Pre-Trib Rapture: This is the theory that the rapture occurs before the believers go through the tribulation period. This theory is relatively new having been developed in the 1830's. It is popular among Evangelicals today being also popularized by the "Left Behind" series.
Mid-Trib Rapture: Revelation seems to indicate that the seven years of the anti-Christ's rule are divided in half. The first half he is persecuting Christians, and the second half focusses on God's wrath being poured out. The Mid-Tribers theorize that since believers aren't subject to God's wrath, they will be raptured midway through the seven years.
Post-Trib Rapture: And, as the name indicates, this is the theory that the Rapture occurs at the end of the seven years, when Christ makes his return, descending from the clouds.
Of course, only one of these can be true, but these theories have been associated with more or less orthodox evangelical thinking. There are also unorthodox theories, and I will mention a couple. For example, concerning Christ's return, the Jehovah Witnesses have the rather bizare theory that he already returned in some mystical sense in 1914. There is also a theory originating from Robert Govett in the 19th century and prevails in Watchman Nee's Local Church, which is rather bizarre, known as the partial rapture theory.
Partial Rapture: There are those like Govett and Nee who divide the Christian community into "overcomers" and "non-overcomers". Both are redeemed, but while the overcomers - an elite group of Christians - enter the Millenial Kingdom and reign with Christ for 1000 years, the non-overcomers - Christians who have demonstrated a sub-standard performance - end up in a sort of purgatorial scenario. With respect to the rapture, the overcomers get raptured mid-trib or pre-trib at which time also the dead overcomers are raised and join them, while the non-overcomers remain until the end of the tribulation at which time they are rapture along with the dead non-overcomers being raised and joining them.
Pan-Trib Rature: These are those who sick and tired of
people arguing over when the Rapture takes place and just believe it's
all going to all "pan out" in the end!
The Rapture Rap
A. The Lord returns just before the rapture
These are the order of events according to 1Thessalonians 4:16,17
1. the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command,That is,
with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God,
2. the dead in Christ will rise first.
3. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together
with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. (The Rapture)
"The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ" Rev 11:15 And then he sends Wrath down from the clouds for 3 years, followed by His Millenial Reign on earth.
B. The reason Paul gives as to how believers know they haven't missed it, or been "left behind" as some put it today, is because certain events must occur before the Rapture:
2Thess 2:1-4Notice that "the day of the Lord" spoken of throughout 1st and 2nd Thessalonians is revealed here to incorporate both the coming of the Lord and the Rapture. ("Our being gathered to him") Notice the correlation of this "gathering" with Matthew 24 which I also mention below:
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him we ask you, brothers not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day (the coming of the Lord and the Rapture) will not come until
1. the rebellion occurs and
2. the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
Matt 24:29-31But before "that day" occurs, Paul reveals that certain events must first occur. "The popular "Left Behind" Series is unBiblical in its portrayal of the order of these events. What if a false pre-trib prophet had proposed to the Thessalonians that the Lord had already come and the rapture occurred, but that they missed it - that they are "left behind"! This is the kind of false prophecy Paul was responding to. Notice also 2Timothy 2:16-18 "Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some." And even today there are some called "Preterists" who claim the resurrection has already taken place. Paul refers to such ideas merely as godless chatter.
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."
The "rebellion" or "falling away" he refers to is also mentioned in Matthew 24:10,11 "At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people."
By the way the "man of lawlessness" it refers to is alluded to in the book of Daniel saying,
"He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time. (3.5 years)" Dan 7:25The anti-Christ will reign for 7 years, the last 3.5 years of which he will persecute the saints starting with his rebellious act of setting himself in God's temple proclaiming himself to be God. After the 3.5 years of persecution, the Rapture occurs. (See also the Revelation Timing Charts)
"He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ (3.5 years) he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him." Dan 9:27
C. Coming as a Thief in the night refers not to "in secrecy", but rather to "surprise".
Some have proposed that the Lord's coming it speaks of in 1Thess 4 is not the same as the Lord's coming spoken of as elsewhere, but rather it is a secret coming. That is the Jesus tiptoes into the world and takes his believers away secretly. The "secret coming" theory is based upon the fact that at times his coming is likened to a thief coming in the night. But notice the context when the Bible likens the Lord's coming as a thief in the night.
1Thess 5:2-4 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.D. 1Thess 4:16 speaks of the trumpet call of God, as does 1Corinthians 15:51,52 both with reference to the Rapture event. But Corinthians specifies it as the LAST TRUMPET.
So also Peter writes, "the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare." 2Peter 3:10
It is not in secrecy, but in surprise, though the believers are not surprised but ready. But also his coming as a thief incorporates destruction and suffering upon the world. So also even when Jesus spoken of his coming as a thief he was not referring to it being in secret, but rather it being a surprise:
"But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." Luke 12:39,40
E. Some have attempted to defend the Pre-Trib Rapture theory with 2Thess 2:7, but that verse absolutely does not support such a theory.
"For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work;I agree with the idea that it is most likely speaking of the Holy Spirit holding back the lawlessness in the world. We notice in Romans 1 for example it speaks of God "giving them over to their sinful desires" and "to a depraved mind" and so forth, implying that God was holding them back from such corruption. So also I can imagine He's doing the same concerning the restraint of lawlessness on a larger scale - world-wide.
but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way."
The pretribers however will reason that at this point God takes away such restraint by taking the Holy Spirit completely out of the world altogether. And as the Spirit so the Church, meaning that the Rapture must occur at that time. But first of all does God need to take the Spirit completely out of the world to release His restraint? Certainly not. For even Romans 1 gives examples of God giving people over to their passions, and yet the Church is still here! It is not the Church which restrains the world. It's the Spirit. The time will come when the Spirit limits its influence to the Church, giving up on the rest of the world. That's what it's speaking of. But the Church is still on the earth at that time.
To prove this further notice the verse which follows, which says, "And then the lawless one will be revealed." 2Thess 2:8 The Lawless One is revealed after such restraint is lifted, not to mention the rebellion. But the verses prior to that (vs 1-4) indicate that the Rapture occurs some time after the lawless one is revealed, as I pointed out above, which must be some time after the restraint is lifted, indicating that the Church is still on earth.Thus Pre-Tribers are just reading their Rapture theory into 2Thess 2:7, rather than reading the verse in context. For the context teaches that the rebellion and the revealing of the lawless one occurs before the Rapture. (Don't let anyone deceive you in any way)
F. Matthew 24 also speaks of the "Coming of the Lord" and the Rapture, placing them after the tribulation period.
Matthew 24:(3) Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming ("parousia" in the Greek), and of the end of the age? ... (9-10) Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other. ... (15) Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (Dan 9:27) (whoever reads, let him understand) ... (21) For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. ...(29-31) Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven (Rev 6:13) , and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, (1Thess 4:16) and they will gather together His elect (2Thess 2:1) from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.(The Rapture).Furthermore, the Greek word "parousia" used here in speaking of the Lord's coming is also the same word "coming" used throughout Thessalonians in speaking of the Rapture. And notice the correlation with the trumpet of God spoken of in Thessalonians, which also precedes the Rapture.
1Thess 4:15-17 "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord."And furthermore this passage in Matthew is consistent with the timing of the rapture Paul speaks of in
2Thess 2:3, 4 "Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God."This event is the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, of which Matthew also speaks. and the "rebellion" or "falling away" is spoken of in Matthew 24:10 Thus in both sections such events are consistently placed before the Rapture. The Rapture is also described more explicitly in that chapter saying things like, "Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left." Matt 24:40 This is the gathering together his elect from the four winds.
(While some pre-tribers recognize Matt 24:40 as referring to the Rapture, other Pre-tribers however interpret this to mean that the ones taken are the one's subject to God's wrath. They based this on Matt 24:28 which says, "Wherever there is a carcass, there the eagles will gather." But eagles and vultures gather around bodies which are on the earth, not on those which are taken away. This verse is actually a reference to marriage supper of the lamb of Revelation 19:17,18 17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, "Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great." This occurs after the Rapture.
And one further contradiction to Partial Rapture is the idea that the non-overcoming redeemed will be cast into a purgatorial scenario for the during of the Millennial kingdom while the elite "overcomers" reign with Christ on earth for the 1000 years. But this section ends with "so we will be with the Lord forever." Paul makes no distinctions speaking universally of all believers, which is the "we" Paul refers to. But if many end up separated from Christ in a purgatorial scenario after the rapture, this would not be true.
See also a Pre-Trib response
See also 4 Proofs of a Post-Trib Rapture