For centuries biblical scholars have argued about what the rapture is and when it will occur. Those who believe in a literal translation of end-times prophecy do agree there will be a rapture, along with a seven-year tribulation, the battle of Armageddon, and the thousand-year reign of Christ. But the timing of the rapture is a topic of long-standing debate.
Is midtribulationism right? Will the church be raptured at the mid-point of the tribulation?
There are three basic rapture views and one hybrid. All of them attempt to interpret Scripture in as clear a way as possible, specifically the passages that say that believers will not experience God's wrath: "For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:9). This wrath has been identified as the particular judgment God sends down during the tribulation to punish those who rejected Him, and is part of the cleansing of the earth before Christ's millennial kingdom.
The distinction becomes what exactly is "God's wrath." Over the course of the tribulation, God judges the world with seven seals (Revelation 6:1–17; 8:1–5), the last of which is seven trumpets (Revelation 8:6—9:21; 11:15–19), the last of which is seven bowls (Revelation 16:1–21). The different rapture views define different combinations of judgment as "God's wrath."
Pretribulationalists point out that although some of the seal judgments are manmade (the rise of the Antichrist, war, persecution), many are not (pestilence, beasts, natural disasters), and Revelation 5:5 is clear that it is Christ who opens the seals. Therefore, all the judgments are part of the wrath of God, and the church must be raptured before the beginning of the tribulation.
Posttribulationalists hang onto Isaiah 2:21–22, saying it means once God's wrath begins, only He will be magnified (the Antichrist will have lost all power and authority), and Revelation 6:16, which says the wrath of the Lamb starts at the sixth seal. So the rapture occurs right before the wrath of the Lord (which is the same as the day of the Lord) at the very end of the tribulation, after which are the trumpet and bowl judgments. In this view believers are not spirited away and given new, heavenly bodies, but are merely protected from the judgments and the battle of Armageddon before returning and populating the millennial kingdom.
The pre-wrath view is similar to posttribulationism but says the shift from the wrath of the Antichrist to the wrath of God is at some indeterminate point in the second half of the tribulation (allowing more time for the trumpet and bowl judgments) and is heralded by the rapture.
Midtribulationism agrees with pretribulationism in that the church will not experience God's wrath. And it agrees with postribulationism in that the wrath of God will occur when God alone is glorified. But it places that change-over at the mid-point of the tribulation. It depends on 2 Thessalonians 2:1–3, which says people will fall away, the Antichrist will be revealed, and then the day of the Lord will occur, but it insists the rapture is the day of the Lord. So the first three-and-a-half years will be the "wrath of man," or the dominion of the Antichrist when the Antichrist will persecute the saints (Daniel 7:25). At the mid-point, just after the Antichrist is revealed, the church will be raptured, and the way cleared for the wrath of God in the form of the bowl judgments. This view would allow enough time for both the Antichrist to wreak havoc over believers and God to get His judgments in.
But the timeline gets a little messed up. Midtribulationism says the trumpet that accompanies the rapture in 1 Corinthians 15:52 is the same as the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11:15. This can't be because the wrath of God starts with the sixth seal (Revelation 6:17) long before the seventh trumpet. If the church wasn't raptured until the seventh trumpet, it would have lived through part of the wrath of God. Conversely, Revelation 12:17 says the dragon "went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus," implying Satan's wrath runs concurrent with God's.
The end times will occur as God has planned, in spite of our confusion. Midtribulationism is one attempt to translate biblical prophecy, but it does not seem to be the most accurate. Whatever happens, we know the church will not be subject to God's wrath, and that in the meantime, our job is to reach others for Christ so that they won't, either.
What is the rapture and when will it occur?
What is the pre-wrath view of the rapture? Is the pre-wrath view of the rapture biblically supported?
Is pretribulationism right? Will the church be raptured before the tribulation?
What is posttribulationism? Will the church be raptured after the tribulation?
In the end times, what is the period known as the great tribulation?
Truth about the End Times