An Exposition and Defense of Bill Salus’ Version of Pre-Tribulationism
James Buddy Smith
June 25, 2018
The end of the 20th century saw the birth of a new challenge to the pre-tribulational view of the rapture. In the 1970s Robert Van Kampen coined the phrase “pre-wrath” to describe his own particular understanding of the rapture. Strengthened by the writing of his supporter, Marvin Rosenthal, Kampen added more controversy to an already controversial subject: the timing of the rapture. By acknowledging God’s “wrath” (1 Thess. 5:9) to be part of the Tribulation, and not simply final judgment or hell, Kampen and Rosenthal agreed with proponents of pre-tribulationism. Nevertheless, they argued that this “wrath” does not take up the entirety of the Tribulation, but is rather relegated to the last quarter of the seven-year period. As Dr. Thomas Ice explains, “Van Kampen distinguishes the rapture and the second coming with a gap of one and three-quarters years between them. He has the church continuing through the first three-quarters of the tribulation until the three-quarters point rapture occurs.”
Given this innovation, defenders of the pre-tribulation position are obligated to put forth their rebuttal if they are to continue to affirm the superiority of their view. One prophecy scholar, Bill Salus, responds to the pre-wrath position with an innovation of his own: the pre-gap theory of the rapture. His view, though pre-tribulational, differs from traditional interpretation is multiple ways while remaining faithful to the dispensational hermeneutic. The pre-gap theory of the rapture, defended by Bill Salus, offers a unique improvement upon the normative pre-tribulation view in both its understanding of the first six seals of Revelation 6 and its placement of the eschatological wrath of God (i.e. “day of the Lord”) on the prophetic timeline.
Comparison and Contrast of Views
Before looking at how the different pre-tribulation views compare and contrast, it is first necessary to understand how the pre-wrath view is unique. While pre-tribulationism argues that the “wrath” of God is synonymous with the seven-year Tribulation, defenders of the pre-wrath position strongly disagree. As Bil Salus explains, “The general consensus among many of them is that the sixth seal of Revelation 6:12 describes events that occur around the middle of the trib-period.” Since Revelation 6:17 deals with the sixth seal and says that “the great day of his wrath is come,” pre-wrath advocates argue that the wrath of God begins at this point. Therefore, given the assumption of the seals’ timing noted by Salus, the pre-wrath theory places the wrath of God sometime after the mid-point of the Tribulation. If true, this would completely refute the pre-tribulation interpretation.
Defenders of mainstream pre-tribulationism, such as Dr. Thomas Ice, maintain that the sixth seal only announces that the wrath of God is in effect, not that it has just arrived. Ice writes, “Revelation 6:16-17 is a summary statement of all the previous seal judgments.” In other words, the wrath of God commences with the very first seal but is only recognized by the recipients of it for the first time after the sixth seal is broken. While certainly possible, this view might be open to the objection of special pleading. The defenders of the pre-wrath position could easily respond that Ice only interprets the text this way because he is reading into the text his pre-conceived eschatology. After all, one might argue, does not the plain sense warrant the beginning of God’s wrath in Revelation 6:17? While this line of rebuttal may not be very strong, Bill Salus guards against it in an interesting way.
Salus is well aware of the pre-wrath position and sees in it a faulty assumption that it ironically shares with many proponents of pre-tribulationism. He writes, “Ordering the chronological events contained in the seals one through six reveals that the first five seals appear to be opened before the seven years of the tribulation begin. If it can be proven that they do, then pre-wrathers…are mistaken.” Yet how can the rapture be imminent, if the first five seals precede the Tribulation? Maintaining a non-dogmatic tone, Salus adds, “Although I believe the seven seals conclude within the Trib-period, it is possible the first five seals are opened prior, during the Post-Rapture/Pre-trib gap period.” By postulating a hypothetical gap period, Salus upholds the imminency of the rapture and places the beginning of the Tribulation at the opening of the sixth seal. As an aside, it must be noted that such a gap period is certainly allowed by the Biblical text. Nothing is Scripture precludes the possibility of the Rapture happening any amount of time before the signing of the covenant and start of Daniel’s seventieth week. The rapture and this covenant are related to each other (i.e. the former preceding the latter) but not placed together on the prophetic timeline.
Contribution of the Pre-Gap Theory
As noted above, normative defenders of the pre-tribulation view place the first five seals in the first half of the Tribulation. This forces them to interpret the sixth seal as merely announcing the wrath of the Lord as having already arrived. In addition to this, it is necessary to defend the contention that the first five seals contain judgments that constitute the wrath of God. Still, do the seals constitute the wrath of God, or are they merely descriptions of mankind and the Devil at work? John Fish argues that the seals do indeed entail the wrath of God. In his rebuttal of Rosenthal he writes concerning the first seals, “Godless and evil dictators like the Antichrist can be God’s instruments of judgment on a sinful world.”
While this author agrees with Fish that God is sovereign and uses evil agents to accomplish His righteous will, his argument is lacking in light of Revelation 6. Revelation 6:15 alludes to Isaiah 2:17-21. In Isaiah, God says that He will humble the proud and shake in the earth “in that day” (i.e. day of the LORD). Moreover, Joel 2:10 provides the basis for Revelation 6:12 with its mention of an earthquake, the sun turning black and the moon being like blood. Isaiah and Joel both seem to be identifying the day of the LORD with specific events which do not take place until the sixth seal is opened. Given these connections and the statement, “the great day of his wrath is come,” it is difficult for the writer of this paper to not conclude that the wrath of God commences at the sixth seal, as pre-wrath advocates and Salus argue. Yet this leaves an important question: What evidence is there to place the sixth seal at the beginning of the Tribulation, as Salus suggests? The key lies in the ministry of the two witnesses of Revelation 11.
The enigmatic witnesses of Revelation 11 serve an important role in identifying the beginning of God’s wrath. But first, when will their ministry take place? It is commonly asserted among chief defenders of pre-tribulationism that the witnesses will be active during the second half of the Tribulation. Two examples classic examples are Clarence Larkin and John Walvoord, both being famous advocates of pre-tribulationism. Larkin writes, “the time when these two witnesses are to prophesy must correspond with the last half of the week, or the time of the great tribulation.” Walvoord concurs. While confessing that the matter is debated, he writes that the backdrop of the witnesses’ ministry “clearly corresponds to the Great Tribulation” In line with these historic dispensationalists, Jerry Hullinger gives two reasons why the witnesses will be at work in the second half: (1) “Daniel 9:27 says that during the first half Israel will be at peace through the covenant with the Antichrist” and (2) “the abomination occurs at the middle of the Tribulation.” All of these able interpreters argue that since the temple is controlled by the Beast when they are prophesying that the witnesses’ ministry must take place in the second half, seeing that the Beast will not defile the temple until the middle of Daniel’s seventieth week. Yet does the text actually say the Beast has defiled the temple at the time the witnesses are ministering on God’s behalf? Revelation 11:1-2 gives a crucial clue.
Verses 1-2 indicate that the outer court of the Tribulation temple will be overrun by Gentiles for forty-two months, or three-and-a-half years. During this time the inner portion of the temple will be free of defilement. As Dr. Robert Dean writes, “This indicates a less than complete occupation, unlike the later period of the Tribulation when there is a complete and total occupation of the Temple as indicated by the first Beast sitting in the naos (2 Thess 2:4) and having his image there.” So, contrary to Larkin and Walvoord, the inner portion of the temple has not been yet been made unclean by the Beast’s abomination. But why will be an exception? What is stopping the Beast from taking not just the court but the naos as well? Revelation 11:3 gives the answer by mentioning the supernatural power of the two witnesses. These prophets of God will be gifted with miraculous powers and will kill any who try to hinder their preaching mission (11:5).
Therefore, until the Beast rises from the Pit and kills them (11:7), the witnesses will limit the absolute authority of the Antichrist by occupying a place in the temple and preventing any and all attempts to remove them. Only after they are dead will the Beast be given power to blaspheme God through the abomination of desolation and make unchecked war on the saints (Revelation 13:3-7). This totalitarian rule will not last long however, but only be forty-two months in length (13:5). This second period of three-and-a-half years then would be the last half of the Tribulation. Based on this information, it can be safely asserted that the two witnesses will have their ministry for the first half of the Tribulation. Thus, having established the timing of the witnesses, it is now necessary to show how they are connected to the wrath of God. Only then can it be said that Salus is correct in assigning the wrath of God to the first half of the Tribulation, in opposition to the pre-wrath view.
Without proof of God’s wrath being exercised in the first half of the Tribulation, the pre-gap theory, as well as any form of pre-tribulationism, is without a foundation. The premise is that Christians are exempt from God’s wrath (1 Thess. 5:9). As such, there must be a good reason to see the whole Tribulation as a time of God’s wrath in order to confidently claim that believers will be raptured before it takes place. The two witnesses provide such a reason. Revelation 11:6 states that these men will have the ability to “shut heaven,” turn water supplies “to blood,” and to “smith the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.” These judgments are not local, for the object of their plagues is repeatedly said to be the people of “the earth” (11:6, 10). Furthermore, there appears to be a connection between the plagues of these witnesses and the trumpet judgments mentioned from chapter 8 to chapter 11.
Concerning the witnesses, Zane Hodges states the following: “The plagues of Revelation 8 and 9 are easily identified with the two witnesses. They are structured into a series of events that the inspired author deliberately ties together…The two witnesses leave behind them a world littered with ecological and economic disasters or unprecedented scale.” The first trumpet deals with the trees and grass of the earth being burned up (Rev. 8:7). This is similar to the witnesses’ ability to consume their enemies with fire and the drought caused by their shutting up heaven will make the fires on earth all the more destructive. The second trumpet mentions a third part of the sea becoming blood (8:8). This coincides with the witnesses’ power over the waters to turn them into blood. This power over the waters could also be connected to the third trumpet which deals with the pollution of earth’s waters by wormwood (8:10-11). The fourth concerns the celestial bodies being darkened (sun, moon, etc.). Again, this could be related to the witnesses, for it is said they have power over “heaven” and are able to smite the earth with all manner of plagues whenever they choose. The relationship of the remaining trumpets to the witnesses is more unclear. However, what is sure is that the resurrection of the witnesses precedes the blowing of the final trumpet and occurs immediately prior to the second woe, which results in a great earthquake (Rev. 11:11-15). Clearly, the witnesses will at the very least have a ministry overlapping the trumpets, which must occur in the first half of the Tribulation, since, as we have already shown, the witnesses are soundly located during the 1,260 days before the Beast rises to power in the middle of the Tribulation. In short, given the similarity between the witnesses’ miraculous signs and the trumpets, one is very tempted to postulate a close relationship.
Another interesting factor concerns the Old Testament background of the witnesses miracles. Many commentators throughout the history of the church have speculated on the identity of the witnesses. Such a discussion is beyond the scope of this work. Nevertheless, the witnesses’ signs are strikingly similar to those of Elijah and Moses. Just as the witnesses will strike the earth with drought all the days of their ministry (that is, three-and-a-half years), Elijah struck the Northern Kingdom with drought the same amount of time. This was a sign for God’s people, Israel, to repent. The other signs of the witnesses are similar to those of Moses in Egypt (e.g. water turning to blood, “all plagues”). These were to be a sign to Pharaoh and his Gentile subjects. So, the two witnesses sum up God’s wrath on all the world, which consists of both Jew and Gentile.
In conclusion, the two witnesses serve as God’s instruments of wrath on all the world for the first half of the Tribulation before being killed by the Beast. Again, considering the close relationship between them and the trumpets, both can be said to take place by the middle of the Tribulation. This creates a problem for the pre-wrath position, as well as many proponents of pre-tribulationism, both placing the trumpets and witnesses in the second half of the Tribulation. On the other hand, the pre-gap theory of Bill Salus fits seamlessly with these facts. By placing the beginning of the Tribulation at the opening of the sixth seal, Salus agrees with the pre-wrath objection to normative pre-tribulationism that the wrath of God cannot begin until that point, but, at the same time, he improves upon the common pre-tribulational understanding of the two witnesses and the trumpets by placing both (and consequently God’s wrath) before the middle of the Tribulation. This innovation serves a two-fold purpose: (1) it acknowledges the plain sense of Revelation 6:17 (that is, the sixth seal ushers in the wrath of God) and (2) it results in a more natural understanding of the witnesses’ chronological relationship to the rest of Revelation by not cramming them into the second half of the Tribulation. Nevertheless, while many defenders of pre-tribulationism might disagree with Salus’ chronology, they cannot deny that he upholds a shared belief in the deliverance of believers from the entirety of the Tribulation period.
Conclusion: Faithfulness and Consistency of the Pre-Gap Theory
The difficulty of interpreting Revelation is readily acknowledged by all who seriously study the subject. Even those in the pre-millennial camp will admit that when it comes down to details, the book presents many challenges. For this reason, advocates of the pre-tribulation perspective must be open to refining their view. While the basics of their view may be firmly established in their minds and hearts (e.g. Christian exemption from Tribulation), many specifics remain to be worked out. Bill Salus does a great service to sound exegesis and the dispensational hermeneutic by innovating with his pre-gap interpretation. While remaining faithful to the core tenants of pre-tribulation belief, Salus honestly recognizes problems with how others in his camp have interpreted the chronology of Revelation. He aims to provide a more consistent approach, something pre-wraths supporters argue they have that others do not. While time will tell is Bill Salus’ view will gain traction among the pre-tribulation community, what is most important is his commitment to not be content with the status quo but seek excellence in his understanding of prophetic texts. May all Christians have the same boldness to test all things with a sincere and plain reading of Scripture.
Dean, Jr., Robert. “The Chronological Relationship of the Three Septet Judgments of the Tribulation to Daniel’s Seventy Weeks.” Pre-Trib Research Center. Accessed June 10, 2018. http://www.pre-trib.org/data/pdf/Dean-TheChronologicalRela.pdf.
Fish, John. “The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church.” Emmaus Journal 01:1 (Winter 1991): 21-34.
Hodges, Zane. Power to Make War. Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva, 1995.
Hullinger, Jerry. New Testament Life & Belief. Winston-Salem, NC: Piedmont International University, 2014.
Ice, Thomas. “The Three-Quarters Rapture Theory.” Pre-Trib Research Center. Accessed June 10, 2018. http://www.pre-trib.org/articles/view/three-quarters-rapture-theory.
Larkin, Clarence. The Book of Revelation. Philidelphia, PA: Erwin W. Moyer Co., 1919.
Salus, Bill. Apocalypse Road. La Quinta, CA: Prophecy Depot Ministries, 2017.
——. Revelation Road. La Quinta, CA: Prophecy Depot Ministries, 2012.
Walvoord, John. Every Prophecy of the Bible. Colorado Sprinds, CO: David C. Cook, 1999.
 Thomas Ice, “The Three-Quarters Rapture Theory,” Pre-Trib Research Center, accessed June 10, 2018, http://www.pre-trib.org/articles/view/three-quarters-rapture-theory.
 Bill Salus, Revelation Road (La Quinta, CA: Prophecy Depot Ministries, 2012), 299.
 Ice, “The Three-Quarters Rapture Theory,” http://www.pre-trib.org/articles/view/three-quarters-rapture-theory (accessed June 10, 2018).
 Salus, Revelation Road, 299.
 Bill Salus, Apocalypse Road (La Quinta, CA: Prophecy Depot Ministries, 2017), 170.
 John Fish, “The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church,” Emmaus Journal 01:1 (Winter 1991): 30.
 Clarence Larkin, The Book of Revelation (Philadelphia, PA: Erwin W. Moyer Co., Printers, 1919), 84.
 John Walvoord, Every Prophecy of the Bible (Colorado Spring, CO: David C. Cook, 1999), 573.
 Jerry Hullinger, New Testament Life & Belief (Winston-Salem, NC: Piedmont International University, 2014), 606.
 Robert Dean Jr., “The Chronological Relationship of the Three Septet Judgments of the Tribulation To Daniel’s Seventy Weeks,” The Pre-Trib Research Center, accessed June 10, 2018, http://www.pre-trib.org/articles/view/chronological-relationship-of-three-septet-judgments-tribulation-to-daniels-seventy-weeks.
 The phrase “upon/on the earth” in verse 10 should suffice to show the global extent of the witnesses’ plagues. The Greek preposition epi (“upon/on”) rather than the preposition en (“in”) is used. So, while the word for “earth” (Gk. ge) could possibly mean “land,” a localized interpretation of the term accords less with the choice of preposition and the universal nature of God’s eschatological judgment described in the context of Revelation.
 Zane Hodges, Power to Make War (Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva, 1995), 85-86.
 These judgments deal with the release of demonic entities from their prisons to torment the earth. It is possible that the witnesses will pronounce these events as judgment from God, as prophets of old often did.
 While one might argue that any position affirming a rapture prior to the wrath of God is “pre-wrath,” the “pre-wrath” position, as defined in this paper, is the view claiming the wrath of God begins three-quarters through the Tribulation. As such, given that the witnesses’ ministry overlaps the outpouring of God’s wrath and takes place in the first half of the Tribulation, the rapture must be pre-tribulational (assuming the premise shared by both pre-wrath and pre-tribulation advocates: the rapture takes place before God’s eschatological wrath).