Imminence of the Rapture


John Hoole – March 11, 2012








         Just when did the “last days” begin?


At first glance there are several terms or phrases in the Bible that may seem interchangeable.  But in reality they may not always be so used.  Some terms for the “end times” include:


         •  The latter days

         •  Last days

         •  Last day

         •  The latter years

         •  Time of the end (Daniel’s favorite – 5 times)

         •  End of the age

         •  The last times

         •  Last time


Jesus began His Olivet discourse, beginning with Matthew 24, in answer to the disciples’ questions:  “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”  He often used terms like, “the end,” or “then shall the end come.”  Some people may think all these terms are interchangeable.  But their meaning must be dictated by the context in which you find them.


For instance, the Bible teaches that this present age will end with the Rapture of the Church.  We are also taught in the Bible that the end of the Tribulation period will end with the second coming of Christ to set up His kingdom on earth.


We must also distinguish between the “last days” of the church age and the “last days” of God’s dealings with Israel.  And since, as we have learned in earlier lessons, that the Old Testament never mentions the Church, then, whenever these terms are used in the Old Testament, we know they cannot be speaking of the Church Age in which we live.


Let’s look at two New Testament passages.  When the apostle Peter said, back in about A.D. 60, that “the end of all things is at hand,” (1 Peter 4:7) just how close was the end of all things.


Consider also what we read at the outset of the book of Hebrews.


Hebrews 1:1-2 NKJV


1   God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,

2   has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;


Way back in New Testament times, the apostle sensed that they had moved dramatically closer to the consummation of God’s plan for this world.  The Old Testament had ended – they were now living in a new era.  For the apostles, the end of the age was already a present reality.


The first coming of Jesus Christ inaugurated the “Last Days.”  And His second coming will culminate the end of the age.  That means that these two passages refer to the entire current Church-Age as the last days.


For such a thing to exist requires that the coming of Christ is imminent.  And it would necessitate the belief in the imminence of His return continuously during the entire Church age.  Every generation since the first coming of Christ has lived with the hope that it could be the terminal generation that would see Christ come in the clouds.


One distinctive tenet of conservative evangelical faith is the belief that Jesus can come at any moment.  The founding fathers of the Assemblies of God included this doctrine in their Statement of Fundamental Truths.  Along with Salvation, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, and Divine Healing, the imminent return of Christ make up their four cardinal doctrines.  They are taken as essential to the church’s core mission of reaching the world for Christ.”


What I have observed is that as important as is the doctrine of the coming of Christ, it is often not prominent in current preaching and teaching in much of evangelical Christianity.  I have also observed that books written on biblical doctrines give only a few pages to this doctrine.  However, this sociological phenomenon often corrects itself when political, economic, and personal security issues sufficiently undermine current confidence.  In those times, we are reminded our hope is not in the stock market, retirement funds, or home equity, but rather in the triumphal return of Christ.


What element in the teaching of the church at large undermine the belief in imminency?


•  Some believe Jesus cannot return until some lost aspect of the church has been restored, such as what some call the Davidic Worship.


•  Others believe all Jews must first return to the land of Israel or come to faith in Christ.


•  Still others believe that Christians must first take dominion of the earth back from Satan.


•  Some believe and teach some eschatological event, such as the appearance of the Antichrist, the battle of Armageddon, rebuilding of the temple must occur first.


•  Some others maintain the gospel must reach every person, nation, or language group before Jesus returns.


If Jesus cannot come until all people and language groups have been reached with the gospel, then He cannot come today – nor tomorrow or next month or next year, and probably not in our lifetime.  This view does not mirror the strong expectation of the imminent return of Christ, a belief held fervently by the early church.




The dictionary defines “imminent” as “the quality or condition of being about to happen.”  The root of our English “imminent” is found in the Latin language.  It is an adjective from the Latin IMMINENS from its root IMMINERE.  It means to “hanging over one’s head,” “ready to overtake,” to be “impending,” or “momentary.”  It means that an event is certain to occur at any point in the future, and that it could occur before our next breath but its precise timing is unknown.  It also conveys the assumption that no intervening event must occur before the event that is imminent.


Imminency as it relates to Bible prophecy simply means, the return of Jesus Christ for the Church is an event that can happen at any moment and there are no biblical events that must necessarily occur before it does.


Let me give you an example.  A world traveler says he will return home anytime between November 1st and Christmas.  Once Nov. 1st occurs, his return is imminent.  The traveler might return anytime after that date.  Even though Thanksgiving might occur prior to his return, nothing in his message about his arrival required it to occur first.


In his book Our Lord’s Second Coming, Arthur T. Pierson says:  “Imminence is the combination of two conditions – certainly and uncertainly.”  When we speak of an imminent event, we mean one which is certain to occur at some time.  The uncertainty speaks of our not knowing exactly when.  From God’s perspective, the Rapture is certain, but He has kept the timing unspecified.


As Christians, the Bible over and over again tell us to watch for the appearing of our Lord.  For the Christian, no other events must occur first.  If we were looking for any other event, his coming would not be imminent.


Since we never know exactly when an imminent event will occur, three things are true.


1.      We cannot count on a certain amount of time transpiring before the imminent event happens.  Therefore, we should always be prepared for it to happen at any moment.


2.      We cannot legitimately set a date for its happening.  As soon as we set a date for an imminent event, we destroy the concept of imminency.  That is because in setting a date, we are saying a certain amount of time must transpire before that event can happen.  Any setting of a date for an event is contrary to the concept that is could happen at any moment.


3.      We cannot legitimately say that an imminent event will happen soon.  The term “soon” implies that an event must take place “within a short time” after a particular point of time specified or implied.  By contrast, an imminent event may take place within a short time, but it does not have to do so in order to be imminent.  Therefore, “imminent” is not equal to “soon.”


This is illustrated by the fact that the next coming of Christ was just as imminent when the New Testament was written as it is today.  However, today, some two thousand years later, that coming has not yet occurred.  Thus, from today’s historical perspective, we can say that the Rapture has been imminent, it certainly was not soon.


As stated earlier, Imminency as it relates to Bible prophecy simply means, the return of Jesus Christ for His Church is an event that can happen at any moment.  There are no biblically prophesied warning signs or events that would signal a countdown to the Rapture.  While other prophesied events may occur before the Rapture, there is no requirement or indication that they must.  In addition, one cannot know precisely when an imminent event will occur.  The Lord commands the Church to always be watchful for Christ’s coming, which could happen at any moment.  Jesus Christ commands us, “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6).  As Christians, we are to remain on alert 24 hours, 7-days a week.  We are to be prepared at any moment for His coming.


The Pre-Tribulation Rapture position is the only one of the five Pre-millennial views, which hold to an imminent return of Jesus Christ to take his Bride.  All other views require certain events to transpire prior to Christ’s coming in the air.  All other positions require us to look for the Antichrist before we are to expect Jesus Christ.  All other views hold that the church must witness the killing of at least 1½ billion people in a single event known as the 4th Seal, mentioned in Revelation 6:8.


The only way for the rapture to be truly imminent is to have it transpire before the tribulation.  If the Church was required to wait until after certain events were manifested, then there really would not be a doctrine of imminency.  To say it another way, to believe in Christ’s imminent return requires a person to be a Pre-tribulationist.


The doctrine of imminence does not set dates for the Rapture.  In fact, it does not really indicate that the coming of Christ for His Church must actually happen in the near future --- but rather that it COULD happen at any moment.  And that moment will be at the Father’s appointed time.


Since Christ left this earth with the promise to return again, the apostles and the church, during its first 3 centuries, have felt  that He could return at any moment.  I believe they fully expected Christ to come back in their lifetime.


One of the strongest cases one can make for the early church expecting an imminent return of Christ is to note their use of the word MARANATHA.  This word was used as a greeting in those days.  When believers gathered or parted, they didn’t say, “hello” or “goodbye.”  They would say “Maranatha.”  Their use of this word gave evidence of their belief in the imminent return of their Savior.  It demonstrated their ever-present hope for the imminent return of their Savior.


Maranatha is an Aramaic word derived from 3 other Aramaic words.


         Mar – means “Lord”


         Ana – means “our”


         Tha – means “come.”


                   It literally was a petition, meaning, “Our Lord, Come.”


Christians must not abandon our hope for an imminent Rapture of Jesus because others have foolishly been misled.  We must simply be obedient to Christ’s scriptural command:  “When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draws nigh” (Luke 21:28).


I like what John Wesley De La Fletchere wrote in 1755 that expressed the proper attitude all Christians should adopt concerning the Lord’s return.


"I know that many have been grossly mistaken as to the year of His return, but, because they were rash, shall we be stupid?  Because they say ‘Today!’; shall we say, ‘Never!’ … when we should look about us with eyes full of expectation.”


When Harold Camping recently predicted the coming of Christ to occur on March 21, 2011, and then when that did not happen to further predict it happening on October 21, 2011, He was, in effect, destroying the imminent coming of Christ.


Christians live in a dynamic spiritual tension where we walk in daily expectation for our Lord’s return, while we obediently complete the Great Commission to “Go, ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).  On the one hand, since the Lord might return at any moment, we need to watch expectantly for His coming.  However, the Lord also commands us to “occupy till He comes.”


The fact that the apostle Paul, and believer to whom he preached, to petition the Lord to return by using the word Maranatha strongly implies that they knew He could come at any moment.  Paul admonishes those to whom he preached to look for Christ to return.  He never once told them to expect any of the Tribulation events first --- nor the signing of a treaty between Israel and the Antichrist.


I could bring before you more than 30 Scriptures which I believe speak of the imminent return of Christ.  Let me present just a few.


Paul makes it very clear that he believed in the imminent return of Christ in 1 Thessalonians 4.  We have read this passage several times in the last few weeks, but let’s read it again.


1 Thessalonians 4:15 NIV


15     According 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.


When Paul used the word “WE,” he was including himself.  And he says, “we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord,…”  The first century Christians were expecting Christ to return in their lifetime.


Here are some additional passages that speak of the imminent return of Christ.


Luke 12:40 NIV


40     You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."


Philippians 3:20 NIV


20     But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ


Hebrews 9:28 NIV


28     So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.


1 Corinthians 1:7 NIV


7     Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.  


         The coming of Christ for his Church has no warnings – no signals.  The Church was told to be watchful for the imminent coming of our Lord.


1 Thessalonians 1:10 NIV


10     And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.


The Greek word translated “WAIT” is more than the simple “wait.”  The Greek, “Anamenein” carries with it the sense of “waiting up for.”  It is used of someone who “waits up for” someone who is arriving.  Those persons do not go to bed at their normal time because they are expecting someone to arrive at any moment.  Their understanding is that there is no time period which  must elapse before that person can come.  Therefore, they do not go to bed for a period of time.


Titus 2:13 NIV


13     Waiting for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,


Hebrews 10:37 NKJV


37     "For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry.


Each of these verse, and many more, admonish Christians to look for the coming of Christ at any moment.  God, in His wise providence, has designed Bible prophecy in such a manner that the Rapture has appeared imminent to Christians in every generation.  Nothing is a better motivator than to believe Jesus could come at any moment.  An imminent Rapture moves us to greater consecration, to holy living in an unholy age, and evangelism and missions.


James wrote that “the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:8-9)  A more literal translation of his words is “the coming of the Lord has drawn near.” Or as the Message Bible puts it: “Stay ready and strong. The Master could arrive at any time.”


His choice of words indicates that Christ’s coming “drew near” before James wrote his epistles.  His coming is still near (imminent) today.  In the next verse – verse 9 – James warns Christians to stop grumbling because “the Judge is standing at the door.”  He is still at the door and is ready to return to earth.  Christ can pass through the door of heaven at any moment.  For that reason we need to constantly be ready and watching.


While we do not assert that our brothers and sisters who are looking for the Savior during or after the Tribulation are deceived by the devil, we do not think their positions does anything to motivate the body of Christ to heed their Savior’s word, “occupy till I come.” (Luke 19:13)


If the Rapture will not occur until some or all of the events of the seven years involving global government, a world dictator, a seven-year treaty with Israel, an ecumenical religion, a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, resumption of animal sacrifices in the Temple, the Two Witnesses, the 144,000 Jewish evangelists and the Battle of Armageddon, there would have been no need for the Lord’s command to believers to be ready and watchful for His imminent return.  If any of these events must happen prior to the Rapture, then the Rapture is not imminent.


Some of those who do not believe in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture speak of those of us who are, as doing a disservice to those we teach, because we are not preparing them on how to live and survive during the tribulation.  My answer is that we, in fact, are.  That’s because when you expect Christ to come at any moment, it is a real incentive to be always ready.


A Christian ought to live in the light of the imminent coming of Christ.  IF you tell me today that He is not coming for another ten year ( or 3½ or 7 years), then I really don’t need to worry about today.  That might cause me to be a little careless in my living.  But, if He might come today, if He came right at this very moment, He would catch me preparing this Bible study and that would be fine.  I hope that when He comes, He finds me doing what He has called me to do.  Philippians 1:10 tells us that we should live each day in the light of His imminent return to catch us away.


The dozens of Scriptural admonitions to watch, be ready, to look for Christ to come at any moment loses its significance if in fact we are to watch for other events first.  The Pre-Tribulation Rapture position is the only one that preserves the imminent return of Christ for His bride.


Early-Church teaching of the Imminent Return


A person might reasonably ask whether any historical evidence exists to the demonstrate whether any Christian leaders who lived prior to the 1800s taught that the coming of Jesus Christ was imminent.  The answer is a strong “YES.”


Papias of Hierapolis lived in the second century.  He was one of the early leaders of Christianity.  He often wrote of “looking for the coming of Christ at any moment.”


Cyprian (220-258) wrote enthusiastically about the imminent coming of Christ.


“We who see that terrible things have begun, and know that still more terrible things are imminent, may regard it as the greatest advantage to depart from it as quickly as possible.”


He also wrote: “Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us hence, and sets us free from the snares of the world, and restores us to paradise and the kingdom”


Clement of Rome


Clement lived from the mid-first century to mid-second century.  He did most of his writings at about the time the apostle John was on Patmos.  He is considered the very first of the early church fathers.  He wrote at about A.D. 96 to the church started by Paul in the city of Corinth.  We also know that there was a strong congregation in Rome in A.D. 58, when the apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans.  Some early writers stated in their writing that this Clement may be the same as the Clement mentioned in Philippians 4:3.


Whatever the case, we know this Clement wrote: “Let us every hour expect the Kingdom of God”


Though the imminence of the second coming fell out of favor in the teaching of the Church during the medieval period, it reappeared when the Reformers encouraged people to read and understand the Scriptures for themselves.  Martin Luther looked for the speedy and imminent return of Christ in the air to take His Saints home to heaven.  In his comment on the resurrection as prophesied by Daniel 12, Luther wrote:


“I ever keep it before me, and I am satisfied that the last day must be before the door; for the signs predicted by Christ and the Apostles Peter and Paul have all now been fulfilled, the trees put forth, the Scriptures are green and flourishing.  That we cannot know the day matters not; some one else may point it out; things are certainly near their end.”


Elsewhere, Luther wrote: “We certainly have nothing now to wait for but the end of all things.”


We must always remember that when considering a position of doctrine, the important thing is not that many of the early Christians adhered to it.  It may indicate what may have been passed on by the Apostles of Christ.  But from Scripture, we also know that the traditions of the elders are not necessarily infallible.  Although theological opinions should be thoroughly considered, doctrine must always be validated by the original Word of God – the Scriptures.


More Quotes from Church history about the coming of Christ




He who loves the coming of the Lord is not he who affirms it is far off, nor is it he who says it is near.  It is he who, whether it be far or near, awaits it with sincere faith, stead-fast hope and fervent love.”




“In the first advent God veiled his divinity to prove the faithful; in the second advent he will manifest his glory to reward their faith.”


Billy Graham


“The subject of the second coming of Christ has never been popular to any but the true believer.”


Matthew Henry


“Christ will come when he pleases, to show his sovereignty, and will not let us know when, to teach us our duty.”


D. L. Moody


“I never preach a sermon without thinking that possibly the Lord may come before I preach another.”


C. S. Lewis


“Precisely because we cannot predict the moment, we must be ready at all moments.”


G. Campbell Morgan


“I never begin my work in the morning without thinking that perhaps he may interrupt my work and begin his own.  I am not looking for death, I am looking for him.”


Andrew Murray


“There is such a danger of our being so occupied with the things that are to come more than with Him who is to come.”


J. C. Ryle


“Uncertainty about the date of the Lord’s return is calculated to keep believers in an attitude of constant expectation and to preserve them from despondency”


J. Hudson Taylor


“Since he may come any day, it is well to be ready every day.”


R. A. Torrey


The imminent return of our Lord is the great Bible argument for a pure, unselfish, devoted, unworldly, active life of service.”


George Whitfield


“I am daily waiting for the coming of the Son of God.”