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TWO DIFFERING INTERPRETATIONS OF CHRIST'S "IMMINENT RETURN"

by Various Writers

Compiled from various writers

VIEW #1:

Christ could return ANY DAY — AT ANY MOMENT. (This is the Pre-Tribulation view of His coming.)

a. “Other things may happen before the imminent event, but nothing else must take place before it happens. [You] should always be prepared for it to happen. It could happen at any moment. The necessity of something else taking place first destroys the concept of it being imminent.” (R. Showers; emphasis added by avw.)

b. “The imminence of the Lord’s coming is destroyed the mo­ment you locate between the first and second coming…any period of time whatsoever that is a definite period, whether 10, or 100, or 1,000 years. I cannot look for a thing as an imminent event which I know is not going to take place for 10 years to come.” (A. T. Pier­son)

c. “It follows from the very fact that Christ is certain to come, while the time of his coming is concealed, that His coming must be always imminent to his people. Since he has told us to watch for his returning and has not told us when he would return, we must expect him constantly.” (R. H. Boll, in the Boll/Boles Discussion, p. 321)

d. “If we are told to watch because we do not know the day nor hour, and to watch to avoid the possibility of being surprised by his coming, as if by a thief breaking into our house, does not that mean that Christ could come…at any time? Thus the coming of Christ…is imminent, in the sense that it can occur at any moment. By the very nature of this inference the coming…which is imminent must be a coming different from the coming in glory after the tribulation. For a coming that must wait the Antichrist and great tribulation…cannot be imminent in the sense that it can come upon us at any moment.” (Le­wis Neilson; emphasis added.)

VIEW #2:

Christ could return DURING ANY GENERATION after His ascension, but Certain predicted Events Must Occur First. We “Watch” for His coming by Staying Awake Morally and Alert Mentally (for this is the meaning of the Greek terms often trans­lated “watch”), and by Being Alert for Those Events Which Pre­cede and Usher In His Return. (This is the Post-Tribulation view of His coming for His church.) We include more quotes here than we did above, because this view is not nearly so well understood as the other. avw)

a. “The imminent return of Christ meant that the signs could be fulfilled and that He could return within the lifetime of any indi­vidual generation of believers.” (Samuel Kellogg; my emphasis in these quotes too, unless noted otherwise.–avw)

b. “The Scripture declares plainly that the Lord Jesus will not come until the Apostasy shall have taken place, and the man of sin (or personal Antichrist) shall have been revealed as seen in 2 Thes. 2:1-4. Many other portions also of the Word of God distinctly teach that certain events are to be fulfilled before the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. This does not, however, alter the fact that the coming of Christ, and not death, is the great Hope of the Church, and, if in a right state of heart, we (as the Thessalonian be­lievers did) shall ‘serve the living and true God, and wait for His Son from Heaven. ‘” (George Muller of Bristol, England)

c. “If then, it is the sign of the consummation of the age that the gospel of the kingdom should be preached to all nations for a tes­timony unto them, and then shall the end come –let us do all we can to speed further God’s great work, and hasten the day according to his will.” (See Matt. 24:14, Mark 13:10, & 2 Pet. 3:12.) (R. H. Boll, 1910. See the next quotation too.)

d. “At the very first there appears to have been a certain margin of time within which Christ’s coming was not likely to occur. Thus the apostles and early Christians were commissioned to disciple all the nations, and to be witnesses…unto the uttermost part of the earth. But that work was relatively accomplished within that generation (Col. 1:6,23) We also learn that Simon Peter knew that he would have to die for his Lord [after getting “old”]-avw;  In. 1:18-19] [Yet] we have seen that if any generation had an excuse to defer their expectation of Christ’s return, it would have been that first generation of Christians; but they, instead of counting the day far away, looked for the Lord’s return with peculiar fervency.” (Boll, 324-5)

[avw’s comments now: Of course Bro. Boll believed in the pre­-trib. coming, but we include these quotes here because they show Christ’s coming was not imminent (in the any-moment sense) during the Church’s 1st generation–yet they fervently “watched” for Him anyway! This fits in with the post-trib. view: We can do the same today though there are still events to occur before He comes. If at that early period He could not have immediately returned–for various events had to transpire first–then AT WHAT POINT IN CHURCH HISTORY did “any-moment” imminence begin? Some of the events foretold in Scripture have even till now not occurred (though most have). These facts strongly support the any ­generation view. Yet don’t misconstrue my point. Note the state­ment a few lines above, “Yet they fervently ‘watched’ for Him anyway.” Yes, and so may we-even though we, like them, know certain events must occur first!]

e. “No reader can put his finger on the book, chapter and verse which clearly and definitely, without doubt, teaches that the coming of Christ is imminent, liable to happen at any moment.” “Jesus taught his disciples that they should go ‘into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.’ He said of the woman who used the precious ointment upon his body: ‘Wheresoever the gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, that which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.’ (Mk. 14:9)….Since he knew it would take some time for his disciples to do this, he did not teach that his 2nd coming was imminent–i.e. liable to occur at any moment.” (H. L. Boles, 406-7.)

f. Mat. 24:42 (RSV) says “Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” Comment: “‘Watch’ is correctly translated ‘be on the alert’ (NASB) and means to be watchful and careful. The command to watch is described in terms of two slaves in verses 45-51. The ‘faithful and sensible slave’ is happy when his master returns because he is alert and busy. But the cloddish slave has catnapped and gets caught in his pajamas instead of his work jeans. Every Christian must heed the warning. It is a matter of atti­tude and action. True believers always will be watchful, ambitious for God, and ready for His return, even though it is on the other side of the tribulation.” (A. Katterjohn)

g. The NT terminology of watchfulness justifies an attitude of expectancy toward Christ’s return, but not a belief in [any-mo­ment] imminence. “If a delay in the [2nd coming] of at least sev­eral years was compatible with expectancy in apostolic times, a delay for the several years of the Great Tribulation is compatible with expectancy in current times.” (R. Gundry)

h. Christ gave the early Christians a number of commands and/or predictions which required time: the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations; .. .and the assurance given Paul in Jeru­salem that he would witness at Rome (Acts 23: 11). Regarding these-“Whether general or specific, long or short, the delays were delays and, by being stated, rendered the second coming non-im­minent to the apostolic Church. [And] if ‘watching’ could not have connotated [any-moment] imminence in the apostolic age, it need not connote [any-moment] imminence now.” (Gundry,39f)

i. General Predictability and Specific Unpredictability of His Coming: Jesus plainly stated that no man can know the day or hour of His coming. And He said this “in immediate connection” with His coming after the tribulation (Matt. 24:36, 42, 43; Mark 13:32) Je­sus’ emphasis on ‘day,’ ‘hour,’ and ‘watch of the night’ shows that we shall not know exactly. But the delineation of preceding signs, including especially if not exclusively tribulational events, shows that we will know approximately. We are to watch, both because we cannot know exactly and because we must be alert to the signs which will enable us to know approximately.” (Gundry, 43)

 

j. “The true meaning of the command to watch is not to watch for Christ’s return. Scripture does not use this language. Nowhere are we told to watch for the coming of Christ. We are exhorted rather, in view of the uncertainty of the time of the end, to watch.. ‘Watching’ does not mean ‘looking for’ the event; it means spiritual and moral ‘wakefulness.'” (Ladd)

k. “Gregoreo” is the Greek word most commonly translated “watch” [especially in the older versions; the NASV usually trans­lates it “be alert”]. It means “to be awake.” Sometimes it is used literally: in Gethsemane Jesus used it when urging the disciples to stay awake and pray with Him (Mt. 26:38,40,41). “In a number of places, the word is used of general spiritual alertness”: e.g., Acts 20:31; 1 Cor. 16: 13; 1 Pet. 5 :8. “In all of these verses, ‘gregoreo’ is used of general spiritual vigilance without immediate reference to the 2nd coming of Christ.

“There remain 9 uses of the word [gregoreo] in which God’s people are exhorted to watch in view of the impending end.” 5 times it is used in Christ’s Olivet Discourse–but His only “coming” mentioned in that major passage will occur after the Tribulation (Mt. 24:29f)! He never mentions any pre-trib rapture in this, His main teaching to the apostles about the future (Mt. 24-5; Mk. 13; Lk. 21). Thus what He exhorted them to be watchful or awake about was His coming after the Tribulation! Likewise, Paul’s only use of this command which is related to endtime events is 1 Thes. 5:3-6, ending “Let us watch and be sober.” But the watchfulness he urged those Christians to maintain was not related to some pre-trib coming of Christ but to the Day of the Lord, which the pre-trib view says occurs after He has snatched away the church. (Ladd, chap. 6)

1. Lk. 12:36 KJV/ASV says, “Be like men looking for their Lord.” [NASV/NIV say “waiting.”] “The use of the word ‘looking for’ does not carry the necessary idea of an any-moment event, al­though it does connote a complex of events which might begin at any time. We may discover the meaning from its uses elsewhere. Simeon was a devout man who was ‘looking for the consolation of Israel’ (Lk. 2:25). Joseph of Arimathea was ‘looking for the king­dom of God’ (Lk. 23:51). Both of these pious Jews were living in constant expectation of a complex of events which would include the appearing of Messiah, the overthrow of the enemies of God, and the inauguration of the kingdom of God.” (Ladd, 116)

m. “Looking for the blessed hope…” (Tit. 2:13): “We do not look for something in everyday life with less intensity because we know something else must happen first. Peter (2 Pet. 3:12, 13) looked for ‘new heavens and new earth’ even though that is not the next event in God’s calendar.” (Norman MacPherson)

n. If the pre-trib view is correct, it seems Paul would have changed 2 Thes. 2:1-3 to read like this: Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed…for nothing needs to happen first. That day shall come BEFORE the rebel­lion [or falling away] occurs, and BEFORE the man of lawless­ness is revealed. Of course what he actually wrote was, “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unset­tled or alarmed…for that day will NOT come UNTIL the rebellion [or falling away] occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed.” Also note carefully the opening words of this passage, “…the COMING of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being GATHERED to him.” Compare that expression with Jesus’ words in Mt. 24:29­31, “Immediately after the distress of those days…they will see the Son of Man COMING on the clouds of the sky……And he will send his angels…and they will GATHER his elect from the four winds.”

Both Christ and Paul lump together our Lord’s coming and His people being gathered. WHEN will this occur? Let Christ an­swer that question: “After the tribulation” (Mt. 24:29, ASV). Let Paul answer: After the falling away and the revealing of the Man of lawlessness (2 Thes. 2:1-3, ASV). In other words, after the Great Tribulation. Both our Lord Jesus and Paul say that something pre­cedes the gathering or catching up (“rapture”) of Christians to be with the Lord. Both predict the coming of the Beast and his Great Tribulation before Christ’s coming and gathering His people. Anti­christ will come, then Christ will come–and we shall be gathered to him (or caught up to be with him, as 1 Thes. 4: 17 puts it)! If that seems like heresy, please re-read 2 Thes. 2:1-10. (avw)

William J. Rowlands wrote: “These prophesied events forbid the thought that the Church at Pentecost was looking for Christ to come without intervening events. And if we expect what they could not expect, our hope is different from theirs.” Again: “If we state abundantly in our writings and preaching that which Holy Scripture nowhere states, we are building on a sandy foundation.” ie., since God’s Word never plainly says it, how dare anyone dogmatically claim that there are no events which must precede Christ’s return for His people? Since such a view is built only on inferences (mainly about “watching” and “waiting”), rather than on clear and definite statements, we need humility and open-mindedness on this matter. It (as well as the opposite view) should be taught tentatively, as a pos­sible position but one that has difficulties too. Let’s all be open ­minded and keep studying.

 

Listen once more to Rowlands: “It has been said that the [pre­-trib] teaching is the general teaching of Scripture. But how can doc­trine be according to the whole trend of Scripture when its advocates cannot (when asked) show it clearly even in one verse?” Remember what pre-trib writer John Walvoord admitted? He wrote, “Neither post-tribulationism nor pre-tribulationism is an explicit teaching of Scripture. The Bible does not in so many words state either.”

Scripture does clearly declare that Christ is coming after the tribulation: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days…they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds….” (Mt. 24:29-31). Post-tribs cannot absolutely, positively, without the shadow of a doubt prove that “the elect” in this passage means the Church–though in a number of passages it does. But at least this is a definite statement of a post-trib coming of the Lord. The pre-trib view lacks any such clear declaration of a coming before the reign of the Beast. To me (and Walvoord seems to admit as much), that posi­tion appears based almost entirely on inferences and implications. But the post-trib view fits its inferences together (along with the defi­nite statements like the one just quoted) with far less difficulty, it seems to me. Study it for yourself, knowing I’ll love you whether you agree with me or not.

Points Which BOTH VIEWS Can Heartily AGREE ON:

a. “The Christian life is to be lived in the light of Christ’s coming. That constitutes the imminency of the Lord’s return, ac­cording to the definition given of the word ‘imminency.'” (R. H. Boll, p. 329) Amen to that! Those holding either view agree there.

b. In 1897 A. C. Gaebelein (who held the pre-trib view) “cour­teously admitted that Paul did not teach an ‘immediate coming,’ but that he ‘did teach that our attitude was to be one of constant joyful expectancy, consistent only with the possibility of that coming at any moment.'” (R. Reiter). Amen to that, too, if it also includes the possibility of other events occurring first. Most surely He will re­turn – constantly rejoice in that certainty. Maybe it will be today–for the post-trib view held by myself and others may be wrong! And our Lord did say, “Be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Mt. 24:44). But Maybe we shall go through the Great Tribulation: review the many strong evidences presented above for that possibility.

c. THE SOLUTION : “You ask, Is the Church to go through the Tribulation? That is not the question. It is this: Is the Church ready? Are you ready, ready either for Tribulation or Rapture? If you are, that is all that matters. What difference does it make so long as you are ready? If you are to be in it, you cannot avoid it, and if you are to escape, you will not be in it.” (Oswald Smith.)

Amen. Be Prepared!–for either possibility. Live holy lives and share the Gospel. And Pray, as the first Christians did: “Ma­ranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!” If we all fulfilled all those duties, everything would be fine. “The King is coming!” –be jubilant! We recommend Leila Morris’ old Gospel song, “Jesus is coming to earth again, What If It Were TODAY?” Yes, that’s the “watch­ful” attitude we should have, while realizing that even the Great Tribulation may come first.

1) Jesus is coming to earth again, What if it were today?

Coming in power and love to reign, What if it were today?

Coming to claim His chosen Bride, All the Redeemed and purified,

Over this whole earth scattered wide, What if it were today?

 

2) Satan’s dominion will soon be o’er, 0h that it were today!

Sorrow and sighing shall be no more, 0h that it were today!

Then shall the dead in Christ arise, Caught up to meet Him in the skies,

When shall these glories meet our eyes? What if it were today?

 

3) Faithful and true would He find us here, If He should come today?

Watching in gladness and not in fear, If He should come today?

Signs of His coming multiply, Morning light breaks in eastern sky,

Watch, for that time is drawing nigh, What if it were today?

 

[Chorus:] Glory, glory! Joy to my heart ’twill bring;

Glory, glory! When we shall crown Him King;

Glory, glory! Haste to prepare the way;

Glory, glory! Jesus will come some day!




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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33