There is a very popular theory being preached these days, That Jesus will return for His church just before the beginning of the great tribulation. Many pastors, teachers, and bible scholars are actually teaching this as fact, rather than theory. And while I will be the first to admit that it is very comforting to think that 'the rapture' (the 'catching away' of the church when Jesus returns) will happen before most of the events described in revelation, I cannot forget that this is also a very dangerous way of thinking.
An important part of the foundation of pre-trib rapture teachings is based on
Revelation 4:1, "After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter."
Those who teach pre-trib rapture explain that the phrase 'come up hither' is not just Jesus telling John to come up and see what's going to happen in the latter days, but that it is also a prophetic figure of Jesus calling His church. pre-trib then teaches that all that follows in the book of revelation takes place afterward, and that true Christians will be in heaven at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
After seeking God's will in a lot of prayer and study, I have come to the conclusion that this just isn't so. instead, Christians will still be here on this earth when the first of the seven seals are broken. Paul wrote the Thessalonians about this very thing because there were people teaching that the Lord had already come for his people.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, "Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand."
It's evident here that there were people teaching that the day of the Lord had already come. Evidently there were some very convincing, charismatic people speaking. And some even had written letters that were presented as if they were from Paul or some other of the apostles, saying that Jesus had in fact returned for His church.
2 Thessalonians 2:3, "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;"
Paul reminds them that before this happens, two things must happen;
1) there will be a falling away, apostasy.
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines 'apostasy' as: An abandonment of what one has voluntarily professed; a total desertion of departure from one's faith, principles, or party; esp., the renunciation of a religious faith; as, Julian's apostasy from Christianity.
This is happening today at ever an increasing pace. as more and more people are being deceived by all kinds of teachings from nature worship to rejecting the existence of God entirely
2) the man of sin, the son of perdition, will be revealed.
This is the 'Antichrist'. He will be to satan what Jesus is to God. He will deceive many, and for a brief time, rule most if not all of the world. He first appears with the breaking of the first of the seven seals:
Revelation 6:1-2, "And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer."
That he has a crown shows that he is a ruler, and his intent will be to conquer and rule over all nations. Note however that while he has a bow, he has no arrows for it. This is because his conquest will be by deceit. He will be a very charismatic person, and will use diplomacy and politics instead of guns and bombs. Paul goes on to say more about him:
2 Thessalonians 2:4, "Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God."
This person will be the ultimate egomaniac, and will at some point in his reign declare himself to BE God. Worshiping him will become mandatory, and those who refuse to do so will be killed. This is where many will be martyred, and serious, true believers in and followers of Jesus will be separated from the 'Sunday Christians' who claim Christianity but refuse to commit everything to God.
When, you ask, will this come about? The best answer comes from Jesus himself. In Matthew chapter 24 Jesus' disciples asked him about the end of the age. He gave them a list of indicators, things that would happen and get more intense and frequent over time.
He also gave other things to look for, that the gospel would be preached in the entire world, something that modern technology has made possible. He also spoke about the man of sin and his declaring himself to be God:
Matthew 24:15, "When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand)"
Then He tells when these things would happen:
Matthew 24:32-34, "Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled."
When we see all the things, Jesus talked about in Matthew chapter 24, and the Antichrist enters into the holy of holies and declares that he is God, the generation that sees these things will still be on this earth when Jesus returns.
All of this leads to the conclusion that when the Antichrist (man of sin) is finally revealed for who he is, we Christians will be here on the earth. Rather than expecting the rapture to take us out of this world before things get really bad, we should take Jesus' advice:
Matthew 24:42-46, "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing."
The question to ask is not, "will Jesus return before the tribulation?", we should ask ourselves if we are 'so doing'. Are we doing what Jesus sent us out to do? Are we preaching the good news? Are we loving one another as He loved us? Praying for the unsaved, sick, troubled? Teaching people about Jesus and what He's done for us and the peace that He has given us? We should be doing all of these things. Especially since the signs that Jesus gave us are increasing in frequency. And the prophecies are coming to pass at an ever increasing pace since the rebirth of Israel as a nation. It is very likely that many, if not most, of the people alive today will live to see His return. Are you ready? If you have not made Jesus the lord of your life, then you are not ready. Talk to God today,admit that you have sinned and accept the salvation that Jesus has given us. Don't wait too long, there is less time than you might think.