the great day of His wrath
The great day is The Day of the Lord, a unique time yet future when God will radically intervene in history to demonstrate in an irrefutable way Who He is.
The primary Old Testament passages from which the images in the sixth seal are drawn prove that the great day must be the Day of the Lord (Isa. Isa. 2:10-11, Isa. 2:19-21; Isa. 13:9-13; Isa. 34:4, Isa. 34:8; Eze. Eze. 32:7-8; Hos. Hos. 10:8; Joel Joel 2:11, Joel 2:30; Zep. Zep. 1:14; Mal. Mal. 4:5).1
First, the expression the Day of the Lord refers to Gods special intervention into world events to judge His enemies, accomplish His purpose for history, and thereby demonstrate who He isthe sovereign God of the universe (Isa. Isa. 2:10-22; Eze. Eze. 13:5, Eze. 13:9, Eze. 13:14, Eze. 13:21, Eze. 13:23; Eze. Eze. 30:3, Eze. 30:8, Eze. 30:19, Eze. 30:25-26). Second, several Days of the Lord already have occurred in which God demonstrated His sovereign rule by raising up nations to execute His judgement on other nations. For example, He raised up Babylon to judge Egypt and its allies during the 500s B.C. (Jer. Jer. 46:2, Jer. 46:10; Eze. Eze. 30:3-6). However, the Bible also foretells a future Day of the Lord.2
At the outset of the day of the Lord, human trials will be prolonged and comparable to a womans labor before giving birth to a child (Isa. Isa. 13:8; Isa. 26:17-19; Isa. 66:7-9; Jer. Jer. 30:6-8; Mic. Mic. 4:9, Mic. 4:10; cf. Mtt. Mat. 24:8; 1Th. 1Th. 5:3). This phase of growing human agony will be climaxed by the Messiahs personal return to earth to terminate the period of turmoil through direct judgment.3The great day which has been on the horizon for thousands of years has finally arrived. Men will experience unparalleled fear and conditions that have never before prevailed upon the earth:
Wail, for the day of the LORD is at hand! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. Therefore all hands will be limp, every mans heart will melt, and they will be afraid. Pangs and sorrows will take hold of them; they will be in pain as a woman in childbirth; they will be amazed at one another; their faces will be like flames. Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it. (Isa. Isa. 13:6-9)The proud technologies of man, and infrastructure upon which it depends, will quickly collapse in the midst of this time of divine retribution. Death will be so common that burial will be uncommon as the flesh of men is treated as so much garbage:
The great day of the LORD is near; It is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the LORD is bitter; there the mighty men shall cry out. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and alarm against the fortified cities and against the high towers. I will bring distress upon men, and they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like refuse. (Zep Zep. 1:14-17) [emphasis added]
For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, That will leave them neither root nor branch. (Mal Mal. 4:1-2)Not only will God pour forth his wrath upon the Gentile nations, but the Jewish nation will also undergo a time of unparalleled trouble designed to purge out the unbelieving rebels and turn the remainder back to God. In the midst of this intense judgment, God has promised that a believing remnant will survive (see Jacobs Trouble and the Great Tribulation):
Now these are the words that the LORD spoke concerning Israel and Judah. For thus says the LORD: We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask now, and see, whether a man is ever in labor with child? So why do I see every man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor, and all faces turned pale? Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacobs trouble, but he shall be saved out of it. (Jer. Jer. 30:4-7) [emphasis added]Jesus also spoke of this fearful time:
And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; mens hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. (Luke Luke 21:25-26)This is that great day for which the angels who did not keep their proper domain are reserved for judgmentthey will be used in judgment against men (Rev. Rev. 9:1+). See The Day of the Lord, Jacobs Trouble and the Great Tribulation.
The wrath is said to be of the Lamb (Rev. Rev. 6:16+). This is extremely significant because those who are covered by the blood of the Lamb prior to this day (1Pe. 1Pe. 1:17-19) are exempted from experiencing His wraththey are His bride (Luke Luke 21:36; Rom. Rom. 5:9; 1Th. 1Th. 5:9; Rev. Rev. 3:10+). See commentary on Revelation 3:10. See Rapture.
ἦλθεν [ēlthen] , aorist tense which normally denotes past time. The day has already come in the opening of the sixth seal. Gods wrath is being poured out prior to the seventh seal (which initiates the seven trumpet judgments). This contradicts the pre-wrath rapture view which holds that the seals represent Mans wrath through Antichrist [emphasis added]4 . While it is true that the aorist tense can be used to describe a future event (proleptic),5 it is more often used of actions which have already transpired.6 Advocates of the pre-wrath rapture view argue that the pronouncement associated with the sixth seal is anticipatory of the wrath of God, and not in reaction to it.7 Since the aorist can represent events either in the past or future, the form of the verb itself (aorist) cannot settle the matter. Instead, the context must indicate which meaning is in view. The use of this same word within the larger context of the book of Revelation argues for understanding has come as denoting a past or present event which has just arrived.
Mention of this specific aorist form rendered has come (ἦλθεν [ēlthen] ) in the book of Revelation, include the following:
In each of these cases, the verb describes something in the past, in the present, or in the immediate futurehaving just now come. John 13:31; Mtt. Mat. 3:17; 1Cor. 1Cor. 4:18).8 In none of its appearances in Revelation is it rendered by the translators as a true future tense (e.g., shall come, will come, is coming).
The pre-wrath rapture view requires its use here to be anticipatory over a periodspanning the events of the next chapter where the 144,000 are sealed and a multitude of martyrs are revealedreaching until the seventh seal is loosed (Rev. Rev. 8:1+). Within the larger context of the book of Revelation this verb form does not denote what pre-wrath rapture proponents require. The most that can be said is that in some cases it describes an event which is just now happening, on the boundary between the present and the future (e.g., the impending destruction of Babylon in Rev. Rev. 18:10+, the arrival of the marriage of the Lamb in Rev. Rev. 19:7+).
The only time an aorist indicative speaks of something future or something about to happen, however, is if it is a dramatic aorist (H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament [New York: Macmillan, 1927], p. 198), a futuristic aorist (BDF, par. 333 ), or a proleptic aorist (Nigel Turner, Syntax, vol. 3 of A Grammar of New Testament Greek [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963], p. 74). Some contextual feature must be present to indicate clearly these exceptional usages. No such feature exists in the context of the sixth seal, so these special uses are not options here. . . . The verb in Rev. Rev. 6:17+ must be a constantative aorist looking back in time to the point in the past when the great day of wrath arrived.9When we examine the immediate context of this passagethe seismic and astronomical disturbanceswe find that Isaiah elsewhere attributes these phenomena as being part of the Day of the Lord:
Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust, from the terror of the LORD and the glory of His majesty. The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day. For the day of the LORD of hosts Shall come upon everything proud and lofty, upon everything lifted up-And it shall be brought lowupon all the cedars of Lebanon that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan; upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up; upon every high tower, and upon every fortified wall; upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all the beautiful sloops. The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day, but the idols He shall utterly abolish. They shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, from the terror of the LORD and the glory of His majesty, when He arises to shake the earth mightily. In that day a man will cast away his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which they made, each for himself to worship, to the moles and bats, To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the crags of the rugged rocks, from the terror of the LORD and the glory of His majesty, when He arises to shake the earth mightily. (Isa. Isa. 2:10-21) [emphasis added]Isaiah tells us that in that day, not before the day, men will hide in holes of the rocks and caves.10 They are hiding from the terror of the LORD when He arises to shake the earth mightily. Their hiding is not anticipatory, but reactionary. In other words, the events of the sixth seal are part of the Day of the Lord.
The reaction of the unbelieving world to the terrors unleashed by the sixth seal will not be one of repentance (cf. Rev. Rev. 9:21+; Rev. 16:11+), but of mindless panic. They will finally acknowledge what believers have been saying all along, that the disasters they have experienced are Gods judgment. [emphasis added]11In what way could the events of the sixth seal be said to be Mans wrath [emphasis added]12 as pre-wrath rapture advocates hold? These events occur when He opened the sixth seal [emphasis added] (Rev. Rev. 6:12+). Who is He? The Lamb of Revelation Rev. 6:1+! It is Jesus Christ who directly initiates these judgments. And how could astronomical and seismic manifestations such as these reflect the wrath of puny men? For what man could cause asteroids to fall to the earth and the sky to recede as a scroll (Rev. Rev. 6:13-14+)?
Isaiah Isa. 2:10-22 foretold the future time when people, including the proud and lofty, will flee in terror to hide in the holes of the rocks and caves of the earth for the fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth (Isa. Isa. 2:11). . . . note that Isaiah indicated he was writing about the Day of the Lord, from which we can conclude that the Day of the Lord . . . will include the sixth seal, and that seal will involve Day of the Lord wrath.13See When Does the Day of the Lord Dawn?
who is able to stand
τίς δύναται σταθῆναι [tis dynatai stathēnai] . Able is present tense. The phrase could be rendered: who is presently able to stand. Their exclamation does not concern a potential future situation, as if the wrath were to begin after the seventh seal. They are presently experiencing the wrath and recognize it by the events which have just transpired which have driven them to hide in caves and in the rocks. When the sky splits and rolls up like a scroll, mountains and islands move out of their place, and asteroids fall to earth, there is little doubt concerning the power involvedit is the judgment of God! These events are not a precursor to Gods wrath, they are the result of His wrath.
As Joel said, For the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; Who can endure it? (Joel Joel 2:11b). It will be a time of unprecedented bloodshed and death, However, in the midst of these things, there are some who are able to stand because they are afforded special protection from God. The 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel, Jewish believers in Messiah Jesus, are protected so that their gospel mission (Rev. Rev. 7:9+) can be accomplished during this time of unprecedented upheaval (Rev. Rev. 7:3-8+).
As for the earth dwellers, they will remain in denial:
But then, amazingly, even this would pass. After these few terrifying days, the stars stopped falling and the terrible shakings ceased. The survivors emerged from their shelters and began again to rationalize their resistance to God. After all, these calamities could be explained scientifically, so perhaps they had been too quick to attribute them to Gods wrath. They quickly set about rebuilding their damaged structures and became more resolute in their opposition to the gospel of Christ.14
The book of Revelation discredits those who hold that God is so loving and kind that He will never judge people who have not received His Son. Though the modern mind is reluctant to accept the fact that God will judge the wicked, the Bible clearly teaches that He will. The Scriptures reveal a God of love as clearly as they reveal a God of wrath who will deal with those who spurn the grace proffered in the Lord Jesus Christ. The passage before us is a solemn word that there is inevitable judgment ahead for those who will not receive Christ by faith.15Dear reader, is your citizenship in heaven? Or do you remain an earth dweller yet?
Friends and brethren, what a mercy that day is not yet upon us! There is a Rock to which we still may fly and pray, with hope of security in its wide-open clefts. It is the Rock of Ages. There are mountains to which we may yet betake ourselves, and be forever safe from all the dread convulsions which await the world. They are the mountains of salvation in Christ Jesus. I believe I am addressing some who have betaken themselves to them. Brethren, hold fast the profession of your faith without wavering; for He is faithful that promised. (Heb. Heb. 10:23.) But others are still lingering in the plains of Sodom, who need to take this warning to heart as they never yet have done. O ye travellers of the judgment, seek ye the Lord while He may be found, and call upon Him while He is near! And may God in His mercy hide us all from the condemnation that awaits an unbelieving world!16Amen!
1 John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), Rev. 6:17.
5 We will use the term prophetic for proleptic since most readers are more familiar with that term.
10 Rosenthal misrepresents Isaiah: The prophet Isaiah said men would flee to the caves of the mountains immediately before the Day of the Lord.Rosenthal, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, 175. This makes little sense. Why would they flee before that day when it is the events which attend the day which they recognize as being Gods wrath which cause their flight?
11 MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Rev. 6:17.
16 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 159.