Posttribulationists maintain that the coming of Christ for his church will not take place until the conclusion of the great tribulation. They avoid use of the term rapture because (1) it is not a biblical expression and (2) it suggests that the church will escape or be delivered from the tribulation, a notion that runs contrary to the essence of posttribulationism.
A first feature of posttribulationism is a less literal interpretation of the events of the last times than is found in pretribulationism.31 For instance, while pretribulationists take the word שָׁבוּעַ (shabua’) in Daniel 9:27 to be an indication that the great tribulation will be literally seven years in duration, most posttribulationists hold merely that the tribulation will last a substantial period of time. Similarly, pretribulationists generally have a concrete conception of the millennium; in their view, many prophecies will be literally fulfilled within the thousand-year period. Indeed, it is to be inaugurated when Christ’s feet literally stand upon the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4). The posttribulationist’s understanding of the millennium is much more generalized in nature; for example, it will not necessarily be one thousand years in length.
According to posttribulationism, the church will be present during and experience the great tribulation. The term elect in Matthew 24 (after the tribulation, the angels will gather the elect—vv. 29–31) should be understood in the light of its usage elsewhere in Scripture, where it means “believers.” Since Pentecost, the term elect has denoted the church. The Lord will preserve the church during, but not spare it from, the tribulation.
Postmillennialists draw a distinction between the wrath of God and the tribulation. The wrath (ὀργή—orgē) of God is spoken of in Scripture as coming upon the wicked—“whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36); “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Rom. 1:18; see also 2 Thess. 1:8; Rev. 6:16–17; 14:10; 16:19; 19:15). On the other hand, believers will not undergo the wrath of God—“we [shall] be saved from God’s wrath through [Christ]” (Rom. 5:9); “Jesus … rescues us from the coming wrath (1 Thess. 1:10); “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath” (1 Thess. 5:9).32 Scripture makes it clear, however, that believers will experience tribulation. The overwhelming majority of the occurrences of the noun θλίψις (thlipsis) and the corresponding verb θλίβω (thlibo) refer to tribulation saints endure. The noun is used to denote persecution of the saints in the last times (Matt. 24:9, 21, 29; Mark 13:19, 24; Rev. 7:14). This is not God’s wrath, but the wrath of Satan, Antichrist, and the wicked against God’s people.33
Tribulation has been the experience of the church throughout the ages. Jesus said, “In the world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Other significant references are Acts 14:22; Romans 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; and 2 John 7. While posttribulationists do not deny a distinction between tribulation in general and the great tribulation, they believe that the difference is one of degree only, not of kind. Since the church has experienced tribulation throughout its history, it would not be surprising if the church also experiences the great tribulation.
Posttribulationists acknowledge that Scripture speaks of believers who will escape or be kept from the impending trouble. In Luke 21:36, for example, Jesus tells his disciples, “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” The word here is ἐκφεύγω (ekpheugo) which means “to escape out of the midst of.” A similar reference is found in Revelation 3:10: “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” The preposition translated “from” actually means “out from the midst of.” Posttribulationists argue, then, that the church will be kept from the midst of the tribulation, not that it will be kept away from the tribulation, which would ordinarily require the preposition ἀπό (apo).34 In this respect, we are reminded of the experience of the Israelites during the plagues on Egypt.
Of additional significance in Revelation 3:10 is the verb τηρέω (tēreō—“keep”). When a dangerous situation is in view, it means “to guard.” It appears with the preposition ἐκ in only one other place in the New Testament, John 17:15: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” Here τηρέω is contrasted with αἴρω (airō), which means “to lift, raise up, or remove.” The latter verb very accurately pictures what the pretribulationist holds Jesus will do with the church at the time of the rapture. To be sure, Jesus here is talking about the situation of his followers in the period immediately following his departure from earth, not the tribulation. The point, however, is that if John had desired to teach in Revelation 3:10 that Jesus would “rapture” the church, the verb αἴρω was certainly available. The apostle apparently had in mind here what he did in the latter half of John 17:15, a guarding of believers from the present danger rather than a deliverance of them from the presence of such danger.35
The posttribulationist also has a different understanding of Paul’s reference in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 to our meeting the Lord in the air. The pretribulationist maintains that this event is the rapture; Christ will come secretly for the church, catching believers up with him in the clouds and taking them to heaven until the end of the tribulation. Posttribulationists like George Ladd, however, in light of the usage of the term ἀπάντησις (apantēsis—“to meet”) elsewhere in Scripture, disagree. There are only two other undisputed occurrences of this word in the New Testament (Matt. 27:32 is textually suspect). One of these references is in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, an explicitly eschatological parable. When the bridegroom comes, the announcement is made, “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet [ἀπάντησις—apantēsis] him!” (Matt. 25:6). What does the word signify in this situation? The virgins do not go out to meet the bridegroom and then depart with him. Rather, they go out to meet him and then accompany him back to the wedding banquet. The other occurrence of the word (Acts 28:15) is in a noneschatological historical narrative. Paul and his party were coming to Rome. A group of the believers in Rome, hearing of their approach, went out to the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet (ἀπάντησις) them. This encouraged Paul, and the group then continued with him back to Rome. On the basis of these usages, Ladd argues that the word ἀπάντησις suggests a welcoming party that goes out to meet someone on the way and accompanies them back to where they came from. So our meeting the Lord in the air is not a case of being caught away, but of meeting him and then immediately coming with him to earth as part of his triumphant entourage. It is the church, not the Lord, that will turn around at the meeting.36
Posttribulationists have a less complex understanding of the last things than do their pretribulational counterparts. For example, there is in posttribulationism only one second coming. Since there is no interlude between the coming of Christ for the church and the end of the tribulation, there is no need for an additional resurrection of believers. There are only two resurrections: (1) the resurrection of believers at the end of the tribulation and the beginning of the millennium, and (2) the resurrection of the ungodly at the end of the millennium.
Posttribulationists also see the complex of events at the end as basically unitary. They believe that this complex of events is imminent, although they usually do not mean that the coming itself is imminent in the sense that it could occur at any moment. They prefer to speak of the second coming as impending.37 Their blessed hope is not an expectation that believers will be removed from the earth before the great tribulation, but rather a confidence that the Lord will protect and keep believers regardless of what may come.38”
Erickson, M. J. (1998). Christian theology. (2nd ed., pp. 1226–1230). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.