Many interpreters assume that the English rendering “has come” in Rev 6:17 refers to either past or present tense referring to God’s wrath.
“because the great day of their wrath has come [ēlthen], and who is able to withstand it?” (Rev 6:17)
I have explained before that the context—Greek verbs do not indicate temporal reference—determines the temporal reference of the verbal event, in this case, when the wrath of God will begin. Prewrath eschatology teaches that the day of the Lord’s wrath does not begin with the opening of the sixth seal—or during it—but with the opening of the seventh seal. You can read that here.
My point in this post, though, is to note that the English rendering “has come” can, in many English-speaking contexts especially for momentous events, refer to an action that has not begun, but that is about to happen. Let me give you a simple example. Say my son has been preparing for a school play the entire semester where he plays a key role. The morning of the play arrives. I sit down with him at breakfast and I say to him, “Son, the time has come.” This of course, does not mean that the play is past or present tense. It is impending. Or more specifically, it is still in the future, happening that evening.
In my analogy I am only focusing on the impending nature. Of course the play will happen that same day, later that day. But in the category of the day of the Lord (aka “the great day of their wrath) we are clearly not speaking of a literal 24-hour day. The celestial disturbances of the sixth seal may occur for a few hours (unlikely because of all that must happen), a few days, or possibly a few weeks. But it will be a shorter duration compared to other seals.
The day of the Lord will only begin when the seventh seal is opened, not before.
The sixth seal signals that the day of the Lord approaches. The church will be on the earth during the sixth seal looking up because their redemption draws nigh.
So when English translations render the Greek verb (ēlthen) in Rev 6:17 “has come” that is a fitting rendering for a momentous event that is about to happen. Of course this does not mean that the actual translator’s decision in his own personal interpretation thinks that God’s wrath is about to happen, because the English rendering can also refer to past or present contexts—which drives us back full circle to the question of what is the context telling us. I think the following English renderings capture the context better: “the great day of their wrath is coming,” or “the great day of their wrath is near,” or “the great day of their wrath is arriving.” But I am content with “has come” as long as it is interpreted in light of the context that indicates that God’s wrath has not yet begun. Perhaps the English translators used the more general “has come” to leave open the interpretation for the readers themselves to determine the context.
Links mentioned in the program: