When we look back through the Bible, we can see the enormous care that God took in keeping the ability of people to believe or not to believe, in balance. The fact that God the Father orchestrated the ministry, the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ the Son of God in the midst of a busy and populated first-century Roman occupied Israel in such a way as to leave in place the free-will ability of the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, rulers, and a large segment of the populace to remain after-the-fact in unbelief, has to be one of the great spiritual engineering marvels of history.
The timing of the rapture is therefore critical. The nature and intent of its impact changes dramatically, depending on when it occurs in relation to the end-times tribulation events. Place it too early, and it upsets the balance between belief and unbelief. Place it too late, after multitudes have already received the mark of the beast and are beyond pardon, and the evangelical value it affords as a powerful sign to the world of the truth of the Christian gospel message is lost forever.
If the rapture is placed well beyond the midpoint of the tribulation, after tens of millions of Christians have been martyred for refusing the mark of the beast, as alluded to in Revelation 7:14, 12:11, and 15:2, then the rapture is not intended as a sign at all, but rather as a well-timed escape mechanism to remove the church from the earth sometime around Revelation 16:15. The rapture is like the main ingredient in the cooking of some precisely prepared gourmet meal. The timing of its addition to the process must be perfectly coordinated to achieve the desired outcome.
The long-awaited rapture cannot be about something as relatively trivial as the removal of the Christian church simply to be out of harm’s way before the massively unsettling but defining tribulation period. Since when is the God of the Bible overly challenged by the threat of invading Midianites, or invading Philistines, or Pharaohs, or Egyptian chariot armies, or the parting of the Red Sea, or kings like Nebuchadnezzar, or a fiery furnace, or a den full of lions, or 450 prophets of Baal, or any of the other tribulations facing the people of God in the Bible?
The timing of the rapture, placed just prior to the start of the tribulation, has no clear basis in scripture one way or the other. The pretribulation rapture teaching is one plausible construction of events according to a particular school of thought. The doctrine of imminence absolutely requires that the rapture occur before the tribulation, only if we define Christian hope as something outside of Hebrews chapter eleven, outside of John 21:18-19, outside of Acts 9:16, and apart from the Holy Spirit inspired character-stretch toward the excellence of a “better resurrection” of Hebrews 11:35.
If it is true that the unique nature of the rapture will clearly reveal itself as the rapture, and nothing else, then this important observation needs to be factored into our end-times calculus. If it does not make sound biblical logic, or even worldly-astute common sense (based on the accuracy of modern investigative journalism) that the rapture can occur at the beginning of the tribulation, because it would prematurely give away too much world-shattering information at the wrong time, then it becomes the nearly unavoidable conclusion that the un-raptured main Christian church will enter into at least some portion of the seven-year tribulation period.