As we continue our discussion on the 7 signs prior to the “our gathering together to Him” or what is termed the rapture to Christians in our age, we need to address one of the tenants of the most pervasive view. Misunderstanding this tenant, paints us into a corner, the Lord Jesus Christ never wants us to stand in. If you have not read part I of this series of articles, you may want to do that first. Here is the link… Behold, He is Coming on the Clouds Part I
One of the loudest arguments for a pretribulation rapture is the biblical doctrine of imminence. Imminence simply means that something is “about to happen”. The doctrine of imminence declares that the return of the Lord Jesus Christ can begin at any time. I believe this truth and the early did the early church as well, but they did not believe it as most of the church does today. To the early church and most followers of Christ, until the 1830’s, they held that Christ’s return was a series of stages or events, not just the rapture.
Although they believed Christ’s return would begin, as a thief in the night to unsuspecting lost world, they were taught and believed Christians ought to be aware of the general season of His return, based on signs written in the scripture. Consider I Peter.
2 Peter 3:10-13 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, 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? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
In understanding imminence, it is important to remember that in Peter’s writing above, where he writes that “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night”, he is not referring to the “in gathering” of the church or what we call the rapture. He is referring to what takes place prior to final judgment in Revelation 20:11; 21:1-2.
Although this is the case, he uses the terminology “the day of the Lord”. This presents a foundational truth of Christ’s return that we often miss in our fixation on knowing the timing of the rapture… that Christ’s return occurs in stages, starting with the beginning of the sorrows. It is important to understand the same language used to describe the rapture of the church, is used above in II Peter 3:10-11 (and in other passages), referring to the events taking place before and after “our gathering together to Him.”
Included in the events or (stages) of His return are… The beginning of the sorrows and all the associated events—the tribulation period (the last 7 years of earth’s history)—the abomination of desolation and associated events—the sign of the Son of man—the in gathering of the saints or “rapture”—the wrath of God being poured out, culminating in Christ’s at Armageddon—Christ’s 1000-year reign—the final judgement—the new heavens and the new earth.
If one were to search out these events, from the scriptures they would find all are associated with the “Day of the LORD” or “the Day of His wrath” or similar phrasing (and not just in the New Testament). Therefore, the doctrine of imminence means the events which begin the return of the Lord are “about to happen” or may occur at any time.
The first event, kicking of the end times clock was the Jewish people returning to their God appointed homeland in Israel, which is the fulfillment of Ezekiel 34-37, which occurred in 1948. This is the last prophetic event before the beginning of the sorrows.
The beginning of the sorrows is the first stage of Christ’s return, in so far as an in-sequence event of events leading to Christ’s glorious appearing, and all that is included therein.
One of the chief arguments in favor the pretribulation rapture being imminent, from a wrong perspective is that Christ comes as a “thief in the night”, therefore we cannot know the day or the hour, but that it is unexpected. This line of thinking is unbiblical.
One of the Lord Jesus’ criticisms of the Pharisees is that they could read the signs of the sky and discern the weather for the next day, but they could not read the signs of the times, in which they lived. God had placed hundreds of prophetic markers for His people to see, concerning the Christ, so they would not miss His first advent. To these unbelieving fools, Christ’s first advent took them by surprise, like a thief coming to their home in the night.
The point is, a pretribulational viewpoint makes our understanding and teaching eschatology, beyond the rapture pointless, for we will not be here if it in fact were true.
That said, the second coming of Christ is as a thief in the night to unbelievers and apostate Christians, but it is not to be the case for those who truly follow the Lord. Remember the clear teaching of II Thessalonians 5:1-9, where “the thief in the night” language is used for the lost, not the saved, as we read “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:4).
Let us consider Christ’s words concerning the idea of His return and a thief in the night.
Matthew 24:42-44 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.
This is a passage often cited by pre-tribulational scholars, to make the rapture the only imminent event. Note that in this passage the word “hour” means a 12th part of a day, which for Christ’s culture was the 12 hours from sunup to sundown. Prior to this series of verses, Christ’s gives several signs which reveal the general season of His return, including language revealing the “in gathering of the saints”, or what we modern Christians term the “rapture”. If those signs need not take place before the rapture, why speak of them? Why place them out of sequence?
There is no reason for it at all. And that is the point. God has a reason for everything.
Consider Christ’s admonition concerning a homeowner knowing a thief will attempt to break into his house on a particular night. The owner may not know the exact hour, but knowing the thief is coming, and it may be about to happen, he will be prepared for all the hours of the night. How will he know a thief is coming? Because the homeowner has seen strange vans, outside of his home, when he arrives and leaves for weeks. He has notices footprint in his flower, in front of the most accessible area and for wees he has received reports of multiple homes being broken into. Those signs are given to prepare him.
In similar fashion, we Christians ought to know the season and the signs of His return and stay prepared, so we do not miss his return, not being sober, unprepared, and lacking the fullness of the Spirit of God. Those signs are written into ever last days message by Christ and corroborated, in the epistles and Revelation’s own timeline from Revelation 4 through the end.
In Luke’s gospel our Lord Jesus speak of the “rapture”, as one event in a series of events concerning the His return, really brings clarity.
Luke 21:34-35 “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.
Remember this passage of scripture follows the exact same timeline in Matthew 24 and Mark 13. In Luke’s accounting we read the phrase “that Day” associated with the events of Christ’s second advent. We also experience the idea that the general time of the rapture should not be a mystery to us.
We are to be watching for it and see its approach through the signs prophesied in Christ’s message about His return in Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13.
Mark’s Gospel leans into the truth of “the thief in the night” about our being sober and watchful, rather than expressing the false teaching of how utterly surprised we Christians will be when the rapture takes place.
Mark 13:32-37 32 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning— lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”
We see the use of the word “time” in dealing with the Christ’s return, which when considered with the use of the times of a day “in the evening”, “at midnight”, “at the crowing of the rooster” or “in the morning” lends itself to the idea in Matthew. In Mathew we understand we do not know what hour of the day He comes, although we ought to know when it is about to happen (imminence) through the signs laid out before.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 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 those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. 8 But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.
Consider that I Thessalonians 5:1-10 is proceeded by I Thessalonians 4:13-18, where Paul clearly outlines the elements of the event known as the in gathering of the saints or what we popularly refer to as the rapture. Once more we see the phrase “that Day” where Paul is referring to our being caught up and away with Jesus, rather than Peter’s use of the same phrase “that Day” referring to the coming of the new heaven and a new earth.
Therefore, imminence does deal with something that is about to happen, at any time, but scripturally it does not refer to the in gathering of the saints or what we refer to as the rapture primarily, but all the events outlined in Christ’s return; the rapture being only one of them.
Can the beginning of the sorrows occur imminently? Of Course. Should the Day of Christ’s return for His church take us like a thief? Absolutely not! We ought to know very clearly when it is about to happen, although the exact day or hour of the day we cannot know.
In our next article we will look more closely at what proceeds “our gathering together unto Him”. It is our Blessed Hope!