Bible Question:

Revelation 6:10-11; 7:3-4, 13-14 would seem to indicate that the rapture does not occur before the tribulation. Do you agree?

Bible Answer:

Overview of the Tribulation

The tribulation is a well-defined period of time. Daniel 9:27 states that it is a seven year period. Daniel 9:27 indicates that the seven year tribulation period starts with a peace treaty, but after 3.5 years an abomination of desolation occurs (Daniel 12:11). The abomination of desolation occurs in the middle of the tribulation period when the antichrist enters the temple in Jerusalem and declares that he is God.  Jesus confirms that this will occur when he states that the abomination of desolation will stand in the holy place of temple (Matthew 24:15). 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 echoes the same truth, and in the process gives us more details – adding that the antichrist or lawless one will exalt himself as God when he sits down in the temple “displaying himself as God”.

Daniel's 70th week

When the antichrist declares that he is God, Bible students throughout the world will know that there will be only 3.5 years left until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ occurs and the armies of the nations of the world will be defeated at the Battle of Armageddon. This period of time is called the Great Tribulation by Christ (Matthew 24:21). Then the Second Coming of Jesus Christ occurs in verses 29-30. During this last 3.5 year period, all of the events in Revelation 6 to 19 will occur. Jeremiah 30:7 calls it Jacob’s Trouble because this is the climax of the punishment on Israel for their rejection of Jesus Christ. The end of the tribulation period is also the end of the Times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24; Romans 11:25-26).

The Rapture

The rapture occurs unexpectedly prior to the tribulation period. That is the message of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16 we are told that Jesus will descend from heaven and the dead Christians will rise up first. Then those Christians who are alive when Christ comes in the air will rise next and both groups will go up together.

Now it is important to remember that when Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians, there were no chapter divisions and no verses. That means 1 Thessalonians 5:1 does not start a new subject because it starts a new chapter. It is a continuation of Paul’s thought from 1 Thessalonians 4:18. In 1 Thessalonians 5:2 he explains the events that will follow what he has just described in chapter 4.  He says  that the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. That is the Day of the Lord will follow the rapture.

The Rapture

Both the prophet Joel and Zechariah clearly reveal that The Day of the Lord includes the tribulation period and continues into the millennial kingdom (Zechariah 12:3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11; 13:1, 2, 4; 14:4; Joel 2:11, 31; 3:14). 1 Thessalonians 5:3 also refers to the start of the tribulation as a period of “peace and safety.” Remember that Daniel 9:27 refers to a peace treaty. That is, the tribulation starts with a period of peace and safety.  1 Thessalonians 5:3-6 tells us that the start of the tribulation period will occur unexpectedly like a thief in the night. That is an accurate description of how the tribulation or the period of “Peace and safety” will start since no one will know when the covenant of Daniel 9:27 will begin. After the treaty is signed, the world will hear about it on the news. The beginning of the tribulation will occur like a thief in the night.

In sharp contrast, the Second Coming of Christ will occur like an alarm clock. As soon as  the peace treaty is made, the world will know. Any Bible student can then start counting; after seven years, Jesus Christ will come. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 reveals that the Second Coming of Christ will not be a surprise since the antichrist will be known first. In that passage the apostle Paul tries to comfort the Thessalonians who are concerned that the Second Coming of Christ has already come. Therefore, he told them that the lawless one or the antichrist would come first. Paul gave them signs of the Second Coming of Christ, just as Jesus did for the disciples in Matthew 24. When the abomination of desolation occurs, the antichrist will be known. Once the antichrist is known, anyone can count 3.5 years to the end of the tribulation. In Matthew 24:29 Jesus says that the Second Coming of Christ will come after the seven year tribulation period has ended. He says, “Immediately after the tribulation.” The end of the tribulation will not occur like a thief in the night; neither will the Second Coming of Christ be a surprise. It will be expected since the alarm clock will have sounded.

Therefore, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 cannot refer to the Second Coming of Christ since it cannot occur like a thief in the night. It refers to the rapture. Christians will be caught into the air to meet Christ. At the end of the tribulation period, both Christ and the saints of the ages will come out of heaven (Revelation 19:11) and come down to the earth for the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 19:12-21). This is a much different description.

Christians in the Tribulation

1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 reveals that all Christians will be removed prior to the tribulation. Therefore, some teach that there will not be any Christians in the tribulation since no one will be sharing the gospel and the Holy Spirit will be missing, implying no one can be saved. They support their viewpoint by referring to 2 Thessalonians 2:6 which says that the restrainer will be removed during the last part of the tribulation. But such a conclusion ignores the obvious fact that people believed in God in the Old Testament when the Holy Spirit was not outpoured as promised in Joel (Acts 2:16-21). 2 Thessalonians 2:6 does not say the Holy Spirit will not be present on the planet earth. It simply says that He will not be restraining evil (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12).

Such a conclusion also ignores the fact that the gospel will be preached in the tribulation period. For example, Revelation 7:4-8 tells us that 144,000 Jewish men will preach the gospel about Christ. Revelation 11 reveals that there will be two witnesses who will prophesy. Revelation 14:6 states that an angel will preach the gospel to everyone on the earth. It is very common to hear people share that they became a Christian by reading the Bible without the help of anyone else. These passages indicate that the gospel about Christ will be preached throughout the world.

As a result, people will respond and believe in Christ. For example, Revelation 7:14 says that there will be martyrs in the “great tribulation.” Revelation 6:10-11 and 20:4 prophesy that people will die in the tribulation because they are Christians.

Conclusion

The pretribulation rapture view understands that men and women will become Christians during the tribulation period just as men and women believed in God in the Old Testament and it was counted to them as righteousness (Romans 3:25-26). They will come to faith because the Holy Spirit will still be operating as the gospel is preached.

Yet, the Holy Spirit will not restrain the activities of Satan, the antichrist or the false prophet. Their activities will be in full bloom during the last half of the tribulation which is called the great tribulation by Jesus Christ. Once the antichrist sits in the temple and declares that he is God, anyone who knows the Bible can count 3.5 years to the Second Coming of Christ. That will not occur like a thief in the night since that will be clearly expected. When the antichrist sits in the temple and declares that he is God, anyone can set their alarm clock for 3.5 years and wait. Jesus said the Second Coming will occur “immediately after the tribulation.” Only a pretribulation rapture will occur unexpectedly since no one can know when the peace treaty of Daniel 9:27 will occur resulting in a period of “peace and safety” (1 Thessalonians 5:3).

God will still be calling men and women to repent and saving men and women in the tribulation (Revelation 9:20-21; 16:9, 11). What else would we expect since we know about the gracious, merciful and loving character of our God.

Reference Links:

The Church Is Missing
Can people become a Christian after the rapture?
Can people accept Jesus after the rapture?
Are the Old Testament saints resurrected at the rapture?
Which Kingdom?