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THEOLOGY > Future > The End of the Age > The Blessed Hope > Question of Imminency  


For the Dispensationalist the following verses establish without question the concept of imminency, a view that Christ can come back at any moment; therefore, believers are to be constantly looking for Him. The Church is to watch and wait; His Coming could be about to happen. “He can come today” is the popular message. Imminency means that there is nothing that must take place before the Lord returns. He can literally return this very second, and such has been the situation since these verses were written:

Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matt. 24:44);

Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming (Matt. 25:13);

Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to, I say to all “Watch!” (Mk. 13:35-37);

But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Lu. 12:39-40);

Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (Jas. 5:8).

In the scheme of the Dispensationalist there are no events that must transpire before the Rapture of the Church, an event which will take place before the Great Tribulation. According to them the Second Coming, which is distinct from the Rapture, takes place at the end of the Great Tribulation. This scenario for the end-time is of recent origin and is based on questionable exegesis and suspicious hermeneutics (see: The Rapture Question).

For the Dispensationalists imminency is the inevitable conclusion of their position and the very foundation of their interpretation. Walvoord stated: “For the most part, scriptural evidence for imminency today is equivalent to proof of the pretribulation viewpoint” (The Rapture Question, 73). There is no debate. The two are interrelated. Imminency supports a pretribulational Rapture, and a pretribulational Rapture requires imminency. Dave Hunt wrote: “A post-anything Rapture flies in the face of many scriptures which clearly demand a coming of Christ that could occur at any moment” ("The Berean Call," 1).

But if Historic Premillennialism is the true interpretation of Biblical Eschatology, then the Rapture and the Second Coming are not separated by the Great Tribulation but are simultaneous events. Thus the Return of Christ is a single event, and before that event certain other events must take place, events that are predicted by the Scriptures (see: Signs of His Coming).

Matthew 24 establishes the certainty that the Second Coming is not imminent in the Dispensational sense. According to the Lord, it will not occur until after the Great Tribulation (see: After the Tribulation), which is at least one of the events that must come to pass before the Lord returns. Thus, Historic Premillennialists do not separate the Rapture from the Second Coming and do not embrace the pretribulational concept of imminency. If one is rejected, then the other must be rejected; the two concepts are intricately woven together. Walvoord agreed: “For all practical purposes, abandonment of the pretribulational return of Christ is tantamount to abandonment of the hope of His imminent return” (The Rapture Question, 75). Walvoord devoted an entire chapter to the concept of imminency, calling it, “The Imminency of the Rapture” (69-76). Support, according to him, is found in such passages as: Jo. 14:1-3; I Cor. 1:7; I Thess. 4-5; Tit. 2:13; I Jo. 3:1-3. The reader is encouraged to peruse these passages and to decide for himself if these passages speak of imminency.

What then is the proper meaning of “watch” (Matt. 24:42-44; Mk. 13:33; I Thess. 5:10; I Pet. 4:7)? To watch for the Lord and His Return implies what? For the Dispensationalists “watch” implies, even necessitates, imminency. We are to watch because His Coming could be today. It can happen at any moment; we do not know when. Therefore, we are to watch. But is imminency the proper implication or requirement of “watch?” Can the interpretation of this word by the Dispensationalists be sustained?

If the Second Coming is after the Great Tribulation, then the Dispensationalist’s affirmation of imminency must be reconsidered and viewed in a different light. When the above verses were spoken they did not dictate imminency, so they cannot be interpreted to mean imminency now.

Ladd has an excellent chapter, “Watch,” that should be read in this connection (The Blessed Hope, 105-119). Succinctly stated, Ladd affirms that to watch means to be spiritually awake so that one is prepared when the Lord does come. “Be on the alert” is the translation of this word by the NASB. Thus, the focus of “watch” is not on an any moment Return of Christ, but on the responsibility of the believer to purify himself in anticipation of the Lord’s Return and to be careful of his manner of life. To watch also means to long for His Return and to be assured that the sufferings of the present age will terminate with the Return of the King. In this sense, believers are “sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness” (II Thess. 5:5). Even in the midst of tribulation, there is comfort and hope. Believers have knowledge of God’s Sovereignty and the flow of history (see: God is Sovereign). They know that history is headed toward a destiny, the destiny God has ordained! We are not to be anxious. “Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober” (II Thess. 5:6).

In addition, if the sequence of the Olivet Discourse is accepted (see: The Sequence of End-Time Events), then the pretribulational concept of imminency cannot be substantiated. For in this significant passage at least two events are predicted to take place before the Lord returns: the Antichrist will appear and the Great Tribulation will take place. Imminency, therefore, must be rejected; Christ cannot come at any moment.  Certain events must precede His Coming. We are to watch because He is coming; we are to watch because we are to be ready; we are to watch because we long for His Return.

Passages suggesting imminence indicate a theological rather than chronological relationship between present and future. They indicate the certainty, not the timing, of God’s completion of what he has begun (NDT, “Eschatology,” 230).

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