In Matthew chapter 24, Jesus was asked as to what would be the sign of His coming and the end of the age (v. 3). Verses 4 through 31 are an outline of the significant events that will happen at the time of the end. These verses describe events almost the same as the outline that the Lord gives us in Revelation 6-7 in the opening of the Seals. After chapter 7, the Lord gets into specific details. It is possible that these events all happen in the seven-year period that starts with a peace treaty over the land of Israel (Daniel 9:27), but it is an assumption on most Bible teachers’ part. Jesus called the first three and a half years after the peace covenant is signed "the beginning of birth pains" (Matthew 24:8). As each seal is opened in the Book of Revelation chapter six, a corresponding event happens on the earth that makes the situation on the planet so much worse, similar to a woman's birth pains getting worse as the time for the birth gets near. At the opening of the fifth seal (Revelation 6:7), great persecution is initiated against believers in Christ and Jews who will not take the mark and worship Antichrist. We are then told something significant is prayed by martyred believers:
9When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been (Revelation 6:9-11).
Some, perhaps many, believers will be martyred for Christ at the time of the fifth seal. The opening of this seal, I believe, corresponds to Jesus’ warning about the Great Tribulation (KJV) or great distress (NIV) that He spoke about in Matthew 24:21. I am persuaded that this time should be called the Great Persecution. We don't know how far ahead in time this persecution is, but as Christians, we need to be ready to endure and not compromise our faith. Many will fall away when this persecution starts (2 Thessalonians 2:3). We cannot expect to be delivered (raptured) from the earth until sometime into this Great Tribulation or Persecution of the saints.
Some teachers say we needn't be concerned about this time that is ahead (how far ahead, we do not know). They say that this period of time is the wrath of God being poured out on those left on the earth. They believe that the Church will be raptured out of here before the Antichrist comes on the scene and the seals opened with terrible consequences on earth. They say that the tribulation is the wrath of God and that Paul taught, "God did not appoint us to suffer wrath" (1 Thessalonians 5:9). How can the Tribulation or Persecution be the wrath of God? In the passage above, some believers who had died in the Great Persecution, will ask God, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10).
This appeal to the Lord to intervene happens at the fifth seal, some way after the mid-point, perhaps well into the second half of the seven-year period. The wrath of God is the judgment on those who are persecuting His church. At the fifth seal and the persecution, the wrath and judgment have not started yet. The Lord answers for those believers to wait, “until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been” (Revelation 6:11). The rapture will not happen until sometime into the second half of the seven-year period and before the wrath and judgment of God begins. We need to be spiritually ready and to learn God's Word and growing in our dependence upon Him. It’s time to put away our toys and get serious about our faith. It’s time to get close to Jesus. When the darkness gets worse, God will pour out His Spirit and the Church will shine with His love, life and light (Isaiah 60:1-2. Daniel 12:3). Keith Thomas