Four days before Jesus died and rose again He said to His disciples, "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:3). Most of us believe the second coming of Christ will be in two stages; first, in the air for the rapture of the church, then when He returns to the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem at the end of the tribulation period. The Bible gives numerous signs of things that will happen before the second stage of His return, but there is no specific sign before the rapture takes place. All we're told is that "the coming of the Lord draweth nigh" (James 5:8), "the end of all things is at hand" (I Pet. 4:7), and that "the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night" (2 Pet. 3:10). Probably the best description of the rapture comes from Paul in I Thess. 4:16-17. Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind series, is concerned that more Christians appear to be looking for the antichrist than are looking for Christ's return. The Bible plainly says He is returning (Acts 1:11).
Most of the prophecies of the last days relate to Daniel's 70th
week (Dan. 9:27). The book of Revelation identifies that week as the
7-year tribulation that will end "the times of the gentiles" and will
usher in the Millennial Kingdom when the returned Lord will rule the
earth for 1,000 years. There is much controversy over when the
rapture of the church will occur in relation to this Millennial
Kingdom. The five common doctrines being taught are: Pretrib, Midtrib,
Posttrib, Pre-wrath, and Partial Rapture. The following is a brief
look at each of these positions.
Pretribulationism. This view, which I believe is the
correct one, means the church will be raptured before the tribulation
and will not go through the judgments prophesied in the book of
Revelation. Some of the scripture supporting this view are: Rom. 5:9, I
Thess. 1:10 & 5:9, and Rev. 3:10. It's also interesting that the
church is mentioned 19 times in the first 3 chapters of Revelation, but
not once in chapters 4-18 where the tribulation is detailed. Pretribs
believe that's because the church is gone.
Midtribulationism. This is the view that Christ will
rapture the church in the middle of the tribulation. These folks
typically point to the number of passages placing emphasis on the
midpoint of the tribulation, such as Dan. 9:27 and Rev. 13:5. They
believe when I Thess. 5:9 says, "God hath not appointed us to wrath,"
it's talking about the really bad last 3 ½ years of the tribulation.
They also believe the two witnesses in Rev. 11 who are caught up to
heaven are a "type" of the church, raptured midtrib.
Posttribulationism. This view has the church raptured
at the end of the tribulation at the same time Christ physically comes
to earth to defeat the antichrist at Armageddon. Their main scriptures
are Acts 14:22, Rev. 3:10 (also used by pretribs), and Rev. 20:4-6.
The Pre-wrath View divides the tribulation into four
21-month periods. They say since the word wrath does not appear in the
book of Revelation until after the sixth seal judgment, God can wait to
rapture the church until just before the seventh seal and still keep the
church from actually experiencing God's wrath. Ron Rhodes, president
of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries, says, "I see a lot of wrath
in Revelation long before the seventh seal is broken." The pre-wraths
don't cite any other scripture in favor of this opinion.
The Partial Rapture View teaches that only those
believers who are watching and waiting for the Lord's return will be
found worthy to escape the tribulation. They say the "prepared and
expectant" section of the church will be raptured, while the rest will
go through the tribulation. Their scriptural references for this belief
include: Matt. 19:28-30, Luke 9:62, Phil. 3:8-14, Rev. 2:11 &
3:5. This view has the tribulation being used as a kind of purgatory
for those "less-than-worthy" Christians. You have to ignore an awful
lot of scripture about how Christ's death paid for our sin to accept
this view. Erwin Lutzer, senior pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago,
says, 'Everyone in the boat gets to the other side, even though some are
rowing and some seem to just be along for the ride."
A "partial preterist" pastor in Tennessee who believes most of what's
prophesied in Revelation has already happened has said to me, "I assume
you are a futurist, dispensational premillennial, pretrib rapture
person." He left out fundamentalist and literalist, but I told him I
was guilty as charged.