Perhaps Today: The Imminent Coming of Christ

by Thomas Ice

The New Testament teaching that Christ could return and rapture His church at any-moment, without prior signs or warning (i.e., imminency), is such a powerful argument for pretribulationism that it is one of the most fiercely attacked doctrines by pre-trib opponents. Non-pretribulationists sense that if the New Testament teaches imminency, then a pre-trib rapture is virtually assured.


What is the biblical definition of imminency? Dr. Renald Showers defines and describes imminence as follows:

1) An imminent event is one which is always "hanging overhead, is constantly ready to befall or overtake one; close at hand in its incidence." ("imminent," The Oxford English Dictionary, 1901, V, 66.) Thus, imminence carries the sense that it could happen at any moment. Other things may happen before the imminent event, but nothing else must take place before it happens. If something else must take place before an event can happen, then that event is not imminent. In other words, the necessity of something else taking place first destroys the concept of imminency.

2) Since a person never knows exactly when an imminent event will take place, then he cannot count on a certain amount of time transpiring before the imminent event happens. In light of this, he should always be prepared for it to happen at any moment.

3) A person cannot legitimately set or imply a date for its happening. As soon as a person sets a date for an imminent event he destroys the concept of imminency, because he thereby is saying that a certain amount of time must transpire before that event can happen. A specific date for an event is contrary to the concept that the event could happen at any moment.

4) A person cannot legitimately say that an imminent event will happen soon. The term "soon" implies that an event must take place "within a short time (after a particular point of time specified or implied)." By contrast, an imminent event may take place within a short time, but it does not have to do so in order to be imminent. As I hope you can see by now, "imminent" is not equal to "soon."1

A. T. Pierson has noted that, "Imminence is the combinatioin of two conditions, viz,: certainty and uncertainty. By an imminent event we mean one which is certain to occur at some time, uncertain at what time."2


The fact that Christ could return, but may not soon, at any moment, yet without the necessity of signs preceeding His return requires the kind of imminence taught by the pre-trib position and is a strong support for pretribulationism.

What New Testament passages teach this truth? Those verses stating that Christ could return at any moment, without warning and those instructing believers to wait and look for the Lord's coming teach the doctrine of imminence. Note the following New Testament passages:

1 Corinthians 1:7-"awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,"

1 Corinthians 16:22-"Maranatha."

Philippians 3:20-"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;"

Philippians 4:5-"The Lord is near."

1 Thessalonians 1:10-"to wait for His Son from heaven,"

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18-"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of {the} archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."

1 Thessalonians 5:6-"so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober."

1 Timothy 6:14-"that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,"

Titus 2:13-"looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus;"

Hebrews 9:28-"so Christ . . . shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him."

James 5:7-9-"Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. . . . for the coming of the Lord is at hand. . . . behold, the Judge is standing right at the door."

1 Peter 1:13 -"fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

Jude 21-"waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life."

Revelation 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20-"'I am coming quickly!'"

Revelation 22:17, 20-"And the Spirit and the bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.'"

"He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming quickly.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus."

It is significant that all of the above passages relate to the rapture and speak of the Lord's coming as something that could occur at any-moment, that it is imminent. This is why believers are waiting for a person-Jesus Christ-not an event or series of events such as those related to the tribulation leading up to Christ's second advent in which He returns to the earth and remins for His millennial reign.


As we consider the above passages, we note that Christ may come at any moment, that the rapture is actually imminent. Only pretribulationism can give a full, literal meaning to such an any-moment event. Other rapture views must redefine imminence more loosely than the New Testamnet would allow. Dr. Walvoord declares, "The exhortation to look for 'the glorious appearing' of Christ to His own (Titus 2:13) loses its significance if the Tribulation must intervene first. Believers in that case should look for signs."3 If the pre-trib view of imminence is not accepted, then it would make sense to look for signs related to events of the tribulation (i.e., the anti-christ, the two witnesses, etc.) and not for Christ Himself. But the New Testament, as demonstrated above, uniformly instructs the church to look for the coming of Christ, while tribulation saints are told to look for signs.

The New Testament exhortation to be comforted by the Lord's coming (John 14:1; 1 Thess. 4:18) would no longer have meaning if believers first had to pass through any part of the tribulation. Instead, comfort would have to await passage through the events of the tribulation. No, the church has been given a "Blessed Hope," in part, because our Lord's return is truly imminent.


The early church had a special greeting for one another, as recorded in 1 Corinthians 16:22, which was "Maranatha!" Maranatha consists of three Aramaic words: "Mar" ("Lord"), "ana" ("our"), and "tha" ("come"), meaning "our Lord, come." As with other New Testament passages, Maranatha only makes sense if an any-moment or imminent coming is understood. Such an understanding supports the pre-trib position.

No wonder these ancient Christians coined such a unique greeting which reflects an eager expectation of the Blessed Hope as a very real presence in their everyday lives. The life of the church today could only be improved if "Maranatha" were to return as a sincere greeting on the lips of an expectant people. Maranatha! W


1 Renald Showers, Maranatha Our Lord, Come! A Definitive Study of the Rapture of the Church (Bellmawr, N.J.: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc., 1995), pp. 127-28.

2Arthur T. Pierson, Our Lord's Second Coming as a Motive to World-Wide Evangelism (published by John Wanamaker, n.d., cited in Showers, Maranatha, p. 127.

3 John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question: Revised and Enlarged Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), p. 273.