The Imminent Coming

Most Pretribulationists teach that the Rapture can occur at any moment. To them the doctrine of Jesus' imminent coming is the same as His coming at any moment. We must ask ourselves does the Bible actually teach this position. In other words does the Bible teach us that the Rapture can occur at any-moment. Since this is an important issue for a Pretribulation view, we need to look at it briefly as this is a major problem to all who hold this view.

The period before the ascension of the Lord contains two examples of what might be called as "any- momentism." The first concerns the crowd at the house of Zacchaeus:

Luke 19:11

And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.

The Lord dispelled this delusion with an interesting parable (Luke 19:11-27). There was to be an interval of time.

The second instance occurs with the Apostles after they had been with the Lord for forty days listening to His teaching concerning the Kingdom of God. At the end of this time they ask:

Acts 1:6

When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?

Again, the context reveals that there would be a considerable lapse of time. However, throughout the entire book of Acts we can state that the Second Coming remained imminent.

We need to turn our attention to Paul (the Apostle to the Body of Christ), does he teach an any-moment rapture. We must answer this with a resounding NO! An honest reading of 2 Thes.2:1-4 should dispel the idea of any-momentism in his thoughts. His whole life was involved with events that involved the future; some which were stamped with the imprimatur of the Holy Ghost. An example would be Paul's views concerning an apostasy yet future:

1 Tim. 4:1-3

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; [2] Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; [3] Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. (See also 2 Tim.3:1-14).

Paul does convey the thought that the last days had begun (2 Tim.3:5). However, he gives no indication as to how long the last days would be. Paul's first missionary journey probably covers the years 47-48 A.D. Did he preach to his converts the any-moment doctrine? This seems hardly possible for he tells them, "that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22). Well, if it was not on his first missionary journey, perhaps it was on the second one. This would probably cover the years 50-53 A.D. It is generally taught it was during these years that he wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians and Galatians. From the record in Acts we learn very little. He was accused of preaching another King (Acts 17:7), but there is nothing explicit concerning the time when the King would come to inaugurate his Kingdom. But, there are the three great epistles (Galatians and Thessalonians), which are usually considered to be the first composed. These were most likely written from Corinth somewhere around 52-53 A.D. In these epistles he has a great deal to say about the coming of Christ.

First of all he describes the new converts as having "turned to God from idols to serve the living true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven..." (1 Thess.1:9-10). He goes on to say that Christ "delivered us from the wrath to come" (v.10). Literally, it conveys the meaning that Christ is going to deliver the believer from the wrath at the time when He comes. The thought of deliverance from coming wrath is found elsewhere in Scripture (1 Thess.5:9; 2 Thess.1:4-10; Lk.3:7; Lk.17:26-30). A common error with pretribulationalism is to confuse this coming wrath with the period of the Great Tribulation. It is obvious from such contexts as Revelation 6:16-17; Rev.11:18; Mt.25:31-46; Mt.24:30-31; Mt.13:39-43; Zeph.1:14-2:3; Joel 1:15; Joel 2:1-2; Isa.2:11-19; Isa. 13:6-11; Isa.26:20-21; etc., that the coming day of wrath synchronises with the Day of the Lord and that it follows the Tribulation. The former involves judgment for the unsaved and the latter is primarily the persecution of the saints (Rev.13:4-7; Dan. 7:21-22,25-27: 1 Thess.5:2-9; 2 Thess.1:4-10). It should be noted that the Day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night but this is not so with the Tribulation (cf. 1 Thess. 5:2 with Mt.24:15-21).

Thessalonians & Galatians

After exhorting the new converts at Thessalonica to walk worthily of God who had called them unto His glorious Kingdom (1 Thess.2:12), he goes on to rejoice in the fact that they would be "in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming" (1 Thess.2:19). Then in 1 Thess.3:13; 4:14-17; 5:2,23, he mentions the coming of Christ again. Nothing is said of the Tribulation and nothing is said that would lead the new converts to believe in any-momentism. In the Second Thessalonian Epistle, Paul begins by once again associating the persecutions and tribulations of the believers with their being counted worthy of the Kingdom of God (2 Thess.1:4-5). Rather than preach any-momentism, he clearly teaches that they can expect no permanent relief until the revelation (traditional second advent) of the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven (vv.6-7). At that time there will be deliverance for the believers and destruction for the disbelievers (vv.7-10). Both experiences are objects of one verb "recompense" (v6) which action takes place "when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels." In the second chapter Paul reveals a deep concern that the young converts be not deceived concerning certain events connected with the Day of Christ (vv 1-2). He assures them that this day cannot come until two things happen: (1) the apostasy; and (2) the revelation of the man of sin sitting in the temple. Does this not fit into the framework of Matthew 24:11-12,15? How could pretribulationism or any-momentism be taught from 2 Thessalonians when in clear language both ideas are so unequivocally contradicted? It will be recalled that Paul wrote these epistles (Thessalonians) from Corinth about the years 52-53 A.D. His stay at Corinth is recorded in Acts 18.

Corinthians & Romans

It is in this chapter that we have the beginning of his third missionary journey. Chapter 19 records his visit to Ephesus where for three months he spoke boldly "concerning the kingdom of God" (Acts 19:8). Did he now preach an any-moment pretribulation coming? After many miles and many trials, chapter 20 of Acts finds him at Miletus where by invitation the elders of the Church at Ephesus meet him. The occasion is a sad one, for Paul bids them an affectionate farewell. What are his parting words?

Act 20:22 And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there:

Act 20:23 Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.

Act 20:24 But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

Act 20:25 And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.

Act 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

Act 20:29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

Act 20:30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

Once again Paul makes it clear, and it is by the witness of the Holy Ghost, that certain events were projected into the near future which would make it impossible for him to preach an any-moment coming. The subject of his preaching was "the Kingdom of God."

About the same time (approximately 55-59 A.D.) Paul writes his first letter to the Corinthians. In the first chapter he describes the believers as waiting for the revelation (apokalupsis) of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:7). He informs them that it is not a mere profession of words, but it is their character of life which identifies them with the kingdom of God (4:20). He assures them that there is a coming time when the saints are going to possess the kingdom (6:2-3,9-10). The oft quoted passage in Chapter 15:51-53 has nothing to do with the thought of imminence, it simply describes the rapidity with which the saints whether living or dead, will undergo the transformation from a corruptible to an incorruptible body.

Acts, Chapters 21-28

Moving along in the Acts of the Apostles to chapter 21, we discover that Paul is warned by certain disciples not to go to Jerusalem. The warning is said to originate from the Holy Ghost and Paul is told exactly what would happen if he did go (21:4,11). In spite of the warning, he determines to go and the results were exactly as foretold (21:33). In chapter 23:11, the Lord speaks to Paul and explicitly informs him that he would bear witness at Rome. Even during a storm at sea, when it was feared that all lives would be lost, he is assured by the messenger of God that he would be brought before Caesar (27:24). How then would it be possible for Paul to preach an any-moment coming of Christ in the face of these passages? Do they not show clearly that time consuming events are to be fulfilled within the lifetime of Paul? How could he preach an any-moment coming before he had borne testimony at Rome?

When finally he arrives at Rome, probably in the year 60 A.D., he was allowed to dwell in his own hired house and to receive visitors. Speaking to his visitors he tells them that "because that for the hope of Israel (i.e. the resurrection) I am bound with this chain..."(28:20). In conversing later we learn that he "expounded and testified the kingdom of God..." (28:23). For "two whole years," we read, he continued to preach "the kingdom of God" (28:30-31). During this two year imprisonment he wrote the epistles of Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians. Let the reader go carefully through these epistles for there is no verse in them that would support the any-moment coming doctrine. In broad outline, the Apostle Paul tells how according to the mystery of God's will the believing Gentiles are made partakers of the redemption provided through the blood of Christ, and how they have been predestined unto the adoption, and to the inheritance that up until his ministry had been primarily reserved for believing Israel. When he mentions the coming of Christ, it is not to focus attention upon it happening at any-moment, but to show its practical bearing upon the believer's life on the earth, in this present age (Eph.5:1-7; Phil.3:15-21; Col.3:1-4).

The Apostle's last Epistles

With the close of the record given in the book of Acts, it is generally supposed that Paul was set at liberty and that he travelled for at least three or four years throughout Asia Minor; some think even as far as Spain. Probably around the years 65-66 A.D. he is imprisoned once again. According to the tradition, he was beheaded in the summer of 68 A.D. During these final years of his life he wrote 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. The pertinent passages concerning the coming of Christ are 1 Tim.6:14; 2 Tim.4:1,8; Titus 2:13. The first reference simply asserts that the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ will terminate the service of Christians in this present age. The second deals with the coming of Christ's Kingdom and the judging of the living and the dead. In verse 8, Paul speaks of the day when the Righteous Judge will reward him and all who love His appearing. Titus 2:13 describes the Blessed Hope of believers. It is "the appearing of the glory of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ." Paul expresses the idea that the believers are waiting for it, but there is absolutely no statement that it would be fulfilled at any moment. Judging from what he says in 2 Tim.3:1-7, and 1 Tim.4:1-16 he was not living in a moment by moment expectation of the coming of Christ. He knew that certain events of prophecy were to take place before Christ returned (e.g., 2 Thess.2:1-4); hence, he could not preach any-momentism in the sense of a secret, unheralded event.

When did Paul begin to preach the Pretribulation (any-moment) Coming of Christ? As far as the New Testament record is concerned there is no indication anywhere that he ever did begin to preach it. This brief article has clearly shown there is no point in his ministry when he could have preached such a doctrine. In the chronological outline of his life and work there are always certain events on the horizon that must be fulfilled which would completely contradict the whole theory of any-momentism. Let Bible students be guided solely by the principle of "what saith the Scripture?."

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