The early church wasn’t dogmatic about the time sequence of endtime events. This fact should keep us from being so dogmatic in our interpretation of biblical endtime prophecy that we either become contemptuous of Christians who don’t share our viewpoint, or we make their view of the rapture a test for fellowship. Keeping in mind the need for constraint and tolerance on this issue, we’ll explain why we believe the rapture will take place before the tribulation.
The main support for a pretribulational rapture is the clear biblical evidence for the imminence of Christ’s return — the evidence that the Lord’s return will be without warning ( Matthew 24:36-39,43,45-51;25:13 ) — along with the most reasonable interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 .
Belief in the imminence of the Lord’s return involves the implication that the rapture will occur before the time of great tribulation mentioned in Matthew 24:2 , 2 Thessalonians 2:3 , and Revelation 17:14 . If the Lord’s return is to be truly imminent (without warning), it will occur before this tribulation time. Consider that if the events described in these passages began taking place — bringing about, among other things, the first 3 1/2 years of the Antichrist’s reign — believers would realize that they were in the last days and there would be no element of surprise. If surprise were ruled out, we would say that the Lord’s return will be soon, but not imminent.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 , which speaks of the revealing of the Antichrist, must be understood in the light of the statement, “He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” ( 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8 ).
It is our view that the “restrainer” is the Holy Spirit working through the church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we believe that the Antichrist will not be openly revealed until the church is taken away in the rapture and its influence of being “salt” and “light” is removed. (It is important to realize that the Holy Spirit will continue to work among the people on earth even after the removal of the church. However, the Holy Spirit will not work through the body of Christ as He is doing today)
We respect anyone who has a strong view of scriptural authority, including our friends whose study has led them to a midtribulational or a posttribulational viewpoint. Our main problem with their viewpoints is the elimination of the possibility of a truly imminent, any-moment rapture.