Question: "What are the strengths and weaknesses of the midtribulational view of the rapture (midtribulationism)?"
Answer: Midtribulationism teaches that the rapture occurs at the midpoint of the tribulation. At that time, the seventh trumpet sounds (Revelation 11:15), the church will meet Christ in the air, and then the bowl judgments are poured upon the earth (Revelation 15—16) in a time known as the great tribulation. In other words, the rapture and Christ’s second coming (to set up His kingdom) are separated by a period of three and a half years. According to this view, the church goes through the first half of the tribulation but is spared the worst of the tribulation in the last three and a half years. Very close to midtribulationism is the belief in a “pre-wrath” rapture, i.e., a belief that the church is caught up to heaven before the “great day of … wrath” comes (Revelation 6:17).
In support of their view, midtribulationists point to the chronology given in 2 Thessalonians 2:1–3. The order of events is as follows: 1) apostasy, 2) the revelation of the Antichrist, and 3) the day of Christ. The midtribulational view teaches that the Antichrist will not be decisively revealed until “the abomination that causes desolation” (Matthew 24:15), which occurs at the midpoint of the tribulation (Daniel 9:27). Midtribulationists use Daniel 7:25, which says the Antichrist will have power over the “saints” for three and a half years, to bolster their point—they assume this is the first half of the tribulation and that the saints spoken of are the church. Also, they interpret “the day of Christ” as the rapture; therefore, the church will not be caught up to heaven until after the Antichrist is revealed.
Another foundational teaching of midtribulationism is that the trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 is the same trumpet mentioned in Revelation 11:15. The trumpet of Revelation 11 is the final in a series of trumpets; therefore, it makes sense that it would be “the last trumpet” of 1 Corinthians 15. This logic fails, however, in view of the trumpets’ objectives. The trumpet that sounds at the rapture is “the trumpet call of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16), but the one in Revelation 11 is a harbinger of judgment. One trumpet is a call of grace to God’s elect; the other is a pronouncement of doom on the wicked. Further, the seventh trumpet in Revelation is not the “last” trumpet chronologically—Matthew 24:31 speaks of a later trumpet that sounds at the commencement of Christ’s kingdom.
First Thessalonians 5:9 says that the church has not been appointed “to suffer wrath but to receive salvation.” This would seem to indicate that believers will not experience the tribulation. However, midtribulationism interprets “wrath” as only referring to the second half of the tribulation—specifically, the bowl judgments. Limiting the word in such a way seems unwarranted, however. Surely the terrible judgments contained in the seals and trumpets—including famine, poisoned rivers, a darkened moon, bloodshed, earthquakes, and torment—could also be considered the wrath of God.
Midtribulationism places the rapture in Revelation 11, prior to the start of the great tribulation. There are two problems with this placement in the chronology of Revelation. First, the only occurrence of the term “great tribulation” in the entire book of Revelation is in 7:14, before the opening of the seventh seal. Second, the only reference to a “great day of wrath” is in Revelation 6:17, during the events of the sixth seal. Both of these references come too early for a midtribulational rapture, which is timed according to the seventh trumpet.
And a final weakness of the midtribulational view is shared by the other two theories: namely, the Bible does not give an explicit timeline concerning future events. Scripture does not expressly teach one view over another, and that is why we have diversity of opinion concerning the end times and some variety on how the related prophecies should be harmonized.