This is a good question from the inbox:
With regards to viewing the seals, trumpets and bowls as happening at the same time (concurrent-recapitulation) or as happening progressively (consecutive-progressive), there’s something I noticed that I haven’t seen you address so far (I might be wrong). Let’s compare the sixth seal with the sixth bowl:
Revelation 6:16-17 says: “They said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?’”
And Revelation 16:14 says: “For they are the spirits of the demons performing signs who go out to the kings of the earth to bring them together for the battle that will take place on the great day of God, the All-Powerful.”
According to prewrath, God’s wrath (Day of the Lord) is announced in Rev. 6, and starts on the seventh seal/first trumpet (“because the great day of their wrath has come”). That Day of The Lord, also according to prewrath, is completed during the battle of Armageddon. If that is so, why does Rev. 16:14 seem to indicate that the Day of the Lord (here called “the great day of God”) will start with the battle of Armageddon (“for the battle that will take place on the great day of God”)?
Thanks for the good question. First, as a qualification, prewrath technically views the battle occurring between the sixth and seventh bowl judgment (see Rev 16:16–17). For practical purposes I have stated that the battle culminates the day of the Lord’s wrath. But, more accurately, the battle precedes just before the final, seventh bowl is poured out.
But back to your question. A few points.
i. Some English translations are misleading. The Greek does use the term “on” in Rev 16:14 as if to suggest that is when God’s wrath begins. The Greek is modifying “the war,” that is, “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev 16:14 NASB). (τὸν πόλεμον τῆς ἡμέρας τῆς μεγάλης τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ παντοκράτορος.)
ii. We should expect this description of the war as God’s great day, because this is the most prominent event of God’s wrath. It will be the great day when the armies of the nations are destroyed. God’s eschatological wrath through the trumpets and bowls (i.e. the day of the Lord’s wrath”) increasingly intensifies up to God’s great day when he defeats the nations armies, the beasts, and Satan. God’s great day of the war against the armies does not negate the eschatological wrath of the previous trumpet and bowl judgments. Analogously, we could describe Jesus’s crucifixion as the great day of Satan’s spiritual defeat, but that would not nullify the progressive, complex-whole of events within his first parousia leading up to that day.
iii. It is a lexical-referential fallacy, assuming that the same lexical term or phrase shares the same referent. Only context can determine whether they share the same or different referents. Ironically, the context indicates that the “great day” in Rev 6 signals the beginning of God’s wrath, while the context for the “great day” in Rev 16:14 signals the climax. This point has been explicated voluminously on the blog and you can read more on this point in my Antichrist Before the Day of the Lord.
iv. It is myopic to think that John cannot emphasize the major battle as the great day of God, while dismissing the elements of God’s eschatological wrath in the previous trumpet and bowl judgments. Emphasizing an important element in the day of the Lord’s wrath does not negate the other elements. We can also ask why is the series of bowls also considered “great”? “Then I saw another great and astounding sign in heaven: seven angels who have seven final plagues (they are final because in them God’s anger is completed)” (Rev 15:1). The bowl judgments are considered “great” because they are the “last” (i.e. climactic and most devastating) of God’s eschatological wrath.
v. The context for the day in Rev 6:17 is great because the celestial disturbances signal that the day of the Lord’s wrath is about to begin. This is clearly referring back to Joel 2:31 where it is also called “great”: “The sunlight will be turned to darkness and the moon to the color of blood, before the day of the LORD comes— that great and terrible day!” (Joel 2:31). Notice, Joel explicitly locates the celestial disturbance event before the great day of the Lord’s wrath. The sixth seal depicts the wicked as responding and trying to run away from impending divine wrath. This is in contrast to the trumpet and bowl judgments where they are experiencing God’s judgments. Finally, the great day in Rev 16:14 points to the climactic destruction of the armies of the beast’s kingdom.
These are, therefore, two entirely different settings. The interpreter who is fixated on fingering down a concordance, while ignoring the context of those words, will skew and force an unnatural story-line. Rather, the broader scope of instances of words and phrases will reveal their contextual meanings.