My view on the timing of the rapture, which I refer to as the “imminent pre-wrath view,” has sometimes been mischaracterized as a modified form of Rosenthal’s pre-wrath view; I would like to say emphatically that nothing could be further from the truth. The imminent pre-wrath view is an imminent view, and thus bears a much closer resemblance to pretribulationism than to any other view. In fact, the only substantial difference between the view I have proposed and pretribulationism is that while pretribulationists regard the entire tribulation as divine wrath, I think that is an assumption rather than a biblically or theologically demonstrable fact. To be perfectly clear, while the pretribulational assumption regarding the extent of divine wrath during the tribulation might ultimately be seen to be true, apart from additional divine revelation there is insufficient evidence to know in advance that it must be true. As I have shown in my book, Toward a Biblical View of the Rapture (2011), pretribulationists have, accidentally I’m sure, decimated the argument from imminency, leaving the wrath argument as the only remaining “heavy” argument, and that argument depends entirely on being able to demonstrate that the entire tribulation is divine wrath, thus necessitating the removal of the church prior to the beginning of the tribulation. The problem is that there is no biblical support to prove that the entire tribulation is divine wrath, and no effective theological argument has ever been adduced for such.
Having said that, I would like to point out that in explaining my own view I clearly stated that the most likely timing for the rapture is that it will occur before the tribulation begins; in other words, while I believe that a pretribulational rapture is likely (an opinion), I do not believe it is certain (a demonstrable fact). I don’t think anyone holding to any form of Rosenthal’s view could make such a statement. Those readers that are more theologically astute might be wondering how one could believe in imminency, as I do, and believe that the rapture could, potentially, be anything other than pretribulational. After all, imminency was the original argument for pretribulationism. Posttribulationism, then mid-tribulationism, and finally Rosenthal’s view all specified when the rapture would occur, and none of those positions was compatible with imminency, since they made the rapture contingent to other prophesied events; thus imminency served as an effective refutation of those views. However, there was one possibility that apparently no one considered: that the timing of the rapture being unspecified, as it is in the New Testament, it could occur anytime irrespective of any other prophesied events. When understood in this way, even if the rapture were not pretribulational it would still be imminent from the present perspective, since there would be no way of knowing when it would occur. What this demonstrates is that while imminency refutes views that make the rapture contingent upon other prophesied events (i.e., mid-tribulationism, Rosenthal’s view, and posttribulationism), it does not prove pretribulationism.
Since the wrath argument rests on an unprovable assumption regarding the extent of divine wrath during the tribulation, and since the imminency of the rapture does not preclude it happening after the tribulation begins, as long as it is not made contingent to any tribulation events, the two key arguments for pretribulationism are seen to be more assumptions than proof. While the hope of a pretribulation rapture is fine, I think that teaching it as a biblical or theological fact is unwarranted and likely to be dangerous if things turn out differently. Incidentally, should it turn out differently I have presented arguments in my book that the rapture could not occur in the second half of the tribulation period, but you’ll have to read the book for those arguments; it’s free: (click or tap here to download a free abridged PDF edition, or here to order a print or Kindle edition).
My own view is that pretribulationism is the result of two errors: 1) a logical error in thinking that imminency precludes all non-pretribulational possibilities for the rapture, when in fact it only precludes those that make the rapture contingent to other prophetic events; and, 2) a complete lack of biblical support for belief that the entire tribulation is divine wrath—a position with which even the early pretribulationists (like C.I. Scofield) would have disagreed.
Sam A. Smith, 2017