A distinctive feature of historic premillennialism is the post-tribulation rapture. The church will be present on earth during the tribulation.
Expectation of a post-tribulation rapture arises from scripture than indicates that the typical experience of the saints will be, in fact, tribulation:125
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said. (Acts 14:22)
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; (Rom 5:3)
so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. (1 Th. 3:3)
18Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.
22Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist--he denies the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:18,22)
but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:3)
I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Rev. 1:9).
It must be noted that the trials that the saints will endure do not include experiencing God’s "wrath", a fate reserved for the wicked. The saints will endure sufferings and persecution during the tribulation, but will be spared from wrath:
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. (Rev 3:10)
The belief that the rapture occurs after the tribulation is also supported, according to historic premillennialists, by New Testament descriptions of the return of Christ. One of the Greek words used, parousia, is exceptionally vivid. It is best translated as presence and denotes the coming of Christ to be present with his people. (For dispensationalists, at the Second Coming Christ will already have been present with His people for seven years. There, according to historic premillennialists, it makes little sense to use the word parousia.)
Furthermore, they point out that the Parousia, which is the object of their blessed hope: 126
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? (1 Th. 2:19)
May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (1 Th. 3:13)
7Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. 8You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. (James 5:7-8)
And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. (1 John 2:28)
is consistently presented as occurring after the tribulation, as in the Olivet discourse (Matt. 24) and other scripture, e.g.,
And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the(2. Th. 2:8)
breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.
Post-tribulationist Douglas Moo asserts: 127
A study of the vocabulary employed in describing the return of Christ paints a uniform picture: believers are exhorted to look for and live in the light of this glorious event. And while some texts [scripture] obviously place this coming after the Tribulation, there are none which equally obviously place it before the Tribulation.
To add teeth to what Moo asserts, historic premillennialists argue on two fronts. The first is that the principal rapture passages:
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:3)
51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-- 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Cor. 15:51-52)
13Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After 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. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Th. 4:13-17)
do not indicate that this event should be separated from Christ’s Second Coming. Rather they favor placing the rapture (a) post-tribulation; and (b) simultaneous with the Second Coming. The other front is passages such as 1 Th. 5:1-11; 2 Th. 1-2, along with the Olivet Discourse, and the book of Revelation which positively teach the post-tribulation position. 128
So, in a nutshell, this line of reasoning is:
- Scripture tells us to live for and look for the Parousia (Second Coming)
- Therefore we (the body of believers) are around at the Second Coming
- At the Second Coming, Christ defeats the antichrist, ending the tribulation
- Therefore we (the body of believers) went through the tribulation
- Those alive are post-tribulation raptured at this time (Christ’s return)
Dispensationalists teach that after the secret rapture, the saints are taken to enjoy the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Historic premillennialists have different expectation: The raptured saints meet Christ in the air and then immediately return with him. The imagery is of a welcoming party: subjects leaving the city to meet their king as he returns from a journey or battle, and to escort him back into the city. Similar imagery is used in the parable of the ten virgins, when the (wise) virgins meet the bridegroom and escort him back into the wedding feast. Another example is found in the book of Acts:
15The brothers there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged. 16When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. (Acts 28:15-16)
Believers went from Rome to the outlying town of Three Taverns and escorted him back into Rome.
The basis of the premillennial timeline
When it comes to the basic support for a premillennial timeline, i.e. that after Christ returns there will be an earthly millennium, historic premillennialists turn to the same scripture as dispensationalists: Revelation 19-22.
The rider of the white horse, in Rev. 19:11-16, signifies Christ’s return to destroy his enemies. Moving on to Rev. 20 we have the 1000 year passage, which indicates that Satan is (a) bound at the start of the 1000 years; and (b) released at the end of 1000 years for some final mischief.
Central to any premillennial view are the two resurrections in Revelation 20:
4I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. (Rev 20:4-5)
According to Ladd, any interpretation which tries to make the first resurrection spiritual while the only the second is physical does violence to the text:
At the beginning of the millennial period, part of the dead come to life. At its conclusion, the rest of the dead come to life. 129
To premillennialists, it's as simple as that.
125 Grenz, The Millennial Maze, pp. 131-132
126 Ibid., p. 132.
127 Douglas J. Moo, "The Posttribulation Rapture Position", in , The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-tribulational?(Zondervan), 1984. pp. 177-178.
128 Grenz, The Millennial Maze, p. 133.
129 George E. Ladd, Crucial Questions about the Kingdom of God, (Eerdmans), 1952, p. 146.