“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.” (Mark 13:35-36)
Imminence means “impending” or “about to occur.” We say when the storm clouds grow dark, that the rain is imminent.Earth from space This word is often confused with two other words that sound similar but have entirely different meanings:
Immanence and Imminence.
Immanence refers to God’s presence in the universe and eminence refers to something being important (sometimes a title as in “Your Eminence”).
In Christianity, Imminence is a fancy term that refers to the fact that the Lord can return soon, or at any time.
As we will show in this article series, the idea of the soon return of the Lord was central to the thinking, and living, of all those in the New Testament, and it should still be the attitude of the true believer today.
The imminence of the Lord’s return was not only part of the doctrine taught by Jesus and the apostles, as contained in the New Testament, but it was a real part of their lives. They genuinely expected the Lord’s return at any moment.
But the longer the Lord delays His coming, the more some of us tend to feel that He is not going to come soon. Peter predicted: “knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4).
Sadly, this kind of worldly thinking has infected Christians also. But just think about it: Statistically, the longer He delays, the closer we are to His return. So here we are, 2,000 years closer than Peter was. Paul confirms this when he says “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:11).
Does that mean that the apostles were mistaken and that the Lord’s return is only close to us, but it was not close for them?
Not at all. For example, it has been 20 years since the last big earthquake here in Los Angeles. The Northridge Earthquake in 1994 claimed 60 lives in, and around, Los Angeles and destroyed much property.For 20 years we have heard “the next big one is imminent – it could happen at any moment – be prepared.” That was true 20 years ago, and it is even truer today. We do not know when the next big earthquake will happen, just that it will happen. But it is literally around the corner at any moment.
Because believers have not known when God has planned the Rapture of the church (Matthew 24:36), His return was imminent then and is still imminent now. Just like the next big earthquake, He could come for His saints even before I complete this paper.
Part 1 – Jesus’ Teaching on Imminence
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. 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.” (Matthew 24:36-44)
“Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. 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.” (Luke 12:35-40)
He is coming at a time you do not expect, therefore be ready
The plain meaning of Jesus’ message is clear – you don’t need some fancy seminary degree, nor do you need to learn Greek or Hebrew to understand what He says: He is coming at a time you do not expect, therefore be ready at all times. Any attempt to interpret these texts to mean anything except what they clearly say and mean is a deception.
The simple truth is that if something is unexpected, then there are no warning signs, nor a schedule, which predicts exactly when it will occur. Some have tried to set an exact date, which has caused much trouble for Christians over the centuries. But, by its very definition, “unexpected” requires surprise with no forewarning. Therefore, those who believe that Jesus cannot return for His church today because certain events need to be fulfilled first are in blatant contradiction to the clear words of Jesus. It is really quite simple.
In Luke 12:42-48 Jesus tells a parable that teaches that there will be Christian leaders who, because He delays His coming, will begin to abuse their fellow Christians and begin to live immorally. That is exactly what is happening today. Many Christian leaders have lost sight of His imminent return and have begun to live as though He is never coming back. In the process they also remove the idea of imminence from their theology. This seems to be done in order to salve their own, and their disciples’, consciences. Jesus warned that when He returns He will judge such men.
The book of Revelation closes with the words of the Lord Jesus: “Surely I am coming quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20). His words are truth, and the lies of man cannot, and will not, change the facts: He is coming soon, without delay and without warning. Therefore we must be prepared. Are you ready?
Part 2 – Paul and Imminence
Jesus’ teaching on imminence is exceedingly clear: “…the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:44; Luke 12:40). (See Part 1 of this series.) His statements on the topic should be sufficient to convince any of us. But what did Paul believe and teach on the subject?
Before we look at Paul’s teaching on the topic, bear in mind that those who deny the doctrine of imminency, try to reason it away by saying that we can die at any moment. They say that Paul was looking forward to death and not the Rapture. While it is true that Paul teaches us not to fear death, and that “absence from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8), he encourages believers to look for the Lord’s return rather than their own death.
To the Corinthians Paul writes: “… eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:7-8). Was Paul mocking them by telling them to wait for something that was not going to happen in their lifetime? Was he using the Lord’s return as a false threat? Obviously not. The soon return of the Lord was very real to Paul, and to all believers of that time.
In teaching on marriage Paul says: “…the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none… For the form of this world is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). In the light of the imminency of the Lord’s return, even legitimate pursuits should be set aside. Remember, Paul is not mistaken since the very principle of imminence means Jesus comes at any moment, and an “an unexpected time.” While Paul was addressing the believers of his day, he is also speaking to all believers of all time, and this truth does not change: The time is short, the Lord is at the door.
For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised.
Paul also reminds the Corinthians: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed”. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Pay attention to the “we” in the above quote. He does not say “they,” meaning those in the distant future, but “we,” meaning himself and those alive at that time. Evidently Paul genuinely expected that some, or all, of those alive at that time would be raptured (even though some may die) before that great day.
To the church in Rome he says: “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:11-12). Once again notice the words “we” and not “they.” By our “salvation” Paul is clearly meaning the final consummation of our salvation – the transformation of the body. This cannot mean death and can only mean the resurrection which is concurrent with the Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18). Once again, Paul is emphatic that the Rapture is imminent and that he was expecting it in his lifetime. Furthermore his reference to the night being far spent and the day being at hand is a reference to the “Day of the Lord” which was soon to arrive.
He reminds the Philippians of the same truth: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21). Remember, death does not transform our body, the Rapture / Resurrection does, and again he writes of “our” and “we” and not “their” or “them.”
But also note that we are not urged to eagerly wait for death or for the Antichrist, but for the Lord Jesus Christ. Our focus is to be on Jesus. It just cannot be more simple or clear: “The Lord is at hand.” (Philippians 4:5). Just as with the statements of Jesus, it takes a lot of twisting of Scripture and mental gymnastics to make this verse mean anything but “The Lord is at hand”!
One of the clearest statements that shows that believers of the first century believed that the Lord could return literally at any moment lies in the fact that the Thessalonians had been deceived into believing that the Lord had come and that they had been left behind (2Thessalonians 2:1-2ff). If they had been taught that the Lord would not, and could not, come at any moment, they would not have been deceived. But they were deceived exactly because they believed what Paul had taught them: “…to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
Paul therefore says to them: “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober… For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-9). Notice how Paul uses the same reference that Jesus did to the thief coming at an unexpected time (Matthew 24:36-44; Luke 12:35-40). There is absolutely no warrant to link the “night” in this passage to the Tribulation. Only by reading a preconceived idea into the text can you come to that conclusion. The point is obvious: The thief comes at an unexpected time, and the middle of the night is the most unexpected time because people are sleeping. So the Thessalonians (and we) should not be spiritually asleep but sober since the Lord’s return is at the door.
While we do not fear death, we do not have our hope set on dying! We indeed long to be in His presence, but death is not our hope – the resurrection is. (Acts 23:6; 24:15; 26:6; 1Cor 15:19; 1Thes 2:19; 1Tim 1:1; 1 Pet 1:3; 13; 1 John 3:3;). It is against this background that Paul writes to Titus: “Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
Let me say again, we have no Scripture to look for the Antichrist, the Tribulation or any other event or sign – we are to look for, and expect, our blessed hope – the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. He should be our focus. Paul and the Lord Jesus’ message is exactly the same: Be ready, He is coming soon – when we least expect Him!
Part 3 – I am coming Quickly!
From the first two parts of this series it is abundantly clear from God’s Word that both Jesus and Paul taught that Jesus could return at any time and that his second coming was, and remains, imminent. In order to get a complete picture we now need to turn to the books from Hebrews to Revelation.
The writer to the Hebrews urged them to be in fellowship “as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). Once again it is clear that those who were alive at that time were being encouraged that the Lord could appear in their lifetime. The writer was even more explicit when he said: “For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry” (Hebrews 10:37). The message to the Hebrews was exactly the same as the rest of the New Testament: Jesus’ return is imminent.
James said: “…for the coming of the Lord is at hand… Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:7&9). This means exactly what it says: The Lord is at the door. He is about to enter the scene at any moment.
Peter confirms: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers” (1Peter 4:7). Literally, the end of the world can happen at any moment now! Peter continues: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise… But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night… what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? …Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation–as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you” (2 Peter 3:9-15)
In his epistles John urged the believers of the first century to be ready: “…when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3)
As we turn to the book of Revelation, we need to remember that the book was written first to the seven churches of Asia in 96 A.D. It was secondly written to all who would come after them – including us.
So, while the book is prophetic, its statements, messages and warnings are relevant and applicable to everyone until the Lord’s actual arrival:
• “Behold, I am coming quickly!” (Revelation 3:11)
• “Behold, I am coming quickly!” (Revelation 22:7)
• “…the time is at hand.” (Revelation 22:10)
• “And behold, I am coming quickly.” (Revelation 22:12-13)
• “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)
The word “quickly” above is the Greek word “tachu” and it means quickly, speedily and without delay.
The conclusion is that the idea of the Lord Jesus returning at any moment is not a doctrine based on one or two verses. This is taught throughout the New Testament. Every writer of the New Testament warns and encourages that the Lord could come today. Every one of the over 40 texts I have quoted in these three articles are simple and straightforward in their message. It is impossible to understand these verses as saying anything other than the Lord’s return is imminent.
The only way anyone can reject the idea of imminence is by rejecting the inerrancy, inspiration, authority, and plain meaning of Scripture.
There is no other way. One so-called “teacher of prophecy” explains these texts this way: “The apostles were confused in their thinking and they did not understand that the Lord would not come till much later.”
What this man says is that the Bible is flawed and men wrote the Bible out of their confused and limited minds; therefore nothing of the Bible can be trusted and it is not the infallible Word of God.
NO, a thousand times NO! The authors wrote the Bible by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and every word is the Word of God and is the truth (2Timothy 3:16; 2Peter 1:21). There are no mistakes in the Bible. No matter whether it was Paul, James, Peter or John who wrote, they wrote by the Holy Spirit, and what is written is the truth.
Even if you reject the testimony of Paul, James, Peter and John you still have to deal with the many direct statements of Jesus, in the Gospels and in Revelation, that He is coming quickly, suddenly, and at an unexpected time.
You cannot reject imminence and claim to believe the Bible – it is logically impossible.
Neither can you read “death” into these verses. Jesus did not say, “You will see me soon in death.” He said “I am coming quickly.” There is a huge difference. Yes, we can die at any moment, but it takes a lot of mental gymnastics and twisting of Scripture to read death into “coming.” Death, by definition is “going” (to be with Him), it is not Him “coming.”
I think you can see to what lengths men will go to strip the Bible of uncomfortable doctrines and truths that conflict with their manmade doctrines.
Only one question remains: “Do you believe the Scriptures?” If you do, you have no choice but to believe that the Lord Jesus could come today, without delay and without warning.
Therefore, “what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? …Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the long suffering of our Lord is salvation–as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you.” (2 Peter 3:11-15)