The rapture is the event in which “the dead in Christ will rise first” and “then we who are alive, who are left” are “caught up together… in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17). We can never know when exactly the rapture will take place, but Scripture at least indicates that it precedes a coming 1,000 years, as well as another seven.
We describe the rapture as premillennial because it takes place before the Millennium, the thousand-year rule of Christ on earth (Revelation 20:1–6). We describe the rapture as pretribulational because it takes place before the Tribulation, a seven-year period of divine wrath characterized by its name (cf. Matthew 24:21, 29; Mark 13:19, 24; Revelation 7:14). Explaining the rapture’s timing before the Tribulation requires a bit of explanation.
Multiple passages refer to a future seven years of tribulation whereby God pours out His wrath upon the world. Daniel 9:24–27 spoke of seventy sets of seven years to come, sixty-nine of which would end when “an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing” (Daniel 9:26). The anointed Jesus Christ was cut off at the cross, and seven years are still to come. Revelation 11:2–3 tells of 1,260 days to come, followed by 42 months. 1,260 days is 42 months of 30 days each, and 42 months is 3.5 years. So, 1,260 days followed by 42 months is seven years, Daniel’s seven years to come.
God’s initial judgments during this time affect the entire earth and its inhabitants (cf. Revelation 6:4, 15), and then God’s judgments increase in severity as time goes on. Daniel 9:27 prophesies that the Antichrist makes a covenant with Israel for the first half of these seven years but breaks it and persecutes Israel for the rest of this time. Daniel 7:25 and 12:7 speak of this persecution as well. Revelation 12:1–6 speaks of Satan’s role in the matter. Matthew 24:15 refers to the events at the midpoint in the Tribulation and records Jesus calling the rest of this time “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21). All seven years are tribulation, the second half of them greater tribulation than the first.
Thankfully, Jesus rescues us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9). This rescue is soon (Revelation 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20), and Jesus promises, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world” (Revelation 3:10). The means whereby Christ keeps us from this wrath is the rapture of the saints (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17). We go up to heaven with Him (cf. John 14:2–3) and, seven years later, come down to rule with Him in His kingdom (Revelation 3:21; 19:11–16). May God hasten that day as we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).