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).
One insight of priceless value that God has given me through a career in building construction, which informs my understanding of the cross and the journeys of faith recorded in the Bible, is that the varied problems that plague building construction can only be identified through hard-earned, first-hand personal experience with both feet planted firmly in the middle of the action.
Fact-finding research in the middle of the building construction jobsite arena as a tradesperson, a field superintendent, or a project manager…comes with a cost. Valuable lessons only surface one at a time in the heat and stress of the daily struggle. No detached, theoretical, academic approach from a safe distance will unearth and separate out the subtle, latent problems that disrupt the building construction process, causing time delays, cost overruns, poor quality, and the unpleasant task of having to explain to the new homebuyer why the house is not finished on time.
Comfortable complacency in the worldly conventional zone will never produce beneficial reform in this broken world. Necessity is said to be the mother of invention and is the guiding motivation for discovery in many walks of life. In terms of a journey of faith, we have to go boldly and courageously into the world to discover first-hand precisely what is wrong with the world in order to enact real solutions. Christians have to first go through the way of the cross ourselves in order to be able to assist others to be able do the same.
We see this theme at work throughout the Bible in the narrative stories of faith. The positive characters of faith in the Bible are grounded in the realities of life, yet on an elevated plane within the creatively imaginative mind of God that produces truth-revealing adventures of faith like those of Gideon, Joshua, Elijah, Ruth, Esther, Jeremiah, Daniel, David, Noah, Moses, Joseph and Mary, and Peter, to name only a few.
The issues of right and wrong are sorted out by God for us through the actual events and circumstances of an adventurous journey of faith. Paul has to live the Christian life to the fullest maximum extent in order to be able to “connect all the dots” and correctly write about it on a divinely inspired level. The same is true for Peter, James, John, Jude, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The incarnation of Jesus Christ into this world in the form of a human being underscores at the divine level of perfection, the enormous power behind the concept of God-composed and guided journeys of faith separating truth from error (Jn. 9:39-41).
Jesus Christ values a journey of faith, which sets up the context to reveal the true nature of God, so much that He entered our world as a human being to personally “debug” our relationship with God. The Son of God as Jesus of Nazareth placed both feet firmly in the middle of the action to become the way, the truth, and the life through the events and circumstances of life. Jesus Christ the Son of God became a human being to create a priceless commonality with us that is the basis for a lasting and meaningful relationship for all eternity.