Is there such a thing as a pretribulation?
Usually the word pretribulation is associated with the so-called “rapture,” the doctrine being that Christians will be “snatched up” into heaven before a great tribulation on earth. This is a doctrine that was unknown until about 1830. Since then many have twisted scripture to try to fit it into this new doctrine.
Ignoring that this doctrine was unknown to such men as the apostles Paul and Peter, there is only one passage that speaks of a “catching” or “rapture” of all believers. “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) Paul here says that the living saints and the dead will all be taken to be with God at the end of the world. This doesn’t allow for it being a pretribulation rapture, because there will be no more world in which to have tribulation.
The whole book of 1 Thessalonians argues against Paul believing in a pretribulation rapture. The letter was written to a group of people who were afraid that somehow Christ had come again and left them behind. If there was to be a pretribulation rapture it would have been simple for Paul to have said, “you didn’t miss it because all Christians will be taken to heaven before the great tribulation.” Instead he said, “you didn’t miss it because everyone will know when the world ends.”
The question of pretribulation rapture also assumes a specific, future period of exceptional tribulation. The scriptures, in speaking of the oppression or tribulation, generally say that the church will be, or has been, brought through the tribulation rather than taken out of it. In fact, many say the church will undergo tribulation.
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience.” (Romans 5:3)
“Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)
“For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.” (1 Thessalonians 3:4) (Here Paul says the tribulation is, at least in part, past in his day.)
“I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Revelation 1:9) (John was even then, or prior to then, undergoing tribulation with the church.)
There are only three passages that speak of “great tribulation.” None of them speak of “the” great tribulation, but of great tribulation in general. One (Revelation 2:22) promises great tribulation on unbelievers, but says nothing about the church being taken out of the earth before it. One (Matthew 24:21) is clearly talking about the Roman siege of Jerusalem around 70 AD. The other (Revelation 7:14) talks about Christians who had, at the time of John’s writing, come out of a past great tribulation.
Since Jesus said that his followers would suffer persecution and tribulation (Matthew 5:10-12; Matthew 10:34-38), every time is both pre- and post-tribulation, and even in tribulation. Since tribulation is a constant, the idea of pretribulation is really meaningless.
For a more complete discussion on the scriptures used to support a pretribulation rapture, see www.reformed.com/pub/rapture.htm. While I don’t agree with everything this writer says, he pretty well refutes the doctrine.