Are the Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls Consecutive or Overlapping?
There are three main (with some variations) positions on the timing of the Rapture and the sequence of events for the End Times:
1.) Pre-tribulation Rapture: the view that the Church is raptured before any tribulation or wrath occurs on the Earth,
2.) Pre-wrath: the view that the Church is on Earth for the "Tribulation" as perpetrated by the Antichrist, but is raptured before God's wrath is poured out, and
3.) Post-Trib: the view that the Church is present on the Earth for both the persecution of the Church, also known as the Great Tribulation (perpetrated by the Antichrist and his followers), and also for some of the plagues sent by God, but remains protected from those plagues, and that the Rapture occurs at the Return of Christ as He Returns to "put everything under His feet".
The purpose of this article is not to go through all of the nuances of each position since that has been accomplished in some of my videos pertaining to the timing of the Rapture and it is beyond the scope of this piece. The purpose of this article is to explain why the book of Revelation is not simply chronological and also to explain that even a Pre-wrath position must consent that it is not strictly chronological. What I mean by "strictly chronological" is that while the seals 1-7 are chronological, as are trumpets 1-7, and bowls 1-7, the overarching End Times narrative is repeated several times in different ways throughout Revelation.
Pre-wrath and Post-trib positions are very similar, but there are important distinctions (all of which I will not cover here). Regarding the timing of the Rapture and the chronology of Revelation, the Pre-wrath position holds that the Rapture is at the 6th seal and views the seals, trumpets, and bowls as chronological to each other. The Post-trib position generally agrees with the 6th seal rapture, but also sees overlap between the symbols especially between the 6th and 7th of each symbol. How can we discover which position is correct? As we explore this topic together we will see clues to the Resurrection, Rapture, or Return of Christ at crucial moments that we cannot ignore. (I’ll mention some of those in a minute.) Those who hold a Pre-wrath position assume from one verse, “we are not appointed to wrath” that therefore the Rapture MUST happen before any wrath occurs. But let us ask if this is true. Is that what the verse means? Is it possible for God to pour out his wrath on the earth while not affecting His people? Does God need a rapture to accomplish this goal? Has this been true historically? We have to ask ourselves, “Has God ever poured out His wrath before?” The answer is yes. Has he ever needed a rapture to protect His people? No. Is His wrath so indiscriminate that He can't control who it affects? Even when He poured out His wrath in the flood, He didn’t need a rapture to protect Noah. He certainly could have raptured him and then set him back down, but Noah was protected while remaining on the earth, not in Heaven. We also cannot ignore the parallels between the Exodus and the End Times timeline. Pharaoh is a type of Antichrist. God poured out plagues on him and his kingdom, meanwhile Pharaoh persecuted God’s people (foreshadowing the Antichrist) by forcing them make bricks without straw. God, however, makes a distinction between His people and the Egyptians. God poured out the plagues on Egypt but in Goshen His people were protected. But we must as a crucial question? When are the Israelites brought out? Is it before any wrath is poured out on Egypt? Only AFTER all the plagues are finished, and when God was about to annihilate Pharaoh and his army in the sea (a foreshadowing of Armageddon) did God bring His people out of Egypt.
Have you noticed in the Book of Daniel the same story is repeated in different chapters within Daniel (Chapter 2, 7, and then 8-12 in greater detail?) We likewise see the same sequence repeated again and again, in Revelation. Consider when Joseph interpreted pharaoh’s dreams of cows and wheat. Seven healthy cows consumed by seven emaciated cows, followed by seven healthy stalks of grain eaten by seven sickly heads of grain. Were those two dreams to be seen as chronological: 7+7+7+7=28? No. What did Joseph say? They are the same dream! Likewise we are given 3 symbols in revelation (7 of each symbol), I think it’s significant that we are awaiting the final 7 years time frame and we are given 7 of each of these symbols. Jospeh told pharaoh the reason he had the dream twice: “The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.” Now let’s, get back to Revelation and see what other clues besides the 6th seal that we have. While it seems logical that items 1-7 of each symbol are chronological, is the rest of Revelation strictly chronological? If we are gone/raptured at the 6th seal (Revelation 6) and it is chronological, then why do we see the throwing down of Satan from Heaven and the persecution of the saints in Revelation 12? If it’s strictly chronological, then there should be no saints here at that point. Rather, we see a retelling of events that is inconsistent with a strictly chronological view. In Revelation 14:12, it says “Here is a call for the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” If we take a strictly chronological view, we have to assume the rapture hasn’t happened yet. The other option (necessary for both pre-wrath and post-trib) is to ascribe to some repetition/retelling of events like we see in Daniel. In Rev. 14, we read this “14And I looked and saw a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was One like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand.
15Then another angel came out of the temple, crying out in a loud voice to the One seated on the cloud, “Swing Your sickle and reap, because the time has come to harvest; for the crop of the earth is ripe.” 16So the One seated on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.
17Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18Still another angel, with authority over the fire, came from the altar and called out in a loud voice to the angel with the sharp sickle, “Swing your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the vine of the earth, because its grapes are ripe.”
19So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the grapes of the earth, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.”
This is another retelling within Revelation of the Return of Jesus, Rapture of the saints using the same imagery Jesus did in Mark 13:
"26“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.27And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens."
And then perhaps the most shocking evidence is in Revelation 16 right between the 6th and 7th bowls, Jesus totally interrupts the sequence of events of the pouring out of bowls and says this “Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who remains awake and clothed, so that he will not go naked and let his shame be exposed.” That is Return of Christ language. The “thief in the night” is a huge clue! In Thessalonians 5:1-2 we read:
“Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
And also 2 Peter 3:10:
"But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.”
And of course Jesus’ own words about His return in Matthew 24: 43-44:
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Jesus parallels the event we call the Return of Christ with the "thief in the night" language and then intentionally repeats that language between the 6th and 7th bowls. Should we ignore this glaring clue? Additionally, if Christians had already been raptured at this point and all that are left are the wicked, why does He say: “Blessed is the one who remains awake and clothed”? Only the righteous can be blessed, so they must be present at that time.
The summation of these events are repeated over and over in Revelation just like Daniel which is a huge key to understanding Revelation. Revelation 19 again recaps the marriage of the Lamb, the Rider on the white horse, and the pouring out of God’s wrath, And then we finally come to “the Resurrection.” We read about Resurrection (the FIRST Resurrection scripture tells us) almost at the very end of the whole book in Revelation 20. And we know the Resurrection happens BEFORE the Rapture from 1 Thessalonians 4:
“16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the TRUMPET call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”
So if we are trying to be strictly chronological, we can’t have the Rapture at the 6th seal and again here in Rev 20. The only way we can have the Rapture at the 6th seal AND here in Rev 20 is if we believe there is repetition and overlap. This solves a lot of mysteries when understanding Revelation. We have to remember when we are looking for clues; we look for the things we know are linked such as the Return, Resurrection, and Rapture. Any clues to any of these three events is a reference to the other two because we know they occur at the same time. This also helps us understand how we will be raised at the last trump.
"I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the LAST trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
From this passage alone we can see that the three R’s (Return/Resurrection/Rapture) happen at “the Last Trumpet”. How can this be, if it already happened at between the 6th and 7th seals and they are strictly chronological to the trumpets?
So then, if God has poured out His wrath in the past and has not needed a rapture to protect His people, what is the purpose of the rapture? Well from the passage above we see it is for our transformation, we become clothed with immortality, but from a symbolic standpoint it is the welcoming party of the King and the Bridegroom. Both traditions involve the party going out to welcome the guest of honor back. If Jesus had a triumphal entry for His first advent, how much more and greater will the ultimate triumphal entry be?
1) My Bible seems to indicate that the seven trumpets are not handed to the angels until the 7th seal. So if they didn’t have the trumpets until that time, they cannot be overlapping.
I think some translations make make it seem more chronological, but here’s what mine says “1When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
2And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.”
How I read it is that the 7th seal brings "silence in Heaven", it does not precipitate the handing out of the trumpets. Some translations say “and then” instead of what the Greek actually says, which is simply “and”. John can only see so much at once, so he’s given the vision or series of visions chronologically (just like Daniel was given several visions about the same End Times events,) but we can tell from the body of the text that there is definitely repetition and overlap. And understanding this overlap is required even for the pre-wrath view or there are some major problems like multiple resurrections and multiple returns of Christ. I believe when Jesus used key phrases such as “last trump” and then gives us trumpets as symbols in Revelation, or “Behold I come like a thief,” He wants us to put those pieces together. It’s a very specific phrase and it interrupts a logical flow between bowls 6 and 7 for a huge reason.
2) How do you see daily activities going on as usual (eating, drinking, working in the field etc) if people are dodging the fireballs and hail and locusts from Heaven? Do you think only certain regions will see this? Just trying to think through this. We are told that Jesus will thresh from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates. Do you think he will thresh outside that region also?
Response: I think that just like God miraculously brought plagues only on the Egyptians while sparing every Israelite home in Goshen, He has zero difficulty making a distinction between the wicked and the righteous even on a house by house basis. “22Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that hail will fall all over Egypt—on people and animals and on everything growing in the fields of Egypt.” 23When Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, the Lord sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So the Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt; 24hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation. 25Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields—both people and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree. 26The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were.”
Sounds like the “threshing” will be very localized. There are certain times he tells people to flee from a region, i.e. “come out of her my people” before He pours out his wrath on a region.
3) But I thought He is only coming “like a thief” to those in darkness?
Response: The day of judgement for the flood was the same day for both unbelievers and believers. Noah was aware of what was happening so it wasn’t “like a thief” to him and yet it was to all those outside the Ark. The day of the Lord is the same day for all people, but the outcomes are different.
“1Now about the times and seasons, brothers, we do not need to write to you. 2For you are fully aware that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, “Peace destruction will come upon them suddenly, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
4But you, brothers, are not in the darkness so that this day should overtake you like a thief. 5For you are all sons of the light and sons of the day; we do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6So then, let us not sleep as the others do, but let us remain awake and sober.”
In summary, events in Revelation are repeated with different details at different times just like they are in Daniel. All views (pre-trib, pre-wrath, and post-trib) must take an overlapping view with at least some passages in Revelation. None of the views can consistently hold to a strictly chronological view because of the problems listed above. So none of the views should condescend a position that sees overlap. A view that has the 6th and 7th seals, trumpets, and bowls overlapping seems to make the most sense of the literary clues throughout the Scriptures for the Return/Resurrection/Rapture event within Revelation. As during labor, contractions increase, build, and come one one top of the other, so will the events listed in Revelation build and overlap until His Return.