Imminency and Evangelism

Dan Lenington on January 2, 2014


           Over the last one hundred years, the doctrine of the pre-tribulation, imminent return of Christ at the rapture has become widespread, and I believe it is Biblical. However, another idea has accompanied the rise and spread of this teaching which is actually contradictory to it though often associated with it. This is the idea that Christ will be coming back very soon. Now, let me be the first to say that Christ may come back soon, but do we have any reason to believe that He necessarily will come back soon? The doctrine of the imminent return of Christ teaches that Christ could return at any time. In other words, there is no event or sign that will precede the rapture. There is no warning. To substantiate this claim, I want to examine from Scripture why the Rapture is imminent, why the “signs” cited by some for a close rapture do not relate to it, and why this misunderstanding is harmful to evangelism today.

                First, lets see what an imminent return of Christ means and where it is taught in Scripture. Webster defines imminent as “threatening to occur immediately, near at hand, impending.” The Greed word eggus means near, at hand, nigh, or ready. When this word is used, the event in question may happen right away but it also may not. The verb form is used when John the Baptist and Christ offer the Kingdom of Heaven in Matt. 3:2 and 4:17. Because the Jews ultimately rejected Christ as the Messiah and king of the kingdom, they forfeited their right to enjoy the kingdom at that time. The kingdom will once again be offered to them during the Tribulation according to Matt. 24:14. The apostles often use this word, translated at hand, to refer to the coming of Christ at the rapture. From these passages, we will see that the rapture is imminent.  

                In Rom. 13:11, Paul refers to the rapture of the church when he says that “now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” This salvation refers to future glorification and Paul leaves open the possibility that he and the Roman Christians will experience the rapture in their time. John indicates the same in 1 John 2:28, “And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.” He expected that he might see the coming of Christ in the rapture during his lifetime. James says the same thing in James 5:7-9, when he uses the phrase “draweth nigh” to describe Christ’s return and the phrase “standeth before the doors.” The perfect tense of the second phrase means “He has taken his stand before the doors and could enter at any moment.” Other passages supporting this imminent idea include Phil. 4:5; 1 Peter 4:7; Rev. 1:3; Rev. 22:10, 20. Paul even uses the 1st person personal pronoun “we” when refering to those who may experience the rapture in 1 Thess. 4:15, 17. The apostles believed the rapture could happen during their lifetime and all subsequent generations were encouraged to believe the same. However, the rapture hasn’t happened yet. Therefore, these passages teach that the rapture could happen in any generation at any time.

                Because the rapture could happen at any time, we should examine the “signs” that some say are appearing that Christ will necessarily come soon rather than say 100 years from now. The biggest misunderstanding in relation to this idea is confusion between the 2nd coming of Christ after the Tribulation and the rapture which will occur before the tribulation. All the signs mentioned by Christ in Matt. 24 relate to events during the Tribulation which occur after the Rapture. These are signs for the 2nd coming of Christ. Another sign used to say that the rapture is very soon is the Great Apostasy (falling away) mentioned in 2 Thess. 2:1 which is said to come before the Day of Christ. However, since the Day of Christ is not the rapture but another name for the prophetic  Day of the Lord (Tribulation), the apostasy and the revelation of the “man of sin” will occur right before the Tribulation. So this is a sign for the start of the Tribulation not the rapture. It is also unfair to apply the apostasy of the American church to the entire world. Some countries are experiencing great revival. Another "sign" some use to say the rapture is coming soon is the return of the Jews to their land. However it is the antichrist who will create peace with Israel for 3½ and provide for their safety. The Jews return to their land may relate to this peace treaty but then again it may not since the antichrist could easily provide for their return at a later date. All the passages speaking of the gathering of the Jews to their land refer to their gathering after the Tribulation just before the kingdom. Some refer to the rapid rise of technology and information as a fulfillment of Daniel 12:4. However, not only does this refer to the Tribulation not the time before the rapture, but the phrase “many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall be increased” most likely refers to knowledge about the revelation Daniel has just received. Some point to the "perilous times" or wickedness of the "last days" as a sign that Christ will return soon (2 Tim. 3:1; 2 Peter 3:3). However, the writer of Hebrews refers to his time period as the "last days" (Heb. 1:2). Paul also refers to his time period as that which could expect the end of the world (1 Cor. 10:11). Likely, Paul and others understood the entire church age as the "last days" or the end times. Therefore, we should not reference today's scoffers and perilous times as something new or an indication that Christ must be returning very soon. While other signs may be used to argue for a soon rapture, we must still remember that it is imminent and could happen at any time. Which means that no signs will warn of its coming.

                So why bother harping on this minor distinction in relation to the rapture? Well, I’ve grown up in a generation that has rejected God. This causes many conservatives to throw up their hands and wish for the end. But I don’t believe this is biblical or healthy. The imminency of the rapture is not supposed to be a copout but instead an encouragement. The mindset that the rapture must happen soon because of how bad it is getting, turns us toward an isolationist mentality. We begin to think that all we can do is save our own kids by isolating them from the world and then we will just let the world crash and burn because we're getting out. However, Christ said “occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13), be salt and light in the world you live in. This word “occupy” doesn’t mean occupy space! It means “to carry on business.” Essentially, God didn't tell us when the rapture will be because He doesn't want us watching the clock and neglecting our duty. The truth that Christ could return at any moment should motivate us to pray harder, work harder, and strive to know God better, not make us throw up our hands and give up on this country.  Christ told us that he ordained us to produce abundant fruit that remains  the more we abide in Him, and submit to the Father's pruning in answer to prayer (John 15:16). He didn't exclude this generation from that promise, so we can produce abundant fruit right here right now. Instead of complaining about how bad America is getting, we should pray more and expect God to work according to His promises instead of being a source of discouragement to others. It may be interesting to think about how current events could be used by Satan to set up the for the antichrist, but the truth is Satan doesn't know when the rapture is either. Lets "do business" till Christ comes and not accept defeat.