A literal view of biblical end-times prophecy includes the rapture of the church, the seven-year tribulation, the battle of Armageddon, and the millennial reign of Christ. What is less clear is the exact order of events; specifically, when the rapture will occur. The different views of the rapture all agree with 1 Thessalonians 1:10 that we are assured we will not have to endure the wrath of God. The question is, what is the wrath of God and when will it happen?
What is posttribulationism? Will the church be raptured after the tribulation?
Pretribulationism asserts that all judgments, the seven seals (Revelation 6:1–17; 8:1–5), the seven trumpets (Revelation 8:6—9:21; 11:15–19), and the seven bowls (Revelation 16:1–21) are all a part of God's judgment. Revelation 6:1 says that Jesus opens the seals; therefore the seal judgments are ordained by God. Specifically, the sixth seal is identified with the "wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:16). Thus, the rapture of the church will occur before the tribulation begins.
Midtribulationism hangs on the sequence of 2 Thessalonians 2:1–3 which says the people will fall away from the faith, the Antichrist will be revealed, and the day of the Lord will come. It also identifies the trumpet of the rapture (1 Corinthians 15:52) with the seventh trumpet judgment (Revelation 11:15). So the rapture is the day of the Lord and will occur at the mid-point of the tribulation, right after the Antichrist is revealed. Only the bowl judgments, therefore, constitute the wrath of God.
Pre-wrath tribulationism is a combination of midtribulationism and posttribulationism. Like posttribulationism, it says both the trumpet and the bowl judgments are the wrath of God, but it places the rapture sometime in between the mid-point and the end, allowing more time for these judgments to occur.
Posttribulationism differentiates the "great tribulation" (the last three-and-a-half years of the tribulation) from the wrath of God. It says the great tribulation is actually the persecution of the saints by the Antichrist. The wrath of God is the same as the day of the Lord, and will occur at the very end. The rapture is not literal; that is, believers will not be removed from the world and given new, incorruptible bodies. Instead, believers will be kept or protected, either in the sky or on earth, from God's judgment. They will then return to earth and populate the millennial kingdom. Posttribulationalism is held by Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Catholics, and many Protestants.
Posttribulationism fits with several passages. Revelation does not specifically mention Jesus coming before the end of the tribulation (Revelation 19:20), so posttribulationalists set 1 Thessalonians 4:16 at about the same time. Revelation 13:7 and 20:9 assert that there will be believers during the tribulation.
The biggest problem with posttribulationism is the timing. How will God fit all the trumpet and bowl judgments in such a short period of time? It also denies the imminence of the rapture. By its nature, it declares exactly when it will happen, contrary to Jesus' insistence that no one knows. Another issue is that of the seal judgments. Revelation 6:1 is clear that the seal judgments are ordained by God, even if they do take the form of natural disasters. But 1 Thessalonians 5:9 says, "For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Posttribulationism is consistent with some Scripture passages, but contradicts others. Jesus, Himself, said He did not know when He would return (Matthew 24:36), and we shouldn't make more of an issue out of the question than necessary. What He did say in the Parable of the Ten Minas is that we are to "Engage in business until I come" (Luke 19:13)—that is, spread the Gospel and bring others to Him.
What is the rapture and when will it occur?
Is pretribulationism right? Will the church be raptured before the tribulation?
Is midtribulationism right? Will the church be raptured at the mid-point of the tribulation?
What is the pre-wrath view of the rapture? Is the pre-wrath view of the rapture biblically supported?
The day of the Lord – What is it?
Truth about the End Times