by God, or whether or not there are any conditions that must be met in order for someone to stay justified. Like the word “pardoned,” the word “justified” is neutral in this regard. For saints outside of the body of Christ (e.g., those constituting the “Israel of God”), both pardon and justification are conditional blessings that are based on one’s own faith and works (and which can be forfeited and lost if one does not continue to meet the requirements that must be met in order to be saved). However, for those in the body of Christ (and, eventually, for all mankind at the consummation), pardon and justification are unconditional blessings based solely on what Christ has done on our behalf, and, as such, can never be lost or forfeited. Unlike the present justification of believing Israelites, our justification does not involve our own faith and our own works; rather, our justification is “through the faith of Christ.” And insofar as our “pardon” or “forgiveness” is also based on this fact, it is just as unconditional in nature. The sins and offenses of those in the body of Christ will never (and could never) cease to be pardoned by God; there is nothing we could ever do or not do that could ever result in our sins and offenses being reckoned to us by God.




[1] By referring to a pardoned individual as one “in whose spirit there is no deceit,” David was not claiming to be (or implying that others were) without sin, or absolutely pure and righteous. Rather, he had in mind those who refused to deny or hide their sins, and who honestly confessed their sins to God (see verses 3-5).

[2] Some have argued that the way in which Paul quotes Psalm 32:1-2 in Romans 4:8 conveys a stronger idea than that of “mere” pardon. Paul’s quotation of this verse reads, “Happy they whose lawlessnesses were pardoned and whose sins were covered over! Happy the man to whom the Lord by no means should be reckoning sin!” It is the words “by no means” that some point to as evidence that Paul had in mind something distinct from (and greater than) the idea of “pardon.” However, this presupposes that pardon could never be (or refer to) a permanent state, and thus begs the question against the position for which I’m arguing in this article.

As I hope to make clear, the “pardoning” of one’s sins/offenses can be either conditional (and thus possibly lost) or unconditional (and thus permanent in nature). Whether “pardon” is to be understood as conditional or unconditional simply depends on whom it is being pardoned, and the basis on which their pardon rests (the word “pardon” is, in itself, neutral in this regard). The context in which the word appears is, therefore, of the utmost importance in determining the exact nature of the “pardon” in view. Thus, insofar as the words “by no means” in Rom. 4:8 are to be understood as referring to a permanent, unvarying state, it simply follows that the “pardon” that Paul had in view here is not something that he believed could ever be revoked or withdrawn. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Study on the Timing of the Snatching Away, Part 5 (Why the Snatching Away Will Most Likely Occur Before Daniel’s 70th Heptad Begins)

In the previous installment of this study, I argued that the time period during which the “beginning of pangs” will be occurring is distinct from, and prior to, the second half of the 70th heptad. I will now demonstrate that this earlier period of time (i.e., when the “beginning of pangs” begin to occur) is within that broader period of time referred to as the “day of the Lord.” As a corollary of this, I will argue that the “beginning of pangs” referred to by Christ is the earliest expression of God’s indignation during the “day of the Lord.”

The Seven-Sealed Scroll

In Revelation 5-6 we read of Christ receiving, and then opening, a scroll given to him by his God and Father (who is described as “Him who is sitting on the throne”). This scroll is described as having writing “in front and on the back,” and as being “sealed up with seven seals.” Moreover, we discover that, besides Christ, “no one in heaven, nor yet on earth, nor yet underneath the earth, was able to open the scroll, neither to look at it” (Rev. 5:3). No one except our Lord Jesus Christ was found worthy of this.

After the breaking of each of the scrolls’ seven seals, we read of a different future event taking place. As has been noted by many students of scripture, there seem to be striking similarities between the various events brought about by the opening of the seven-sealed scroll and the events prophesied by Christ in the Olivet Discourse. For example, we’re told that the breaking of the second seal of the scroll results in peace being taken “from out of the earth,” which is a reference to war (Rev. 6:3-4). This seems to correspond with what Christ declared to his disciples in Matt. 24:6-7: “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...”

We’re also told that the breaking of the third seal results in famine (6:5-6), and that the breaking of the fourth seal results in people dying from “the blade,” “famine,” “death” and “the wild beasts of the earth” (6:8). This, too, seems to correspond with what Christ declared concerning the “beginning of pangs”: ”Besides, there shall be great quakes and, in places, famines and pestilences.” The quakes to which Christ referred can also be understood as related to the breaking of the third and fourth seals, since earthquakes can, of course, bring about death as well as contribute to food scarcity. The breaking of the sixth seal also implies the occurrence of an earthquake (Rev. 6:12-17). But should the events that will be brought about through Christ’s opening the seven-sealed scroll be understood as expressions of God’s indignation during the day of the Lord? I think there’s very good reason to believe that they should.

First, it was noted in part two of this study that, in Rev. 1:10, the apostle John wrote that he came to be, in spirit, in the Lord's day.” I went on to argue that the expression "the Lord's day" should best be understood as an alternate form of the expression "the day of the Lord," and that John understood it as conveying the same meaning. Understood in this way, John had in mind that future period of time during which God will begin intervening in world affairs to judge the inhabitants of the earth and restore the kingdom to Israel. It was by means of a vision (“in spirit”) that John came to be in this future "day," and saw what was going to take place during this period of time. The implication of this is that all of the prophesied events and judgments that John subsequently describes as leading up to Christ’s return (as well as the events taking place afterword, until the passing away of the present heaven and earth) will be occurring during the (broad) day of the Lord. And this, of course, includes the events associated with the opening of the seven-sealed scroll.

In addition to this fact, I argued in part three that we should understand both the seven bowl-related calamities as well as the seven trumpet-related calamities as expressions of God’s indignation. But if the trumpet and bowls are to be understood as essentially related to God’s indignation during the day of the Lord, then the seventh seal must also be understood as essentially related to God’s indignation. The reason this is so is because (as argued earlier) it is the breaking of the seventh seal which results in the sounding of the seven trumpets (Rev. 8:1-2, 6).

Just as the breaking of the first four seals result in the “four horsemen” that follow, so the breaking of the seventh seal results in the subsequent sounding of the seven trumpets (and in this sense, we could understand the seven trumpet-related calamities as being “contained” within the seventh seal, just as the four horsemen-related events can be understood as being “contained” within the first four seals). And given that the seventh seal must be understood as essentially related to God’s indignation, consistency demands that we view the previous seals as equally related to God’s indignation in some way. That is, just as the breaking of the seventh seal results in a certain manifestation of God’s indignation (i.e., the seven trumpet-related calamities), so we should understand the breaking of the previous six seals as also resulting in (or at least promising) a manifestation of God’s indignation during the day of the Lord.

Seals Five and Six

As is the case with the trumpet-related calamities, the mere fact that the word “indignation” is not explicitly used in reference to a particular seal is in no way an argument against the position that the breaking of the seal is, in some way, related to the expression of God’s indignation (see part three of my study for a more in-depth defense of this particular point with regards to the seven trumpets). However, it’s significant that the word indignation does, in fact, occur in Rev. 6:16-17, as part of the response of those who will be going through the frightening events brought about by the breaking of the sixth seal. Here’s how the events resulting from the opening of the sixth seal are described:

12 And I perceived, when It opens the sixth seal, and a great cataclysm occurred, and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the whole moon became as blood,
13 and the stars of heaven fall on the earth as a fig tree is casting its shriveled figs, quaking under a great wind.
14 And heaven recoils as a scroll rolling up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.
15 And the kings of the earth, and the magnates, and the captains, and the rich, and the strong, and every slave and freeman, hide themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains.
16 And they are saying to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him Who is sitting on the throne, and from the indignation of the Lambkin,
17 for the great day of Their indignation came, and who is able to stand?"


It should be noted that the same word translated “came” in v. 17 is consistently used by John to refer to either a time that has already arrived (Rev. 11:18; 14:7; 14:15; 19:7) or a time which arrived at some point in the past (Rev. 18:10). So it can be reasonably concluded that God’s indignation is, in fact, being expressed through the event(s) that follow the opening of the sixth seal. But what about the fifth seal?

In Rev. 6:9-11 we read, And when It opens the fifth seal, I perceived underneath the altar the souls of those who have been slain because of the word of God and because of the testimony which they had. And they cry with a loud voice, saying, "Till when, O Owner, holy and true, art Thou not judging and avenging our blood on those dwelling on the earth?" And to each of them was given a white robe, and it was declared to them that they should be resting still a little time, till their number should be completed by their fellow slaves also, and their brethren, who are about to be killed even as they were.”

Rather than resulting in a particular expression of God’s indignation, the opening of the fifth seal reveals why further expressions of God’s indignation are necessary. At this point during the day of the Lord, there will be saints who will have been slain because of their faith in Christ. These martyred saints are figuratively represented as asking how long it will be until they are avenged by God. It’s then revealed that more saints are about to be killed “even as they were,” and implied that the avenging of the saints represented as crying out for justice will not take place (at least, not in full) until after the full number of saints have been killed.

Earlier I argued that, during the first half of the 70th week, Jewish believers will be persecuted and killed by both unbelieving gentiles and unbelieving Jews. It’s possible that this is the category of saints who are represented in John’s vision as crying out for justice, and that those saints who we’re told “are about to be killed” are those who will be martyred during the second half of the 70th heptad (i.e., during the time of great affliction). In any case, the vision that results from the opening of the fifth seal seems to point forward to a time of continued (and possibly intensified) martyrdom for the saints, and thus provides the reader with reason to expect further – and more severe – calamities to come upon “those dwelling on the earth,” until every saint who is to be killed during this time has been avenged by God.

The First Four Seals

Perhaps one of the most compelling pieces of evidence confirming the inseparable relationship that the seven seals have to God’s indignation is found in Rev. 6:7-8. There, the breaking of the fourth seal (and its devastating results) is described as follows: And when It opens the fourth seal, I hear the voice of the fourth animal saying, ‘Come!’ And I perceived, and lo! a greenish horse, and the name of him who is sitting upon it is Death, and the Unseen followed him. And jurisdiction was given them over the fourth of the earth, to kill with the blade and with famine and with death and by the wild beasts of the earth.

When we read that “jurisdiction” was given Death and the Unseen, the question naturally arises:  “From whom does this “jurisdiction” come?” The answer to this question is clear: ultimately, it comes from God himself (i.e., the one sitting on the throne, and who gives Christ the seven-sealed scroll to open). But what needs to be emphasized here is that the instrumental means through which “a fourth of the earth” is to be killed as a result of Christ’s breaking the fourth seal are the exact same means that God used in the past when bringing judgment against unfaithful Israel and “pouring out his fury” on them. In Ezekiel 5:12-13, 15-17 we read the following sobering words (spoken by God to the people of Jerusalem):

A third part of you shall die of pestilence and be consumed with famine in your midst; a third part shall fall by the sword all around you; and a third part I will scatter to all the winds and will unsheathe the sword after them. Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I will vent my fury upon them and satisfy myself. And they shall know that I am Yahweh—that I have spoken in my jealousy—when I spend my fury upon them

“…You shall be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and a horror, to the nations all around you, when I execute judgments on you in anger and fury, and with furious rebukes—I am Yahweh; I have spoken—when I send against you the deadly arrows of famine, arrows for destruction, which I will send to destroy you, and when I bring more and more famine upon you and break your supply of bread. I will send famine and wild beasts against you, and they will rob you of your children. Pestilence and blood shall pass through you, and I will bring the sword upon you. I am Yahweh; I have spoken.”

Similarly, in Ezekiel 14:21 we read: “For thus says the Lord God: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four disastrous acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast!” [Note: With regards to the use of “death” instead of “pestilence” in Rev. 6:8, it’s likely that this is simply an example of the figure of speech “metonymy.” A.E. Knoch also notes in his commentary that, whenever “famine” and “plague” are joined together in the Hebrew Scriptures (see 1 Ki. 8:37, 2 Chr. 20:9, Jer. 21:7, 9; 24:10; 44:13; Ez. 6:11; 7:15) the LXX translation replaces “plague” with “death.” It’s thus not surprising that John would do the same in Rev. 6:8.]

These same four figures are prophesied as expressions of God’s wrath in several other passages as well (cf. Lev 26:21-28; Numb 11:33; 16:46; 25:8-11; Deut 11:17; 28:20-26; 32:22-25; Jer. 15:1-9; 16:4-11; 19:7-9; Ezek 6:11-12; 7:3-15). The fact that it is by means of these exact “disastrous acts of judgment” from God that a fourth of the earth will be killed after the fourth seal is broken by Christ strongly implies that the result of the breaking of the fourth seal will be an expression of God’s indignation.  

As far as the three preceding seals and their corresponding “horsemen,” little needs to be said at this point. Insofar as the events associated with the opening of the second and third seals can easily be understood as preliminary to the widespread death and devastation which results from the opening of the fourth seal, they, too, can be understood as expressions of God’s indignation. In any event, seals two and three are clearly associated with events that involve human suffering and hardship (i.e., world war and scarcity of food/inflation), and as such can be reasonably understood as two early expressions of God’s indignation during the day of the Lord (when “pangs” will just be beginning).

With regards to the opening of the first seal, we’re told that it will unleash a rider on a white horse. This rider is said to have a bow, to be given a wreath, and to come forth “conquering and that he should be conquering.” Many students of scripture have understood (rightly, I believe) the first horseman to represent the coming wicked world ruler whom Paul referred to as “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:4), and whom John referred to as “the wild beast” (Rev. 11:7; 13). If this is the case, it is significant that John twice referred to this future world ruler as engaged in “conquering.” In Rev. 11:7 we read that the wild beast will be “doing battle with [the two witnesses] and will be conquering them and killing them.” And in Rev. 13 we read that the wild beast will be “given authority to do what it wills forty-two months,” and that it will be “given to do battle with the saints and to conquer them” (Rev. 13:4-7). In light of this fact, it would be highly appropriate for this wicked ruler to be first described as coming forth “conquering and that he should be conquering.”

Given that the “horseman” associated with the first seal likely represents the man of lawlessness, the opening of this seal can be understood as bringing about his rise to power, and his emergence on to the world scene as an influential political leader (and, for unbelieving Israel, as a possible Messiah figure). Given the likelihood that it is his actions as a world leader that will, whether directly or indirectly, lead to the calamities associated with the subsequent seals (among other evils that will unfold during the final years of this eon, including widespread deception), the opening of the first seal can also be easily understood as an expression of God’s indignation.

We can, therefore, reasonably conclude that the breaking of the seven seals involves, in some way or another, the expression of God’s indignation against the inhabitants of the earth, and that this indignation continues with the more severe trumpet-related calamities and concludes with the even more severe bowl-related calamities. The judgments related to the seals, trumpets and bowls are clearly sequential and progressive, and simply intensify as they are unleashed upon earth’s inhabitants. And given the reasonable inference that the seal-related judgments are to be unleashed on the earth during the first half of the 70th heptad, it can be reasonably concluded that the day of the Lord encompasses the entire 70th heptad, and will be characterized by God’s indignation (which, again, will be expressed through increasingly more severe calamities as time progresses).

“Now whenever they may be saying ‘Peace and security’”

That the day of the Lord will begin when the judgments associated with the seven-sealed scroll commence is, I believe, further confirmed by what Paul wrote in 1 Thess. 5:1-3. In v. 3 we read that the day of the Lord will begin when people are saying, “Peace and security!” In other words, they will see peace and security as characterizing their present state of affairs, and it is for this reason that the “extermination” which “they may by no means escape” will be “standing by them unawares.” This being the case, it follows that the time of peace which unbelievers will see as characterizing the world when the day of the Lord begins will most likely be before the opening of the second seal (when peace will be taken from out of the earth), and before the fulfillment of Christ’s words in Matthew 24:6-7 (in which we’re told that nation will be roused against nation and kingdom against kingdom).

Consider also the imagery that Paul used to describe the devastating judgments that will commence with the coming of the day of the Lord. Paul likened the “extermination” that will be standing by people “unawares” at the start of the day of the Lord as a pang over the pregnant (1 Thess. 5:2-3). Similar “birth pang” imagery is found in Isa. 13:6-9 and Jer. 30:6-7, and was, of course, also used by Christ in his Olivet Discourse when describing some of the earliest events that will be taking place during the final years of this eon. Moreover, although most translations have “labor pains” (plural) in 1 Thess. 5:3, Paul actually used the singular “pang.” Paul was not referring to labor pains in general or collectively, but rather to the first labor pang experienced by a pregnant woman. It is this labor pang which, by virtue of its being the first, comes most unexpectantly (it also foretells even more pangs to come, which will become increasingly more intense until the baby is finally born).

It is, therefore, reasonable to infer that Paul had in mind the same general period of time as Christ did when he referred to the “beginning of pangs.” If this is the case, then Paul understood the day of the Lord to include the first half of the 70th heptad, when the “pangs” would begin (and which correspond with the opening of the first four seals of the seven-sealed scroll). This, again, would place the beginning of the day of the Lord – when the “pangs” of which Christ spoke begin – no later than the earliest part of the time period described by Christ in his Olivet Discourse.

The Unveiling of the Man of Lawlessness

Based on the conclusions we’ve reached so far, it would be reasonable to understand the opening of the first seal as resulting in the event that Paul had in mind in 2 Thess. 2:4 (i.e., the unveiling of the man of lawlessness). But how will the man of lawlessness be unveiled? In part three of my study on the snatching away, I suggested that this could be at the midpoint of the 70th heptad, when the man of lawless sits down in the temple as if he were God. However, I’ve since reconsidered this scenario as being the best interpretation of what Paul wrote here. Given the plausibility that the events brought about by the breaking of the seven-sealed scroll will occur during the first 3½ years of the 70th heptad, it’s more likely that the unveiling of the man of lawlessness will involve some earlier prophetic event.

If this is the case, then what Paul wrote in 2 Thess. 2:4 shouldn’t be understood as indicating when the man of lawlessness is unveiled; rather, the information found in this verse was simply intended by Paul to further explain who, exactly, the “man of lawlessness” is. Paul most likely referred to this event simply because it was of greater prophetic prominence/emphasis in scripture, and would make the particular person he had in view more easily identifiable to his readers (both in a prophetic sense, and by more clearly highlighting his lawless nature). But if this “mid-70th -week” event is not what Paul had in mind when he referred to the man of lawlessness as being “unveiled,” then what did Paul perhaps have in mind?

One possibility that I think deserves some consideration is that the unveiling of the man of lawlessness will take place when the first prophesied event concerning him is fulfilled (or when the prophecies concerning him begin to be fulfilled). If that’s the case, then there’s one prophecy in particular that comes to mind as possibly marking the unveiling of the man of lawlessness (or the beginning of his unveiling). In Daniel 9:27, we read that a “prince” or “governor” who is to come (and whose “coming” will correspond with Jerusalem and the temple being “laid in ruins”) will make or confirm a seven-year covenant “with many” (or, as the Concordant Version has it, this future ruler will become “master of a covenant with many for one seven”). It’s possible that the fulfilling of this prophetic event involving the man of lawlessness will constitute his unveiling (or the beginning of his unveiling). Although there is not as much scriptural emphasis on this event as there is on the actions of the man of lawlessness at the midpoint of the 70th heptad (which could be why Paul didn’t refer to it), it nevertheless remains of great prophetic significance.

A Study on the Timing of the Snatching Away, Part 4 (Why the Snatching Away Will Most Likely Occur Before Daniel’s 70th Heptad Begins)

In parts 1-3 of my study on the timing of the snatching away of the body of Christ, I argued for the position that the “coming indignation” of God that will initially characterize the “day of the Lord” (as referred to by Paul in 1 & 2 Thessalonians) will commence no later than 3½ years before Christ’s eon-concluding return to earth (which I argued will take place immediately after the completion of the 70th heptad or “seven” prophesied in Daniel 9). At the time I posted the first three parts of this study, I was open to the possibility that the day of the Lord and its accompanying indignation might begin earlier than the timeframe for which I argued. However, certain considerations made me hesitant at the time to affirm that the snatching away had to occur before the start of the 70th heptad (even though I strongly suspected that it would). In this follow-up article, I will be arguing for the position that the coming indignation of the day of the Lord will most likely begin at the start of the 70th heptad. If this position is sound, then it means that the latest that the body of Christ could be removed from the earth is just prior to the start of the 70th heptad (which means the snatching away must happen at least 3½ years earlier than I suggested in my original articles on this subject).

Further Remarks on the Timing and Duration of the “Great Affliction”

Before I launch into my defense of this view, I want to address the subject of the timing and duration of the “great affliction” referred to by Christ in Matthew 24:21. This section can be considered as both a supplement to my remarks on this subject in the earlier parts of my study, as well as a defense of the position for which I’ll be arguing in this article against other competing views concerning the timing of the snatching away (such as the so-called “pre-wrath” view, as well as the more traditional and mainstream “post-tribulation” position).

In Matthew 24:15-22, Christ declared the following to his disciples concerning a yet-future period of time:

15 “Whenever, then, you may be perceiving the abomination of desolation, which is declared through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him who is reading apprehend!);
16 then let those in Judea flee into the mountains.
17 Let him who is on the housetop not descend to take away the things out of his house.
18 And let him who is in the field not turn back behind him to pick up his cloak.
19 "Now woe to those who are pregnant and those suckling in those days!
20 Now be praying that your flight may not be occurring in winter, nor yet on a sabbath,
21 for then shall be great affliction, such as has not occurred from the beginning of the world till now; neither under any circumstances may be occurring.
22 And, except those days were discounted, no flesh at all would be saved. Yet, because of the chosen, those days shall be discounted.”

This same period of time is, I believe, also in view in Luke 21:20-24:

20 “Now whenever you may be perceiving Jerusalem surrounded by encampments, then know that her desolation is near.
21 Then let those in Judea flee into the mountains, and let those in her midst be coming out into the country, and let not those in the country be entering into her,
22 for days of vengeance are these, to fulfill all that is written.
23 Yet woe to those who are pregnant, and to those suckling in those days; for there will be great necessity in the land and indignation on this people.
24 “And they shall be falling by the edge of the sword and shall be led into captivity into all nations. And Jerusalem shall be trodden by the nations, until the eras of the nations may be fulfilled.”

The word translated “eras” in v. 24 is kairoi, which is the plural form of the word kairos’ (“seasons,” or “appointed times”). We know from Rev. 11:2 that the “eras” or “seasons” during which Jerusalem will be trodden by the nations will constitute a period of 3 ½ years (i.e., forty-two months, or 1,260 days). This same period of time is also in view in Rev. 12:6, where it’s said to be the number of days that the “woman” (i.e., Israel) will be nourished in the wilderness after fleeing from life-threatening (and satanically-inspired) persecution. In Rev. 12:14 this same period of time is referred to as a season, and seasons, and half a season (with the words translated “season” and “seasons” being kairos’ and kairoi, respectively), and likewise refers to a period of time lasting 3 ½ years. We also know that this will be the exact period of time during which the man of lawlessness (or “wild beast”) will have authority to “do what [he] wills,” which will involve blaspheming God as well as violently persecuting and “conquering” the saints (Rev. 13:5-7).

This same period of time is referred to in Daniel 7:25, where we’re told that the wicked ruler of the final world kingdom - the man of lawlessness or “wild beast” – “shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High…and they shall be given into his hand for a season and two seasons and half a season.” This period of time is again referred to in Daniel 12:7 as an appointed time, two appointed times and half an appointed time,and is said to end “when the shattering of the hand of the holy people is concluded.” The “shattering of the hand of the holy people” is another reference to the saints being persecuted and “conquered” by the “wild beast” during this time period.

Significantly, this last reference in Daniel to the final 3 ½ years of this eon is part of a response to a question asked by a celestial messenger. In v. 6 the messenger asks, “How long until the end of these astonishing things?” The Concordant Version reads, “Until when is the end of the marvels?” The word translated “astonishing things” or “marvels” in this verse is the Hebrew word pele', and appears only here in the book of Daniel. However, it’s derived from the Hebrew word pala', which is found in Daniel twice. Significantly, both occurrences of the word pala’ refer to actions involving the “wild beast” or “man of lawlessness” (who, in Daniel 11:36, is referred to as “the king who does as is acceptable to himself”). In Daniel 8:24 the word is used to describe the “marvelous” or “astonishing” way in which the man of lawlessness will “ruin and prosper and deal” during his reign, and in Daniel 11:36 the word is used to describe the “marvelous” or “astonishing” blasphemies that the man of lawlessness will be speaking against God during this time.

Thus, the “astonishing things” or “marvels” referred to in the celestial messenger’s question in Daniel 12:6 are not to be understood as positive in nature (and most likely would not have been understood by Daniel as such). Rather, they have to do with events involving the man of lawlessness and the persecution of the saints under his reign during the second half of the 70th heptad (which in Daniel 12:1 is referred to as “an era of distress which will come to pass such as has not occurred since there was a nation on the earth, until that era”).

The solemn manner in which the celestial messenger answered the question posed in v. 6 is also significant: he raised both his hands toward the heavens and “swore by Him Who is living for the eon.” As Albert Barnes remarks in his commentary on this verse, it is “as if the messenger were appealing to heaven for the sincerity and truth of what he was about to utter.” Thus, we have the solemn oath of one of God’s holy messengers that the time during which the man of lawlessness will persecute and “wear out” the saints of the Most High (i.e., the time period that Christ said would be characterized by “great affliction”) will be 3 ½ years in length.

From this we can conclude that any position which holds that the time of great affliction will be anything less than 3 ½ years in duration is necessarily mistaken.[1] This also means that when our Lord declared that “except those days were discounted, no flesh at all would be saved” (Matt. 24:22; cf. Mark 13:20), he simply meant that this time of great affliction would result in all life being destroyed IF it were to extend beyond the appointed limit that God, in his mercy, has already set. But because this time of great affliction will be exactly 3 ½ years in length (or “an appointed time, two appointed times and half an appointed time”), the hypothetical scenario that Christ referred to will not actually happen. The “great affliction” will cease when the appointed times, or seasons, have reached their conclusion.

What about the Celestial Events of Matthew 24:29?

Before moving on, I want to address an objection that could be raised at this point by those holding to the “pre-wrath” position (which seems to have gained in popularity among evangelical Christians within the past few years or so). According to the pre-wrath position, the “great affliction” referred to in Matthew 24:21 will continue for only a part of the last half of the 70th heptad (rather than continuing until the end of the 3 ½ years). According to this view, it is only after the time of great affliction ends that the “wrath of God” will begin (which is understood as involving only the trumpet and bowl-related judgments).

Proponents of the pre-wrath position view the celestial events that Christ said would take place immediately after the great affliction (Matthew 24:29; cf. Mark 13:24-25) and the celestial events which are associated with the opening of the sixth seal (Rev. 6:12-17) as being not just similar in nature, but identical. Thus, according to the pre-wrath view, we should understand these two passages as referring to the same event and the same point in time. However, assuming that the events associated with the seals, trumpets and bowls are chronologically sequential (as I believe to be the case), this creates a problem. It would mean that the time of great affliction couldn’t possibly last for the entire second half of the 70th heptad. It would have to end early enough to allow enough time for the trumpet and bowl-related judgments to occur (which we know will take longer than five months to complete, as this will be the duration of the judgment associated with the fifth trumpet alone).

Based on what scripture clearly reveals concerning the duration of the time of great affliction, I think the pre-wrath position is simply in error on this point. For example, verses such as Daniel 7:25 and 12:5-7 (among others considered earlier) directly contradict the chronological sequence of events proposed by proponents of the pre-wrath position. The scriptural evidence against this position notwithstanding, I do think the objection involving the time of the celestial event of Matthew 24:29 needs to be answered, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that this verse is perfectly consistent with a sequential understanding of the seals, trumpets and bowls of Revelation, as well as with the view that the great affliction will be exactly 3 ½ years long.

With regards to the view that the seals, trumpets and bowls referred to in Revelation are sequential (or consecutive-progressive), I am in full agreement with proponents of the pre-wrath view. A sequential interpretation of these events seems to be in accord with the most natural and straight-forward reading of the text. For example, the opening of the seventh seal (which opens the entire scroll) seems to prepare for, and introduce, the seven trumpets that follow:

“And when It opens the seventh seal, a hush occurred in heaven as it were half an hour. And I perceived the seven messengers who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them” (Rev. 8:1-2).

Also, the silence in heaven referred to in v. 1 seems to provide a contrast with “the thunders and voices and lightnings and an earthquake” referred to in v. 5 (which are the result of the golden thurible referred to in v. 3 being cast into the earth). And just as the opening of the seventh seal appears to lead to the trumpet-related calamities that follow, so the “third woe” connected with the sounding of the seventh trumpet can be understood as encompassing the last seven calamities associated with the “seven bowls of the fury of God” (Rev. 11:14-19; cf. Rev.15-16).

The following, then, seems to be the most reasonable view concerning the chronological sequence of events found in Revelation: (1) the seven seals are opened; (2) the seven trumpets are sounded; (3) the seven bowls are poured out. And we know that, after the sixth bowl is poured out, preparation is made for “the battle of the great God Almighty” (or the “battle of Armageddon”), when “the kings of the whole inhabited earth” are mobilized to do battle with Christ (Rev. 16:12-16; cf. Rev. 19:19). Since we know that Christ is to return to earth immediately after the 70th heptad ends, it follows that the events associated with the pouring out of the sixth bowl take place shortly before the end of the 70th heptad (with the pouring out of the seventh bowl possibly being the climactic event with which this period ends).

More could be said in defense of this chronologically sequential interpretation of the seal, trumpet and bowl calamities, but for the sake of brevity (and because the pre-wrath position doesn’t dispute it) I will simply continue from the assumption that this understanding is correct. But why is this view of the sequence of events important? The reason is this: Joel 3:15 describes a celestial event involving the sun, moon and stars that seems very similar to the event referred to by Christ in Matthew 24:29, but which (based on the context in which the verse is found) appears to be an event which will be occurring after the events that are related to the pouring out of the sixth bowl (as described in Rev. 16:12-16).

Since the context in which this celestial event is referred to is key to establishing the time at which it will occur, I’ll be quoting the majority of Joel 3. In verses 1-16 we read the following:

For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.

“What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily. For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples.  You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border. Behold, I will stir them up from the place to which you have sold them, and I will return your payment on your own head. I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a nation far away, for the Lord has spoken.

“Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O Lord. Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great.  

“Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.  The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the Lord is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.

There are several observations that can be made concerning this remarkable prophetic passage. First, the judgment upon the nations that will take place at this time is said to be “because they have scattered them [i.e., God’s people, Israel] among the nations.” This judgment, then, will (at least in part) be God’s response to the events described as taking place in Luke 21:24 (which will begin shortly after the abomination of desolation has been set up): “And they [the Jewish people] shall be falling by the edge of the sword and shall be led into captivity into all nations. And Jerusalem shall be trodden by the nations, until the eras of the nations may be fulfilled.” It is “the nations” into which God’s people will be led into captivity (and which will be “treading” Jerusalem at this time) that God will be mobilizing for battle and then judging on this day.

Second, the gathering of the “all nations” referred to will be part of a military campaign. It will involve armies that will consist of people from every nation, and they’ll be assembled for battle against what they’ll perceive to be a common enemy and threat[2] (what these “united nations” won’t realize at this time is that God will have gathered them there for judgment, and that the battle for which they’ve prepared themselves is going to be entirely one-sided). The battle for which the nations in this passage are described as preparing for is, I submit, none other than “the battle of the great day of God Almighty,” as referred to in Rev. 16:12-16:

“And the sixth pours out his bowl on the great river Euphrates. And its water is dried up that the road of the kings from the orient may be made ready. And I perceived, out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the wild beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits, as if frogs (for they are spirits of demons, doing signs), which are going out to the kings of the whole inhabited earth, to be mobilizing them for the battle of the great day of God Almighty. ("Lo! I am coming as a thief! Happy is he who is watching and keeping his garments, that he may not be walking naked and they may be observing his indecency!") And they mobilized them at the place called, in Hebrew, "Armageddon."

Later we read that John “perceived the wild beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, gathered to do battle with Him Who is sitting on the horse and with His army” (Rev. 19:19). We can therefore infer from these verses that the “nations” which will be gathered for the war referred to in Joel 3:9 will constitute the armies of “the kings of the whole inhabited earth” (we can also infer that these will be the same “all nations” into which Israel will be led captive).[3]

Third, it is after the nations have been mobilized and gathered for battle in the “valley of decision” that the celestial event referred to in Joel 3 will be taking place. Consider, again, verses 14-15: “Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.  The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.” Thus, the chronological sequence of Joel’s prophecy is as follows: (1) “All the nations” gather in the “valley of Jehoshaphat” (or “valley of decision”), prepared for battle; (2) After they’ve been gathered to this location, we’re told that the “day of Yahweh” is “near,” and the celestial event referred to in v. 15 takes place; [4] (3) God judges the nations gathered at this time, and begins to “restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem.

Since we know that the nations will not begin to mobilize for battle until after the sixth bowl is poured out, we can conclude that the celestial event described in v. 15 will take place sometime after the sixth bowl. Thus, we can conclude that the celestial event referred to in Joel 3:15 will be taking place after the sixth bowl calamity has already taken place. It cannot, therefore, be identified with the celestial event related to the opening of the sixth seal (which will be chronologically prior to the judgments associated with both the bowls and the trumpets). This being the case, we can conclude that the celestial event related to the opening of the sixth seal will not be the only celestial event of this nature taking place before Christ returns to earth. But if that’s the case, then we need not identify the celestial event described in Matthew 24:29 with the event described in Rev. 6:12-13 (which means that the objection raised by the pre-wrath proponent loses any force that it may have otherwise had).

That there will be at least two celestial events of a similar nature occurring before Christ’s return shouldn’t be all that surprising, since we know from Revelation that there will be several events taking place during the course of the day of the Lord that will, in some way, involve the heavenly bodies. For example, Rev. 8:12 describes an event involving the light of the sun, the moon and the stars being diminished; Rev. 9:1-2 describes an event that will involve the sun’s being darkened by smoke; Rev. 16:8 describes an event involving people being scorched with great heat from the sun; and Rev. 16:10 seems to imply that the sun (and perhaps the moon and stars as well) will be completely darkened for a time.

There’s also no reason why God wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) do the same thing more than once, or do a similar thing on two different occasions during the day of the Lord.[5] Since we know that the celestial event related to the sixth seal will be occurring at least twelve calamities earlier than the celestial event described in Matthew 24:29, it’s possible that the connection between these two celestial events is this: both celestial events will be occurring “immediately after” a certain appointed time has passed, with the first celestial event marking the end of the first half of the 70th heptad and the second event marking the end of the second half (this is, of course, purely speculative on my part, but it would at least be consistent with what we know concerning the chronology of the events foretold in Revelation).

To summarize the position advanced in this section, the time period that Christ said would involve “great affliction” will be exactly 3 ½ years long, and the celestial events referred to in Matthew 24:29 will be occurring immediately after the affliction of those days.” That is, the “days” that Christ had in view (and after which the celestial signs will “immediately” occur) will be exactly 1,260 in number – i.e., the second half of the 70th heptad. And since, according to the chronology of Revelation, the sixth seal involves events that will take place during the 70th heptad (before both the trumpet-related calamities and the bowl-related calamities take place), and the events described in Matthew 24:29 will be occurring immediately after the 70th heptad has ended, it follows that the celestial events described in these two passages are distinct, and will occur at two different times.

The Olivet Discourse and the Day of the Lord

There are several observations that I believe lend support to the view that God’s day-of-the-Lord indignation will begin at, or near, the start of the 70th heptad (rather than midway through it). I’ll begin my defense of this position by first considering Christ’s “Olivet Discourse,” as found in the synoptic gospel accounts (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13 and Luke 21).

The consistently ordered content found in each account of Christ’s discourse suggests a general chronological sequence of events that will occur during the final years leading up to Christ’s return to earth at the conclusion of this eon. Christ seems to have provided his disciples with a general outline of events that will be taking place during a certain period of time that will have a beginning, a midpoint and a conclusion. And not only this, but Christ seemed to describe this future period of time in such a way that it can be divided up into two halves.

The first half of this future period of time will, it seems, be characterized by events that Christ referred to as “the beginning of pangs” (Matt. 24:8). In Matthew 24:4-8, we read:

3 Now at His sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what is the sign of Thy presence and of the conclusion of the eon?"
4 And, answering, Jesus said to them, "Beware that no one should be deceiving you.
5 For many shall be coming in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ!' and shall be deceiving many.
6 Yet you shall be about to be hearing battles, and tidings of battles. See that you are not alarmed, for it must be occurring; but not as yet is the consummation.
7 For roused shall be a nation against a nation, and a kingdom against a kingdom, and there shall be famines and quakes in places.
8 Yet all these are the beginning of pangs.

Luke’s account of Christ’s description of the “beginning of pangs” is as follows: “Roused shall be nation against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. Besides, there shall be great quakes and, in places, famines and pestilences. There shall be fearful sights besides great signs also from heaven.”

In contrast with this earlier period (in which “pangs” will be “beginning”), the second half of the time period that Christ had in view will be characterized by what Christ called “great affliction” (Matt. 24:19-21), which will involve “affliction such as has not occurred from the beginning of the creation which God creates till now, and under no circumstances may be occurring” (Mark 13:19-20). Moreover, we know that it is the second half of the prophesied 70th heptad that will be a time of “great affliction,” since this affliction begins shortly after the “abomination of desolation” has been set up in the temple by the man of lawlessness and false prophet (Dan. 9:27; Matt. 24:15; 2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:4-17).

We also know that this time of great affliction will involve “indignation” being upon the Jewish people (Luke 21:23; cf. Jer. 30:4-7). Shortly after the abomination of desolation has been set up in the future temple, it will be necessary for Israelites living in Judea to flee into the mountains in order to avoid being killed or led into captivity into all nations (Luke 21:24; cf. Zech. 14:1-2). We’re told that these will be “days of vengeance” in which there will be “great necessity in the land and indignation on this people.”

What Christ referred to as “indignation on this people” is not something that will involve only a relatively small number of believing Israelites who will be undergoing persecution while an unbelieving Jewish majority is spared. Rather, it will involve what seems to be a genocidal attempt (on the part of certain gentiles) to rid the land - and possible all of the earth - of the Jewish people. At this time, two thirds of all the Israelites in Judea will “be cut off and perish,” with only one third being left alive (Zech. 13:1, 8-9). And the spared remnant will clearly consist of believers with whom God will be in a newly-established covenantal relationship (as is evident from the final part of Zech. 13:9).

Thus, from the midpoint of the 70th heptad on, the Jewish people in general - beginning with those living in the land of Judea - will be severely persecuted by the nations, and this persecution will most likely be directly instigated and authorized by the man of lawlessness and the false prophet. In contrast with this more general affliction of the Jewish people during the second half of the 70th heptad is the affliction that Christ prophesied would more specifically target a believing minority during the period that will involve “the beginning of pangs.” Immediately after referring to the “beginning of pangs,” Christ declared the following to his disciples in vv. 9-10: ”Then shall they be giving you up to affliction, and they shall be killing you, and you shall be hated by all of the nations because of My name. And then many shall be snared, and they shall be giving one another up and hating one another.”

The fact that Christ used the same word translated “affliction” in both v. 9 and v. 21 - but added the word “great” in v. 21 (making it “great affliction”) - strongly suggests that he was referring to two different periods that would both involve affliction (with the latter time of affliction being worse than the time he had in view in verses 9-10). But what about the word “then” in verse 9? Does it mean “after that” or “during that time?” Since the Greek word τότε can have either meaning, let’s compare these verses with Luke’s account of Christ’s discourse to see if we can determine what Christ meant. In Luke 21:10-16 we read:

“Then He said to them, ‘Roused shall be nation against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. Besides, there shall be great quakes and, in places, famines and pestilences. There shall be fearful sights besides great signs also from heaven.

Yet before all these things they shall be laying their hands on you and they shall be persecuting you, giving you up into the synagogues and jails, being led off to kings and governors on account of My name. Yet it shall be eventuating to you for a testimony. Ponder, then, in your hearts not to be premeditating a defense, for I will be giving you a mouth and wisdom, which all those opposing you shall not be able to withstand or contradict. Yet you shall be given up by parents also, and brothers and relatives and friends, and they shall be putting some of you to death.'”

Since, in v. 12, we read that the persecution of the saints of this future era will be (or will begin) “before all these things,” it can be reasonably inferred that the word “then” in Matthew 24:9 should be understood as meaning “during that time” (i.e., just before the events described in Matthew 24:7 and Luke 21:10-11). In other words, sometime before nation shall be roused against nation and kingdom against kingdom, some (perhaps all) believers in Christ – i.e., those who’ll be believing “the evangel of the kingdom” (or “evangel of the circumcision”) at this time - will begin to be “hated by all because of [Christ’s] name,” and consequently will begin to be persecuted.

Thus, based on the chronology provided in Luke’s account, we should understand the time when persecution breaks out against the saints to be at the time when many will begin to be deceived by false christs, and when believers will be “about to be hearing battles, and tidings of battles.” This, again, will be immediately before the time referred to in Luke 21:10-11 and Matthew 24:7-8.

Here, then, is what I take to be the most accurate chronology of events, based on a harmonization of the synoptic gospel accounts:

1. Believers in Christ, specifically, will begin to be afflicted, and this affliction will involve their being killed, hated by “all the nations,” given up into the synagogues and jails, being led off to kings and governors on account of Christ’s name, being given up (and even put to death) by parents, brothers, relatives and friends.

2. Many false christs will arise and be deceiving many, and the saints “shall be about to be hearing battles, and tidings of battles.”

3. “Nation will be roused against nation and kingdom against kingdom, there shall be famines, quakes and pestilences in places, along with fearful sights besides great signs also from heaven.”

4. Jerusalem will be “surrounded by encampments” and “the abomination of desolation” will be “standing in the holy place” (which will be the sign that Jerusalem’s “desolation is near,” and that those Israelites living in Judea must flee into the mountains in order to escape what’s about to happen).

5. The time of “great affliction” will begin, and Jerusalem shall begin to “be trodden by the nations, until the eras of the nations may be fulfilled” (which, we discover from Rev. 11:2, will last forty-two months – i.e., the second half of the 70th heptad).

The fact that at least some of the persecuted saints that Christ had in view would be “given up into the synagogues” not only implies that the persecuted saints in view will be Jewish, but it also implies that their unbelieving persecutors will be Jewish as well. This is also implied by the fact that some Jewish believers will be given up by (and even killed by) parents, brothers, relatives and friends. This persecution of believing Jews by unbelieving Jews suggests that the “great affliction” which will characterize the second half of the 70th heptad will not yet have begun. How so?

As argued earlier, it will be the Jewish people in general who, at this point, will come to be under affliction, and not just a believing Jewish minority. But what might account for this change in the category of people who will be “targeted” for persecution during the 70th heptad? Why will the later period involve a Jewish majority being persecuted by unbelieving gentiles (under the direction of the man of lawlessness), whereas the earlier period will involve a Jewish minority being persecuted by unbelieving gentiles and unbelieving Jews? This may very well be due to the fact that, by this point in the 70th heptad (which will be around the midpoint of the “week”), the majority of Israelites will have become “un-calloused,” and come to believe the evangel of the kingdom being heralded at this time. Or, at the very least, it may be because the majority of Israelites will, at this time, have become opposed to the man of lawlessness (even if they remain unbelievers with regards to the evangel).

In any case, there seem to be significant differences between the second half of the 70th heptad (the time of “great affliction,” which will involve “indignation” being on the Jewish people, in general), and the years preceding it during which the “beginning of pangs” will be occurring, and which will involve a believing Jewish minority being persecuted by both unbelieving gentiles and unbelieving Jews.

Part Five: http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2017/09/a-study-on-timing-of-snatching-away_18.html





[1] For example, those who hold to the “pre-wrath” position on the timing of the snatching away hold that the time of great affliction could end one to two years before the 70th heptad ends (see, for example, the following chart, which was created by one of the leading proponents of this position: http://www.alankurschner.com/2013/01/22/feel-free-to-use-this-prewrath-timeline-overview-chart-for-your-purposes/).

[2] Insofar as this is the case, the judgment described in Joel 3 should not, I don’t think, be identified with the judgment referred to by Christ in Matthew 25:31-46. The judgment referred to in Matt. 25 does not take place on a battlefield, or in the context of a military campaign. It will not involve people from every nation gathering in preparation for war. Rather, the judgment of Matt. 25 will be more formal in nature, taking place in Jerusalem after Christ has already been enthroned, and after all military forces hostile to his rule have already been neutralized.

[3] It may be objected that, in Joel 3:2, 12, the location of the battle is said to be “the valley of Jehoshaphat,” while in Rev. 16:16 it’s said to be “Armageddon.” However, it’s possible (and I think likely) that these are simply two different ways of referring to the same place. Although there is a tradition (dating from around the fourth century AD on) which equates the valley of Jehoshaphat with the Kidron Valley, this is simply one of several views on what location, exactly, Joel 3 is referring to. The Christian historian Eusebius, for example, identified this valley with the Valley of Hinnom (i.e., “Gehenna”). Others have suggested the Valley of Beracah, where King Jehoshaphat overthrew the enemies of Israel (2 Chr. 20:26).

However, given the fact that Jehoshaphat simply means “Yahweh shall judge,” it’s more likely that “valley of Jehoshaphat” is simply a figurative way of referring to the area in which judgment will occur, in accordance with Joel’s prophecy. In this sense, it’s no more the literal name of a valley than the expression, “valley of decision” in Joel 3:14. According to this view, the expression “valley of Jehoshaphat” (or “valley of decision”) could easily be applied to the Valley of Jezreel (also known as the plain of Esdraelon), which is an immense plain surrounded by hills and mountains. One of the hills that borders this plain (and from which one can overlook it) is the hill of Megiddo (“Armageddon” can be understood to mean either “Mount Megiddo” or “hill of Megiddo,” as the Hebrew word “har” can refer to either a mountain or a range of hills). For more information on this subject, see the article at the following link: http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2014/11/05/Megiddo-The-Place-of-Battles.aspx#Article. See also the following map: http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/plain-of-esdraelon-megiddo.html

[4] As argued in part two of my original study, I believe the expression “day of the Lord” is used in both a “broad” and a “narrow” sense in scripture, and thus does not always refer to the same exact time period. According to the broad sense in which this and similar expressions are used, the day of the Lord refers to both the coming time of indignation (which, in this article, I’ll be arguing encompasses the entirety of the 70th heptad) as well as the entirety of the fourth eon (which embraces the entire millennial reign of Christ). According to the “narrow” sense, the expression refers only to the day of Christ’s return (i.e., the literal day which concludes this present wicked eon and ushers in the next). In Joel 3:14 (cf. 2:31), I believe the expression “day of the Lord” is being used in the “narrow” sense, and refers to the day of Christ’s return.

[5] There’s also reason to believe that there may be a slight difference between the celestial events related to the opening of the sixth seal and those that will take place immediately after the time of great affliction. It’s interesting to note that the celestial event related to the opening of the sixth seal will involve the moon becoming “as blood,” whereas the celestial event described in Matthew 24:29 is said to involve the moon “not giving her beams.” Might this mean that the moon will be giving off a blood-red light during the sixth seal-related event, and no light on the day that Christ returns? The wording used by Christ is at least consistent with this view.

It’s also worth noting that, in addition to referring to the celestial event that will occur on the day of Christ’s return to earth (at which point the sun and moon will both be “darkened”), the prophet Joel also referred specifically to a celestial event that will involve the sun’s being “converted into darkness” and “the moon into blood” (Joel 2:30-31; cf. Acts 2:19-20).