There are different views regarding the timing of the rapture in relation to the events of the tribulation period and the appearance of the Antichrist. Our ministry holds to a pretribulational view of the rapture—the view that all believers in Christ will be taken to heaven before the events of the tribulation period begin. First Thessalonians 4:13–18 describes the rapture, giving the order of events like this: Jesus comes from heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:16), the dead in Christ rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16), and living believers are “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air. We believe this event ends the church age, and believers will “be with the Lord forever” following the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
We believe that, after the rapture, the seven-year tribulation period that is described in Daniel and Revelation will begin. Revelation 13 refers to a “beast” who will rule with absolute authority during the second half of the tribulation: “The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months” (Revelation 13:5). The Antichrist will be defeated at the second coming of Jesus described in Revelation 19.
Since Christians will be raptured before the beginning of the tribulation, we who are alive during the church age will not see the Antichrist’s rise to power. It is possible that we will see him on the world stage, but we will not recognize him as the beast, because he will not yet have made his move toward world domination.
The fact that the Antichrist is not revealed until after the rapture is taught in 2 Thessalonians 2. Speaking of the Day of the Lord, Paul writes that the tribulation will not begin until after the Antichrist is already revealed: “That day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (verses 3–4). Also, the revelation of the Antichrist must come after something else, because right now there is something “holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed” (verses 6–8). We believe this One who “holds back” the Antichrist is none other than the Holy Spirit. When the restraining influence of the Spirit is removed from this world—along with the church that the Spirit indwells—then the Antichrist will have free rein.
Will Christians see the Antichrist? No, at least not in his role as described in Revelation. The removal of the Restrainer’s influence precedes the revealing of the Antichrist. Evil is hindered right now, but, once the church age ends, the obstruction will be gone, and the rebellion will have the upper hand, at least temporarily. At the end of the tribulation, “the Lord Jesus will overthrow [the Antichrist] with the breath of his mouth and destroy [him] by the splendor of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8). The ultimate doom of evil is sure.
We should note that there will be people who come to faith in Christ during the tribulation period. Many of these people will be Jews who believe in Jesus (Revelation 7). These believers will not only see the Antichrist but endure severe persecution because of him. These tribulation saints will either die during the tribulation or live to see the second coming of Jesus Christ (Revelation 19).