The Doctrine of Imminence
Copyright 2010 by Raul E. Lopez, MD, MDiv
The doctrine of imminence refers to the belief that Jesus Christ can return at any time. The view teaches that there are no events prophesied to occur before the coming of Christ in the air to rapture the church. In other words, the coming of Christ to rapture the church is thought to be the very next event in the schedule of revealed prophecy, according to those who hold the pretribulational rapture view. The doctrine of imminence is not taught anywhere in the Bible directly, but is inferred from four types of passages. These are passages which teach the unknowability of Christ's return, the unexpectedness of His return, the quickness of His return and those which tell us to look forward to His coming.
An example of a passage which teaches the unknowability of His coming is the passage which also describes the ascension of Jesus into heaven "When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power." (Acts 1:6-7). However, in order to use the unknowability of the time of the return of Christ as support for imminence one must assume that to not know when something will occur is the same as not knowing when it will not occur. Such an assumption constitutes a logical fallacy.
For example, most people do not know where Osama Bin Laden lives. A few people might know, but the United States has put its vast resources at the disposal of those who are searching, and they still have not found him. They have even offered large rewards. Nevertheless, we do know where he does not live. He does not live on the moon, he does not live under the ocean. He does not live in Antarctica. However, eliminating these significant spaces does not really help the government determine where he lives. The remaining possibilities are still beyond the searching ability of the governments of the world. Therefore, even if the Posttribulational view by definition eliminates the possibility that Christ will come back in the next seven years, I still do not know when Christ is coming back. It might be in eight years, or it might be in two hundred and sixty three years and four months.
Notice that in the passage above, the event which is unknowable is not actually His second coming, but, more specifically, the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. In other words, they were asking about the time for the establishment of the millennial kingdom. People who believe in the pretribulational rapture believe that it is the coming of Jesus Christ in the clouds to rapture the church before the seventieth week which is unknowable, not His coming to Earth to establish His Earthly rule (the millennium). However, this passage is most definitely not speaking about the second coming of Christ in the clouds for the church. This is talking about His coming to the Earth at the end of the great tribulation to set up the millennium.
A more important consideration in view of this passage is whether the second coming of Christ down to Earth will be unknowable all the way up to the end. If Jesus Christ comes back exactly twenty five hundred and twenty days after the beginning of the seventieth week, and, secondly, if I can determine exactly the beginning of the seventieth week then, once the seventieth week begins I will know exactly what day the Lord will return. As discussed previously, neither of these assumptions has Biblical support. The prophecies of the book of Revelation begin with a period of peace represented by the white horse. However, as discussed in a section above, there are reasons to believe that the beginning of the seventieth week may not be so easy to identify.
This was even true of the beginning of the whole seventy week period itself. This seventy week period was revealed to Daniel as he was praying about a seventy year period which preceded the seventy week period. Daniel was praying that God would restore the children of Israel back to their land, based on the prophecy by Jeremiah in which God had promised to restore the Jews back to their land after seventy years. "In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem." (Daniel 9:2). However, the exact beginning and ending of this seventy year period is not easy to determine. There were three different waves of captivity and, in addition, the departure of the glory of God from the temple occurred between the second and third captivity. Which of these four events begins the seventy year period is not clear. There are some who believe that the seventy years does not even refer to the captivity of Israel, but, rather, refers to the duration of the Babylonian empire, which finally fell to the Persians approximately seventy years after Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Assyrians.
The same is true of the seventy weeks. Daniel stated, "Know therefore and understand, [that] from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince [shall be] seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. (Daniel 9:25)." First of all, there were several commands to restore Jerusalem and/or the temple. The first of these was given by Cyrus the Great in 536 BC, but that is more than 490 years before the birth of Christ so it does not seem to be fulfilled by the birth of Christ. Secondly, the prophecy does not define the unit of time being used. We assume that a week refers to seven solar years. However, some have postulated that it refers to seven lunar years. The Jews used the lunar year, but their lunar year varied between 12 and 13 lunar months, because one solar year is more than 12 lunar months but less than 13 lunar months. Some have proposed that the prophetic year is actually 14 lunar months. Others say that the prophetic year is exactly 360 solar days.
The seventy weeks are divided into three parts. The first part consists of seven weeks, the second part consists of sixty two weeks, and the third part consists of one final week. We commonly assume that the seventieth week is yet to be fulfilled. However, the passage does not mention the existence of a prolonged gap between the sixty ninth and the seventieth weeks. Otherwise, one could just as easily postulate a gap between the first seven weeks and the next sixty two weeks. There are various interpretations concerning this first seven weeks (not to be confused with the seventieth week). Some see a hidden meaning in this seven weeks. One scheme sees this as a description of the birth of Christ in contrast to the total time period which refers to the death of Christ. However, this scheme assumes that the unit of the seven weeks is ten years consisting of 14 lunar months each (that is, the seven weeks represents 490 prophetic years of 14 lunar months).
There are some that do, indeed, see a gap between the first seven weeks and the subsequent sixty two weeks. Actually, this explanation seems to best fit all the historical data. The seven weeks actually had started with God's promise of restoration given to Jeremiah in 587BC. They explain that the anointed prince (translated "Messiah the prince" in the KJV) is not a reference to Jesus, but to a king especially commissioned to begin rebuilding the temple. This prince is Cyrus, whose birth and even his name had been predicted earlier in scripture. "That saith of Cyrus, [He is] my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut;" (Isaiah 44:28-45:1). He became king of Babylon and Persia in 538BC (some say 536BC) shortly after Daniel's prayer. He gave the first command to rebuild the temple the next year. After a gap, the command to rebuild Jerusalem given by Artaxerxes in 440BC begins the sixty two week period. This was the command which caused Nehemiah to go rebuild the city of Jerusalem. The sixty two week period ends the year 6 BC, which is our best estimate for the birth of Jesus Christ. This schema also has the advantage of using regular solar years as its basic time unit.
The point of this discussion is that we have trouble fixing the beginning and end points of the historical parts of the seventy weeks even after studying it for centuries. How much more might there be uncertainty as to the beginning and end point of the final week of the seventy. The book of Revelation mentions some very specific time spans, which are specified in days. However, the coming of Christ in relation to those days is not specified. We assume that they start or end exactly at the midpoint, but that may not be the case. Furthermore, as stated previously, nowhere is it specified that Jesus returns exactly at the end of the seventieth week. It is likely that He comes back before the end of the week, and has been on Earth for some time as that period ends. He comes back to put out the fire, so to speak, but the fire itself takes some time to be finally put out.
The beginning of the seventieth week (the last week), might also be difficult to ascertain. Daniel says that the prince which shall come (the antichrist) "shall confirm the covenant with many for one week:" (Daniel 9:27a). This covenant is confirmed, so it seems to be previously existing. Some believe that the AntiChrist will be the Jewish heir to the throne, the Nazi. That office was once occupied by the president of the Sanhedrin. This office might be restored and several people might occupy it and take the oath of office before the one who will become the AntiChrist takes the office. It also says that it is confirmed with many, so if it refers to a peace treaty it is possible that several parties must ratify it. These parties might be various nations, it could be heads of state and then parliaments or legislative bodies. Is it ratified when the Israeli delegate signs it or when the parliament of the last hold out nations (for example, Syria or a Palestinian state) ratifies it. Which of those steps marks the beginning of the seventieth week may be hard to determine. Also, it may be ratified but not come into effect immediately. It is possible that this treaty is the result of the war of Gog and Magog which probably occurs before the seventieth week. It is possible that the covenant cannot be implemented until the war is finalized. It is possible that as a result of that war (possibly World War III), the power of Russia, Iran, and their allies is destroyed, leaving the way open for a single superpower under the control of the Antichrist to take control of the world.
Therefore, just because specific units of duration of time are specified in various prophecies does not mean that we can pinpoint the time of their fulfilment before the fact. These time periods are given to show us that God is in control, that He has a specific plan in mind, and to give us an approximate idea of the time of the fulfilment of prophecy. The day and the hour of the return of Christ will probably be unknowable all the way to the end. However, as the time approaches, those who are alert will realize that the time is drawing near. "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand." (Luke 21:28-31)
There are several passages which describe the second coming of Christ as a thief in the night. "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed [is] he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done." (Revelation 16:15-17). Here Jesus describes His coming as a thief in association with the battle of Armageddon and the very last of the vials of judgement upon the Earth. Shortly after this, after a parenthetical section, Jesus is described as coming in a white horse. It seems odd that Jesus would describe His coming as a thief right before His coming to Earth if it actually refers to His coming for the church in the air which is supposed to take place many chapters earlier, between chapters 3 and 4 and is not even mentioned in the book of Revelation. The placing of this warning at this point seems to indicate that the adjective ‘thief' describes His actual coming to Earth, not a theoretical coming in the air. As we shall see in many of the other passages, the exhortation associated with this coming as a thief is to watch and keep.
"Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." (Revelation 3:2-3). Here also the admonition is to watch and strengthen the things that remain. Christ comes as a thief only for those who are not watching "If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief,"
Jesus discusses His second coming in a discourse which followed a meal at the house of a Pharisee with whom he had a rather lively discussion. He told the audience which included both hostile listeners and disciple the following (Luke 12):
35 Let your loins be girded about, and [your] lights burning;
36 And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.
37 Blessed [are] those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.
38 And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find [them] so, blessed are those servants.
39 And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through.
40 Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.
41 Then Peter said unto him, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all?
42 And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom [his] lord shall make ruler over his household, to give [them their] portion of meat in due season?
43 Blessed [is] that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
44 Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath.
45 But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken;
46 The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for [him], and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.
47 And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not [himself], neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many [stripes].
48 But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few [stripes]. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
This passage teaches a number of important principles and much can be learned by examining the passage more closely here. First of all, one must take notice of the groups associated with the parable. First of all, there is a broader audience, described in the previous chapter. In this audience there was a group hostile to Christ which included pharisees, scribes, and lawyers (Luke 11:44-46). They were offended by some of the things Jesus said and were intent on catching Him teaching error. "And as he said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge [him] vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things: Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him." (Like 11:53-54). There was also an undecided portion of the audience mentioned in the very next verse "In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." (Luke 12:1). Finally, there were the disciples, such as Peter, seen speaking in v.41 above.
The passage itself has three parts. It starts with the parable which describes the master who went to the wedding feast and his good servants. Then, it continues with the parable of the goodman of the house and the thief, and it ends with the reply to Peter's question where He mentions the bad servants.
In the first part Jesus strongly implies that His return will take place after a very long period of time. First of all, He talks about keeping the lights burning, implying they might otherwise go out, and He talks about the second and third watch. Since the Jews and Romans depended on the sun dial for time and that did not work at night, they divided the night into four time units. The second watch was equivalent to the modern time period of 9PM to midnight and the third watch was equivalent to the period midnight to 3AM. These are very late hours of the night and any one trying to drive at night knows that it is difficult to stay awake so late at night. The implication is that these servants were still prepared to receive the Lord even when most others would have long ago given up waiting and gone to bed. As time goes by more and more people consider the history and prophecies of the Bible to be mere myths and fables. Therefore, the message to the servants is to continue watching and waiting in spite of the Master's long delay in coming back.
Jesus then changes figures, from the master who rewards his faithful servants to the home owner whose house is broken into by a thief. This seems to indicate that Jesus was now changing His focus to a different part of the audience, the non committed. This possibility is supported by Peter's question reflecting his confusion as to whom these statements were addressed, to the disciples or the general public. Jesus affirms that the disciples are the good servants. "Then Peter said unto him, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all? And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward. . . . ?" (Luke 12:41-42). In other words, "if I was not including the disciples in anything I have said, who then do the faithful servants represent?" If the disciples are the good servants of the first parable, the good man of the house of the second parable must represent the rest of the audience. It is to them that the warning of Jesus coming as a thief in the night is addressed. The admonition for this group is to become ready for the coming of the Son of Man, otherwise it will take them by surprise.
In order to emphasize this distinction in audience, Jesus now shifts figures again, and speaks of wicked servants. These are false servants who pretend to be servants of God but demonstrate their hypocrisy by persecuting God's true servants and living in gluttony and drunkenness. This is probably addressed to the pharisees and other religious leaders in the audience. This represents those who use false religion in all its forms for personal gain, including those who will follow the antichrist. It includes both apostates, those who were exposed to the truth and rejected it, and those who never were exposed to the truth. However, the Lord makes a distinction between these groups. The text says that the apostates will have their part with unbelievers. The reason for this is that they are, in fact, unbelievers themselves. Genuine, but misguided followers of Christ do not fare as badly. One of the key signs which characterizes this group and distinguishes them from the others is their rejection of the idea that the Lord is truly going to return. This passage seems to teach that this doctrine is an important demarcating line between true Christianity and apostate Christianity. True Christians believe in the second coming of Christ, although they may disagree with the details surrounding His coming. However, impostors do not believe in the second coming of Christ. These false Christians will be caught completely by surprise. There are many who believe that Jesus was a brilliant human teacher, an avatar, a spiritual genius, although merely a mortal human. Others believe that Jesus is a mythical figure whose story teaches us important lessons of morality. These followers of the Christ story will be shocked when the person they thought was a man or a myth returns as God Almighty. It is these false Christians which will be carried away by the show put on by the antichrist and the false prophet.
Therefore, it seems that the passages which teach that Jesus comes as a thief are addressed to unbelievers and false believers. Many people have heard the gospel story as presented by Christians, but have rejected it as real history, just as we reject the fictional accounts found in the book of Mormon which are strongly believed as true by members of that organization. Jesus will come back to judge these people when they least expect it, and it will be to their great loss, just as happens when a thief enters a person's home. For us the coming of Christ does not represent judgement, but reward, He will gird himself and serve us, but only if we are serving Christ to the very end, even when it becomes difficult and almost everyone else has fallen asleep because of the Lord's delay.
I think that we underestimate the lengths to which Satan will go to create a counterfeit Christ. It seems likely that the seventieth week will be preceded by a great battle, the battle of Gog and Magog. Many interpreters equate this battle with the battle of Armageddon. However, there seems to be distinct differences between the two. Nevertheless, Satan will probably try to pass this battle off as the battle of Armageddon which precedes the millennium. The battle results in the destruction of the military power of Russia and the Russian speaking former Soviet Republics, plus Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Germany and the Islamic countries of northern and eastern Africa. This would leave The United States, Great Britain, and the other English speaking former British Colonies as the masters of the world. The Antichrist, who might be an American president of mixed Italian and Jewish ancestry, will then makes a treaty with Israel allowing the temple to be rebuilt and temple ritual to resume. Allied with the Pope, he will then usher in a time of peace which they will equate with the beginning of the millennium, the thousand year reign of Christ upon the Earth. These possibilities will be discussed in more detail later.
If the ensuing world wide civil war and economic collapse created doubts in peoples' minds, the resurrection of the Antichrist from the dead after an assassination attempt half way through the seventh week will convince many of the remaining sceptics. At that point the false Messiah will sit in the temple and demand worship, just as the true Messiah seems to do some time later. "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 3:1).
The act put on by the antichrist and the false prophet apparently will be very convincing because many will believe the lie and depart from a flimsy faith in the true Christ. "And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (II Thessalonians 2:11-12). Also, "Let no man deceive you by any means: for [that day shall not come], except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;" (II Thessalonians 2:3). And, "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;" (I Timothy 4:1). These people will genuinely believe that they are worshiping the Messiah. However, they will do so because this false messiah makes no demands of righteousness on them. He will allow people to live however they please as long as they worship him. Many in the self-centered wishy washy church of the end times, represented by Laodicea, will fall into this error. It is to people like that that Jesus gives the warning that He will come as a thief in the night.
Thirdly, there are some passages that emphasize the suddenness of the coming of Christ. The book of revelation ends with the exhortation "Behold, I come quickly: blessed [is] he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book." (Revelation 22:7). Three of the letters to the churches who were the original recipients of the book are also reminded that the Lord will come quickly: "Behold, I come quickly" (Revelation 2:5,16; 3:11). In the very first verse of the book of Revelation the Lord presents the reason why God inspired the writing of this book. He says "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; (Rev. 1:1)" The reason God gave us this book is that end time events will unfold rapidly.
Furthermore all Christians must study this book because the events described in the book can happen to any generation. "Blessed [is] he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time [is] at hand (Rev. 1:3)." The warning that the time is at hand means that these events can come upon any generation. Therefore, God gave us the book of Revelation because the events described in this book can begin at any moment without warning, and once they begin they will occur rapidly. The consequence of these two facts is that once this sequence of events begins there is no way to prepare for them. It is like a hurricane or an earthquake.
I live in Puerto Rico and spent some of my childhood in southern Florida where hurricanes are a constant threat during the summer and early fall. At the present there is no way to be completely certain that a hurricane will hit a certain area until it is basically upon you. At that point it is far too late to prepare. Preparations must begin while it is still a ways off even thought there is still a chance that it might not come. Recently we experienced a moderate earthquake. It happened at night and the power failed about ten seconds into the quake. By the time we fumbled in the dark looking for a key to get out of the house the earthquake was over. If it had been a severe earthquake we would have been trapped. Once an earthquake begins there is no time to prepare, you need to be ready before hand.
Many scholars and Bible teachers interpret the phrase "things which must shortly come to pass" in Revelation 1:1 as meaning that they will soon come to pass. However, it is clear that almost two thousand years have passed since the time this warning was given and these events have yet to transpire. These scholars explain this apparent discrepancy in two ways. First of all, they observe that in the eyes of God even a long period of time will appear as a short period of time. Peter says that with the Lord a thousand years is as a day. However, the context in Peter is somewhat different. He is commenting on the overall slowness of the process of history. He is saying that even though to us humans, the unfolding of God's historical plan seems to be stuck in neutral, God sees things at a different speed, and from that perspective there is progress because the gospel is being spread and people are getting saved. However, in the book of Revelation God is speaking to "his servants" warning them that these things must "shortly come to pass." It is logical to assume that if God is directly addressing His servants that He would use language that they would understand from their own perspective, otherwise language loses its natural meaning. If I was giving some lost traveler directions and I told him to take a right at the next stop light, but actually, since I was facing him I really meant my right, not his right, then he would get completely lost, because my right when I face him is his left, not his right. When God speaks to us He uses language that is familiar to us and when normal human language is too limiting the Bible specifies that symbolic language is being used. A good example of this is when Jesus told His disciples to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Later in that passage He explained that these words were spirit and truth. In other words, they were to be taken symbolically. The truth is that the things described in the book of Revelation did not come to pass very soon. Therefore, it would seem that if that is, indeed, what the writer intended to say then he either misunderstood what God said or was deliberately misleading the readers. Since the doctrine of inspiration makes God the ultimate author and, He is incapable of lying, it seems unlikely that the phrase "must shortly come to pass" means that it will soon come to pass.
Other scholars explain that God wants every generation of readers live as if these events could begin at any moment because, after all, there indeed will be a generation of readers for whom the events will soon come to pass. Since no one knows which generation that will be, every reader should live as if the events will happen soon. The conclusion reached by this view is valid, but the means to reach this conclusion are suspect because it still makes God guilty of making all the earlier generations believe a lie, even if for a good reason. This includes the original first century readers to whom the book was directly addressed. However, it seems more natural to interpret this phrase as meaning that these events will transpire rapidly. This creates a more straightforward and unproblematic interpretation. This meaning is true for all readers because it is commenting on the interval between the beginning and end of this period, which is fixed, not the interval between the time of the reader and the beginning of the events, which is different for every reader. God does indeed warn the reader that these events could happen in his lifetime, but he does that a few verses later in a clear, honest and direct way using the phrase "the time [is] at hand." In this way God is communicating two facts, that the events will transpire rapidly and that the events can begin at any moment. The other more messy view only communicates one fact, that the events can begin at any moment.
By changing the interpretation from ‘rapidly' to ‘soon' pretribbers are able to change the emphasis of the book from preparation to avoidance. The pretrib message is "the tribulation could start soon so make sure you avoid it by getting saved." The posttrib message is "these events will transpire quickly so make sure you live in a constant state of preparation by obeying the commands given and implied in the book." It hardly needs to be recognized that getting saved is beyond a doubt the most important thing a person needs to do in this life. However, if the constant overhanging threat of imminent death under which all individuals constantly live and the threat of hell which that represents is not a sufficient motivator for a person to accept salvation, less threatening events in the undefined future cannot be a greater motivator. People get saved to keep from going to hell. If an unbeliever is not persuaded to salvation by the threat of hell, even the horrors of the seventieth week are a picnic by comparison. God sends the tribulation to keep people from going to hell. If the purpose of the tribulation was only that of punishment, God could simply slam a massive asteroid against the Earth, with little warning, large enough to cause the extinction of all life on Earth. As it is, God gives the inhabitants of the Earth warning more than two thousand years in advance and sends a relatively little asteroid which only destroys one quarter of life on Earth, giving the rest of the population an opportunity to get saved and go to heaven.
Many modern western Christians are quick to avoid hell by getting saved, but are more reluctant to live their life in view of the Christian's eternal destiny. They live for today in light of the west's pagan materialistic values. This is especially true of those who call themselves evangelical in comparison to those who call themselves fundamentalists. The latter tend to make more of an effort to live in the fear of the Lord. However, being brothers, they tend to influence each other doctrinally even though they might differ in practice. For these modern materialistic Christians the thought of having to go through the tribulation and of having to live now in a constant state of readiness constitutes an unpleasant burden. For some of these Christians it seems that their conception of the tribulation has become somewhat like a Roman circus or boxing match where they can experience a sort of catharsis by watching others suffer from a safe distance. This could explain the incredible popularity of books about the tribulation such as the "Left Behind" series. When someone has been raped or assaulted they no longer like to watch movies about people being raped or assaulted. If Christians believed they would experience the tribulation it is possible that fictional novels about that time would not be so popular. It is this avoidance of an unpleasant truth which might explain the popularity of the pretrib view if indeed the view is not found in the Bible.
Finally, there are several passages which admonish us to look forward to the coming of Christ. "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;" (Titus 2:13). The argument used by those who believe in the pretribulational rapture is that if the tribulation occurs before the second coming of Christ, then we should look forward to the tribulation, not the second coming. This argument is so illogical that it is a wonder it has become so popular. The truth is that we never look forward to unpleasant, difficult events. We endure them, if we must, in order to enjoy the rewards that often follow such events. This principle is amply taught in Scripture: "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding [and] eternal weight of glory;" (II Corinthians 4:17). Students do not look forward to finals, they look forward to the vacation or good grade which follows it. Expectant mothers do not look forward to labor pain, they look forward to holding the baby in their arms. Most people do not savor having to write that big fat check for their new car, they look forward to driving it away. In the same way, the Bible contains ample warnings about suffering. Jesus said "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33). Paul warned his new converts that tribulation will precede the coming of the kingdom and that this tribulation prepares us for it. Confirming the souls of the disciples, [and] exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22), and "That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know." (Thesalonians 3:3-4). What keeps Christians strong through these times of tribulation is the fact that he looks forward to the coming of Christ to establish the kingdom of God, just as Paul exhorted the early Christians above. This has nothing to do with a supposed order of the second coming, it has to do with human nature. Just like Christ, we endure affliction because on the other side is a greater joy. "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2).
In spite of all this, there actually is a passage which tells us to look forward to the day of the Lord. Most pretribulationalists believe that the day of the Lord includes the tribulation, so using that logic this passage would imply that we should look forward to the tribulation. "Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?" (II Peter 3:12). Even though this passage does not use the term the day of the Lord, it is clear that the day of God is a synonym for the day of the Lord. The day of God is only mentioned one other time in the Bible and it refers to the battle of Armageddon when Jesus comes back to Earth. "For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, [which] go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed [is] he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon." (Revelation 16:14-16). This battle is the essence of the day of the Lord. The Old Testament associates the last battle against Jerusalem with the day of the Lord in several passages. Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. (Zechariah 14:1-2). Joel also associated the two events "Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I [am] strong. Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O LORD. Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness [is] great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD [is] near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining." (Joel 3:9-15).
To summarize, the Bible does not teach that the second coming of Christ is imminent. Now, I cannot prove that statement, because it is impossible to prove a negative. I cannot show you the non verses which do not teach this non doctrine. However, I can challenge the reader to find a verse which directly teaches that no prophecy must be fulfilled before the coming of Christ, whether in the clouds or otherwise. What the Bible does teach is that the time of the second coming is unknowable, that it will catch many people by surprise, that it will happen quickly, and that we should look forward to the second coming of Christ. The doctrine of imminence is inferred as a possible conclusion derived from these teachings. However, as we have seen, these doctrines do not necessarily imply that the second coming is imminent. The Bible clearly teaches that we should watch and serve and stay alert, and if we do the second coming will not catch us by surprise. This implies that the second coming is not imminent, but that there are signs which precede the second coming. That is actually what Jesus Himself taught. "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." (Luke 21:28). This redemption must be the rapture, because if our redemption does not occur at the rapture then the rapture does not matter, because our redemption is what matters.
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