One defense for the rapture happening before the Great Tribulation begins is the need for a rapture imminency. According to pre-trib proponents, that means it can happen at any time, without warning or any notable event coming first, and with no way of determining exactly when it will occur.
That aligns fairly well with Merriam-Webster’s definition of, “ready to take place;” as in “hanging threateningly over one’s head,” giving the example, “was in imminent danger of being run over.” Let’s look at what the Holy Bible tell us about imminency and the return of Christ for His church.
No one knows the day or the hour the rapture will occur. We know this because Jesus said so. He told His disciples in the Olivet Discourse that when it comes to His return,
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” — Matthew 24:36
And yet, He did not say that we would be left without a clue as to when the time was near. In later portions of the Discourse, our Lord said
“(S)o, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.” — v. 33
“Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.” — v. 42
Just as those promoting the pre-tribulation timing of the rapture use verse 36 to dictate the need for imminency, they use the later verses to insist that while we cannot know the day or the hour, we can (and some say, must) know the times and the seasons. Many align current events with Christ’s warnings of wars, earthquakes, love growing cold, etc., and then point to it as evidence of our being in those times and seasons right now.
This is said to be knowing the season but not the day or the hour, thereby preserving rapture imminency.
The difference between knowing the times and the seasons verses the day and the hour supposedly proves a pre- vs. post-tribulation rapture because the Great Tribulation brings with it a countdown to the very day or hour.
Here is how this theory goes: If you are on the earth during the Great Tribulation, you will be able to count down to the day and maybe even the hour that the Lord Jesus will return. That is because the expected Anti-Christ will make a covenant with the nation Israel for seven years, break it in the middle of the seven years (bringing us into the Great Tribulation vs. a lighter tribulation in the first half of the seven), and at the end of that Great Tribulation (and the entire seven years) Christ will return. Therefore, all one has to do is make note of the date that covenant or treaty is signed, count ahead seven years to the day and perhaps even the hour, and you will know the day and the hour that the rapture is going to happen.
There is one huge problem with that. There will be no covenant between Anti-Christ and the nation Israel for seven years. This is a sadly popular misunderstanding of who makes the covenant with Israel and when (Daniel 9:27). Since there is no such covenant in the last days, there is no marker for a final countdown, and this argument for rapture imminency is dead on arrival.
The man of lawlessness
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul assured the Christians there that those who have died in Christ would rise again at His return:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
The bolded portion relates to a latter section, so please keep in mind it’s there.
Paul continues in chapter 5:
Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.
In his second letter to the church, Paul addresses an issue of concern that has sprung up among God’s people there:
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.
And he tells them what must happen before that day comes:
Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?
If the man of lawlessness, the one most pre-trib adherents call ‘the’ anti-Christ, must be revealed and take his seat in the temple of God, claiming to be God, before the people of God are gathered to meet Christ in the air, how is the return of the Lord imminent? If imminent means, as many say it does, “nothing more needs to happen in God’s timeline” before Christ appears for His church, how do we deal with Paul’s saying the man of lawlessness must be revealed before that day comes?
Jesus’ own words on rapture timing
Did Jesus say anything about the timing of the rapture in relation to the Great Tribulation?
Yes; He said it would be “immediately after the tribulation.”
“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” — Mathew 24:29-31 (ref. Mark 13:24-27).
The angels with a great trumpet? They will sound that trumpet out over the land. Paul talks about it in I Corinthians 15:51-52:
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
True rapture imminency
There is a true imminency about the last day and our appearance before Christ Jesus which is, if you think about it, a sort of personal rapture imminency. It is the frailty of human life. No one has the next second guaranteed to them. This is why we should be a living witness to the world around us, so that in our lives they may see something that brings them to ask us to give the reason for the hope that is in us (I Peter 3:15). That hope is in Christ alone, and it comes at His appearing whether we are among those who are alive and remain or those who have fallen asleep (I Thessalonians 4:15-18).
Once all sections in this series are complete a list with links will be posted below. Thanks for your patience.