The Views of Dr. Alan Hultberg

With the release of Three Views on the Rapture, Alan Hultberg has been thrust to the forefront of the PreWrath position.  For some time, I think many have wondered how the PreWrath position stacks up in relation to the PreTrib and PostTrib position.  Now the questions have been answered.  The latest version of this book by Zondervan includes the pretribulational rapture position, the posttribulational rapture position, and the prewrath rapture position.  Hultberg has done double duty with this book in serving as the general editor and in representing the PreWrath position.  He does not write as one who has a case to prove on the rapture, but as a well versed student of the scriptures who can illuminate most any passage of the Bible that he turns to.  Yet he is also able to engage his colleagues with opposing views and defend his own positions when they are questioned.  With this in mind, it is with great care that I present to you, students of eschatology, the content of this post.

Alan Hultberg represents PreWrath, but in his presentation he differs with other prewrathers who have taught, promoted, and even risked careers for the PreWrath position over the course of many years.  This post is to document where Hultberg differs from the classic PreWrath position, where he differs from my viewpoint, and where I believe he could defend PreWrath better in the future.  Those representing the classic PreWrath position are Marvin Rosenthal, Robert Van Kampen, and Charles Cooper.  Van Kampen has two books which speak to his views on the rapture and eschatology, The Sign and The Rapture Question Answered.  Rosenthal has published The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church and a series of articles in the publication Zion’s Fire which serve as a commentary for the book of Revelation.  Charles Cooper has published God’s Elect and the Great Tribulation along with many articles in a newsletter titled Parousia.  Rosenthal and Cooper continue to publish material on the end times and may be persuaded of some of the views that Hultberg has presented, but Van Kampen is now with the LORD.

Foremost, Hultberg believes that the rapture will occur during the events of Matthew 24:29-31, included under the gathering of the elect.  After discussing how Paul derives his framework for the coming of Christ in the Thessalonians epistles directly from the Olivet Discourse, he makes this comment.  “This evidence indicates that, though no “rapture” is explicitly mentioned in Matthew 24:31, it is precisely there in the tradition that Paul places the rapture.”  He also believes that the rapture occurs at the sixth seal in Revelation and identifies the multitude in Revelation 7:9-17 as the church.  “In Revelation 7:9 the innumerable multitude is said to come from “every nation, tribe, people and language” and in 7:14 to have washed their robes “in the blood of the Lamb.”  This is language that John already applied to the church in Revelation 5:9…  John clearly intends to describe the church there…” So Hultberg agrees with classic PreWrath that the church will enter the great tribulation and be raptured at the sixth seal.  He also believes that the church will be spared the wrath of God that the Son of Man brings with him in accordance with I Thessalonians 5:9 and II Thessalonians 1:7-8.  “We conclude then from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:12 that Paul understands two events to occur in relation to the parousia.  Jesus will pour out his wrath on unbelievers, and he will rapture his church to allow them to escape that wrath.  This complex of events Paul refers to as the day of the Lord.” Further, Hultberg believes from the Revelation chronology, that the church will be spared the wrath of God as contained in the trumpets which follows the great tribulation.  “The trumpets that will effect God’s wrath are then given to seven angels, and fire from the altar, mixed with the prayers of the saints (cf. 6:9-10) is cast to earth.  Thereafter the trumpets are blown and supernatural cataclysms embroil the earth.  Between the opening of the sixth seal in Revelation 6:12-17 and the seventh seal in 8:1-5, however, comes an interlude in the action….  Though God’s wrath will not be administered until the blowing of the trumpets, it is with the opening of the sixth seal that God’s wrath is said to arrive, immediately upon the directive to the martyrs to wait.  The implication is that by the time the sixth seal is opened, the full complement of martyrs has been achieved.  A better solution is to understand the appearance of the innumerable multitude in heaven to be a picture of the rapture of the church.”  This is all in accord with the classic prewrath position, and of course with me as well.

Now let’s turn to the subject of Revelation 14:14-16 as the rapture.  Hultberg does an excellent job setting the sequence in Revelaton 12-16 as a parallel to the PreWrath rapture in Revelation 6-8.  “Thus it is certain that Revelation 7:9-17, introduced by the cosmic disturbances of the sixth seal and parallel to the scene of the victors harvested by the Son of Man in 14:14-16, is a picture of the raptured church.”  Later he writes, “We have seen above that Revelation 6-8 and 14-16 present the rapture immediately prior to the outpouring of God’s wrath.  Thus in Revelation 14:14-20, following an announcement of the arrival of the hour of God’s judgment (14:7) and yet prior to the grape harvest (14:17-20) in which all who worship the Beast will be forced to “drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger” (14:10, 18-20 NASB), John sees Christ harvest the earth at his parousia.  Once the victorious church is in heaven (15:2-4), the seven bowls full of the wrath of God (15:1, 7; 16:1) are poured onto the kingdom of the Beast (16:21).”  But in this instance Hultberg departs from the understanding that other PreWrathers express concerning this passage.  Charles Cooper writes in Parousia newsletter that “Revelation 14:14-17 narrates the wrath of God against the wicked depicted in the bowl judgments to follow”.  Taking a bit different approach, in Zion’s Fire, Rosenthal has expressed that Revelation 14:14-16 is a rapture type event occurring after the rapture, gathering those who come to faith after the actual rapture into the kingdom of God.  Read about his views here.  So this is clearly new territory for a published PreWrath author to venture into.  Alas, I do not know if Van Kampen would have agreed or not.  I checked the scripture references in The Sign to find that it skipped from Revelation 14:12 to Revelation 14:20.  My guess is that he would disagree with Hultberg because of his chronological view of the bowls being located in the 30 days that follow Daniel’s 70th week.  I agree completely with Hultberg on this matter.  He has this well laid foundation, “Revelation 12-16 forms a literary unit in the book.”

Since Hultberg is not writing his thesis to distinguish himself from classic PreWrath, it is sometimes difficult to understand if he agrees with the classic chronology.  That chronology is that the seven seals occur first (at least the fifth and sixth seals are during the great tribulation which follows the abomination of desolation at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week), followed by the seven trumpets which occur during the Day of the LORD taking us to the end of the 1260 days, then in the 30 days that follow is when the seven bowls are poured out.  This is why the classic PreWrath structure does not seem to be able to accommodate Revelation 14:14-16 as the rapture because of its placement in proximity to the bowls.  However, it seems that Hultberg may agree with the classic timeline because in a footnote he writes:  “The literary connection among the three “judgment” series in Revelation indicate that the seventh seal encompasses the seven trumpets and the seventh trumpet encompasses the seven bowls.  Thus the trumpets are given upon the opening of the seventh seal (8:1-2), and the trumpets end and bowls begin with the opening of the temple in heaven (11:19; 15:5).  Each series then ends with the same theophanic phenomena, indicating the coming of God and his kingdom (11:15-18; cf. 16:17).”  But he also writes this which may lean toward an understanding of the trumpets and bowls being parallel: “Seals 1-6 bring us to the arrival of the day of God’s wrath, and seal 7 (incorporating the  trumpets and bowls) is the outpouring of God’s wrath.  The seven bowls represent a final, intense period of judgment against the Beast and his worshipers during which repentance is impossible.” While his chronology could go either way, he probably agrees with the classic PreWrath view, which places the bowls in the 30 days which follow the 1260 days.  His scripture reference above points to a popular view that Revelation 15:5 picks up at the precise point where the chronology ended at Revelation 11:19.  Later he will write in a response to Moo that “the seventh trumpet is expanded in the seven bowls of wrath…”  As I have stated before, the idea of the bowls occurring in the 30 days that follow the 1260 days contradicts Revelation 13:5 which shows the beast only has 42 months of authority, not 43 months.  The bowls should picture the demise of the beast within that 42 month period.  This makes the trumpets and bowls occur in a chronologically parallel fashion, even if we don’t completely understand.

Later in Hultberg’s response to Moo, he gets even further into the issue of chronology with a startling viewpoint concerning the two witnesses.  Hultberg surprisingly agrees with Moo that the two witnesses prophesy during the first half of Daniel’s 70th week.  He allows this because during Revelation 10:1-11:2 it seems that the chronological action is put on pause temporarily.  Hultberg is responding to Moo’s assertion that the two witnesses ascend into heaven at the time of the rapture, and further that the great earthquake of Revelation 6:12, 11:13, and 16:18 all describe the same event, causing the time of these three verses to converge.  Hultberg cleaves the timing of the earthquakes of Revelation 6:12 and 16:18 by showing that the sixth seal signals the arrival of God’s wrath while the seventh bowl signals the conclusion of God’s wrath and the arrival of the kingdom of God.  He also emphasizes a chronological progression from sixth seal to seventh seal and into the seven trumpets.  His ultimate conclusion is that since the sequence of the two witnesses falls outside the scope of the trumpet sequence therefore the ascension of the two witnesses will occur in the second half of Daniel’s 70th week, most likely at the rapture.  Hultberg winds up agreeing that the great earthquake of Revelation 11:13 when the two witnesses ascend into heaven is most likely the great earthquake of the sixth seal.  His timing seems to be that the two witnesses have the time of their testimony in the first half of Daniel’s 70th week, then sometime after that time they are no longer supernaturally protected, they are killed during the second half of Daniel’s 70th week, then they are resurrected (for how long?) and then ascend at the sixth seal rapture.  Van Kampen disagrees with this in The Sign as he has written, “…the literal sequence of the book of Revelation unequivocally shows that the death of the two witnesses will bring the seventieth week to an end.”  As prolific a writer as Rosenthal is, he has surprisingly little to say about the two witnesses in his Revelation commentary.  However, he does affirm his agreement with Van Kampen in writing, “When their time of witness is concluded at the end of the Seventieth Week, the Antichrist will murder them…”  Cooper has a little more interaction with other positions in Parousia issue #15 by examining the three woes.  He writes, “The completion of the second woe is pronounced just after the death and resurrection of the two witnesses.”  To briefly cut to the chase, Cooper states, “The only logical conclusion is that the two witnesses must prophesy during the second three and a half-year period.”  So it seems that Hultberg diverges from the classic PreWrath position here as well.  As for my position, I am open to examining what Hultberg has to say here.  But I have written here on my blog that the two witnesses prophesy during the final three and one half years of Daniel’s 70th week.  My proof is that Revelation 11:1-3 is united, with the final 42 months of Jerusalem being trampled down occurring chronologically parallel with the ministry of the two witnesses.  After that 42 months has expired, Jesus now holds sovereignty over Jerusalem with no more Gentile occupation, see Luke 21:24 for more details.  But I have also conceded that perhaps the entire time of their testimony is 1260 days, including the death, resurrection, and an undetermined amount of time to show themselves alive.  This would still place the ascension at the end of the 1260 days.  I think this divergence of opinion demonstrates two points.  First, it is important to read the responses that one has to the positions of others since we can glean even more knowledge of the positions they hold.  Reading Hultberg’s responses to Blaising and Moo were extremely insightful for me.  Second, we should be open to supporting Hultberg in his defense of the PreWrath position even if we don’t agree with every little detail of chronology.  Surely there is room for disagreement without banishing him from the PreWrath camp altogether.

Concerning Revelation 20:4 and how the first resurrection relates to the rapture is where I feel Hultberg really could have done better.  He admits up front that this is Moo’s strongest point, but is this because he doesn’t have a good response?  In his response Hultberg speculates about some very interesting possibilities.  Hultberg takes another point of Moo’s and tries to answer both at once.  Moo had previously asserted that I Corinthians 15:51-52 should be considered posttribulational because of the quotation of Isaiah 25:8.  The point Moo makes is that church saints are included in this OT resurrection passage.  So Hultberg is attempting to address Revelation 20:4 which is described as the first resurrection.  He has two good points.  First, he mentions as a possibility that although this passage is mentioned “post-parousia” that it is probably misplaced.  Second, the idea of the trumpet on the Day of the LORD (I Cor. 15:52) is likened to the Day of the LORD in that it is not a single event but more of an eschatological period of time when God accomplishes certain things.  (I’m really summarizing poorly here.)  But then I feel Hultberg makes an error.  He points to passages in the OT which seem to have “conflated” the first resurrection and the second resurrection (his term).  So instead of clarifying, Hultberg clouds the issue stating that there is no reason that the passages could not be post-millennial after the manner of some of these OT passages.  My solution is quite simple.  Hultberg was more on track when he initially suggested the reference was temporally misplaced.  Look at Revelation 20:4-6 and tell me what you see.  You should see the righteous dead already sitting on thrones and ruling in the millennial kingdom.  It is stated that “they came to life”, but this is aorist referring to the entire action, not necessarily intimating anything about the time.  The two chronological time markers are #1 – it must be after the great tribulation because tribulation martyrs came to life and #2 – it must be before [or at the very latest at the onset of] the millennium since they reigned for 1000 years.  Very simply, John saw the martyrs sitting on thrones at this time ruling for 1000 years with Christ, note how it states that the authority to judge had been committed to them.  This timing is in complete agreement with PreWrath.

There are some other minor issues that are worth mentioning.  It seems that Hultberg agrees with other PreWrathers in seeing a parallel between the birthpangs mentioned in Matthew 24:8 and the seals of Revelation 6.  Others have examined this and found it to be lacking, myself included.  But Hultberg doesn’t present his view quite the way others have, and even acknowledges in a footnote that the fourth seal has no particular correspondence to the Olivet Discourse.  He also sees a certain Roman emperor to be at the center of the Revelation prophecies in some way.  He writes, “The fact that the beast-king is ridden by a woman representing Rome probably indicates the Beast is a Roman emperor, most likely Domitian, the eighth emperor from Augustus, who is predicted to “reincarnate” Nero as an antichrist.” This comment should not be taken out of context.  Hultberg points out the deception of the false prophet (cf. Matthew 24:24, II Thess. 2:9-10) showing that John has two perspectives in mind, which he terms a dualist perspective in a footnote giving more explanation, one near (first century) and one far (eschatological).  So warning the church of an upcoming tribulation in the first century should not be problematic for us who still wait for future fulfillments.  Finally, there is always the debate as to whether the woman of Revelation 12:1 is either Israel or the church.  I like what Hultberg writes in a footnote: “The woman in Revelation 12 seems to be a symbol of the messianic community.  Her war with the dragon extends from the garden of Eden (12:9) to the final period of history (12:14 and the rest of the book, which is dependent on this episode).  Thus, as Eve, she gives birth to a messianic child whose life is sought by the ancient serpent (12:4; Gen. 3:15).  As Israel, she bears the attributes of Joseph’s dream (12:1; Gen. 37:9) and brings forth the Messiah (12:5; Ps. 2:9).  Though she herself is protected by God, the rest of her children are exposed to the wrath of the dragon in the work of the beast (12:17; 13:7).”  Not bad.  I lean toward seeing the woman as the church (which includes the believing remnant of Israel), but here is a view which centers around Eve and Israel which I really like.

If I have one hope for Hultberg’s presentation of PreWrath to accomplish, it is that within the PreWrath community it will be accepted and even promoted that Revelation 14:14-16 pictures the PreWrath rapture.  The passage is clearly parallel with Revelation 6-8.  I have debated online with other PreWrathers and the verdict for me is clearly in.  There is no evidence that this cannot be the PreWrath rapture, and believe me, I have had a lot thrown at me.  We are indebted to Dr. Hultberg for his work now available in this recent publication.  What are you waiting for students of eschatology?  This book is a landmark.  It’s time to purchase it.

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

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