A letter from Eric to A. Christian, defending the 'at hand' imminence of Christ’s return, also explaining the rapture in these 'end times'.
by Eric Wilson
After searching the scriptures, there can be no doubt the doctrine of imminence – that the day of the Lord is ‘at hand’ - is perfectly sound. Yet this cannot be taken to mean the church will be caught up with the Lord prior to the ‘great tribulation’ predicted by Jesus, as some have taught; for Scripture seems adverse to 'rapture' doctrines incongruous with the pattern of the Passover.
This is no secret and of course no end-time prophesy of scripture is open to private interpretations (2 Per 1:19-20). So may I start my reply with a correction to your quotation of 2 Thes 2:1-4, which actually reads:
“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” (NKJV)
Thus Paul is not contradicting imminence but rather saying the day of the Lord has not happened yet - reassuring the Thessalonians they have not missed the boat! The KJV's present-tense rendering that the Lord isn't 'at hand' is literally 'is come' in the Greek. But the doctrine of immanency is only that his coming is 'at hand', not that it 'is come' already. Moreover, Paul explicitly states "The Lord is at hand." in Philippians 4:5 and so too does James:
Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.
- James 5:8
Peter also exhorts immanency:
But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.
- 1 Pet 4:7
And so does the John in the closing verses of his Revelation of Jesus Christ:
“And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.” - Rev 22:10
Therefore the antichrist is also subject to this 'last hour' imminence, as the John writes:
"Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time." - 1 John 2:18
Without question then, a parable of Christ's coming should be interpreted in the light of the apostles' explicit doctrine. Accordingly, the bridegroom who tarried in Matthew 25, seems to have done so in an imminent present tense, with the Greek literally reading: "But the bridegroom delaying, all slumbered and slept".
So he was not delayed but was himself delaying, since the coming of the Lord is 'at hand', as Peter, James, John and Paul all agree. Mark's gospel also quotes Jesus emphasising immanence in His end-time discourse:
"Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch." - Mark 13:35-37
Concerning your point about Jesus predicting that the Gospel would be proclaimed throughout the world before the end (Matthew 24), this too has been imminent since the time of Paul, as he wrote to the Romans:
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world." - Rom 10:17-18
Of course Peter preached heaven must receive Christ "until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began." (Acts 3:21)
This subject is worthy of detailed discussion but presently it should be noted prophets of scripture repeatedly proclaimed imminence:
"For the day of the LORD is near upon all the heathen: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head.” - Oba 1:15
“The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly... "Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the LORD, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.” - Zep 1:14, 3:8
“Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.” - Joel 3:14
Fulfilling the prophet Joel, the imminence of Christ was declared on the Day of Pentecost, with the outpouring of the Spirit ushering the world into 'the last days' period:
“For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:”
- Acts 2:14-17
Finally, Christ Himself tells us He's coming quickly four times in John's Revelation of Jesus Christ, with Jesus' last words in the Bible being:
"Surely I come quickly." - Rev 22:20
So the doctrine of imminence is the clear teaching of the apostles, prophets of scripture and of Christ himself. Yet here we still are, almost 2000 years later. How could this be? The whole mass of humanity hangs on a slender thread of grace, as Peter says:
“But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” - 2 Pet 3:8-10
And the apostle was not just making this up either, for in the Psalms it is written:
“Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth. For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled.” - Psa 90:3-7
This means the doctrine of imminence is not undermined by the Lord's delaying but rather reinforced so that now His return is more imminent than ever. Therefore the apostle goes on to say we should so live according to his imminent coming again:
“Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness”.
- 2 Pet 3:11-13
So as time (from our human perspective) passes, the imminence of Christ only increases, spurring us on to good works, as the Paul explains:
“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” - Rom 13:10-12
Yet this doctrine of imminent living does not appear to support the idea that we will be caught up with the Lord before the great tribulation. Indeed, Barnabas (one of the apostles) with a half-dead Paul taught the people "Through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22); As Jesus said:
"These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." - John 16:33
However a clear distinction is made throughout scripture between going through tribulation with Christ - like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego (Daniel 3) - and Christians being delivered out of Father's judgement on the world for sin. This can be seen in the Passover, of which the Lord is delaying to drink the last cup with us anew in His Kingdom (Luke 22:17-18). For the people went through tribulation under Pharaoh until Moses returned, whereupon the judgement of God passed over them because the lamb was slain - after which they entered the promised land. Likewise, Christ the Lamb of God our Passover, promises as to catch us up out of Father God's judgement coming upon the world:
"And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
- Rev 3:7-13
Jesus' last sentence tells us this message is what the Spirit says to 'the churches' and not only the Philadelphians. The literal Greek halfway in says: 'I also will keep you out of the hour of trial about to come on all the inhabited [world] to try the [ones] dwelling on the earth.' Likewise Paul, in the context of 'the dead in Christ shall rise first' and 'we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air'', concludes:
“For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.” - 1 Th 5:9-10
So although Christians have often faced tribulation or even martyrdom, those abiding in Christ are not subject to the wrath of Father's judgements on the earth, which only comes upon the sons of disobedience (Eph 2:2, 5:6, Col 3:6). But tribulation on the other hand (resulting from mankind being given over to the demonic) causes people to look for relief in delusional false christs, while providing a pretext for persecuting the sons of God in Christ.
Jesus therefore describes a sequence occurring at the end of the age closely resembling God's dealings with Pharaoh in delivering his people out of Egypt. First, the world comes under Pharaoh's power through calamity, then comes the tribulation of the saints under Pharaoh, then comes the Saviour to gather the saints out of Egypt, followed by judgement on Pharaoh and his armies, and finally, life in a promised land of milk and honey for His people. This is the pattern of Matthew chapter 24 and 25. Versus 3 to 8 start us off with calamities which bring the nations under the power of the anti-christ, the end-time Pharaoh:
“And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” - Mat 24:3-8
After that, the man of lawlessness himself appears, setting up shop as God in the temple, as the Paul explains it in your quote above from Thes 2:3-4. This is part of the great tribulation, as foretold by Jesus in His next connected versus 9-22:
"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. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. 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:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.”
Then continuing on, Jesus makes sure we understand He will not return during this tribulation period, in the next connecting versus 23 to 28:
“Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”
So going by the shadow of the Lord's dealings with Pharaoh, after the Lord's people have suffered under the anti-christ tyrant, the Lord should then return. As it happens, these are Jesus very next words in versus 29-30:
“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: 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.”
Note how Jesus says His returning happens only "after the tribulation of those days" . As Moses returned to lead the people through the Red Sea, Christ returns to take His people out of the world (Egypt), as the very next verses 31-34 detail:
"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. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”
After the saints escape into the air, the next versus 35-42 show Pharaoh's world being flooded with God's judgement:
“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”
And so having endured the tribulation, the righteous will be taken up into the ark of Christ while the rest are left below to perish. So from verse 43 of chapter 24 to verse 30 of chapter 25, Jesus speaks about how we must live in that state of imminent preparedness, and what great reward awaits us in the age to come for doing so. The faithful servant will be appointed ruler over all his master's goods, while the unfaithful who get drunk or beat up His faithful ones, are sent weeping and gnashing their teeth with the hypocrites. The wise virgins with oil in their lamps will follow the bridegroom into marriage, while the foolish are shut out. The man who traded his talents will be given more, while the one who buried it will be bound hand and foot and cast into outer darkness. In this way, Jesus comes to the 'promised land' part of his answer, where people are included or excluded according to how [faithfully] they treat His people, starting in verse 31 of Chapter 25:
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:"
And so for the saints, in the wisdom of God, the return of the Lamb of God sequentially fits the Passover type. That's a gathering of nations to Pharaoh through disasters, tribulation under Pharaoh until Moses returns, escape from the land under God's judgement and entry into the promised land. Thus Jesus ends his end-time discourse on this note:
“Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, that He said to His disciples, "You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified." - Mat 26:1-2.
Notice how I have not needed to quote only bits of what Jesus said here and there to prove a point, but can treat his answer at face value as an integrated whole? That's because He is the Lord but also because every new thought Jesus introduces as to the future, is synchronised with God's pattern of dealings with Egypt in the past. So the sequence outlined in Matthew's account is in lockstep with its shadow, not open to individual verse mangling. It shall be exactly as written, in that Passover order. To take Jesus' words out of sequence is to quote Jesus out of context. How can I be so certain the Lamb of God will perform a Passover-type deliverance of His people? At the end of the age, it will be both the song of Moses and the Lamb which is on the saint's lips, since John in the Revelation of Jesus Christ quotes them as one and the same song!
“And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy righteousness has been manifested."
- Rev 15:2-4
The prophets of scripture also concur that God's last days deliverance will be as that from Egypt:
According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!' For thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,' says the LORD of hosts. - Hag 2:5-7 (NKJV)
According to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I shew unto him marvellous things. The nations shall see and be confounded at all their might: they shall lay their hand upon their mouth, their ears shall be deaf. They shall lick the dust like a serpent, they shall move out of their holes like worms of the earth: they shall be afraid of the LORD our God, and shall fear because of thee. - Micah 7:15-17
Does Moses say anything to liken the sons of Israel's fight from Egypt, to the sons of God meeting their Lord in the air? Indeed he does:
"You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself." - NKJV
So Jesus says:
"For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together." - Matthew 24:27, NKJV
because the dead in Christ shall rise first (1 Thessolonians 4:16-17).
So what of this 'last days' deliverance from Egypt? We know Moses himself would have been killed as a baby, had not Pharaoh's daughter taken pity on him. So concerning bringing them out of this ‘house of bondage’, God spoke to Moses from the burning bush:
"And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt." - Exodus 3:7-10
So without doubt, they went through tribulation at the hands of Pharaoh before Moses returned to bring them out. So shall it be in the last days the prophets of scripture say. For John's Revelation of Jesus Christ states that Jerusalem which kills the prophets and stones those sent to her "spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified'. (Rev 11:8) Likewise, Jesus also taught on Sodom in the end times:
“Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.” - Luke 17:28-30
Because of Abraham's intervention, the angels waited for Lot to flee the city, to escape the fiery judgement of God. [Sodom endured no tribulation after Lot's departure, only sudden judgement.] Yet before then, Lot went through tribulation, as recorded in Peter's second letter, which says the Lord 'delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked' with 'his righteous soul tormented day after day'' (2 Peter 6:9). Didn't they try to break down Lot's door to sexually assault his guests after refusing his virgin daughters, prevented only by their sudden blindness? (Gen 19:1-11). Likewise, Jesus says the tribulation has been shortened for our sake:
"For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. 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. And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not: For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things. But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.” – Mark 13:19-27
This means the rapture occurs only after the great tribulation which has been shortened - which Matthew records is before Father's flood of judgement on the earth is poured out. To say otherwise not only requires mangling Christ's detailed answer to his disciples' questions, but also rewriting the history of Israel's deliverance from Egypt and Lot's deliverance from Sodom. For God has left nothing to chance, knowing 'false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect'. So to the saints in these times, Jesus gives the parable of the unrighteous judge recorded in Luke 18, where 'men always ought to pray and not loose heart':
“There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? " - Luke 18:1-8
So let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another - and so much the more as you see the Day approaching! (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Love to your family,
- Eric Wilson
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