STANTON: Imminency  

  Dr. Gerald Stanton
1992 Pre-Trib Study Group
The Doctrine of Imminency: is it Biblical?

Actually, the term imminency normally implies three important truths concerning our Lord's coming:
(1)While no one knows the time of Christ's return, He may come at any moment and it is possible that He might come today.

On what basis does one make this claim? Where in the Bible does it teach this?
It comes from the teachings of Jesus concerning His ONE AND ONLY second coming which is explicitly stated as occurring “after the tribulation of those days,” at Matthew 24:29-31, and at which time the gathering of the elect will take place.
There is no power in imagining a second coming that is different than what Jesus taught about and what the apostle taught about – they both taught about the one and the same second coming, and it was not His descent to the earth at Armageddon.

(2)The Rapture is signless, and will be unannounced and largely unexpected. It is next on the revealed program of God, and is so presented in the Scripture that every generation may enjoy the hope, challenge and other blessings of His appearing. We are all exhorted to watch but no one can know the day nor the hour when the Bridegroom will come (Matt. 25:13).

The impotency of imminence is revealed by the inconsistency of its adherents.
Stanton claims that “no one can know the day nor the hour when the Bridegroom will come” (Mat. 25:13), and he uses a passage from the teaching of Jesus which is referring to when He comes “in the clouds of the sky in power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” (Mat. 24:30-31).
One cannot interpret that second coming of Mat. 24:29-31 refer to a different event than the second coming of Matthew 25:1-13. It is the one and same second coming that will occur “after the tribulation of those days.” (Mat. 24:29).

(3)No clearly prophesied event must transpire prior to the Rapture, for this might date the time of His coming. If the return of Christ for His Church is imminent, then obviously it will be before the coming period of Tribulation with its clearly predicted signs and judgments.

Yes. IF it is imminent. However, it is not imminent. The very passages that MUST be used by the pretribbers to teach imminence were either spoken by Jesus or written in reference to what Jesus taught. And what Jesus taught was about His second coming that will occur “after the tribulation of those days.” For, in reference to that second coming, Jesus says, “but of the day and hour no one knows” (Mat. 24:36). And, “for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Mat. 24:42). And, “for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not  think” (Mat. 24:44). And, “be on the alert for you do not know the day nor the hour” (Mat. 25:13). And, the thief in the night image is taken from Matthew 24:43.

Stanton: In theological language, the Rapture of the Church must be Pretribulational.

This is a supposed theology instead of a Biblical theology. According to the Bible, the rapture of the church must be AFTER the tribulation. But I must add at this juncture that the tribulation needs to be properly defined. It STARTS at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week and comes to an end by the sovereign decree of God at an unknown day and hour between the midpoint of the week and the end of the week. Thus the Biblical meaning of “after the tribulation of those days” is NOT the postribulational view of the rapture, which, as with pretribbers, improperly defines the tribulation as lasting for the entire 7 years of Daniel’s 70th week. The tribulation will be CUT SHORT before the end of the week.


There are a number of reasons. (1) First, we see clearly that the Rapture is not identical with the Revelation, commonly called the Second Coming of Christ. There are some obvious differences. The Rapture relates to the Church, when the dead in Christ shall rise and the living will be translated to meet the Lord in the air (1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16-17). It expresses hope and a warm spirit of expectancy (1 Thess. 1:10), all of which should result in a victorious and purified life (1 John 3:2-3).

On the other hand, the Second Coming of Christ does not deal primarily with the saint but with the sinner.<

These “differences” are not “obvious.” In fact, they are only imaginary.
One problem is to refer to the rapture INDEPENDENTLY from the second coming. There is only one second coming. At that one second coming, several things will take place. AT its inception, the rapture will occur and the ones left behind; the “sinner” as
Stanton affirms, is in fact, dealt with.
(1) That is why WRATH occurs immediately after the rapture.
1 Thes.
1:10, “who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

(2) That is why judgment comes upon those left behind.
1 Thes. 5:2-3, “For your yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night., While they are saying peace and safety, then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”
2 Thes. 1:7-8, “And to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God, even to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”

One cannot pick and choose which second coming passages one wants to use to focus on the rapture and separate them from those that focus on both rapture and judgment on the ones left behind.

Stanton: When Christ returns to earth, Armageddon must be terminated (Rev. 19:17-18),>

Like all other pretribbers, he fails to separate the arrival of Jesus TO the earth in the clouds of the sky, which IS the second coming, from the descent of Jesus ONTO the earth several months later, which is NOT the second coming, but an event that occurs DURING the second advent.

Stanton: (2)There is a vast difference in the language used for these two events. While both relate to the end time and both describe actions on the part of Christ, early believers were taught to look for the Savior (Phil. 3:20; Titus 2:13). "Unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Heb. 9:28). Likewise, they were to wait for God's Son from heaven (1 Thess. 1:10). They were to watch and be sober (1Thess. 5:6), and to comfort one another with the hope of Christ's coming (1 Thess. 4:18). <

And what we are looking for is the GLORIOUS appearing of Jesus, which is the SECOND COMING. The second coming and the rapture are NOT two different “events” – unless one wants to list the various things that happen after Jesus arrives in the clouds of the sky as several different events. But then, one must recognize that the second coming is the ONE ARRIVAL of Jesus, which begins a time period known as His parousia or His presence in this earthly arena, which is also known as The Day of The Lord. And that during that parousia, there are several events that will occur. The first event is the rapture and Armageddon is an event way down the list, and not even the final event, for the separation of the sheep and the goats is the final event prior to the official start of the millennial kingdom.

Stanton: These frequent exhortations caused them to believe that the return of Christ was imminent.<

The commands for watchfulness and expectation are not proof of imminence.
They are given within the context of a possible rise of the antichrist within that generation. Paul considered that the “tribulation” that the Thessalonians were going through could actually escalate into the great tribulation (2Thes. 1:6-8). In such a case, they and he would be delivered DURING that time by the revelation of Jesus Christ from heaven with His holy angels in flaming fire.
Thus, in his previous letter, at chapter 5:1-3, he referenced what Jesus taught about His arrival and the inception of the Day of the Lord. They don’t need to be taught about the times and the seasons, because they know that the arrival of Jesus and the inception of the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, just like Jesus taught at Matthew 24:43-44.
Paul was told that He would end up in Rome, and yet he still LOOKED for the coming of the Lord with the holy angels in flaming fire. (2Thes. 1:7).
The Lord had taught that
Jerusalem would be destroyed, and yet the disciples still looked for “the appearing of the glory of the great God and of our Savior, Christ Jesus” prior to 70 AD (Titus 2:13).
And then, of crucial importance, Israel had to become an independent nation once again after its demise in 70 AD.
Thus, Imminence is only a valid concept once the SEASON that Jesus taught about arrives. Once that season is here; once the events of the tribulation have begun, it is then and only then, that He can come as a thief at some unknown day and hour. Accordingly, the promises for watchfulness teach that the Lord could come in ANY generation as long as the prerequisite “signs of summer” occur.

Stanton: Paul seemed to include himself among those who looked for Christ's return (1 Thess.4:15, 17; 2 Thess. 2:1).<

Or course Paul included himself, just as he did at 2Thes. 1:6-8.
And the “our gathering together to Him” at 2 Thess. 2:1 at His coming, is the very same coming described in chapter one.

Stanton: Many have concluded that the expectation of some was so strong they had ceased their work and had to be exhorted to return to their labors (2 Thess. 3:10-12),>

And that conclusion denies the context. Paul makes it perfectly clear that these people had ceased from work, NOT because of some expectation of the second coming, but because “some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busygbodies.” 2Thes. 3:11.
Not only were these people NOT looking for Christ’s coming, they were not even living a Christ-like Christian life.
Must these pre-tribbers continue to grasp at such weak straws to find some kind of proof for something that has no proof?

Stanton: How very different is the language of the Second Advent when Christ returns to deal with the unbelief and rebellion of the wicked. In that day, He will "in flaming fire take vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess. 1:8). Failure to distinguish Rapture from Revelation has become a major source of confusion among the various schools of eschatology.<

How can anyone justify using this promise in 2 Thess. 1:8, which is TO THE CHURCH, for some event OTHER THAN the arrival of Jesus in the clouds of the sky, at which time He will gather the saints and give them relief?
This is simple and deliberate denial of the language in the passage.
It is FOR “you who are afflicted, and to us as well AT the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His holy angels in flaming fire.”

Stanton: (3) Imminency has been the consistent belief of evangelical Christians down through the centuries. While theological terms such as trinity, theophany imminency inerrancy and premillenial developed gradually over the centuries, it is clear that although they did not use the term, imminency was indeed the expectation of the Apostolic Church.

John F. Walvoord, a prime authority in the field of Bible eschatology, forcefully states and illustrates this truth:
"The central feature of pretribulationism, the doctrine of imminency, is, however, a prominent feature of the doctrine of the early church ... [which] lived in constant expectation of the coming of the Lord for His church."[1]
He then quotes the Didache dated about 100-120 A.D., which contains the exhortation:
"Watch for your life's sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins un loosed; but be ye ready, for ye know not the hour in which our Lord cometh."[2]

In reply:
1. The DIDACHE is quoting Jesus from Mathew 24 to refer to His arrival in the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. As said before, there is only ONE second coming in Matthew. The writer of the DIDACHE obviously interpreted the second coming in this chapter to refer to the blessed hope of the church.
2. But more importantly, the warning is given in anticipation of the rise of “the deceiver” after which the signs that Jesus taught about will occur.
3. Let the reader evaluate the entire context of the DIDACHE.
Book One
Section 16

1 "Watch" over your life: "let your lamps" be not quenched "and your loins" be not ungirded, but be "ready," for ye know not "the hour in which our Lord cometh."

2 But be frequently gathered together seeking the things which are profitable for your souls, for the whole time of your faith shall not profit you except ye be found perfect at the last time;

3 for in the last days the false prophets and the corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall change to hate;

4 for as lawlessness increaseth they shall hate one another and persecute and betray, and then shall appear the deceiver of the world as a Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders and the earth shall be given over into his hands and he shall commit iniquities which have never been since the world began.

5 Then shall the creation of mankind come to the fiery trial and "many shall be offended" and be lost, but "they who endure" in their faith "shall be saved" by the curse itself.

6 And "then shall appear the signs" of the truth. First the sign spread out in Heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet, and thirdly the resurrection of the dead:

7 but not of all the dead, but as it was said, "The Lord shall come and all his saints with him." 8 Then shall the world "see the Lord coming on the clouds of Heaven."

BOOK 1 (from: Apostolic Fathers, Kirsopp Lake, 1912 (Loeb Classical Library))

Comment: The warning (paragraph 1, "watch") is to Christians in view of the future arrival of the "deceiver," (paragraph 4) after which will be the signs in the heaven and then the resurrection.

Stanton: Adolph Harnack, although a member of the liberal theological school, out of sheer honesty as an historian, has written:

"In the history of Christianity three main forces are found to have acted as auxiliaries to the gospel. They have elicited the ardent enthusiasm of men whom the bare preaching of the gospel would never have made decided converts. These [include] a belief in the speedy return of Christ and in His glorious reign on earth .... First in point of time came the faith in the nearness of Christ's second advent and the establishing of His reign of glory on the earth. Indeed it appears so early that it might be questioned whether it ought not to be regarded as an essential part of the Christian religion."

What is the purpose of this quote? Does “speedy” and “the nearness of Christ’s second advent” teach imminence? Not at all! That language simply reflects the attitude of watchfulness and expectation, which has already been discussed.

Stanton: Jesse Forest Silver, in his excellent book The Lord's Return has written of the Apostolic Fathers:

,,They expected the return of the Lord in their day .... They believed the time was imminent because their Lord had taught them to live in a watchful attitude." And concerning the Ante-Nicene Fathers, he says: "By tradition they knew the faith of the Apostles. They taught the doctrine of the imminent and premillenial return of the Lord. "

The problem with this statement is the fact that “they” – the Apostolic Fathers did NOT teach imminence. This is an issue that needs to be discussed in more detail and separately. Furthermore, if they believed the time was imminent “because their Lord had taught them to live in a watchful attitude,” then they are referring to Matthew 24, which is talking about the second coming described in verses 29-31, which will occur “after the tribulation of those days.”

Stanton: Ultimately, most Posttribs gave up the concept of imminency, and "Pretribulationism emerged as the dominant view of the Rapture within American premillennialism."

Except of course, for those “giants” of the faith who did not believe in imminency.
Marv Rosenthal writes:

But if pretribulational rapturism is used for a badge of fellowship and orthodoxy, one is faced with the perplexing question of what to do with the millions of godly believers who, for almost eighteen hundred years, did not hold to pretribulational rapturism. Among them are heroes of the faith like John Wesley, Charles Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, Matthew Henry, John Knox, John Huss, William Cary, John Calvin, Isaac Newton, George Whitfield, A. B. Simpson, George Mueller, John Newton, Jonathan Edwards, John Wycliffe, John Bunyan, and multitudes more.

However, in recent months the attack against imminency has been renewed from a new and unexpected quarter. Marv Rosenthal, an evangelical and Premillennial brother in the field of Jewish evangelism, has recently rejected the Pretribulational position which he previously taught and defended during most of his ministry.

Typical of all those who argue that the Church must go through the Great Tribulation, he (Rosenthal) strongly renounced imminency and with frequent abrasiveness and much repetition, he argued for a Rapture placed between the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. This, to Rosenthal, will be three-fourths of the way through Daniel's seventieth week, and identified with the "innumerable multitude" of Revelation 7:9-17.<

This last statement misrepresents the prewrath view. Far too often the critics of the prewrath view do not even understand exactly what it teaches. Stanton falls into that category. It is never claimed that the rapture will occur “three-fourths of the way through Daniel’s seventieth week.” What is claimed, is that the rapture will occur at some UNKNOWN day and hour between the midpoint of the week and the end of the week. Since this view holds that the trumpet judgments follow the 6th seal rapture of the church, and the 6th trumpet judgment is 5 months long, then there must be AT LEAST 5 months between the rapture and the end of the week.

Stanton: He continues to defend his new prophetic views in a well published bi-monthly magazine called Zion's Fire and it is there in the Aug.-Sept. 1990 issue that he asks the question, "Is the Return of Christ Imminent?" and launches his major attack. He endeavors to trace Pretribulationism back to John Darby in the year 1830, and ultimately to "a charismatic, visionary woman, named Margaret MacDonald."<

Why can’t these people at least represent accurately what the prewrath proponents are teaching? What Rosenthal wrote exactly, is:
Far from having its roots in the early church, pretribulational rapturism and an any-moment Rapture can trace its origin back to John Darby and the Plymouth Brethren in the year 1830. Some scholars, seeking to prove error by association, have attempted (perhaps unfairly) to trace its origin back two years earlier to a charismatic, visionary woman named Margaret MacDonald.

Rosenthal does NOT trace pretribulationism “ultimately to a ‘charasimatic, visionary woman, named Margaret MacDonald.’” He disputes that claim.


(1) Says he: "There is no historical evidence to demonstrate that the early church believed in an any-moment Rapture." But the evidence is right within the New Testament. They were instructed to look, watch, and wait for His coming, and to comfort one another with this happy expectation (1 Thess. 4:18).<

Of course, the expectation of Christ’s return was a source of comfort and joy – because – the church for the most part was in the midst of great persecution.
In fact, the persecution was to such a degree, that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that it might very well be possible that their affliction (tribulation – thlipsis) could be relieved by the actual “revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire.” (2Thes. 1:6-7). 
And in view of the fear that the Lord had already come back, Paul wrote to them that “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him,” which he equates with “the day of the Lord,” would not occur until the apostasy of the church occurred and the man of lawlessness would be revealed. 2Thes. 2:1-3).

Stanton: It would have been small comfort to believe they must first go through raging Tribulation and probably die at the hands of the Beast (Rev. 13:7). Such exhortations would have lost all significance if many years of unparalled death and destruction must first intervene.<

This argument is without substance. It is IN FACT, because they were in the midst of great persecution, that the rapture would be great comfort to them. The early church was in constant peril for the lives of its members. From its inception on the day of Pentecost until the church is to be presented to the Father, the EXPECTATION was various degrees of TRIBULATION. Acts 14:22, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
1Thessalonians 3:3, “So that no man may be disturbed by these tribulations (thlipsis); for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this.”
3:12, “and indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus, will be persecuted.”
Revelation 1:9, “I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance which are in Jesus.”

Stanton: It is important to note that the writings of a great many early Church leaders demonstrate they did believe that Christ's return might be very soon. In addition to the hope so clearly expressed in the Didache we read in the First Epistle of Clement written about 96 A.D., "Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, 'Speedily will He come, and will not tarry.'" Also, "The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One for whom ye look."

Clement obviously believed that THE TEMPLE would be in place at the time that the Lord would come for His church. Of course, this could only happen when a rebuilt temple would reside in Jerusalem. This does not teach belief in imminence, but belief that at least ONE THING must happen before Christ would return – the presence of a temple in Jerusalem.

Stanton: In the Second Epistle of Clement we read "Let us every hour expect the kingdom of God in love and righteousness, because we know not the day of the Lord's appearing."

At this point I will reproduce two paragraphs from the same document, which by the way is NOT authored by Clement. Let the reader determine what this person has in mind about the appearing of Christ.

12 Loving and doing what is right, we must be on the watch for God's Kingdom hour by hour, since we do not know the day when God will appear. 2For when someone asked the Lord when his Kingdom was going to come, he said, "When the two shall be one, and the outside like the inside, and the male with the female, neither male nor female." 3Now "the two" are "one" when we tell each other the truth and two  bodies harbor a single mind with no deception. 4"The outside like the inside" means this: "the inside" means the soul and "the outside" means the body. Just as your body is visible, so make your soul evident by your good  deeds. 5Furthermore "the male with the female, neither male nor female," means this: that when a brother sees a sister The terms refer, not to family, but to Christian, relations. he should not think of her sex, any more than she should think of his.  6When you do these things, he says, my Father's Kingdom will come.

17 Let us, then, repent with our whole heart, so that none of us will be lost. For if we have been commanded to do this too—to draw men away from idols and instruct them—how much more is it wrong for the soul  which already knows God to perish? 2Consequently we must help one another and bring back those weak in goodness, so that we may all be saved; and convert and admonish one another.3Not only at this moment, while the presbyters are preaching to us, should we appear believing and attentive. But when we have gone home, we should bear in mind the Lord's commands and not be diverted by worldly passions. Rather should we strive to come here more often and advance in the Lord's commands, so that "with a common mind"we may all be gathered together to gain life. 4For the Lord said, "I am coming to gather together all peoples, clans, and tongues." This refers to the day of his appearing, when he will come to redeem us, each according to his deeds. 5And "unbelievers will see his glory" and power, Ibid. and they will be surprised to see the sovereignty of the world given to Jesus, and they will say, "Alas for us, for you really existed, and we neither recognized it nor believed, and we did not obey the presbyters who preached to us our salvation." And "their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched, and they will be a spectacle to all flesh."6He refers to that day of judgment when men will see those who were ungodly among us and who perverted the commands of Jesus Christ. 7But the upright who have done good and patiently endured tortures and hated the pleasures of the soul, when they see those who have done amiss and denied Jesus in word and act being punished with dreadful torments and undying fire, will give "glory to their God" and say, "There is hope for him who has served God with his whole heart."

Stanton: And in the Epistle of Barnabas "The Lord has cut short the times and the days that His Beloved may hasten"; also "The Lord is near, and His reward."

Let the reader evaluate this epistle.
2. Epistle of BARNABAS (Between 70 and 130 AD)

Chapter IV.-Antichrist is at Hand: Let Us Therefore Avoid Jewish Errors.

It therefore behoves us, who inquire much concerning events at hand, to search diligently into those things which are able to save us. Let us then utterly flee from all the works of iniquity, lest these should take hold of us; and let us hate the error of the present time, that we may set our love on the world to come: let us not give loose reins to our soul, that it should have power to run with sinners and the wicked, lest we become like them. The final stumbling-block (or source of danger) approaches, concerning which it is written, as Enoch says, "For for this end the Lord has cut short the times and the days, that His Beloved may hasten; and He will come to the inheritance."

And the prophet also speaks thus: "Ten kingdoms shall reign upon the earth, and a little king shall rise up after them, who shall subdue under one three of the kings. In like manner Daniel says concerning the same, "And I beheld the fourth beast, wicked and powerful, and more savage than all the beasts of the earth, and how from it sprang up ten horns, and out of them a little budding horn, and how it subdued under one three of the great horns." Ye ought therefore to understand. And this also I further beg of you, as being one of you, and loving you both individually and collectively more than my own soul, to take heed now to yourselves, and not to be like some, adding largely to your sins, and saying, "The covenant is both theirs and ours." But they thus finally lost it, after Moses had already received it. For the Scripture saith, "And Moses was fasting in the mount forty days and forty nights, and received the covenant from the Lord, tables of stone written with the finger of the hand of the Lord; " but turning away to idols, they lost it. For the Lord speaks thus to Moses: "Moses go down quickly; for the people whom thou hast brought out of the land of Egypt have transgressed." And Moses understood [the meaning of God], and cast the two tables out of his hands; and their covenant was broken, in order that the covenant of the beloved Jesus might be sealed upon our heart, in the hope which flows from believing in Him. Now, being desirous to write many things to you, not as your teacher, but as becometh one who loves you, I have taken care not to fail to write to you from what I myself possess, with a view to your purification. We take earnest heed in these last days; for the whole [past] time of your faith will profit you nothing, unless now in this wicked time we also withstand coming sources of danger, as becometh the sons of God. That the Black One may find no means of entrance, let us flee from every vanity, let us utterly hate the works of the way of wickedness. Do not, by retiring apart, live a solitary life, as if you were already [fully] justified; but coming together in one place, make common inquiry concerning what tends to your general welfare. For the Scripture saith, "Woe to them who are wise to themselves, and prudent in their own sight!" Let us be spiritually-minded: let us be a perfect temple to God. As much as in us lies, let us meditate upon the fear of God, and let us keep His commandments, that we may rejoice in His ordinances. The Lord will judge the world without respect of persons. Each will receive as he has done: if he is righteous, his righteousness will precede him; if he is wicked, the reward of wickedness is before him. Take heed, lest resting at our ease, as those who are the called [of God], we should fall asleep in our sins, and the wicked prince, acquiring power over us, should thrust us away from the kingdom of the Lord. And all the more attend to this, my brethren, when ye reflect and behold, that after so great signs and wonders were wrought in Israel, they were thus [at length] abandoned. Let us beware lest we be found [fulfilling that saying], as it is written, "Many are called, but few are chosen."

Comment: The warning to the Christians is given in view of a possible arrival of the antichrist who is referenced by the quotes from Daniel.

Stanton: Similarly, Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, refers to "the last times" and exhorts in those times to "expect Him."

He gives no specific reference and this says nothing of imminence or even rapture for that matter.

Stanton: Crippen, in his History of Doctrine declares in summary: "The early Fathers lived in expectation of our Lord's speedy return."

According to the evidence presented here, that is simply just not the truth!

Stanton: The coming of Christ has long been the hope and expectation of great spiritual leaders such as John Wesley (1703-91) . . .

One person says that these men believed such and such, and someone else says they believed the opposite. In reality, it does not matter what they believed.
What matters is what the Scripture teaches. But under this first point of objection to Rosenthal, the issue is the Church Fathers and there is no evidence of a belief in imminence among them.

Stanton: Furthermore, in the Shepherd of Hernias dated about 100-120 A.D., in a vision Hermas was told, "You have escaped from the great tribulation on account of your faith, and because you did not doubt in the presence of the beast... "[16] These quotations demonstrate clearly that the early Church not only looked for Christ and His Kingdom, but also expected His coming to be soon and even before the Tribulation.

“in a vision”? This is not very reliable since such so-called visions ceased with the apostles. Furthermore, this person clearly believed that believers should expect to be here during the persecutions of the beast. Look at a more complete quote.

And she answered. and said to me, "Has nothing crossed your path? "I say, "I was met by a beast of such a size that it could destroy peoples, but through the power of the Lord and His great mercy I escaped from it." "Well did you escape from it," says she, "because you cast your care on God, and opened your heart to the Lord, believing that you can be saved by no other than by His great and glorious name. On this account the Lord has sent His angel, who has rule over the beasts, and whose name is Thegri, and has shut up its mouth, so that it cannot tear you. You have escaped from great tribulation on account of your faith, and because you did not doubt in the presence of such a beast. Go, therefore, and tell the elect of the Lord His mighty deeds, and say to them that this beast is a type of the great tribulation that is coming. If then ye prepare yourselves, and repent with all your heart, and turn to the Lord, it will be possible for you to escape it, if your heart be pure and spotless, and ye spend the rest of the days of your life in serving the Lord blamelessly.

Obviously the word ESCAPE refers to escape from the danger and not removal from the earth. So Hermes’ escape from his beast while still here on earth is given as a type of the possible escape from the “great tribulation that is coming.” And that escape is not by removal from the earth, but through protection while within.

Stanton: While we are not saying that the early Church fathers, or even the Reformers, knew the details of eschatology or were always consistent, it is a monumental error to declare that the concept of imminency was not found in the apostolic Church, but first appeared in the nineteenth century.

Let the reader be the judge if Stanton has provided convincing evidence that the Apostolic Fathers taught imminence or any kind of removal from the earth prior to the great tribulation.
For some more details see  the Church Fathers.

Stanton: (2) Next, Rosenthal declares that the early Church could not believe in imminence because "the gospel had to be preached throughout the world before Christ could return (Acts 1:8)." But we must remember the tremendous missionary impetus of the early Church.

"When the vitality and zeal of Paul and other early converts, with their world-shaking testimony (Acts 17:6), is remembered, together with the size of the then-inhabited world (grown yet smaller by the unifying influence of Roman rule and Roman roads), it must be confessed that world evangelism was a greater possibility in Paul's day than in ours."[17]

This does not answer the question. Regardless of how big the “inhabited world” was at that time, there is still a RESTRICTION placed upon the timing of the second coming. If, for example, it took 30 years or 35 years for the gospel to reach the whole world, that STILL MEANS that the second coming could not occur BEFORE THAT.

Stanton: (3)"Peter was to live to be an old man (Jn.
21:18-19). For the early church, that precluded an any-moment Rapture
." This argument, borrowed from Cameron, is readily answered. Peter himself encouraged believers to look for the coming of the Lord, calling those who did not do so "willingly ignorant" (2 Pet. 4:3-5). He knew that he might die suddenly (2 Pet. 1:14), and Herod had just killed James and seized Peter with the same intention (Acts 12:1-3). Certainly believers expected Peter's early death, for when Rhoda bore the news of his release, they said "Thou art mad," and when he appeared to them "they were astonished"(Acts 12:15-16).
They had no concept that his would be a long life, and as they looked for the Savior hey certainly did not run around asking, "I wonder if Peter is dead yet?" Actually, the passage in question which recorded Christ's conversation with Peter, John 21:18, could not have been a factor in their thinking, for it was not written and sent to the churches until twenty or more years after the death of Peter.

The issue is NOT what other people knew or thought. The issue is what Peter himself understood, and what the fact of Christ’s conversation with Peter actually indicated.

Blow#1 to imminence:
Blow #1
Peter must grow old and die.

John 21:18-19

"Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to {go."} Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me!"

How imminent could the Lord's return be for Peter who was told by Jesus Himself that he would "grow old" and die a martyr's death?

Would Peter be expecting an "any moment" return of Jesus next year, the year after, in five years?

Did Jesus teach that He could come back at any moment and tell Peter at the same time, that he would grow old? I think not.

How can one justify the act of the Holy Spirit, communicating through the apostle John the fact of this "prophecy" that Peter would grow old, and at the same time communicate through others that Jesus could come back "at any moment?"

2 Peter 1:13-15

And I consider it right, as long as I am in this {earthly} dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my {earthly} dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you may be able to call these things to mind.

Here is some imminence for us. Peter had grown old. The year is approximately 67 AD and Peter knows that any day now, he could be captured and led forth to die. What Peter also knows is that Jesus would NOT come back before that happens.

In fact, Peter even mentions the coming of the Lord as he remembers being an eyewitness to His "Majesty" that will be manifested at the Day of the Lord return of Jesus, when He comes "in power and great glory."

But He does not mention imminence. Instead he tells them to keep in mind the basic truths of Christianity that they have learned so that AFTER he dies, they will be able to use them for their own comfort and encouragement as the expectantly look for the "future" coming of Jesus.

No, Peter does not teach imminence in chapter one.

In chapter two, Peter makes it clear that as the church age continues, there WILL ARISE false teachers who will introduce destructive heresies.

Yes, there will continue to be an advance of evil just as Paul said, "evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived," (2 Tim. 3:13). And through it all, Peter reminds them that God knows how to deliver the godly from temptation and encourages them to remember the words spoken previously by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles," (2 Pet. 3:2).

Peter does not teach imminence in chapter two. How could he? He was never taught imminence by Jesus.

In chapter three, Peter says an astonishing thing. He says that there will come a time that can be designated as "the last days." Days considerably distant from the initial promise given by Jesus and repeated by the apostles, that Jesus was coming back. Thus, as "time" has gone by, the mockers will be motivated to say, "where is the promise of His coming?" Yes, so much time will have gone by that the mockers will have a "hay day" of ridicule concerning the promise of Christ's return. So Peter reminds them that God's time table is not based on man's perceptions of days and years. He says that God is not "slow" as man views slowness, but that He is actually "patient," waiting so that mankind might have a maximum amount of time to come to a change of mind.

And then he repeats the well known warning, "the day of the Lord will come like a thief" to indicate that many will be unprepared for its arrival and the return of Jesus.

The phrase, "come like a thief," occurs only 5 times and always refers to the return of Jesus at the arrival of the Day of the Lord (1Thes. 5:2, 4; 2Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3; Rev. 16:15). The use of this term originated based on the parable Jesus taught at Matt. 24:43-44

"But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. "For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect it."

This exhortation and warning follows upon His teaching that when you see the "signs" of the great tribulation, you will know that His coming is right at the door, just like we know that summer is near when we see leaves on the trees (Luke 21:29).

But He immediately tells us that no one knows the day or hour of His coming. In other words, we can know the "season" of His coming, when He will be "right at the door," but we cannot know the exact day of His coming. Thus the exhortation for watchfulness so we might be prepared when God brings that arrival of Jesus "in His own timing" (1 Tim. 6:15).

Jesus did not teach imminence here. He taught that the events of the tribulation would precede His coming and that once those events transpire, we should know that He is right at the door and we should "be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming," (Mat. 24:42).

But our watchfulness should not be out of fear or sorrow, but out of great joy and expectation, knowing that at His arrival He will take us to Himself so that then we shall ever be with the Lord. That is why Paul calls this "the blessed hope" (Lit: the HAPPY confidence, Titus 2:13)).

He will come like a thief, only to those who are unprepared. But for the believer, walking in fellowship with God (walking in the light) they "are not in darkness that the day should overtake you like a thief," (1 Thes. 5:5). Accordingly, Paul immediately follows that up with an exhortation to all believers including himself, to "not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and balanced," (2 Thes. 5:6).

The exhortation then is to watchfulness and preparedness, not in view of an "any moment" coming of Jesus, but in view of the DANGER of not being ready when "the signs" come on the scene.

All the words used to encourage our watchfulness communicate the attitude of "expectation" and the strong emotion of longing, in view of His promised arrival, not in view of an "any moment" arrival.

No, Jesus did not teach imminence at Matthew 24. Instead, He taught that specific events had to occur first. Peter knew and understood this. And he even knew that the Lord would not come during his lifetime.

Thus, he exhorts the recipients of his letter, to be diligent to maintain holy conduct and godliness (2 Pet. 3:11) and to be found in Him, in peace, spotless and blameless," (v.14) so that just like John warns, "we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming," (1 John 2:28).

2Pet. 3:17-18

You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him {be} the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Peter did not teach imminence in chapter three. He taught the need for growth, preparation and watchfulness,

"looking for and promoting the coming of the day of God,"
(2Peter 3:12, BFT).

Stanton: (4)"The Temple was to be destroyed before Christ returned (Mt. 24:1-3). For he early church, that precluded an any-moment Rapture." But in this passage, Christ was not discussing the Rapture or the Church age, for the Spirit had not yet come nor had the Church been established. He was teaching about the Inter-advent Age, that period between the first and the second coming of the King, and the affairs that concerned Israel. He predicted the destruction of the Temple, a fact accomplished in 70 A.D. under the Roman, Titus. But there is nothing in this prophecy which relates the destruction of the Temple to the timing of the Rapture, nor vaguely suggests that it must happen first.

The prediction of a future destruction of Jerusalem denies the doctrine of imminence (Luke 21:8-24).


Having recognized the 30-70 AD time context of Luke 21:12-19, it should be clear that Jesus picks up at verses 20-24 with the siege of Jerusalem by the armies of Rome. This event actually becomes the point of contact and overlap between AD 70 and the future oppression of the beast during the great tribulation. However, that point of contact and overlap is NOT chronological

And once again, we must be very careful in recognizing the precision in the words of Jesus to distinguish between these two events, and at the same time realize that He used similarity of language to describe both. Luke 21:20-22,

Now when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart, and those who are in the country, do not enter it; because these are days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled.

All things fulfilled does not refer to the "entire" plan of God for Jerusalem, but specifically, that which involves a world-wide dispersion. A world-wide dispersion is not what happens in the yet future oppression by the beast, nor what happens when the nations surround Jerusalem during the Armageddon campaign (Zechariah 12:1-5).

This prophecy of Jesus specifically fulfills OT passages that deal with the destruction of the city and the dispersion of the people. Leviticus 26:27; Deuteronomy 28:49-68

It deals with the national discipline that God will administer upon the Jewish people because of the rejection of their Messiah. Matthew 21:33-46; 23:37-39

That is why the term "days of vengeance" is used at Luke 21:22.

Luke 21:23-24,

Woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babies in those days; for there will be great calamity upon the land, and wrath to THIS people, and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

This is exactly what Gabriel communicated to Daniel in the famous "70 weeks" prophecy. Daniel 9:26,

(And after the 62 weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing,) And the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; and to the end there will be war; (it is) a decree of desolations.

The Roman army under Titus besieged the city in 70 AD on the 14th of the month Nisan until its fall, 134 days later on the 8th of Elul. This was prophesied by Daniel as taking place after the cutting off of Messiah. The cutting off of Messiah must be understood from the context of Isaiah 53:8 -

He was cut off from the land of the living,
for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due.

This of course refers to the provision of salvation through the sin sacrifice of the Messiah, the details of which do not come under the scope of this work.

The "prince who is to come" is the little horn of Daniel 7:7-22 and refers to the future dictator of a ten-nation confederacy with its political roots in ancient Rome. This man will make a 7 year covenant of peace and religious toleration (M.E.P.T.A.) with the peoples of Palestine (the many) and will then break it 3 1/2 years later (Daniel 9:27). But the people of that "end times" prince refers to the Romans, who in 70 AD destroyed the city and the sanctuary; the people from whom this prince descended, not to those who are associated with him when he comes on the scene.

Then after 70 AD, until the end (end times) there will be war, just as Jesus said at Matthew 24:6, and a decree of desolations which includes the famines and earthquakes of Matthew 24:7.

And the plagues mentioned at Luke 21:11.

It should be clear that there could not be any "any moment" rapture because this prophecy about the fall of Jerusalem had to take place first. And although the disciples did not know the year of that destruction, they certainly could understand that Jesus was not coming back first. However, we should understand that they were probably unaware of the details of His coming, even though He taught so extensively on it, simply because it needed clarification and the ministry of the Spirit to "bring to remembrance" what they had been taught (John 16:12). And although Jesus gave them the "empowering" of the Spirit before His ascension (20:22; Luke 24:45), it still did not provide them with the orientation they needed, for they ask the question of Acts 1:6,

"Lord, is it as this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?"

Still disoriented, Jesus told them again (John 17:18) that they were to minister throughout the world and not be concerned about the times and the seasons (Acts 1:7-8). The time of the end would come according to the Father's own authority and they should concentrate now on servicing the "remotest part of the earth."

The expectation of the early church, prior to the fall of Jerusalem, concerned the events surrounding that fall and the events that would follow it. The events that Jesus described at Luke 21:12-24 had to occur before the fall of Jerusalem, and they could and indeed, would take place from the very beginning after the formal arrival of the Spirit at the Day of Pentecost. Accordingly, the fall of Jerusalem, which would be portended by the city being surrounded by armies, could happen any time after the persecution activity began. Furthermore, there is no specific time period allotted to the time after the fall of Jerusalem, so that technically, the Lord could return during that time. In other words, the "signs of summer," which are the events of the tribulation, could happen at any time after the fall of Jerusalem, but NOT prior to that fall. The Day of the Lord arrival of Jesus then, was NOT imminent before the fall of Jerusalem.

And as we have seen, His return could not be imminent after the fall of Jerusalem UNTIL the birth process characterized by BOTH the beginning birth pains and the final birth pains (tribulation) begins.

Stanton: (5)"Antichrist will make a covenant with Israel to protect her for seven years" (Dan. 9:27). From 70 A.D. to May 14, 1948 "no Jewish nation or representative government existed .... An any- moment Rapture, therefore, was not possible before the modern state of Israel was resurrected out of the ashes of the Second World War."

Now this may sound plausible until it is more fully considered. The prophecy does not say that the covenant will be made with the nation, Israel, but simply with "many." Nor can we assume that Daniel's prophecy, "shut up and sealed. .. to the time of the end" (Dan. 12:4) was known and sufficiently understood by early Christians to cause them to look for the reestablishment of Israel prior to the coming of the Lord. It is obvious that they did not. In addition, Daniel was writing concerning the coming Antichrist and a covenant to be made during the last of the "seventy weeks." Since the catching up of the Church occurs before the seventieth week, an event which takes place during the Tribulation has absolutely no bearing on the timing of the Rapture.

It is not a question whether we now understand this ancient prophecy, especially in the light of the book of Revelation. The question is whether that prophecy was so clearly understood that it destroyed the hope and expectation of the Church throughout the centuries. It is obvious that it did not, just as so many of us looked for the Lord from heaven many years before Israel became a nation n 1948. If Daniel's prophecy did not destroy our daily looking for Christ's coming during our own lifetime, why should it have destroyed hope and expectation in any lifetime? Can it be that Rosenthal's argument is simply a straw man set up in an attempt to protect an erroneous eschatology?

Israel must be restored as a nation for Daniel 9:27 to be fulfilled. It is not a straw man argument. And just because a few disoriented Christians expected Christ’s coming in their own lifetime, and prior to the fulfillment of this Biblical prophecy, does not validate the theory of imminence.

Of course, this is predicated on the view that accepts Daniel 9:27 as referring to a covenant of peace with the nation of Israel that allows her to engage in her ancient sacrifices and tabernacle worship.

Based on Daniel 9:27 and the prophet's words, "He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week," pretribulationists have historically and continuously insisted that the Antichrist will make a covenant with Israel to protect her for seven years (the seventieth week of the Book of Daniel). It is that event which triggers what is commonly referred to as the Tribulation Period. But from the defeat of the Jewish nation in A.D. 70 until the emergence of the modern State on May 14, 1948, no Jewish nation or representative government existed. Hal Lindsey has written:

"The events leading up to the coming of the Messiah Jesus are strewn throughout the Old and New Testament prophets like pieces of a great jigsaw puzzle. The key piece of the puzzle which was missing until our time was that Israel had to be back in her ancient homeland, reestablished as a nation. When this occurred in May 1948, the whole prophetic scenario began to fall together with dizzying speed."

It would have been impossible for the Antichrist to sign a covenant of protection with a non-existent nation. An any-moment Rapture, therefore, was not possible before the modern State of Israel was resurrected out of the ashes of the Second World War. Israel could have become a nation during any generation -- but the Rapture could not have preceded that event.

Stanton: We must conclude that imminency and Pretribulationism are intimately related, for the first is part of the evidence for the second. The difference is primarily a matter of focus. The word Pretribulational focuses on the fact that the true Church of Jesus Christ will be caught up to the Father's House before the "time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer. 30:7), before the "great day of God's wrath" (Rev. 6:16-17). <

Yes, they are intimately related and both fail the test of Scripture and are shown to be erroneous. Stanton has failed like all pretribulationists, to separate the wrath of God from the time of tribulation. They are not the same. But this has all been discussed above.


Questions and comments are always welcome

Return to BIBLE FRAGRANCES index



©Ron Wallace, Anyone is free to reproduce this material and distribute it,
but it may not be sold under any circumstances whatsoever without the author's consent.


Home | Recent Additions | Studies | Commentary


Prophecy | Articles | Topical | About Us