As promised (I know you’ve all been waiting on the edge of your seats for this very post), I’m going to write about two different times someone was trying to teach the imminency of the return of Christ. To sum up from previous posts, those who believe the rapture will be before the great tribulation try to divide Christ’s second coming into two phases. Those rapture positions usually include Classic PreTrib (PreWeek) and Classic MidTrib (MidWeek). One coming is imminent, the other is preceded by signs.
The first instance was when I was a teen, just saved, attending a youth group. The youth pastor stated that since the return of Israel to the promised land, there were no more signs left to be fulfilled before the return of Christ. He stated that since Israel was in her homeland, that Christ could now return at any moment. This youth pastor did not go to the scriptures or even quote one verse from the Bible to prove the point. He simply stated it as fact.
The second instance was at a Bible study I was attending as a young adult; I was probably 25. The pastor wanted to show us that the coming of Christ was imminent. By his definition of imminency, he meant that Christ could return at any moment. He asked the question, "Didn’t the apostles believe that Christ could return in their lifetime?" A dear brother answered, "It seemed like the Apostle Paul looked forward to the coming of Christ." The pastor responded, "Yes, the apostles looked forward to the coming of Christ, so we see that Christ’s coming could happen at any moment." Again, no verses were quoted, no scriptures were cited, just a brief little three sentence conversation without consulting God’s Word to come to the conclusion that Christ could return at any moment.
Let’s examine this. We’ve probably heard it time and time again, that Jesus could return today or tomorrow; it could happen anytime. But, is it true? What do the scriptures really say? Did the apostles believe that Christ could return at any moment?
First off, let’s examine the youth pastor’s approach as I was a teen. The youth pastor believed that there was a sign to be fulfilled before Christ could return again. So in this youth pastor’s view, up until the moment that Israel returned to the promised land (still in unbelief), Christ could NOT have returned. There was still this sign to be fulfilled. I have already posted on 12-13-06 about Ezekiel’s Dry Bones, Ezekiel 37:1-14. The prophecy concerning Israel becoming a nation again before receiving their spiritual life (which will happen at their national repentance) is clearly laid out here. So according to this view, Christ could not have returned between 70 AD and 1948 AD. Further, any scriptures which were written after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD could not have viewed Christ’s coming as imminent as the definition is being set forth. This includes the book of Revelation.
So here is a simple question. Do you believe that Israel returning to the promised land is a fulfillment of a prophecy in the Bible to precede the LORD’s return? If you answer the question "yes", then you do not believe that the Bible teaches Christ’s any moment return. You may believe that Christ could return now, but there was a sign to be fulfilled before Christ’s return that you are clinging to. In case you didn’t read my post on Ezekiel’s Dry Bones, I believe that the return of Israel to the promised land is a fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
Second, let’s address the pastor’s approach who was leading this Bible study that I attended. Did the apostles really believe that Christ could return in their lifetime? And even if they did, did they believe that there would be certain signs to be fulfilled before Christ’s return, or could it happen at any moment?
Let’s take Peter first. Peter was told by the LORD, before the ascension, that Peter would be martyred as an old man, John 21:15-19. Did Peter really believe that he could see the LORD return? Did he really believe that the LORD could return at any moment and prove Jesus to be a liar, that Peter would not be martyred? The answer is a resounding NO. Peter knew that he would be martyred. He writes this in II Peter 1:13-15 that he would "put off this tabernacle" referring to his decease just as our LORD Jesus Christ showed him. He is writing that Christ’s words of his martyrdom must be fulfilled as Christ spoke, therefore Peter knew full well that it wasn’t the LORD’s return that he was looking forward to, but death for his faith in the LORD Jesus Christ.
But Peter writes a classic passage equating the promise of His coming, the Day of the LORD, and the day of God as something that we as believers look for while living holy lives in light of these things, see II Peter 3:1-14. How could Peter write that he knew he would die as a martyr, yet be looking forward to the promise of His coming? This may seem like a contradiction at first, until we remember that the hope of the disciples was not to be wisked away to heaven, but to enter Christ’s kingdom that He would establish at His coming here on earth. That is what Peter is writing about as he writes phrases like "[this] earth [is] reserved unto fire against the day of judgement", "the earth… shall melt with fervent heat [and] be burned up", and "we look for a new earth". Peter knew that every Christian would be a part of the new earth whether they were raised to life at the physical return of Christ, or whether they would be caught up as Christ descended. Getting into the logistics of the passage, this shows that the Day of the LORD and judgement of the earth by fire is something that happens when Christ comes. In Revelation we read about the Day of the LORD and judgement by fire happening during the trumpets and bowls.
How about the Apostle Paul? Did Paul believe that Christ could return during his lifetime? Paul, same as Peter, was actually looking forward to suffering for the name of Christ and to martyrdom. When Christ first revealed Himself to Paul, it was shown him "how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake". Then in the epistles, we clearly see that Paul’s focus was on the preaching of the gospel until he would be martyred. During his first imprisonment, the Apostle Paul entertained the thought of his martyrdom in Philippians 2:17. "Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all." Then in II Timothy 4:6-7 during his second imprisonment, Paul knew the time for giving his life for the sake of the gospel had come. "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith", (ESV) So we see that Paul knew that martyrdom awaited him, not the witness of the glorious return of Christ, or even some secret return of Christ.
Yet Paul writes about the coming of Christ as something that all believers look forward to. I’m only going to focus on one for now. Paul writes concerning the timing of the resurrections in I Corinthians 15. Christ is the firstfruits, afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming, then the end. It is those that are Christ’s at His coming that Paul is writing about when he describes the resurrection of the righteous in verses 51-55. Paul knew, whether physically dead or physically alive that he would be a participant in the resurrection at the coming (parousia) of Christ. The verse is specific, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. The idea is that not all believers will experience physical death, but all believers will receive resurrection bodies that will never die. So while Paul knew that he would be martyred and not witness the physical return of Christ, he knew he would accompany Christ here on earth because of the resurrection that would occur at Christ’s coming.
Then there are specific events that Christ predicted would happen which had to be fulfilled. The destruction of the temple is one of them, see Luke 21:5-7, 20-21. This was fulfilled in 70 AD.
There was the salvation of the Gentiles due to Israel’s national rejection of Christ outlined in Matthew 12:14-21 as he quotes Isaiah 42:1-4. This was initially fulfilled when Peter visited Cornelius in Acts 10 and is being fulfilled right now. We are currently in the time of salvation of the Gentiles. James reveals this in Acts 15:13-18 that before Christ returns to set up the tabernacle of David, there must be Gentiles who are called by the name of the LORD to fulfill Amos 9:11-12. We must remember the divine mandate is to preach the gospel until the end of the age to all creation, Jew and Gentile.
The parables of Christ teach an extended interim period, Matthew 13, Matthew 24:14-30, especially vs. 19, Luke 19:11-27.
Paul and Peter both write concerning a future corrupting of the church whereby wolves would enter in speaking perverse things, Acts 20:29-30, some would depart from the faith, I Timothy 4:1, perilous times would come, II Timothy 3:1, and false prophets would come in among the church, II Peter 2:1.
Where in all the Bible did the disciples believe that Christ could have come at any moment? Again and again there are things which were written which had to be fufilled according to the holy sciptures. So when we come to the Olivet Discourse which gives us the clear order of events, first the abomination of desolation, then the great tribulation, then the glorious return of Christ, why does it seem to odd to us that this very coming which is preceded by the sign of the abomination of desolation and the great tribulation is the very coming that we as disciples are looking forward to?
This may sound harsh, but I see the idea of two parts to Christ’s second coming as being necessary for one reason. One coming to match up with the idea of an any moment coming, the other to match up with scripture. I realize it’s a popular view, but I see no basis in scripture for dividing Christ’s second coming up into two separate events. Imminency as it’s being taught as an any moment event, is simply not found in the scriptures. I would encourage those who have held to these types of views to reexamine the scriptures. Look and see if some of the things you believe are really there. I don’t think this should be divisive, but we should all challenge ourselves to not be satisfied with our current understanding of scriptures. I’ll lay off the rapture posts for a while, but some of these things have to be put out in the open in order to go a little deeper into the prophetic scriptures.
For those interested in a further study on the subject, S. P. Tregelles wrote a book which is available online at this link. Tregelles was in England at the time that Dispensationalism was being introduced. Tregelles held to the Historical PreMillennial view which this book clearly reflects.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman