Video Update: Tom Black speaking on the subject of imminence at Liberty Baptist Church, Rock Falls, Illinois Pastor Tommy McMurtry
Before we examine the teaching of “imminence,” I’d like to remind the reader that I love the Lord Jesus Christ and that these words are written to glorify him. I’m grateful for my heritage in Christ and the scores of preachers who’ve invested in my life. I’m grateful for the First Baptist Church of Hammond and Hyles-Anderson College for their labor in the highways and hedges compelling the Tom Blacks of the world to come to Christ. I’m grateful the 10 years I was under the preaching of Brother Jack Hyles.
I’m especially grateful for Matthew Burklund, an HAC graduate and Spirit-filled soul-winner, who knocked on my door to share the gospel of Christ with me. Brother Matt challenged me to read the Bible cover to cover which was a life changing experience. He then taught me to be a soul-winner while patiently helping me to overcome the strongholds in my life. Before his discipleship, I’d never read any scripture, sang a hymn, had a friend in Christ, and was incapable of being the husband of one wife, having faithful children. Thank you, Brother Matt.
Now I ask you the reader to take a moment to ask God for Holy Spirit discernment. Also, take a moment in humility to assess your understanding and/or unfamiliarity with the book of Revelation and Bible prophecy. I’d like to ask for a measure of grace as you carefully consider words that were prayerfully written. Although I was unsuccessful in my goal to keep this chapter brief, it’s my prayer that you not bail out before you get through the meat of the matter.
Addressing Doctrinal Pride
Titus 2:1 But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine:
It is noteworthy to mention that it’s been a challenge to engage in edifying discussions on Bible prophecy with Fundamental Baptists. Concerning prophecy, Baptist preachers exhibit an unteachable spirit considering their views to be a case-closed matter even though these same men are incapable of answering basic questions on the book of Revelation. For some reason in the Baptist church, it’s become acceptable to neglect a significant portion of the counsel of God while maintaining a confidence that our Baptist doctrine is infallible.
Acts 20:27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
When I came to Christ, I quickly embraced every Fundamental Baptist doctrine. I once dismissed the only post-trib Hyles-Anderson student I’d ever met by asking him, “How could Brother Hyles and dozens of other men of God be wrong? And who are you?” His reply was simply an admonition to use the Bible to support my position and not point to men as my authority. That 20 year stumbling block is now the common quip directed at me while authors such as John R. Rice, Ironside, Oliver B. Greene, Walvoord, Dwight Pentecost, and worse, are frequently cited as trustworthy authorities on Bible prophecy whereas my scriptural admonitions are deemed unworthy of consideration. The significant errors in the writings of these men are examined in another chapter.
Even in my years as a confident, imminent, pre-trib believer, I could not reconcile imminence with the fact that the gospel had to be published among all nations before the return of Christ. My thought was that I lacked the Bible knowledge to clear up this apparent conflict.
1 Timothy 5:1 Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren;
Brethren, the Independent Fundamental Baptist doctrine referred to as the “Imminent Return of Christ” is contrary to scripture and cannot be true. Jesus Christ is coming again. However, the men who teach that he’s coming “suddenly at any moment,” have not examined the scriptures carefully. Again, many of God’s men who labor to bear fruit for God’s kingdom believe this to be true, but their position is that of a novice and one of ignorance.
Also, this doctrine of imminence is a pillar required to support the interrelated view called the pre-tribulaton rapture. Without imminence, the pre-trib view becomes impossible. These two teachings in reality add up to an implausible theory as opposed to sound doctrine because they’re are full of contradictions and chronological mistakes. Can sound doctrine have any conflicts with scripture? It cannot. Unfortunately, we’ve all been guilty of repeating what we’ve been taught, contradictions and all. God’s men need to prove their doctrine with prayer while searching the scriptures daily and rightly dividing the word of truth.
Because the word “imminent” is an extra-biblical term, we cannot use scripture to define the word or examine its first use in context, so we’ll have to use a dictionary to get a definition. This should be a red-flag to a preacher or Bible student.
American Heritage Dictionary – Imminent: About to occur; impending.
And of course Imminence – the quality or condition of being about to occur.
Fundamental Baptist Doctrine – Imminent Return of Christ: Jesus Christ can come suddenly at any moment to without any condition or prophecy needing to be fulfilled beforehand.
Yes – Jesus is Coming Again
Revelation 1:7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
The book of Revelation opens and closes with its theme, which is the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, Jesus Christ, who cannot lie, cannot appear suddenly to gather his elect because he is bound by his word. There are oft-quoted scriptures which at first glance appear to support an imminent return of Christ. However, imminence collapses upon careful examination of each verse in every case.
The Best So-Called Proofs for Imminence
Space does not allow this chapter to be an exhaustive debunking of imminence but we will look at the most frequently cited verses as “evidence” for imminence.
Proof #1. The Time is at Hand
“The time is at hand” is a popular choice to defend imminence. This phrase is found in many places in scripture and simply means “near.” It does not mean “suddenly, at any moment, without condition.”
Jeremiah 23:23 Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off?
Applying imminence to the verse above would be unfitting, whereas “not afar off,” which is defined by scripture, makes perfect sense.
Joel 2:1 Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand;
Again we see that “nigh” and “at hand” as being synonymous. When Joel prophesied about the coming day of the LORD, he was saying that it was near, not that it was imminent. Obviously many things including the birth of Christ had to happen first.
Luke 21:30 When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand.
Again we see in the New Testament that “nigh” and “at hand” does mean “any moment.”
Proof #2. A Thief in the Night
Another very popular choice to use for proof of imminence is to say “Jesus is coming as a thief in the night” which is found in 1st Thessalonians 5:2.
1 Thessalonians 5:2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
Does Jesus Christ’s coming as a thief in the night mean he could come at any moment? Who does the “thief in the night” phrase apply to?
I’ve had this particular verse quoted or paraphrased to me probably more than any other verse when this topic is discussed. My response is always to ask, “Do you know where the exact phrase ‘thief in the night’ is found?” After they’re reminded where the verse is found, I read Paul’s explanation which occurs two verses later.
1 Thessalonians 5:4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
Paul explains that Christ comes “as a thief in the night” only to those in darkness which are the unsaved. Jesus Christ will not come as a thief to believers because we are not in darkness. Furthermore, “thief in the night” does mean any moment.
Again brethren, this study is not written with haughtiness. These words are written to admonish those of us who have mistakenly quoted verses out of context to find out what the scriptures are actually teaching regarding this matter.
Proof #3. Looking for that Blessed Hope
The book of Titus is also use to defend the “any moment” doctrine.
Titus 2:13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;
Recently as I attempted to share scriptures that contradict an imminent return of Christ with a pastor. Regardless of the passage, he repeatedly told me that he’s, “not looking for the tribulation or the antichrist but looking for the blessed hope.” This was his only defense.
I responded by simply stating that, “My children are looking forward to Christmas which doesn’t mean Christmas is imminent. They’re not looking for the godless celebration of Halloween, even though Halloween must come before Christmas.” Just because we’re admonished to look for our “blessed hope,” the persecution that has been prophesied will absolutely happen before the appearing of our Lord.
Jesus Christ also told us to watch. His admonishment does not eliminate prophetic events that lead up to his coming. Believers will endure extreme persecution during the time of trouble for his “name’s sake,” but Jesus reminds that subsequent to these times, our “redemption draweth nigh.”
Luke 21:12 But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake.
Luke 21:28 And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.
Recently I endured listening to a popular pre-trib conference speaker. He quoted Timothy as a warning to his audience to dismiss alternative views.
2 Timothy 4:8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
He went on to say that, “a crown of righteousness is only for those that love his appearing.” And, “Those who believe Jesus is coming after the tribulation do not love his appearing, since they’re watching for the antichrist.” This is simply an audacious accusation against believers who reject his shallow view. His material is absolutely full of unscriptural errors which perhaps will earn him space in another chapter.
Proof #4. No Man Knoweth the Hour
One of the most frequently quoted verses to support the “any moment rapture” concept is Matthew 24:36.
Matthew 24:36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
The overconfident pre-tribber usually paraphrases “no man knoweth the hour” right along with their “thief in the night” proof.
The careful observer recognizes that again this verse does not teach that this day can come at any moment and that no prophesied event is needed beforehand. It simply teaches that we cannot know the day or the hour, which is not equivalent to imminence. Again this is important to acknowledge.
Revelation 3:11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
Coming quickly is not synonymous with imminence.
Proof # 6
Acts 1:7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.
Nothing in Acts 1:7 teaches that Jesus can come any moment yet this verse is likewise referred to as supporting an imminent return.
There are many more verses used to teach imminence yet every verse in its context teaches otherwise. Understanding what these passages teach is very important because so much doctrine is built upon the sandy foundation of a sudden, imminent, any moment, return of Christ, yet not one verse in the Bible teaches this concept.
Digging Deeper – Don’t Miss This
Although Matthew 24:36 is quoted frequently as proof for imminence, upon careful examination, imminence is actually disproven decisively.
36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. 37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
Verse 37 confirms the “day” in verse 36 to be the “coming of the Son of man” which occurs after the tribulation (Matt. 24:29-31) when Jesus Christ comes in the clouds and then sends his angels to gather his elect. It’s almost comical that the imminent, pre-trib advocates use this verse to support their view, but in its context does irrevocable damage to their doctrine.
Matthew chapter 24 is full of chronological phrases which are of great benefit to the prophecy student. Although it is not possible to know the day or hour of any future event, the Bible student can know with certainty when many prophetic events occur chronologically. This in an important biblical principle. The doctrine of imminence has brought much confusion to this biblical principle.
Imminence’s Embarrassing Paradox
Matthew 24:29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Because the gathering of the saints (verse 31) is clearly after the tribulation, it has also been attacked by the same imminence advocates by claiming it is the battle of Armageddon exhibiting double-mindedness. In one breath they quote “But of that day and hour knoweth no man” as proof that the gathering of God’s elect is imminent. In another breath they’ll insist Matthew 24:31 is not the rapture but is the battle of Armageddon.
The word elect has also been a point of attack which is addressed in another chapter.
Matthew 24:30 is not the battle of Armageddon. Armageddon has no sun and moon being darkened, no clouds, no trumpet, no gathering of the saints, but rather an army from heaven on white horses with Jesus Christ are going forth to conquer. This is an example of forcing scripture to fit your doctrine. They have no choice but to do this because the alternative is to accept Matthew 24:30 as lining up with 1st Thessalonians 4:15-17, which it does perfectly.
You Need to Know This
It’s worth reiterating the sequence in Matthew and 1st Thessalonians for clarification. In Matthew 24:29-31, after the tribulation, the sun and the moon are darkened directly before:
- Jesus Christ is coming
- In the clouds
- With the sound of a trumpet
- To gather his saints.
Compare to 1st Thess. 4:15-17 where the exact sequence takes place:
- Jesus Christ is coming
- In the clouds
- With the sound of a trumpet
- To gather his saints.
Imminence proponents refuse to accept these two passages as being parallel passages so they in effect teach that there are two separate comings in the clouds, two separate trumpets and two separate gatherings of the saints. Double-minded indeed. Every false doctrine is revealed to be absurd when the word of God is used to prove them.
Furthermore, we know there cannot be more than one “last trump” as stated in 1st Corinthians 15:52.
1st Corinthians 15:52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
I’ve asked several Baptist preachers specifically about this conflict and none of them would or could address the matter. For more on this see the chapter on Jesus is Coming.
A Short List to Refute Imminence
Consider these events which are prophesied to happen before Jesus returns:
- Temple destroyed (Fulfilled 40 years later – Luke 21:6)
- A falling away (2 Thess 2:3)
- Temple to be rebuilt (Future event – 2nd Thess. 2:4)
- The abomination of desolation (2nd Thess. 2:4)
- Many shall come in Jesus’ name (Luke 21:8)
- Wars and rumors of wars (Mark 13:7)
- Earthquakes, famines, and pestilences (Matthew 24:7)
- The brother shall betray the brother to death (Mark 13:12)
- Believers will delivered to synagogues to be beaten (Mark 13:9, Rev. 2:9, 3:9)
- False prophets shall rise (Matthew 24:11)
- The gospel must first be published among all nations (Mark 13:10)
- Paul would survive shipwreck and be brought before Caesar (Acts 27:23,24 )
- Peter’s death in old age (John 21:18,19)
- John to testify before many nations (Revelation 10:11)
- The sun and the moon will be darkened (Matt 24:29, Rev. 6:13)
Of course this list is far from comprehensive. More arguments can be made such as the need for technological advances in publishing and communications. Also this thought just occurred to me as I write these words. Paul could not have supported imminence in his writings because John wrote the book of Revelation about 30 years after Paul’s death. Christ could not return before the book of Revelation was written! Many more scenarios could be considered.
Imminence Put to Rest Permanently
We cannot look at every scripture in the list above, so let’s carefully examine one passage which completely eliminates the possibility of an imminent return of Christ and put this matter to rest. Paul explicitly informs the Thessalonians that two events are required to happen before the “coming or our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering unto him.” Read the following verses carefully.
2 Thessalonians 2:1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, 2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. 3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
Verse 1 teaches us that the coming of the Lord and our gathering unto him are part of the SAME event taking place on the SAME day. Deceived mean and liars try to teach otherwise. Do not believe them, believe the word of God. The word “beseech” implores the brethren to take heed.
Notice the Bible word “gathering” is used and not the popular word “rapture” which prophecy parrots love to use, but is not found in scripture. The word “rapture” has been adopted from the Latin Vulgate and should be avoided as this rapture word is almost always associated with unscriptural views. Paul and Jesus Christ used the word “gathering” in association with the Lord’s return (Matt. 13:30, 24:31, Mark 13:27, 2 Thess. 2:1) let us do likewise. It is the wise approach to use biblical words to express our doctrine.
Verse 2 continues pleading with the Thessalonians not to be shaken in mind or troubled as that the day of Christ is at hand. Paul simply says in our modern vernacular, “Don’t be worried because the day of Christ cannot happen yet.” Read the verse again if you think Paul is saying something else. He then goes on to explain why in the next verse.
Verse 3 is plain as plain can be. Paul says, “Let no man deceive you by any means.” That means don’t let Scofield and his dispensational lies deceive you by any means. Don’t let a godless Hollywood movie like “Left Behind” deceive you by any means. Don’t let KJV hating pseudo scholars deceive you by any means. Don’t even let a beloved Fundamental Baptist preacher deceive you by any means.
Paul explains that there are two things which must happen “first” before the coming of the Lord, before our gathering unto him, before the day of Christ. What are these two things?
- A falling away
- The man of sin is revealed
A “falling away” is a spiritual apostasy or by Strong’s definition, “a defection from truth.” It is not the so-called rapture. That is a lie, don’t believe it. I’m embarrassed that some of my brethren believe this “falling away” is synonymous with being “caught up.” God’s elect do not “fall away” into the clouds as I’ve seen in illustrations made by false teachers. This is a classic case of forcing scripture into a preconceived view while ignoring what the scriptures actually teach. Consider the oddness of this interpretation which basically says that the rapture cannot happen until the rapture happens first. Many believers are willing to embrace this is irrationality in an effort to maintain their pre-trib view.
The Greek word “apostasia” which is translated “falling away” does not mean gathering via physical departure. Consider two verses which use the phrase “fall away” neither of which refer to a rapture, or being “caught up,” or gathered unto Christ but do in fact refer to apostasy.
Luke 8:13 They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.
Did these folks fall into the clouds with Jesus? Of course not. This “falling away” is an apostasy. Again in the book of Hebrews, we see a spiritual falling away, not a physical departure.
Hebrews 6:6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
Now notice in Acts where the exact same Greek word “apostasia” is translated “to forsake.”
Acts 21:21 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.
To forsake Moses is to reject the law, or “fall away,” which is spiritual apostasy and not some convoluted rapture.
Getting back to 2nd Thessalonians:
2 Thessalonians 2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
Now let’s look at the second event that must happen before the day of Christ, and that is that the man of sin will be revealed. Paul continues in verse 4.
2 Thessalonians 2:4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
Verse 4: We know that this blasphemous event will reveal the identity of antichrist to believers that will be living at this time. Of course a temple will have to be built prior to this abomination. The Bible student knows this event takes place midway through the seven year period known as Daniel’s 70th week. The honest man of God has to acknowledge that the imminent, pre-trib view teaches that Jesus Christ has come already to “rapture” the church before this event known as the abomination of desolation in contradiction to the plain teaching of this passage.
The Abomination of Desolation
Jesus Christ specifically refers to this event as being significant while admonishing the reader to understand. Of course the abomination of desolation in Matthew 24:15 happens chronologically before the return of Christ in alignment with Paul’s teaching to the Thessalonians.
Matthew 24:15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
This verse should serve as motivation to read Daniel chapters 8 and 9, while earnestly praying for understanding.
Daniel 9:27 And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
Here Gabriel is explaining the vision given to Daniel in chapter 8. Notice that the abomination of desolation takes place in the midst of Daniel’s 70th week. This coincides with Revelation 12:7-9 when Satan is cast out of heaven and gives power to the beast for 42 months (remaining half of 7 years). At this time, the persecution and martyrdom of believers will exceed anything seen since the beginning of the world.
The mere existence of a “Temple Committee” and a modern state of Israel is a clue that a Temple could be built in our lifetime leading to the abomination of desolation. Consider the following verses where believers are persecuted and killed by the man of sin after this event.
Daniel 7:21 I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them;
Daniel 7:25 And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.
Revelation 12:11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
Revelation 13:7 And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
Matthew 24:21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
Mark 13:20 And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days.
In these verses Christians are called saints. The word Christian(s) is popular today but used just three times in scripture, whereas saint(s) is found about 100 times. These people are Christians, or God’s elect, or the saints, and are not Christ rejecting Jews as dispensationalists and pretribbers teach (see the chapter on The Outward Jew).
Matthew 24:9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
Here we see Bible-believing Christians suffering persecution which escalates to “great tribulation” after the abomination of desolation occurs.
Pre-trib proponents cannot adequately identify these believers that are overcome by the man of sin. If a secret “rapture” supposedly already happened leaving only lost people behind, they’re forced to conclude that the greatest revivals in history will take place during the tribulation. However, there is no scriptural support for this teaching. We do know that there will be lying wonders and a strong delusion that would deceive the elect if it were possible (Matt. 24:24, 2 Thess. 2:9-11). But pretribbers have to get a lot of people saved after their rapture to reconcile their doctrine with Revelation 7:9-13.
Revelation 7:9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;
Revelation 7:13 And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
The scriptures are consistent in every prophetic passage throughout the Bible. We know there are prophecies which must be fulfilled before the return of Christ. The abomination of desolation is just one, but this key prophecy will help believers know that the man of sin is a fraud.
The more I study Revelation the more I’m saddened that God’s men are not warning their flocks of things to come. Baptist preachers imply that the events beyond Revelation chapter 4 cannot apply to us and use the imminence doctrine as proof. This teaching is false.
Jesus warned his disciples to “Take heed lest any man deceive you” also warning them “whoso readeth, let him understand” and lastly he warned not just his Jewish disciples, but everyone to watch.
Mark 13:37 And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.