In my opinion, Christians in the end-times cannot fully discover, internalize, and outwardly demonstrate the triumphant, overcoming nature of Jesus Christ without the necessity of experiencing a similar intensity of challenging issues on a massive scale, as Jesus did in the first century, during at least some portion of the upcoming great tribulation, prior to the rapture.
Will the Christian church be raptured pretribulation to escape all of the action, or is the overriding, controlling element of biblical interpretation instead the investigative, experiential component of our God-composed journeys of faith that take us straight through the cross no matter what are the daunting outside challenges we face?
Is the God of the Bible, who has given us a pattern in the biblical narrative stories of faith, and who resides in a timeless reality, equally capable of rising to the occasion and crafting an end-times script of brilliant intrigue, moves and countermoves, the unmasking of true underlying motives, and the revelation of truth worthy of the final chapter in this amazing saga of human redemptive history?
I personally do not think that the rapture and the second coming of Christ are one and the same event. Paul speaks about the rapture of the church as being a mystery, yet everyone in the early church knew about the Acts 1:9-11 account of Jesus coming back some day in like manner as He ascended into heaven.
It is nearly certain that Paul shared his outlook on this important issue with the other apostles (Gal. 2:2; 1Th. 4:13-18; 2 Th. 2:5) and with the early churches he founded, yet there is no biblical record of any dispute or disagreement on end-times eschatology. The major council of Acts 15 (around A.D. 49) in the early church considered the vital question of the Judaic law as it applied to the new Gentile converts, and had no recorded discussion of the rapture or the second coming of Christ as a secondary topic in dispute.
Because the element of the way of the cross in the narrative stories of faith in the Bible argues against a pretribulation rapture of the church (discussed more fully in my book The Cross in the End-Times), and because I see the rapture and the second coming as separate events, this then leaves for me a rapture that would occur sometime in the middle of the great tribulation (there is no rapture after the second coming of Jesus Christ).
Everyone who looks at these issues has to form their own opinion. The Holy Spirit is the only real expert in all of this. Until Joel 2:28-32 and Matthew 24:7-14 actually begin to materialize and specify the coming events more fully, for the present I am leaning toward the timing of a mid-tribulation rapture of the Christian church.
Whether the duration of the great tribulation is a full seven years or three and one-half years, as some people contend, would obviously alter substantially the definitions of pretribulation or mid-tribulation raptures.
But the way of the cross in the biblical narrative stories of faith is central, controlling, and irreplaceable…in my interpretation of end-times biblical prophecy (1 Jn. 3:1-3).