The word tribulation is used in a couple of different ways in the Bible. In John 16:33 we Christians are assured that in this world we will have tribulation. That is simply a promise of (at least some) tough times for all believers, being as we are living in a hostile environment. The word tribulation there simply means “trouble.” It is generally understood that this trouble which Jesus is referring to is that which comes specifically as the result of our faith in Christ.
However in Matthew 24:21 when Jesus is talking about the last days, he tells us …for then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be again. Here he is clearly referring to the great tribulation time period that the prophet Daniel wrote about, which is subsequently described in detail by the Apostle John in the last book of the Bible, Revelation. It occurs during the last three and a half years before the return of Christ to this earth.
The great tribulation is also referred to as the day of the Lord by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 2:12, Isaiah 13:6, and Isaiah 13:9.
In Zephaniah 1:15 it is referred to as a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.
It is referred to as the time of Jacob’s trouble in Jeremiah 30:7.
In Joel 2:31 it is described at the great and terrible day of the Lord.
So the question is, will the church be raptured before or after the great tribulation? Note that we are assuming the church will be raptured at all in posing this question. Why? Because the Apostle Paul told us about this event, which is distinctly different than the event of the return of Christ to this earth. Christians living on the earth at some point will be pulled up to the clouds and given their glorified bodies. Many of them will be returning with Christ at the second coming. Paul said it, it is in the Bible, so it will happen. The question then is the timing of the event, and whether or not it is really a separate event than the second coming.
It is important to understand that there will be a surviving population from the great tribulation. When Jesus returns he sets up his kingdom, which will last 1,000 years. Those who return with Christ, in their immortal glorified bodies, will be governors on the earth under King Jesus. The surviving population will be subjects of the kingdom. Disease will be conquered and they will live extremely long healthy lives, but they will still be mortal.
Some people believe passages in Matthew 25 indicate that no non-believers will make it to the kingdom age. This cannot be correct if there is a post-tribulation rapture, because then there would be no subjects left for the kingdom age. It just doesn’t work.
Ephesians 5:27 suggests that the church will be presented as a spotless bride for Christ. She would hardly be spotless if she went through the great tribulation. In many places of the New Testament the church is illustrated as the bride of Christ. It sure seems like a strange illustration if the Lord’s plans are to beat her up for 3.5 years before getting married.
In Revelation 3:10 Jesus makes the promise to the good church (Philadelphia) that he will keep her from the hour of tribulation. This would indicate that at least some Christians will be raptured before the tribulation. This seems to be confirmed in Luke 21:36 where Jesus gives advice to pray always to be counted worthy to escape these coming horrors and to stand before the Son of Man.
The first three chapters of Revelation are letters that Jesus commands John to write to the main churches that they have established among the gentiles. In chapters 4 and 5, there is a heavenly scene that John is witness to. The church is present in the heavenly scene. This is before the pouring out of God’s wrath during the great tribulation. That starts in chapter 6. The church is not mentioned again during all the tribulation judgments in the book of Revelation. It is only mentioned again after the judgments, in chapter 19, at the marriage supper of the lamb before the return of Christ. The marriage supper takes place in heaven. So the church is not mentioned at all upon the earth during the tribulation; it is only mentioned as appearing in heaven during this time.
However, additional saved people do show up in heaven during the tribulation judgments. These are known as the tribulation period saints. They are a different group of people than the church. We know this because the church is promised in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 that we are not appointed to wrath. Therefore, the rapture of the church must take place before the great tribulation. However during the tribulation many borderline Christians will apparently get the proper wakeup call and decide to finally make a stand for Christ. Many of them will probably be executed for their newfound faith.
Which group do you belong to? If you are a carnal Christian, placing more value on things in this world and things happening in your life than spiritual nourishment, maybe you will end up being a tribulation saint. I don’t know. What I do know is, whatever you got going on just ain’t worth it. Get the priorities of your heart straight. Get back in the Bible. Get back in the church. Get back into loving God above all else and praising him for his goodness all the time. Get your ticket for the rapture. And look up, for your redemption draws near.