The timing of the rapture in relation to the tribulation is one of the most controversial issues in the church today. The three primary views are pre-tribulational (the rapture occurs before the tribulation), mid-tribulational (the rapture occurs at or near the mid-point of the tribulation), and post-tribulational (the rapture occurs at the end of the tribulation). A fourth view, commonly known as pre-wrath, is a slight modification of the mid-tribulational position.
It is important to recognize the purpose of the tribulation. According to Daniel 9, there is a seventieth “seven” (seven years) that is still yet to come. “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.” Daniel 9:27
Daniel’s entire prophecy of the seventy sevens (Daniel 9:20-27) is speaking of the nation of Israel. It is a time period in which God focuses His attention especially on Israel. The seventieth seven, the tribulation, is a time when God deals specifically with Israel.
The primary Scripture passage on the rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. It states that all living believers, along with all believers who have died, will meet the Lord Jesus in the air and will be with Him in Heaven. The rapture is God’s removing His people from the earth in order for the tribulation to begin. The distinction between the Rapture and the Tribulation, is the rapture only takes those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and savior out of harms way, (tribulation) prior to the judgments and plagues that are the tribulation.
“For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,” 1 Thessalonians 5:9
The book of Revelation, deals primarily with the time period of the tribulation, it is a prophetic message of how God will pour out His wrath upon the earth during the tribulation. Its inconsistent for God to promise believers that they will not suffer wrath and then leave them on the earth to suffer through the wrath of the tribulation. The fact that God promises to deliver Christians from wrath shortly after promising to remove His people from the earth seems to link those two events together, but they are not.
There is a point to note that although the tribulation is a period of judgment and punishment on man and the planet, God continues His grace to man in that during the tribulation God does not give up on mankind as salvation comes to those who will not accept the mark of the beast during the tribulation.
“And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.” Revelation 14:9-11
The context of Jesus’ reaping of the souls out of the tribulation is distinct from His first Advent (The Rapture). The 144K come out of the tribulation (Revelation 7:3-8) and at this point of the reaping is referred to as the winepress, Jesus is on Mount Zion with the 144K (Revelation 14:1, 12–20)
Another crucial passage on the timing of the rapture is Revelation 3:10, in which Christ promises to deliver believers from the “hour of temptation” that is going to come upon the earth.
“Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” Revelation 3:10
This means that Christ will deliver believers out of the tribulation, which is to say that they will experience some portion of the tribulation. It is important to recognize what believers are promised to be kept from. It is not just the trial, but the “hour” of trial. Christ is promising to keep believers from the very time period that contains the trials, namely the tribulation.
The purpose of the tribulation, the purpose of the rapture, the meaning of 1 Thessalonians 5:9, and the interpretation of Revelation 3:10 all give clear support to the pre-tribulational position. If the Biblical accounts are interpreted literally and consistently, the pre-tribulational position is the most biblically-based interpretation.