Have you ever asked yourself, “What in the world is going to happen next?” As we draw closer to the end of time, this seems to be a more popular question than ever before. There are so many positions out there regarding end events and everyone clamoring that they possess the corner on truth regarding this topic. How many of these positions come about by careful reading of the Scriptures? By the Lord’s grace, I’d like to spend some time answering the question regarding what the Bible teaches in relation to the tribulation period. I hope to present this as unbiased as possible and just let the Word of God do what it does best, and that is reveal the truth to the one honestly seeking the answers.
First of all, the word “rapture” never appears in the Bible. However, you can find the idea mentioned. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says “we shall be caught up.” That is the meaning of the rapture, a seizing or catching away. So, we have phrases such as this in the Word of God to convey the thought.
Before we go any further, I will share briefly the three major positions on the rapture and tribulation. One position on the rapture is that it will be post-tribulation, meaning that the believers will go through the tribulation, and then we will be caught away to be with Christ. Another position is the mid- tribulation or pre-wrath position meaning that in the middle of the tribulation, believers will be caught up to be with Christ. The third and final position is the pre-tribulation position. This means that before the tribulation, all believers who are living will be caught up.
Now, let us look at the post-tribulation position. If this position were true, we would have believers, apart from the 144,000 Jewish evangelists, who would go through this time of destruction and chaos. Also, we would know the time of the Lord’s return. We know from Scripture that the tribulation will last 7 years. Daniel 9 describes them as weeks. This passage describes 70 weeks, the first 69 of which have already been fulfilled. The last week is yet to come. Here is what God’s Word has to say regarding this 70th week of Daniel.
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.
This is a reference to the Antichrist who will break the covenant in the middle of the tribulation period. There is no doubt as we read through the book of Revelation that the tribulation period will be one of great destruction. Revelation 14:10, 15:1 &7 and 16:1 &19 describe this as a period of wrath!
Now, as we consider this point a little further, I would like us to spend some time considering 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, a very familiar passage of Scripture, one that is used most often at funerals. But, here we find a sequence of events that is most interesting. First of all, we find that the dead in Christ rise and then we find that the ones who are alive and remain at the coming of the Lord will rise to meet the Lord in the air. However, as we read a little further, we find some details in 1 Thessalonians 5 that shed further light on the return of the Lord.
First, we find that the Day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night. (1. Thessalonians 5:2) Let us imagine that you knew right now that a thief would appear at your house sometime within the next week. Do you think you would be sleeping, or do you think that you would be prepared and ready to defend yourself? The remainder of this passage, my friend, tells us that we should be watching for the Lord’s return and be ready because we do not know when it will be, but we know He is coming. In Matthew 24:36 we are told “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no not the angels of heaven but my Father only.” The Bible then gives us the illustration of Noah; and just like in his day they knew the flood was coming but not the exact day, it will be the same way with the Lord’s return. 1 Thessalonians 5:3 describes it as the travail of a woman at the birth of a child. She has those labor pains, and she knows the child is on the way, but she does not know the exact moment until it comes. The return of Christ is the same. We know it is coming, but we do not know when. I stress this point because the Bible makes it clear that WE DO NOT KNOW!
Additionally, the Bible says that “we are not appointed to wrath” 1 Thessalonians 5:9. As one studies the ramifications of the post-tribulation position, we have to realize that this cannot be the biblical answer. Otherwise we would be able to know exactly when the Lord will return, when God says no man knows the day or hour. Also God’s children would have to endure this awful time of wrath that God says we are “not appointed unto”
Now, let us consider for a few minutes the idea of the mid-tribulation position. This is the position that the rapture will take place before the outpouring of wrath that will take place in the second half of the tribulation. It does appear that the first half of the tribulation will be a time of relative peace. The Bible tells us in the Book of Daniel and chapter 9 about the covenant which will be broken. The book of Revelation deals mainly with the outpouring of wrath that will take place in the second half of the tribulation. However, Revelation 1:19 gives us an outline of the book of Revelation. First, John was to write “the things which thou hast seen”, (Revelation 1) “the things which are” (Revelation chapters 2-3) and finally “the things which shall be hereafter.” (Revelation 4 through 22) So, you have the past events of John’s life, the present events as He is writing to the churches and then you have the future events. It is important to note that in Revelation 4:1-2 John sees a door opening and is caught up into the heavens. For the remainder of the book, everything is viewed from a heavenly perspective including the catastrophic events of the tribulation period. Logically speaking, also, if the believer were caught up in the middle of the tribulation, we would still know the time of the Lord’s return because the tribulation has a very definite starting point, the time when the peace treaty will be signed by the Antichrist. We could then say, the Lord will return in three and half years, yet the Bible tells us no man knows the day or the hour. Biblically speaking, as with the post-tribulation theory, I do not feel there are any grounds for the mid-tribulation position.
This leaves us with but one position, and that is a pre-tribulation rapture of the church. There is nothing in Scripture that seems to contradict this position. In fact, when all the evidence is on the table, it is the only position that Scripture seems to support. In all reality, the entire tribulation is a time of God’s wrath against the unbelievers. Yes, there will be a semblance of peace, and the Antichrist will seem to have everything under control. In 2 Thessalonians 2, the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes to a group of troubled believers who think they have missed the rapture. He says that time will not come until there has been a falling away and the Antichrist (or man of sin be revealed) v.3. We have certainly seen a falling away, but the Antichrist has not yet been revealed. The Bible tells us he will take over the temple, claiming to be God. Vs. 11-12 goes on to tell us that God will send a strong delusion and that the unbelievers will be damned. The sad truth from this passage is that once the Antichrist is revealed, and the tribulation begins, it will be seven years of undeniable wrath from God Himself. Praise God that no true believer who is alive today will be here for that!
I’d like to give a few closing thoughts to the idea of the rapture. This, by no means, is intended to be an exhaustive article. Many volumes have been written on this topic. However, I hope that it has served to hit the highlights and answer the question, what will happen next? We are not waiting for anything to happen at all before the tribulation, except the rapture. I Thessalonians 4:16-17 declares “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
While so many around us are looking for this sign or that indicator, the Bible tells us that no man knows the day or the hour. I believe God remains vague on purpose because He wants us to be looking forward to His coming and anticipating it! As one author has said, we are listening for sounds, not looking for signs. The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:53 that this event will happen “in a moment in the twinkling of an eye.” One day, we will hear that trumpet and away the believers will go to be with Christ while all the fury of God’s wrath is poured out on unbelievers who have chosen to reject His gracious wooing. Then, when the Antichrist and his Antispirit have been defeated once and for all, we shall return to reign with Christ! Following this 1,000 year reign, Satan will attempt his final act of insurrection against Christ before he is defeated forever at the Battle of Gog and Magog. (Revelation 20) If we interpret the Bible literally, and take it for what it says, there should be no problem reaching this conclusion. We must also be careful to not blur the distinction between the church and Israel. We are living a type of parenthetical age. In one sense, the tribulation deals with the nation of Israel, as they in large have chosen to reject Christ. Christ will again pick up where He left off with the nation of Israel during the time of the tribulation. But the church, meaning those who have accepted Christ, will have no part whatsoever in the tribulation. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 declares, “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus which delivered us from the wrath to come.” We should be grateful that God has chosen to rapture His own and spare His children. At the same time, this should drive us to a sense of urgency to share the gospel while we have the chance and implore the lost to escape the wrath to come! May God give us a greater expectancy for the imminent rapture, and a passion and compassion for the lost that surround us on every side!