There are three views on when the rapture, Jesus' return for Christians, will take place.
Those who believe in a pre-Tribulation rapture claim Christians are not appointed to wrath and that references to God's people being persecuted during the Tribulation are referring to Jews and others left behind by the Rapture due to unbelief who become Christians after the Rapture. This view is widely held and popularized by the "Left Behind" book series. However it does not comport well with the Bible or history.
Christians are not subject to God's wrath but have always been subject to the wrath of Satan and the world. See for example the mass murder of Christians by the Roman Empire during the first few centuries A.D., the imprisonment of 800 Protestant pastors by the Nazis, or how Christians are killed and tortured today in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Indeed, Jesus promised Christians will have tribulation and we are told all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
The post-Tribulation view believes that Jesus will come at the end of the Tribulation's 7-year period. It is not widely held from what I have seen.
The view which to my mind is best supported by scripture is the mid-Tribulation rapture. A straight-forward reading of Matthew 24 and Revela
A straightforward chronological reading of Matthew 24 would seem to support a pre-Tribulation rapture. The order is as follows:
- In v. 3 the disciples ask when the Temple of Jerusalem will be destroyed, when Jesus will return, and when the end of the world will occur.
- In vv. 4-5 Jesus warns that many false prophets will first come pretending to be Him, deceiving many.
- In vv. 6-8 Jesus says there will be numerous wars, earthquakes, famines, and plagues before the end. These will be only the beginning of sorrows.
- In vv. 9-13 Jesus describes a coming mass persecution of Christians where Christians will be killed and hated by all nations because they bear Jesus' name. Persecution will be so great that some will betray and hate one another, and the love of others will grow cold. Many false prophets will come to deceive. However those who persevere to the end will be saved.
- In v. 14 Jesus specifically says that the end will not come until the Gospel has been preached among all nations as a witness to them.
- In vv. 15-22 Jesus says the end will come only after the Abomination of Desolation spoken of in Daniel, the Antichrist, is seen sitting in the Temple of Jerusalem calling himself God. This will mark the beginning of the Great Tribulation, a time of suffering unparalleled in world history. Jesus warns residents of Jerusalem to flee to the mountains. Jesus says unless the time was cut short none would survive, and that only for the sake of the Elect will those days be shortened.
- In vv. 23-28 Jesus foretells of yet more false prophets which will claim Jesus is to be found secretly in the desert. Jesus warns not to believe them. His return will be as obvious to the whole world as lightning which shines from one end of the sky to the other. His return will be marked by evil world leaders gathering to resist Him, like vultures defending a carcase they are devouring.
- In vv. 29-31 Jesus says only "after the Tribulation of those days" will He return and send the angels to "gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."
In prophecy as with parables, the meanings are often mentioned explicitly. For example:
- The Beast, i.e. Antichrist, is identified as the 8th in a lineage of kings. (Rev. 17:11)
- The Great Harlot of Babylon represents a great city that reigns over the kings of the Earth and is responsible for murdering God's people throughout time. (Rev. 17:18)
- The seven heads of the Beast are said to represent 7 hills/mountains, presumably of Rome. (Rev. 17:9)
- The ten horns of the Beast are revealed as ten kings who serve the Beast (Rev. 17:12)
- The waters of the Great Harlot of Babylon represent the nations, ethnicities, and languages which the city of Babylon rules over. (Rev. 17:5)
- The seven candlesticks represent seven churches. (Rev. 1:20)
- The seven stars represent the seven angels of the seven churches. (Rev. 1:20)
- The seven lamps of fire before the throne represent the seven spirits of God. (Rev. 4:5)
- The seven eyes of the Lamb represent seven spirits of God sent into the Earth. (Rev. 5:6)
- The golden vials of odors symbolize the prayers of the saints. (Rev. 5:8)
- The two olive trees/candlesticks represent two witnesses/annointed ones that stand by the Lord. (Rev. 11:3-4, Zec. 4:14) Cherubim were represented as olive trees in the Old Testament. (1 Ki. 6:23)
- The sun, moon, and 12 stars with which the woman in Rev. 12 (herself perhaps also symbolizing a great city, possibly Jerusalem) symbolize Israel and its twelve tribes. (Gen. 37:9-10)