When considering any question involving eschatology (the study of end times), it is important to remember that almost all Christians agree on these three things:
1) There is coming a time of great tribulation such as the world has never seen,
2) After the Tribulation, Christ will return to establish His kingdom on earth,
3) There will be a Rapture—a “catching away” from mortality to immortality—for believers as described in John 14:1-3, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. The only question regards the timing of the Rapture: when will it occur in relation to the Tribulation and the Second Coming?
There are primarily three theories about the timing of the Rapture: the belief that the Rapture will occur before the Tribulation begins (pretribulationism), the belief that the Rapture will occur at the midpoint of the Tribulation (midtribulationism), and the belief that the Rapture will occur at the end of the Tribulation (posttribulationism). This article deals specifically with the posttribulational view.
Posttribulationism teaches that the Rapture occurs at the end, or near the end, of the Tribulation. At that time, the church will meet Christ in the air and then return to earth for the commencement of Christ’s Kingdom on earth. In other words, the Rapture and Christ’s Second Coming (to set up His Kingdom) happen almost simultaneously. According to this view, the church goes through the entire seven-year Tribulation. Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy, and many Protestant denominations espouse a posttribulational view of the Rapture.
One strength of posttribulationism is that Jesus, in His extended discourse on the end times, says He will return after a “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21, 29). Also, the book of Revelation, with all its various prophecies, mentions only one coming of the Lord—and that occurs after the Tribulation (Revelation 19-20). Passages such as Revelation 13:7 and 20:9 also lend support to posttribulationism in that there will obviously be saints in the Tribulation. Also, the resurrection of the dead in Revelation 20:5 is called “the first resurrection.” Posttribulationists assert that, since this “first” resurrection takes place after the Tribulation, the resurrection associated with the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 cannot occur until then.
Posttribulationists also point out that, historically, God’s people have experienced times of intense persecution and trial. Therefore, they say, it should not be surprising that the church also experiences the Great Tribulation of the end times. In relation to this, the posttribulational view distinguishes “Satan’s wrath” (or “man’s wrath”) from “God’s wrath” in the book of Revelation. Satan’s wrath is directed against the saints, and God allows it as a means of purifying His faithful. On the other hand, God’s wrath is poured out on the Antichrist and his godless kingdom, and God will protect His people from that punishment.
One weakness of posttribulationism is the clear teaching of Scripture that those who are in Christ are not under condemnation and will never experience the wrath of God (Romans 8:1). While some judgments during the Tribulation specifically target the unsaved, many other judgments, such as the earthquakes, falling stars, and famines, will affect the saved and unsaved equally. Thus, if believers go through the Tribulation, they will experience the wrath of God, in contradiction of Romans 8:1.
Posttribulationists also face a difficulty in explaining the absence of the word church in all biblical passages related to the tribulation. Even in Revelation 4 — 21, the lengthiest description of the tribulation in all of Scripture, the word church never appears. Posttribulationists must assume that the word saints in Revelation 4 — 21 means the church, although a different Greek word is used.
And a final weakness of the posttribulational view is shared by the other two theories: namely, the Bible does not give an explicit time line 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.