The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church. By Marvin Rosenthal. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990. 319 pp. Cloth, $10.95.
Here is yet another book which claims to refute the pre-tribulation Rapture. But in this one there is a new twist. The author is neither mid nor post-tribulational. Instead, he holds to a new placement of the Rapture which locates it around the middle of the last three and a half years of Daniel’s seventieth week. He calls this view the “pre-wrath” Rapture.
Rosenthal is a graduate of Dallas Seminary and is presently the executive director of a faith mission called Zion’s Hope. Although he was formerly pre-tribulational in his convictions, Rosenthal tells us that he came painfully to the conclusion that these convictions were wrong. In his book, however, he expresses an almost dogmatic certitude about many of his present persuasions.
This reviewer appreciated the overall tone of the book. Rosenthal is careful to praise his former mentors (men like John F. Walvoord, Charles C. Ryrie, and Dwight D. Pentecost), and there are no harsh personal attacks. At the same time, however, one senses here and there a slight note of condescension toward those who have not noticed the obvious biblical facts to which Rosenthal directs us. For example, on p. 292, he suggests that nobody would have missed the connection between the seven churches (Revelation 2, 3) and Daniel’s seventieth week apart from their preconception that the Church is raptured before the seventieth week. This is both unfair and a bit snide. But by and large, Rosenthal handles his polemics rather well.
On balance, however, the book is a serious disappointment. The author’s confidence in his new position is not matched by an adequate finesse in exegesis or argumentation. In fact, a book refuting Rosenthal’s volume has just appeared, written by a very gifted Dallas graduate, Paul S. Karleen. (See The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church: Is It Biblical? published, 1991, by BF Press [P.O. Box L-601, Langhorne, PA 19047], 102 pp.) Karleen does an excellent job in exposing the weaknesses in Rosenthal’s conclusions.
Within the short scope of a review, we can only discuss a few of the numerous places where Rosenthal’s exegesis and argumentation seem seriously flawed. Below are given four cases where some of the major premises of this book rest on extremely questionable foundations:
1. Rosenthal claims that the Great Tribulation is shortened to less that three and a half years, while “it is beyond refutation that the seventieth week of Daniel is not shortened” (p. 109). This shortening is indicated in Matt 24:21, 22 and Mark 13:20.
This distinction is crucial to Rosenthal’s case since his whole scheme depends on distinguishing the Great Tribulation from the Day of the Lord (which he believes begins around the middle of the last three and a half years).
Rosenthal’s argument in no way proves his point. He does not even consider the option that the last three and a half years are, in fact, the time frame into which a potentially longer Tribulation will be compressed. After all, the prophecy of Daniel 9 doesn’t use the word “years” either, so that it is only by a process of deduction that we can determine the literal length of time. But there is no real reason why this deduction cannot also apply to the Tribulation. It is logically inadmissible to claim that the shortening of the Tribulation necessarily results in a shorter time span than three and a half years. To make that claim assumes what remains to be proved.
Rosenthal should also have noticed that Mark 13:20 speaks of this shortening as already an accomplished fact. God has shortened the days already so that their length is pre-determined. No text states that this shortening is to a time span briefer than Daniel’s seventieth week, which is equally pre-determined!
2. Rosenthal argues that the Tribulation contains no divine wrath but is “uniquely Jewish.” He denies that the statement that “no flesh would be saved” (Matt 24:22) has a universal reference, but instead must mean “in context” “no Jewish [!] flesh” (pp. 174, 206, 304).
This is a forced and impossible exegesis. “No flesh” without qualification is not at all likely to be a reference only to the Jewish race. Such a reference is ruled out, in fact, by the immediately preceding verse, which states that the Great Tribulation is without parallel “since the beginning of the world“! This is quite different than the statement (to which Rosenthal appeals) found in Dan 12:1: “And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation.” Clearly, while Daniel speaks of the experience of a “nation,” our Lord speaks of the experience of mankind.
With the collapse of this point, Rosenthal’s whole system fails, since Rosenthal must show that the Great Tribulation is merely persecution of the Jews and not a time of God’s wrath. But if the extinction of the whole race is threatened by this period, clearly God’s wrath will be at work. Thus, on Rosenthal’s own premises, a pre-wrath Rapture would have to be at least a pre-Great Tribulation Rapture!
Besides, if the Great Tribulation is the time of Jewish persecution, then Revelation itself shows that this time is three and a half years in duration (see Rev 12:6, 13–14). The flawed exposition and reasoning which Rosenthal displays in Matt 24:21, 22 are distressing.
3. Rosenthal treats the “Day of the Lord” as a fixed and static term. According to him, the definite article used in this phrase by the OT prophets shows that “they knew of only one such event” (p. 129).
Rosenthal makes a false linguistic point. Even if the definite article were used with this phrase, it would not prove that there was only one event to which the term could apply. When I say, “The dog came into the house,” I certainly do not imply that there is only one dog or one house. But unfortunately for Rosenthal’s case, the Hebrew text does not employ the definite article with “day” in this phrase, as Karleen has pointed out (p. 38)!
It is highly unsophisticated to make linguistic points based on faulty concepts about language. Instead, Rosenthal should have come to grips with the OT data which suggests that the prophets felt free to use the phrase “day of the Lord” to describe the divine judgments in their own time (e.g., Joel in reference to a locust plague: Joel 2:1–11).
Nor does Rosenthal show any awareness of a distinction in the NT use of this phrase which was suggested long ago by J. F. Strombeck in First the Rapture (3rd ed., Wheaton, IL: Van Kampen Press, 1951), 54. On such a view, there would be two NT usages of this term:
(1) The Day of the Lord-A signless eschatological period which overtakes the world suddenly while man’s normal life patterns are proceeding as usual (1 Thess 5:2, 3; 2 Pet 3:3, 4, 10; see also Matt 24:36–39).
(2) The Great (and Terrible, Notable) Day of the Lord-An intense period of divine judgment preceded by signs (notably cosmic disturbances) and including the appearance of Christ in glory (cf. Joel 2:30, 31 / Acts 2:20; Rev 6:15–17; and see also Matt 24:29–31; Luke 21:25–28). We may call this “the Day of the Lord par excellence.”
To assume, as Rosenthal does, that the biblical concept of “the day of the Lord” has but a single and fixed significance, is an enormous begging of the question.
4. Rosenthal holds with many others that the three cycles of judgment in Revelation (the seals, trumpets, and bowls) are given according to the chronological order of their fulfillment. Again, this understanding is indispensable to Rosenthal’s position.
But he never demonstrates its correctness. The text of Revelation itself by no means connects the three cycles to one another in such a way as to suggest Rosenthal’s approach. There is no good reason to extend the content of the seventh seal beyond 8:1. John often begins new units in this book with “and” (cf. the Greek text of 10:1; 11:1; 11:15; etc.), so that the words of 8:2 (“And I saw the seven angels…”) can be treated as the beginning of a separate unit. Still less is there any reason to connect the seventh trumpet (11:15–19) with the bowl judgments of chapters 15 and 16.
Rosenthal gives no serious attention to the alternative view that the three cycles are to some extent parallel in the periods which they cover, and that all three carry us right up to the end of Daniel’s seventieth week just prior to the glorious appearance of our Lord. On this issue, Rosenthal has not dug deeply enough nor coped adequately with alternative positions.
Although Rosenthal claims that “a logical, unforced, chronological unfolding of Revelation has evaded pretribulational … commentators” (p. 112), we may well ask whether this might not also be said of him. In the pursuit of an “unforced, chronological” understanding of Revelation, Rosenthal ends up stating that “Christ will literally return to assume His kingdom at the seventh trumpet” (p. 146). But this requires him to assign the bowl judgments of Revelation 16 to the thirty-day period mentioned in Daniel 12:11, which follows the last three and a half years of the seventieth week. But Revelation is totally silent about the thirty-day period mentioned in Daniel! Moreover, the glorious return of Christ in Revelation (ch. 19) is actually presented after the bowl judgments! And where is Armageddon in this scheme, since it too follows the bowl judgments in the text of Revelation? Neither the charts in Rosenthal’s book, nor the text, inform us!
Clearly, whatever this system of thought may be, it is not an “unforced, chronological” understanding of the book of Revelation!
Finally, though this reviewer admires what he believes to be an evident sincerity on the part of the author, the publication of this book must still be viewed with reserve. A radical shift of perspective which, the author tells us, began in 1986 should probably not have been rushed into print some four years later. In the complex field of biblical prophecy, there is no substitute for years of reflection and study on the pertinent passages. A change of view in this area ought really to be tested over a considerable period of time before it is submitted to the Christian public for consideration.
The Christian public already has more than enough controversies to engage its attention. All of us who write should keep that in mind.
Zane C. Hodges
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society