Pretribulational theology teaches that the rapture will happen pre-tribulational—before the “tribulation” period.
The sine qua non of pretribulationism is the belief in “imminency.” There are variations of this term: “imminent”: “imminence,” and “any moment.” The older terminology used the terms “secret coming” or “secret rapture.” Imminency is the heart of pretribulationism.
Pretribulationism defines this notion in a more narrow, technical meaning to fit their theology. Jesus’ imminent return is not just “near,” it means, “no prophesied events must happen before the return of Christ.” That is, there are no intervening prophetic events or signs that must occur between the Ascension and the rapture. By “Christ’s return,” they namely mean the rapture. It can happen at “any moment.” If just a single, biblical, prophesied event must happen before the rapture, then Christ’s return can no longer be considered imminent. In their system all end-time events prophesied in the Bible will happen after the rapture. So the next event for the church on the “prophetic calendar” is the rapture. Often you will hear them use the terminology that the rapture is “signless” or “unannounced” while the second coming will be preceded by signs and thus announced.