What is the purpose of the Tribulation period? That should go a long way toward helping us to understand whether or not the Church will be raptured before the Tribulation Period, out of it, or after it.
We begin with the Prophet Daniel. Daniel was given a vision of history as it would unfold. Daniel foretold the rise and fall of three great empires and the rise, fall and revival of the last great world empire -- that of Rome.
"Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy." (Daniel 9:24)
We've dealt with the nuts and bolts of Daniel 9:24 previously. (See Daniel's Seventieth Week, Feb 22, 2002)
But here is a quick review of the salient points:
1. 'Weeks' refer to 'weeks of years' - 70 7 year periods equalling 490 years using the Hebrew 'shabua' or 'heptad' the way we use the Greek 'decade' in our culture to divide years into groups of ten years each.
2. The angel specifically said this period was for Daniel's people (Jews) and Daniel's holy city (Jerusalem).
3. Within this time frame six things will be accomplished;
1) finish the transgression,
2) make an end of sin,
3) make reconciliation for sin,
4) bring in everlasting righteousness,
5) seal up the vision and prophecy and....
6) anoint the Most Holy.
All of these are clearly directed at Israel. Points 1-3 were settled for the Church at Calvary, points 4-6 take place at the end of the Tribulation, after the 2nd Coming, with the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom.
The first 69 weeks --483 years, concluded with the Messiah being 'cut off, but not for Himself" (Dan 9:26). Then there is a pause in God's Plan for Israel while He turns His attention to the Church. Daniel is told the 70th week opens with the antichrist 'confirming a covenant between Israel and the many' (Daniel 9:27)
Daniel indicates the Tribulation Period is for Israel's national redemption. That theme is picked up by Zechariah 12-14 and is further outlined in Revelation Chapters 4-20.
Jeremiah says it is the 'time of Jacob's trouble'.
"Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of JACOB'S TROUBLE,(emphasis mine) but he shall be saved out of it." (Jeremiah 30:7)
"For I am with thee, saith the LORD, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet I will not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished." (Jeremiah 30:11)
There is also a second group of people that go through the Tribulation.
"Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." (Revelation 3:10)
Note the phrase, 'them that dwell upon the earth'. We find it six other times; Rev. 6.10, 8:13, 11:10; 13:8; and 17:8.
In 8:13 a threefold woe is pronounced against them because of the final three trumpets, which are to come.
They are the ones who gloat over the death of the two witnesses in 11:10; and worship the beast from the sea in 13:8.
In 13:14 they are the individuals who are deceived by the beast from the land into making an image of the first beast.
The earth dwellers gaze in wonder at the scarlet beast in 17:8, while 13:8 and 17:8 adds that their names are not written in the Book of Life.
By contrast to the 'earth-dwellers', Jesus says of the Church in His prayer at Gethsemane;
"They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." (John 17:16)
Clearly, since the Tribulation period is the time of Jacob's Trouble, was pronounced upon Daniel's people and Daniel's city, and its purpose is to accomplish for Daniel's people in the last days the same thing accomplished for the Church at the Cross, the Tribulation period is for the Jews.
Just as clearly, according to Jesus, it is also to judge the earth dwellers whose names are not written in the Book of Life.
If there is a purpose for the Church in the Tribulation Period, there is no express mention of that purpose in Scripture, although Scripture is clear regarding both Jews and 'earth-dwellers'. And the 'earth dwellers' can't be the Church, since their names are not written in the Book of Life.
Look at 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10, specifically at verse 10:
"And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come."
What 'wrath to come'? Romans 8:1 says I am already delivered from being condemned to hell.
"There IS therefore NOW no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.
Now skip forward to 1 Thessalonians 5:1-9.
(3) "For when THEY shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon THEM, as travail upon a woman with child; and THEY shall not escape." (Note the pronouns 'they' and 'them')
(5) "Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: WE are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let US not sleep, as do others; but let US watch and be sober." (Note the change -- 'they'- 'them' become 'we'- 'us')
(7) "For THEY that sleep sleep in the night; and THEY that be drunken are drunken in the night."
(8) "But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation."
Ok - let's stop here. There is clearly a distinction between Jews, 'earth-dwellers' and 'us' -- the Church. Now look up at verse 8's reference to 'the hope of salvation'.
What does that mean -- 'hope' of salvation? Salvation from what?
My salvation comes with an iron-clad guarantee, signed in Blood. I don't 'hope' for salvation -- I am saved now.
Clearly, taken in context, the 'hope of salvation' referenced by Paul can't be salvation from hell.
But salvation from the 'wrath to come' is indicated by the context and consistent with the doctrine that says,
"I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them from my hand." (John 10:28)
And the 'wrath to come' is the Tribulation period - the time of Jacob's Trouble.
The argument for a pre-tribulation Rapture of the Church is consistent with Scripture. Keep in mind that the salient point is not so much 'When,' as it is, "Who" is coming.
Because Jesus is coming. And soon.