Robert Van Kampen became one of the wealthiest men in America after founding an investment firm in 1974. Van Kampen died, aged 60, in October 2000, awaiting a heart transplant. In the 1970s, Van Kampen developed what is known today as the “pre-wrath” rapture position. Van Kampen was also known to have possessed the largest collection of rare and antique Bibles in North America.
According to one who spent time with Van Kampen at his Chicago area home when he was developing his view, he first eliminated pretribulationism and then excluded posttribulationism. Thus, he had to come up with another view. That view is what he called the “pre-wrath” rapture theory. That title is a misnomer, since pretribulationism is 100% pre-wrath. If we follow consistency in labeling, Van Kampen’s view should be called the three-quarters rapture position, since he teaches that the church will be raptured somewhere in the middle of the last three and a half years of the seventieth week of Daniel.
I believe that if Van Kampen were not a wealthy individual then very few, if any, of us would have ever heard of his view. Van Kampen spent a number of years searching for an advocate of his newly developed viewpoint until he was finally able to persuade Marvin Rosenthal to adopt his new theory. I have a friend who was interviewed extensively by Van Kampen (in the 80s) for the pastorate of the church he attended in the Chicago area. My friend spent hours on the phone with Van Kampen, as he tried to convince him of his strange rapture view. In the end, my friend could not agree with Van Kampen, so he did not have the opportunity to become the pastor of that church. It was clear that Van Kampen was searching for someone to champion his rapture position. Van Kampen finally convinced Marvin Rosenthal of his view. Rosenthal wrote a book called The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, which was published by Thomas Nelson in 1990. Van Kampen apparently subsidized the publishing of the book by buying thousands of copies and sending them to ministers all over North America. This is how the new position was spread. Later Van Kampen came out with his own book called The Sign (three editions, 1992, 1999, 2000) from Crossway Books. He then had published The Rapture Question Answered: Plain and Simple (1997) with Revell.
WHAT IS THE THREE-QUARTERS RAPTURE THEORY?
Van Kampen’s three-quarters rapture view is a blend of midtribulational and posttribulational rationale. Instead of seeing the 24 terms describing the seventieth week of Daniel as denoting various characteristics of a single period, Van Kampen chops them into compartmental segments that contain either the wrath of man and Satan or the wrath of God. Through redefinition, Van Kampen limits the wrath of God to the final year and three-quarters of the seven-year period and deduces that the rapture occurs right before that time period. Van Kampen distinguishes the rapture and the second coming with a gap of one and three-quarters years between them, even though he makes a big deal that they are a single event. Van Kampen has the church continuing through the first three-quarters of the tribulation until the three-quarters point rapture occurs. Thus, the three-quarters rapture theory. Note the chart of Van Kampen’s three-quarters rapture theory. Van Kampen’s theory requires several unique features concerning the church and the tribulation. First, he chops the seventieth week of Daniel into three parts: 1) the beginning of birth pangs (first three and a half years), 2) the great tribulation (first half of the second half of the seven years), 3) the day of the Lord (last half of the second half of the seven years, plus a thirty day period after the second coming). By arbitrarily compartmentalizing the seventieth week of Daniel in this way, Van Kampen prepares the way for his view by saying that the first two period (first three-quarters of the seven-year period) is the wrath of man and Satan but not God’s wrath. By speculating that God’s wrath only occurs during what he labels as “the day of the Lord” (the last quarter of the seventieth week of Daniel), therefore, he says the rapture occurs at that point and keeps the church out of the wrath of God, as promised in the New Testament Epistles.
The Van Kampen innovation differs from the pretribulational view at key points. Pretribulationists agree with Van Kampen that the church will escape the time of God’s wrath. However, pretribulationism equates the time of God’s wrath and the Day of the Lord with the entire seven years of the 70th week of Daniel. Thus, I believe that Scripture supports the pretrib notion that the church will be raptured before the entire 70th week of Daniel.
SOME REASONS WHY VAN KAMPEN’S THEORY IS WRONG
The Van Kampen view of the rapture is not only built upon faulty interpretation of the Bible, but also upon flawed data and logic. In 1990 Marvin Rosenthal released the first published expression of the Van Kampen rapture view in all of history. I immediately purchased and read the book. While I detected many problems with the book, one item stuck out around page 100. Rosenthal made the following statement: “The Greek word thlipsis, translated tribulation or affliction in many English Bibles, occurs twenty times in the New Testament” (Rosenthal, Pre-Wrath, p. 103). Having done a word study of thlipsis just the week before in my normal study for teaching the Bible in my pastoral duties, it was fresh on my mind and I knew that my computer concordance showed that it actually occurs 45 times in 43 New Testament verses. Why had he not even considered over half of the New Testament references?
The point that Rosenthal was attempting to make when he committed such a glaring factual error was that the word “tribulation” is never used to refer to the first half of Daniel’s 70th week (Rosenthal, Pre-Wrath, pp. 103-08). I don’t believe that to be the case since Matthew 24:9 is an instance where “tribulation” (KJV = “afflicted”) refers to the first half of Daniel’s 70th week. Dr. John McLean explains:
Rosenthal has not only overstated his case but has stated as true fact that which is clearly false. A cursory reading of a Greek concordance reveals that the word “tribulation” (thlipsis) is used in prophetic contexts to refer to both the first and second halves of the seventieth week of Daniel. Matthew 24:9, which chronologically relates to the first half of the seventieth week as evidenced by its preceding the midpoint of the abomination of desolation (Matt. 24:15-21) states: “Then they will deliver you to tribulation (thlipsis), and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name” (NASB). Clearly the biblical text describes the first half of the seventieth week as a time of tribulation. The second half of the seventieth week is also described as a time of tribulation. Second Thessalonians 1:6 uses the Greek word thlipsin while referring to the second coming of Christ which occurs during the second half of the seventieth week of Daniel: “For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction (thlipsin) those who afflicted you” (NASB). Therefore, it is proper and even biblical to refer to, and even describe, the seventieth week of Daniel as “The Tribulation,” or “A Time of Tribulation.” (John McLean, “Chronology and Sequential Structure of John’s Revelation” in Thomas Ice & Timothy Demy, eds., When The Trumpet Sounds (Harvest House Publishers, 1995), p. 341.) Interestingly, Rosenthal restricts thlipsin “tribulation” to simply trials to be experienced (Rosenthal, Pre-Wrath, p. 237), while at the same time locating such tribulation in the first half of Daniel’s 70th week (Rosenthal, Pre-Wrath, p. 152). Like Dr. McLean and pretribulationists, Rosenthal equates Matthew 24:9 with the fifth seal judgment as stated in Revelation 6:9–11. This is exactly the understanding of pretribulationism. Yet if Rosenthal admits the obvious logical conclusion—that the tribulation in Matthew 24:9 is the tribulation—then it would provide another item that contradicts his new view and would support the only true pre-wrath position that actually does harmonize all Scriptural data—pretribulationism. Instead, Rosenthal would rather foster an internal contradiction within his system that he apparently expects his followers to overlook.
As noted earlier, Van Kampen defines only the final quarter of Daniel’s seventieth week, as the Day of the Lord, which according to him is the only time of God’s wrath. He sees the first three quarters as the wrath of man and Satan. But does the Bible make such distinctions? I do not believe it does.
Wrath in Zephaniah
Zephaniah 1:14–18 heaps together a cluster of terms that characterize the future Day of the Lord. Verse 14 labels this time as “the great day of the Lord” and “the day of the Lord.” Then verse 15–18 describe this time with the following descriptions: “that day is a day of wrath,” “a day of trouble and distress,” “a day of wasteness and desolation,” “a day of darkness and gloominess,” “a day of clouds and thick darkness,” “a day of the trumpet and alarm,” “I will bring distress upon men,” and “the day of the Lord’s wrath.” The context supports the notion that all these descriptives apply to the Day of the Lord. Such biblical usage does not allow an interpreter to chop the Day of the Lord into compartmental segments as Van Kampen insists. The text plainly says that the Day of the Lord is a time of both tribulation and God’s wrath. All of the many descriptives in this passage provide a characterization of the Day of the Lord that applies to the entire seven-year period. The Zephaniah passage clearly contradicts the basis upon which Van Kampen attempts to build his recently developed theory. Zephaniah is not alone in providing an obstacle to the Van Kampen speculation.
Wrath in Revelation
Revelation 6:1–17 records the six seal judgments, which are the first reported judgments of the tribulation. Revelation 6 and the seal judgments also contradict the Van Kampen formulation since the Bible describes all six judgments as “. . . the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come . . .” (Rev. 6:16c–17a). Even though Van Kampen cannot recognize God’s wrath, the unbelievers at the beginning of the seven-year tribulation will be able to. Revelation 5 reveals that only the Lamb (Christ) was qualified to open the seals that would begin the first judgments of the tribulation. As we connect the dots of Revelation 5 and 6, there is no basis for saying that the events of the seal judgments are somehow disconnected from Scripture’s characterization as God’s wrath. The following observations about the seal judgments support such a connection:
• The Lamb is the Individual Who breaks, and thus initiates, all six of the seals (Revelation 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12) clearly indicating that He (God) is the source of the events or wrath. These are explicit references to the wrath of God, not the wrath of man or Satan as taught by Van Kampen.
• One quarter of the earth’s population is killed (Rev. 6:8).
• The fifth seal reveals that multitudes of Christian martyrs are slain as a result of seal activity, which has to be considered the wrath of the Lamb. God allows this to occur when the Lamb breaks the seal in this part of the seal judgments.
• At the end of the six seal judgments an assessment is given as follows: “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Rev. 6:16–17). “Him that sitteth on the throne” is God the Father as indicated in chapter 4, thus it is clearly God’s wrath. It is also the Lamb’s wrath (Christ). The passage clearly says “the great day of his wrath is come,” meaning that all six of the seal judgments are classified as God’s wrath.
Van Kampen attempts to say that the events of the seal judgments are not really “God’s” wrath, but the wrath of man. Rosenthal declares, “The word wrath occurs eight times in the book of Revelation. All eight occurrences follow the opening of the sixth seal. The word wrath is never used in connection with the first five seals” (Rosenthal, Pre-Wrath, p. 176). Rosenthal neglects to tell his readers that Revelation 6:16–17 is a summary statement of all the previous seal judgments. In spite of the Van Kampen claim to follow the plain interpretation of the text (Van Kampen, Rapture Question, p. 23–24.), I believe that Revelation 6:16–17 relates to all six seal judgments for the following reasons:
• Revelation 6:15–17 is an overall report of the human response to God’s judgment as administered through all six seal judgments. A similar evaluation is recorded after the trumpet judgments in Revelation 9:20–21. In both cases, humanity does not repent so God continues prosecution of the war. This argues in favor of associating this report with the preceding seal judgments.
• The controlling verb in verse 17, “is come” (êlthen), “is aorist indicative, referring to a previous arrival of the wrath, not something that is about to take place” (Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1–7: An Exegetical Commentary (Moody, 1992), p. 457). Rosenthal’s attempt to say that this verb is a future aorist (Rosenthal, Pre-Wrath, pp. 166-67), cannot be supported by the context. Such contextual support is necessary to adopt his unusual use of the aorist indicative. Further, if a future look were intended by the verb then John most likely would have used the future tense. Such stress and strain in biblical interpretation demonstrates the forced notion that Van Kampen’s new invention is not the product of sound biblical exegesis.
• Revelation 5 narrates a heavenly scene of Christ pictured as a slain, but victorious Lamb. The Lamb is pictured as worthy to open the seals on a scroll, which result in judgment—the judgment described in the succeeding chapter as the seal judgments. In chapter 6, each one of the seal judgments commences as a result of the Lamb’s breaking of each seal (Revelation 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12). Since all six seal judgments begin the same way, with the breaking of the seal by the Lamb, one should not be at all surprised that Revelation 6:16–17 summarizes all six judgments as “the wrath of the Lamb,” and “the great day of his wrath.” This cannot be the wrath of man or Satan.
The above information provides ample biblical proof that all six seal judgments are the wrath of God (Lamb). The Van Kampen view teaches, as do pretribulationists, that the first seal judgment (the rise of antichrist) begins in the first part of the seventieth week of Daniel, right after the seven-year period commences. Since all six seal judgments are designated in Scripture as God’s wrath it means that the entire seventieth week of Daniel is called the wrath of God in Revelation 6. Therefore, this passage does not support the Van Kampen interpretation. Since the church is promised deliverance from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:9, 1 Thess. 1:10, 5:9, and Rev. 3:10), it is clear in light of Revelation 6 that the church will be raptured before the seventieth week of Daniel.
THE DAY OF THE LORD
Another key point has been noted by Robert Thomas about the language of the text in Revelation 6:17 that argues against the Van Kampen theory is the following:
It is difficult to capture the Greek wording in English without a periphrasis such as “the day, that great day.” “The great day” is a title borrowed from the OT (Joel 2:11, 31; Zeph. 1:14; Mal. 4:5). . . . The primary passages from which John draws his images in the description of the sixth seal prove the reference of this phrase to be to the day of the Lord (Joel 2:11, 30-31; cf. Isa. 2:10–11, 19–21; 13:9–13; 34:4, 8; Ezek. 32:7–8; Hos. 10:8)” (Thomas, Revelation, p. 458).This passage links all the seal judgments to God’s wrath, in contrast to Van Kampen, and even associates it with the day of the Lord. Such biblical facts contradict the recent Rapture view of Van Kampen. This would also support the pretrib understanding that the day of the Lord includes the entire seventieth week of Daniel and thus a time of God’s wrath from which the church is promised deliverance. A biblically accurate summary of the day of the Lord is provided by Dr. Charles Ryrie, who says the following:
In the Bible, the Day of the Lord always involves the broad concept of God's special intervention in human history. The concept includes three facets: 1) a historical facet about God's intervention in Israel's affairs (Joel 1:15; Zephaniah l:14-18) and in the affairs of heathen nations (Isaiah 13:6; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 30:3); 2) an illustrative facet, in which a historical incident of God's intervention also illustrates a future intervention (Isaiah 13:6-13; Joel 2:1-11); 3) an eschatological facet about God's intervention in human history in the future (Isaiah 2:12-19; 4:1; 19:23 25; Jeremiah 30:7-9). Only this third, the eschatological facet, pertains to our discussion of the rapture's timing (Charles C. Ryrie, Come Quickly, Lord Jesus (Harvest House, 1996), p. 106).Rosenthal invests much in his belief that the day of the Lord is limited to the final quarter of the seventieth week of Daniel. “If expositors get the starting point of the Day of the Lord right,” insists Rosenthal, “the timing of the Rapture becomes clear” (Rosenthal, Pre-Wrath, p. 117). This is true! But Rosenthal is not able to answer two major points relating to the day of the Lord and the timing of the rapture as put forth by Dr. Ryrie.
First, how can the rapture precede Armageddon and yet be a single event with the second coming, which puts a stop to Armageddon? Armageddon is not a single, confined battle; it is a war (Revelation 16:14). For the church to miss Armageddon, the rapture cannot be a single, continuous event with the second coming. . . . Second, if the Day of the Lord commences with the judgments at the end of the Tribulation, then how can it begin with a time of peace and safety (1 Thessalonians 5:2,3)? Even a superficial knowledge of the Tribulation does not give the impression that there will be any time of peace and safety, except perhaps at the very beginning; certainly not at the end (Ryrie, Come Quickly, pp. 106-07). In order to make their view work in the abstract, Van Kampen must redefine the nature and scope of terms like the day of the Lord. However, their work does not fit when all of Scripture is considered. Further, their wrong understanding of the key biblical terminology sets the stage for their erroneous conclusion that the rapture will occur three-quarters of the way through the seventieth week of Daniel, instead of before.
The brand new innovation of the three-quarters rapture view of Van Kampen is a recent demonstration of just how important it is to build one’s view of Bible prophecy upon an accurate biblical analysis of foundational items such as the nature and scope of the tribulation. As Van Kampen demonstrates in his writings, if one errs at this crucial point then it paves the way for faulty conclusions. It should be clear that Van Kampen must resort to strained characterizations of things like the day of the Lord, the tribulation, and the scope of God’s wrath in order to first avoid pretribulationism and second to support his new three-quarters rapture view. Bible believing Christians should continue to draw strength and hope from the fact that our Lord could rapture His church at any moment. We will not be left standing when our Lord moves history to the point of the commencement of the seventieth week of Daniel. This is our true Blessed Hope. Maranatha![NOTE: For anyone interested in reading an excellent, in-depth critique of Van Kampen and Rosenthal’s views from a pretribulational perspective, I highly recommend Renald E. Showers, The Pre-Wrath Rapture View: An Examination and Critique (Kregel, 2001).]
By Tommy Ice