So far in the “A Look at the Rapture” series, we’ve introduced the subject, laid out the basic differences between the Pre-Tribulational rapture view and the Pre-Wrath rapture view, walked through Matthew 24, and we took a look at the differences between the 70th Week of Daniel, the Tribulation, and the Day of the Lord.
In this installment, it’s my intention to address the question of imminence.
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:36-39
This passage certainly leaves the impression that the Lord will return at a moment no one suspects to gather His elect. It is a key passage in the Pre-Tribulational view. No other single aspect of Pre-Tribulationalism has as firm of a grip on the people who hold to the Pre-Trib view as does the doctrine of imminence. The fallacy of equivocation, which we discussed in part 3, often comes up because it is necessary to the Pre-Tribulational understanding of imminence.
So just what is imminence? The Pre-Tribulational view of imminence is the teaching that Jesus could (and will) return to gather His church at any moment, with no advanced notice, and no signs necessary for it to happen. They essentially teach that, following Pentecost, there are no more prophecies that must be fulfilled before Christ can return to gather the Elect. The word “imminent” could mean that something is certain to happen, it’s only a matter of time. We speak of imminence in our daily lives in this manner often. For example, at the time of this writing, there have been tensions in Ukraine for a few months between the pro-western Ukrainians that live mainly in the western part of that country, and the pro-Russian Ukrainians that live mainly in the east. It seems that a civil war, or even a Russian invasion, are imminent. Pre-Tribulationists use this very meaning of imminent, be the certainty of Christ’s return is assured, not just assumed, as in the case of war in Ukraine.
Another way of looking at imminence is simply to say that something is certain to happen, and we know when it will happen. Independence Day, 2014 is imminent. We not only know it’s coming, we know it’s a week from Friday. The midterm elections are also imminent. They will happen on November 4th, 2014. Knowing the day does not make it any less imminent than the imminence of the next major California earthquake.
Along the lines of the second understanding of imminence, there is the case of knowing something will happen, and knowing generally when it will happen, but not knowing exactly when it will happen. In Minnesota, the first major freeze is generally in October or November. We don’t know exactly when it will happen, it could be mid-October to as late as the end of November, but we can be certain it will happen. If I don’t get the water in my irrigation system blown out before it happens, I can be certain I’ll be digging up busted pipe the following spring if I wish to water my lawn again. My dad, who blows out irrigation systems in the fall for extra cash, generally comes over sometime in the second week of October to do it for me.
It is this latter understanding of imminence that Pre-Wrathers look to in our understanding of the timing of the return of Christ. Having looked at Matthew 24, we’ve already dealt with this to some degree. Also, looking above to the quote of vs. 36-39, it would be the Pre-Wrath view that we do know the season of the Lord’s return to gather His elect (like we know the season of the first hard freeze in Minnesota), we just don’t know the day or hour.